"American Idol Winner" was how Lee DeWyze wanted to be known. But that mantle has proven to be as much an albatross as a gold medal for those on the receiving end. While some winners have had great success as recording artists, most notably Carrie Underwood, others have seen winning the television show as the one and only high point of their musical careers.
It’s too early to say whether DeWyze, winner of Season 9, will be another Taylor Hicks, turning to Broadway to stay in the game, or whether he will have the long-term mainstream music success of Kelly Clarkson. But initial reaction to his post-Idol debut CD, Live it Up, does not bode well.
According to HeadlinePlanetNews, preliminary estimates show his CD as selling around 45,000 units its first week, the worst sales numbers for any American Idol winner. According to an article in Zap2It, following the release last year of Kris Allen’s first CD, Season 8 was the first year that the winner sold fewer that 100,000 units. But as poor as Allen’s anemic 85,000 units sold seemed last year, DeWyze’s numbers are far worse. Here are the rankings for first post-Idol album sales by each of the winners:
1. Ruben Studdard, "Souful," 400,000+
2. Carrie Underwood, "Some Hearts," 315,000
3. Taylor Hicks, "Taylor Hicks," 298,000
4. Kelly Clarkson, "Thankful," 297,000
5. David Cook, "David Cook," 279,000
6. Fantasia Barrino, "Free Yourself," 240,000
7. Jordin Sparks, "Jordin Sparks," 119,000
8. Kris Allen, "Kris Allen," 85,000
9. Lee DeWyze, "Live it Up," 45,000
And it is not just sales that are disappointing. The reviews for "Live it Up" far have also been underwhelming, with reviewers wondering if the album was rushed to capitalize on DeWyze’s win and suggesting it has been homogenized and watered down in an effort to offend no one. Of course, the reviews haven't been universally negative. Newsday liked the album, saying DeWyze "crafted the best post-"Idol" debut since Carrie Underwood." IGN Music said the album does a nice job of balancing grit and warmth. And while Hitfix mostly panned the album, the reviewer praised Beautiful Like You, interestingly, the only song DeWyze didn’t co-write.
Crystal Bowersox cheerleader Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly not surprisingly gave the record a “C” and called it generic. USMagazine gave it 1 ½ stars and, riffing off of the frequent description of DeWyze as a “paint salesman” (despite his two previous records), called it “as exciting as, well, watching paint dry.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online said “it tacks toward the safe and bland.” Even his hometown paper the Chicago Sun Times was pretty mean-spirited in their review, giving the album one star and saying, “Live It Up"? Curling up on the couch and flipping between PBS and C-SPAN would be more exciting." While their competitor, the Chicago Tribune, found the album something they could agree on, giving it just 2 out of 4 stars, saying it “sounds like it was created in a laboratory; it’s designed to be inoffensive, clinically precise, airless.” Blast.com called it “a musical form of Ikea.”
In fairness to DeWyze, it has become cool to malign American Idol and its contestants recently and many reviewers would not be caught dead praising an Idol contestants record out of fear of losing their street cred. Plus, the type of album usually put out by the winner is often safe and inoffensively mainstream as the target audience is American Idol viewers, not necessarily music fans. Despite DeWyze's comments before its release about writing every song on the album and having so much input, the bottom line is that every song was written by committee and the product released was meant not to inspire and excite, but to put at ease.
The good news for DeWyze is that he has fans and they have come out in support of him, posting positive comments on Amazon.com where his album has been reviewed 26 times and is rated 4.5 stars. Not being in possession of a review copy, I’m relegated to listening to the sample clips on Amazon and that is not enough on which to base a review. I did hear all of Sweet Serendipity and gave it a generally positive review, which you can read here.
From what little I've heard on the rest of the tracks, however, I am a little surprised by the sound of his voice. On Idol, while DeWyze consistently struggled to stay on key, the tone of his voice was decent and nicely Daughtry-esque. But what I’ve heard so far is not that rough-around-the-edges sound, but a more inconsistent and unappealing John Mayer with a bad head cold sound. And the songs, with the exception of Beautiful Like You, all have a Jason Mraz-like inoffensive/pop quality that is pretty forgettable.
American Idol Season 9 runner-up Crystal Bowersox will have her first post-Idol album released next month. There was some early grumbling, from Bowersox, that the first single (Hold On, co-written by Kara Dioguardi) was not what she wanted. But recent news appears to indicate that she is getting her way and that her original, pre-Idol song Farmer's Daughter will be the album' first single. I hope for her sake that the album was not subject to the same amount of white washing as DeWyze's apparently was and her talent is allowed to shine through. I'll go on record, however, that Hold On was a good song and probably would have sold well. It'll be interesting to see if the less radio-friendly, more folky Farmer's Daughter is a commercial success. It's already been a favorite among her fans.