Paige Miles sings in Naples
Former 'Idol' contestant visits alma mater
NAPLES — On March 23, Paige Miles was dejected.
How could she not be? She’d just gone through another round of criticism from the judges on “American Idol,” the popular reality sing show on which she was a contestant this spring. They said she’d butchered her version of “Against All Odds.”
The judges picked at her song selection, which wasn’t her first choice. They knocked her vocal prowess, without knowledge of both a laryngitis issue she’d been struggling with or that her systolic blood pressure had spiked dangerously over 200 despite medication.
But the worst part was that she was starting to believe them.
“I was down on myself, doubting myself,” she says nearly three months later. “I lost my confidence. (‘Idol’ judge Simon Cowell) was right about me being too inside my own head.”
The next night, she was booted from the program by the vote of its viewers.
Then a funny thing happened. She let it all go. She stopped worrying about the judges. She stopped babying her voice. She just let it all out.
And she killed it. Her version of Free’s “All Right Now” was so spot on, so vocally crisp that it left judge Kara DioGuardi throwing up her hands as if to say “Where the heck has this been hiding.”
Then she went on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” And she killed again. Her version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” brought out the best in her voice. She could growl and soar, her phrasing flawless. She left Paul Shaffer so stunned in rehearsals he openly wondered on the show what the “Idol” voters were thinking.
Things seemed effortless, and in some respects they were.
“It was just a different world,” she says. “Your nerves get the best of you on ‘Idol.’ But then you are back to just singing in front of people who want to hear you and it’s easy again.”
“American Idol” has come along way from the first season when a 16-year-old Miles watched as Kelly Clarkson won the title. For one thing, it’s become the highest rated non-sports TV show, greatly eclipsing its competitors.
But more importantly, it’s become a show less about spotting overwhelming talent and more about showcasing stories. Critics have bemoaned the victories of Kris Allen and Lee Dewyze over more gifted performers like Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox.
But both Allen and Dewyze evolved on the show, shedding the shells of their past lives to become viable performers.
Miles never really got the chance to sell herself, and what opportunities she did have seemed superficial.
“I didn’t feel comfortable telling my story always,” she says. “We all have a story. I was just trying to sing.”
While you can respect the personal decision, it could be seen as a tactical error.
While Michael Lynche was playing up the birth of his child, which happened while he was competing, and other contestants’ rough upbringings were shared on screen, Miles kept quiet.
She could have revealed how her father was paralyzed in a car accident when she was 2 years old and died when she was 4. She could have talked about her struggles with hypertension, her grandmother’s dementia problems or losing family members to cancer.
“I just didn’t want to focus on that,” she says.
Playing the family tragedy card probably wouldn’t have pushed her to the ‘Idol’ title, but it might have given her sympathy to last a week or two longer. She finished one spot out of the contest’s annual summer tour. That probably cost her tens of thousands of dollars in tour salary and promotions, which would have greatly increased the amount of time she can afford to live in Los Angeles to launch a performing career.
But would doing that be worth the psychological pain of talking about her family life in front of 25 million people, especially when the goal isn’t to win a singing competition but to become a successful recording artist?
“A story doesn’t always sell albums,” she says. “I don’t want to be a story. I want to be an artist.”
And so that is what she has set off to do. After taking a week or so for a Naples sabbatical, Miles is headed back to Los Angeles, where she’s been living since January. She’s rented an apartment with fellow “Idol” contestant Lacey Brown, a spunky Texan who was eliminated the week before Miles.
Her plan is to spend the summer working on her debut album, which will be released by one of the record labels affiliated with “Idol.” The show’s 24 semifinalists all sign deals, Miles says. She is also represented by Hollywood super agency CAA, which is helping her audition for possible TV roles.
Miles admits she can’t stay in Los Angeles forever without finding work in the entertainment industry, but estimates she can last a year, maybe two to pursue her dream.
“I want to do the work,” she says. “This is want I want to do. I’m going to make it happen.”
The album will be mostly original numbers, some her own and others written by professional songwriters, in the vein of Tina Turner, the singer she’d most like to emulate. The songs she was allowed to sing on “Idol” she says didn’t give her an opportunity to really show what she can do.
“So many times I was singing something I wasn’t really comfortable with,” she says, citing specifically the number that sent her home.
“A lot of songs I wanted to sing, I couldn’t get approved.”
With Miles free to make her own choices, listeners can expect an album that sounds a lot like the three-song set she played at Community School of Naples last week. That better encapsulates her style. Miles sang a pretty reverential cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City” and a slightly downtown version of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly.”
But the ending number most positioned Miles as an artist, giving a glimpse of the personality viewers never really got on “American Idol.” Her version of “Mercy” by Duffy, a sort of neo-Dusty Springfield, cut out the slightly coy coo of the original in favor of a more manic approach.
On a small stage, in the high school gymnasium where she first got her start, Miles gave the song a blatant desperation, a sort of hunger — the same sort she has for her career.
“I’m serious about making this happen,” she says. “I was given a great chance. More than 100,000 people auditioned and I made it all the way to 11.
“That’s an opportunity that other people don’t have.”
Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www. naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster