I have a history for liking male pop artists that got their start on American Idol. Elliot Yamin, Blake Lewis and (most importantly) Chris Richardson have all made their mark on the pop charts post-Idol to some degree, but none of them have had what you’d call a superstar career. Chris Rich may be on his way to the next level via Young Money, but that remains to be seen (check back in about a week or so for more on that). In the meantime, it’s time to welcome Stefano Langone to the club. His initial hook on the show was his soulful vocals (especially his cover of Smokie Norful’s “I Need You Now“), but he made his mark on the semi-finals with a remixed version of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Lately.”
While making it to seventh on American Idol is nothing to sneeze at, it sure isn’t a guarantee of a recording contract. In fact, of the ten previous 7th place finishers, only Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson has had any enduring success in the music business. However, season 11 was different. When Pia Toscano was unexpectedly eliminated after Top Nine Week, Interscope Records quickly put out a press release saying that her signing was inevitable, showing the equation for signing Idol artists would be a little different now that Jimmy Iovine was directly involved in the show. So when an announcement was made in January 2012 that Stefano was signed to Hollywood Records, no one was really surprised. Fast forward three months later, and here is the initial offering from Stefano Langone:
Full disclosure: The first time I heard “I’m On a Roll,” I didn’t know what to make of it. I expected something slightly more R&B than pop, but after a few listens, the song is now stuck in my head. The lyrics aren’t going to set the world on fire, but the song is fun and it fits right in with what is getting airplay in the US right now. If this is the direction he planned on going, he’s made a pretty brilliant play for pop success, even bringing along in-demand rappers the New Boyz for the ride. However, I believe Stefano may be setting himself up for getting a foot in the door so his more soulful vocals and writing can get to a wider audience. That in itself makes rooting for “I’m On a Roll” to be a success even easier to do.
Stefano Langone’s “I’m On a Roll” comes out on April 24th in the US, and he will perform the song for the first time on American Idol on the 26th.
It has been a year and a half in the making, but the wait has been worth it. World, meet Aiden Grimshaw:
As I type this, I realize many already know who Aiden is. He appeared on the 2010 edition of The X Factor UK, and was a surprise elimination early in the semi-finals, leaving before lesser competitors like Paije Richardson and Katie Waissel. The fact that Waissel was saved over Grimshaw was a glaring reminder that while talent competitions need talent, they also need drama. No matter. As of today, Aiden is in a much better place than Katie, as his first single for RCA Records (UK) is unleashed upon the world. “Is This Love” (out 3 June in the UK) finds Grimshaw in his element, matching his angsty yet ethereal vocals against a drum-and-bass track that places him right in the middle of a dance-primed pop market custom-built for the track. While his US prospects might not be as solid, you never know, as Alex Clare is currently climbing the Billboard Hot 100 with “Too Close,” thanks to a Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 advert.
So rather than talk about what “Is This Love” is like, let’s talk about what it is not like: anything on Syco Music. Being ejected from the The X Factor appears to have been a blessing, as he is not saddled with the formulaic common pop track that other acts like One Direction or JLS appear to be more than happy to record. That’s not to slam them, because there’s a place in the marketplace for that, and based on sales it’s a big place. Here’s hoping that Aiden Grimshaw blazes his own trail and defies the odds stacked against X Factor alumni who don’t finish in the Top 3.
Aiden Grimshaw’s full-length debut Misty Eye arrives on 13 August via RCA Records (UK). If Misty Eye is as solid as “Is This Love”, it will be ranked among the best albums released by an artist from any talent show, not just The X Factor.
Whether or not the US is in the midst of a boyband infatuation (the media would lead you to believe this), it’s interesting that the charge is lead exclusively by UK acts One Direction and The Wanted. They aren’t the first UK pop vocal groups to make a run at the top of the US charts, but in the past many of those efforts have enjoyed some initial success before fizzling out. Here are three of the more notable examples:
Westlife “Swear It Again”
Westlife really should have been bigger in the US than they ended up being. They hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2000 with “Swear It Again”, coming on the heels of Backstreet Boys’ and ‘NSync’s success. After that, they recorded a duet (“Against All Odds”) with Mariah Carey that helped her achieve one of her biggest hits in the UK up to that point. However, after “Swear It Again” peaked at number 20 and ended 2000 as the 75th biggest song of the year, they…disappeared. At least in the US they did: plans for their second album Coast to Coast being released in America were scrapped, and their duet with Mariah Carey was released pretty much everywhere except the US. Given the difficulty of an already-established group internationally to break the US market, it isn’t hard to imagine that the group decided to capitalize on their superstar status elsewhere.
Take That “Back For Good”
If Westlife seemed like a no-brainer to make it in America, the same might not have been said for Take That, who were a little older than the typical US boy band by the time they broke through in 1996 with “Back For Good.” In fact, they broke through in a big way, climbing all the way to number seven on the Hot 100. Unfortunately, the band started falling apart as “Good” climbed the chart, beginning with the ouster of Robbie Williams due to stress caused by his drug use and partying. I can only find a trace of one other US release (“How Deep is Your Love”) that never charted, and their sole album Nobody Else peaked at number 69 on the Billboard 200 album chart. When they reformed in 2005, it made sense that they only focused on markets where they had already been established, leaving America on the sidelines as they pursued a successful and lucrative comeback, even luring Williams back into the fold in 2010.
S Club 7 “Never Had a Dream Come True”
It seems strange to say that S Club 7 was the biggest of the three in the United States. Between two albums charting on the Billboard 200 chart and their TV show airing on Fox Family, they were not a flash in the pan, even if their fans were mostly kids. In 2001, S Club 7 released their 2000 UK charity single “Never Had a Dream Come True” in the US, becoming their biggest chart success. “Dream” reached number 10 on the Hot 100 and number two on the US singles sales chart. The band (renamed S Club after Paul Cattermole left the fold) was not able to capitalize on that success despite releasing a US-specific compilation in 2002 entitled Don’t Stop Movin’, and they broke up the following year. Even though there have been several rounds of rumors over the past few years that a reunion was inevitable, S Club has not fully reformed.
As a music lover, I’m all about a groove or a vibe that moves my feet, my head or my soul. Having said that, for some reason I’m biased against dance music recorded by male vocalists. It’s not that I dislike male vocalists, but much of the time I just don’t buy the male vocal on a straight-ahead dance track. That’s why some of the dance-pop music that has come out over the past two months has been so impressive to me. Here are a few tracks that are keeping my earbuds jumping:
“The Rush” – Warren Nomi
Warren Nomi’s current release for Citrusonic, “The Rush.” is a bit different from a lot of the radio-ready dance music hitting the airwaves currently, but it’s not tough to imagine “The Rush” slotting into a dance-friendly playlist. I have a good feeling about this guy: he proved in his prior incarnation as Nomi Madness that he has a great ear for a strong hook (see “Red Wine Girl“), so here’s hoping this is just the start. Nomi’s deal with Citrusonic is currently just singles, but it only takes one track to take off for an album to get the green light and this may be the song to seal the deal. You can pick up “The Rush” on iTunes and Amazon now.
“Only the Horses” – Scissor Sisters
There is always a chance when an established act goes in a more mainstream-sounding direction that the word “sellout” will be slung at them. If that’s the case, I hope the Scissor Sisters are ready, because it is going to happen to them any minute now. After a bizarre but cool hip-hop track called “Shady Love” surfaced in January, they have launched the official first single from their upcoming fourth disc Magic Hour (out 28 May in the UK, out…sometime in the rest of the world). “Only the Horses” sounds like a cross between a remix of and a sequel to Night Work‘s “Fire with Fire”, with Calvin Harris and Alex Ridha along for the ride on production. Yes, this song musically sounds like much of the current dance-pop onslaught, but at the heart of the track are well-written lyrics and a strong vocal performance from Jake Shears. If I have a complaint, it’s that Ana Matronic seems to have been lost in the shuffle of Magic Hour‘s promotion, and I’m hoping her presence will be felt once the full album drops. Give in and love this track…I already have. (Out 13 May in the UK, hopefully around that time in the US?)
“Let’s Go” – Calvin Harris featuring Ne-Yo
Speaking about Mr. Harris, he unleashes what feels like the ninth single off of his hopefully-forthcoming album in the form of “Let’s Go.” While the majority of DJ tracks feature powerful female vocalists, Harris had the right sense to bring in Ne-Yo to give the track a fresh sound, and it’s obvious from the first verse that Calvin chose well. Ne-Yo proved that he could propel a hot track back in ’08 with “Closer”, and he doesn’t stray far from that formula here. Expect this to be massive everywhere, including the US once the current single “Feels So Close” dies down a bit. (Out 22 April in the UK)