Well, this is convenient. Ryan Tedder, normally one-third of the Songland judging panel, sits with his OneRepublic bandmate Zach Filkins for the finale and has tunes presented to him for a change.
Tedder admits to his fellow panelists, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally, that his band has never taken on an outside song. But such is the crazy, upside-down, whack-a-doodle world we’re living in these days, folks. We all must roll with the punches.
And so the only guest musician in this season-closer episode is songwriter and producer Jason Evigan, who’s penned hits for such pop luminaries as Demi Lovato (“Heart Attack”), Nick Jonas (“Chains”) and Maroon 5 (“Girls Like You”). Tonight he takes a seat next to Shane and Ester.
The first up-and-comer hoping to bend Ryan and Zack’s ears his way is JT Roach from Madison, Wisconsin, who left his unspecified job at The Onion in Chicago for the wilds of the Los Angeles songwriting community. His heartbreak number “Somebody to Love” prompts a hearty “Dang!” from Shane, and a positive response from Ryan, who admits, “The only relationship song we’ve ever had that’s come out as a single is ‘Apologize’, and that was a long time ago.” Given the global success of “Apologize,” Shane retorts, “Wouldn’t you think they’d do that again?”
Next we meet MADI from Burlington, Vermont. She tells us she’s had her compositions put on hold “by so many artists,” but at the end of the say she’s still “a waitress/songwriter.” Tonight MADI brings in her uplifting ballad “Darkest Days.” After hearing it, Ryan plays it on acoustic guitar and keyboard, before contemplating that it could be reinterpreted as a dance song. “There’s a way to make it feel euphoric,” he notes.
Next up is New Jersey native Tyler James Bellinger, who says he makes 70 percent of his money from music, and the rest from paving parking lots with his dad. Both Shane and Ryan advise him to follow his passion and move to Nashville, to truly get into the songwriting scene. Tyler belts out his pop tune “Giving You Up,” and hits a soaring note that clearly even high tenor Ryan would have a hard time reaching. Jason isn’t feeling the song, but Shane says it has an incredible melody. The panelists begin to reconstruct “Giving You Up” in a lower octave, and away Tyler goes.
The final wide-eyed hopeful of the night — not to mention the season — is 20-year-old Brigetta. At this point, I’m just assuming parents aren’t saddling children with last names anymore, because it feels like this show has had more mononymous contestants than not. Anyway, Brigetta hails from Florida and comes armed with “Be Somebody,” a musical tale of a songwriter trying to make it in the industry.
Ryan “genuinely” loves the song but it clearly needs to have the lyrics reworked since he’s already quite firmly embedded within the upper echelons of showbiz. Jason helpfully suggests changing the lyric “I just wanna be somebody” to “tell me that I’m your somebody.” This world is truly full of sparkle and glory.
Poor parking lot paver Tyler James Bellinger gets the axe, and from here Brigetta and Jason Evigan are sent into the studio to retool “Be Somebody.” Brigetta is very up on this, since Kehlani’s Suicide Squad soundtrack cut “Gangsta,” which Jason co-wrote, is her jam. The pair set about making “Be Somebody” sound like a song Ryan feels he himself wrote. One noticeable change is that they fill in the lyrical gaps with guitar licks. OneRepublic guitarist Zach feels the new and improved version “makes total sense now” for his band’s audience, while Ryan loves the rewritten lyrics.
Meanwhile, JT and Shane reword “Somebody To Love” and add a booming, OneRepublic-esque drum beat to the track. JT agrees that the song feels fuller for the changes. He sings it once more for Ryan, who praises its “gut-wrenching” appeal.
That leaves MADI and Ester to rework “Darkest Days” into something that Ryan has never heard before while still keeping its integrity intact. During a quick FaceTime session, Ryan tells the pair that he thinks “Darkest Days” works best as a dance song. The final result is full of the happy-sad vibe Ryan is down with. “I was instantly drawn to this chorus because it sounds like something that I would write,” he admits.
In the end, however, the composition that the OneRepublic frontman says has been “circling around in my head” is JT’s “Somebody To Love.”
So there we have this episode’s winner, and thus ends Songland’s inaugural season. But fret not, for NBC announced this week that the series will be back for a second go at a yet-to-be-disclosed date.