This Week on 'American Idol': R&B Week, Featuring Usher
Monday, March 29, 2010
This week's theme on American Idol should fit some: R&B. In a way, I'm saying that because some of the Top 10 can pull off an R&B track nicely. In another way, it's because the genre itself is so wide and so diverse you can't exactly pinpoint what it really sounds like and all--something you can accuse some contestants of being.
Sure, we all describe current R&B as soulful, a little bit like hip-hop only without the oomph, a little bit like jazz only without being too sleepy. But back then, in the late 1940s when the term was first used, R&B--or rhythm and blues, to be exact--referred to music created by blacks, and could mean anything from boogie woogie to the more successful gospel releases.
But judging from the 125 songs that's part of this week's approved songs list (you can check it out on iTunes) it seems we'll be tackling the best from the Motown era, to the soul and disco hits of the 1970s, to the more modern R&B tracks we're hearing today.
Surely you've heard about the influence of Motown Records--in case you missed last season's Motown week, the record label helped bring black music to a wider, more racially-diverse audience. From the efforts of Berry Gordy, and the work of artists such as Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, the soul music of the 1970s came. Artists such as Aretha Franklin and Al Green took the R&B music of the time and gave it a funkier, more involving quality.
In the late 1970s, disco struck. Initially considered as a reaction by the gay communities in New York and Philadelphia to soul music, the genre evolved into a successful type of music that appealed to everyone, from the partying crowd to more traditional audiences. The infectious beats and sometimes psychedelic vocals may have fallen out of style quickly, but it evolved into the more modern version of R&B we can hear on radio stations right now, as popularized by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Usher... see what I did there?
This week, the Top 10 will meet with Usher, arguably one of the biggest name in the R&B field at the moment. Tomorrow marks the release date of his new album, Raymond vs Raymond, but his career goes back as far as the early 1990s, when he joined the vocal group NuBeginnings, and later discovered after joining Star Search. His breakthrough album--his sophomore release, 1997's My Way--put him on the map, putting him on top of the charts and critics' lists. He became a worldwide sensation after the release of his fourth album, Confessions, which earned him three Grammys and three Billboard chart toppers.
Right now, Usher also heads his own record label, Us Records, through which he develops up and coming talent, the most notable of which is (well) Justin Bieber. Well, at least we can say he knows what he's doing when he meets the Top 10.
(Image courtesy of WENN)