At the top of Songland this week, Ryan Tedder reminds us that “Bleeding Love” was the first song he ever produced to reach the peak position on the Billboard Hot 100. The Leona Lewis ballad also had the distinction of becoming the best-selling single worldwide in 2008, having topped the charts in an additional 34 countries.
Needless to say, the composition put both Lewis and Tedder on the musical map. Can lightning strike twice?
Ryan is joined by fellow panelists Ester Dean and Shane McAnally once more to guide four fresh-faced tunesmiths through the Songland gauntlet and, this time around, find Leona Lewis a hit. “I’m looking for a song that gives me goosebumps, that speaks to my soul,” the onetime X Factor UK winner states.
So in twirls Olivia Lane from Houston, Texas, who informs that she remembers “Bleeding Love” from when she was in high school. After moving to Nashville to take a stab at songwriting, she was feeling particularly defeated, and penned “believe in yourself” anthem “Perfect Skin.” It plays like a ballad that’s tailor-made for Leona, who states, “As a woman in the music industry, this lyric is so important right now.”
Shane tells Olivia Lane that basically the first two lines of the song are the only thing that stood out to him, which causes Ester to jump in and say men will never know what it feels like for women to simply be on the planet with them. Feel the burn, Shane.
Next up is Rozee from the island of Saint Croix. With both of her parents having passed away, songwriting became Rozee’s form of therapy, until she became discouraged and took a different path as a makeup artist. Still, she shows up with a tune called “Fighting For Us” that causes Ryan to perk up. “You could write so many hit records over this exact progression,” he says, before suggesting the verses be scrapped in lieu of a Spanish rap. Interesting.
Next comes strapping young buck Rafferty, who felt he had aged out of pursuing a music career once he graduated college. He instead became a real estate agent, but admits he still wrote songs at night, after work. Finally, he quit his job, and here he is with a partially-a-cappella torch song called “Heart Full of Love.” Every episode, one song passes — to put things in Leona Lewis terms — the goosebump test, and for me at least, this is the song.
Shane is smitten with Rafferty and “Heart Full of Love” immediately. Leona notes, “It’s definitely a lyric I can see myself seeing,” but wants to go a bit darker with it.
Moving right along, Annabel Lee from North Dighton, Massachusetts enters the picture. She’s got a lot of gigs at the moment, including working at a tequila bar, doing freelance photography, teaching, cleaning homes and songwriting. She sits at a piano and belts out her offering, “Ugliest Love.”
Ester loves everything about Annabel Lee, and Leona declares, “It’s exciting to watch you.” Despite that, “Ugliest Love” is the song Leona chooses to not advance in the show.
From there, Rozee is paired up with Ryan, who warns her, “You’re either going to hate me or love me after this session… I took a major risk with your song.” True to his first critique, he decides to add a Spanish rap to it and drops the chord progression down an octave. The much more beat-driven rendition of “Fighting For Us” even has a new title: “Solo Quiero (All I Want)”.
Surprisingly, Rozee doesn’t throw Ryan headfirst through a closed window. “Do you know how excited I am?” she asks, while reminding the hit-making producer that she grew up with Caribbean roots. When she presents “Solo Quiero” to Leona Lewis, Rose takes on chorus duties, while Dominican Republic rapper Tony Cabrera is brought in to handle the verses.
Elsewhere, Shane wants to amplify the melancholy he feels in Rafferty’s “Heart Full of Love” and make the lyrics hit home a little bit harder. Rafferty seems pleased when he states, “Songland has made me fall in love with music again and I just don’t know how to handle it.” Even after getting worked over by Shane in the studio, “Heart Full of Love” still comes off like this episode’s standout, especially when Leona says she loves the melody changes in the new and improved version.
That leaves Olivia Lane, who wants Ester to help her make “Perfect Skin” soar “into the stratosphere.” Ester, in turn, really wants to bring some dynamite to the ballad. When all is said and done, it’s been turned into, as Olivia calls it, “this empowering, up-tempo EDM song.” The budding songwriter is confident that “it completely works.” To me, the new production sounds different, but not enough to send “Perfect Skin” to the moon. Leona, the only decision maker who really matters at this point, loves the message that comes across.
When it finally gets down to nitty-gritty time, Leona tells the three hopefuls, “I came from a show similar to this. So I know how big this can be for all of you.”
In the end, Rozee’s “Solo Quiero” is chosen, because apparently featuring on a rapper’s song where the refrain “all I want is somebody to love, somebody to love, all I need is somebody to love, somebody to love” is sung over and over is what’s giving Leona Lewis goosebumps these days.
And with that, let’s hope some other crooner swoops in and snatches up “Heart Full of Love.”