Mar 14 2006

What do tone-deaf people hear when Julie Andrews sings?

This is the question that gnaws at my brain after every first-line audition episode of  “American Idol.”

We are now getting episodes from season six here in Sweden (though a couple weeks behind the actual competition, so please don’t spoil the outcome for me!), and both Dr. Darling and I are continually shocked by the number of aspiring contestants who could not sing their way our of a paperbag even if provided with detailed directions and GPS.

And it’s not just the dearth of really bad singers that turn up…but the amazing number of truly tone-deaf people who not only think they can sing, but actually believe they’re really good at it!

I come from a huge extended family of pretty talented singers and musicians.  My siblings, cousins and I all sang before we actually talked, and the majority of us have had some kind of formal vocal training as members of a performing choir, academic choral group, or quartet.  Some of us even have solo-quality voices. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that there’s not a single person in my family who would  audition for American Idol.

Now I realize, of course, that the Idol contestants who’s screeching makes my jaws hurt just below the ears are probably over-represented in the audition episodes, because hey, that’s just good TV. Last night the judges supposedly heard 5,000 auditions in Austin, Texas, and only 12 advanced to the Hell-Week in Hollywood stage competition. Another dozen really pitiful auditions were shown the episode, which means 4,976 competent to mediocre performances were left on the editing room floor.

But I have to wonder, are these really bad singers…in addition to having delusions of talent…so hated by their families, friends, co-workers and neighbors that not a single soul was willing to come forward and say, in the kindest way possible: “Please don’t do this because you’re really bad and there’s a good chance you’ll end up embarrassing yourself and us on national television if you audition.” I mean, how sad is that?

And if the voice that these folks hear in their heads sounds record-contract worthy to them, what must a professional and critically acclaimed singer like Julie Andrews (before node surgery) or Luciano Pavarotti sound like?

That may be the saddest part of all.


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