Kree Harrison Label Update: Not Signed By UMG Nashville

Hits Daily Double’s Rumor Mill is reporting that UMG Nashville has passed on its option to sign this season’s American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison:

MORE IDOL SPECULATION: Wonderers wondering about Idol Season 12 runner-up Kree Harrison. The singer thus far remains unsigned after UMG Nashville’s Mike Dungan, who had first right of refusal, opted not to pick up the option (only show winners are guaranteed a label deal). While, some observers blame the tough environment for female singers at Country radio, the situation has some asking if the bloom is off the Idol rose. Where will the talented Harrison, repped by Jason Morey’s 19 Entertainment, end up? (7/2a)

As disappointing as this is (Kree would be the first Idol runner-up not to release an album with Idol’s affiliated major label), it probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, between the uphill battle for women at country radio and the already crowded roster at UMG Nashville. Here’s a more detailed look at those circumstances, and a look at what may be ahead for Kree.

The Uphill Climb For Women At Country Radio
As HDD mentions, it is absolutely brutal for women trying to break through at country radio. In October 2012, Mike Dungan made some pointed remarks about the difficulties of breaking a new female act on country radio to The Tennessean:

When Mike Dungan signed new artist Kelleigh Bannen to a Capitol Records Nashville record deal, he told her he would rather be “the guy who had to go put out the oil rig fire” than to try to make it in country music as a new female solo artist.

“I looked at her, someone I like very much, and I said, ‘You realize that you’ve chosen a path that is maybe the most difficult on the planet,’ ” recalled Dungan, who is now chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville.

The current country radio t20 has all of 1 solo female: superstar Carrie Underwood, who is joined by 2 other females between #20 and #30 on the country radio charts (Sheryl Crow, in her first full-fledged solo country effort, and critical darling/Kree friend Kacey Musgraves). There are only three consistent female hitmakers at country radio: Carrie, Miranda Lambert, and Taylor Swift, and the latter has a more uncertain relationship with country fans and the country world these days thanks to her pop album Red. Kacey Musgraves is attempting to be the first new solo female act to follow up a t10 hit with a t20 hit since Miranda Lambert did it in early 2010. Yeah, it’s that bad.

It’s not for lack of females trying. Among major label acts, Elektra Nashville/W.A.R.’s Jana Kramer (who first became known to the public while starring in One Tree Hill) scored a t5 hit last year with “Why Ya Wanna,” but the follow-up single “Whiskey” didn’t make t25. Arista Nashville’s Kristen Kelly debuted with a t30 single “Ex Old Man” but couldn’t crack the t50 with the follow-up “He Loves To Make Me Cry.” EMI Nashville’s Kelleigh Bannen didn’t crack t40 with her debut single “Sorry On The Rocks.” Joanna Smith recently parted ways with Columbia Nashville after releasing four singles that didn’t crack the t50. Idol alum and Mercury Nashville recording act Lauren Alaina had one t30 single and two t40 singles, but looks to be in for a very slow climb with the lead single from her sophomore album, as “Barefoot & Buckwild” has yet to chart four weeks after going for adds. Even pop superstar Kelly Clarkson hasn’t been able to crack the t20 in 2 solo attempts promoted by Sony Nashville labels, despite high profile support from her friends in country music and high profile showcase opportunities on country awards shows.

On the indie side, Katie Armiger, Sarah Darling, Jaida Dreyer and Maggie Rose have attempted to work their way up the charts, and only Rose has even managed to crack the t40. Even Kellie Pickler, who is riding such a high profile after her victory on Dancing With The Stars has yet to crack the t50 with her well-acclaimed new single “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” and this is with a label that is fighting hard for her with consecutive weeks of ad support when the song was first released.

Now we have two Voice winners promoted by Big Machine Label Group, pop/rock singer Cassadee Pope who is currently charting and teen ingenue Danielle Bradbery, whose label has been teasing new music soon, with a third Voice alum, RaeLynn (now a Valory/Republic Records act and signed as a songwriter by Big Machine’s joint publishing venture with Dr. Luke’s Prescription Songs) waiting in the wings. One can’t help but wonder if this sudden glut of Voice alums contributed to the recent parting of ways between Big Machine Records and highly touted 17 year old singer/songwriter Ella Mae Bowen, whom Big Machine had been developing for over two years.

No Room At UMG Nashville
In addition to the odds being stacked against female at country radio, the odds were probably stacked against a new signing at UMG Nashville based on an overcrowded roster. The recent Universal-EMI merger, executive shuffle, and the ensuing layoffs and roster cuts still left UMG Nashville with a pretty bloated roster. Mercury Nashville alone is pushing current singles from Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Kacey Musgraves, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, and Chris Stapleton. Sister label MCA Nashville (also part of UMG Nashville) is pushing singles from Kip Moore, Gary Allan, , Drake White, David Nail, and soon, George Strait. Capitol Nashville, now part of the UMG Nashville family, currently has Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Jon Pardi, and Dierks Bentley on the charts with Darius Rucker set to release a new single next week. Only EMI Nashville, which just finished a successful run of five singles for Eric Church’s Chief, seems less active as Eric Paslay is its only currently charting act. But EMI Nashville has struggled with radio when it comes to everybody other than Eric Church.

Negative Buzz Surrounding Idol’s Season 12
There’s also the issue of the negative buzz surrounding this Idol season. Idol’s ratings decline this season has been much discussed, resulting in the jettisoning of 3/4 of s12’s judging panel (only Keith Urban stands a chance of returning) as well as Idol’s longtime executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, and likely contributing to the departure of FOX’s head of alternative programming Mike Darnell. Despite widespread respect for the talent of this season’s women (especially its t3), sales proved anemic (and the summer tour has had to cancel dates), with Kree’s “All Cried Out” selling just 24k after its debut on the Idol t2 performance show.

It’s likely that, her gorgeous voice notwithstanding, Kree would’ve needed a good-sized push at country radio. UMG Nashville is juggling too many acts in the first place, and would likely not have been able to provide that.

Moving Forward
Still, Kree has been doing what she needs to do. She maintained a high-profile during CMA Fest, making her debut at the Grand Ole Opry with a set that earned her a standing ovation from the full house, performing with her long-time idol Wynonna, performing at the CMT Music Awards, and singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and playing in the annual City Of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge. It appears that 19 has facilitated writing appointments for her, as Kree recently tweeted:

Chris DeStefano has written with and for many Idols – in the country world he cowrote #1 hit “Good Girl” with Ashley Gorley and Carrie, cowrote “Barefoot & Buckwild” with Jon Nite and Lauren, and he cowrote Scotty’s “Better Than That” with Jess Cates and Craig Wiseman. He has branched out in the country world, cowriting Chris Young’s current single “Aw Naw,” the Eli Young Bang album cut “Every Other Memory,” and more cuts. DeStefano and Catt Gravitt collaborated with Ashley Gorley on the aforementioned Jana Kramer hit “Why Ya Wanna,” while Gravitt cowrote Jake Owen’s #1 hit “Alone With You” with J.T. Harding and Shane McAnally.

We also know that Kree has been writing in Nashville for years, and with songs like “You Would’ve Wanted It That Way” (which Kree cowrote with Natalie Hemby and Trent Dabbs) in her pocket, it surely makes sense for a publishing company to sign Kree, if she’s interested in a deal.

Looking ahead, we may see 19E arranging for Kree to meet with other Nashville labels after preparing a CD of demos she can pitch. In Kree Harrison, 19 has a voice that would immediately stand out in the country world and a talent and person who is already well-loved among top-flight singer/songwriters in Nashville (from Kacey to Carrie to Keith to Charlie Worsham to Sarah Buxton to Kate York to Little Big Town to Lady Antebellum to the Brothers Osborne). Kree eventually landing with a record deal seems like a no-brainer. It’s not clear whether 19E’s relationship with Kree will extend beyond the summer tour. But you would think and hope that 19E would make it a point to support the top-tier talent from season 12, if for no other reason than to salvage something from season 12 and reinforce Idol’s main selling point compared to other singing shows in the US: it discovers premiere talent and launches viable careers.

About Deb B 432 Articles
Also known as Windmills, I cover country music news and live televised country events, in addition to recapping ABC's 'Nashville.' Additionally, I occasionally do long-form chart analysis that has been cited by Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, The Guardian, The New Republic, NPR, and more.