Monday April 5th, 2010

Jennifer Hudson

Former American Idol star Jennifer Hudson was enlisted for the latest version of One Shining Moment. (CBS/AP)

You know One Shining Moment: The unofficial national anthem of college basketball, one of its three versions -- by singer/songwriter David Barrett, Teddy Pendergrass or Luther Vandross -- has ended the NCAA Tournament every year since 1987. This year, Jennifer Hudson becomes the first female -- and the first person to get famous because of a television show -- to sing the tune. Since Barrett’s original take is too sacrosanct to take down (and since he’s not a celebrity), we asked Pitchfork Media music critic Grayson Currin to review the other three versions and give them a numerical score between 0 and 10, with 10 being the best song you’ve ever heard.

(And don’t worry: He’s well-equipped to handle your March Madness mania. He’s covered Duke basketball all season for the Independent Weekly, based in Durham, N.C.)

Teddy Pendergrass, One Shining Moment [1994–1999]

Rating: 3.4

Basketball blogger Chris Chase recently lauded Teddy Pendergrass’ version of One Shining Moment for the “machismo” Pendergrass added to the schmaltzy tune. Really? Maybe it’s callous to criticize Pendergrass for a decade-old, tossed-off remake three months after his death, but his take on One Shining Moment -- used between 1994 and 1999 before CBS got smart and returned to the original -- sounds like an infomercial. Understated to the point of being ham-fisted, Pendergrass barely rises above the stock instrumental, delivering the lyrics like a national championship should lead to quiet reflection rather than unbound celebration. When Pendergrass sings “And all the years/ no one knows/ just how hard you worked/ but now it shows,” it sounds as if he’s barely working, his attempt at delicacy coming across as a not-too-veiled bout of laziness. This version doesn’t advance Barrett’s musically, either, delivering the same dated ’80s mix of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards in a fairly exacting replica. Perhaps such hesitancy makes some sense, as the national championship generally ends past the bedtime of the most avid fans -- you know, the kids rooting for their favorites. So maybe Teddy fancied this a lullaby for the victorious, wooing them into happy dreams after their glorious moment. Or maybe I’m just being charitable to a dead guy.

Luther Vandross, One Shining Moment [2002–2009]

Rating: 7.8

Barrett wrote One Shining Moment after the play of Larry Bird stunned him in 1986 -- appropriate, since Bird’s third consecutive MVP and championship season was arguably his best ever. It’s certainly a song about singularity, from the title’s one instance to the realization that, after the ball is tipped, “There you are.” But would Bird’s feats have been possible without his memorable support staff that year -- Kevin McHale, who scored almost as many points, Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish? This is the key distinction of Luther Vandross’ One Shining Moment, rumored to be the last song he recorded before experiencing the stroke that ultimately killed him. Vandross mostly maintains the traditional arrangement (though his use of piano and organ add a bit more soul to the proceedings), but he brings a small team of female backing vocalists with him. They push both the chorus and several key lines -- “And now it shows” and “Inside you knew” -- to new heights. It’s the version that actually makes you want to find a pick-up basketball game and shine for yourself. And, given Butler and Duke’s well-distributed scoring, maybe this is the appropriate tune for this year’s montage.

Jennifer Hudson, One Shining Moment [2010–]

Rating: 8.9

If you were worried that Jennifer Hudson might shake the venerable mold from the traditional arrangement of “One Shining Moment” -- you know, those bright-and-shiny synthesizers, that thick-and-tight rhythm section -- she keeps them. After all, the song’s producer, Harvey Mason Jr., was an Arizona Wildcat on the Final Four squad that lost to Oklahoma in the 1988 semifinals, the second year the tune was used for the tournament’s tearful farewell. Surely, Mason -- who has since worked with Beyoncé, Aretha and previously with Hudson on the Dreamgirls soundtrack -- wouldn’t want to go rewriting his own history too much. It is worth noting, however, that the sloppy kiss of a guitar solo that normally takes “One Shining Moment” to its closing chorus is gone here. Instead, the former American Idol contestant, Grammy winner and Oscar winner sings the solo, John Wall-ing the joint by threading confident melismas above the band’s earnest exultation. And that’s the essence of Hudson’s take -- she’s the star, talented enough to be brazen, and brazen enough to make the song her own. Calling this new jam the definitive version would certainly be a rush to judgment, but saying that Hudson turns in a superstar performance of a song that’s often sounded a bit meek to be about young champions would be only to declare the obvious. Grayson Currin is a staff writer at Pitchfork Media and the Music Editor at the Independent Weekly in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C. During the ACC Tournament, his childhood teachers would cancel lesson plans in favor of watching Friday afternoon’s games on television. Christian Laettner’s 1992 buzzer-beater shot versus Kentucky remains one of the defining moments of his life.

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