York County Prison The Season 12 'American Idol' performance finale was intense…
- Posted on Apr 27th 2011 12:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
As was announced Tuesday night, the competition is now down to three rock bands -- Empires, Fictionist and the Sheepdogs -- and the strumming, war-paint-wearing indie-pop songstress Lelia Broussard. Fans will have until May 13 to rate each act and help narrow the field once more.
The two semifinalists will then go head-to-head in June at Bonnaroo, and the winner -- to be announced Aug. 2 on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' -- gets a cover spread in Rolling Stone, as well as a record deal with Atlantic.
Over the next few weeks, all four remaining acts will hit the studio with big-name producers and record new music, adding to the tracks they cut during round two. These songs, as well as footage from a showcase the artists will play for Rolling Stone editors and industry experts, will be available online.
The "Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?" contest began earlier this year with 16 hopefuls, and in late March, Rolling Stone cut the pack in half, selecting four fan-favorites and four handpicked by editors. In the second round, audience rankings were all that mattered, and after hundreds of thousands of votes were tallied, that meant elimination for four Elite Eight acts: Los Angeles rockers Romany Rye (proving that guitars don't guarantee victory), rapper Mod Sun, urban-pop collective Tha Boogie and singer-songwriter Skyler Stonestreet.
Each of the four acts left standing has gone through one round of judging, and while the panelists have had plenty of nice things to say, they've also dished out some constructive criticism.
Assessing a performance by Lelia Broussard -- a 21-year-old singer-songwriter who's already released four albums and landed a publishing deal with Universal -- the judges asked to see more personality. They invoked what might be called the David Bowie rule: If you're going to paint your face, you've got to go all or nothing -- no half-measures.
Download Lelia Broussard's 'Satellite' (MP3)
"You have a lot of key elements of an artist that's going to be successful, because you do have real honesty in your personality," said Andrew D. Luftman, an A&R man at Atlantic. "I guess I would encourage you to have even more of yourself onstage."
"I thought you felt and looked really comfortable up there," said Toure, the Rolling Stone writer who hosts the online video segments. "It's flirty, but the women would feel comfortable liking you, not like, 'She's trying to sex out.'"
Toure made a similar comment concerning the co-ed appeal of Chicago quartet Empires, who emerged from their round-two recording session -- helmed by Fall Out Boy producer Machine -- with a pair of explosive Gaslight Anthem-grade stadium rockers.
Download Empires' 'Bang' (MP3)
"I think there's an energy where dudes would be like, 'I want to hang out with that dude,' and chicks would be like, 'I want to give it to that dude,' Toure told lead singer Sean Van Vleet. "So it's like you're hitting both."
"If you made it to the cover, it wouldn't be an anomaly," he added. "It would be like, 'These are the sorts of bands Rolling Stone has been traditionally lionizing.'"
Being traditionally appealing can be a good thing, but in the case of the Sheepdogs -- a four-piece from way up north in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan -- it struck the judges as something of a stumbling block. Luftman, in particular, couldn't help but hear in the group's sound echoes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers -- Southern rock greats the Dogs admit to digging.
Download the Sheepdogs' 'I Don't Know' (MP3)
"I guess if I had a criticism, it would be I could hear all of those influences right away," Luftman said. "What I'm not sure about is what your singular voice is as a band and how do you grow in your songwriting style to define a little bit more of, 'These are my influences, but this is who we are.'"
Shinedown singer and songwriter Brent Smith urged frontman Ewan Currie to put a little more oomph into the performance.
"Your voice -- I really like it, because it's smooth in certain sections, but I think you were holding back," Smith said. "[The key] is finding what I like to call the guy inside of you, that guy that's in there that's every single ounce of your being, and letting him go from time to time."
The guy lurking inside bespectacled Fictionist bassist and singer Stewart Maxfield might not be as primal or swaggering, but his Utah-based space-rock quintet is plenty capable of blasting off.
Download Fictionist's 'Before I'm Old' (MP3)
"You guys can really play your instruments," said Rolling Stone writer Christian Hoard. "You can totally rock a crowd. I like the fact you have this kind of spacey, psychedelic sound, and you deploy your effects tastefully. There's a basic intelligence to this sound. I think you could push the songwriting a bit more, and maybe this is something that involves getting the right producer. I want to be surprised when I hear a new band."
In Luftman's mind, the challenge facing the Fictionist is striking the right balance between Radiohead weirdness and radio-ready accessibility.
"Simplicity in songwriting with what you do is a blessing and a curse," he said. "You need to figure out how to keep it interesting but to make songs more broad so that people can really enjoy you."
Read More About Rolling Stone's Cover Contest