The Word is Hubris

Jewel discusses how pride comes before the fall and what she learned watching the Nick/Johnny co-write unfold.


If you have not heard, I'm in baby heaven! My husband and I welcomed our first child into the world this last Monday, and we are over the moon excited!

I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of Platinum Hit, and it felt like it took forever for him to come! It will be fun one day to show him these episodes and be able to tell him he was in my tummy.

But -- I suppose I better get to the business at hand. . .this week’s show was a doozy! (Yes, I just used the word doozy.)

When it comes to our latest episode, the word of the day is:

Hubris: extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Hubris has been rearing its ugly head as some front-runners have been quite comfortable labeling other writers as less than or inferior to them. Scotty obviously looks down on Jes but was still able to make the session work. My advice to Scotty is everyone has a strength and a co-write can only benefit from seeing the best in your co-writer and bringing it out while being realistic about their weaknesses and trying to compensate for them. And you can hope the co-writer does the same for you. Sonyae, who is quite talented as a lyricist, does not seem to let her opinion of herself get in the way of collaborating. She and Brian come from different angles, but they are able to meet in the middle. Nick and Johnny were a mess.

What a crazy episode this was. Johnny is the LAST person I thought we would be sending home. But more on that later. . .

As judges, we are not privy to what goes on behind the scenes. All I see is what happens when I am giving challenges or sitting in the judging chair. I enjoyed watching this episode on TV because I got to see our contestants actually pitch songs in a real, professional environment. None of the co-writes for hooks were that productive, but two teams -- Scotty and Jes, and Sonyae and Brian -- were able to improvise and work with what they had and flip it into what was asked of them on the spot. Lots of respect to everyone for that.

Johnny was lucky he got to pitch first, and he was lucky that what he wrote naturally kind of worked for the surprise guest Gavin DeGraw. As I watched the show I, like Nick, thought I’d get to hear a Nick hook, but it was not in the cards, and so we will never know if what Nick wrote was any good or better than Johnny’s.

Writing for a specific artist is fun and helps the writing process by giving a specific goal and framework to work within. The mission becomes clear: study your target -- how they sing, what they have already said, what they have left to say, and what their vocal range is -- then write to showcase their range and talents. Look to where you feel new ground is for them, while still being true to who that artist is. Scotty had a point when he said Bieber would be 18 by the time the song would ever get cut, and so letting the lyric grow up a bit as well is a good instinct. It was a solid song; however, it was a bit of a Bieber imitation instead of breaking new musical ground and so it won second. You could definitely hear it on a Bieber record for sure, but not necessarily as a first single burning up the charts of a new album. That song would have to really stand out, sound new, and break ground.

Sonyae and Brian's song was pretty solid. I still feel her structure could use some help and the melody could have a bit more range. I have had the pleasure of singing and performing with Beyonce, and I can tell you she is even more talented when you see her in person. She has a great voice with a bigger range than her songs usually allow for, and if she ever cut a song with a big range I know she would kill it. She is so talented. A mid-tempo ballad would be a great platform for this type of standout performance, and as usual Sonyae's lyrical instinct is so strong it makes you sit up and think and also makes up (for now) for the fact that her structure could use work. She did a great job. If she can fine-tune that song's structure and build the melody to a climax, it is a very pitchable and radio-ready song.

OK, back to the elephant in the room -- the upset of the season so far! Let's be honest, we have always known Nick is a bit of a jerk. He is arrogant, but in such a way that smacks of past hurt and insecurity, and I think it's pretty easy to see through, though no fun to live with. Do you guys agree? Johnny's hubris was surprising. Last week when I watched Episode 6, I suspected he might be headed down a bad road, but I hoped not. My worst fears were confirmed this week. When we filmed, I was caught so off guard by the dynamic that unfolded on the elimination panel. We saw none of the co-writing session, so it was his word against Nick's. It was very hard to sort out. It was hard to believe Johnny would take such a risk as to write a bad song on purpose, counting on his good record to save him and to send his co-writer home. It was also hard for us to believe Nick would simply not contribute. We had heard from every contestant that Nick was surprisingly easy to write with, that he always put his differences aside and got to business. He is also desperate to win this. He wants it bad, and it was hard to believe he would put himself in a position to be eliminated by not giving it his best. Songwriting is the only thing he seems to care about. It did not add up that he would willingly be shut out. This is the worst song Johnny wrote, and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was on purpose or if on his own he lacked some needed direction and some soul that was needed to hit his mark of writing for Gavin DeGraw.

Back when we filmed this, we judges did our best to sort it out and came to the hard conclusion that Johnny, for whatever reason, faltered and delivered a bad song, and we felt he most likely did shut Nick out. We had to judge Johnny for this song's merit and not for his track record. He certainly had delivered on a consistent basis more than Nick had. He was a real frontrunner but we couldn't take any of that into consideration. This is a competition where you are judged song-to-song, challenge-to-challenge.

At the time of filming, I felt shocked and wished I could have seen what went down in the co-write. Now seeing this episode I finally was able to, and I feel we made the right decision. Nick is no hero, but it seemed clear he tried to co-write and he did have great melody ideas that were more in line with who they were writing for. Johnny could have made a better song if he incorporated Nick's melodies with his own lyrics. Instead, Johnny made a folky-sounding Jack Johnson type of song instead of a soul-rock-pop track for Gavin. I told Nick it would be impossible to be shut out of a session, but watching the show, I can tell you I have never had someone be so blatantly rude or dismissive in a co-write toward me. I do have pride, and if someone had treated me so condescendingly, making fun of me because of words I don’t know the meaning of, or by straight up ignoring me, I would have walked out and vowed never to co-write with them again.

I don't think Johnny wrote a bad song on purpose, hoping to get in the bottom and get Nick kicked off, at least I hope he didn't. My guess is he hated Nick and just felt better than him, shut him out, and it bit him in the butt. What do you guys think? It was hard, because there was no clear-cut hero here, and Nick hardly seemed to learn a lesson in humility as he gloated at the end. I wish so badly someone would hug him and tell him he is going to be ok, as I suspect there is a sweet, sensitive, giving guy under the false bravado and scrappy exterior. But alas, Nick will keep being Nick I suspect in the competition, and Johnny will continue to be very talented -- but sadly it will be back at home. Nick did say one thing right though -- he better start getting his rear in gear and delivering some better songs and growing, because he almost got kicked off.

Let me know your thoughts and ask me questions by following me on Twitter.

Until next week,


The Write Girl

Kara explains why Sonyae was the winner and what each songwriter brought to the final challenge.

First off, I am so proud of the growth that Sonyae, Scotty, and Jes made over the course of the show. If I were in their shoes starting out, I don't know if I would have been able to take the pressure of the episode challenges. This was a writing boot camp and the strongest (with the exception of Johnny) definitely survived. Their diligence, team work, and commitment to learning is what landed them in the final three. Their songs were fantastic this week, and I believe they all have careers ahead of them in music.

The Winner ---- When we first met Sonyae, we knew she had a gift for lyrics and concepts, which is one of today's most important components to hit songs. But, she was seemingly at a disadvantage because she didn't play an instrument and I wasn't sure how that would translate during the course of the competition. Thankfully we began to see that Sonyae is musical. She knows what chords fit her melodies and that's why she was able to win this competition. Many topliners don't play an instrument but they are responsible for some of the biggest hits out there today. Their voices are their instrument and they sing what they feel and hear in their heads. Her melodies always came from an emotional place and I think that is why she really impressed us as well. She consistently delivered week to week. She would be an asset in any room of writers in any genre. For me, she is a force to be reckoned with and I think we will be seeing a Sonyae song on an album any day now.

And then there's Scotty who was stuck in adult contemporary ballad land when we first met him. During the course of the show, he figured out how to make more contemporary tracks and teamed up with people that pushed him to be younger, more rhythmic, and hipper. His melodic sensibility was always there, he just needed to put it on top of modern tracks. He also started scrutinizing his lyrics more during the season and that culminated in his best work, "Beautiful You." That song is a great personal anthem and I want to commend him for really speaking about such an emotional and personal subject and yet making it so universal.

Lastly Jes, a singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice and passion for writing. When she first started out she would often get lost in her own piano world. Her songs were very niche and her melodies (while lovely) fit her voice more than they did the voices of other artists. Over the competition, she really learned how to condense her songs and make every part of them meaningful. She too has a gift for emotion in her melodies and by the end of the season was writing lyrics that could match the power of her music. "Come Alive" was a brilliant melodic piece of work.

I found it very interesting that all three contestants pulled from their own life stories when they were faced with creating the biggest hit of their lives. We encouraged them from the beginning to always come from an honest place. I don't think it's a coincidence that these were some of their strongest songs. Great writers will tell you their best material came from their real life experiences -- that's the inspiration part of a song, which is so crucial to making it great. The other part is craft, which we spent a lot of time discussing on the show. Hopefully all the contestants feel they are better writers because of the show. If they do, then we all did our jobs.

Good luck to them all. We are rooting for 'em!