Tuneful Tuesday: New Sensation

I had an interesting discussion with someone today about self-confidence, specifically regarding singing ability. I was trying to convince this person that her singing voice was fine, but she didn’t quite believe me. This led to a conversation about accepting compliments, which dovetailed into some theorizing as to whether people are actually honest when they praise your singing voice.

“You told me the other day that you would rather someone just tell you that you suck, instead of pretending to compliment you,” I said. “If that’s your philosophy, though, how will you be able to believe anyone when they tell you you’re doing a good job?”

“No one will ever tell you that you suck,” she said.

She does have a point there. I’ve heard some pretty bad singers in my day. Actually, let me amend that last statement: I heard some really bad singers in my day. People who have actually paid for studio time and hired promoters to send their music to radio stations. People who should probably have been sat down at some point in their lives and been told, “Hey, um, maybe singing is not really your thing…”

I wondered today if maybe this isn’t why shows like “American Idol” and “X Factor” are so popular. They allow people to watch someone essentially say “You suck” to someone who, well, sucks at singing. It is an extremely difficult thing to say to someone, which is why, as my friend pointed out, it hardly ever happens. Unfortunately, this unwillingness to hurt feelings can actually undermine a person’s confidence, as they are constantly left to wonder, “Well, if everyone says I’m good, how can I know who is actually telling me the truth?”.

I was reminded today of an old episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music” on the band INXS. As one would expect, the program focused almost entirely on the late Michael Hutchence, who committed suicide in a hotel room in 1997. One of the more surprising comments mentioned on the program (and I believe it was Hutchence’s close personal friend Bono who said it) was that Hutchence constantly doubted the quality of his singing voice.

How in the world could this be? Michael Hutchence had a voice I would sell my soul to have. It was almost like a musical weapon. Just listen to a song like “New Sensation.” Somehow, though, Hutchence got the idea that it didn’t quite measure up. Maybe he was like my friend; maybe he was waiting for some to say “You suck,” even though he really didn’t.

I would not recommend that we all begin going around doling out harsh critiques of everyone’s singing abilities. Maybe, though, we could offer some pointers here and there. On the flip side, maybe the singers could trust the compliments a little more. Somehow, there has to be a way we can all feel okay. Right?

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