OK, American Idol fans, have you prepared yourself for the contestants taking on the Motown songbook tonight? I've been thinking a lot about this (what? I've had extra time what with the president pushing the schedule back and all) and I think that while this seems like an easy, slam-dunk theme (especially compared to Grand Ole Opry night), contestants could unwittingly make some bad choices.
So I thought this would be a good time to run through some general guidelines for song selection that I've come up with based on my years of Idol-watching experience. Here it goes:
- Act your age! Going too old-fashioned is a personal pet peeve of mine because: zzzzzzzzzz (I'm looking at you, Scott MacIntyre). You may have grown up listening to your mom or grandma constantly playing Marvelettes music in the background, but unless you think you can update it for today's audience, don't do it. Simon will ding you on it every time, and Idol voters will forget you the minute you're off the stage.
- Obscurity is not your friend. The B-side of an album can be boring, and also, if Simon hasn't heard of the song he won't shut up about it regardless of how well you sang it.
- Don't sing a legendary song unless you can make it legendary. Which doesn't necessarily mean it has to be legendarily good. Take our friend Adam Lambert's version of "Ring of Fire" — love it or hate it, you'll never forget it. I guarantee you that if Adam had tried to sing that song as is, it would have been train wreck city.
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- You've got to show range. Even if you don't have range, you have to try to fake it with a song that doesn't repeat the same notes over and over again. I think "Stop! In the Name of Love" is a good example of a Motown song that has danger written all over it for this very reason.
- Back-up singers should stay back. Nothing is more awkward than an Idol contestant hitting the stage only to sing some "Uh-huh"s and "oh yeah"s while the back-up singers do all the heavy lifting. It's as if they didn't realize before the big night that that song had a lot of dead air time — or wanted to riff during the empty parts but didn't really know how.
- Be true to the artist in you. No matter what the theme, the No. 1 question you should ask yourself is, "Could I put this song on a future album that is representative of me as an artist?" I don't care if it's polka night — you gotta make it work for you and your artistic vision.
I'm so glad to get this out there — these guidelines have been taking up space in my brain that could be used for other stuff like sorting out Paula's feedback. What guidelines would you add?
Photos courtesy of Fox