Canadian Idol champ Melissa O’Neil admits she’s not much of a rocker


By Steve Newton

Some might argue that I’m a bad dad for letting my kids watch The Simpsons, but I can’t help it. They refuse to stay in their rooms and play with Hot Wheels or do homework once Danny Elfman’s jaunty theme song carries up from the living room.

I do display a modicum of responsibility by scrambling for the remote whenever an Itchy & Scratchy segment appears, switching channels before four-year-old Danny gets permanently scarred by the icky sight of a cartoon cat turned inside-out.

And it’s not like I never have to watch their shows. Last year, eight-year-old Tessie became a devoted viewer of Canadian Idol. In fact, from the very beginning she predicted Calgary’s Melissa O’Neil to become the champ. Since Tess apparently has as much critical foresight as Idol judge Jake Gold, I asked her to come up with a question for her new pop hero, whom she ranks right up there with Hilary Duff.

When O’Neil rings in from the first stop on a cross-Canada jaunt that brings her to the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Wednesday (March 1), I relay the innocent query. Tess just wants to know why Melissa likes to sing. “I don’t think it’s so much the singing as the performing,” replies the 17-year-old Canuck idol. “When you perform you get this connection between you and your audience, and there’s nothing like it, I can honestly say that. Absolutely nothing like it.”

That ability to connect with a crowd had a lot to do with O’Neil winning last year’s talent search, and the teen’s life hasn’t been the same since. She’s moved from Cowtown to Hogtown, and is now doing her schooling over the Internet. Being away from her family “kinda sucks”, but she understands that success in pop music has a price. She takes some comfort in the fact that Canadian Idol runner-up Rex Goudie will be her opening act on the tour.

While O’Neil chats on her cellphone, the obliging Goudie helps carry her bags from the tour bus to a hotel in North Bay, Ontario. There are clearly no hard feelings between the former rivals. “I didn’t really think of it that way,” she says. “It was so much more a friendship between all of us. And the reason why we weren’t competing against each other was because we all have very different music styles. Rex is more rock ‘n’ roll. I like to think that I can rock, but honestly I’m not much of a rocker.”

Rockin’ or not, there’s no denying O’Neil has an impressive voice, as one listen to her recently released, self-titled debut CD attests. She earned a songwriter credit on only one of the disc’s 12 tracks–the closer “Safe Place to Hide”, a long-distance love letter to her nine-year-old brother–but she isn’t concerned about her minimal creative input this time around.

“I’m still pretty young,” she points out, “and one thing I’m hoping to get out of this tour is a better idea of what I want to do musically. On Idol I did much more mature music, and the music I’m doing now is very upbeat, very young. I didn’t really find my niche in either of them, but I’m hoping that I can figure out where I want to go in the future, you know, and that’s pretty much what life is about. You learn what you want to do from your past.”


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