Old Dominion come sniffing around Songland this week because they want a big ol’ hit. And Jeep wants a memorable jingle that will be embedded deeply in consumers’ minds — so much so that the auto company’s CEO Olivier Francois is present for the final songwriter decision process.
This is a whole new ball game for OD, the country quintet admits, as they’ve never recorded a song they didn’t write themselves. Let’s see how this all plays out.
The evening kicks off with one Katelyn Tarver from Glennville, Georgia. If her name sounds familiar, you’ve perhaps taken in your fair share of kiddie TV; Katelyn played Jo Taylor in 34 episodes of Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush, and had a recurring role on ABC Family’s The Secret Life Of The American Teenager. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) The 29-year-old singer/songwriter has a husband and, she admits, a smidge of self-doubt, but that’s not stopping her from her next stab at stardom!
Katelyn belts out her Jeep contender tune “Young,” and the first thing that’s obvious is that it has a nice chorus, but a weird structure. Songland panelist Shane McAnally loves it. Ester Dean proceeds to sing different, more auto-appropriate lyrics on the chorus while Ryan Tedder thinks the song captures the youth, adventure and freedom that’s perfect for a Jeep commercial. (He should know, having scored more than one Jeep ad himself.) But the Old Dominion members are concerned the lyrics (which include a line about making out) are perhaps a bit too “feminine” for them. Lighten up, fellas — that’s what rewriting is for.
Moving right along, ice cream shop worker Jacobi.e (seriously, there’s a period in his name) saunters in and attempts to dazzle Old Dominion with his R&B-leaning number “Westside.”, The members of OD notice a few “melody nuggets” buried in the song. Ester says they simply need to strip back the production, and so Ryan begins to play “Westside” on acoustic guitar. Next!
Here comes Maci (no last name necessary) from Nashville with what I believe is the gem of the evening, “Take a Ride.” This young lady clearly did her homework by bringing in an upbeat number with ready-made lyrics for a car commercial. Surprisingly, this is only the second song she’s ever written. “Take a Ride” gives off a Taylor-Swift-meets-Kesha vibe, and causes Shane to emit a loud “Dang!” upon hearing it. Ester is impressed by Maci’s skills, and Ryan tells her, “You are better on your second song than so many other writers on their 20th or 200. So just keep at it.” Things are really looking good for Maci when, after she leaves the room, the panelists and Old Dominion are still humming “Take a Ride” and reconstructing the melody.
The final slot belongs to Jake Scott from Arkansas. He offers up his composition “Is This Love” which has a simple (if not sparse) chorus, and an overall vibe that Old Dominion feels isn’t dark enough for them. They rework the song on the spot with different chords, which seems to improve Jake’s prospects. But his song still feels like the weakest link, so surely it’s bye-bye, Jake.
Wrong! Old Dominion gives the heave-ho to Maci and her chipper song “Take a Ride.” Are these guys deaf? Don’t they want to sound like Kesha? Doesn’t EVERYBODY?
This is just straight-up foolishness, but the show must go on. Katelyn and Shane are paired up to give some masculine edge (insert eye roll emoji her, kids) to “Young,” while Jake gets to work on “Is This Love” with Ester and Ryan helps Jacobi.e shape “Westside” into something worthy of Old Dominion.
Ryan feels he needs to make sure the song is right for the band, authentic to Jacobi.e and, of course, appropriate for Jeep. The lyrics are given an overhaul and the title is changed from “Westside” to “Where the Road Ends.” But when Jacobi.e performs the new and improved version for Old Dominion, it still feels like a major hook is missing.
Elsewhere, Shane gets the inspiration to give “Young” a more ‘80s synth-pop vibe, with a pulsing bass. The song takes on a different tone, for the better. Shane then suggests bringing in a male singer (named Ted) to present “Young” to OD the second time around, with Katelyn singing harmony behind him. Upon hearing the new rendition, Jeep CEO Olivier states that the song “absolutely could work” for what they’re looking for.
That leaves Jake and Ester, who feels like “Is This Love” should be reshaped into “an anthem to a road trip.” The two of them add more visual words to the lyrics and change the title to “Journey.” When all is said and done, the production is different, but the chorus still feels weak. Jeep exec Olivier feels the song is “pure poetry,” however, and I’m wondering if I’ve crossed over into the Twilight Zone?
Old Dominion ultimately goes with the butched-up “Young,” and so Katelyn Tarver is the latest writer to find success on Songland. You can watch OD performing the anthemic new song here.