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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Coverville show Idols how to sing someone else’s song

I’m reluctant to write about reality TV two posts in a row, but I feel like I’m staring at the convergence of several divergent ideas that need explaining. One of the reality shows that approaches authenticity, at least more closely than the dating shows I mentioned yesterday, is American Idol. I hate to admit how caught up I get in the show. I’m sure it’s impossible to watch with me because I dissect every performance as if I knew what I was talking about (and one music theory class and a lot of time spent with hair metal bands don’t count). For the past three days, however, I’ve realized over and over again how difficult it is to sing someone else’s song, and the best advice I’ve found on how is, of course, on the Internet.

I’m as baffled as the judges are sometimes that performers choose the same tired or impossible-to-sing songs over and over again. For example, I can’t believe Aaron Kelly sang “My Girl” or Jermaine Sellers belted out “What’s Going On?” Don’t even get me started on the women.

There used to be a great site that cataloged contestants’ song choices and even helped suggest songs that fit their musical styling. Now, all I can find areĀ  wikihow and ehow articles on how to pick a song if you’re auditioning for Idol. The tips are good, but what they lack are the in-depth analysis on how to take a song that’s familiar and make it your own. Frankly, the AI judges aren’t much help either. I can’t wait for a contestant to look them in the Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
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es and yell, “Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth!” In other breath they extoll originality. In another, they chastise contestants for changing the song too much. Is there really that fine a line on covering popular songs?

After listening to Brian Ibbott‘s Coverville for a couple of weeks now, I’m starting to get it. In fact, I think Coverville should be required for all American Idol wannabes. I’m continually astounded how much I enjoy listening to covers of songs I wouldn’t have listened to normally. After Coverville’s BeeGees Cover Story, I nearly bought the band’s early albums from iTunes. I also couldn’t get Eldissa‘s cover of Stayin’ Alive out of my head.

That song’s a great example of what good cover artists do. Eldissa’s take on the song was definitely original with its Brazilian rhytms, but it wasn’t so mangled that I couldn’t recognize it anymore. It also captured the emotion of the song well, even without the falsetto and guitar.

That’s not the best example either. I learned about Coverville after a friend sent me the Who Did it Better battle of The White Stripes‘ Seven Nation Army (one of my favorite songs). I am so conflicted about whether Glambeats Corp. or Nostalgia 77 did it better I still haven’t voted. I guess it just depends on my mood whether I want the rock, bossa-nova, or dance-hall versions of the song.

Obviously, I’ve become a Coverville fan, but I wanted to highlight it here because the Internet makes this possible. Maybe a program like this survives on the airwaves where airtime is limited, but it thrives where people can actively search for something different. The ‘Net also allows us to listen to this music together. I love that Ibbott encourages fans to vote for songs and themes. His site makes it easy to purchase the original tracks you enjoyed, and it’s not just about the show. Ibbott uses the blog to expand and enrich the art of the cover. I don’t know if this is a regular feature, but I enjoyed Thursday’s post on CoverTube, which features YouTube cover videos. This is an underresearched phenomenon I have written.

Maybe the connection to American Idol is tenuous. Who knows if the show’s producers would even allow the contestants to subscribe after their incomprehensible decision to take away the Twitter accounts the show provided at the start of the season. But Coverville has opened my eyes to a ton of good new music already, music that’s not in the overproduced mainstream. Maybe all American Idol fans could benefit as I did.

PhotoCredit: I’m sure this fan, who I found on the official Star Wars blog, could use some song selection help.

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2 Responses to “Coverville show Idols how to sing someone else’s song”

  1. Listening to Coverville RIGHT NOW!

    May 5, 2010 at 10:42 am
  2. Hans #

    Thanks for the comment Roger. I checked out your site, and I’m impressed. Blogging at least once a day for five year? Impressive. I did NaBloPoMo in December, and it just about killed me. I need to learn to be more succinct.
    BTW, I’m still listening to Coverville. Episode 666 was a blast if you haven’t heard it yet.

    May 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm

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