Music

CANADA'S IDOL GOES GLOBAL

In London, SHANDA DEZIEL chronicles our guy’s campaign for world stardom

December 29 2003
Music

CANADA'S IDOL GOES GLOBAL

In London, SHANDA DEZIEL chronicles our guy’s campaign for world stardom

December 29 2003

CANADA'S IDOL GOES GLOBAL

Music

In London, SHANDA DEZIEL chronicles our guy’s campaign for world stardom

RYAN MALCOLM WOULD LIKE to see his face on the front of Maclean’s. Lying on a leather couch in his record company’s Toronto office, he points out that the magazine did a cover story on Canadian Idol this fall and ran a picture of the show’s host with the headline: “And the winner is... Ben Mulroney.” “No, he isn’t,” says Malcolm. “I am. Just because thousands of people don’t hate my father, I don’t get the cover.” He’s joking—kind of.

Two weeks later, in mid-December, the Canadian Idol host and champion are both in London for the taping of World Idol—where Idol winners from 11 countries or regions are competing against each other (the special airs on Christmas Day, while the victory show will be broadcast on New Year’s Day). Here, Malcolm’s magazine cover sensitivity really flares up. His CTV publicist mentions that all the TV guides in Canada will be putting Malcolm on the cover for World Idol—except Vancouver’s TV Week, which is featuring America« Idol’s Kelly Clarkson. “They’re putting Kelly on the cover?” Malcolm says, freaking out. “That’s kind of insulting. That upsets me. How is that fair? In my own country? I’m the Canadian idol, she’s the American idol. This is what I deal with on a daily basis.” When Malcolm takes a breath, he says he doesn’t hold this against Clarkson. “She’s a sweet girl, and if I told her about this she’d probably cry.” (Well, Clarkson didn’t shed any tears, but she was sympathetic. “That’s a little weird,” she told Maclean’s later. “I’d get mad at the States if they did that. But he shouldn’t take it hard—that kind of stuff happens all the time.”)

HIS CD is No. 4 on the charts, but the strain of being in constant competition since April is beginning to show

It’s quite obvious that this skinny, 24year-old kid needs to develop thicker skin. These days, the former waiter from Kingston, Ont., who can be sweet and kind, bristles at every slight, and hides his insecurities behind sarcasm and mock cockiness. While out taping segments with the CTV crew in London, he says things like, “Idol coming through,” or “I’ll put CTV on the map,” or “Who’s the winner here?” As annoying as that gets, he’s good on TV, quick-witted, charming and completely professional, quietly suffering through two days of shooting in rainy London. But Malcolm does seem to be buckling under the pressure of instant celebrity and constant scrutiny. He isn’t smiling, he looks anxious, and his stomach has been hurting for two weeks. Since his audition for Canadian Idol in April, his life has been one constant competition— he triumphed over 16,000 singers at home, and now he faces 10 other victors abroad. On top of that, the Dec. 9 release of his debut CD, Home, has him fighting for a spot on the charts, a place in your stocking and respect as an artist.

Malcolm collaborated with 40 songwriters (including Randy Bachman and Luke McMaster) for the album. They generated more than 100 songs, 15 of which made it to Home. “People expect a poppy kind of album,” says Malcolm, “and there are some pop songs. But mostly it’s sort of pop-rock. I think people know that about me by now. I think they know I’m a little less mainstream than some other people.” It is pretty poppy, with sappy love songs and tracks as goofy as their titles (You Made This Fool Become a Man, I Gotta Be Me). But the uptempo Crash &Burn, and the title ballad, offer genuine energy and emotion. It’s unfortunate Malcolm wasn’t able to capitalize on the more rootsy, classic rock and Blue Rodeo leanings he showed on the TV program. (Mind you, Home is a thousand times better than the CDs by some of his male World Idol counterparts. When compared to the manufactured, sugary trash of the German and the South African, Malcolm’s album seems eclectic and recognizably Canadian.)

The numbers are on Malcolm’s side. In its first week, he sold more than 29,000 CDs, placing him No. 4 on the charts, above Sheryl Crow and Nickelback. All over the world, idols’ CDs have broken sales records. But Malcolm wouldn’t mind, as he puts it, some “street cred” as well. He’s bothered by the fact most of the musicians he likes— Coldplay, Dave Matthews, Sam Roberts, Sloan—probably think he’s got no business being in the business. “My view is that a lot of artists in Canada don’t like me,” he says. “I’ve met some who totally snub me, and I think it’s rude. I think musicians should stick together no matter how they got here.”

Malcolm feels like he’s earned his position. He’s been singing since he was 12 in an oldies’ band, A Bit of Nostalgia, with his father and brother, at casinos and restaurants. He plays the guitar, recorded a demo, hosted open-mike nights and had a Phish cover band with some buddies. He recognizes that his songwriting isn’t very good yet, but thinks his vocal talent should be recognized. “I worked my butt off for 12 years to get where I am,” he says. “It’s not like I turned on the TV, decided to audition and here I am. But whatever, I don’t need them to know that.” After all, right now in London, staying in the same hotel, are 10 other people who know exactly what he’s talking about.

THE MEETING OF THE IDOLS

The call time is 9:45 a.m., in the lobby of the Marriott County Hall on the south bank of the Thames, across from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The first idol to arrive, at 9:30, is the Netherlands’ Jamai Loman, a puffier version of Malcolm, in orange-tinted eyeglasses, a wool coat and a pinkish scarf. Next in is Norway’s Kurt Nilsen, a former plumber and father of two, who goes to the opposite side of the room. At 9:40 Malcolm walks in and chooses yet a third spot instead of joining one of the others. Things are getting uncomfortable. It’s Australia’s adorable Guy Sebastian, blond hunks Alexander Klaws and Heinz Winckler of Germany and South Africa respectively, and the competition’s black sheep, long-haired, heavy metal Belgian rocker Peter Evrard, who get the party started. They all join Loman, introducing themselves and kibitzing as each country’s camera crew tries to capture the magic moment. Malcolm’s still playing shy.

The Canadian idol is finally recognized by a crew from another country and is brought into the circle. Thanks to his European designer,]. Lindeberg, and talented makeup artist, Shelley Lashley, Malcolm doesn’t look out of place in this sea of outrageously expensive jeans, trendy sneakers and perfectly gelled hair. The idols all give off the same inexplicable glow. According to Malcolm, as soon as Clarkson, dressed down in a hat, scarf, overcoat and baggy jeans, makes her way into the group, the dynamic changes. For the rest of the day, as the idols are filmed sightseeing, the focus is on the American. “A lot of the idols brought their own camera crews,” says Malcolm. “Kelly didn’t bring a crew, but the crew for World Idol was all about Kelly. And Will Young didn’t even show up.” England’s Young, who was the winner of the very first Pop Idol 22 months ago, made only a quick appearance, giving the impression he really didn’t want to be in this competition. Despite feeling snubbed, Malcolm wins over his peers. “Is he perhaps the wittiest person I’ve ever met?” asks Clarkson. “He’s so quick. We were sitting down eating dinner and this lady came over and introduced herself to us and I said to her, T’m Kelly,’ and he goes, ‘Hi, I’m Clay.’ ”

THE PARTY

Two nights before the competition, Malcolm has invited all the idols to a party CTV is throwing at the Maple Leaf Pub in Covent Garden. A half-hour in, none of his guests has arrived. “I’m going back to the hotel to round them up,” he says, unable to sit still. He’s back at the pub within 40 minutes, idols in tow—only Young, Clarkson and Klaws are no-shows. Belgian rocker Evrard is wearing a Canadian Roots Olympic scarf he brought with him to England, the South African contingent is downing Canadian whiskey, and Poland’s 18-year-old pixie Alicja Janosz has been cornered by an eccentric, much older musician, Ben Darvill, formerly of Canada’s Crash Test Dummies. Strangest of all is the non-English-speaking Arab idol, Diana Karazon of Jordan, wearing a Santa Claus hat and singing “I wish you Merry Christmas.”

If there’s any misbehaving at the party it’s from the home team. After a couple of pints, Canadian Idol’s nasty judge, Zack Werner, admits he hasn’t listened to Malcolm’s album. “I don’t f-ing care,” he says. While he’s proud of the show and was moved by the Canadian Idol experience, he doesn’t give the participants much respect. The talent manager liked only two of the singers, signed none and thinks the rest (including Malcolm) should know “they’re contestants, not Coldplay.”

THE SHOW

“My one word to describe this show is disgusting,” Malcolm says right after the Dec. 16 taping. “The judges were a bunch of arrogant people that thought the show was about them. I’m almost embarrassed to be a part of it.” Malcolm’s reaction could have something to do with the fact that the judges weren’t fond of him, calling his rendition of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother devoid of emotion and personality. But what did Malcolm expect? All the countries sent their mean judges, including Werner, Brit Simon Cowell and a rude lunatic from Poland.

Unfortunately, Malcolm is the worst of the World Idol contestants at hiding his feelings. Almost all the others smile their way through the after-party, but Malcolm bitches to anyone who’ll listen. “I didn’t even want to perform in this; I came to see Kelly and Will and the other idols. We’re all recording artists—we don’t need this show.” Malcolm takes little comfort in the fact that when CTV edits the program for Canada, the audience will see only half a dozen critiques as opposed to the 11-person firing squad he had faced. And CTV will no doubt use some of the judges’ kinder words for Malcolm. “It was World Judge,” he insists, ignoring any soothing words, “not World Idol!’

Even for the spectator, the show isn’t fabulous—it has none of the heart of Canadian Idol. With only one song from each contender, it’s hard to tell why many of these idols were picked at home, let alone which one deserves the world title. Clarkson seems in a different vocal league than the others with a powerful, if overly trilling, rendition of Natural Woman, and Sebastian seems to have the most stage presence. The best overall performance is from the astonishingly strong-voiced Nilsen, who closes the show with U2’s Beautiful Day. But the only idol who makes me want to buy his album is Young, whose poise, jazzy voice and reserved soulfulness make an impression.

THE VERDICT

After the show, Malcolm and his manager, Jeff Rogers, leave for vacation in Morocco. They’ll be back in London for the live show on Jan. 1. Whatever happens, Malcolm will have displayed his singing talent to the world. But by competing in these contests, hamming it up on CTV and publicly moaning about how unfairly he’s been treated, he’s lost the essential mystique that surrounds cool Canadian rock stars like Sam Roberts, Gord Downie or Buck 65. “I’m just a funny kind of guy,” he concedes. “I really like to be in front of the camera. It’s me being able to act. I’ll stick to singing right now, but if that doesn’t work out, I can try acting.” Not a bad idea. He might even score his own show, or take over Canadian Idol hosting duties from Mulroney. And maybe then, Ryan Malcolm could get himself more magazine covers. 171

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