I've been employed by Yahoo! for several years now, and without fail, whenever I am introduced to someone and I tell them where I work, that person breaks into a big offkey yodel. "Yahooooooo!!!!" I admit this used to kind of bother me, but after my experience at the Yahoo! Yodel Studio in New York City, I'm OK with it. I heard the yodel about 80 gazillion times that day, but each yodel was different, kind of like a snowflake--and many of the yodels were delivered by famous people, supertalented unknowns, or just tourists with the right attitude looking to have a little Times Square fun.
Allow me to explain. On October 13, 2009, Yahoo! executed perhaps the biggest, and certainly most unique, marketing/PR stunt in the company's history, when it erected a full-fledged popup recording studio smack dab in the middle of Times Square (similar simultaneous events took place in London and Mumbai). There, regular Yahoos on the street came in, bedecked themselves with feather boas and Kanye-esque shuttershades in the studio dressing room, selected a musical genre, and then recorded a Yahoo! yodel in a real recording studio. Even more impressive, they were coached by bona fide musical celebs (Jewel, LeAnn Rimes, Pete Wentz, Ryan Leslie, Randy Jackson); they were accompanied by a live band of some of the best session players in the biz; their performances were screened live on a Times Square jumbotron...and at the end of the day, their yodel was eligible to be selected to be the new official yodel in Yahoo! ad campaigns. Kind of awesome.
The day started early (6:30am! So not my ideal call-time. Yabooooo...) in an attempt to attract NYC commuters who'd rather spend their morning in a recording studio than a subway train. As the sun rose over Times Square and the Red Bull seeped into my veins, the studio was officially opened by hostess Kimberly Caldwell of American Idol fame and the day's first celebrity mentor, singer-songwriter/yodeler extraordinaire Jewel, both of whom looked waaaaay too pretty for such an ungodly hour (FYI, I looked like I'd been run over by a subway train, and was avoiding appearing on the jumbotron at all costs):
But it made sense that Jewel was in such a plucky mood: After years of being teased for her yodeling (apparently it made her quite a target for bullies in first grade), she was clearly delighted to see yodeling celebrated and reinvented in such a creative way. Here inside the studio, I had a chance to chat with her about the Art Of The Yodel:
And so the day began. While Manuela Horn, the Amazonian "Yodeling Dominatrix" from America's Got Talent, riled up the waiting masses with her own unique take on yodeling (see her performances here), the amateurs lined up, ready to express themselves. Some were wacky (like the trio of suburban mom tourists who chose the "Pop" genre and channeled their inner Britneys for "Oops! I Yahoo'd Again"), and some were a bit shocking (like, um, the aspiring rapper who used his time on the Times Square jumbotron to deliver a profanity-laden freestyle..."oops" is right!).
And some even came in their own costumes, like the furry white Cirque du Soleil wood nymphs who were R&B sensation Ryan Leslie's first mentor subjects of the day and left him a little bit confused. (He didn't do much mentoring with them, to be honest, he just stood waaaay back and let them do their thang.) Welcome to Times Square, Ryan:
However, Ryan upstaged them all when he put on an impromptu concert after his shift, much to the delight of the fans lined up outside who hadn't gotten the chance to record with him and were waiting for the most paparazzi-stalked celeb mentor of the day, LeAnn Rimes. But Ryan was not the only talented singer in the bunch. Oh no. Even superstar producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, David Cook, Adam Lambert) was impressed by some of the auditioners, like an a cappella R&B crooner whom Rob asked to sing longer than the requisite 15 seconds, and then, even more notably, this incredible green-Mohawked songstress named Shanice.
Shanice was a bike messenger--one of several odd jobs she'd taken to fund her music school tuition--and as fate would have it she just happened to be riding by the Yodel Studio with her acoustic guitar strapped to her bike. After placing a call to her boss to get permission to make an unplanned stop, she lined up, walked into the studio already looking like a star (no boa or shuttershades necessary), and so impressed Rob with her original Yahoo! jingle that he stopped what he was doing, took Shanice into the adjacent dressing room, and started actually collaborating with her. It almost seemed too good to be true, like a scripted/staged moment, but I assure you it was real, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:
Also watching all this unfold was Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, the final mentor of the day. Now, Pete self0admittedly wasn't exactly the biggest yodeling expert, but he sure had a lot to teach the afternoon's yodelers (except the already-pro Shanice) about confidence, how to be a total rock star, and how to be an Internet sensation. He even kept his cool during this extremely chaotic interview:
Speaking of rock stars, this blog cannot be complete without a shout-out to the A-list band assembled for this mighty undertaking, who played live in a oddly Hollywood Squares/Brady Bunch-shaped box suspended above the Hard Rock Café, overlooking Times Square. I wonder if the amateur yodelers on the street down below even fully appreciated the fact that the musicians accompanying them were musical legends who'd previously played with people like Beck, Glen Campbell, and Bruce Springsteen. With guitarist Tim Pierce (Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks, Crowded House), keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, Moog Cookbook), bassist Chris Cheney (Jane's Addiction, the Living End), multi-instrumentalist Marty Rifkin (Bruce, Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakam, Elton John), and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, Shawn Colvin, Ray Charles)...well, this band was a total dream team.
And making the dream come alive was musical director Julian Raymond, an esteemed producer (Fastball, Hole, Glen Campbell, Cheap Trick) who took on the seemingly insurmountable task of assembling this band and creating 45 different yodel backing tracks. In this interview, he explained to me how it all came together: