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Idol Worship: Eliott Yamin Q&A

Elliott-yamin It wasn’t all that long ago that Paula Abdul’s heart belonged to Elliott Yamin. You could say the season 5 American Idol finalist, who made it to the Top 3 but eventually lost to Taylor Hicks, was her 2006 Danny Gokey — undiscovered, raw and soulful, with limitless potential and the vocal chops to make it in the music business. And one year out of Idol, it looked like Elliott had accomplished that goal and more, scoring a hit single (2007’s “Wait For You”), touring the world and selling upwards of 500,000 copies of his self-titled debut album. Now he’s back with his follow-up, Fight For Love (due out May 5) — another collection of undeniable pop-R&B produced and co-written by some of music’s biggest hit-makers (among them: Harvey Mason, Jr. and the Midi Mafia production team) — only this time, his promotional push hasn’t been nearly as peachy. Blame the economy, says Elliott, which has hit the radio business especially hard. But like any good Idol contestant, he’s not about to give up. After all, he’s come so far. We spoke to Elliott last week and let him vent a little. OK, a lot. Read on for our extended Q&A…

Your debut was a huge and somewhat unexpected success, so going into a second album, was it a case of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Elliott Yamin: I think we played it pretty safe on the first record. For this album, I wanted it to lean more towards pop-R&B and soul, and all the guys I worked with already had that in their repertoire. These are guys who are used to being on rhythm radio and having their songs on Chris Brown albums, so I wanted to make something that sounded contemporary, but was still me. I also wanted to write more this time around — to show that I’ve grown as a songwriter and an artist. I’m still not one of those guys who can sit down and write stuff on his own; I have to be around other people who I can bounce ideas off of, but I’m becoming a great co-writer.

Did you have a hand in all of the songs on Fight For Love?
EY: There are two songs that I wasn’t involved in writing. One is the single, “Fight For Love,” which I heard was originally offered to Leona Lewis. I don’t know what happened, but she didn’t get it and I did, so I put my foot all up in it and the rest of history. It’s a great song, and there’s so much junk and shit trash on the radio now. The landscape of radio has totally changed for the worse since my first promotional tour.

You saw that first-hand?
EY: Yeah. I’ve been out for five weeks going door-to-door at radio, something very few artists do anymore in the pop world, but it’s so much tougher this time around. Everybody’s walking around like their days are numbered and a lot of the programmers that showed me early love the first time around aren’t even there anymore because they got laid off. People don’t have interns anymore; when we hit the stations for these ass-crack-of-dawn radio shows, you have to wait for [the jocks] to take their commercial break so they can come let you in. Everybody’s understaffed and there’s less airtime to play with.

You’re fighting for the love!
EY: I am! [Laughs] With all these new artists coming out with music at the same time, it kind of ruins your chances because they’re all fighting for space that’s much more scarce. Most stations have their syndicated morning shows and in the afternoons, the Clear Channel stations play Ryan Seacrest, so that gives you half-a-day less of time to hear your song played, unless you’re Britney Spears. It’s just tough times. When you step outside your bubble and get out there on the road, you see how the economy is really affecting your business, career and livelihood. But getting to do all this, even though it’s harder, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still have that huge Idol audience, everywhere I go, people recognize me, and I’m continuing to learn so much about this business and about myself. I’m very blessed to be in this position.

Perhaps the most personal track on the album is the closer, “Someday.” How difficult was it to work on a song about your late and beloved mother?
EY: It was kind of tough to talk about how I felt, because [her death] was fresh in my mind and I was still mourning. But I sort of threw all of my emotions out there and with that, just started writing how I was feeling at the time, which anyone who’s lost somebody can relate to. Every time I play it for someone, there’s not a dry eye in the house. I’m really proud of it.

Let’s talk season 8 a bit. Early in the Top 36, we asked Paula who’s her new Elliott Yamin and she answered Danny Gokey. What do you make of that?
EY: Danny is the one I can empathize with the most. In a way, I think what people really liked about me was that I sing from the heart, and every time you hear an artist where you can feel the pain in their voice, those are the ones who grab you. That’s definitely Danny. He’s my guy. I’ve been all over the country and he’s undoubtedly a favorite. Everybody loves him, he’s captivated a huge part of the audience and hopefully he capitalizes on that the way I did. No matter where he stands in the competition, he’ll get his career rolling.

Are you saying Danny won’t win over Adam Lambert?
EY: Adam’s got amazing vocal range, and not to take anything way from him, but here’s my thing: the epitome of an American Idol is someone who comes from a background of no experience but happens to have a natural gift or talent. Like for me, what the show did was help change the molding — I evolved every week and got better. But somebody like Adam, who’s really experienced and has a theatrical background, he’s just killing the competition. There should always be room to grow on the show, but it doesn’t seem like he’s growing because he’s that good. There’s nobody who can really touch him. After the show, he’ll be just fine as a recording artist, but we’ll see what happens…

Got any advice for Adam?
EY: I actually met him at [LA club] the Hotel Café a few months ago. This guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, my name is Adam. I wanted to tell you that I’m a big fan and I was voting for you…” Then he starts looking around to see if anyone else was paying attention to us, and leans in and whispers, “I made it to Hollywood. I’m in the top 36” or whatever. So we talked and he asked me a bunch of questions about what to expect. He’s a really sweet dude, I had a blast talking to him and was looking forward to checking him out. Then to see him on the show… he’s amazing, what can I say?

What do you make of the lip-synched group numbers this year?
EY: It’s so whack, I hate it! A couple weeks ago, I noticed it and was, like, what are they doing? Our season would never have lip-synched. Obviously the background vocals we’d record during the week, but they’re lip-synching the lead parts, which is horrible. I can’t stand it.

Any plans to appear on the show?
EY: We’ve been talking and I think it’s just a matter of trying to fit me in their schedule. But look, it may not happen, who knows? I have to keep that streak alive though, because I’ve been on the past two seasons in a row and they’ve both been at crucial times in my career. Last time, I got the call three days before I was supposed to be on and I had to cancel a show at The Loft in Atlanta because it was either be there or be on Idol. I still have to make up that show, too. But yeah, we’re on standby and ready to go whenever we get the call, so I hope it works out.

With so many former Idol contestants and winners taking the Broadway route, is musical theater something you ever considered?
EY: Absolutely! I was offered the leading role on Rent twice. The first time, I was on tour and they wanted me for at least 16 weeks – something I just couldn’t do. And the second time, I was out of the country. The timing was off, but I’ve always wanted to do a musical and I will one of these days. People always rag on Taylor [Hicks] and how he’s doing Grease on Broadway now. I hear that shit all the time on the radio. But here’s the bottom line: everybody’s working. That’s a great tribute to my particular season — they’re all doing something in this business, which isn’t easy. This is the toughest industry to be in, hands down. And whether you like these characters or not, none of them are back to where they were before the show. There’s something to be said for that in this day and age. — Shirley Halperin

April 16, 2009 in American Idol | Permalink


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What a great interview! This guy is so talented! Hope he gets the attention he deserves - it's such a crap shoot in the music business and he's so good he ought to be heard on radio.

Posted by: Linda | Apr 16, 2009 10:15:23 AM

Elliott has such raw talent. I love his music and hope that the economic times don't hurt his beautiful music. Thanks for the interciew!

Posted by: nanassetta | Apr 16, 2009 10:36:09 AM

HI, Shirley Halperin, I'm a HUGE Elliott Yamin fan and I'm a good friend of Elliott's! I'm also a part of the Etrain fan base! I want to thank you very much for you brillant Q & A will Elliott Yamin!There are alot of things in the Q & A I did not know. Thank you very much! TY

Posted by: Ty Zattiero | Apr 16, 2009 2:14:33 PM

It just KILLS me that someone with Elliott's talent (and some great new music) can't seem to get radio play. Whenever I turn on Top 40 radio, there is so much TRASH from people who can't carry a tune (have you heard some of these people try to sing live)? Unless you're with a major label with deep pockets, it's a long, tough road trying to get your music heard. I wish Elliott the best - he definitely deserves it.

Posted by: Cathy | Apr 16, 2009 10:06:59 PM

excellent interview and Elliott's insights are wonderful. I had no idea it was to tough to get music airplay. I wishhim the best. He is super talented.

Posted by: Jae | Apr 17, 2009 8:38:09 AM

I have to agree that the recording industry sure seems messed up. How is an aspiring artist supposed to make it these days? Broadway seems to be the way to go for a lot of them, and there's nothing wrong with musical theater. It's quite demanding, in fact.

I wish Elliott all the best. I loved his first album and am looking forward to the second.

Posted by: Serena | Apr 17, 2009 10:09:32 AM

I love Elliott but I have to disagree with what he says about Adam. Adam is growing as an artist. He's showing his musical ability and his genius at arranging music, how to perform within AI boundaries, and how to perform limiting the theatrics. That is growth. Where Adam was always performing to specific songs in musicals he can now be free to show his vocal prowess and diversify his musical ability. It's time for everyone else to bring their A game and I'm sure we'll see it soon and Adam will need to challenge himself to compete with them.

Posted by: Me | Apr 17, 2009 12:20:18 PM

I love Elliott but I have to disagree with what he says about Adam. Adam is growing as an artist. He's showing his musical ability and his genius at arranging music, how to perform within AI boundaries, and how to perform limiting the theatrics. That is growth. Where Adam was always performing to specific songs in musicals he can now be free to show his vocal prowess and diversify his musical ability. It's time for everyone else to bring their A game and I'm sure we'll see it soon and Adam will need to challenge himself to compete with them.

Posted by: Me | Apr 17, 2009 12:20:22 PM

I agree with Elliot's comment that Adam's experience is squashing the rest of the talent. Out of all of the contestants, Adam probably has the most stage and vocal training. Yeah, singing in church and at clubs is good practice. But, the real professional training is in theater, in which Adam is already experienced in. Adam can't grow anymore, at least on AI, and through no fault of his own...AI chose him.

Posted by: Anne | Apr 17, 2009 2:25:54 PM

I agree with Elliott that Adam Lambert is already way ahead of the rest due to his theatre experience. He is an amazing entertainer and with the American Idol exposure will be able to get a record deal even if he leaves the show next week. I like Danny too, but ahhhhhh......nobody says much about Allison--now that's a 16 year old girl who is really improving week-to-week.... I'd like to see her keep going.She has great potential.

Posted by: Melissa | Apr 17, 2009 4:49:18 PM

I MISS SEASON 5!!! Elliott was my man! My all-time favorite idol! What a NATURAL voice. He is right, an idol is someone with no real experience who wins over America by getting better week by week. And he was everything an idol should be! I hope his record does well!

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