It was an emotional roller-coaster night for pop star Charlie Puth on Songland this Wednesday, starting with a surprise reunion with his former Berklee College of Music classmate, Sam Derosa (who tried out for the show with her original composition, “Pill for This”), and climaxing with a surprise decision that changed the Songland game. And along the way, Puth became so wrapped up in the process, reflecting his own humble beginnings penning songs for other artists, that he actually started weeping.
“I'm just going speak from my heart right now,” said Puth confessed tears at one point. “A lot of people all my life looked at me, you know, ‘Why doesn't Charlie get a real job? What is he gonna do, write songs about his life forever?’ And I would wait outside of record labels and they would tell me that my songs were corny and that I should just stay in school and just get a normal job, and no one would actually ever care about what I had to say. And it's just kind of surreal that I'm sitting here in this chair and having people consider songs for me right now.”
Derosa’s Songland entry — an ethereal yet funky breakup song titled “Pill for This,” which she wrote after finding out that her out that her ex-boyfriend was marrying her former friend — impressed Puth. And it had judge Ester Dean (who was totally shipping Charlie and Sam, suggesting they record a duet and even asking Sam if she’s single) almost tearing up herself. Judge Ryan Tedder said he had chills. The panel understandably advanced Derosa to the next round, but it wasn’t time for a Berklee Class of 2013 mini-reunion just yet. “You have the advantage and you have the disadvantage, because I know you,” Puth warned Derosa. “But the good news is, none of that matters to me. I think you have the start of an amazing song, and I think that we could take it to a really, really nice level.”
But “Pill for This” faced some stiff competition from Zach Sorgen’s already-next-level “Bad Habit,” a sticky-sweet confection of song that Puth described as “butterscotch.” Tedder was even more impressed by Sorgen, declaring, “Every year there's a song that somebody you've never heard of comes out of nowhere and steals the year. That song has that melody.”
Sorgen, a young composer with a jazz/classical music background and a dream of doing film scores, described himself as a ’90s kid with ‘80s influences — and “Bad Habit” definitely hit a sweet spot between the two decades. The blue-eyed soul song was very Daryl Hall-meets-Justin Timberlake, reminiscent of sophistipop acts like Swing Out Sister and Style Council but with a modern acoustic twist. This was good stuff, and it seemed perfect for Puth. “What just happened was a breakthrough moment,” raved judge Shane McAnally. “All of the lights came on. I mean, this is a smash. This is a hit song.”
The third contender was Australian’s artist Joel Adams’s breezy "Hate-Love," which had some off-putting and confusing lyrics but boasted an undeniably earwormy chorus. All three songs were transformed during the workshop round — Tedder revamped “Bad Habit” to give it more edge and swagger, Dean amped up “Hate-Love” to make it a radio-ready dance single, and McAnally reworked “Pill for This” into an angsty piano ballad. The latter metamorphosis didn’t quite work (“Pill for This” had sounded better uptempo), but let’s face it: Even with her personal connection to Puth, Derosa didn’t stand much of a chance. It was clear that Puth was already addicted to “Bad Habit.”
In fact, Puth loved Sorgen’s song so much, he decided to flip the Songland script. At the end of Wednesday’s show, rather than airing a music video for Puth's version of the track (as has been the case with other celebrity guests this season), viewers were treated to an actual performance by the enthusiastic Puth.
And then, shortly after episode aired, Puth took to social media to announce that instead of commercially releasing his own version of “Bad Habit,” Sorgen's original version would be available instead. "As a singer-songwriter myself, it is important for me to recognize that sometimes a song deserves to be released by the person who wrote it. 'Bad Habit' is truly something special, and should be Zach's song to put out into the world,” Puth posted.
So, is Zach Sorgen the next Charlie Puth? Well, superstars have to start somewhere – and Puth actually started on YouTube. So anything is possible. Watch this space… and watch the season finale of Songland next week.
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