Tonight is Original Song Night on Nashville Star, and it's always my favorite night of the season. Original Song Night is what sets Nashville Star apart from pretty much every other televised singing competition, since it's rare that reality TV finalists get a challenge like this. After all, the American Idols never have to pen their own tunes while competing--and when some of them try to do so later, they suffer the wrath of Clive Davis. (Poor, poor Kelly Clarkson...)
But Nashville, aka Music City, is a whole other world compared to Hollywood. Songwriting prowess is a Nashvillian's most all-important asset, not to mention how most aspiring Nashville stars make a behind-the-scenes buck while waiting for their chance in front of the mic. So it makes sense that Original Song Night is such a crucial part of the entire Nashville Star competition. Original Song Night is in fact make-or-break night.
Luckily for Nashville Star viewers who can't wait for tonight's show, I've managed to get hold of the lyrics and MP3s of the five remaining contestants' original songs. Scroll down for my critiques, and listen to the songs to form your own opinions...
LISTEN TO ASHLEE HEWITT'S "MIKE'S HARD LEMONADE"
Besides being ready-made for some prime product placement, Ashlee's ode to the girly set's alcopop thirst-quencher of choice boasts lyrics that make it an unofficial companion piece to Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." Ashlee seems to be describing the hoochie/barfly other-woman type that lured away Carrie's cheating beau: "She's got her long leg crossed on the hood of her Ford/A rose tattoo that her daddy doesn't know about/Right under her belt/She's got a hickey on her neck from the night before/They went a little to far in the back of the 4x4." I dig the lyrics, but the tune is a little throwaway to me. For all the hype (mostly from Jewel) about Ashlee being a "true artist" more than a "belter," I expected and hoped for more from this girl. But the somewhat ditzy ditty has enough Taylor Swift-style sassiness to secure many of Pearl Heart and Laura & Sophie's former voters, I think.
LISTEN TO COFFEY'S "SOUTHERN MAN"
Finally! Coffey is piping hot once again. He started off as one of my favorites at the start of the season, but Coffey soon cooled for me. He showboated too much, adlibbed too much, picked too many safe songs with little vocal range, and bordered on obnoxious at times. But on "Southern Man," he really shines. The song has a lot of crossover appeal, both lyrically (phrases like "I like to wear my hat cocked to the side/Never been a gangsta, that's just how I ride"; "Keep your Escalades and diamond rings/We got cowboy hats with boots and jeans"; "Boots on the straight limpin'/Down in the South we're rodeo pimpin'" wouldn't sound out of place on a Kid Rock song), and musically (there's definitely a Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews vibe going on here). But the bottom line is, this IS a country song. Maybe John Rich will stop giving Coffey such a hard time after he hears this. Maybe John will wish he'd signed Coffey instead of Cowboy Troy, even.
LISTEN TO GABE CARCIA'S "LOST WEEKEND"
It's a well-established fact that Gabe has the best voice of any male competitor on Nashville Star
this season. And "Lost Weekend," of all five original songs being played tonight, seems to have the most mainstream country appeal. I predict it's going to click well with viewers hungering for straight-up country music, and I think John Rich was right when he told Gabe last week that the "bigwigs up in New York are finally getting what country's about" by casting Gabe on this show. "Lost Weekend," in this recorded version, could be on the radio right now. But when Gabe sings it tonight, will he croon lines like "Head down to the beach/Feel the sand beneath our feet/Sip champagne from a paper cup...Baby, I just wanna love on you" with the amount of flirtiness and seductiveness that mentor Jewel keeps demanding of him week after week? That might be the dealbreaker here.
LISTEN TO MELISSA LAWSON'S "READY TO STAND"
While Gabe has the most radio-ready voice of this season's males, Melissa has always been the woman to watch in this race. I'm still a big fan of hers, but I am disappointed by her original tune. It never seems to pick up momentum. With a statement-of-intent chorus like "I'm here, right now/It's time, I'm ready to go/And show the world, that I'm here/No holding back, I'm giving it all to take this chance/I'm ready to stand," I would have expected it to sound, well, more triumphant
. But the delivery never quite lives up to the promise of the lyrics--and, dare I say it, Melissa doesn't seem to be singing
as well as I've heard her before! Maybe when she's onstage tonight, all glowing and beaming and belting, she'll deliver a better performance than what I'm hearing here. I hope
so, at least--I want to see this lady at the finale! I'm just not sure if this
is the song that will get her there...
LISTEN TO SHAWN MAYER'S "NOT LOOKING BACK"
Shawn's voice sounds lovely here, creamy and luscious, but to be honest, I am bummed she's not in butt-kickin' badgirl mode on her original. She was so good doing "Before He Cheats" last week, and I even liked her doing Janis Joplin in black leather back in week 1. So I wish she hadn't gone with such a five-hanky breakup ballad here. "Not Looking Back" sounds like something pageant queen Alyson Gilbert would have sung if she'd made it this far, with its maudlin lovey-dovey couplets about "getting lost in your eyes." I wish Shawn was doing something more like Ashlee's "Mike's Hard Lemonade" tonight. Oh well. Her vocals sound amazing here, so that's the one positive.
So based on listening to these five original songs, I say Gabe and Coffey are going to advance to the next round. Please post on the message board below and let me know which of these songs you'd like to hear on the radio--or on the next Nashville Star winner's debut album, come to think of it.