May the REAL Vocal talent show please stand up?

I hate to disappoint you, but it is a business and it is about making money, not finding the best talent. As a voice specialist, it is disappointing to see the “talent” that is put on the television screen. In my own small community, I can name at least 5 singers who have far better voices, technique and stage presence than the “Winners”. This makes me not even want to watch these shows. I think the biggest mistake is in the audition process. I know a few people who have tremendous voices who auditioned for American Idol and The Voice, many of whom never even had the chance to sing! They were eliminated before they even got to show off their vocal ability.

Since the first few seasons of American Idol when they DID showcase some quality talent such as Katharine McPhee, Mandisa, Clay Aikin and other talented individuals, these shows have resorted to highlighting the judges, not the performers. I can’t even figure out what America is voting for, but it is certainly not the best singer. Some of the contestants have interesting life stories; others are so out of the box that they attract the unrefined crowd. But it is as if the voters are not listening.
Analyzing the top three vocal “talent” shows, this year, The Voice produced the most highly qualified potential star, in my opinion. The only reason Cassidee Pope won the prize was because she was a professional before she even auditioned. I thought these shows were designed to give unknown amateur artists the opportunity to launch their career. But that being said, she did deliver consistently good performances, looked good even in some of the most awkward of costumes, and had personality. And like it or not, looks and personality do mean something, but if you are going to call yourself a singer, you need to be able to sing!

On to the X Factor. They bill themselves as a sort of “training camp” to study with the pros. But can’t they find better performers than Tate Stevens and Carly Rose? Country singers like Tate are a dime a dozen and though Carly was unique in that she was so young, she was barely audible in her chest voice range and there are far better young singers than her in the world. The cute little group Fifth Harmony was just that, cute, but not spectacular in their vocals. As a judge, Simon is my favorite, but even he has become so “kinder and gentler” that he has lost his spunk.

American Idol, the longest lasting of the “talent” shows, has declined at the fastest rate, in my opinion. I have not consistently watched it since the 3rd season. I can’t stand to see the people that they end up choosing as finalists. When they don’t put up on the stage any GREAT performers, it doesn’t matter who wins—the real winners are not even on the show! I have seen the audition shows and they eliminate some spectacular vocalists and end up selecting many with substandard ability. I have yet to figure out what America is looking for.

Throughout the years, Randy has penned the popular term “pitchy”; although pitch is exactly what Jessica Sanchez appears to have trouble with. As for Phillip, maybe his raspy voice is his “style”, but it makes my throat hurt to hear him.Let’s talk vocal health, I am not a classical music-only snob, but when I hear singers trashing their voices, it is distracting and not entertaining. This is a prevalent quality in these shows.

My true favorite program that showcased REAL talent was The Sing-Off. Ben Folds really understands true vocal ability. ALL of the groups that made it on to the show were properly trained, unlike ANY of the previous shows I have mentioned. When the audition process is done well, the winner really deserves it! Each member of Pentatonix are all star vocalists, far more talented than any of the “winners” of the rest of these shows, at least in recent episodes. But, unfortunately after 3 seasons on NBC, this show was cancelled.

I think my real beef is with the voters…America. We don’t even know what a truly good singer is anymore. This is a depressing truth. Wake up viewers and demand better quality—you deserve it!

Who is more “talented”?

Tate Stevens?
or Pentatonix?

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I apologize for not blogging much lately.  Christmas is a CRAZY time of year for performers as many of you know.  I have another excuse, I wanted to wait until the entire X-Factor season was over before I wrote a blog about it.  So here it is.

In my decades of experience in the entertainment industry, I have “benched” many potential performers not because they were not good enough as performers, but because of their rebellious and contentious attitude!  I believe Astro was one that I would have passed by for this very reason.  I am amazed that he made it as far on the X-Factor as he did.

First of all, he never SANG!!  I never actually heard him sing.  I believe that rapping is a marketable skill, however, he needs to be willing to sing as well, so he can combine the two skills when needed.  The more skills and styles you can do, the more marketable you are.

Secondly, he REFUSED to do the choreography session, and still made it into the finals!! What???  They did the first cut, which is understandable, then the next major cut was the Bootcamp “choreography session”.  The singers did not need to be fantastic dancers, but were taught a little combination, and all of the finalists made it through the episode and put in a fantastic effort, but Astro refused to do it!  I saw him refusing to do it, stating that he is a rapper, not a dancer—none of them were dancers.  So what makes him so special that he did not have to do it!  What a Brat!

Having read an interview with Astro about this choreography refusal he quotes:
“C’mon man, to be honest it’s kind of like, I had a mental image, and I’m a hip-hop artist, and the dances they were doing were crazy, all over the place, like video-shoot dancing. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t going to do it because I had to make sure my reputation wasn’t cheapened, and I’m held responsible to represent hip-hop as a young artist right now. So I didn’t want to do anything that might mess up the way people view me. I just stood my ground.”

Lastly, I was not at all surprised when he almost refused to perform when he had low voting numbers.  What is even more amazing is that he made it through a few more weeks after he pulled that stunt!  Who the heck voted for him?  In the real world there are hundreds of people waiting in the wings for your job who are just as qualified as you are, with a better attitude!

I also think that the children on this show were too immature to handle the huge amount of rejection that is inherent in the entertainment industry.  The format of this kind of  show is such an emotional rollercoaster, I just don’t think that any of the children were mature enough to handle it.  I would not have let my own children under 16 even enter it.  This kind of rejection is tough enough for adults, not to mention people with less life experience.

When Lakoda Rayne and Stacy Francis were voted off, I lost most of my desire to watch the rest of the season.  The others were O.K., but, like the past several seasons of American Idol, I couldn’t help but ask myself  “Are these the absolute BEST people that America can find?”  It is scary when I personally  know at least 12 people (in my small area here in Central Florida) who are better than all of the finalists.

The best vocal show in my opinion is “The Sing Off”.  All of the finalists were of a  highly professional quality.  It was entertaining, fun and the singers were extremely talented!  I think I will save that show for my next blog.

Merry Christmas everyone–get some rest and have a great 2012!

Ann Paris



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Oh Say….Can They SING!!!

This week I am showing everyone 2 positive examples of Star Spangled Banner performances.  Both of these renditions had many things in common; the most obvious one is that they are both very young singers involved.  I figure if these little girls can do it, we adults should be able to do it also.  Years of experience has nothing to do with how well one can sing.  We just need to relax and sing naturally, which many children accomplish even better than adults do. Both of these songs stayed in the SAME KEY and they were both very well done.

This first example is a 7-year-old singing by herself.  The one advantage she has is that she is singing with accompaniment, which most SSB singers do not have.  However, she sang the entire song on pitch, with a relaxed tone.  She also backed off on the higher notes instead of trying to sing them in her “shout” or chest voice.  She is a very expressive little girl, very polished performer.  I hope you have a lot of money however if you want to hire her out to sing for you, her handlers charge thousands of dollars per appearance.

The second example is a group performance, which has its advantages.  However, each singer was so spectacular I couldn’t resist sharing this clip with you.  Their harmony is impeccable and they blend very well.  I don’t know if you noticed that there is a top harmony.  The high soprano part is so relaxed and on pitch that you hardly notice it is there.  It is especially impressive at the climax of the song “free” toward the end.  Their vowels matched as well as their pitch and volume.  Great job young ladies!

What does this mean to you and me? As adult solo singers, we have a lot we need to learn from these young people.  We tend to “add to” the natural production of the voice.  Think about it…does a baby have to be taught how to cry or scream?  They make high-pitched sounds without shouting or working hard at it.  They don’t get hoarse after crying for hours.  We “try” to sing “loud” and all we are doing is making ugly, loud, pitchy sounds and trashing our voices.  Lighten up, relax, and sing!

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Please comment on my blog site, or visit my webpage!

Ann Paris

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Oh Say Can You…SING??!!?

I recently went to my local baseball team’s game and heard another BAD performance of the Star Spangled Banner. I was hoping to write about it so baseball goers don’t have to go through more torture next time. My husband and I both counted on our fingers how many times the singer had changed keys. The song was hardly recognizable when it was finished.

I looked up the Star Spangled Banner on youtube and got a lot of feedback on famous people who forgot the words or whatever, but the most common issue I hear from amateurs is the key change problem—that is almost as irritating as forgetting the words. This has got to be my “pet peeve”—people who put themselves out there to perform the Star Spangled Banner who cannot perform it well! It is a tough song to sing, but if you have not trained and done enough work to have the range for it, DON’T SING IT! I have 3 different versions today. Watch each of them and I will comment on each and what the singers can do to make it better next time.

The first one is Ashley. If you count, she CHANGED KEYS at least 6 times in the one song! Unlike most unsuccessful SSB performances, I think she might have the range for it; she just does not have a good tonal center. If I were to wager, she has probably not spent much, if any, time in a good choral music program or music theory class. She changes keys because she does not have accompaniment to tell her what notes to sing. I would suggest she sing in a well-directed choral group in order to work on developing a good ear for tonality. She also shout-sings which causes tension, making the pitch sound flat. I had some suggestions on that problem on last week’s blog.

Joy is the second example. She does not change keys, but she hides her lack of control behind melismas or “fancy runs”. If she is going to have runs in the SSB (which many would suggest she sing it straightforward and not play with the melody), she needs to practice each run SLOWLY with consonants like “ta” “ta” on each note to clean it up. Then she can do it faster and insert the practiced runs into the song.

In the 3rd example, Jenna had an overall fine performance, however, did you notice the GIANT key change just before “the rockets red glare”? This is the most common place where MANY people change keys because they do not have the octave and a half range it takes to sing this song. When my students sing the SSB for games, I make SURE they know what their first note is. It is very important you do not start too high or too low. They take a pitch pipe with them and start on the same note they always sing it on. Jenna started too high then realized she had to take it lower to get through the “high section”. Jenna also has too much tension in her voice. If she were more relaxed vocally she could have gotten through the “high part” in the original key I believe.

Next week I will post one or two of my favorite Star Spangled Banner performances. There are some AMAZING performances of this song from both famous as well as not so famous but fantastic singers. Come visit me next week—you will be able to compare this week’s singers with some inspiring examples.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Please comment on my blog site, or visit my webpage!

Ann Paris

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What do you REALLY think of her performance?

Thea is a very talented young lady with great stage presence and superior overall presentation.  She sounds nice on the softer sections of this song.  However, I would love to spend just 15 minutes with her.  Her problems are very “fixable” and I am surprised she has not had a coach work with her on these issues.

Watch this entire clip, including the judges’ comments.  It is absolutely amazing!  At the risk of being controversial, I know many of you might not even notice a couple of significant flaws in Thea’s voice; obviously, the judges didn’t.  I am being very picky here, but after all, this is American Idol and should be the best of the best!

I realize that Thea is young (only 15 here), but I personally know many young singers with a better, more relaxed sound, especially on the fortissimo (loud) sections of their songs. Instead of just criticizing, I will give solutions to her mistakes, so that if you struggle with some of the same weaknesses, you can learn from this clip.

First of all, she has some pitch issues.  She is flat (under the pitch) in 3 distinct places and it is very obvious because they are sustained notes where she is singing loud.  The first flat spot is “be” (with you), another is towards the end “out”, and then she starts the FINAL note of the song (“own”) flat!

Another issue she has is lack of control of her vibrato.  Her vibrato spins very fast and it is a little distracting especially at the beginning.  However, her vibrato saved her final note which had started out flat.  The bend in pitch from her vibrato got her back on pitch before the end of that last note.

The only reason I am this picky about this performance is to demonstrate that there are some simple things that can be done to remedy issues such as hers.  I believe both of these problems stem from the same thing…tension!  Probably those 3 notes are in or near her break and she needs to carefully relax and get correct placement of these notes, mixing her head voice and chest voice in order to get that strong sound without any tension whatsoever.

There are many ways to master this but I will give one exercise to help her work these sections.  She should first try those three pitchy sections softer, on a light, relaxed “dee”, bent at the waist.  She needs to hang there, relaxing totally the arms and head—DO NOT LIFT THE HEAD.  Raising the head causes tension.  Once she can sing on the “dee”, then try it with the lyrics, still bent over.  Once that sounds right, with the appropriate volume she wants, try it standing up.

The “dee” wlll get it in the right placement for a mixed voice., Bending over will help her relax.  The vibrato issue can be worked the same way, but there may be some breathing issues as well.  This will get her started though.

She is a beautiful girl with a LOT of great qualities, don’t get me wrong.  I would love to work with her, and these issues could be remedied with just a little bit of instruction.  I was surprised that not only did the judges not notice that she sang flat, but they specifically mentioned how perfect her pitch was!  Maybe I heard a different audio than they did.  Randy usually tells people when they are “pitchy”, I guess he didn’t notice on this one.

Contact me through my blog with any questions or observations you might have.

Ann Paris
Daytona Singing Lessons

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