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Stealing the Underground Spotlight

Matthew Baamonde, 19, cooks up chart-climbing tunes with his guitar and computer in the comfort of his room.
Matthew Baamonde, 19, cooks up chart-climbing tunes with his guitar and computer in the comfort of his room. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Matthew Baamonde can play electric guitar like Eddie Van Halen, plucking and tapping the strings in demonic bursts of virtuosity that heavy metal fans call shredding. He can coax lyrical riffs from Eric Clapton on his acoustic guitar. And he can finger scales like Yngwie Malmsteen.

Yngwie? Malmsteen?

Now, after years in his Herndon bedroom imitating Malmsteen -- a Swedish guitarist who translates Bach and other classical composers into heavy metal music -- Baamonde, 19, is getting a moment of fame.

American Idol Underground, an online spinoff of the wildly popular TV talent show, announced yesterday that two of Baamonde's tracks made the Top 10 in the rock division. Using his bedroom in Herndon as a recording studio, Baamonde entered "White Noise" (No. 2) and "Amplifire" (No. 4).

"It was exciting," Baamonde said, although he said he was also a little disappointed because for a while -- right up until the voting closed, it seemed -- his submissions had been ranked first and second in the standings. "But, I feel, congratulations to the guys that won. I'll take second place."

Since its launch last fall, American Idol Underground has sponsored frequent competitions. Its biggest so far was its latest, the "Big Push," and it plans to divvy up $200,000 and more in prizes to the top finishers in 13 genres.

The site guarantees each would-be rock star at least 200 plays on an online music player. It gets as many as 1 million unique visitors a month and has registered more than 50,000 artists.

For musicians hoping to be discovered by their peers, the site has become an attention-getting forum in the free-for-all world of digitalized music where the mob -- and the single hit -- rule.

"What we are really all about is getting your music heard," said Justin Beckett, 43, chief executive of Los Angeles-based Fluid Audio Networks, which produces American Idol Underground. "We're all about giving emerging artists feedback."

The firm licensed the American Idol brand name, as Fox did, for an undisclosed amount. The Internet company's platform is similar to Myspace.com and other social-networking sites. But the Idol site is devoted solely to entertainment. For $25, an artist can upload a song.

Baamonde -- with his long, open face, sideburns creeping below the ears and a stubby goatee -- looks a little like Jesus or Frank Zappa.

He plays electric guitar, though, as if he had made a deal with the devil -- that is, if the devil wanted to fiddle around with heavy metal, classical, jazz and rock-and-roll riffs at the computer in a teenager's bedroom. Posters of "The Clash" and "System of a Down" dot the walls. There is a shelf with rows of thrillers and baseball trophies from boyhood teams; plastic models of the creature from the movie "Alien" mass atop his dresser.


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