May 2, 2013

When Harry Connick Jr. asked Amber Holcomb "to tell him what the song ‘My Funny Valentine’ meant..."

"... she looked like Ted Kennedy explaining to Roger Mudd why he wanted to be president. She clearly didn't have a clue what she was singing about — a problem compounded by an earlier rehearsal clip in which Connick noticed how much better her voice sounded when she forgot the lyrics to Pink's 'Just Give Me a Reason.'"

"Is your figure less than Greek?" What does that mean? Connick wanted to know. A painful moment last night on the dying show they call "American Idol." The contestants were singing old standards, and Connick obviously knows how to sing them well, but his efforts to help them sing those songs fell on — it's mean to use this cliché, which is why I'm violating my rule against clichés — deaf ears.

53 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Like I said earlier, You've Changed was awesome last night.

I did feel sorry for Amber in that clip -- like the student who didn't study and didn't realize there was going to be a pop quiz -- in front of a national TV audience. No wonder she was crying at the end of her performance.

Her Dad crying was great TV. Amber crying? Not so much.

David said...

Go Candice.

Meade said...

"Go Candice."

+1

Andy Freeman said...

Is "American Idol" the show losing the ratings battle to both "The Voice" and "Duck Dynasty"?

Ann Althouse said...

I watched an episode of "Duck Dynasty." It was pretty good. Nice relaxing TV. Short episodes.

Baron Zemo said...

American Idol jumped the shark when they put the anti-catholic bigot Nicky Minaj as a judge.

God will not be mocked.

Baron Zemo said...

The future of televison does not belong to those who mock the one true church.

Bob_R said...

Terry Teachout had a great post a while ago about a couple of truly great singers (Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn) who Teachout felt were not as good at serving the lyric as they should be.

One of the people who he held as an example of someone who did a great job of this really surprised me - Fred Astaire. After listening to Astaire more seriously I saw what he was talking about. Astaire sings the melody very straight (with great rhythm of course.) But he's really the consummate story teller. Nobody makes the narrative of the lyric clearer.

Robert Cook said...

I've loved the Astaire/Rodgers pictures since I was a kid, and I enjoyed Astaire's singing of the classic tunes enough that, although my normal taste in music runs to free jazz, punk rock, and weird music in general, I bought a double-cd years ago of Astaire's recordings of the songs from his movies. Great stuff!


While I can be amazed and even occasionally moved by singers who pull out all the stops and "sing runs," as I guess they call it, such over singing should be employed sparingly, as with salt in food. It's way overdone today by too many singers. A good melody sung simply by a pleasant voice is far more pleasurable than such grandiose vocal showboating.

AJ Lynch said...

I bet Ricpic will know what these song lyrics mean.

Rocketeer said...

I'd think a moderately well-educated person should be able to figure out what "Is your figure less than Greek?" means in this context, based solely on the name of the song.

Rocketeer said...

Teachout said that about Sarah Vaughn? Fitzgerald, maybe. MAYBE. But if he said that about Sarah Vaughn, I'm not inclined to respect his opinion very much on the subject.

Rocketeer said...

A good melody sung simply by a pleasant voice is far more pleasurable than such grandiose vocal showboating.

I'm pleased to find something we agree on, Cookie!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'd think a moderately well-educated person should be able to figure out what "Is your figure less than Greek?" means in this context, based solely on the name of the song.

That would be someone who did NOT have a United States governmental controlled public education. Even a college student today would be hard pressed to explain what a Hellenic Greek figure would be much less put it into context.

campy said...

An art major would probably struggle.

ricpic said...

Low-info singers.

Carol said...

My Funny Valentine is about someone falling in love with, uh, an unattractive sort. No one wants to own up to that nowadays.

We're all beautiful, you know.

Unknown said...

It is even more ironic that the song is "My Funny Valentine" because, as I discovered, Valentine is a name here. The original context of the song is discussing the person Valentine not the generic loved-on . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Funny_Valentine

Jeff Teal said...

HC is very well trained and accomplished lyricist and songwriter who apparently believes that interpretation does matter in preeaentation.

Rocketeer said...

That would be someone who did NOT have a United States governmental controlled public education.

I have one of those DBQ - and an art degree to boot, Campy - but on reflection I realize the reason I could do is not attributable to my formal education, but the fact that I'm an autodidact with parents that helped me cultivate my interests.

AprilApple said...

I don't watch Idol. I think I watched it a bit way back when Cowel (sp?) was there in the beginning.

The lame judges are a big part of the problem.

If the producers can snag Harry Connick - that's like taking a crap d-list show and injecting it with a B-12 shot.

Baron Zemo said...

Idol is over and they are not admitting it yet.

You know what killed it?

Two things.

Nicky Minaj.

Affirmative action.

Baron Zemo said...

They always rigged the results but this time they went over the top.

The judges were told to not put through any WGWG.

That is white guys with guitars.

They had won the last six times.

So they wanted to ensure that a woman won this time. Not because they were the best singer. Or because they were the best performer. Or because they were the most popular.

They just couldn't be a white guy. With a guitar.

Baron Zemo said...

Once you start using Affirmative Action you destroy your institution.

See: colleges, unions, the fire department. Oh and of course the Presidency.

ricpic said...

It's cultural imperialism to question an African American about the meaning of song lyrics written by a white, and a white Jew to boot!

Shanna said...

They always rigged the results but this time they went over the top.

Yeah, I quit the show years ago but when the results you want are obvious just from the commercials you have probably gone to far with the rigging. (Their 'yay it's only girls left' commercial was ridiculous.)

You should at least be able to figure out the 'figure less than greek' thing in context.

AprilApple said...

In a nutshell it means "I love you just the way your are."
Perhaps it's a good idea to understand the meaning so that you can really feel it as you sing it.

Wild thing.
You make my heart sing....

Pogo said...

Connick should have phrased it in Ebonics, and used recognizable lyrics:

Amber, "I'm the Mac and I'm bad give you something that you never had I'll make ya jump jump wiggle and shake your rump." Wut?



creeley23 said...

Frankly I think the lyric "your figure's less than Greek" is a little weak.

Chet Baker's version kills me.

Sam L. said...

I wondered what y'all were talking about.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ Rocketeer

I have a rather large vocabulary, but had to look up autodidact. Cool! Thank you. I love learning new words. I guess I am one also.

Bob_R said...

@Rocketeer - I'd rather let Teachout defend himself, but I can't find the post (several years ago.) So I will say that the "criticism" was in comparison to Billie Holiday (not Amber Holcomb.)

ricpic said...

Frankly I think the lyric "your figure's less than greek" is a little weak.

But it doesn't stand alone:

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak...are you smart?

That "are you smart," sung on a rising note by a singer, obviously not the stupe in question, who has lived the lyrics, can be close to heartbreaking.

Astro said...

Just sing the melody, he repeatedly told them, as they tried to tart up perfectly good songs with unnecessary runs.

Best.
Advice.
Ever.

I get sooo sick of hearing singers add all kinds of musical crap to songs that were written by people who know music, know performance and know proper balance.

That's why I could never watch that show.

It's like using Nigella Lawson's recipe to make a red velvet cake and pouring corn syrup all over it when serving it.

furious_a said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rocketeer said...

So I will say that the "criticism" was in comparison to Billie Holiday (not Amber Holcomb.)

Claiming that Vaughn pales in comparison, lyrically, to Billie Holliday - that's fair enough - but Fred Astaire? I'm sorry, Sarah Vaughn, not trying to serve the lyric, serves the lyric better than Fred Astaire doing nothing but earnestly serving the lyric every time. I'm really curious about this Teachout post now...might try to dig it up myself.

F. A. Alsbach said...

Good God ALmighty, that is one of the greatest songs every written. How could any adult not understand it?

Ann Althouse said...

"Frankly I think the lyric "your figure's less than Greek" is a little weak."

It sets up the next 2 lines, which are truly touching.

Ann Althouse said...

"Just sing the melody, he repeatedly told them, as they tried to tart up perfectly good songs with unnecessary runs."

He also said if you sing extra notes, they need to be in the chord. I wonder if they understand music enough to follow that rule. I think he said it to subtly say they do not.

And when Harry opens his mouth to speak, he is smart. Very smart. And incredibly sexy.

Beldar said...

Harry Connick, Jr. is a wonderful throwback to the mid-20th Century whose music and musicality amazes me. Good for him if he made some shallow people without his integrity or knowledge feel a bit nervous and exposed.

Beldar said...

If you want to hear very, very straightforward singing that sticks to the pitches without elaboration or flam-flam or show, try listening to Bob Wills or Willie Nelson.

Joe said...

"It's like using Nigella Lawson's recipe to make a red velvet cake and pouring corn syrup all over it when serving it."

So true. To kill the metaphor, it's even worse when Nigella Lawson decided to be "relevant" in her older age and does it herself. While nude with "Bra" written on herself.

Bob_R said...

Rocketeer -

If you find the link, please post it. It is an interesting post that (as you can imagine) a lot of people argued with. Teachout said that his taste ran to singers like Holliday, Sinatra, Nat Cole, and Astair. I was really surprised by his inclusion of Astair and emailed him saying so. He responded in a post that took me to school, with some good links to Astair albums. (Fred Astair and Fred Astair and Oscar Peterson are available on iTunes...and probably through the portal.) You should give them a listen. If you are a big Sarah fan I doubt it changes your mind, but I don't think it's very hard to see what Teachout is talking about.

kcom said...

"corn syrup"

I see what you did there.

Ralph L said...

I remember seeing a program on TV that praised Fred's skills as a singer. Was it "That's Entertainment!", or something like it?

I think many singers add notes because they can't hold notes well and need to wiggle them a bit.

Mark said...

I'm going to be the contrarian here and say that I enjoy the occasional pull-out-all-the-stops vocal fireworks display.

Depends on the song being lit up, of course.

But really, one of the great country singers of all time had a range of about six good notes. If you want to hear a singer really sell a song, listen to Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt".

William said...

The songwriters of that era all liked Astaire. He never tried to upstage the lyrics. Plus, he had that whole dapper guy in tux down pat. He delivered lyrics the way Cary Grant delivered pick up lines. He made the lyricist sound witty and sophisticated.........Lorenz Hart was an alcoholic, bisexual midget. Only drunk gay midgets know what a sad lost quest the search for enduring love is...........The way Astaire made the lyrics sophisticated, Ella Fitzgerald made the melodies beautiful. Billie Holiday made them heartbreaking.......Why would anyone want to listen to rap music?

Jason said...

I never bothered with that show because every time I see a part of it, in highlight or excerpt, it's some power ballad singer butchering the crap out of the song. I got depressed because the best singers in the world wouldn't be caught dead pulling that shit and it's been garbage. Loads of raw talent, sure. But zero artistic maturity. Very glad to see Connick involved with reining these kids in. Long overdue. Was Manilow coaching on that same show or a different one? He's a great old pro, too.

rcommal said...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114142885353189146.html

I think this is the link to the referenced Teachout piece.

Joan said...

Those standards, you really have to understand what the lyrics to do them justice. For a crash course in how to do them well, I'd recommend every Idol contestant watch The Fabulous Baker Boys and emulate Michelle Pfeiffer's amazing performance. (At first I thought the piano playing was real and the singing was dubbed in, but it's just the opposite.)

Also: Harry Connick Jr is and always be amazing.

ken in sc said...

Beldar, Willie Nelson sings 'Blue Skys' in a negative minor key that is totally out of whack with the words.

Unknown said...

Althouse Blog: Whining Caucasians (I'm loving it).

Even a singing contest causes crying in your beer!

The "browning" of America...truly a blessing!


Unknown said...

Althouse Blog: Whining Caucasians (I'm loving it).

Even a singing contest causes crying in your beer!

The "browning" of America...truly a blessing!