What would you do to be heard? Shout at the top of your lungs in the middle of a crowded, noisy room? Would you stand on a busy city sidewalk, guitar in hand, bucket out for donations, a stack of your CDs for sale, singing and playing for anyone who will listen?
Singing on a busy city sidewalk on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue is exactly what Melody Angel, a contestant on P. Diddy’s StarMaker (MTV, Sundays, 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific) did. It was on those sidewalks where Melody fine tuned her craft, playing for an “audience” who wasn’t really “audience” in the most traditional sense. At times, she took song requests from those passerbys. Some she knew well. Others she didn’t. Not wanting to disappoint her “audience,” Melody played what she knew, putting her own spin on the songs in the process.
What she did for survival developed into a unique style which she described to The Ride as “folky, with rock and funk mixed in.” Television audiences got their first taste of Melody’s style when she performed Pink’s “So What?” on the premiere episode of StarMaker. Record producer and judge Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins applauded her effort and hailed it as a new genre of rock laced with soul.
For her next performance, she took on the Kelly Clarkson hit, “Because of You.” This time Melody brought out her guitar and as well constructed a completely different arrangement of the song. The judges’ responses were mixed. In fact, it got a little heated at the judges’ table. Rodney acknowledged that the song was barely recognizable but liked Melody’s version nonetheless.Tamara Conniff, on the other hand, felt that Melody wasn’t showing proper respect to the original songwriter, arrogantly believing the she could create a better song. And LaurieAnn “Boom Kack” Gibson fiercely defended Melody’s right to do her own thing.
When asked about the judges’ reactions to her song arrangements, Melody said, “They took it as disrespect but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I picked the song because I like the artist and song. I just put my spin on it. I’m kind of surprised. It was just part of my goal — to show what kind of artist I would be after the show. ”
She may not have always received positive reinforcement from the judges but she is receiving it from young girls who contact her asking about learning to play the guitar. Melody said, “It feel so good serving as a role model encouraging [young girls] to take up the guitar. ”
Melody’s own musical influences include Tracy Chapman, India Arie, and Sade. “They inspired me with their [singing] voices in the lower register which is weird for female singers. I thought, ‘I know I can do it, if they can do it.'”
Her story of how she got started is as unique as her style. After securing her first job at age 15, Melody bought a guitar from $50 from a local pawn shop. (She also purchased a skateboard. But more on that later.) and began teaching herself how to play. Guitar in hand, she started singing on the aforementioned sidewalks of Chicago as well at open mic nights and performing with different bands.
So how did Melody go from Michigan Avenue to America’s living rooms? “It’s weird. I didn’t know about the audition. A casting person at MTV emailed me through MySpace. I thought it was a joke [at first]…I was so surprised I got on the show. It was the first “yes” I ever received.”
Ultimately, Melody would love to spend her days as singer/songwriter “putting out good music,” traveling the road touring with a “real rock and roll band” like one of her favorites, Kings of Leon (her other fave is the Foo Fighters) “I’ve loved [Kings of Leon] since ’03. If I could be on tour with them, that would be awesome.”
…Just in case you thought I was experiencing a memory slippage: As I had mentioned earlier, Melody bought her first skateboard at 15. “Nobody in my neighborhood skateboarded. And my mother thought I would hurt myself.” Not only did she teach herself how to skateboard but went on to teach others as well.
Sadly, Melody did not win StarMaker; country singer Liz Davis took the grand prize, a contract with Bad Boy Records. Melody, grateful for the experience, continues to work on her music — writing and singing songs.