Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Voice, Authenticity, and Goosebumps

Whether singing competitions are your cup of latte' (or proof that yet another artist will sell her soul for a record deal and maybe a future, not-so-G-rated scandal), writers have a lot to learn from these shows and its contestants.

The X Factor is in the U.S. now. The show originated in the U.K. and has discovered talents like Alexandra Burke (her version of Cohen's, Hallelujah is breathtaking), Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, etc.

Tryouts and boot camp ended last week. The contestants' experiences are similar to ours. They brave the scrutiny. They wonder if their voices are authentic enough. A five-million dollar recording contract is at stake for the winner (okay, so that part is nothing like our experiences). The judges look for a contestant with the "X Factor." That thing that no one can articulate, but we and they all know it when we hear it, and more importantly, when we feel it.

So, Jackie's post about the senses made me think about how artists in other genres can no better explain the artistic process and all its mysteries. We all do our best. And we can all learn from each other.

Take a look at this audition by Melanie Amar0:

In the first few seconds, we know her voice is authentic. The audience and judges know it, too. How? She sings in key, her voice is authoritative, she moves seamlessly and effortlessly from her upper register and into her lower register, while using all the tools in her singer's toolbox to "assault" the audience's senses. She sings from her soul. Even if her song choice isn't your cup of latte', I dare your goosebumps to stay asleep, especially during the falsetto. I dare them.

The point is an artist (I know; that's a big word and all) must assault the senses from the first word, that first line, through the middle, until she belts the climax from the rooftops, then follows her character towards a satisfying ending, a powerful one that leaves the reader smothered in goosebumps, breathless and wanting more.

Trust your goosebumps.


  1. I was thinking about singing performances recently during the Country Music Awards. Seems like great singers are able to fill themselves up with an incredibly high level of emotional energy --so much energy that they can radiate those emotions through the song in a believeable way to the rest of the room. There's a correlation between that and writers getting in the zone. We have to feel our characters' stories at a high enough intensity that the emotional resonance gets projected onto the page. I'm impressed with how facile singers are at generating energy, and then directing it in different ways to sell completely different songs, one after the other.

  2. The greatest singers make their work look so effortless, don't they? Versatility impresses me, too. We've all heard situations where an artist will cross-over into another genre, and they probably shouldn't have. Their truest emotions show through country lyrics or a ballad, etc. But then, there are some artists who cross-over and, when we hear the first note or read the first line, it works.

    Jennifer Egan (this year's Pulitzer Prize winning novelist for A Visit From the Goon Squad) addresses her versatility in many of her interviews. Reviewers and critics tell her that each new book they read of hers feels as though it is written by a different author. I've read her work--that's fairly accurate. Egan deviates in voice and style so well that it appears the works are crafted by different writers. And she takes fearless risks with narrative time that take my breath away. Egan, the clever novelist that she is, says that she will never write the same story twice, nor the same kind. She fears boredom. But she writes whatever comes to her--an act that she recognizes she has no control over.