Who sang “And I Am Telling You…” the best?

Since its debut production in 1981, Dreamgirls has gone on to become one of the most iconic musicals of all time since due to its progressive story about racial division and the music industry of the time, dynamic characters based on real life Motown and soul singers of the eras and of course, its incredible soundtrack. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is the pivotal song that is considered one of the most vocally demanding songs from a musical – in fact, in contemporary music. The grit, range, power, resonance, breath control, stamina and agility as well as emotion to inject into the song and act it out are an extremely rare combination of requirements that a singer must meet in order to pull it off successfully…

And many have tried. Those who play Effie White, needless to say, have to have a BIG voice. A dramatic soprano or mezzo or spinto soprano are probably the voice types best suited to the song due to its intensity, climactic middle and ending and elongated sustained belted notes in the fifth octave at full volume. And let’s not forget this comes after an hour of singing already (for those who performed in the actual musical), with enough voice left to keep going for another hour. However, some with smaller voices have also attempted the difficult challenge, though unless they have a decent enough technique to at least support and hold the big notes easily, they may find it pretty suicidal for their vocal cords.

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Below is a rundown of some of the most prominent performances of the song and my ratings on their vocals to see who is the Queen of all Effie Whites and this song.

Jennifer Holliday (1981)

The original Effie White, Jennifer is a veteran of theatrical performances and she really always gives it her all when she sings this song – even in her later years. However, her voice is very marmite – it’s full of grit and she loves to grunt and growl, which makes her timbre sound ugly and even demonic at times when she constantly switches. So you either love the energy she puts into it or you are cringing badly at how rough she sounds – either way, it’s a marvel she can still pull it off in the same way as she did way back then.

Rating: 2.5/5

Lillias White (1982)

Effie 2.0, Lillias performed in the first US tour of the production. Lillias has a slightly more pleasant voice than Jennifer but her voice is quite light and a bit nasal, which if you didn’t know who she was you’d probably think she was Fantasia Barino. Vocally though, she was quite decent.

Rating: 3/5

Gladys Knight (1985)

Gladys certainly has a beautifully rich, smooth and soulful voice, but has never been considered a powerhouse vocalist so it was quite a surprise to know she had taken on this song. However, ever the consummate musician, she is able to cleverly mould the song to fit her voice for a restrained vocal delivery that retains the emotion and shows that she is in fact a versatile and talented singer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Whitney Houston (1994)

Whitney performed this as part of a medley so unfortunately we never got to hear her full version of the song. She cuts parts of it out – coincidentally the higher parts – but does extremely well in showing off her best assets, which are breath control to sustain the big mid-belts, soulful conviction and maintaining her full and rich tonal quality throughout, without sounding thin, shrill, growly or husky in parts, unlike many of the other singers who’ve sung this. It would have been great to hear her sing this when she a bit younger and her voice wasn’t as tired, as she does chop her phrases up a bit during the verses. On top of that, Whitney displayed her musical creativity with the arrangement and her tasteful addition of runs, which didn’t detract from the song or melody.

Rating: 4/5

Jennifer Hudson (2006)

Jennifer Hudson’s performance is probably considered the gold standard version of this song due to its immense popularity. She always puts 100% into singing it and has sometimes shown that the song is too hard even for her live, usually struggling to hit the high notes on pitch. However, over the years she’s definitely improved and what she nails the best is the sustained notes, holding them incredible ease. Only her shrillness on the top notes at times and enunciation are what often holds her back, though this may simply be due to her southern twang.

Later, both Jennifers performed this as a duet and did really well – of course Holliday still brought her strange facial expressions, grunts and overused “ha” to the table while Hudson didn’t sound great in the upper range but it definitely started off nice and smoothly and they vibed off each other well for a duet that surprisngly, didn’t result in them trying to out-scream one another.

Rating: 4.5/5

Amber Riley (2009 and 2016-2017)

Amber has a much lighter voice than most other women who have done this song, but she a good enough technique to hold her own. She sounds a bit nasal on the top notes but does add a bit of grit when needed, which is a contrast to her normal smoother vocal delivery. Overall, not the biggest fan of her rendition only because she sounds so youthful and girly, but at least she doesn’t sing outside of her ability or force her voice to sound different.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jessica Sanchez (2012)

Jessica gave quite a subdued version of this song on American Idol (particularly at the beginning and end of it). However, she did add quite a few growls when she has such a naturally light voice which didn’t sound too healthy. She later performed it with Jennifer Holliday, which basically resulted in Jessica awkwardly trying to mimic Jennifer’s mannerisms (see below).

Rating: 2/5

Tituss Burgess (2013)

The fact that this man manages to sing this song better than a lot of ladies says it all really. Thanks to his high tenor voice he is able to reach for the higher notes with ease and really gets into the performance as well. Of course, to some his upper range may be very impressive, though to others it might be a bit off-putting as it is not common to hear a male attempting to belt that high, often sounding a bit pushed and unnatural.

Rating: 4/5

Sam Bailey and Nicole Scherzinger (2013)

Unfortunately this rendition was quite jarred. Nicole really stole the limelight from Sam here and outsang her – and Sam had the biggest voice on the show that year. She didn’t do too badly though, but all emotion was lost in what was more like a battle to be heard than a proper duet. Nicole has some very surprisingly impressive chops on her though and really went for those high notes – just at the expense of feeling the song.

Rating: 3/5 (Sam) and 3.5/5 (Nicole)

Melanie Amaro (2014)

Although Melanie was paraded about on the first season of the US X Factor as a Whitney/Mariah wannabe, she really had a great voice to pull of songs only others on the show could dream of. She slayed with this performance in the comfort of her own home, showing why she was won the talent contest in the first place – great phrasing and precision.

Rating: 4.5/5

Cynthia Erivo (2015)

Cynthia is respected musical actress who has performed in The Color Purple but could most definitely get herself a part in Dreamgirls should she so want it, I’m sure. She gave a great rendition of this song in 2015 with very clear and well executed vocals.

Rating: 4/5

Marisha Wallace (2016-2017)

Probably the best of them all that I’ve heard perform this song, Marisha has pretty much everything that is required as mentioned above to do this song justice – her nuances and inflections as well as tonal and dynamic changes throughout the song were on point without a technical flaw or pitch issue in sight (as it were).

Rating: 5/5

Sarah Ikumu (2017)

For a 15 year old girl, this rendition is certainly impressive. Simon correctly says it’s one of the biggest songs in the world, but her confidence is what really makes this performance. Her overall vocal shows great potential – she has good breath control – but she is often off pitch and strained the higher notes, something that for a young voice can be damaging. Also, it sounds like she’s thickening her voice to sound deeper and heavier than normal.

Rating: 2.5/5

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WINNER: Beating off stiff competition from Jennifer Hudson and the legendary Whitney Houston, Marisha Wallace IS the Queen of Effies!

So those are some of the ladies who have put their vocal abilities to the test with this song – some doing very well, others not so much. But there are definitely others I’d love to hear attempt this song as I have faith they’d do great renditions:

Patti Labelle – a true dramatic soprano of pop music with some of the most extraordinary lungs of all time. I have absolutely no doubt Patti would be able to smash this song out of the park – even now – and I’m surprised she’s never performed it before.

Anika Noni Rose – she played Lorrell Robinson in the film version of Dreamgirls and has proved that she is a very capable vocalist with a rich, warm voice and great range and technique. It’d be very interesting to hear her tackle the song.

Beverley Knight – Bev is one hell of a vocalist who could undoubtedly take this song and do it more than justice. I can imagine her leaping up and down the song’s range with complete ease and adding carefully thought out and beautiful runs to it, as well as tasteful growls.

Beyoncé – She may not quite have the breath control to sing the sustained notes or the upper belting register to hit the higher notes but Bey has a very proficient technique and is a clever enough singer to be able to make this song her own, so can I imagine she’d give it her best shot.

Jessie J – Ok, not a huge fan of Jessie’s style and I don’t have faith she’d give a great rendition to be honest, but it would definitely be intriguing to hear her bring her own sound to this.

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