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Tom Baxter – My Declaration

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As the clocks go back and the winter months begin their inevitable tumble into the bottomless void that is the run up to Christmas, my thoughts – like every normal person – turn to just one subject. From the last weeks of September to the end of December, there’s only one question filling my every waking moment and haunting my fevered dreams…

What will the X Factor winner’s single be?

Long gone are the days when the show’s eventual victor would be given an original song to launch their career. In fact, the last person to receive a brand new track to release as a winner’s single was series two champion Shayne Ward, whose That’s My Goal spent four weeks at no.1 on the UK singles chart in the opening weeks of 2006, kick starting a respectable run of six consecutive top 15 singles and four top 20 albums. Every subsequent winner has been forced to settle for a sometimes rather lazily chosen cover version of someone else’s song as their debut release. Most of these songs seemed to be harvested from the digital download chart’s very own version of the Popvoid – a twilight zone inhabited by songs which would consistently sell enough, week-in and week-out, to guarantee they could be found lurking just outside the official top 75 chart. Alongside the likes of I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, There You’ll Be by Faith Hill and Michael Bublé’s Home, you’d find Damian Rice’s Cannonball, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and The Climb by Miley Cyrus, all of which would deliver first stabs at chart glory for eventual series winners Little Mix, Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry respectively.

Covers have become as much a part of the competition’s end game as they are to the weekly live shows, with virtually every winning contestant’s debut album containing at least a couple of songs which had previously been hits for someone else. Obviously, to maintain some credibility for the artists, the second-hand status of the material is best kept under wraps, with the origins of some songs being easier to conceal than others. For example, Joe McElderry’s first post-competition single, the quirky and surprisingly contemporary sounding Ambitions, had already been a number one hit for Norwegian band Donkeyboy on their home turf – and let’s not forget that even Leona Lewis, arguably the jewel in the X Factor’s crown, started her career with a couple of cast-offs. Leona’s winning song, A Moment Like This, had already topped the US charts for the inaugural American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson in 2002 and Bleeding Love, the song which launched the singer so spectacularly onto the international stage, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 2007, had been co-written and recorded by Justin Bieber-wannabe Jesse McCartney for inclusion on his own third album, Departure, which was eventually released the year after Leona had already conquered most of the planet with his song.

If there’s no chance of an original song this year, I’d try following in the footsteps of recent winners Matt Cardle and James Arthur, both of whom appeared to dig a little deeper into their own record collections for inspiration. By recording lesser know songs by artists who were hardly household names to The X Factor’s typical Saturday night audience – Biffy Clyro and Shontelle respectively – their winner’s songs sounded credible and seemed to give an indication of the type of music they might choose to make themselves as their careers unfolded.

Looking at the current runners and riders, what would my ideal choice be for this year’s batch of hopefuls? How about My Declaration by Tom Baxter? A little know song, by a relatively unknown artist, which would seem to fit the bill perfectly.

Let’s run through the checklist:

Inspirational lyrics which vaguely hint you’ve overcome adversity for the chance to follow your heart and achieve your popstar dream: tick.

Suitably epic and intense, with plenty of ‘quiet bits’ to show off the true character and range of your voice: tick.

It goes up at the end: tick.

When Baxter signed with Columbia Records in the early 2000s, the time was right for a good-looking, passionate male vocalist to fill a fairly massive gap in the market. Frustratingly for Tom, this particular vacuum would instead be filled by a certain James Blunt. Similarly pitched singer songwriters, their debut albums were released within a couple of months of each other in the second half of 2004, and both sets were bursting at the seams with sophisticated AOR pop-rock songs. Unfortunately for Baxter, nothing contained within his debut, Feather and Stone, came close to the ubiquitous, radio-friendly nature and almost compulsory wedding-song status of Blunt’s You’re Beautiful.

That song helped launch Blunt’s career with a forty three week singles chart run, including five weeks at no.1, and pushed Back To Bedlam to over two million sales in the UK and multi-platinum status in the US. Baxter on the other hand had to settle for his similarly commercial collection of songs achieving a lowly no. 65 debut and an all too brief three weeks on the UK album chart.

My Declaration is an achingly beautiful, deeply personal and refreshingly simple song. A stark, unaccompanied vocal intro gives way to something altogether more lush and full-blooded. Intense without being overwrought and sincere enough to avoid slipping into saccharine, Baxter drip-feeds the emotion throughout the song’s five and a half minute length, before building to a powerful, affecting and wholly satisfying climax. The quietly confessional, universally relatable nature of the song’s lyrics means there’s plenty of scope for a wide variety of singers to put their own spin on the song. With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine the apparent front-runners from this year’s top 13, Seann Miley Moore, Lauren Murray, Monica Michael, Anton Stephans and Louisa Johnson, singing, “I’m gonna shine out like a beacon in the night / I’m gonna wrap my fingers round the stars tonight / ‘Cause I’m taking it on, ’cause I’m taking it on“, before bringing it home with a bombastic “I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep running away / So I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be better made, I’m gonna give everything / Just to bring me back again,” tears streaming down their faces under a waterfall of twinkling pyrotechnics at this year’s finale. I can just about stomach the thought of Max Stone’s inevitable reggae-tinged version…it’s that good.

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Entered chart: 06/11/2004

Chart peak: 93

Weeks on chart: 1

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Haven’t you been listening? Take your pick from this year’s X Factor finalists. It’s probably too early to call it, but I’m going to pin my colours to the mast and predict a win for Team Rita with Lauren, Monica or Louisa worthy of picking up the series 12 crown and potentially hitting no.1 this Christmas.

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