Singing-show winners’ and runner-ups’ singles are generally bad. They’re not horrible–that’d require too much panache and risk-taking. They’re just unmemorable. If you pasted an unknown’s name over, say, that American Idol winner’s name, nobody would care.
That’s well-established; what’s somewhat less-established (us excluded) is that great stuff tends to come from semifinalists.Idol, The X Factor and similar shows either do nothing for artists, do a lot for artists, or put them into this strange limbo space, where someone’s simultaneously got modest-to-formidable (sometimes) fanbases and almost no press, despite their having performed on national television just months ago, better than 75% of people scrambling for a contract. Instead of being like Melanie Amaro headlining soda commercials–because this is The X Factor, sponsor to everything–they’re more likely on CDBaby or Soundcloud or untrafficked YouTube pages. And if you’re not already a fan, they’ll almost never surface.
That’s a shame, but then, we are a music site and can change this, if only a little. So! Last season of The X Factor has netted the world, from what we’ve heard, Jason Mraz rehashes, Super Bowl commercials, Carly Rae Jepsen covers, mediocre diva singles advertised on TV at the moment of elimination and a moppet’s Mean Girls takeoff not as good as the Tina Fey movie. But it’s also netted a great synthpop EP by Tora Woloshin, who could’ve been one of Simon Cowell’s contenders. From that group comes another: Tiah Tolliver’s “I,” which you can hear below. We recommend this.
Tiah Tolliver, for the unfamiliar, was the contestant championed by Simon who was always a much better, more raw vocalist than she got credit for. Even her disasters (“Sweet Dreams,” mainly) were more interesting than anything in the finals.
The main criticism she got was that her vocals were uneven, but that’s a criticism that can only exist on a TV vocal-gladiator match; with studio recording and actual, tailored songwriting, “uneven” vocalists suddenly sound dynamic–and “flawless” vocalists, often, bland. “I” gives Tolliver a “Tainted Love” synth bassline, half-spoken, full-diva verses and plenty of ways to stretch the word “I” into a tangled yelp. The track could use a bridge, or some other extra level of dynamics, but nevertheless, it’s exactly the sort of confrontational, compelling stuff we saw flashes of before. Tolliver’s now competing not with the world’s Melanie Amaros but with its Ciaras. That’s a great place to be.
(One last note: Readers! There are infinite sorts of comments that will not resonate, including the sort that details how I should be killed, the sort that equates not liking the artist you stan for with not doing research, the sort that says “monkey butt” and the astroturfing sort, the sort that tells me to check out a new artist with no explanation why. But! If you provide a reason to check out your new artist, or alert me to something new by an artist I already like… I’ll pay attention. Which is a long parenthetical way of saying I found out about Tiah Tolliver’s new music by a fan posting on that Tora Woloshin page. Technically it’s off-topic, but I’ll let it slide.)