We were already opening champagne anyway …don’t ask. Let’s just say it’s not uncommon to open champagne at my house. Don’t judge.
The flip phone rang. In those days I usually unflipped it and said, “hello.” These were different times. The voice on the other end was a dear friend who was breathless, “Turn on American Idol right now. Krippayne is on. He won a contest. He’s on camera right now. Ok. Bye!”
So, I grabbed the remote and flipped over to American Idol. And sure enough, there was my friend Scott Krippayne, talking to Ryan Seacrest about the coronation song he’d written. I had no idea such a thing existed. I soon pieced together that Idol had run some sort of songwriting contest in tandem with the show itself. And I learned – right there, in real time – that my friend of well over a decade had won said contest.
I distinctly remember my wife and I doing a little victory dance around the kitchen bar and toasting Scott and his wife Katie. Then I began calling other mutual friends to discuss the awesome news of our dear friend. This was a “chalk one up for the good guys” moment.
Months later, Scott flew in from Seattle (where he lives) to Nashville (where I live). We had drinks at a local bar and grill with several other friends. After a few minutes we got him to tell us about his American Idol experience. It took all of fifteen minutes and was sandwiched in the middle of a conversation about kids, wives, the state of the music industry, and probably a dozen other minor issues and topics unique to old friends. It certainly didn’t dominate the conversation. It was just great seeing him.
The following American Idol season, I entered the same song contest, at the behest of my wife. I called Scott for pointers in entering. He had none. He simply told me “good luck.”
Then I called a friend who knew some people at 19 Management. I asked if HE knew any inside info on the contest. He said he didn’t. And again, “good luck.”
After I entered the song, I called him back to see if he could at least confirm that my song was entered correctly. He called a friend of a friend who confirmed that my title was in the data base. Other than that, “good luck.”
That was all I got from anyone in the 2008 American Idol songwriting contest. Even though I “knew some people.”
After I won the contest, some VERY angry songwriters began piecing together a theory. They postulated that the connection between Scott and I was simply TOO close to be coincidence. They refused to accept the results of the contest because Scott Krippayne and I had a prior relationship. And they were absolutely right. We did. A close one.
And THAT fact alone HAD to mean that something about this “contest” didn’t smell right …if it actually WAS a contest at all. Someone did the math on forty-two thousand entries – at ten bucks a pop – and was fairly certain American Idol had created a “fake” contest in order to make an extra four hundred thousand dollars. And they concluded that the songwriters were pre-determined from the beginning. The proof was in the fact that Scott and I knew each other prior to the contest. And that we were both professionals. And this was supposed to be a contest for amateurs ONLY.
The truth was this: the contest rules said nothing about “amateur” or “professional.” They were only looking for UNPUBLISHED works. Scott and I both owned our own publishing at the times we entered. And if you had any real sense of how much money American Idol was making at the time, you’d know that an extra four hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t have been worth the time for them to set up a website and hold the contest. They were making that much money on any given 30-second spot.
After hiring the extra people needed to comb through the thousands of songs, they actually broke even on the contest.
Their REAL goal in setting up the contest was to simply be able to control the copyright of the coronation song. That was all. They had used songs in the past that were published and well known works as their coronation songs. And they’d had so much difficulty in getting permission to license them they decided to control the process as much as possible. I totally got it from a business stand point.
But if you are a songwriter who just poured your heart and soul into a song you truly believe should be heard by the world, and you feel like you’ve been duped and railroaded, you don’t want to understand such things. It feels better to believe two guys met in a dark room, somewhere, with American Idol executives and cooked up a plan to take advantage of you and get your ten bucks.
I can assure you I have not, to this very moment, EVER met with an American Idol executive. I’ve tried. But they don’t know (or care) who I am.
Still, there were class-action lawsuits pending and public accusations and dedicated blogs and web sites devoted to getting to the bottom of this issue …that did not exist. Ever.
By the time my finale night came around, my ONE contact at the show pleaded with me to NOT bring up Scott’s name in any of the press I did. He told me that the controversy (that was completely MADE UP) was so heated that they were probably never going to do the contest again. His exact words were, “I work around creative people and songwriters have proven to be the craziest of the bunch.” I could’ve told him that part.
Why do I bring all this up now? Almost a decade later? Because I was an eye-witness to – in fact, a PARTY to – a wave of assumption that had absolutely NO basis in reality. But it got traction. It got scrutiny and investigation. It got enough believers in it to make a board room of executives, of the most popular TV show on the planet, shut down a contest that might’ve launched or saved the careers of a few more songwriters. That last part has always made me sad.
I’m really glad Face Book and Twitter didn’t exist back then. I often wonder what the outcry would’ve been if there had been platforms with such power to persuade during my contest controversy. I have no doubt I would’ve been forced to forfeit the contest, somehow. Because even if a thing is not true, if enough people believe it …it almost becomes true. When a huge consciousness moves in a certain direction, the truth almost doesn’t matter anymore.
As I watch media forces play tug-of-war with our current president and his alleged entanglements, I stay silent on these issues. I don’t post “reports” or “breaking news.” And I don’t write opinions on whether I believe or disbelieve this or that. I didn’t do that with the last president either.
I’ve seen, first hand, how simple, well-intentioned truth can get buried in an avalanche of noise. I’ve lived it. And I just don’t jump to conclusions anymore.
Did Donald Trump collude with the Russians to rig an election? Maybe. Maybe not. I have no idea. Neither do you. Could it have happened? Sure. Anything could and can happen.
But through my own experience, I’ve learned to wait and listen. And I’ve also learned that the truth – the straight story – is probably not what anybody thinks it is. It may be worse than you think …or it may be better.
Either way, I’m sure there are still some songwriters out there who think I somehow stole an opportunity from them. No one can know for sure that I didn’t. You can only decide to believe me or not.
Unless we get evidence to the contrary (and we might – I have no dog in the fight either way), my hunch is we’re going to have to finally accept our 2016 presidential election results in much the same way.