Thursday, September 09, 2010

DEBRA ROMER sings BOB DYLAN America's Got Talent

To be fair, the 5th season of "America's Got Talent" offered no hillbillies or drag queens, was mercifully low on gutter dance troupes, and didn't have too many idiot mimes pretending to be robots. There were only a few loathsome kids aping rap or hip hop dancing, an almost tolerable level of talentless cutie-pie 20-somethings with Bieber hair, and just enough nut-cases and "edgy" performance artists to keep the show interesting and the judges fighting with each other.

Among the singers, the standouts turned out to be a freakish little girl who sings opera (a "trick" that became tiresome the more it was repeated), the plucky sisters Christina and Ali with their all-American charm and sad back story of cystic fibrosis with its promise of physical degeneration and early death, and the latest Springsteen wanna-be, Michael Grimm.

One singer who just missed the Top Ten was Debra Romer, an ex-waitress with that Jane Fonda combination of sexy vulnerability and flinty toughness. Not that she looks like Jane Fonda or wants to be. Thanks to the show's effective production values, she emerged, backlit, dyed-hair shining, a visual star. If you didn't see her perform Bob Dylan's song, and just hear the download below, the effect isn't quite so dramatic.

As you'll hear, her voice is both limited and limitless…at times in this performance she seems like an amateur, and at other times, she hits the notes she needs. Like Dylan himself, what she does takes some getting used to, and at times she sounds like she's wandering into the territory of plain-singing Iris DeMent or trying the over-emote route of Sinead O'Connor. Debra's stated influence is gaspy Canadian Sarah McLachlan, she of the romantic yodel and the patina of pity and melancholia. Nice of this Goddess of Gloom to choose Dylan's "Make Me Feel My Love," and try and own it despite female cover versions from Kelly Clarkson, Adele, and Trisha Yearwood.

The great thing about "America's Got Talent" is that it really can boost the career of anyone who makes it past the first few rounds. At least for a few months. By the time Romer was in the semi-finals, the 7 songs on the CD-R she sold at her gigs were available on iTunes. She now has a professional-looking website ( and on it announced that she'd gotten 500 new copies of her CD professionally pressed and ready for purchase. Before she made it to the semi-finals, her CD was $10 and no extra charge if a fan wanted it autographed. Now, the CD is still $10 but an autographed version is $15. Smart cookie. If she ever gets beyond local gigs at which she sells her indie CDs, it will be a bit of a surprise.

I checked out her iTune songs and they're very much in McLachlan mode, only lacking Sarah's truly exceptional voice (as well as production values of course). Put it this way, Debra Romer is to Sarah McLachlan what Kim Basinger is to Brigitte Bardot. Basinger found fame and fortune via her vulnerability and anemic good looks rather than trying to copy the style of a more popular blonde with undeniably sexier lips and a better body. So I hope that Romer will move past being a second-tier McLachlan and fully gain control of the unusual breathy style and phrasing she used on the Bob Dylan cover.

Below, you get a sample from her CD, "Stay With Me" (which she also offers free via a website link, so this is not a well-intentioned theft here) and her version of the Dylan song complete with some of the judges' reactions, with Piers Morgan of course being the most on-target.

No pop-unders, wait time, or demands to pay $9.99 a month to Oron, Depositfiles, Filesonic, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Debra Romer emerged from nowhere; and despite criticism from pundits, engages her audience like few performers can today. I agree that her vocal quality is both limited and limitless at the same time but what is so unique about Debra is that this contradiction comes at you all at the same time; as a result her audience is mesmerized; she is truly an enigma wrapped in a riddle. I believe that this reviewer completely misses her appeal.

Debra Romer is drop dead gorgeous. Debra's voice is simply beautiful; and musically, she exudes a vulnerability but preciously gutsy quality, all at the same time. Not, unlike Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits she paints a vocal picture that the listener hates to hear end. Her rendition of Sarah McLachlan's Angel was every bit as beautiful as was Sarah's. Yes, it was different because it was her version; but it was just as beautiful; and Yes, Debra is new to the pressures of the "big world stage." And she is rapidly adjusting to it and to all the disparate forces that are pulling her, in my view, in all the wrong directions. She just needs to sort out who she is and who she wants to be.

Once she figures it all out, she will be enormously popular. She has built a solid core fan base that is growing in size.