Thursday, January 8, 2009

A New American Idol Season Is Upon Us

Wow, has it been 8 months already? I've been so busy with my own career performing, shooting a music video and teaching, that I didn't even notice the time flying by. But January is always a month for me to take time off from performing, to write some new songs and to go within. It’s also a good time to observe what is going on in American pop culture.
So, I’m ready to experience a whole new season of talent, a new judge, and who knows what kind of drama from Simon. I dread watching the audition shows, because as a performer and vocal teacher myself, I feel compassion and empathy for the singer, and I always want to encourage and support people to sing if they feel passionate about it, as it is a form of self-expression. Maybe they shouldn't sing in public until they are ready i.e., have gotten some positive feedback from friends and possibly had some vocal/performance training or classes, or have gotten some experience and positive feedback at open mics. But on the other hand, the auditions are fun to watch because I like to pick out the winner in the very beginning and see if I'm right.
I have listened to many new students coming into my studio, full of fear in exposing their most vulnerable part of themselves: their voice. The human voice is our identity. It can’t be separated from who we are. I think of the times I’ve heard the sound of someone’s recorded voice played back after they’ve died. It brings me right back to their very essence.
It takes huge courage to sing in front of anyone, especially people that are judging you. I find it awfully painful when the judges say cruel things to the auditioners. Sometimes I have to walk away, or end up yelling at my TV in defense of the poor soul they are torturing.
I have seen dramatic examples of fear in my studio when I ask a new student to sing a few notes for me; of adults shaking uncontrollably or near fainting, or who burst into tears when they open their mouths because sometime in their lives, some teacher or family member told them that they couldn't sing. (I’m talking about tough, truck driver macho guys, heavy metal guitarists, grandmothers, social workers, you name it.) They might be "tone-deaf" (sing off key), an expression I do not believe in. When people sing off key, they either haven't been taught to listen deeply enough to match their voice to the music, or because they lack confidence and therefore cannot hear the music through their fear. The secret is in learning how to relax enough and concentrate deeply enough to hear the music and their own voice and the relationship between the two. I’ve never had a student come to me, young or old, who I couldn’t get to sing on key within a couple of lessons. The younger they are, the faster they can learn new habits; less years of negative feedback, I guess. But I’ve had 5-year olds and 75 year-olds begin to fix their pitch problem within one lesson. It is simply a learned awareness.
The bottom line is: anyone can sing. But it takes time and hard work to learn how to sing well. Some people who go on to the American Idol auditions obviously haven’t put in the work and think they can just sing well naturally, but anyone you see on there with exceptional talent and a beautiful voice has put in the work, believe me. Last year, David Cook and David Archuletta obviously had put in the most time into the craft of singing. And they were the top winners in the end.
Well, I look forward to sharing another season with you and hope you will tune into my weekly blog and share your comments with me. I’ll be talking with Bob Miller on the morning mix 97.7 FM next Tuesday Jan. 13 at 7:30 AM about the upcoming season. Tune in and check out my new music video of my song Yard Sale at

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