# 19     America Abuses Talent


I’ve been thinking about a YouTube performance that’s been circulating of a  young girl  singing with an adult sounding voice the  Puccini aria, “O mio babbino caro” from the opera Gianni Schicchi.  The clip is from America’s Got Talent.  


If you haven’t watched this video on YouTube, you might want to read my comments first and then observe the performance.


I had a couple of concerns as I watched this young girl singing. The first  concern was that she was using her voice in an inappropriate way for her age by fabricating an adult vocal color and intensity.  The other concern was about the glitzy atmosphere of the competition which attracts potential child contestants into a form of exploitation. 


Inappropriate Use

The changes that occur vocally from childhood to adulthood are many, and an important feature of this process is that all the parts of the vocal mechanism grow at different rates.

The resonators, the musculature of respiration and phonation, the skeletal system, including the rib cage, spinal column, skull and jaw can all be developing at varying speeds, so when the singer is pre-adolescent (even adolescent) the voice is evolving so quickly to what its final form will be in adulthood, it can be somewhat fragile and can be damaged by over use and contrived vocalism which produces muscular strain. 


For this youngster to make an adult sound such as she did required a great deal of tension in lieu of natural adult strength and size. 


The stress to make a larger than normal resonating space caused a compression of her tongue, and the resulting rigidity transmitted her tremor/vibrato rate to her lips and jaw.  In an attempt to free the muscular tightness in her neck she bobbed her head.  The gasping sounds during her inhalations were an indication of a very tense throat. 

The aria in itself was not an issue in my mind, as it is sometimes taught to young students with advanced ability, yet in this performance the sustained penultimate high note was edited out, which leads me to wonder what happened in that performance that the producers felt we ought not see or hear. 



The issue of exploitation of precocious youth is a very serious subject, and  competition shows like America’s Got Talent present  temptations for fame which can be an inducement to ignore the natural and gradual development of a young singer, by the singers, their parents and by unscrupulous  teachers. 

It’s easy to see why the young singers find this so appealing.  Fifteen minutes of fame to a child must seem like a lifetime.   

Children  by their very nature lack the wisdom for understanding the long term consequences of abusing their voices. The adults that encourage this sort of unsafe use are to be chastised.   

Our culture’s fascination with making children appear as adults, amazement at when they do extraordinary things such as sound like adults, and applause for their forced and risky efforts contribute to this exploitation.


Try this:


America does have talented youth.  Make sure they are well trained and that their aspirations are in alignment with their abilities.


As Barbara Conable writes in Appendix  A of What Every Singer Needs To Know About The Body “…be very, very careful to give students age-appropriate music and not too much of it…keep your young students out of competitions and seek opportunities for them to play for supportive, knowledgeable colleagues in noncompetitive situations. Stay with them in those situations so you know they are being treated well and constructively.”




Have a very fine week,








Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs