Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why 'American Idol' Voice Falls Short

I've been asked several times this week by singers if I thought they should enter auditions for one of the national talent competitions like American Idol. It is a common question for all contemporary commercial vocal coaches, and one you may be asking, too.

Some Things to Consider:

  • They aren't necessarily looking for the 'best voice'. They are looking for particular types of cast members for a dramatic reality show.
  • If you think these contests are fair, you are going to be in for a shock.
  • The contracts suck.
  • You rarely go on to any commercial success even if you win.
  • The type of voice that wins these contests communicates gladiator-like ear-jabs focusing on the high notes, not messages.
  • They absolutely do not care about the contestants' well being. Even the heartless conditions in which initial auditions are held often have cameras lurking to catch tears.
The best reason I can think of to participate in these auditions to gain performance experience in stressful situations (you know, 'that which does not kill you makes you sing better'). Sometimes the exposure and networking can lead to indirect benefit. Otherwise, they are simply good exercises in humiliation.

The Screamed and Belted Song of the Self

I just read a fantastic article written by Lynn Helding in my recent NATS "Journal of Singing" that I recommend to all singers. She uses the words of NYT's music critic Stephen Holder to open up her article:
Let's not kid ourselves: the ascendance of American Idol, and its turning of music into sports, signals the end of American popular song as we know it. Its ritual slaughter of songs allows no message to be carried, no wisdom to be communicated, other than the screamed and belted song of the self.

Reality Check

I know that these singing contests are influencing young voices all over the globe. Auditions of all kinds create powerful goals for singers to gain more vocal ability. As vocal coach, I work hard to prepare singers who want to enter these events and many of my clients have successfully placed or won the prize or role. 

However I also encourage singers to think far beyond the short-term competitive goal. For a voice that truly has value (means something to others), train for message-delivering, heart-moving artistry! This is the kind of voice that can find itself with a commercial vocal career. 

If you sing like you want to win a contest, you won't win much heart. Funny thing is, if you win the heart heart, you sometimes win the contest/ part/ record deal/ Grammy! It's quite the paradox.

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  • At October 23, 2013 at 11:01 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

    Ms Rodman:

    I figured out that much; these contests aren't fair at all. Thanks for you newsletter. I appreciate it a lot.

  • At October 23, 2013 at 12:07 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thank you so much for this article... you've summed up my feelings about every single reality TV music competition show out there. Sometimes I find it very difficult to express to my students why I feel the way I do about those shows, and your article, along with the NATS article by Helding will really help me tell them why I do not support or care for any of those competitions.

  • At October 23, 2013 at 6:03 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you, Kevin and Sara, for your feedback! Yes, Sara, that NATS article by Helding is just fabulous. Glad you're in my court as a fellow teacher about this:) It seems to me that when you care about your students, you almost half to come to these conclusions. Thanks again...

  • At October 24, 2013 at 3:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Dear Miss Rodman,
    It is my opinion as a man who went from food stamps to self made multimillionaire that you are doing a disservice to all readers of your article. Although the facts of unfairness, callous no caring, not looking for the best voice per say etc. etc. are true....you are suggesting that it is a waste of time to apply or try and enter these contests. You’re encouraging people to stay in denial and in fear. Please tell me,… what do any of us have to lose so long as we go in with our eyes open. So many of us talk ourselves out of trying because of various excuses and mostly fear of rejection or failure. It’s not about winning! It is about effort first and possible exposure and networking contacts next. It is about giving all and being in the arena. Not applying and telling yourself you are great while sitting at home is the wrong message. Instead, please encourage all your readers to peruse every avenue and break down doors. 1000 rejections means nothing if you are eventually accepted, or earn steps towards your dream, or for that matter if you gain anything from the experience. How could you not? Luck plays a part but not trying because of various rationalizations is denial. Besides, ask anyone who had any level of success with these shows if they would have rather read your article and decided to do nothing or do what they did and achieved what they have. I can accept failure but cannot accept not trying.
    Michael Leslie

  • At October 24, 2013 at 5:20 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Michael, I truly appreciate your honest feedback here. I actually agreed with you on many points; as I said in the article there can be networking and performance experience benefit. And I agree that if a performer, with eyes open, chooses to do so, go for it, and I will help them prepare for success. I've had several people win big regional events and place highly in the national contests, and yes, they had a blast.

    The trouble is, and the reason I wrote this, very few people go into these contests with eyes open. They are crushed. And as artists, they are confused.

    The larger problem to me is that artistic singing, complete with subtlety that communicates deeply, is not about competition. I have over 40 years of professional studio and stage singing success, including having several hit records as an artist myself, including #1 and a national ACM award. But I never won a 'singing contest'.

    And finally, if someone chooses not to 'try' to win this kind of contest, perhaps it's because they choose not to sound like the winners have to. It's the same with any genre... if someone chooses not to sing country, it's not because they are afraid of failing; it can be that the language of their heart is pop or jazz or r&b. And vice versa... perhaps the singer doesn't want to learn classical technique because hip hop or electronica or bluegrass lyrics and musical style reflects their heart more truly.

    But you're right... contests are not all rigged, some have great teaching moments. But only with eyes wide open. I hope this discussion, and that includes your passionate comments, help people decide their strongest courses of action. Thanks again!

  • At May 5, 2014 at 7:58 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    I keep hearing judges comments on Idol and The Voice in my head. "I love the rasp!" is exclaimed over and over. To me (as a student of singing) it indicates vocal injury. To foster this sound in the vernacular I believe is vocal suicide. Once in while for effect or lyrical emphasis I can understand. But when the sound is produced throughout the register and song, I'm not sure but I feel it is unhealthy. Any opinions from master teachers out there? Thanks in advance

  • At May 5, 2014 at 8:23 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Bluesmama5... I completely concur with you! Once in a while for effect... but not habitually through the register and song- it is absolutely unhealthy and unnecessary! And the thing is, the listener's throat will eventually be irritated, too, because vocal instrument is empathetic to what it is hearing, and configures itself to correspond to what that sounding voice is doing! Thanks for chiming in here.. it's but another reason I don't watch Idol. The judges are clueless.


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