Friday, March 21, 2008

American Idol vocal coach: Chikezie, Carly almost blew it


Our L.A. Times colleague Richard Rushfield has a great interview with Debra Byrd, "American Idol's" vocal coach and arranger.

It's a must-read; among the interesting things she reveals:

Byrd shared the back story of what has been perhaps the most celebrated performance of the season: Chikezie's rendition of "She's a Woman."

"What you did not see was the agony of him trying to choose the song. He had chosen 'Help!' and we worked on it and he began changing the arrangement. He changed the chords. And I said, 'You can't do that to a Beatles song, my dear. Sorry.' And I said, 'You're going to have to do one of two things. You're going to have to surrender to what the song is or you're going to have to pick another song.' " Late in the game, with only a tiny amount of time left before the Tuesday show, Chikezie "slept on it, thought about it overnight and came in and said, 'OK, I've changed my song.' "

Byrd continues, "When he first sang the song 'She's a Woman,' I couldn't feel it. I said, because part of it is finding it, 'Is it an R&B vibe? Is it a rock vibe?' How do you see yourself singing it?' And he got very excited and he said, 'Oh, OK! I want a banjo and I want a fiddle!' And I was like, OK, now I can hear it. And as soon as he said banjo and fiddle, then I could hear it."
Man, if Chikezie had wound up singing Help!, it'd have been all over for him--he barely made it out of the Hollywood round, and was, in my opinion, really teetering on the edge.

It just shows how close the line between success and failure can be on Idol--if Byrd for some reason had been too tired or busy that week to spend the extra time with Chikezie, he might already be off the show.

He should buy her a car or something if he winds up winning... just like Katharine McPhee owes Simon big-time for making the finals two years ago.

There's another part of the interview, where Byrd talks about Carly Smithson:
On last week's other major sensation, Smithson's "Come Together," Byrd revealed that although she had performed this frequently before, the rehearsal time also brought some critical changes. After practicing it a few times, Byrd and Smithson felt that despite the singer's comfort and history with the material, something still wasn't clicking. It was at this point that Byrd wondered, "With her band was she singing 'Come Together' in Paul McCartney's key?"

"She sang it and I said, 'No, no, no. Let's try another key.' We changed it to a higher key. And you know she was very happy because it changed her vibe. She didn't sound like a guy anymore. She sounded sexy like Tina Turner."
Ha, that's a great last line.

It's interesting, some people think contestants like Carly/David Cook/etc. have an unfair advantage, because of their extensive experience performing in public.

But really, this shows that if they're stubborn and don't listen, the contestants are actually at a disadvantage--after all, there's probably a reason they haven't made it big before Idol, and things like poor song choice and bad habits are likely at the heart of it.

Even though I don't like Carly, I'm glad she doesn't feel like she's above getting help (unlike some previous contestants, who not only rejected what Byrd had to say, but bragged about it on-air).

And it all highlights the best part of Idol--these are non-fully-formed young musicians, who we get to watch get better from week to week.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

4 comments:

tanning lotion said...

Chikezie slipped tonight. I thought that he was coming on strong before tonight.

search engine placement said...

I think David Cook was the bomb tonight. He gained the momentum in my book.

tanning lotion said...

David A. slipped down some tonight. I actually think he went from favorite to lucky to hang on tonight.

sarah said...

what Key did Carly sing it in? Anyone know?