American Idol - is gospel really that popular?

Okay, so maybe the American Idol contestants and wannabes aren’t all singing gosel music. However, something that sounds gospel-like seems to be the dominant musical style. You know, that “woahah wohah whooooah oooooh woahahhhhaa” way-too-many-notes style of music … I can’t think of what it’s called.

Anyhow, is that style of music really that popular? If not, why do most of the American Idol contestants sing in that style?

Yes, it really is that popular. Listen to any R&B or pop and that’s what you’ll hear.

FTR, on American Idol they call them runs. I don’t know what the official style would be called, but it’s popular, and has been for a long time.

It’s called melisma, and the contestants sing that way because they don’t know how to sing any other way. Pop music–Brittney, Christina, Justin, Jessica–is all these kids have been exposed to, consequently that is how they think they are supposed to show their singing range.

I think it’s called Mariahisma, named after its most evil practitioner, Mariah Carey. :slight_smile:

I have no idea if or why it is popular, but I can’t stand it. That’s why I won’t watch American Idol, even though I think it may be a fun show conceptually. That style of music just grates on me.

I always referred to it as “styling” a song, and I hate it too. How do I know you’re hitting the note you meant to hit if you’re just inventing them as you go along?

I’ve also heard it called “curlicues.” I gather it’s a technique that is popular in black gospel circles.

It’s the sort of thing where a little can go a long way. A very long way. I find it interesting occasionally. Very occasionally. Generally, it’s so overdone it becomes sickening, to the point where I now get a thrill hearing someone simply hold a note for two whole seconds.

“However, something that sounds gospel-like seems to be the dominant musical style. You know, that “woahah wohah whooooah oooooh woahahhhhaa” way-too-many-notes style of music … I can’t think of what it’s called.”

Like gobear said, the technique is called melisma, which roughly means embellishing a single syllable with serveral notes of melody.

It’s commonly used in hip-hop and ultimately does derive from gospel via soul music. Just listen to any old Aretha Franklin record and you’ll hear where it comes from.

The ironic thing is that melisma used to be a sparsely used method of ornamenting the main melody, but now the decoration has completely overwhelmed the structure. It’s as if bakeries were to switch over to making cakes that were 98% frosting.

Well put.

[Stupid SD program rejected my above post as too short, instructed me to use at least 10 characters. The point of which escapes me.]

I agree. It’s a technique that is way, WAY, WAAAAYYYY overdone. I cringe most of the time.

I find it interesting that perhaps 90 percent* of the auditioners seem to use this technique, yet only 1 percent* make it beyond a first round of competition. The obvious conclusion is that melisma** has very limited applicability to various styles of music. Flexibility to sing in various styles is a hallmark of a talented singer, and a prerequisite to be an American Idol.

  • I pulled these percentages from my nether regions, so don’t ask me for a cite.

** I learned a new word today. Thank you!

Very well put.

I, too, also learned a new word. I wish these “learn a new word a day” lists would use words like this, that one really doesn’t encounter yet which can be put to use in an everyday conversation. This is the only SDMB thread the word melisma has ever appeared in.

Around New York, LA, and other montrously large metro areas, no. In the huge spaces in between, yes, it’s really that popular. Kind of like cornbread.

Sadly, that’s the style of singing that won the Australian Idol.

Melisma, or “runs,” are in style, but they’re also a fairly common way for a singer with a powerful but untrained voice to emphasize their strengths while hiding their weaknesses. This is especially pronounced with someone who has power but lacks control; a run allows you to show off a pwoerful voice while running up and down half an octave to disguise the fact you have trouble holding one long note. The worst offender in pop music in Christina Aguilera, who really doesn’t have a very good voice, but hides it with a neverending string of runs and vocal tricks. Mariah Carey does the same thing, but she actually has a legitimately great voice so in her case it’s just an irritating habit. I don’t know of any newer singers I particularly trust to have good voices because all their voices are run through synthesizers now.

If you hear someone singing who throws a lot of runs in, listen very, very carefully to the middle bars. If you cut off the runs you’ll often hear a mediocre voice they’re trying to hide.

As to American Idol, it is interesting that the three winners so far (I count Clay Aiken as a winner; he may as well have won, given his record sales) aren’t particularly reliant on using melisma.

Well, it is kareoke, so you expect people to use gimmickry to makes themselves sound better than they actually are.

I don’t really follow the show, but it would be depressing to see the French version. They’ve got such a wonderfull tradition with singers like Marice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet, who could really “sell the song.” Shame if this has been replaced with stupidly “hoisting scales.”

It’s the same reason they belt: sounds fancy/difficult.

Billie Holliday would never make it to Simon & Co.

I don’t really recall the great Mahalia Jackson doing this sort of thing. I agree it is terribly overdone in pop music. I have occasion to sing gospel from time to time and I try to stay away from it, although sometimes I feel like I’m wrong for not doing it…

I think much more emotion can be conveyed in a long note subtly colored with variations in vibrato and dynamics.

Just hang on…this too shall pass :smiley:

That’s what they told me about rap!

I believe the great Sam Cooke was the first performer to bring melisma over from the church to secular music.
still we can’t blame him for today’s over use of it, he used it beautifully.

Cooke was actually notorious for removing most of the melisma from his studio singing once he switched over to secular music. It made him a rather controversial figure at the time.

Melisma had already started appearing in R&B before Cooke switched over to secular music in any case. It’s probably impossible to find the “first”, but Ray Charles was one of the early innovators in that area. Here’s a New York Times article I found on the Web that discusses a 1954 recording by Charles and also analyzes the overuse of melisma today:

The State of American Singing as Heard on I-I-I-I-Idol