'Rio's' Siedah Garrett on Oscar's Original Song Snub: 'People Are Not Happy'

6:41 PM PST 02/22/2012 by Shirley Halperin
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Siedah Garrett at the 2012 Oscar nominees lunch in Beverly Hills

The Academy Award-nominated songwriter, best known for Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," talks about this year's two-song contest and how "Real In Rio" came to life.

Songwriter Siedah Garrett has a 50 percent chance of winning an Oscar on Sunday night. Her nomination, for best original song for “Real in Rio” from the animated movie Rio, is one of only two compositions recognized by the Academy this year.

She’s not complaining, of course. The music slight on this year’s broadcast means more attention for her (and her competitor, Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie, who wrote “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets), even if it does enrage the music industry.

“I know that after this year, the rules are going to change,” Garrett, who is best known for writing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There are a lot of people that are not happy with the way things are right now, even members.”

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The rules she’s referring to are the Academy’s requiring that a song gather the majority of the members’ votes in order to be considered. It also must play an integral role in the film -- so Mary J. Blige’s “The Living Proof” from The Help and Madonna’s “Masterpiece” from W.E., both didn’t make the cut.

But “Real in Rio,” written by Garrett, with Sergio Mendez and Carlinhos Brown, was composed specifically with a scene in mind: the opener. “It had to represent the lushness of Rio, the birds, the animals, the architecture, the sights of Rio de Janeiro, not just the tourist spots,” says Garrett. “It’s a really rich culture and they have a fun, soulful spirit so it was my job to capture and marry that music with the scene.” Garrett likens an original song in a movie to that of a “third actor in the scene, because if often delivers emotions and ideas the characters in the scene can’t just overtly say.”

Neither of the two nominated songs will be performed on Sunday night, a disappointment to all who worked on the music, some for as long as several years. “I'm bummed about it, just like I was five years ago when I got to go to the Oscars and they stopped giving out the gift baskets,” Garrett, who was previously nominated for Dreamgirls, cracks. “I was really sick about that and now I won’t be able to perform with Sergio Mendes at the Oscars, it’s kind of crazy.”

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But that doesn’t diminish the excitement -- and anxiety -- that comes with just being there. “I don't really have a set idea of what I'm wearing yet and I've been running around picking dresses and shoes,” says Garrett, catching her breath. “But darling, trust me, I will be fab.”

Up next for Garrett: she hopes to make an encore appearance in Rio 2, which is currently being animated, she says, and is using a fan-funded model to finance a new album. Among the tracks she plans to include: an answer to her 1987 duet with Michael Jackson, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," called “Keep On Loving Me.” Says Garrett: “It’s a tribute to a man that brought so much joy, entertainment, music, and energy to all of our lives, especially mine. It’s my thanks for him introducing me to the world, really.”

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

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