Wanna be a pop star? The odds are steep, but Trainor prevailed

I'm at the Television Critics Association sessions now, with fascinating stories everywhere. The previous one was about Dylan McDermott and the goofy "LA to Vegas"; this one is about Meghan Trainor and the dead-serious "The Four." Many more are coming; meanwhile, here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- As “The Four”
booms through its high-stress, high-decibel run, two things become

1) There are a lot
of talented people out there; and 2) Most will never get a shot at

“You could be the
best performer/artist in the world, but ... it's really hard to
break,” said David Friedman, one of the show's producers.

Still, people keep
trying. “There's always a dream,” said Sean “Diddy” Combs,
one of the judges.

And occasionally,
dreams come true. That's one reason why Meghan Trainor is there.

At 23, she's a
certified star, with a Grammy, four top-10 singles and a place in
music history. She's on the panel, alongside record
producer/executives Combs, DJ Khaled and Charlie Walk. Less than four
years ago, however, her “All About That Bass” was being rejected
by music masters.

“I had it for nine
months and played it for many (record people),” Trainor said. “They
told me it was a cute little song about your body and no one wanted

There were good
reasons to give up; she didn't. “One person heard it and turned it
into a global huge song,” Trainor said. “And then my life changed

That was L.A. Reid,
then head of Epic. The song would be No. 1 for eight weeks, topping
Epic's longest previous – seven weeks by Michael Jackson's “Billie
Jean.” And yes, that was a huge jump.

Trainor had grown up
in Nantucket, where her parents were jewelers ... but her dad was
also the organist at a Methodist church.

“I would sit next
to him and watch him perform for church every Sunday,” she said.
“He wasn't that good of a singer, but he just had a great time. And
I saw how the audience loved it.”

She wanted the same
thing. “I thought every pop star was writing their songs .... So I
was like, 'If I'm going to be a pop star, I have to write.'” They
were “terrible songs, but I was writing.”

By 12, she was
singing with a family band. Between 15 and 17, she cut three
independent albums.

Still, she saw no
future as a performer. “What kept me going was my songwriting,”
she said. “Because I didn't believe that I was an artist. I didn't
believe that I looked the part.”

And then ... well,
not looking the part became key. “Bass” included such lines as:
“Yeah it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two/But I can shake it,
shake it like I'm supposed to do.”

After several
rejections, she took it to Epic. “I didn't know how to sing to
tracks, so all I had was my ukulele (which) I learned the night
before .... I was terrible, like three chords.”

The result? “They
kind of looked at me and said, 'You're the only person that could do
this, because it's so real coming from you.'”

Yes, Trainor is
bigger than a size-two ... but not really bigger than average.
(Various accounts put her at 5-foot-4, 150 pounds and size-12;
government reports put the average American woman at 5-4, 168 and 14
or 16.) But compared to the Britney/Whitney pop world she grew up in,
she's a plus-size superstar.

Now she's on a panel
with industry giants. Walk is at Republic Records; “I'm the
president of the No. 1 label in the United States,” he said. Khaled
heads Def Jam South, plus other duties. “I feel I'm also one of the
greatest producers that ever did it,” he said.

And Combs has been a
performer (as Puff Daddy) and label owner, propelling the hip hop
revolution. If all four approve, a contestant can choose one of four
singers to challenge. “It's like 'Game of Thrones,'” Combs said.
“You get to challenge, if you want to chop somebody's head off to
get a seat.”

A breakthrough can
be like that sometimes, bold and brash and sort of head-chopping. Or
it can be Meaghan Trainor, strumming three chords on a ukelele.

-- “The Four,”
8-10 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; began Jan. 4 and continues for six weeks