With the season two finale of NBC’s “Songland” just hours away, hitmaker and star mentor Ester Dean is not ready to say goodbye to her Monday night showcase. “I want to do more TV,” she says. “I love TV, and if TV coincides with my songwriting, I don’t have to give up one kid for the others. So I would love to do more. I want to be Oprah. At the end of the day, that’s my goal. … I mean, Kelly Clarkson is doing exactly how I want to do it. She’s amazing.””
Needless to say, Dean would be ecstatic if “Songland,” the show which co-stars Ryan Tedder and Shane McAnally as a panel of songwriters, mentors and producers there to find the best undiscovered writing talents, were picked up for a third season. After charting several No. 1 hits on iTunes, clearly people are listening, and artists like Luis Fonsi, Florida Georgia Line and Lady A (the act formerly known as Lady Antebellum) are benefitting.
Dean’s music credits are formidable, having co-written songs for Nicki Minaj (“Super Bass”), Rihanna (“Rude Boy” “What’s My Name”), Kelly Clarkson (“Mr. Know it All”), Beyonce (“Countdown”), Selena Gomez (“Come and Get It”) and Katy Perry (“Firework”), to name a few. She’s also building her acting resume, appearing in the film franchise “Pitch Perfect” and voicing a character in the animated “Trolls World Tour” (“I have my own toy,” she chuckles of a doll based on her character) and forthcoming Apple TV Plus series “Central Park.”
But giving aspiring songwriters a place “to be heard” signifies multiple touch points for Dean. “It shines a light on my community,” she says. “What I love about music is [there is] no color code. When I send in a song, it’s not an African-American girl sent in her songs. You don’t really even have a name because your name is your LLC or your publishing company. And there’s no [discrepancy in] pay scale in the publishing.”
Episodes for “Songland” were filmed earlier in the year, but Dean observes how eerily relevant they are fdor today’s cultural climate. For example, Kylie Rothfield’s song “Lonely” (transformed into the newly titled, “Ghost”) about “being lonely in a city full of hope,” hits home, says Dean. “It’s basically about social distancing, and it’s so crazy how so many songs this season [were] about not being able to be next to the one you love.”
For Dean, the season’s highlights include guest Bebe Rexha melding two songs into one, called “Miracle,” and Boyz II Men recording Dean’s winning song with Chris Lee, “Love Struck.” She hints, however, that the best is yet to come with tonight’s finale featuring Usher. One song was an underdog, until Dean got her hands on it. “It was definitely a song that was not gonna make it,” she reveals, without divulging the end result. “Usher wasn’t giving it a second thought, He wasn’t giving it a chance. And I begged for this song, and I said ‘let me fail at it.'”