Now that Taylor Hicks has been crowned the very first adult contemporary “American Idol,” it’s time for the folks behind the show to actually make good on their promise to turn someone who has been a TV star for the past five months into a legitimate recording artist.
The first step, as every veteran “Idol” viewer knows, is the coronation song, the show-assigned single rushed into stores with undue speed in order to herald the winner’s arrival. (The runner-up’s single typically arrives a week later.)
Unlike last season, when the vocal styles of country thrush Carrie Underwood and Southern rocker Bo Bice overlapped enough that “Inside Your Heaven” worked for both of them, Hicks (blue-eyed soul man) and McPhee (supper-club singer with a Broadway gleam) required their own unique tickets to victory. How did they rate?
Taylor Hicks, “Do I Make You Proud?”
(written by Tracy Ackerman, Andrew Watkins and Paul Wilson)
Style: Big, mushy power ballad so firmly in the Diane Warren mold that Warren herself could probably make an accusation of plagiarism stick if she could only remember which of her hackily indistinct songs it most rips off. (Answer: “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.”)
Lyrical content: Soul Patrol, Soul Patrol, Soul Patrol! The song begins with an admission of his outsider status (“I’ve never been the one to raise my hand”) and then moves on to an extended thank-you to his fans (“Because of you I am standing tall”). The bridge, however, is confusing as all get-out, with revolution (“Everybody needs to rise up”) and feel-good pop psychology (“Everybody needs to be loved”) coming one after the other from out of nowhere. Perhaps it will make more sense when we hear the entire song, every two hours for the next month.
Does it fit the singer? A little. Hicks’ trademark has been the heedless energy with which he threw himself into upbeat material, but he certainly proved on more than one occasion that he was capable of delivering strong performances without whooping and dancing like his legs were broken. More importantly, it was subdued songs like “In The Ghetto” and “You Are So Beautiful” that got the highest praise from Simon, who never seemed to warm fully to Hicks. In a way, “Do I Make You Proud?” was more of a Simon consolation prize, containing the singer enough to make Mr. Cranky accept, however reluctantly, the prospect of a Hicks victory. As for the singer himself, his choices over the past season suggest that he’d prefer his songs to have a touch more grit in them, but “Do I Make You Proud?” fits Hicks about as well as any bland pop song could.
AI coronation song bingo: “I believe,” “it’s only just beginning,” “this is what we dream about”
Katharine McPhee, “My Destiny”
(written by Haane Sorvaag)
Style: Prom/graduation ballad desperate to recapture the glory days of Kelly Clarkson 1.0, before “Breakaway” managed to reinsert some of the smarts and personality that “Idol” leached out of her. Lines like “this moment of bliss tonight” and “because of you, it’s all changing in my destiny” might at well be giant Clarkson-shaped elbows nudging you in the ribs, going “Huh? Get it?”
Lyrical content: Dreams Do Come True. From the very first line (“I have always dreamed of this”), “My Destiny” is vague enough to refer to anything (Falling in love? Winning “American Idol”? Seeing the Washington Monument for the first time?) and anyone (the “you” to whom the song is addressed could be a family member, a lover, God or Simon Cowell, with equal conviction). But the overall message is You Can Do It, whatever It might be.
Does it fit the singer? Not in the least. All season, Randy, Paula and Simon tried to frantically wave Katharine away from precisely this type of belty Christina/Mariah material, insisting that she’s a different type of singer altogether. It was hard to argue with them when her best performances were subtle torch songs (or torch song equivalents) like “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” That’s what makes “My Destiny” all the more baffling. Big and showboaty, it seemingly forced McPhee to attack every one of her weaknesses head on. She wasn’t helped by a melody that was all over the map, scraping the bottom of her range on the verses and forcing her to struggle at the top of her range on the bridge. And that was all before the key change at the end. McPhee tanked her performance on Tuesday as a result, though there’s always the possibility that her vocal cords were simply rebelling against the song in the name of good taste.
AI coronation song bingo: “I’ve always dreamed of this,” “this moment of bliss,” “break free,” “can I get any higher?”
As befits the most self-referential show on television, what both songs have in common (with each other and with earlier coronation songs) is that they are about nothing more or less than winning “American Idol.” Worse than that, neither of them sounds much like a song; instead, they’re like Hallmark cards thrown at a piano, with all of the heavy lifting done by the arrangement rather than the composition. Even Randy and, to a lesser extent, Paula admitted flat out on Tuesday’s show that Hicks and McPhee were given terrible material.
But most damning is that, as with most songs designed explicitly to be inspirational, neither “Do I Make You Proud?” nor “My Destiny” is the least bit memorable. “A Moment Like This” and even Daniel Powter’s now-ubiquitous “Bad Day” might be annoying and simplistic. But once you heard them, they stuck. We’ll see whether a few weeks on the charts does the same for Hicks and McPhee.
Marc Hirsh is a writer in Somerville, Mass.