Archive for Music

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

Posted in Female Vocalists, Songs, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

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.

10 ways Christina Aguilera could have a successful comeback

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Female Vocalists with tags , , , , on April 21, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

It was about three years ago when we first got wind of a new Christina Aguilera album due to come out and it’s been about 2 years since I last posted a blog, so I thought it’d be fitting for my first post in a while to be about just that.

Poor Christina hasn’t had the best luck so far this decade when it comes to her music career. She’s made more money and more of a name for herself as a coach on The Voice and most recently, a spokesperson for Oreos, than she has as a singer and even her most successful hits have been collaborations with other artists or vocal features on their songs.

Her last two albums were unfortunately not particularly well-received, did pretty badly on the world charts to say the least (although both outsold Britney’s latest effort…) and she did the bare minimum when it came to promotion… And now, she’s recently been infuriating fans because of her lack of interaction with them and a severe lack of any information regarding new music, which she has been “promising” and dropping small tidbits about for the past THREE years.

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There has been no word on a release date (Christina herself has constantly said “later this year”, “next Spring/Summer” or “soon” for a long time now), no word on what musical direction she is taking with the new sound and hardly any word on who she’s working with, although rumours are rife she has a number of big songwriters and producers on it, including old favourites Linda Perry and DJ Premier and new partnerships such as Da Internz and Elle King.

So, will Xtina ever be as successful as she once was? Can she have a fourth BIG era similar to the ones she had in 2000, 2003 and 2006? The answer is debatable and many might not think so, BUT there are certainly a number of things she can do so she can at least not seem like a lazy bitch who no longer cares…

1) DON’T return to The Voice

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Seriously, the number of times she has returned to the show is ridiculous. And unfortunately her reputation on the show has not always been great. Many people have criticised her for things she’s said to contestants, her “feuds” she’s had with her fellow coaches and the fact that she’s spent more time on the show than she has on her own music. She has also promised a number of times she was leaving the show to focus on her music career, rather than helping others who get nowhere after the show even if they win… Then returned! What she needs to do is to stay away from the TV personality side of her career and focus all her attention on herself and her own thing. Sure, there’s no harm in her returning to perform her new material on it, but The Voice as a project has run its course and needs to be abandoned for good.

2) Work with other producers

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Ok, so we’ve established that Christina is said to be working with quite a few big name producers and songwriters – some of whom she’s worked with before. But more names are needed. She’s spoken of her preference for working with well known producers but not ones who are “on trend” and she’s managed to recruit a lot of such people in the past as well as some lesser known ones for Bionic. However, with these producers she needs to get a creative hold back on her music. On Lotus, she seemed to have less writing and producing credits on the tracks than she did previously and many of the finished songs did not gel or resonate with fans, and it may be because it was quite clear she could have been simply given them and recorded them. Perhaps her full heart and soul was just not in some of the songs for this reason? Others have speculated that since she released the album within 2 years of Bionic, this was “rushed” by Christina’s standards as her previous albums were recorded and released 3-4 years apart.

While I can’t really list many other new songwriters and producers she could work with on this album off the top of my head, it would be great to see/hear her work with previous people again like Tricky Stewart, Claude Kelly, Ester Dean, Rob Lewis, Mark Ronson, Rob Hoffman and Heather Holley (both known for helping Christina launch her career), Glen Ballard and Scott Storch, all of whom lent their creative skills to MANY of her hits of different sounds and genres. Christina herself also needs to get back to writing and producing too, as she’s proven she’s a good lyricist and great with melodies and harmonies as well.

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However, one person she needs to steer clear of is Sia. Now, they made some lovely songs  for Bionic and Burlesque and Sia even co-wrote the disco-themed song Telepathy, but this collaboration has had its time. Christina is credited by most for bringing her to a wider audience when they worked on Bionic together and now Sia is off making her own (awful) music, despite saying she wasn’t going to anymore, them reuniting just doesn’t appeal to me and others.

3) Promote GLOBALLY

Do I need to elaborate? Probably not but I will anyway. Christina promoted her first three albums very heavily, performing and touring across the globe and doing a countless amount of PR for them. When it came to Bionic, she started off well, but then as soon as Not Myself Tonight began to nosedive in popularity and the album started to garner negative reactions, she cut promo short after releasing You Lost Me, which could have potentially been a bigger hit than it was. She cancelled promo in the UK but then announced a tour, which was also cancelled not long after. She cited that she needed to start promoting Burlesque, which she did, but timings were not on her side… Or was it because she knew there was no saving it?

Then when it came to Lotus she was STILL on The Voice again, and beyond a couple of “big” performances, most of her appearances were kept to being on The Voice. Her looks and live vocals gained more attention – and none of it positive either – than the music itself and she very quickly gave zero fucks about promoting the album; the lead single didn’t even get a proper performance except for this mediocre mess.

So this time, she really needs to up her game. Many fans blame her record label for not pushing her out there more, and while they may be right to an extent, Christina herself is also to blame. As I said, sure she can go on The Voice and promote her new stuff but that’s it. I’m sure many shows would love to have her on them to interview her and allow her to perform; she has appeared on most US talk shows since then but none for the reason of promoting any new music. And then she needs to reach out to the world as well. Christina is (or was) very popular in the UK, many parts of Europe, South America and Australia and New Zealand but her abandonment of these territories means she is missing big opportunities to reinstate her one glorious status as a global pop star.

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4) Interact with fans

As well as actually putting herself out there promoting her new shit, Christina also needs to rectify the major backlash she faces from fans who hate that she doesn’t interact with them; just take a look at the comments on her Facebook page and replies to her tweets to see how angry people are that she prefers to pointlessly promote Oreo ads than her music. While granted Christina has never been one to like having a strong online presence, her shying away from the outside world doesn’t do her image any good. Nobody is asking her to suddenly sit down and reply to her fans’ comments like so many other celebrities do but if she kept up and did it every so often, there wouldn’t be so many negative comments for her to face in the first place. And it’s unfortunately quite sad that the last time she “spoke” to fans was through a very short “Q&A” when she “promoted” Lotus and it’s a shame that the only times she has ever posted so much is when she told people to vote for her team on The Voice, shared her looks from the show and most recently, posted a bunch of photos from her birthday party.

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Come on, Chrissie, a little more effort for your fans is all they ask!

5) ECLECTIC is the keyword

One big thing Christina has above her own idols, her peers and those who came after her is that she is eclectic. Her versatility as an artist has transcended a vast number of musical genres and sub-genres, including: pop, R&B, hip hop, Latin, jazz, blues, soul, funk, gospel, rock, electro-pop, dance, power ballads, even reggae and most recently disco and country. The likes of Whitney, Mariah, Céline, Beyoncé, P!nk, Britney, Miley, Demi or Ariana have never, with probably Madonna being the only one who has.

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On Stripped, she touched on a number of those genres in her songs and then on Back To Basics and Bionic she focused on a specific group of genres/sub-genres that made up “concept” albums. Back To Basics was praised for its completely new direction and one no other artist was taking at the time, while Bionic was a big risk for her that didn’t quite take off but was appreciated by some.

Some have pondered whether this next album will be more “urban” (due to Pharrell Williams, DJ Premier and Da Internz being involved), which is a sound Christina has done well before and while she has always maintained that she doesn’t repeat things or sounds, there is no harm in revisiting some of them for an album that showcases what she is capable of music-wise. And knowing how long she takes to release an album these days, she may as well cram as much in one as possible – and dedicate a whole album to Latin/Spanish music as she has also promised.

6) Non-sexualised first single

Let’s look back at the past four lead singles from her previous albums: Dirrty from Stripped may now be a club banger classic, but it was extremely controversial (even in the UK where it was a hit) and flopped on the US chart; Not Myself Tonight from Bionic caused a stir for its sexualisation and of course, alleged “copying” of other artists and only had moderate success; and Your Body from Lotus was yet another song about sex and barely made any impact whatsoever. BUT Ain’t No Other Man from Back To Basics was Christina’s first single to reach platinum status in the US since Genie in a Bottle, charted within the top 10 in more countries than the others, received more critical acclaim than them and won her a Grammy. And that’s without it being a sexual song.

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Moral of the story? Don’t try too hard. Christina attempted to justify her reasoning behind Dirrty, which is all quite understandable, but it was clearly too much for some people and by 2010 it was no longer a shocker, nor original. What Christina needs as a first single is one that really puts her back on the map and it doesn’t even have to necessarily be a club banger. A song with more depth and meaning than sex and partying, clever or interesting lyrics, a memorable melody, good beat, great vocals and of course clever marketing are the main ingredients she needs – she just needs to stay clear of sexualisation (but that does not mean she should eliminate this side of her in other songs on the album) and controversy for the sake of making a statement with her return to the scene.

7) Collab with other artists

Christina has recently worked with A Great Big World, Pitbull and Maroon 5 on massive hit songs and also re-recorded a Lady Gaga song with her. Now, these are big names and the results were well received, but what Christina needs this time is others collaborating with her on HER material and the list of possibilities is quite endless: Ed Sheeran (had as a guest mentor on The Voice), Cher (missed a major opportunity in Burlesque), Celine Dion (she wrote a tribute to Christina for Time magazine), Justin Timberlake (old friends), Missy Elliott (again), Demi Lovato (a big fan), Shakira (a fellow Latina who could help with the promotion of her new Spanish album), Ricky Martin (again, and a similar reason as Shak), Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys (again, but this time a proper collaboration) and Jennifer Hudson (has mentioned a number of times she’d love to).

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With any of these very different artists who are each well respected and/or successful in their own way and with the right songs, things could only be good for both, especially with Christina’s “waning” status – even if her name and vocals did help others recently. It would also help cement her aforementioned reputation for versatility since all the above artists come from various musical backgrounds.

8) Take care of her voice

She’s been known for having a beautiful, big voice since 1999 but the change and decline as well as ups and downs have been quite prominent over recent years. Some have noted that she has the natural vocal beauty and talent but lacks discipline when it comes to keeping a consistently healthy vocal technique, although have also commented that she must have some extra special vocal cords, because there has been no damage to her voice akin to Whitney (dramatic deterioration), Mariah (nodules) or Adele (needed surgery). Now, as she nears 40, she needs to take good care of her voice.

Above: decent vocals, even if supposedly lipped

Hopefully the past few years of little performing has meant she has been able to get some good vocal rest and help, but then again, some performances show little improvement, or if they did once, the following time she seemed to take a step back. Old habits may die hard but with good coaching and putting her own knowledge of how to sing properly (which she’s shown a number of times before that she does know and can), she can at least prevent any further decline or lasting damage.

On top of this, her new material needs to be less vocally demanding and stuff that she can pull off live without the need to lip sync or dodge certain parts (Candyman high note or the bridge in Fighter, anyone?) and will not, in the long run – especially when touring – wear her voice out as her last two tours were cut short due to “illness” and Back To Basics was meant to be a great vocal era for her. This also includes reworking old songs that fit her current vocal state and range, again without needing to resort to lipping and dodging, while keeping them recognisable as well as fresh and exciting.

9) EXPLORE her voice

Even with the above advice on taking care of her vocals, Christina can still explore and experiment with her sound as she has done so before. Her current big vocal pluses are a gorgeous, rich lower register and a pretty, agile falsetto, both of which she does not use to their full potential. In recent performances she has shown off what she can do in these areas, but putting them to good use on new material would be amazing. She’s done it with some songs before so she can do it again. These are also two areas of her voice that get a lot of positive reactions, as her belting is often considered very marmite, which is not helped by her tendency to push the notes or go overboard with them. Her lows and falsettos, however should undoubtedly remain strong and in tact.

Above: great, controlled low notes

Above: nice falsetto runs

It’s also really nice to hear Christina restraining herself on songs. A number of popular fan favourites from albums have been songs that require little to no belting, soft and straight singing that isn’t marred by her growls and excessive runs. And in Bionic she pleasantly surprised many by using auto-tune creatively to change up her trademark style.

10) Get a new hair colour

Christina used to be known for changing her hair more often that she changed her shoes, having had some pretty wacky hairstyles and colours in the past. She recently dyed (or used a wig/extensions), her hair red which went down a fiery storm with fans, but it didn’t last long as she soon when back to platinum blonde, which has been her signature shade since about 2006. She has played about with different looks whilst on The Voice but again, these barely lasted a week and didn’t exactly promise anything long lasting. Auburn/red actually really suits Christina and is something we hope she’ll bring back again for a new record because she has always talked about being someone who loves to reinvent herself, but when there’s no new music, reinventing oneself in a big red chair doesn’t speak any volumes. So she really needs to embrace this era style-wise just as she last did (sort of) for Bionic and definitely did for Stripped and Back To Basics.

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So Chrissie, let’s have it! Have you got what it takes to ensure a comeback that puts you back on the radar AND the charts? Who knows, but third time lucky and hopefully 100% effort will be displayed this time. Let me know your thoughts on what Christina needs to do to get back on top!