Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Author: Serena Markstrom Nugent

Taylor John is out!

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He was one of the last five singing on “The Voice,” but Oregon’s Taylor John Williams’ run came to an end Wednesday morning.

This year the show debuted the Wild Card feature, so instead of standard voting deciding the top four to sing in the finals, each of the fourth through 12th place finishers had the chance to compete for the last spot in next week’s finale.

On Tuesday Williams and Damien Rice joined the seven who had previously been eliminated for the chance to sing again.

Judging from reactions on social media, this Wild Card competition is not very popular. Many considered it unfair because eliminated singers could beat Williams or Rice even after the two had outperformed them earlier in the season.

Because of this, the common rally cry online was to vote for Williams or Rice on principle.

For his Wild Card song Williams did a truncated version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” a great choice for the dark, brooding persona Williams has cultivated on the show.

But the sincere and emotional Rice got the most votes, and the show’s host, Carson Daly, announced on the “Today” show that the competition is over for Williams.

To me, Williams always seemed a little out of place on the show, in the best possible way. After each performance the judges remarked that he is a true artist and really knows who he is.

The same could also be said for country singer Craig Wayne Boyd, who has toiled at honkytonks and bars for years, and of music teacher Matt McAndrew, but it became the most common thing the judges said to Williams.

The judges almost never utter a critical word and tend to repeat themselves from week to week, and I will not miss their cloying and meaningless remarks once the show ends.

But for all the TV fluff Williams must have had to endure to make it this far, the one thing that he has to be excited about is that millions of people know his name.

He has amassed almost 60,000 followers on Twitter and 20,000 fans on Facebook.

I’m not sure what contractual obligations he will have to the show after this, but he should be able to parlay this experience into some income from his artistry.

On Monday Williams got to sing one of his favorite songs, the Swell Season’s hit “Falling Slowly,” and he did a beautiful job of it. Early on in the season he noted Glen Hansard from that duo as one of his songwriting heroes.

That night he also sang Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which might have been what lost it for him. I get what he was going for, a cynical take on the superficiality of dating or using people just to fill an empty space in their lives.

But where it might seem that the indie/alternative/hipster darkhorse guy doing a Taylor Swift song would be ironic, in this case the original is already a cynical song.

The country-pop princess known as much for having a million boyfriends as for selling millions of records is smarter than most people give her credit for, and while the song “Blank Space” is unequivocally pop, its underlying message is not one of mental stability or health. It might even havethat rare Hollywood quality of introspection.

He was going for the same thing the week he sang “Royals,” but that time it worked better because his performance delivered a greater depth to the lyric Lorde made famous.

Maybe two songs in one week was just too much, because not only was his performance of “Blank Space” a bit detached, he missed some of the words.

That episode also showed a segment of Williams visiting his “hometown” of Portland.

Williams lived in Coburg and graduated from Sheldon High School, but on the show he claims Portland as his hometown. He lives there now, but there is no word on whether he will go back to his job as a barista at Sniff Dog Hotel.

It was fun to watch Williams try new things and grow on the show, but it got a bit more uncomfortable as performances got fancier and more packaged. Knowing a little bit about his background and having seen him perform when he was in total control, he has a special gift to bring gravity to any song. It’s a cliche, but he seems like an old soul.

“The Voice” let some of that through enough for it to become his gimmick. Oh, isn’t that quaint, this person feels deeply! But he still had to sell $250 Beats by Dre headphones during the commercial breaks and play the game that is mainstream television.

I would have loved to see him in the finale because the artists there get to perform an original song (co-written by industry experts), and I think Williams really would have shone there.

But it’s apparent to me he’s going to shine no matter what he chooses to do next, and doing so well on “The Voice” probably saved him years of hard time on the road to build a fan base.

I think a hearty congratulations is in order. He didn’t embarrass Oregon, not one bit.

Follow him on Twitter at @MrTaylorJohn or search Taylor John Williams on Facebook to become a fan and follow what he does next.

The remaining contestants are Matt McAndrew (Team Adam), Craig Wayne Boyd (Team Blake), Damien Rice (Team Adam) and Chris Jamison (Team Adam).

Former Eugene-area singer reaches finals on “The Voice”

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Sheldon High School graduate Taylor John Williams is one of the top 12 finalists on “The Voice” – and now it’s up to the viewers to decide who moves forward.

In previous rounds the four celebrity coaches had the majority of the say over who moved on, but the results are now up to audience votes. Viewers can vote by text message, smart phone application, online, by purchasing music from the artists on iTunes and by phoning in numbers designed for each contestant on each show.

Last week Williams, who is from Coburg but now lives in Portland, sang the Stealers Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle With You,” but transformed it from the bouncy playful hit to something more dark, soulful and magnetic.

On the show he said the hook reminded him of being a child of divorce and going back and forth between homes.

That performance was during the “playoff” round where 20 singers performed and the top two audience picks made it through automatically and each of the four coaches selected one additional person to stay on the show.

Williams was the last to sing and the first from Team Gwen (Gwen Stefani) to move on.

He won his “knockout” round by singing Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” and Curt Smith tweeted at Williams to tell him he liked the performance.

“There are not enough curse words in the world to express how rad this is,” Williams wrote on the Facebook fan page he started when the show began to air. He now has almost 6,000 “likes” on that page, and he is amassing fans from around the world who have even started sending him fan art via social media.

Here’s his performance of “Mad World.”

And some fan art Williams’ family member posted on Facebook.

noname (1)

His signature look is a hat over his shaggy medium length hair with trousers, suspenders, slim-fitting blazers and other gentlemanly attire. He’s not yet in his mid-twenties, but on the show he’s one of the more mature sounding artists and by all appearances the show’s producers are allowing him to be himself.

The show is less about finding a glossy pop star than identifying a unique singing talent. Viewers rewarded singers who performer vocally ambitious songs that the younger demographic might have never heard, such as “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys and “Help Me” by Joni Mitchell.

I started watching the show because Williams was on it. In my past life, writing about entertainment for the daily newspaper in the town Williams grew up, I paid attention to him as a local musician.

The first time I saw him live at Cozmic Pizza (as it was called at the time) I headed to his show in my softball uniform right after a game. If he ever gets famous I’ll have to dig up the photos of us together that night.

It was obvious to me that he had unusual talent. Back then, still a teenager, he did what he’s doing so well on “The Voice” now. He made  pop songs sound deeper than they sound on the radio.

He also sang his original material, which I do hope he gets to show off to more people because of this show. At this point he can’t really lose. Six thousand Facebook fans might not seem like much, but it can take years for that many people to hear an independent artist, and millions are seeing him on the show and on YouTube.

The show airs Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC and you can vote many, many times for your favorites.

Taylor John Williams survives in good ‘Voice’

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Our local vocal sensation Taylor John Williams has survived the Battle round on “The Voice” and will move on to the Knockout round.

During Monday’s broadcast on NBC his coach Gwen Stefani had Williams paired up with another “alternative” singer, Amanda Lee Peers, to perform Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

Williams, 23, now lives in Portland but he grew up in the Eugene area and went to Sheldon High School. He performed at Cozmic and other local venues before moving north. He’s been covering pop songs with his indie singer-songwriter sensibilities for quite some time, so the show probably feels familiar to him at least in that way.

“Jolene” has become a bit of a hipster favorite and it highlights another way that “The Voice” is, in my opinion, the best of the television singing shows airing these days. The show gives room for artists outside of the pop radio realm to succeed, although it leans heavily there because the goal is to anoint a commercially viable artist.

Just as with any TV show, these artists have lengthy contracts explaining how they are to behave while the show runs. I don’t know what exactly theirs says, but it is more difficult to find Williams’ old, original music now and it seems that some of his YouTube videos have disappeared since the show started. It’s doubtful that is a coincidence.

A haunting song about a beautiful woman, Jolene, who could steal away the singer’s man was a strange choice for Williams and Peers considering they both date women, but each sang with conviction and seemed to find meaning in the song that resonated with them.

Fellow coaches have the opportunity to comment on each performance, and after this one, Pharrell Williams said Williams is a star who has what it takes. Adam Levine said they both did a “beautiful” job with a tough song and complimented their harmonies.

During the blind audition, Levine had been the only other coach to compete with Stefani to have Williams on his team, and he told Williams to pay attention to the way Peers performed with so much passion and full investment.

When it came time to choose a singer, Stefani said she might have made a mistake by coming on the show because choice was so hard. But remarking that Williams had come so far during the rehearsals, she chose him to move on.

Next week is another round of “battles,” or duets such as this one, where the coaches only retain one of the two artists. In the Knockout round singers choose songs to perform solo and go head-to-head with another member of their team, and the coaches choose only one.

Just as in the Battle round, in the Knockout round, rejected singers can be scooped up by other coaches when they “steal” singers to round out their rosters. After that, the public decides who stays and goes. It’s not just phone and text votes that count, sales of performances on iTunes also help your favorite singer advance.

Watch this week’s performance here:

The show airs at 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC.


 

Guest writer Serena Markstrom Nugent used to write about entertainment for a daily newspaper in Eugene.

Eugene’s Taylor John Williams has a winning ‘Voice’

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Sheldon High School graduate and former finalist in the Eugene Weekly’s “Next Big Thing” songwriting contest Taylor John Williams has made it through the blind audition round on the seventh season of NBC’s “The Voice.”

He will compete Monday in what the show calls the battle round, where two members of the same team sing a duet and their coach chooses one to move on.

On an episode that first aired Sept. 22, Williams sang an acoustic version of Kanye West’s song “Heartless” and generated interest from two of the four “coaches.” He chose to be on Gwen Stefani’s team because she immediately recognized him as a songwriter, he said later on an interview posted on the YouTube channel for “The Voice.”

The show airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and is available online.

By contrast to the often image-driven contest “American Idol,” the initial round of the show is designed to highlight people with unique vocal talent.

During the blind audition round, four coaches sit with their backs to the singers. When they hear enough to want to work with, or “coach,” an artist they press a button and their chair swivels around to face the singer.

If more than one coach wishes to work with an artist, they each pitch why they might be the best coach to develop the contestant’s career.

During Williams’ performance, Adam Levine, frontman for the pop band Maroon 5, turned around almost immediately. Pop sensation from the ‘90s, Stefani, lead singer of No Doubt, listened a little longer and then pressed her button. Pharrell Williams, who unleashed the insidious single “Happy” upon the world, and country singer Blake Shelton did not press their buttons.

Stefani complimented Williams for making the song his own. The original is a heavily autotuned hip-hop sob story devoid of much emotion, but Williams slowed down the arrangement and infused the song with soul, finding nuance in the lyrics.

Watch the performance here:

In the interview below, posted on the YouTube channel for “The Voice,” he said ‘90s pop was a big influence on him, but while he was drawn to the sound and the harmonies, those songs did not always have the best songwriting.

His own debut CD “Proverbial Elephant” has the infinitely charming original song “Too Pretty for the Nerds,” also the song he entered into the Eugene Weekly contest.

For the show, he is performing under his full name, Taylor John Williams, though previously the middle name was not part of his stage persona. Three of the contestants who have made it through have the first name Taylor.

A full performance of “Heartless” is available on iTunes, as will be all of his future song selections from the show. Viewers choose the winner by voting by phone, text and over the Internet. Sales from iTunes also factor into deciding who is the viewer favorite. The winner gets a $100,000 recording contract.

The next step are the battle rounds pitting members of each coach’s team against one another, then the knockouts and the live playoffs — and finally 12 contestants will make it to the live performance shows

“I really want to be as myself as possible,” he said in his post-audition interview. “By the end of this process I want to be able to watch myself and be like ‘that was me,’ you know, whether it takes me to the end or I’m gone tomorrow.”

Serena Markstrom Nugent is the former entertainment writer for The Register-Guard. I hope to feature her work regularly on Eugene Art Talk — BK.

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