For eight years or so, there was one thing you could count on for American Idol contestants – they could sing live. For most of those years, of course, that wasn’t something weird, as they were trying to become singing stars in whatever genre. But people who couldn’t keep on key never made it past the initial rounds unless they were also really, really bad or otherwise funny, so they could provide fodder for the judges’ rounds. By the time we got to the top ten or so, we had people who knew how to find notes and keep them.
These days, of course, we don’t expect anyone to sing live – we expect them to lipsync
for their lives to the perfect autotuned track instead, while putting on a show. There are very few who seem to be able to do both. So why should we expect better from American Idol?
And, indeed, last year’s winner was known for flubbing notes. People remarked about how much better his studio recordings were, but what people vote for are what they hear on the show, and somehow, a low key guy on a guitar with questionable pitch won. I’m still not sure how.
This year has a group who can sing, to a degree. And some of them can even perform on stage, so it’s very good. And someone mentioned that they haven’t heard Randy talk about something being “pitchy” all season. I actually think that’s because Harry Connick, Jr said that, musically speaking, there was no such word, and Randy listened. Why? Because the judges not only talk about people not being perfectly on pitch, they do so as PRAISE.
And I get that. If a singer PURPOSELY sings a broken note or changes the key for effect or to show emotion, it can be very powerful and add a lot to a performance. It’s the way a writer might break a rule of grammar to emphasize something.
HOWEVER, this presupposes it was done on purpose. That the singer has the skills to sing the right notes or the writer is conversant with the rules of writing, and knows when changing things will have the best effect. It’s also done best done sparingly to heighten it. If the singer flubs a note by mistake, that’s something else. And even the best singers will – the voice is an organic instrument, and even the best control isn’t perfect.
So to hear people praised for inadvertent mistakes,such as Lauren’s broken note the other night, is disheartening. It says one shouldn’t even try for control – and control is necessary because IF a “mistake” helps, you want to be able to reproduce it. It says you can get by with being mediocre. It says you don’t need to try to improve.
I somehow doubt Simon would approve. Except he pushed Lee, so I don’t even know anymore. And maybe I’m just spoiled because I’m following a singer who rarely sings off-key, who is constantly trying to improve and who can sing AND perform on stage.
Except that used to be the norm.