Imperfect singers

Nancy Flanagan, a long-time music teacher, hates American Idol.

What bothers me is that children watch American Idol, and children are now developing this idea that singing is something that should be attempted only by the “talented.” Some children now believe that judging singers is an amusing spectator activity, and making fun of imperfect singers is perfectly OK. Hilarious and justified, in fact: anyone who dares to sing in front of a camera deserves our scrutiny and scorn. None of this encourages children — or their families — to participate joyfully in group or individual singing. In the American Idol paradigm, singing is now reserved for those who have a “good” voice.

I am an imperfect singer who enjoys singing — in a group. For years I was the least talented member of a just-for-fun acappella group. I worked a bit harder than the others to keep up and even took a university extension class called “Singing in Tune for People Who Can’t Sing.” I do not sing solo.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. wayne martin says:

    > Our voices are an immutable and very
    > personal aspect of our selves

    And people take voice training for what reasons?

    > Nobody—not even Simon—can
    > tell you that you can’t sing.

    Yes, they can.

    Simon is spot-on right 99.9 percent of the time.

    Nancy Flanagan, get a life!

  2. Bill Leonard says:

    Ms. Flanagan misses the point entirely. Those who venture on American Idol are seeking fame and fortune. Their ridicule when they demonstrate no particular vocal talent is a risk they run and ultimately, a price they pay.

    These sorts of talent and other reality television shows — including game shows — continue to dominate the airwaves because they are absurdly cheap to produce and air, and because, in the case of the “talent” sendups, Americans love a freak show.

    It is one thing to sing, and to enjoy singing. I play bluegrass guitar, and even sing on occasion. But I don’t presume to be talented enough to attempt to do it for money.

    Mr. Martin is right. Ms. Flanagan needs a life.

  3. wahoofive says:

    There’s a pretty big difference between “can’t sing” and “can’t sing well enough to be a star”. Of course it’s the same difference as that between “not overweight” and “thin enough to be a TV model”. The best solution: the off button.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    I think you guys are missing the point. The take-away message from every thing from American Idol to AAU basketball to little league baseball to high school orchestra is that if you are not very talented, you are wasting your times and should be ridiculed because you are not “talented” enough to be trying to do something.

    Look at the current NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Listen to the anouncers when they use terms like “physical talent,” “athleticism,” or even “quick.” Those are not things that can be taugh but only things that someone gets from their genetics. The single to America is that if you are not a great physical speciment at 13, do not waste your time playing sports.

    The same can be said for the huge number of middle class suburban, white American who now avoid math and science classes but they feel that they are not smart enough to compete with the Asian kids.

  5. interested party says:

    I agree with superdestroyer. An obsession with innate talent is the flip side of an anti-achievement mentality. If only the exceptionally talented are responsible for developing their abilities then it’s OK for the rest of us to be passive consumers, never making more than the minimum contribution to society. And isn’t it ironic that so many whites think that Asian achievement is evidence of vastly superior IQ while Asians themselves (at least in my experience) attribute their success to their superior work ethic?

  6. Does anyone remember The Gong Show? American Idol is far kinder to those who go public with their lack of talent.

  7. wayne martin says:

    In December, Simon Cowell signed a £20 million contract with ITV.

    American Idol is about money. Nothing more, nothing less. Anyone who is a teacher and can’t figure that out perhaps shouldn’t be teaching.

    Mother Nature gave us all a right hand. If you can’t stand American Idol—turn off the TV!

  8. matthewktabor says:

    I agree that Flanagan misses the point entirely, but for a slightly different reason.

    American Idol is a contest with one clear winner (though just getting to the top 24 can bring some fame and career opportunities). Contestants need to have an understanding of their abilities as they relate to this specific competition. It is folly for most of the contestants to think even for a second that they’re in the top-tier of a field including tens of thousands; they audition badly anyway, often have a bad attitude about it, and receive rightly criticism for lacking that understanding of their talent as it relates to American Idol.

    The judges don’t make fun of a person’s ability to sing, they criticize the contestant for thinking wrongly that they’re competitive in the American Idol competition. Most who audition simply aren’t. Many of the entertaining “bad” singers appear to be encountering realistic judgment for the first time in their lives.

  9. Bill Leonard says:

    Superdestroyer, I take your point, but I do think it’s a matter of maturity and realism.

    True, most people will never be able to play a sport at professional or major college level — but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun participating at your own level. And it is not an excuse for not allowing kids to try to play a sport, or take music lessons, or whatever. That is why I mentioned that I pick and sing — and I do it well enough to entertain friends, and play in church. But I have no illusions about the level at which I perform, compared to the level of any professional musician.

    As has been pointed out, American Idol is all about money, and its auditioners are hopeful that they will be the ones who will be able to grab the brass ring and be on the way to fame and riches.

    Perhaps Ms. Flanagan just doesn’t have enough to do.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    “The judges don’t make fun of a person’s ability to sing”

    Well, actually, they do. I’ve only watched the show once, but Simon said to at least one contestant, in a sneering voice, “You can’t sing.”

    It’s one thing to take a few fairly good singers and eliminate them one by one. It’s quite another to devote the first few shows to making fun of people who can’t sing, some of them evidently not only untalented but also mentally handicapped. That’s ugly and meanspirited, and American Idol does it.

  11. Nancy Flanagan says:

    Ms. Flanagan has plenty to do–teaching children–and cares not one whit about people who submit themselves to American Idol’s musical meat grinder. If someone chooses American Idol as a potential route to fame and fortune, fine. They know the drill and they know the likely outcome. And they’re adults.

    What bothers me? Two things. First, the number of children I teach who now think it’s fine to make fun of those who dare to sing in public. American Idol has not raised the level of public discourse around artistic expression or musical talent. We now feel it’s OK, somehow, to tell people their personal artistic efforts aren’t good enough for public display. This is wrong, and it’s had a negative effect on casual, communal music-making. I AM a professional musician; I play and sing both for profit and for fun, and I am worried about the decreasing numbers of people, who, like Bill, play in church and with friends. Making music is a great joy. Anyone can participate.

    Second, saying “turn the TV off” or rolling over and declaring that this is just the way it is in America–our profit-based, reality show, lowest-common-denominator approach to the arts is inevitable–is also wrong. Where are programs like Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts? We can and should aim higher.

    Finally, I am astonished that people who have never met me (and, from their comments, didn’t even read the whole blog) feel perfectly OK about saying things like “get a life” and “doesn’t have enough to do” and (my personal favorite) “shouldn’t be teaching.” Sort of proves the point about the level of public discourse engendered by reality TV.

  12. I’d have to disagree with the idea that American Idol is going to lead to people being scared of singing in public unless they are incredibly talented. Perhaps Nancy feels cowed, but I don’t see any drop off in public singing. If anything, American Idol is igniting a renewed interest in live performance. The kids in my neighborhood like to put on shows based on American Idol and High school Musical. My kids look up the original songs sung by the contestants of American Idol. Old singers and songs are getting a fresh hearing. American Idol is a boon to music overall. People are learning to hear the differences between good performances and great performances. Also, American Idol shows that being attractive doesn’t guarantee a good performance, as music videos seem to portray.

  13. wayne martin says:

    > American Idol has not raised the level of public discourse
    > around artistic expression or musical talent.

    That’s not the point of the show. Simon Cowell, in his oh-too-brusque way, time and again says: “This show is about finding the next American Idol—that person who by his, or her talent, will become a superstar!” That’s all the show is about. To believe that it should be promoting “public discourse” is simply naïve. How much “public discourse” should scripted reality shows like “Survivor” generate?

    > .. like Bill, play in church and with friends. Making
    > music is a great joy. Anyone can participate.

    Making Music, like anything else, requires talent. No one likes to hear someone sing off-key, miss notes, or just “make noise”. Performed properly, music is appreciated by all.. but done improperly .. it can drive people nuts! In addition to some talent, learning to perform well takes a lot of time .. which has become a precious commodity in our modern day life.

    > Second, saying “turn the TV off” or rolling over and declaring
    > that this is just the way it is in America–our profit-based,
    > reality show, lowest-common-denominator approach to the
    > arts is inevitable–is also wrong.

    Turning off the TV is a statement of personal choice and freedom. If you don’t like what’s on, you are not a captive—you have “free will”, so use it!

    These days, there is so much “entertainment” around that it’s very easy to find something in your “intellectual price range”. There are thousands of streaming audio sources that provide anyone anything that they might want. For instance, BBC Radio has quite a collection of streams, which include classical, talk, religious and popular.
    IP-TV, now just emerging, will provide Video-on-Demand for folks willing to pay for their particular brand of entertainment. Shortly, folks will be able to watch, or hear, just about anything worth watching.

    > Where are programs like Bernstein’s Young People’s
    > Concerts? We can and should aim higher.

    There are only so many concerts anyone can sit through. It’s doubtful that a channel of Children’s concerts would survive very long. However, there’s no reason that the groups dedicated to this type of programming won’t be able to purchase the rights to these concerts and similar programming, set up their own IP-TV server, and offer their “product” to the world. Think this will happen?

    > I am astonished that people who have never met me
    > (and, from their comments, didn’t even read the whole blog)
    > feel perfectly OK about saying things like “get a life” and “doesn’t
    > have enough to do” and (my personal favorite) “shouldn’t be
    > teaching.”

    This blog, like all others, is about the free expression of “opinion”. Opinion, by definition, is worth what you pay for it. Concepts like “feel perfectly OK about saying things” certainly give some sense of what would be like to live in a world where censorship was the norm. (This by the way is increasing on the NET as we speak.)

  14. The contestants aren’t singing because they just love to express themselves. They want to become part of a huge business and with hard work and luck, made a ton of money. If they can’t handle the rejection of the AI process, they are in the wrong business.

    My 15 year old daughter sings in a children’s chorus here in LA. The chorus sings with the opera, travels, wins awards, etc. Most of them sing very well, but not in the style that wins Grammys. They also are hyper-critical of the AI people and in a way that makes Simon seem mild.

    Making fun of people who sing in public? No, making fun of people who sing badly but think they sing well.