What does the American Idol Songwriter contest winner tell us about professional songwriting?

USAToday profiles Regie Hamm, the winner of the second American Idol Songwriter competition.

Last year, our boards were pretty heated up, with folks so excited about the opportunity to get their songs discovered. Unfortunately, nothing in the rules specifically stated that an amateur songwriter would win the contest — just that they couldn’t submit a song that was under contract. The revelation of last year’s Top 20 songwriters broke a lot of hearts, and you can still read a lot of those painful entries on our archives.

This year, most of the songwriters I met had managed their expectations about the contest. Unfortunately, it created a sort of bell curve for entrants. Many of the contestants, like Regie Hamm, come from a strong songwriting background. Like most professional songwriters, Hamm lives in Nashville, where he’s done a decent job of stringing together some gospel and country hits while earning extra cash as a session performer.

At the other end of the spectrum, I hear some of the most strident complaints from first-time contest entrants who weren’t around for last year’s debacle. These folks typically have little or no formal training, and submitted very rough mixes to the competition.

As I wrote in last year’s special series on songwriting contest secrets, a strong demo certainly helps to move a song higher in just about any contest. While many judges like to say that a real song will shine through a rough recording, the truth is that production can play a huge role in getting a song past industry screeners. The closer a tune is to “radio ready,” the better a chance it has at winning a songwriting contest.

Did Regie Hamm have an unfair advantage because he’s been previously published? Because he lives in Nashville? Because he co-wrote a song with last year’s American Idol Songwriter winner? Certainly not. As with last year, there’s nothing in the rules that says someone with industry experience can’t win.

Last year, it seemed really unfair, since songwriters weren’t held to the same standards as singers who applied for the show. This year, with Carly Smithson getting called a “ringer,” it’s just another indicator of the blurred lines between “professional” and “amateur.” In ten years, will anyone be able to tell?

2 responses

  1. The reason I’m writing is that I’m hoping to expose the fraud American Idol has committed against the American people. (Over $250,000.00 last year alone) Several times I’ve tried to get someone in the mainstream media to report this with no luck. In a nutshell American Idol has held a songwriting contest 2 years in a row. Last year 25,000 people entered the contest at $10.00 each for a chance at fame and fortune, and thousands and thousands more entered this year. (At $10.00 each) The problem is…….

    1. It was advertised as an amateur songwriting contest. (The winner is a pro, with several #1 hits including having a one of his songs on the NEW Clay Aiken CD)

    2. The contest was rigged from day one. How do I know this? Easy….Out of tens of thousands of entries only 20 are chosen for an online vote.
    BTW American Idol said that the 60 people choosing the Top 20 would not know who wrote the song.
    But out of the top 20 you have….
    1. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Finalist (Andy Zulla) is an engineer on Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Diana DeGarmo CD’s.
    2. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Finalist (Windy Wagner) is a backup singer on the NEW Clay Aiken CD.
    3. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Finalist (Ryan Gillmor) wrote the theme song for the Fox television show “Unhitched”.
    4. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Finalist (Dan Yessian) wrote jingles for Ford Motors.
    5. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Finalist (Luke Ebbin) is a producer on Austalian Idol 1st place runner-up Shannon Noll’s CD.
    6. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Winner (Regie Hamm) is a co-writer on the NEW Clay Aiken CD
    7. Top 20 American Idol Songwriting Winner (Regie Hamm) is a co-writer of the Winner of 2007’s American Idol Songwriting Contest Scott Krippayne.

    So we have 3 out 20 on Clay Aiken CD’s. We also have the winner of this year and the winner of last years songwriting contest are good friends and co-writers on several songs. You get better odds of getting struck by lightning while buying a winning lottery ticket. What you see above is just the tip of the iceburg, and only deals with this years contest, last year’s contest is even worse. (10 of the 2007 Top 20 Finalist had working relationships with Judge Paula Abdul, Judge Randy Jackson, Host Ryan Seacreast, Bandleader Rickey Minor, Idol Producer Clive Davis, American Idol, Fox Television …… IF someone will only check out my webpage you would find everything I’m saying has links to prove it. Please do something about this. Thank you, Simon


    Free Speech here………..we’ll see.

  2. Carm Tenorio Avatar
    Carm Tenorio

    Is there a contest for this year: 2009? Please let me know ASAP. I’ve been trying to get some info, but just have not been successful. I know it’s getting close to the show’s finale. Thanks so much for your help. Carm