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Unlike most Southern singers, eliminated American Idol contestant Ben Briley wanted to show America that he was “not just a country singer,” which is why he opted to sing Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” a song featured in 27 Dresses and previously sung by season 10 standout Haley Reinhart.
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Briley said he wanted to showcase some “diversity” in his performances, by spotlighting his instrumentality and love of classic rock, naming Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers, Three Dog Night and “all the great ‘70s bands” as influences.
“Elton was another one that my mom introduced me to,” he explained. “She was always playing music in the house; she played ‘Candle in the Wind’ at her mom’s funeral. I pretty much grew up with him, so song choice was easy for me because I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I think the problem was I didn’t get that across how much I really wanted to do that.”
But the comments from the judges didn’t help either, and he said it actually confused the audience as to who he was. “The whole purpose was to show them I am a little different,” he said. “For one contestant, they will say you are consistent but we need you to change something up. Then they will say to somebody else, you need to stay in your lane. When somebody finally does take a risk … you get shot down on national television.”
Mentor Randy Jackson was on board with his choice, despite band leader Ricky Minor’s reservations about Briley sitting at the piano for the song. “We had some issues on whether Ricky Minor wanted me to play or not to play, or if the song choice was good,” he said. But Jackson advised Briley to play, and “then the band comes in, and then you get up and walk around.”
“I agreed with him,”he said. “They were worried that the piano was going to take away from my singing and I assured them that it wasn’t. I’d been doing it for seven or eight years.”
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After the judges gave their feedback on Briley’s performance, Jackson changed his tune in his taped commentary. “He was all for it. It’s going to be great. It’s a different look for you…showing a different side. It’s going to go over,” he said, paraphrasing Jackson. “And then I confused the audience. His words — I don’t understand. I think he was going off what the judges said as well.”
Another point of confusion: Keith Urban’s comments on Thursday night that Briley didn’t grow in his artistry — a strange comment, since his decision to play piano was exactly the growth he wanted to showcase. “I really wanted to grow, and that was the purpose of doing the song. I wanted to show people that I do have a lot of things up my sleeve, I want to break them out and show you. They wanted to see a certain thing from me. I never knew what that was.”
He continued, “I just didn’t want to be that same country contestant that sang the same music over and over again …I didn’t want to be consistent. I wanted to be unpredictable and I wanted to surprise people.”
Though his elimination means he missed his chance to go on the Idol tour this summer — “That part does sting a little bit,” he said — the Tennessee resident said he does have plans to book shows in Nashville and work on original music in the future.
Twitter: @MicheleAmabile, @Idol_Worship
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