Regular readers of this column know I love me some Josiah Leming, and that I've pretty much been obsessed with the kid ever since he first reared his tow-haired head on American Idol
earlier this year. But I don't
love him for the reasons most Idol
viewers probably love him--you know, the heartstring-tugging backstory, the whole living-in-a-car thing, his easily induced sobbiness, etc. No, I love Josiah for the reason most real music lovers--the indie snob types who normally turn up their pierced noses at all things Idol
-related--will soon come to love him. For his MUSIC.
Normally when an aspiring Idol contestant auditions and opts to sing an original composition, I get ready to witness a seismic-proportioned disaster worthy of some trademark Simon Cowell barbs (not to mention a spot on that season's worst-of blooper reel). But when Josiah auditioned this past season with his own song, a goosebumpily beautiful ballad called "To Run," I immediately recognized him as a major undiscovered talent. So it figures that the judges wouldn't keep him around--a kid like this, with his stellar songwriting skills and a wonderfully skewed mind of his own, would have never been the easily pliable puppet that 19 Management and BMG desired. (Note what happened to Kelly Clarkson when she tried to write her own songs, and you have an idea of what Josiah's fate would have been had he made it onto the show and actually won.)
So it turns out Josiah was better off narrowly missing making the AmIdol
top 24. I certainly wasn't the only person in the music business who realized what a gifted singer-songwriter this piano boy was, because one of the industry types who was equally impressed was Warner Bros. Records' Perry Watts Russell, a man who's worked with the unimpeachably credible likes of Radiohead, Muse, the Dandy Warhols, Secret Machines, MuteMath, and Damien Rice. Not even an Idol
fan--he'd never seen Josiah on the show--Perry signed the boy and proceeded to put him in a London studio with indie producer David Kosten (Air Traffic, Bat For Lashes, Joseph Arthur). You think Clive Davis would have let Josiah do that?
The result is Josiah's just-released, completely wonderful Angels Undercover
EP, a collection of five broodingly Anglophilic angst-ballads that will win over all AmIdol
-shunning doubters and effectively make Josiah the ex-Idol
it's "cool" to like. It remains to be seen if Josiah will become the most commercially
successful singer spawned by Idol
(though I dare to dream), but I believe he'll certainly be the show's most credible, critically acclaimed recording artist. Emphasis on ARTIST.
Anyway, Josiah's getting ready to follow up his EP with his full-length major-label debut in January, but I couldn't wait until then to interview him. I'd waited long enough. (I've in fact wanted to chat with him ever since Simon kicked him off; Ellen DeGeneres just got to him first.) So this week I finally got to have my long-awaited heart-to-heart with Josiah in, of all places, uberproducer David Foster's office over at Warner HQ.
Josiah was a lovely person, guileless and refreshingly unaffected by the Clive-like corporate machine (despite a rumored lawsuit attempt to prevent him from releasing music on Warner). There in Foster's bunker, Josiah and I discussed his plans to move beyond his reality-show past and establish himself as a career artist, while I attempted not to hug him or break into an Ellen-like dance of joy. Here's how it went....