As of late, few artists have the admirable ability to move around on stage to an upbeat song without utilizing auto-tune or lip-syncing live for fear of not sounding perfect. It’s extremely disappointing. When I tune in to any award show, regardless of genre, I’d rather see an artist perform live and sound slightly off-key than sing along to a pre-recorded track in order to gyrate more freely. With no disrespect to other types of music (although it may not seem like it, I am a fan of other categories), I laud country artists for almost always singing live, regardless of whether or not they are sick or incorporating an exhausting dance routine upon stage (e.g. Gary Levox of Rascal Flatts: CMA Awards 2007- much respect).
The reason I bring this up is because of two events that transpired during last night’s finale of American Idol (congrats, Candice!). The first came no more than two minutes into the show, after Ryan Seacrest’s always-dramatic opening and the show’s title sequence. The top ten girls and guys of this season’s family bounded down the stairs with an exciting and attention-grabbing performance of The Wanted’s “Glad You Came”. It was vibrant, it was energetic, it was fun, it was… Lip-synced.
People. This is AMERICAN IDOL. The show that asks contestants to sing LIVE to prove that they’re talented enough to compete in the global music market. Their ticket to winning is their VOICE. And all season long, they have proven that they’ve got the chops, even Lazaro Arbos, the inspirational Spanish-speaking singer with a stutter who endured harsh criticism for never knowing his songs or lyrics. But at least he sang live! So why would the producers ask these clearly talented individuals to mouth the words to a popular Top 40 hit on a live singing show? Maybe it was finale time constraints; maybe it was one less song to worry about. Either way, in my opinion, it’s hypocritical and just gives critics more to bash the show about (as if there wasn’t enough as it is).
And then there was Mariah Carey. I love Mariah. She has one of the most talented voices I have ever heard. Ever. Her music has transcended generations, and to this day, she is one of the most successful artists in Billboard history, charting eighteen number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and surpassing Elvis Presley’s record while doing so. The woman could just stand there and sing for three hours sans visuals or costume changes, and she would still draw millions. Her vocal range is incredible and there have been times where I’ve concluded that she sounds better live than she does on her own records. The woman is a respected living legend, and the hero (no pun intended) of many of the contestants that secured a spot in this year’s Top Ten.
So then why did she lip-synch her entire pre-recorded performance last night?
To be honest, Mariah could have pulled off the stunt had the cameramen chosen not to maintain a close-up of her perfectly done features. Unfortunately for Mariah, the camera remained on her face for nearly the entire performance (a medley of some of her greatest hits), allowing viewers, even those who weren’t watching too closely, to discover that the great Mariah Carey, The Voice, The Queen of R&B, was indeed lip-synching, and horribly at that. Her mouthing and the words were incongruous, and at times it seemed as though she was completely offbeat from the music. Shouldn’t singing along to a pre-recorded track be easier than actually singing the song? Evidently not. Regardless of her misstep, I still respect Mariah as a vocalist and an individual. Like the Top Ten, maybe there was a reason for her choosing to atrociously lip-synch. Maybe her throat was sore or she could not find the time to appropriately rehearse her set. Nevertheless, Mariah’s performance is under considerable fire, surrounding American Idol with even more negativity and disgust.
Which brings me to my point. There were plenty of live performances last night on the show: Third-place finalist Angie Miller with former Idol runner-up Adam Lambert and British pop sensation Jessie J; Candice Glover with Oscar-winner (and Season 3 alumni) Jennifer Hudson (holy smokes, what a performance!); Amber Holcomb and Emeli Sande; Kree Harrison with judges Keith Urban and Randy Jackson. But the performance that stood out to me the most was that of fifth-place finalist Janelle Arthur and one of my favorite groups, The Band Perry, singing a rousing rendition of the trio’s smash, “DONE.” from their sophomore effort, Pioneer. I first heard the siblings perform this song on the ACM Awards back in April, and it continues to be my favorite act of that evening, not because of the song, but because of the energy. Lead singer Kimberly Perry carries the whole performance with her vivacity, turning one simple song into a show of its own. Her energy never abates, no matter how breathless she becomes as the tune progresses or how high her heels are. She consistently eggs the audience on, urging them to clap and throw their hands up and drawing her confident attitude from their compliance. Janelle assimilated easily into the performance, joining Kimberly for multiple kicks and head bangs; she proved that she will have no trouble transitioning into this new era of country music while simultaneously bringing a traditional flavor of her own. Although their performance slot was towards the beginning of the show, they remained, for me, the highlight of the evening because of how authentic and animated they were.
Take note, all you artists who choose to auto-tune and lip-synch. You can sing, dance, and entertain simultaneously without gimmicks or vocal correctors. It’s possible. Just practice.