Whether you make a new arrangement of a well-known song or choose something more obscure, the trick is to pick a song that people will identify with you, and not the original singer. Try to pick songs with unique character that people will identify with you. Last season, when Kristy Lee Cook wowed the judges with "God Bless The USA," it helped that most viewers didn't picture Lee Greenwood singing it. You probably know these songs, but don't know who sang them:
"I Can Dream About You"
"Dancing In The Moonlight"
"Fooled Around And Fell In Love"
"Counting Blue Cars"
"Don't Dream It's Over"
Pick Something Different
George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam of Boy Meets Girl wrote Whitney Houston's hits "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." Says Shannon: "I want to see surprising song choices, and of course song recognizability is a big factor because people want to compare a vocalist to the original to determine their versatility and level of talent."
Take a chance with these songs:
"Walk On The Wild Side"
"China Girl" (punch the line, "I'll give you television")
Futz With The Arrangement
George Merrill of Boy Meets Girl puts it this way: "I love it when I hear a song in a different tempo, with a new cool rhythm, and clear melodies with less vocal pyro... usually simpler instrumentation seems to turn out the best in these live moments."
Brooke White had a big moment with her stripped-down rendition of Love Is A Battlefield. Holly Knight, who co-wrote the song, says: "I thought it was interesting, because the way she did it is really how it was originally done. It's not that she changed it, she just tapped into the vibe that it was supposed to be. The song was never meant to be a fast upbeat shuffle."
"Bizarre Love Triangle" - Listen to the Frente! version. A very sweet song when you strip the beat.
"I Want It That Way" - Vanilla Fudge proved that you can wring out the emotion of this song in a way the Boys Bands can't.
"Torn" - Use the original Ednaswap version as a template.
"Short Skirt/Long Jacket" - Tweak the Cake arrangement and you'll give the judges something to remember.
Which brings up a good point:
Don't Try To Be Whitney
Songs made popular by distinctive singers like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey or Janis Joplin will inevitably lead to unfavorable comparisons. Says Shannon: "A Whitney Houston song could be done with an entirely different styling. For example when we performed 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' at a songwriter's concert long ago we did it as a ballad, and it transposes nicely... as many songs do. Whitney does set the bar higher than most can reach though. It's easy to forget how good she was (hopefully still is) with the plethora of newer young singers who were raised on vocal gymnastics, until you hear her previous recordings."
Adds George: "The folks that choose to sing like Whitney inevitably come up short, because she did it better than anyone ever will! So, fiddle with it, make it work in a ska rhythm, or break it down to an acoustic guitar folkie version... much more exciting to hear a song you know so well with a unique twist. Simon likes that too!"
Learn From Karaoke
You would think that Karaoke offers a great way to field test the songs, but they're different beasts. Kimberly Starling of Karaoke Informer says: "The typical good karaoke songs tend to lack the uniqueness needed for an Idol contestant to stand out. Also, good karaoke songs are often less challenging musically."
According to Kimberly, here are some songs that can sound great with Karaoke Joe on the mic, but Idol contestants may want to avoid:
"Crazy" (Patsy Cline)
"Friends In Low Places"
"I Wanna Be Sedated" (works every time, anyone can sing this)
Steve Douglas of Ultimate DJ and Karaoke in Kansas City adds: "I have found that American Idol actually influences what songs Karaoke singers choose to sing. They expose TV viewers to songs that they normally wouldn't hear on their normal radio station. American Idol contestants also have help from knowledgeable music and or vocal coaches."
Avoid The Overdone
Some songs have been performed on the show so many times that judges and viewers are numb to them. You're looking to stand out, so don't sing these:
"Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)"
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
Anything by Journey or Stevie Wonder
The viewers vote, and if you sing something fun, there's a good chance they're going to like you. Not every song has to be a heartfelt scorcher. Try one of these:
"Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"
"The Longest Time"
"Mickey" (or "Kitty" if sung by a guy, which is how the song was originally done)
"Keep Your Hands To Yourself"
November 16, 2009
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