July 7, 2008 / 8:59 PM / in 9 years

Ex-"Idols" Young and Lewis take indie route

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Arguably the biggest asset that “American Idol” grants is exposure. Contestants go from unknown hopefuls to household names in a matter of weeks, and with that comes pressure to remain in the spotlight by rushing to release an album after the show airs.

<p>Former finalist Ace Young attends an event honoring this season's American Idol top 24 contestants in Los Angeles February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>

But for every Chris Daughtry there are several LaToya Londons and Paris Bennetts, whose quick-turnaround post-“Idol” album debuts slip quietly under the radar.

This summer finds two more former contestants, Season 5’s Ace Young and Season 3’s Jon Peter Lewis, ready to step out with new releases. To their benefit or detriment, it has been a couple of years or more since their time on the show, and both opted to go the independent, rather than the major-label, route.

Young and songwriter/producer Desmond Child split the costs of making his self-titled debut, due July 15 via Pazzo Music through Fontana/Universal. Lewis hooked up with executive producer Don Grierson and will release “Break the Silence” July 22 via his own Cockaroo Records through Adrenaline Music Group.

“(Young and Lewis) took a huge step to be in control of their records,” says My Rocket Science director of digital media Alicia Yaffe, who is working with both artists. And while this allowed them creative control with little label interference, they face the challenge of getting that music heard.

RETURN TO ROOTS

After Young’s run on the show, he says he separated himself from the “Idol” machine and declined initial offers that came his way. Having worked with Brian McKnight prior to the show, Young wanted to return to his R&B and urban roots and sought out Child’s help. “He wrote the rock (songs) that I grew up with,” he says. “I thought in order to show who I am musically, it would be perfect to have Desmond bring that rock production aspect, and I‘m able to bring (my) urban influences.”

Together they split the finances and wrote more than 50 songs, 11 of which made the final cut. Young is a writer on seven of the album’s tracks, including “The Letter,” about breaking up with a girl over fan mail, and “Fast Life,” a “late-‘70s throwback with live horns.” Songwriter Diane Warren contributed the balled “You Redeem Me.”

For Lewis, known as JPL by his fans, “Silence” is technically his second full-length release. His first, “Stories From Hollywood,” was independently released in 2006 and sold a mere 1,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

“I didn’t know who to trust,” he says of post-“Idol” offers, so he bought his own equipment and quickly put together an album because he “just needed to have a record done ... as a calling card.”

The lessons learned from that experience prepared him for handling its follow-up, and through networking he got connected with Grierson and producer Chris Garcia. The result is a more “focused” set of songs that finds Lewis taking a straightforward rock approach, with guitar-heavy, radio-ready choruses paired against subtler singer-songwriter numbers.

REACHING OUT ONLINE

Beyond radio and TV promotional efforts, both performers’ camps aim to tap into the core “Idol” fan base on the Internet to raise awareness of the new releases. Yaffe says viral efforts and community building are integral among the online initiatives. To help target fans, Young hosted a live video chat July 1, and consumers who pre-ordered Lewis’ album will receive mention in the liner notes. A contest is also in the works where Lewis will pen a special song for the winner.

Successfully reaching an audience -- be it primarily on radio, through live events or online -- is the ultimate goal for both artists, but Young and Lewis still take pride in having recorded their albums on their own terms.

“Being on an indie, I‘m not concerned with things like first-week sales or where I hit on the radio charts,” Young says. “I just want more people to know about the album than they did the day before.”

Reuters/Billboard

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