Tuesday, March 17, 2009

HE'LL MAKE LOVE TO YOU, LIKE YOU WANT HIM TO: Regardless of what happened last week, we still love us some Noop Dawg here. Thankfully, there's a treasure trove of pre-Idol performances from his college a cappella days online. We turned to our resident a cappella expert, Marsha, to survey it:
Anoop was a member of the University of North Carolina Clef Hangers, an all male group with a strong reputation. They’ve been around more than 30 years (a long time in the a cappella world), have made sixteen albums, have had five songs featured on BOCA (Best of Collegiate A Cappella) compilations, and have been nominated for several CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards). They perform in a lot of different genres.

Disclaimer – I do not watch American Idol. I don’t have a great sense of what it takes to succeed on AI, except that I know that singing ability isn’t the whole (or maybe even the main) point of the thing. But in preparation for this post, I’ve now listened to a whole lot of Anoop’s a cappella work and I can tell you this – I’m a fan.

Anoop falls right into the quintessential a cappella mold. He’s a talented singer, and one his group trusted with many solos (three each on their two most recent albums). He was clearly a fan favorite (listen to the cheering for him on his signature song, “I’ll Make Love to You”). He has a lovely tone – warm and round and very easy on the ears, with an excellent falsetto; that he moves into nearly effortlessly. He’s also versatile – he can do sexy, and doesn’t sounds ridiculous doing hip hop or even rap. I’m guessing he didn’t have a difficult time with the audition processes – vocally, he’s got what they want as a soloist.

Anoop also does well backing up his group – I can’t really show you a video of him *not* sticking out from the group, but watch him do supporting vocals on “What Hurts the Most”. He’s blending beautifully with the soloist, never pulling focus, and making this something special. It’s also clear from this video that he spent at least some time directing the group – he’s the one conducting here, which is usually done by the musical director. That says a lot about his musicality – the guys in his group would have voted him the job, so he both had the musical chops for it AND was well-liked.

But collegiate a cappella is so much more than the voice. He’s got to be able to please the audience – he has to know how to put over a song live. Live is the bread and butter of the college group. You have to not just want to hear him, but to watch him. Watch this performance of Chris Brown’s "Kiss Kiss". He’s standing in a spotlight, surrounded by 14 guys, who are all singing their hearts out. He’s gotta make himself heard, be the leader, be the voice that matters while still connecting with the group. At the same time, he has to connect with the adoring women and gay men in the audience, giving them the right level of sexy and fun, without missing a note. And on a moment’s notice, he’s got to cede that spotlight to someone else – right in the middle of the song. This is a strong performance. He doesn’t speed it up, he doesn’t over play it. He’s confident, and he sounds great. Then look at “Angel of Mine” – early in the song, he gets hooted at a bit, and he gives that shy smile. Never lets his voice change, but acknowledges the compliment. Maybe not a great quality in a pop star, but just want you want in a college a cappella soloist. A little humility goes a long way – no one likes an arrogant a cappella singer. He’s also got a sense of humor and can make fun of himself.

Anoop is going to have a big problem as an AI contestant that he never had as a collegiate a cappella start – credibility. When you sing with a group as good as the Clef Hangers, the audience will go where you take them. They’ll love it when a blond haired white girl raps, and they’ll buy that a bunch of college guys who look like frat boys want to sing Amazing Grace. They’ll believe anything if the voice is there. But it doesn’t work as a pop star. As a pop star, you need a niche. Anoop is going to do very well on the ballads, because he’s cute, and because he seems to have made a “nice guy” impression with the audience. But he’s going to have a hard time convincing the world that his version of “Kiss Kiss” should be taken seriously, or that he could even remotely sing “Crazy Train”, even though he’s good at both. He’s a clean cut Indian guy, and maybe a pop crowd will be comfortable with him singing “I’ll Make Love to You,” but I seriously doubt he’ll do ok with the audience if he goes too far out of his wheelhouse.

The other problem, having now watched his AI videos, is that he’s not comfortable up there. He’s breathy, he’s pushing too hard, and he’s not letting his voice fly. You can hear him strangling the notes as if he’s afraid they’ll get away from him. He looks uncomfortable dancing and he’s not able to bring off songs like “My Prerogative” in the pop arena the way he could as a college a cappella singer. And oh, is his version of “Beat It” painful. He did a weak karaoke version of it and tried to turn it into a lounge act.

Bottom line, this is great voice with a lot of soul, but he’s not a credible pop star. You can get away with a lot of versatility when you’re standing in front of fourteen white guys in tuxes, but I don’t think he can do it on American Idol.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a few Clef Hangers albums.

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