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American/Pop Idol: Where There's a Will, There's No Wayby Phil Lewin -- 09/10/2002
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Being on the wrong side of the Atlantic at the time, I did not catch the finals of American Idol. However from the comments made by other writers on this site and elsewhere, it is clear that the guest appearance by the British Pop Idol winner, Will Young, sucked. Columnists in the UK speculated beforehand that his appearance would kickstart his career in the States. Instead, it has most likely been killed off before it even began. Yet this lackluster performance is probably an accurate reflection of how Will's progress, since winning Pop Idol six months ago, has been steady rather than stratospheric, and in a possible warning to the American Idol finalists signing up to BMG records, our old friend Simon Cowell might be partly to blame.
During the latter stages of Pop Idol, the consensus was that the winner would be one of two contestants: Will and Gareth Gates. Both were very different vocalists and personalities. Gareth was 17, from a small blue collar Northern town. Will was 22, came from a professional family, and was a graduate in politics. Until the final, it looked as though Gareth was the most likely winner, partly because he had seemingly cornered the "cute" factor among the key teenage girl viewers. However Will, who had a broader public appeal based more on his talents than his looks, eventually pulled ahead in support and won the final vote.
You would therefore expect BMG to pull out the stops to push the career of their winner. Well, no. Will's first single release would be a ballad called "Evergreen," originally recorded as an album track by the Irish boy band, Westlife. However this song was not chosen specifically for Will but recorded in advance of the final by each of the last three, regardless of how well it fit their specific vocal abilities. According to the third place finalist, Darius Danesh, the song was deliberately chosen as being best suited for Gareth's voice and it did not fit comfortably within the other two's vocal ranges at all. Will had even asked for the keys to be rearranged to make the song more suitable for everyone, but Simon Cowell refused. Regardless, Will's version of the song was released and, on the back of the series' popularity, was an instant number one in the UK singles chart, even though it scarcely did him justice.
In the meantime Simon, with characteristic bluntness, had gone public and admitted to the NME that he felt Gareth should have won Pop Idol instead - a wonderful statement of confidence in his protege's abilities. At the same time, BMG were also reputedly unsettled by tabloid revelations that Will was gay. Although this had never been a secret and is not a matter of particular concern to most music buyers, the "outing" was followed by characteristically inane press commentary on the lines that Will had somehow betrayed the fantasies of his teenage girl fans, who in reality showed far more maturity about the subject than the columnists themselves. Nevertheless, it was publicity that BMG felt they could do without, particularly compared to Gareth, who was rumoured to be having a definitely more acceptable heterosexual romance with another of the Pop Idol finalists, Zoe Birkett.
Showing indecent haste, BMG waited no more than three weeks before putting out Gareth's first single, which in a stunning demonstration of record company unoriginality, was a cover of "Unchained Melody," Gareth thus joining the several hundred other artists that have re-recorded this song (usually to its detriment - and Gareth's version was no exception). To add insult to injury, Gareth's version of "Evergreen" was also put onto the CD, which replaced Will at the top of the singles chart.
By this time it was becoming evident to many observers that Gareth was being given preferential treatment. Even one of the Pop Idol co-hosts, Declan Donnelly, complained about BMG's attitude. "He was the Pop Idol winner and they should have held back Gareth's single for a bit. But instead Gareth is getting all the glory." A more scathing criticism came from Ross Hemsworth, the managing director of independent Galaxi Music. "Anyone that knows anything about music could see that Will's voice is far superior to Gareth's and a lot more versatile, but as usual the British record companies continue to sign people on looks for the bubblegum pop marketplace. Will Young has real talent and could be a worldwide smash in the right hands. He should be developed as an album artiste with credible material and not thrown to the lions the way he is right now. It seems from the recent publicity that his advisors are not helping him build a career with longevity and this real talent could sink without trace."1 2 Next-->
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