The Goddess Speaks
'Idol' hopefuls are copycats
YEARS of listening to music led me to conclude that one unique voice begets a thousand imitators. It was true when Madonna's pipsqueak pipes hit the airwaves in the early '80s, and a decade later when Eddie Vedder's growling vibrato signaled Pearl Jam's arrival.
The imitators always bothered me, but I wasn't about to give it a second thought. That's the way of the world. Follow the money. There's nothing anyone could do about it.
It bothers me even more now that the same thing has happened to "American Idol." The difference is that in this case there is a solution within grasp of the competition's finalists.
I wasn't going to say anything until a co-worker complained that "American Idol" has become boring because the contestants don't have "real" voices anymore.
The problem is, their voices are all too real, but they're trying to fit them into a big, soulful, explosive "American Idol" sound that doesn't work for all.
I'm focusing on the girls because, in their desire for approval (except for Gina Glocksen and a handful who really can belt), they tend to be the worst offenders.
(As for the guys, finalist Chris Sligh got it right when he said on the first night of the Top 24's debut that everyone would be trying to look pretty. Most of the guys -- save Sligh, Blake Lewis and Chris Richardson, who did focus on performance and vocals -- were busy flirting at the camera in hope of connecting with a potential female fan base.)
THE COPYCAT phenomenon started to sink in last year when I noticed that many singers were trying to be Aretha, Whitney or Mariah, attempting melismic trills so that instead of just hitting one bad note, they drenched us in a cascade of bad notes. As a singer, it was quite painful to watch.
And not sustainable in the long run. Such singers might fool an auditioning panel with one well-rehearsed song, but over time and many songs, their weakness is bound to show up. It's the only way to explain why the Top 24 was filled with so many poor singers, straining for notes they obviously could not hit. Producers could have spared us this agony and delivered the Top 12 immediately.
Another co-worker suggested his theory that people who watch "American Idol" want to see people fail or embarrass themselves. Maybe there are people like that -- the Vote for the Worst group (votefortheworst.com) thinks it's funny to antagonize viewers by keeping the worst in the game -- but I don't think they're a majority. I would like to think people do want to find tomorrow's stars, and a look at diverse music charts would suggest "American Idol" is working. From pop to country to alt-rock, "AI" is invading multiple genres.
And, it should stay that way. Instead of trying to model their voices on past winners and runners-up, this year's contestants should do their best to let their "real" voices be heard.
Nadine Kam is the Star-Bulletin's Style/Travel editor who was a singer in an earlier life and most recently a drummer with a punk band.
The Goddess Speaks is a feature column by and about women. If you have something to say, write "The Goddess Speaks," 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210,
Honolulu 96813 or e-mail email@example.com.