The final episode of the debut season of Songland had to include something really special, so the producers threw in a twist. Ryan Tedder moved from the producer’s seat to the guest artist seat along with his OneRepublic bandmate, Zach Filkins, and the team brought in Jason Evigan (Maroon 5, Demi Lovato) as a guest producer.
As special as the guests were, the four undiscovered songwriters in the first round were equally so.
First up was J.T. Roach from Madison, Wisconsin. A former employee of the popular satirical news site, The Onion, and now a full-time songwriter, J.T. brought in his heartbreak ballad, “Somebody to Love,” for his submission. It was evident as he sang, that his song was striking a chord with OneRepublic and Jason, as well as producers Ester Dean and Shane McAnally. Following his performance, Zach told him, “There are so many break-up songs in the world right now, you know what I mean? But, man, that is a new way of doing it.” Ryan added, “It’s familiar in the best way.”
The next contestant, Madi from Burlington, Vermont, has had artists interested in her songs, but admits that she’s still a waitress/songwriter. Her original song, “Darkest Days,” delivered a message of growing gratitude. The producers agreed that the arrangement could be darker, and Ryan explained, “With this band, I like to make people lyrically look in or look up. Like looking up to a higher power or looking in self-reflectively. And if a lyric makes you look in or look up, I’m sold.”
Aspiring songwriter number-three, Tyler James Bellinger of Burlington, New Jersey, is already making part of his living in the music business, but said he also worked with his father’s paving company to make ends meet. He wrote “Giving You Up” as a pledge to his partner, saying that he would never give up on their relationship. “It felt like you put your heart out in front of everybody,” Shane told him, with Ester adding, “I love your heart!” The producers were into the melody and concept, but a key change was needed for Ryan to be comfortable singing it.
The final songwriter to perform for the producers was Auburndale, Florida’s Brigetta Truitt. This talented young woman started writing songs when she was five. “I’m not saying they were all good songs,” she laughed. She explained that her song, “Be Somebody,” was the life of a songwriter trying to make it in the industry. Ryan told her, “It needs some lyrical surgery, but the shape is there, the melody is great.” Zach suggested a lyric that started at a point where the singer was “not feeling like anybody.”
With all four songwriters presenting their original compositions, Ryan and Zach had the task of choosing three to continue with one of the professionals for a rewrite. The three that remained were J.T. Roach, Brigetta Truitt and Madi. And although Tyler’s work wasn’t selected, the producers encouraged him to move to a city, like Nashville, where he could immerse himself in the business of writing.
Madi went into the studio with Ester to work on giving “Darkest Days” more of an infectious dance vibe, and following her performance, Shane exclaimed, “Man, I love that song. I don’t want it to stop!” Ryan added, “I’m a huge fan of happy/sad.” He also said that he was drawn to the lyric in the chorus because it sounded like a chorus he would write.
J.T., who worked with Shane, was the first to sing his rewrite of “Somebody to Love.” The pair had worked on making the melody something that would connect with Ryan and it did as he was eager to sing it back to the panel. Shane pointed out the line, “You ain’t even trying to make me jealous, but you can’t help it” was a dagger through the heart moment.
Brigetta and Jason worked on the concept of “Be Somebody” to be more suitable for OneRepublic and made it more about a relationship than personal success. “This makes total sense on stage in front of our crowd, in front of our fans,” Zach told her. “I’m getting goosebumps just reading the lyrics,” Ryan added.
After all three songwriters completed their performances, Ryan and Zach announced that they would be recording J.T.’s “Somebody to Love.” Ryan told him “You walked in and, I’ll be damned if that wasn’t already almost a perfect record. And I will tell you whole-heartedly, that if this isn’t at the absolute top of the pile of what I consider to be a OneRepublic single, then I don’t know what is.”
And with that, the first season of Songland is in the can. Fortunately, it has been announced that the competition series that goes into the writer’s room has been picked up for a second season.
All of the songs from Songland are available digitally for purchase or streaming.