Monday, July 21, 2008

"Singing With the Stars" post-mortem

Everybody I talked to - including me - was thrilled with Jessica Gisin and Halee Towne winning the Colorado Festival of World Theatre's "Singing With the Stars" competition. (The story in Sunday's paper, alas, isn't online.) They were fantastic, and I can't wait to see what they do in September's My Favorite Things.

But everybody I talked to from the theater community - including me - was flabbergasted that Amy Sue Hardy didn't make the finals. To my ears her performance was the best of the semi-finals, closely followed by Towne's.

What happened?

One issue was the ballot: Any time you're picking a bunch of people - in this case, the audience members got to vote for six of the 12 semi-finalists - the voting will be skewed, because it doesn't reflect actual commitment. Your vote for your sixth-favorite performer counts just as much as your vote for your favorite performer. The result is that a performer who everybody thinks is okay will show up on more ballots than a performer who polarizes the audience - one whom most people love but a few people hate.

(I learned about this effect a few years ago when I was on the theater jury for Pikes Peak Arts Council awards. One year we nearly gave the Best Actress award to someone whom none of the judges thought had actually had the best year. But we could vote for three, and we all thought she'd had the third-best year, even though we didn't agree on who we liked more. Fortunately, we figured out what was going on in time to re-vote.)

(And no, I don't remember who it was.)

So Amy Sue must have been one of those polarizing performers, and I think the reason lay mostly with the song she chose: "The Sun and I" from "Hot Mikado."

It was a jaw-droppingly virtuoso performance of a virtuoso vehicle, topped off by a two-octave pianissimo upwards glissando. Vocally, none of the other semi-finalists showed as much range of tone, dynamics or expression - not even Towne, whose "The Girl in 14-G" is a tour-de-force.

But Ko-Ko, the character who sings this song in Act 2 of "Hot Mikado," is a self-engrossed young woman, and it's difficult to empathize with the self-engrossed. It works within the show because we've already learned how naive and charming Ko-Ko is, and who can blame someone who's young and beautiful for thinking she's the cat's pajamas? But without this context, "The Sun and I" comes off like a hymn to narcissism, and the virtuosity, instead of a young woman reveling in her powers, can seem like mere showing off.

This must be the impression some of the audience members got on Saturday: A glamorous woman, the best-known contestant, past winner of every prize Colorado Springs has to offer, comes out and sings a song that basically says, "look at me, I'm wonderful." Is that the classic stuck-up diva, or what? Everybody who knows Amy Sue - even barely, like me - knows how poorly that image describes her, but it's no surprise that some of the audience members didn't take to her.


Blogger Warren Epstein said...

I wondered how Amy didn't make the cut.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Karen Vasil Carolan said...

I was also at the Singing With The Stars competition and was shocked when Amy Sue was not announced as a finalist. I was at the same table with Mark and another fellow local performer. We where comparing our notes and stating who we had picked for our 6 finalists. Amy Sue was on all of our lists. I am happy that Jessica and Halee where chosen. They were clearly the best out of the 6. And Kudo's to all who auditioned and made it to the 12 and then to the final round. However, knowing what Amy Sue was planning on singing in the second round, I can only wonder if instead of there being 2 chosen, there might have been 3. Or possibly...just one. Think about it.

9:33 AM  

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