Thoughts on American Idol: what makes a singer great?
I haven't kept up with American Idol much this season, which is just fine with me. But every now and then I do take a look.
Last night was the final, as the populists among you no doubt are aware. I was out, so I taped it and fast-forwarded through, looking for something, anything, of interest--since I wasn't the least bit interested in the results, telegraphed long before they were announced.
For some, this thing of interest might have been Prince, who made an appearance, looking sleek and slinky. Not me; not my era, I guess. For others it could have been Al Jarreau, who sounded smooth and soulful. But for me it was the surprise of seeing and hearing an old, old favorite from my youth, Dionne Warwick.
Dionne was looking good, although there may have been some facial plastic surgery in evidence; at any rate, she was never known for her looks. What she was known for was her voice and her intense and light-as-air, make-it-look-easy, effortless musicality.
Yes, the voice wasn't exactly the same, but what is? It retained enough of her absolutely unique and utterly and instantly identifiable deft touch to be pure pleasure to listen to.
Many of the American Idol contestants can sing, but one of the things I think they almost always lack is the individuality that is the mark of every great singer. Hear Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra or whomever it is you like--Dionne Warwick--and after only one second you know whom it is you're listening to. The sound is as one-of-a-kind as a fingerprint.
A wonderful voice is a wonderful voice, and a great singer has to have one. But to be truly great, the voice has to have some timbre, some quirk, some quality that spells uniqueness. Ms. Warwick had it, and she still has it.