NBC’s Songland seems to know a thing or two about ending things on a high note. In a season that dripped with star power, including Lady A, Luis, Fonsi, H.E.R., Martina McBride, Julia Michaels, Florida Georgia Line, Boyz II Men, Bebe Rexha and Ben Platt, hosts Ester Dean, Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder welcomed iconic singer, songwriter, producer and actor, Usher, to the Songland stage for their final episode.
When asked what he was looking for in his next recording, Usher said, “Versatility makes a great song. You have to take people on a journey,” then added, “We have to leave space for the magic to happen.”
And magic did, indeed, happen, as four rising songwriters were invited to present their original compositions to the Songland producers and Usher for the season finale.
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:
MIRANDA GLORY – New York, New York
- Original song: “Salty”
ESTER: “I’m gonna say what the elephant is in the room – this is a girl’s song, this is a guy. And girls speak differently.”
RYAN: “The whole first half of your song, I was in, on the melody and the lyric. I would keep the entire first half of the record, then I would write a completely new hook.”
USHER: “By the way, you got over the relationship? But low-key, it was a moment in your life that was a bit complicated. So, talk about that. That piece of it is what makes it magical.”
RYAN CAM – Leesburg, Virginia
- Original song: “Staying Over”
ESTER: “You had a conversation, now we gotta make it Usher’s conversation.”
RYAN: “There’s a critical issue in that the chorus itself, to me, didn’t sound like the chorus. Start with the strongest thing that you have.”
USHER: “In this generation, things are more visual. You can be in a vibe and create an entire world of an experience around a line because you know, visually, I’m going to connect the dots.”
DAVID WADE – Newark, New Jersey
- Original song: “Horse ’N Carriage”
SHANE: “The truth is, it sounds like a song that would be bigger than just R&B. It’s so infectious, so, you have to also speak to the dummies like me who don’t know all those lyrics. It needs to be a little more universal.”
USHER: “You can simplify some of it, right? Go in that direction as opposed to making it too wordy. Because I felt like when it got to the personal part, there was something in there that was hooky, catchy enough for me to get it. It feels like it’s dancehall to me.”
ESTER: “This is club, sexy dancing, feeling good, we don’t have that right now.”
FATHERDUDE – New York, New York
- Original song: “Billions”
SHANE: “Wow! I thought that was awesome.”
USHER: “It’s a witty concept. I feel like there are two kinds of genres. It started off like a pop record, and then it went R&B. And it went to this really, really, cool ‘one, two, three, four’, but then I was just like, ‘okay, now that’s it, that’s all of it, that’s everything.’ To me, that’s the part that felt this is R&B and pop.”
After the four songwriters had performed, Usher narrowed down the four to three:
MIRANDA was paired with Ryan
RYAN was paired with Ester
DAVID was paired with Shane
FATHERDUDE was eliminated
MIRANDA and Ryan worked on flipping the lyrics of “Salty,” to give them a more masculine perspective. They finessed the verse melody and chorus, but retained the feel of the song and renamed it, “No Cap (Missing You).” Ryan also joined Miranda on stage for the performance.
USHER: “You guys really did take the time to find a way to make this song significant to who and how I am as an artist. And how often do you get the opportunity to be that happy while hearing a sad song. I’m really happy to hear it and that’s no cap.”
DAVID and Shane edited the lyrics, put a focus on the “personal” line and reworked the arrangement to create a space for Usher’s falsetto. They changed the name to “Personal” and after finishing, they felt the arrangement was more universal.
USHER: “I feel all the improvements and the liberty you took in changing things that made it more significant to who I am and dope, man.”
RYAN and ESTER worked on the lyrics and story structure, then developed the production to make it more R&B and hip-hop. They took the original arrangement of “Staying Over” and put urban drums on it to make it suit Usher more. They also renamed it “California.”
USHER: “This song feels relevant. It feels like it’s on the radio right now. And it feels super cool.”
Following the final performance, Usher spent some time considering which song he would ultimately record. As the writers were brought back into the rehearsal space, Usher offered the young writers some words of encouragement before he announced that he had chosen Ryan and Ester’s “California.”
Usher’s version of “California” is available now.
And that’s it on another season of NBC’s newest reality show, Songland. So far, no announcement has been made regarding a third season of the show.