Here’s to You, Brooke White!

state_brooke-white_sm.jpgThe 1990s saw female singer/songwriters enjoy some resurgence in popularity with the emergence of artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, and Jewel, as well as the success of the Lilith Fair concert tours.



Wednesday, April 30, 2008, was a very sad day for me. You see, that night, as I sat watching the American Idol results show, I was completely shocked when host Ryan Seacrest handed fan favorite Brooke White her walking papers. Yes, the 24-year-old Arizona native was finally knocked out of the running of the Idol competition, sent packing, much to my dismay.

Although she’d been relegated to the bottom three several times before, I honestly couldn’t believe that Brooke had not escaped elimination once again. Unlike many of the other so-called "fan favorites" on the show, I actually liked Brooke. I actually thought she was talented, and that she put forth honest and genuine renditions of the songs she chose to perform. Apparently, though, her performances of Neil Diamond’s "I’m a Believer" and "I Am…I Said" weren’t good enough to keep her safe for another week. How on earth did this travesty of judgment happen? How did America manage to get it wrong yet again?

I started thinking about what I might miss about Brooke White next week. Possibly her voice? Maybe her perky, upbeat attitude toward the competition? Perhaps her superb fashion sense? And then it hit me: I liked her more than any other contestant this season because she is a fine female singer/songwriter in the making.

In an age when natural talent and ability are no longer prerequisites for achieving artistic success, Brooke impressed me because not only does she sing well, she also writes her own music, plus she’s an accomplished guitarist and pianist. This onetime former nanny has the chops, talent, and charisma to actually make a legitimate name for herself, based solely on the merit of her skills — a rare phenomenon in today’s music.

Brooke’s passion and vulnerability on stage reminded me of a time when female artists were celebrated for their honesty and truth, the sincerity and integrity of their lyrics. I’m talking about back in the 1970s when singer/songwriter legends such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon were riding high; their magnificent tunes constant staples on radio play lists, as popular as compositions from their male counterparts including James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Neil Diamond.

The 1990s saw female singer/songwriters enjoy some resurgence in popularity with the emergence of artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, and Jewel, as well as the success of the Lilith Fair concert tours. But since the dawn of the new millennium, enthusiasm for female musicians has all but died. Then out of the blue, Brooke White graced the American Idol stage and breathed a fresh breath of air into Idol and the music scene in general.

Interestingly enough, as upset as I was that Brooke was kicked off of Idol, I was also simultaneously relieved that she did not wind up winning the competition, and here’s why: It seems clear to me that the overwhelming majority of previous Idol winners have gone on to sign deals with producers and record companies that force them to abandon their personal musical integrity — which is often exactly what made them huge hits on the show in the first place — in exchange for the bright but disingenuous promise of commercial and financial success.

Now that she’s free of Idol’s stigma and ownership, the pressure will be off Brooke to make a deal with the greedy corporate devils. I hope that as she goes forward, she’ll be bolstered by the freedom and confidence to choose a record label that is truly suited to her musical style. I’d hate to see her sell her soul to some music factory conglomerate, seduced by some million-dollar deal, in which she’d wind up with no creative control, reduced to singing to beats and lyrics co-written by the likes of Sean "Puffy" Combs. That isn’t the soft-rock, soulful, carefree ’70s girl that Brooke presented herself to be on Idol, and it certainly isn’t a version of her that I’d support in the future.

So, here’s to you, Brooke White! You make me believe that somewhere out there are more young women, like yourself, who believe in being true to their own musical genius. You make me believe that some female performers actually do know that singing about Gucci bags, Dior shoes, or Bentley automobiles does not make for great or even acceptable lyrical content. You make me believe that women today should require much more of themselves, besides standing on stage "shakin’ what your mama gave you," wearing little more than dental floss, covered head to toe in diamonds from Jacob the Jeweler, and weighted down by a head full of fake hair.

Brooke, you make me believe that extraordinarily talented music icons like Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon did so much more than create incredible music for their own generation. By their stellar example of professionalism, hard work and dedication to their craft, these living legends of rock ‘n’ roll continue to teach younger generations of female performers valuable lessons in becoming the best singers, songwriters, and musicians that they can be.

So, go boldly forth into the future, Brooke, making your own kind of music your own way. To thine own self be true. I’m definitely a believer in you! | Retannical D. Russell

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