The career of a contestant on a televised singing competition isn’t quite what it used to be, mostly because the pop landscape has changed so drastically since the rise of American Idol. An Idol win used to guarantee at least one number-one hit, thanks to the mass-promoting machinations of the music industry. But in this world of streaming, a song released two years ago can ride meme magic to the top of the Hot 100, and a jokey thrown-off country rap tune by a young gay man from Atlanta can become the most successful song in chart history; how could the old model adapt to that sort of environment?
The Voice has long since become the premier singing competition on TV, but it’s never had the same cultural cachet of peak Idol; “Stitch by Stitch”, the debut single of first Voice champion Javier Colon, only made it to number 17 on the Hot 100 before plummeting off the charts within weeks. While some Voice alums have enjoyed success, that success usually comes within a certain niche, whether that be Christian music (Jordan Smith) or indie music (Melanie Martinez). Even then, the show itself ends up as a footnote in their careers, something notable that doesn’t define them.
Chance Peña, a rising young singer-songwriter from Tyler, Texas, is another example. He first came to national attention on the ninth season of The Voice, where he was drafted to join the team of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. (There’s precious little of Levine’s reedy whine in Peña’s voice, thank the stars.) After his elimination, he continued his songwriting, eventually penning songs for the TV series Nashville before writing and performing some songs of his own, most recently “Beyond the View”.
In terms of structure, you would never mistake “Beyond the View” for disposable singing-competition fluff. True, it’s not exactly cutting-edge; the squeaky-clean production and Peña’s pop-soul vibrato means that it wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of jewelry store clientele if it popped up on the Spotify playlist. But Peña does just enough to keep things interesting while never distracting from the simplicity at the song’s core. The time signature shifts from an easy sway in the verses to a more urgent pulse in the chorus, switching things up to make sure the listener’s still paying attention. Rather than swamping the song with saccharine strings, Peña uses them sparingly, adding a warm swell here and there while still allowing the song an appealing sense of space. Appropriately for a song about seeing a lover through a metaphorical telescope, “Beyond the View” drifts with a certain stargazing romance, looking up at the night sky and filling the empty spaces with moonlight.“
Beyond the View” doesn’t break new ground; at its heart, it’s still an indie lament, with polished vocals and arrangements that serve their purpose without doing anything really eye-popping. But music doesn’t have to break new ground to be worthwhile, especially now that there’s more music than ever. There’s something to be said for something simple and lovely and well-executed, especially when it’s borne from a medium like singing competitions that used to stifle individual vision.
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