The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. When local pop-rockers Desmo entered the 94.9 KZHT American Idol talent contest last month, they didn’t fully expect to win. The endgame, however, was potentially crushing: Desmo, one of the only bands in the competition, wound up a Top 5 finalist only to lose to 13-year-old singer Aaron Karr’s tepid and trite stars-and-stripes shtick.
We all clutched our guts to curtail the nausea. Desmo, one speculates, would have clutched their respective midriffs as if slugged. Nah. It wasn’t the most desirable outcome, but it’s also not enough to stuff a cork in the bubbly band’s effervescent pop.
“Yeah, it was a beautiful Star Search moment,” says guitarist Jason. “The 13-year-old singing about peace in the world just melted everyone’s hearts, I guess. It’s not really a blow to our egos … when the record execs [who were to judge the competition] had ‘Director of Pop Promotions’ as their titles, we knew we were the underdog, stylistically speaking.”
The crop of talent, he explains, was varied due to lack of a screening process. It ranged from seasoned pros with pristine demos to bedroom pop stars, the likes of which actual American Idol judge Simon Cowell would eviscerate and feast upon.
One singer drew Desmo’s ire when she and her manager approached bassist Milo to opine, “You guys were great, being a punk band and all.” Says Jason, “Milo just rolled his eyes at them and walked away. I don’t think they knew what to think of us anymore than they knew what punk was.”
To clarify, Desmo’s nearest punk relative is early No Doubt, and that’s a mighty stretch. The two-year-old band (Jason, Milo, vocalist Melanie and drummer Jaxn) more appropriately dubs their sound “premium alternative” and deliver it with pure rock power. Melanie’s vocals are as in-your-face as possible while remaining melodious. Her backline provides a powerful propellant for Desmo’s happy, bouncy tunes. The ethic is simple: It’s all about achieving a rapport with the crowd via energetic delivery. That should be enough to place, but a little something extra always helps.
“It was more of a popularity contest for the first two weeks. Whoever could market the best, or had the most family and friends [in attendance] continued. Our advantage was being a gigging band with a growing fan base and playing out a couple times a week during the contest. We would announce at shows that we were in the contest and suddenly 50 people wanted to know how to vote for us.”
He points out that it wasn’t a total loss. There were some good performers and Desmo benefited, despite losing out to the pubescent patriot. Six major-label A&R reps witnessed Desmo’s ultra-exuberant performance; one from Interscope Records left with two of the band’s press kits.
“It still feels really good to have made it that far and [know] that we put on a great performance,” he says. “Another consolation is that I think we really won over a lot of people. We had lots of teenagers come up to us and ask for our autographs like we were already rock stars or something. Some kids were saying how they were there to support their cousin or uncle or something but then kind of wanted us to win after seeing us perform.”
Those new fans are the true prize and for them, Desmo will release their second EP, Autobiographies (DesmoBand.com), this month. (A previously announced release party at the New Junction has been postponed.)
“We’re a band working for more visibility for our music—all of us work hard to push things to the next level. This was just one more stepping stone that we worked hard for. We got some TV and radio exposure and a bunch of new fans. Our press kit and CD might have made it back to someone’s desk at a major label. You never know.”