Just an Oscar away from being an EGOT, Tony, Emmy and Grammy award-winner, Ben Platt rolled up in the performance space for NBC’s Songland, as a singer looking for his next big hit with the help of producers Ester Dean, Shane McAnally, Ryan Tedder. Four aspiring young songwriters may have been nervous to perform in front of such starpower, but when the lights came up, they presented their heart’s work like seasoned pros.
If you’re new to the Songland audience, four songwriters start out in the competition performing an original number. One writer is eliminated and the three remaining are paired with either Ester, Ryan or Shane who helps them to refine their composition and prepare it to be presented again to the celebrity guest. The guest then selects their favorite, which they record and release immediately.
The writers were:
DAVID DAVIS – Wheaton, Illinois
- Original song: “Everything It Took to Get to You”
BEN: “I feel like particularly in relationships, I’ve gotten to a lot of crossroads where things that you’ve been holding onto that have all this negative connotation, you slowly realize, one-at-a-time, why they were necessary and why they happened, so that resonates for sure”
RYAN: “You’ve got some lyrics here that hit me in the gut. Like, ‘all the hearts I ever held just held me back.’”
SHANE: “I love your melodies and the first two lines of your chorus are out of this world, so good. But it feels so redemptive, so fast.”
KYLIE ROTHFIELD – Danville, California
- Original song: “Lonely”
SHANE: “You took my breath away.”
RYAN: “In my mind, you could get through a whole verse and chorus of this without having any crazy production because his voice is off the chain and the lyric and melody is nuts. You don’t want production to get in the way of it.”
BEN: “There’s a few mentions of a relationship, and I feel like there’s a way to, content-wise, make it maybe about you’re trying to escape the loneliness by going to these different places, and it’s like you keep running away from it, but at the end of the day it’s, no matter where you are, you’re still be yourself.”
CAROLINE KOLE – Clearwater, Florida
- Original song: “Fool’s Gold”
BEN: “Those melodies are very gorgeous.”
RYAN: “The big science experiment on this is going to be setting up fool’s gold for the ultimate payoff. Because right now, fool’s gold comes out of nowhere. When you land on it, you want it to be like, oh! It’s inevitable.”
SHANE: “I was so impressed with your phrasing and the way you put the words in there. It’s just so different…I just think it would be a bigger set-up if somewhere said something about, ‘We’ve been chasing this rainbow and what if all we find is fool’s gold?’”
ESTER: “Keep the cadence and the melody, just change the word so you can get to the rainbow.”
ANNA HAMILTON – Bucyrus, Kansas
- Original song: “Deathbed”
BEN: “I love the sentiment of I want to only leave behind good. When it’s all said and done, I want to be proud of what’s left. So, that I really love, it’s just the word ‘death’ gives me a shiver.”
RYAN: “This concept is an incredible concept. I think it’s just you just can’t land on deathbed.”
After the four songwriters had performed, Ben narrowed down the four to three:
DAVID was paired with Ryan
KYLIE was paired with Ester
CAROLINE was paired with Shane
ANNA was eliminated
KYLIE and ESTER
Ben asked for something something more classically R&B and wanted to dive into the relationship, so Ester and Kyle focused on finessing the lyrics. They changed the song’s title to “Ghost.”
SHANE: “Your tone is out of this world.”
BEN: “It feels so much more introspective and heartbreaking and it’s really beautiful and haunting as it should be for a song called ‘Ghost.’”
ESTER: “I don’t know what it is, but you’ve got me feeling and healing from some stuff I was going through. I thank you for that because you’re an angel.”
DAVID and RYAN
David and Ryan wanted to make the purpose of the song clearer. David said it leans more into the gospel while staying pop. They did add a choir to the production.
BEN: “I love all the lyric changes the most. Obviously production-wise, I love this sort of gospel-y, wrap you up in soul feeling, but more than anything, the story is so clear to me now, and when we arrive at the chorus, which is already basically the whole chorus you brought in, it just lands in such a different way.”
CAROLINE and SHANE
Ben wanted Caroline and Shane to elaborate on the relationship, but really liked the “rainbow,” aspect. They made the song more emotional.
BEN: “With these new lyrics, as soon as it started I went right to one particular relationship. It feels like something I’ve been through and I know exactly what the narrative is. It’s very beautiful.”
RYAN: “I just love ‘every yellow brick is going down the wrong road.’ That line to me, that’s master songcraft.”
Following the final performance, Ben labored over which song to choose from the finished compositions. Ultimately, he chose David and Ryan’s song, “Everything it Took to Get to You.”
Ben’s version of “Everything it Took to Get to You” is available now on streaming and download services.
Next week, Usher joins the panel of songwriters and producers for the season finale of Songland.