Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Does Lefsetz get it wrong or right?

I've been subscribing to the Lefsetz Letter (written by music industry veteran, Bob Lefsetz) for about a month now. Some things I don't agree with, much finds me nodding like a bobblehead and a few I skip because the topic doesn't interest me. But most of the time I read them to the end. His musings about where the music industry needs to go are the ones that I find most thought provoking.

This afternoon, I got his latest about Simon Cowell and the whole American Idol/X Factor story that has been the entertainment story of the day. Here is an excerpt.
Simon Cowell is a star.

I like Kelly Clarkson. She's cute, honest about her weight/body image and is a good singer. But she's not a star. Her best material is written by others. And she has the depth of an Oreo cookie. If I asked her to wrestle between higher taxes and a social safety net, I'd expect her to go blank and suggest we get another drink.

But I'm sure Simon Cowell has an opinion. Real stars don't exist in a vacuum, but in the environment, they're aware of their surroundings, their context.

As for the other "Idol" winners...

Clay Aiken couldn't admit he was gay. Oops, he wasn't the winner that year? Well, he got the longest ride, which is just about over. A real star is not afraid of who he is, he owns his identity, he doesn't fake it.

Adam Lambert played coy with his sexual identity until the competition was over. Stars don't leave us guessing about where they stand. And after coming out, selling his music, Adam resembled nothing so much as a cartoon.

Let's see, other "Idol" victors...

I just can't think of one.

Oh yeah, that young woman, the plump one, what was her name again? Jordin Sparks... Let's see, we've got Jim Morrison, college-educated, writing poetry, and Jordin's number one asset is her smile. Whoo-hoo!

I'm not saying "Idol" will crumble without Simon Cowell, although I do expect it to sustain a deep ratings hit, but the reason the show has been so successful is because of this one man, who won't wear a tie on camera, who smiles like the Mona Lisa, daring us to wonder what he thinks, and when he speaks states his own, unequivocal truth. That's a star.

That's why we revere stars. They're not beholden to a boss. They do it their way.

Mmm... God, everybody on the hit parade seems to be beholden to someone else. Thanking their sponsors... Doing whatever their labels tell them to do... Unwilling to offend anyone in their pursuit of the brass ring. No wonder the public likes the song at most, and why music doesn't drive the culture.

Steve Jobs? The biggest rock star on the planet. Does whatever he wants, is beholden to no one and releases the best damn products. Don't agree? That's just the point, stars have haters, from the beginning of time. At least people CARE, have an opinion. Who's got an opinion on all those evanescent singers in the Top Forty?

Speak your mind. Take a stand. Don't be afraid to offend. The opposite is death.

I agree with him that Idol will crumble without Simon. He was the core of the show, regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) in any given year. It long ago lost my attention and I can't remember the last time I watched the show. Season 4, maybe? But the one thing you can say for most everyone from Idol is that they can sing and they can sing live.

But I disagree with his rather simplistic view of what makes a star. I am ambivalent about Kelly Clarkson but I don't think writing your own material makes you a star. It didn't matter for Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. She's still one of the best vocalists out there, when she's not yelling. There are plenty of singers out there singing their own stuff and it's crap.

Clay Aiken didn't have to admit he is gay, it isn't anyone's business and people need to come out on their own timeframe. It doesn't impact his ability to sing and entertain. Of course, I'll readily admit I am a fan of both his singing and acting, take a look around this blog and that's obvious. According to his interviews when he came out, he hadn't even told his brother until three years after Idol ended. Growing up in North Carolina, I am not so sure his Southern Baptist family would have appreciated learning that from Ryan Seacrest on the Wednesday night elimination show. As he has said a few times, he grew up with people who thought being gay is a choice.

Curious that Bob's letter came out today though, as Clay's new label just tweeted that they are listening to his new album due early this year and it sounds amazing. With that one tweet, this label (Universal's Decca) has done more online promo through social media than his old label at RCA did in the previous six years. Or as the fans are fond of saying "Clive took platinum and turned it to gold". Writing his own stuff? He wrote the brilliant Lover All Alone and Clive didn't even put it on his album. It was put on the next album and got the best reviews of any track.

Not sure how Lefsetz could say that Clay's on his way out either. Let's see, a year ago he was wrapping up a critically acclaimed 8 month run on Broadway. He had surgery on his jaw and did some charity work while he recovered and could sing again. He has been recording since summer, traveling all over Europe to work with the best musicians Decca could hire.

Lambert? Cartoon is a good word. (Back off of this blog, Glamberts. Your comments won't get printed. Been there done that putting up with the crazy ass extreme faction of the Claymates.) Oh and yay for Decca using the word FAN in their tweet and not the "C" word.

I'm not a fan of country but Carrie Underwood is shining brightly right now. Of course she's blonde, pretty and can carry a tune. If she failed, she would have really had to work on it.

Comparing singers to Steve Jobs (who is brilliant in many ways) isn't just apples and oranges.
It's so different, it's apples and lawnmowers. (That's apple with a small "a".) He answers just to shareholders so once he knows what the market wants, he has far more power at his disposal to deliver it.

Oh and this? Speak your mind. Take a stand. Don't be afraid to offend. The opposite is death.

Take a stand? Don't be afraid to offend? That's the Clay Aiken, post Idol that I know. I don't think Bob has followed Clay's blog or his fanclub posts on politics, the media, the music industry, or even American Idol. He blogged about Somalia on Huff Post. Blunt is putting it mildly. And that is what his fans love most about him, beyond the talent. We always know where Clay stands, even if we don't agree.

Decca is excited and so are the fans. We've got a new album on the way, a likely tour and special. And that's just what we know about so far. We're here seven years later. That's a star to me.

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gerra said...


Pink Armchair said...

Wonderful blog -- I agree with every word. I too usually enjoy reading Mr. Lefsetz's blogs but I think he's way off on some of the things he's saying here. But I guess Clay's new CD will tell the tale. It's just nice to see a label actually excited about an artist's new work. A far cry from RCA. Hurrah!

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I agree with every word also.

Carolina Clay said...


Very well said! It's amazing how the cards tumbled today with Simon's remarks about Clay in the Lefsetz Letter, on Idolatar and other sites. At the same time came the great news about his new CD with Decca.

Decca is excited and so are the fans. We've got a new album on the way, a likely tour and a PBS special. And that's just what we know about so far. We're here seven years later. That's a star to me.



Anonymous said...

I also agree with every word - well said.

I just want to add that no one, so far, when discussing why Clay didn't come out sooner, has ever mentioned his UNICEF connection. The places he has traveled for UNICEF are dreadfully hard on gay people, and the organization might well have not assigned him there. We must remember that UNICEF position was given him very early in his career.

That is just one more reason.

GoreFeingold08 said...

I have another comment directed at Simon. In his book "I Don't Mean to be Rude, But" written and released in 2004, Simon talks extensively about how to become a star. One thing he emphasized is that new singers should never try to write their own music. Big mistake. A separate talent that may or may not become evident as one's career is established.

I agree with this entirely - just listen to 90% of music written and released in the last, at least, 20 years. I think this is why teens today think the crap is good - it's all they've ever heard. "Glee" could be helpful!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog, and I too agree with you, also think the Clay Aiken is here to stay as an entertainer and specially a humanitarian. UNICEF has a great ambassador in him!

Anonymous said...

Your response to Lefsetz was spot-on! Loved every word of what you wrote. Kepp up the great work!

tree ~ said...

Excellent blog!

IamMesmerized said...

Great blog, Corabeth. I agree with everything you said.

Soon everyone will realize that Clay is a bonafide star ... as we have all known since day one.

ImGranny said...

Great blog. Mr.Lefsetz us entitled to his opinion, but he doesn't appear to know much about Clay Aiken these the last few years. If Clay's ride is just about over as he says, I'll eat my hat!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Corabeth, as usual, except the part about Clay coming out. I never thought Clay owed it to the public as to whether or not he was gay. As far as I'm concerned that is a very private matter. If he wants to let his family and loved ones know thats different, but I never thought he owed the public anything but the best entertainment he knows how to give and he does that 100% of the time. I don't notice the media going after straight people about every aspect of their sex life, I think its outrageous. And as far as songwriting, none of the really geat singers wrote their own songs, maybe thats why the music then was so good. They left it to the songwriters

Anonymous said...

1. Clay Aiken grew up in an extremely conservative southern part of the country.
2. Clay Aiken is a Christian and grew up as a member of the Baptist Church.
3. His family did not even know he was gay for several years after Idol.
4. He was poked, prodded and hounded for 5 years by the asinine media.
5. He went to Indonesia, Uganda, Somalia, Afghanistan and Mexico in support of children who are living with devastation and a lack of education much less food, water, shelter and fearing for their lives on a daily basis from the LRA in some countries.
Gays are not welcome in all of these countries, death is a penalty that is very real. He went anyway.
6.) Clay Aiken stated as early on as Idol that he wanted to make a difference. Yeah he was mocked by Simon Cowell, but Clay knew what he wanted back then and he has persevered through more crap than most people get thrown at them in a lifetime. He keeps on going.
7.) Clay does things on his own time line, not when the public or the media see fit for him to make a statement, come out of the closet or let them run his life.
8. I believe Mr Lefsetz should research a little before jumping to conclusions or getting his news from gossip rags.
9. The only bit of advice I have for Mr Lefsetz is to walk a day in Clay Aiken's shoes, then you might be more believable and have quite a different opinion.


claysweetea said...

Great blog! I agree with all of it! Thank you!!!