Thursday, August 17, 2017

X-Factor Style "Entertainment" © 2017 Phillip Evans

Since there is no way I can avoid appearing to be an old curmudgeon while opining on this topic, I may as well go all out and relish and roll around in it, and make the pleasure of writing this article a savored experience.

Trust me, I will eventually get to the X-Factor stuff and even talk about Simon Cowell, but it will take a little while, but not too long for those who worship instant gratification. 

Photo by See Li

Warning: Brash Opinions Up Ahead! Please take a detour if any criticism of pop culture tends to trigger you, LOL!

First, a little history as a backdrop to help provide some illustration. Of what exactly, I'm not sure, but it is something.

Elvis Presley. Need I say more? He was truly one of the greatest entertainment stars that ever lived.

That is not because he was one of the greatest vocalists in the world. He was not. He was, however, the complete package. He was good looking, had some great dance moves, loads of charisma, and he could actually sing on pitch most of the time without help from modern gimmicks such as Auto-Tune that today's singers often rely heavily on.

And the natural quality of his voice had a pleasantness to it, combined with his vocal skill to produce pure sounding notes.

One reason I admire both Elvis' and Michael Jackson's vocal ability is that they could scream or growl a note, while still maintaining the ability to make pure vocal sounds whenever they wanted. And were able to do so throughout their entire careers - not an easy feat, apparently.

Singers like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, and Kenny Rogers sounded pretty good with their gravel voices early in their careers, but by depending almost solely on that to bring emotion to their songs, and by not doing it carefully with an eye to their vocal health, they wore down their voices to a caricature of what they once were. 

But kudos to Kenny Rogers for once publicly admitting to singing too throaty and hurting his voice. Most such singers try to pretend this hasn't happened to them and still belt it out trying to regain the lost magic that obviously left the building a long time ago.

Not all overly rough voices sound awful. I enjoyed listening to Bonnie Tyler years ago even when she had vocal issues, and could not sing a clear note at that time for all the tea in China. Sure, it was a shock when I first heard her, but she was so good I couldn't help but enjoy her singing. Once her vocal chords healed, she was even better with Eclipse Of The Heart in later years.

I have no idea what happened to golden-voiced Anne Murray. The lovely Canadian songbird early in her career always sang pure notes. She never pushed her voice hard that I could tell, but now she can't help but growl when she sings, and it is not easy on the ears like a vocally injured Bonnie Tyler was.

I recall hearing a live album or recording of a live show many years ago by Contemporary Christian Artist Sandi Patty, who talked about trying to emulate singer Karen Carpenter when she was young. She then gave the audience an imitation of Karen Carpenter singing, going out of her way to sound gravely. Sorry Sandi, but Karen did not sound like that at all. Karen had one of the most pure vocal sounds there ever was in recorded music.

Now on to shows like X-Factor. I get it. They are there to make shows to make money, and do so on the backs of kids and young adults dreaming to make it big. It's a willing exploitation on both sides, but the kids seem to get the shortest end of the stick.

Most of them are destined to grow old talking about how they sang a few times in front of millions, with little else to show for it.

Simon Cowell, out of all judges on any of these type shows I've seen gets it right more times than anyone else gets it right. He gently slaps dreamers out of their starry visions of splendor back down to reality, and the ones this happens to badly need it. 

They desperately need to get their heads back down in order to plan out a realistic future in medicine, law, engineering, aviation, etc, because they simply can't cut it as a singer no matter how much their moms and dads tell them they can, who glare at the judges when they don't appreciate their baby's star potential.

But it's not all rosy for Simon. Just because he has first place in getting things right doesn't mean he misses. And he misses quite a bit, gushing over young ones who don't stand a chance, merely because the present audience hoots and hollers for them. At least that's the only reason apparent to me.

Yes, it is show business, so Mr. Cowell can't shoot down too many of them, or that would not be sporting. It would make for gloomy TV. So some tender dreams must unfortunately be strung along for a time, only to come crashing down later, taking an even greater toll on those who wanted it so badly. 

I suppose the earlier history lesson should really be a lesson to the gravely-voiced young wannabe singers of today, whose overly-affected voices strainingly growl out "note" after "note" egged on by an audience that wouldn't know pure singing if it bit them on their derriere. 

For if these "singers" do somehow make it on the strength of their looks and booty-shaking or an overly produced electronic wonder song, their careers will be short-lived from vocal abuse.

But I believe this is in large part because most people these days are generally deaf. As in cannot hear at all, unless the volume is cranked up so high as to have their knees knocking together much less the anvil, stirrup, and hammer bones in their inner ears.

Case in point: Everywhere there is any sort of public address system or intercom in any theme park or other public attraction, it always annoyingly blasts someone's exaggerated vocal inflections describing what you're seeing or providing some little known facts into the ear-bleed decibel range.

This usually happens when you're a captive audience and can't flee, such as in a box three-hundred feet in the air with thirty other people pressing the wind out of you.

All, and I mean all, music concerts or festivals are the same way volume-wise. Finally, there are the plentiful boorish yahoos in crowds that always want to have a screaming contest between them, especially when they are right behind or next to you.

The only thing I can conclude is that the general public simply cannot hear the gravel or screaming in a singer's voice, far as I can surmise. If they see a good looking "singer" with lips moving, they just assume it's good and fall all over themselves.

What got me thinking about all this is the poor little blond girl on a new X-Factor show who got showered with all sorts of applause and praise, even from Simon Cowell, but who seemed convinced that screeching was identical to singing. 

When they start out that young deliberately trying to damage their voices for a million-to-one shot at fame and fortune, that's just pathetic. And it's borderline criminal when big money making shows aid and abet them in doing so.

Just once, instead of Simon lavishing praise on one like that, or Mel B. drawing out a long over-the-top British accent to do the same, I'd like to hear them say this:

"Come back and sing for us again when you are recovered from your cold or sore throat, and if you're not ill, then please get a vocal coach to help you produce actual singing notes instead of gravely screeches. Do that and you might go far, just like Elvis."

Note: This is a departure from my usual line of topics. Sometimes it's good to take a break. Let there be liberty for real singing! ;-)