By Chris Murray
Special for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
Renowned music mogul Andre Harrell believes there is something missing in the music you listen to on the radio nowadays.
As the man who helped launch the career of Mary J. Blige and worked with music industry legends like Russell Simmons and Sean “Diddy” Combs, Harrell believes that rhythm and blues music has somehow lost its way.
“I want to make relationship music because that’s what’s missing on the radio,” said Harrell, who also launched the careers of Jodeci and Al B. Sure. “I think relationship music is very important because the radio and music help groom young people how to interface and be social with the opposite sex. What we have on the radio right now is head banging music. It ain’t boy meets girl or girl meets boy. We need that because we don’t know to be together or get together.”
Harrell was recently in Philadelphia, a city with a storied tradition of great R&B singers, looking for that next superstar soul singer destined to bring back the love as a part of his Andre Harrell Super Star Soul Auditions. In this contest sponsored by Radio One and Atlantic Records, singers nationwide are competing for the opportunity to get a recording contract along with $10,000 in cash.
In the local competition, 50 singers gathered down at the Luxe Lounge in Center City to see who would represent Philadelphia among six national semifinalists who will gather in Atlanta and sing in front of a group celebrity judges.
After the singers were gradually whittled down from 50 to 25 to 10 and then the final three, West Philadelphia High graduate Faheem Mardre (known as ‘Fah Lyric’) will represent the City of Brotherly Love in Atlanta on Saturday. He is one of six regional winners competing for the recording contract. Mardre’s ability to move across the stage and sing to his audience separated him from the pack.
“I think he had the total package. When you look at the whole package of voice to image, I think (Mardre) had the whole package,” said WRNB midday radio host Moshay Laren, who served as the emcee of the competition.
Mardre said the thing that made difference for him was learning from the things he did wrong in previous competitions while continually working on his singing skills.
“I actually work at my craft a lot and I pay attention to my critiques. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, I’m open-minded,” Mardre said. “I just came out and laid it all out. My nerves were going a million miles a minute just at the thought of getting an opportunity that could change everything. I want to accomplish one step at a time.”
The next big step for Mardre is going to Atlanta this weekend to compete in an even more intense atmosphere against the other regional finalists who are just as good and just as talented.
“At the end of the day this is the best of the best, the cream of the crop that I have to go up against and so I definitely have to come out and bring my “A” game,” Mardre said.
“I’ve tried out for American Idol different times and the process is similar. When you try out and once you make it [through each round], [judges] see a little bit more of you. Once I found out that’s how it was going, I tried to prepare myself for anything they might throw at me.”
For the young singers who didn’t make the finals, it’s about learning from the experience and trying to get better the next time around. Twenty-four year-old Aliyah Lewis, better known as “Red Ink” made it to the final 10 before being eliminated from the competition. She believes her performance made an impression.
“I felt like I did really good. This is not an end, this is just a start,” Lewis said. “At least I got the opportunity to be seen by somebody that’s important, so my name is going to stick in their heads and they’re going to remember me. People are going to see me soon because I numerous opportunities for different things. I feel like it will make me focus on what I need to do better.”
Although there were seven female singers in the final 10, the biggest criticism from the judges focused on finding the right song to fit their vocal style. None of them made the final cut.
“It was just poor song selection,” said Carvin Haggins, who along with Ivan Barias, currently produces Musiq Soulchild and has also worked with Grammy-Award winning singer Jill Scott. “They’re singing these records that’s so low and morbid. There was nothing to show their vocal range. You can’t sing Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and try to spruce it up. You’d better sing it like Anita or find something else to show off your vocal range.”
The 28-year-old Mardre impressed judges by his ability to move on stage and connect with the audience, especially the female contingent. What caught the judges attention was Mardre’s rendition of Hall and Oates’ “Sarah Smile”. Harrell said he liked his composure and his ability to choose a song that fit his vocal talents.
“Choices are very important in terms of what songs –to pick that will highlight your voice the best,” Harrell said. “The stars know how to be a star and picking the right song will help you to be a star. The women reacted to him very well.”
Barias and Haggins said they both liked Mardre and the other male singers who were in the final three because of their honesty and sincerity.
“The thing that came through was that they were all sincere and honest with their delivery and their lyrical approach,” Barias said. “That falls into bringing back the love into the music. The thing is there is no honesty in music. These guys were sincere in honest and straightforward. They were singing to women and not talking down to them.”
Harrell said what he wants to see out of whomever win this music contract is someone who is genuine and willing show some passion and vulnerability. He said that’s something that’s especially missing from Black male singers.
“They don’t sing about their vulnerabilities, they don’t sing about what they really feel in love, the hurt and I want to bring back soul singers who have a message of love,” Harrell said.