What do the American Idol Judges Mean?
I have been holding off on writing for a while - for many reasons - mostly because I'm working very hard on getting together materials to help singers do all the things Randy, Ellen, Kara and Simon are trying to explain on the show - in their own "unique" way.
In the past, when there were only three judges, it was easy to guess what they'd say. Randy took a more "middle of the road" stance. Paula was always sweet, gentle and empathetic and Simon acted like a mean, beyond brutally honest borderline abusive opinionated tyrant. The characters balanced themselves out. Then, last season, Kara came in and seemed to fall somewhere between Paula and Simon with even more constructive advice for the singers. By the end of the season, her new energy fit it. Now we have lost Paula, and gained Ellen who provides a whole new perspective and we try to adapt to the fact that this is Simon's last season. We secretly wonder who will play the tyrant next year. Will it be Kara? Well, amidst all the shifting roles, we have different views, ideas, and opinions and a whole new energy. My heart goes out to the contestants because it can be very confusing hearing much of the same thing expressed differently along with conflicting opinions and views. At the end of the day, how do they make sense of what all the judges mean? Which one should they listen to?
I will take the liberty to translate what might seem like a very confusing and conflicting year so far for many.
But first, my take on the judges:
Randy: In his mind, he knows exactly what he's talking about, but it is usually not very constructive and is narrowed down to a few phrases which I will later translate. He provides us with the producer's perspective in his own unique hip way, but up until recently, he has been less opinionated. This season, we are seeing a whole new grumpier side of Randy. Tonight was a good example of what I mean.
"It wasn't good. I didn't like it. You didn't bring anything to it. It didn't work, was tough, excruciating, pitchy, not right, no connection,” to give a few examples. The only two singers he didn't say anything negative about were Crystal Bowersox, (As Long as I Can See the Light) where he exclaimed, "You are the truth", and Siobhan Magnus (Think - Aretha) "That was dope! You slayed it!"
Ellen: Although I am admittedly, an huge admirer of Ellen Degeneres, I panicked initially when I heard some of her initial comments to the singers. I was afraid she would be too harsh and come off as "uneducated." But after watching each episode - even though she isn't a "singer" (neither is Randy or Simon), she is a comedian: confident and masterful at being grounded, centered, and knowing how to win over an audience. Singers certainly have something to learn from her, as the mental clarity and balanced mind-body connection one needs in order to tell a story/joke/song is essentially the same. She's been very fair with the singers and gives useful comments with a true performer's compassion, clarity (for the most part) and musical appreciation. (You don't have to guess what she means. For example, when Randy says, "that was pitchy" he is usually referring to 1 of 4 things on his list. Ellen is clear in her delivery. "I loved it... have fun, etc.") She provides an important perspective for the singers, because through her, you get to hear what many non-singers at home might think, with a comical edge, from someone who knows show business. She has actually given some constructive advice this season as well. I don't always agree with her, but I know she's coming from a very centered and valid place. (Yeah – I know she said Katelyn was playing a guitar tonight when she was really playing the piano –and that was my favorite performance, but she saved herself fast, and I’m letting it slide. LOL)
Kara: Has become my favorite judge this season, because she is a singer, songwriter, performer and knows her instrument. It is evident that she talks the talk and walks the walk. In my opinion, she gives the performers the most constructive advice and their ears should certainly perk up when she speaks, because she truly sees their potential and provides excellent suggestions. For example, she advised Lacey Brown to sing "Kiss Me", and this week, she did a much better performance with this song, Even though the song was better for her voice, Kara pointed out her strength (great tone) and still encouraged her to "step it up now" and "get back in the playing field." This means she better own who she is. (see below). If you listen carefully to Kara, she may make a few left brained comments about "pitch" (which everyone seems to be doing this season and it's getting on my nerves), but she always comes back with useful advice. She even said something this evening, that I tell my singers all of the time, "Stop trying to be perfect and commit to the meaning of the song." YES YES YES! Thank you Kara!
Simon: Tonight he secured his famous spot as being the last judge, but by the time he got his turn to speak, just about everything had already been said, so all he could do was either take it to a whole new level of cruelty (which he did a couple of times with Haley Vaughn and Didi) or just "strongly agree" or "disagree" to add surprise element. It seems to me like it's almost harder for him to stay in character because the other judges have been very unpredictable. Randy was the grump this evening - having the least amount of pleasant things to say than all the judges! It almost looks like we’re getting a nicer Simon these days, as he usually agreed with Kara…What?
One thing I do not appreciate is him and Kara talking during the singer’s performances. That simply just needs to stop already. How rude!
So - what do those poor contestants do with all of the conflicting and confusing messages?
After watching American Idol for a few seasons and getting a feel for what the singers are doing when the judges make their comments, I will make an attempt to translate their judging jargon, and then summarize.
When Randy says, "It was Pitchy" he is pertaining to one or more of these 4 things:
1. It just didn't feel right to him because you weren't connected to the flow and energy of the song.
2. You were not present with the song and committed to your message.
3. He didn't like the way you stylized it and your vocal runs may have been rough.
4. The notes you were trying to hit were not correct, so you were either slightly too high or too low.
When Ellen and Kara say "pitchy" they are referring to number 4. When Simon says "pitchy" it usually means he just didn't like it and has nothing to do with pitch.
When Kara says "Step it up" she means - Bring on the star quality! Know who you are as an artist. Define yourself, your style, your energy, your presence, give yourself permission to shine and become a star so you can compete with the stars. Know what is
good about you and find ways to share it.
When Simon and Randy say it sounds too “Karaoke” it is their way of saying you don’t sound like a real live performer, it lacks originality and is not of a Pop-star quality.
When Randy says, "It wasn't good." It means he didn't feel it. It is simply his opinion - which really is not very constructive.
When Ellen and Kara say, "You had no connection to the song," it means you did not take the audience on an emotional journey because you may have been worrying about pitch, control, lyrics, etc, and it took you out of the present moment and into your head, which means you became too self-absorbed.
When Simon says, “That was self indulgent” he means what the paragraph above says, along with the idea that you seem to unaware that you are self-absorbed.
When Simon says, "Be more confident" he means the same thing as what Kara says when she says, "Step it up."
When Randy says, "It was dope man, you slayed it" that means he liked it. Again, this is his opinion.
Okay! When it boils down to it, they're all simply saying one thing -
"Know and Love who you are while creating a safe space to let your soul's voice shine as you tell a story, in your own unique way."
At the end of the day, you can’t base your self-esteem on what a judge or anyone else says. You can simply learn from it and do your best to discover yourself in the process. I say, keep singing if you love to sing. Whether you're in a show, learning how to sing, auditioning, preparing - whatever it is you're doing on your vocal journey... if you love it - JUST SING! Don't take it too seriously. Have fun- and remember singing is more than just hitting all of the right notes - isn't it! Learning how to sing is a journey of discovering self-empowerment. Your voice matters!
Vocal Empowerment Coach