Newsletter Archive

American Idol and Expert Advice

There was a 17-year old contestant on "American Idol" last week, Katie Stevens, with a wonderful voice -  a powerful instrument that she uses with restraint and taste.    (I could hear a young Norah Jones in her.) On Wednesday she gave, to my ear, the finest performance of the bunch.   But the panel of judges reminded me why I can rarely stomach watching "Idol":  all four had nothing good to say for her performance.

Katie sang low in her range, and it was rich and lovely.  The judges said the key was all wrong for her.  She picked a thematically mature song by Corinne Bailey Rae and sang it convincingly, but they said she should only be singing about teenage concerns.  She sang with restraint, without histrionics, and they said she was holding back, not showing off her voice enough.  A teenager faced with such heavyweight opinion will be hard-pressed to ignore everything they said.  But I hope she does!  She would certainly lose the contest in the short term - a likely outcome even if she follows all the judges' awful advice -  but she'd at least be showing people what she truly has to offer as an artist.   And isn't that the (artist's) point?

There's a hilarious classic routine Bob Newhart used to do, imagining Abe Lincoln receiving advice from today's slick political consultants.   They advise Lincoln to lose the beard and the lofty language, and to stick to his consultant-drafted talking points.  

Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't have a musical career if I had ignored all the valuable advice I've been given, and still receive, from a great many wise folks.  But I've also ignored my share of expert opinion, particularly when it hasn't taken into account what I have to offer as an artist, and what I'm trying to create musically.  

When have you ever ignored expert advice?  Why'd you do it, and how did it work out?

Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to, Reading, and Watching:
    Townes Van Zandt, "Be Here to Love Me"
    Terence Martin, "Even Trade"
    Cynic, "Traced in Air"
   Pauline Kiernan, "Filthy Shakespeare:  Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns"  
    "The Ogden Nash Pocket Book."
    "Paper Heart"
    "Empire Falls"