"But what we discovered very quickly is that people responded like crazy to the music," Newman said. "The music really has taken on a life of its own." Songwriters have proven so eager to get their tunes on the show that they've agreed to cut their usual license fees, Newman said. The Madonna episode used nine of the pop star's songs, including "Vogue," "4 Minutes" and "Like a Prayer."
Not everyone is so smitten. While critics have generally been kind to the series, the music has drawn some naysayers. That includes rock bible Rolling Stone, which offered a tepid review of the first cast album, sniping that the choir-type reworkings had turned hit songs into "karaoke fodder." And even some songwriters won't play along; requests to use Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" and Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" were turned down.
Adam Anders, the show's music producer, says he works to keep the songs from crossing over into what he calls "Velveeta land."
One of the first songs recorded was Amy Winehouse's retro-soul hit "Rehab." "Mostly it sounded just like monks," Anders said of the first attempts.
Even the show's most experienced singers needed some adjustments. Lea Michele who plays budding starlet and high-school naif Rachel Berry, for instance, has worked in professional theater since she was 8. "She was a Broadway singer, not like a Kelly Clarkson or a Rihanna," Anders explained. "To get her to wrap her brain around singing in a completely new way she never had before, it took some adjustment."
Amber Riley, who plays diva-in-training Mercedes, has sung Dionne Warwick and the Rolling Stones on the show but felt overwhelmed only when the producers asked her to sing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," the torch song from "Dreamgirls."
"That's a song that every singer aspires to be able to sing, and when they told me I was going to be singing it I had no confidence at all," Riley said during a recent break taping the season finale.
Murphy says there is no science to the music selections: "I don't really understand how I choose the songs. It's a very mysterious process and my only rule is I have to have loved the song or have been moved by it myself.
"It's a very strange thing," he continued. "There are a lot of songs I have a connection to from my childhood. The show's weird blend and melange of R&B and '70s and funk and show tunes and ... Madonna. It sounds weird, but it's sort of the soundtrack of my life."
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