Why I Like Who I Like 2.0

In 2010, I wrote a blog about what I look for when evaluating Idolists. Rereading it today, I can see my approach hasn’t changed much. But in the introduction to music critic and author Steve Hyden’s recent list of the Top 100 lead signers of all time, he used four criteria that overlap mine but were stated much more succinctly[1]. Although his qualities refer specifically to lead singers of bands or singing groups, I was still inspired to amend his approach to evaluating Idolists. It’s less of a change of my prior methodology and more of a restatement of it. When evaluating Idol performances, the four things I consider are vocal attractiveness, showmanship, charisma, and uniqueness[2].

Vocal attractiveness. I think of “attractiveness” in the word’s literal meaning: Attract (verb): cause to come to a place or participate in. Singers have a wide array of tools: pitch, tone, timbre, tempo, head voice, chest voice, runs, glissandos, etc. Whatever their choices, they are in service of one thing – to attract a listener, i.e., cause them to participate through their interest and attention in the sound that the singer’s voice is creating. The best singers have mastered the basics like singing in tune and on tempo. They also know what their best tools are, how to use them effectively, and, crucially, how not to overuse them. A big part of the Idol journey is Idolists growing in their self-awareness and self-expression. And when they do that well, they make you want to participate by listening, even if you don’t know why you find them so listenable.

In simple terms, vocal attractiveness seeks to answer, “Does your singing attract my interest?”

Showmanship. If vocal attractiveness is about the artist making you want to hear them, showmanship is about the artist making you see them. Showmanship includes how they present themselves to us in what they wear – or don’t; their use of the stage as a tool; physical movements; and emotional expression. It’s about the things that the artist does for the sake of getting your attention.

In simple terms, showmanship seeks to answer, “How well do you master the stage?”

Charisma. If showmanship inspires attention, charisma inspires connection. Showmanship is extraverted and objective – “Look at him!”. Charisma is introverted and subjective – “I like her.” Showmanship is why you want to see an artist perform. Charisma is why you swoon when they perform.

In simple terms, charisma seeks to answer, “How deeply do you make me feel something?”

Uniqueness. Identity (noun): the characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is. My biggest challenge is figuring out who the Idolists will be after the show singing their songs based on watching them on the show singing other people’s songs. It’s a tricky thing to translate how well the Idolist is performing at the moment to determining what qualities they have that set them apart from a zillion wanna-be pop stars. I’m not interested in good karaoke. I’m looking for “standoutness,” i.e., the characteristics of their vocals, showmanship, and charisma that combine to create a distinct identity.

In simple terms, uniqueness seeks to answer, “What do you do that few others can do?”

This four-question approach isn’t very different from what I wrote in 2010, although I think it is more precise. It certainly is shorter![3] It’s the criteria behind my grades throughout the season and will be the lens through which I evaluate the Final Five.

[1] Me being wordy. Imagine that.

[2] Hyden’s are vocal ability, showmanship, charisma, and influence.

[3] Almost by half!!

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