Recently Betty Buckley, great diva of much Broadway fame, slammed Randy Jackson of Idol about his use of “you sound too Broadway” as a putdown. She was, rightly, outraged that this man should assume that “sounding Broadway” was in any way bad.
Broadway includes all styles and has for quite some time now. A great many of today’s shows are rock oriented and it takes a lot of skill and experience to sing rock music, full out, eight times and week, while being someone else. You have to sing it in the keys the production allows, you have to do it with an orchestra and a conductor, so there isn’t much room for improvisational change. You must sing with a body mike, not a hand held mike, and there are no monitors. You must make all your “marks” for staging on time and you have to wear what the character wears, not clothes that suit your fancy (al la Lady Gaga or Madonna). There aren’t too many of the singers on Idol who could go into a Broadway show and not self-destruct unless it was someone who had already been in a musical or had had training to deal with those parameters as a performer.
What makes Idol so awful (and yes, it is awful) is that it is SO limited and that there are no judges there that actually understand SINGING. This is a reflection of the lack of cultural education across the board now for several generations of Americans, but it is fed by the judges who seem to be just about as uneducated and unsophisticated about vocal expression as the audience. Maybe they know what “sells” but that’s not the same as understanding the capacity to sing.
If we lived in a culture that wasn’t built on “he who makes the most money wins” as a mentality, and had some clue as to what makes life worth living (certainly, getting rich and having a lot of stuff isn’t high on that list), we would have respect for a wide variety of singers and singing, representing a broad appreciation for music and culture. That our most popular form of vocal music has been reduced down to a limited number of elements is just sad. I truly believe that Aretha Franklin would not have a career if she were starting out today. She was overweight, plain and unsexy and had little “PR” spin to her. She was only good at one thing, and she was better at it than anyone else has been for a very long time. She could dance but she wasn’t a dancer. She could capture and audience but it wasn’t by wearing next to no clothing. She just stood there (or sat, if she played the piano) and SANG. She still does that all these decades later.
The few current pop singers who have something substantial to offer are truly wonderful in many ways, but even these people do not understand what it takes to be in live theater, without electronic modification (except for volume) depending on your throat and body alone. I wonder what Beyonce or Rihanna would be like in Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar or Next to Normal?
I stand with Betty Buckley on this one. The world might be a better place if more people appreciated the singers on Broadway just exactly because they are who they are, doing what they do.