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Have singing contests fueled your inner critic?

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

TV talent reality shows in which hopeful stars sing their hearts out in front of a panel of judges have turned just about everyone watching into an armchair critic.

The other night, I was sitting with my daughters watching a local singing reality show on TV. From years of watching these shows, we found ourselves channeling the legendary Simon Cowell, who famously doesn’t mince his words. That was pitchy. He lacked charisma. She won’t hack it in the Eurovision song contest.

It’s easy to be critical from the comfort of your living room. It’s not your performance that’s being dissected by millions. It’s pretty much harmless entertainment, until the spotlight turns on you. Perhaps you’re singing a favorite song and don’t like what you hear. Or perhaps it’s a family member or friend who does a “Cowell” on you. And since no-holds-barred criticism has become an all play, chances are the feedback ranges from honest to brutal.

I’m all for reality checks. You probably need to know that you’re not X Factor material before you join the long line of hopefuls aiming to make a career out of singing. But if that’s not your goal, who says you must reach those exalted standards? And who decided that if you don’t reach a certain standard, you shouldn’t be doing it at all?

Can the fear of failure or not being “good enough” result in people not singing, or saving it for the car or the shower, when nobody can hear them? I’m betting you know someone like that. Perhaps it’s even you.

So what? Does it matter if people stop singing? If they’re not planning to make a career out of it, why does it matter? I believe it matters a great deal.

Expressing ourselves in song is part of our human heritage. For thousands of years, singing has been a communal activity, part of prayer, a fundamental way of communicating and expressing ourselves. It’s part of our earliest traditions. Part of our daily lives.

We associate songs with people, places and events. No matter how old we get, we still know the words and melodies we grew up on — the songs that formed the soundtrack of our lives. Singing along connects us to those memories.

What if we got rid of the critical panel of judges in our head comparing ourselves to what we’ve been told is “good” Western singing style? What if we sing just for the sheer joy of it? Sing like nobody’s listening (even if they are.)

If you’ve silenced your own voice, perhaps it's time to flip the switch that says, “I can’t” and let your voice be heard, without expectations or judgements. Simply have fun with it. Take a road trip and sing Bohemian Rhapsody badly. Have a karaoke night with your besties. Try a Top of the Pops song. Croon an oldie but goodie. Rip into a rap song. Put the hip into hop. Whatever you want to sing, the way you want to sing it. Give yourself permission to suck. Chances are, you don’t.

Make this the year you set your voice free.

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