Phillip Phillips fans waiting to hear news about possible tour dates in 2015 got some difficult news instead. In an article published January 26th on The Hollywood Reporter’s website we learned that Phillip filed a petition with the California Labor Commissioner regarding the contract he signed with 19 Entertainment as part of his American Idol win.
The article reveals that Phillip decided to file the petition based on a number of grievances and issues extending all the way back to his early days as an American Idol winner in the fall of 2012.
From unfair financial compensation, to exploitative and manipulative deals made on Phillip’s behalf, the core of the complaints relate to multiple violations by 19 Entertainment of the California Talent Agencies Act. To understand what this means you need to read the petition, which clearly outlines what this “Act” is and how it was violated by 19E and all its affiliated companies. I read the document, and honestly, it was a very difficult read. Yes, the lawsuit is about unfair financial compensation and about actions deemed illegal by the Talent Agencies Act. However, at its core, it really is about an artist’s desire for integrity and respect, for true compromise and collaboration. It is about 19 Entertainment failing to care for and act on the best interests of Phillip, one of its most successful artists in recent times. This is no minor detail. It is, in fact, at the heart of the matter.
One of the first words that come to mind when talking about Phillip and his music has always been “authenticity.” The quest for it, the importance that Phillip placed on maintaining it, has been evident from day one. It was evident throughout his run on American Idol where he never hid his unease with certain requirements he was expected to fulfill as a show contestant. He’s the guy who refused to wear the pretty clothes Tommy Hilfiger suggested he wear on that infamous early Idol episode. He’s the guy who, despite being repeatedly compared to Dave Matthews decided to play an obscure Dave Mathews song on the show. He’s the guy who, just after winning American Idol, politely declared that “Home” was a beautiful song but one that he would never have written himself. The guy who has refused to play in concert songs he feels don’t “best represent” his sound. The guy who showed you can win a huge pop singing competition while remaining completely and absolutely true to yourself. Authenticity is very important for Phillip Phillips.
I remember clearly the day the title of Phillip’s second album, Behind The Light, was announced. He was set to play the last show of his Canadian tour in Vancouver, Canada. As he often does, he was also engaged to do an exclusive acoustic performance that morning before the main show. The news about the title broke mid-morning, just before the acoustic show. I had won tickets for that performance and remember thinking what a whirlwind of a day he was going to have. To learn that the title of that album was decided without Phillip’s approval and then announced to the press before notifying him is heartbreaking, outrageous. It must have been devastating.
That day Phillip fulfilled every single one of his obligations as an artist on tour. He did the performance and Q&A. Then he did an exclusive photo session with a few people from the audience who had won a second contest. He was then quickly whisked away for sound check at the venue. There were probably interviews with the press in between all of that. He played a heartfelt show for his audience that night. And later, the hour nearing closer to midnight, he came out to greet a big group of fans who had waited for him to say Hi. I was grateful to him but also oddly distraught. It had been, I’m even more certain now, a very long day for him, and yet, he still took the time to come out. Phillip Phillips works very hard. The decision to break out of his contract is not one he must have taken lightly. He has shown–proven beyond any doubt–that he is ready to pay his dues and work himself to exhaustion.
And then there is the matter of “style,” that slippery word that means nothing and everything at the same time. In Phillip’s case it has found its outlet in the albums, yes, but really and clearly through his brilliant, instrumental-heavy, jam inspired, live performances. Live performances that reveal his love of rock and fusion and experimentation, not really the folk-pop sound that two of his main radio hits, “Home” and “Gone Gone Gone,” favoured and that many people expected him to repeat on his second album. Of course, there is nothing wrong with pop and folk, other than these are not the styles that Phillip seems to hold close to his heart. Hence the unease and clear division that one can still hear between the singles and the B-sides on both of Phillip’s albums so far. To read that Phillip feels that 19 Entertainment failed to put his interests above their own, financially and creatively, shows again the terrible struggle this must have caused on somebody who values authenticity above all.
The ramifications of this move on Phillip’s career are not very clear to me. I have no knowledge what legal consequences this may have on his ability to make music through an established platform, on his ability to perform said music through live shows, or his ability to move, in the short term, to a new management/label that will allow him to continue to work. What is clear to me is that, whatever the consequences, they will have no impact on my admiration and support of Phillip’s music and career. I know that the music will continue, and that I, as well as the majority of his fans, will find our way to it, as I’m sure Phillip will find his way to us.
I think back to a comment Phillip used to make after winning the show to explain some of his song choices and decisions. He would say, and I paraphrase, that it was better to fail and know that you did because of something you believed in, did or say, than to fail because of something somebody else told you to believe in, do or say. Stand by your decisions, and, if you fail, own your failures. Your triumphs will then be all the sweeter, for they will have come from the deepest essence of your being. Also, there will be nothing left to hide. Phillip Phillips has nothing left to hide.