Today’s news about X Factor 2.0 had all the pomp and circumstance of a Stanley Cup parade but it’s important in these times of tremendous hype to remember the prime purpose of Simon Cowell’s singing spectacle: to find a star who’s worth a $5 million investment. And so far, the results in the U.S. have been not even spotty, but virtually nonexistent.
No fewer than five finalists were signed to various Sony Music subsidiaries in the weeks after the show wrapped in December 2011, with winner Melanie Amaro landing at Epic Records, but just two songs have been released. Chris Rene’s “Young Homie,” an original composition that Rene wrote and performed at his audition and again during the competition, had some momentum, passing three million views on YouTube, selling several hundred thousand digital downloads and getting Top 40 play but it failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100. A Rene full-length has yet to be released.
As for Amaro, her cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” released digitally in conjunction with her Super Bowl Pepsi ad (part of the X Factor prize), reached No. 3 in dance and club play but never charted elsewhere and news of a forthcoming album has been surprisingly quiet. In contrast, American Idol winners, like season 10’s Scotty McCreery whose debut sold more than 1 million copies after its October 2011 release, usually have albums out within five months of the show’s finale.
So why has Amaro been so out of view? According to a source, the 19-year-old British Virgin Islands native has been ordered to undergo a sort of pop star boot camp that involves a strict regiment of exercise and monitored nutrition. “L.A. Reid is adamant that Melanie get thinner so he’s hired a trainer for her, has her on a strict diet and checks in personally every day to see how much weight she’s lost,” says an insider, who says Amaro is also seeing an etiquette coach (an Epic representative denies the claim). "When she comes back, it will be a whole new Melanie Amaro.”
Indeed, Amaro has been tweeting about her progress both in the gym and at the studio, where she’s had sessions with the likes of Kuk Harrell (Rihanna, Justin Bieber) supervised by Epic’s A&R president Tricky Stewart, and in early March, told Billboard.com that she's recorded four or five songs for her debut, a mixture of ballads and upbeat pop songs.
"I look for songs that are connected to real life scenarios -- love songs, breakups, getting hurt, finding the strength to keep on pushing in life," she said, emphasizing that she's not under any deadline to finish her debut. A label rep says the album is due out in 2012 and that several songs are being considered as potential singles but a release date has yet to be determined.
Still, having had so little visibility offline may not bode well in these short-attention span days and there are plenty of casualties to show for it (think: The Voice's Javier Colon). On the other hand, One Direction came in third on X Factor UK in 2010 and only this year saw international success come their way.
Bottom line: like Harry Styles and crew, Amaro will have to wow both with her music and her presence when she returns to X Factor in the Fall for her big season 2 reveal, but by then, will fans have moved on to the next batch of hopefuls, a new pair of judges and eyes on another $5 million prize?
- Melanie Amaro