Face it: When your Best Song Oscar competition is Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and the Weeknd, you’re considered a long shot. That’s what the songwriters and performers of a pair of nominees learned today when the Academy confirmed that “Simple Song #3” from Youth and “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction won’t be performed during the 88th Academy Awards next Sunday.
Last year, all of the nominated songs were performed on the show by their original artists — except one: Tim McGraw filled in for the ailing Glen Campbell to sing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” the poignant song about the honey-voiced veteran’s struggle with Alzheimer’s from the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.
There certainly is no rule mandating that all Original Song nominees get stage time during the Oscarcast; the show’s producers make that call. But if the two passed-over tunes had been sung by, say, past Best Song nominees Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, odds are they’d somehow be shoehorned into the show.
In days of Oscars old, it was standard practice for producers to cherry-pick a singer for a Best Song nominee. For instance, when McCartney’s Wings were vying for the hardware in 1974 with the James Bond tune “Live And Let Die,” it was not Sir Paul who sang it but Connie Stevens. In fact, that classic lost the Oscar to “The Way We Were” — performed that night not by Barbra Streisand but Peggy Lee. Going further, noted nonsingers Dyan Cannon, Jodie Foster and Telly Savalas (!) sang the three other nominees that year.
(Sidebar fun fact: Streisand’s take on Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” topped the 1973 singles chart, but “Live And Let Die” peaked at No. 2. What kept it out of the top spot? “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure, which won the Best Song Oscar the previous year and was sung on the show not by original artist Maureen McGovern but by — you guessed it — Connie Stevens).
Back in those days, all five nominees always were performed on the show, usually in separate performances or occasionally as a medley depending on how the show was being produced. But in 1989, the year of the infamously bad Allan Carr-produced Oscar show, it was decided that none of the song nominees would be performed on the show. Instead, there were a lot of awful unrelated production numbers, including Rob Lowe singing with Snow White.
At some point, the Oscar show and its producers evolved, and the original artist almost always would be invited to perform their song on the show. It’s safe to say that no Oscar show producer would declare, in advance, that all five songs will be performed without first seeing the nomination list. J. Ralph, who co-wrote and sang “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction, was axed this year — as he was in 2012 when his song “Before My Time” (from another doc, Chasing Ice) was nominated. That year, the only Best Song nominee that was performed on the telecast was Adele singing “Skyfall,” which won the Oscar. The rest were covered using short clips as the nominees were being read on the show.
For the record, the three songs that made this year’s telecast cut and the singers who’ll perform them are “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (Lady Gaga), “Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre (Sam Smith) and “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey (The Weeknd), which also won a Grammy this week.