Thank you to Virg 1877 for this beautiful picture of Adam Lambert taken during his show in St Agathe, Canada in July 2011.
mp3 audio only – full programme – 2 hours
This programme was presented on 7 September 2011 on Juneau & Xena’s Blog Talk Radio programme – here is the link to their blog site: http://wp.me/pIqKe-4ns
You have asked me to talk about Adam from child performer to adult artist, which is a delicious challenge, and I promise to do my best.
In order to see more clearly Adam’s progress, I thought it might be a good idea to look briefly first of all at what talent actually is, and where it comes from?
You may be surprised to learn that as far as singers are concerned, very little study has been done in this regard. Such research, however, has been done for instrumentalists. And the conclusions that were arrived at may seem obvious. Researchers at Keele University found that as with any talent, people are born with the innate ability. But in order for it to blossom, or to employ it satisfactorily, a lot of work has to happen to hone that particular talent. We wouldn’t expect someone who can run quite fast to go on and win the Olympics, right? It would take a lot of work. And so it is with talented singers, too. They’re like diamonds in the rough – just a lump of white rock with possibilities – they have to be cut and polished before they can sparkle and shine.
There’s a book out called The Talent Code, written by a journalist, Daniel Coyle, who travels the world to discover the truth about talent, and studies how individuals can unlock the full potential and bring their talents to light. He takes an in-depth look at where talent comes from. Having visited 9 different institutions around the world which consistently produces the highest number of world-class achievers in everything from sport to the arts, he identifies patterns in the methods they employ and something called “deep practice.”
But the book also explores the science behind talent and discovers that when someone’s passion has been ignited, they usually engage in a higher level of commitment, as well as what he refers to as “deep practice,” which the specific kind of practice that increases skill up to ten times faster than conventional practice, which relates to some of the accelerated learning programmes with which we’re familiar. In other words, and briefly put, the kind of practice that leads to what we think we understand talent to be.
During the absorbing “deep practice,” as we fire the neural circuits in our brain that leads to knowledge, skill, and musicality, for example, our neural pathways are being insulated with myelin, a microscopic neural substance that adds vast amounts of speed and accuracy to our movements and thoughts, and therefore, the conductivity of those circuits, improve.
I mention this book and his research here, because, quite apart from the importance of the discovery of myelin, I can wholeheartedly agree with him, from my own experiences as a perpetual student, singer, performer and teacher, on the “deep practice” it takes to become a professional performer.
And apparently scientists believe that myelin might be the Holy Grail, and the foundation of all forms of greatness – as Coyle puts it: from Michelangelo to Michael Jordan. The good news about myelin is that it isn’t fixed at birth; it continues to grow, therefore, it can be cultivated and nourished.
According to Coyle’s research, it would appear that a well-myelinated neural pathway becomes up to 100 times more conductive and translates into what we call talent. The result, he says, is an unconscious competence that often seems inherited, but is always the result of the myelinization process – which happens as a result of “deep concentrated practice.”
This is a quick quote from his book:
“Recent research has led to the following discoveries – and these may be obvious to us:
• The more the skill is exercised, the less aware you are of using it. It begins to feel natural, like you’ve always had it. Walking and talking are good examples.
•…Also, struggle is not optional – struggle is required. To get a circuit to fire optimally, you must fire the circuit as well as possible for you, inevitably making mistakes, and tending to those mistakes, slowly but surely correcting and honing the circuit.”
And finally he says: “World-class skill levels require about 10 000 hours of deep practice, usually over about ten years. Geniuses are those who have developed an unusual facility for deep practice: focused, passionate, obsessive practice.”
It reminded me so much of an interview I once heard with Adam, and which I have referred to previously, in which he was asked what he sings at home and he answered scales – that was particularly comforting to hear, because it confirmed for me that he is a very, very serious singer, musician and artist, and not just in it for the glory, the money or the fame, or the clothes – or whatever.
Anyway, that’s the science bit over with, but I want to add that unfortunately, reality TV shows like American Idol or the X-Factor, or The Voice, do not highlight how hard the contestants had to work before they were ever deemed suitable contestants on such shows. The shows themselves do NOT turn the contestants into artists – they only provide a platform for people who have already achieved a certain level of artistry to display that to the world, yet these shows seem to want to perpetuate the myth that they develop artists, when in fact it isn’t true.
And I despair when I hear people say that of course singers are born with the talent that would take them to the top of a show like American Idol. It really is like saying someone who won sprinting competitions at school can go on and win the Olympics without any further work.
I also often hear such statements with regards to Adam, too – that he was born with that talent. Of course he was, but without hard work, we wouldn’t now have him in the world as the artist he is today, and it seems to me as though people who make such statements, want to believe that there is something somehow mystical in singing or magical in performing – and of course there is magic, too, otherwise we won’t be so invested in it, but it seems to me they don’t want to know about the years of hard slog, mistakes, tears and self-flagellation it takes to achieve the kind of artistry that Adam displays today. And I find it kind of insulting to him, and dismissive of the hours and years of hard work he’s had to put in to be the amazing artist he is today.
So let’s take a look at his journey. But before we start, I want to say that there are gazillions of examples I could have chosen to demonstrate Adam’s development from child performer to adult artist – it’s been difficult to choose, so please forgive me if I have not chosen your specific favourite Adam song or performance to demonstrate my points. It’s also such an enormous subject, that although I’ve spent quite some time putting together something that seems almost like a thesis on the subject, I feel as though I’m merely skimming the surface of what deserves a much more in-depth study and analysis.
I believe the idea for this programme was inspired by the recent TV programme about Adam, Behind the Music, and the fact that the fans felt the programme had missed out a large proportion of his musical development, so I’d like to use that show as a starting point for my demonstration.
Near the beginning of the ‘Behind the Music’ programme, we see a clip of a very young Adam, around two years or so, running on the beach and we can clearly see the famous chest – so the singer’s physiology was there from the beginning. Also, throughout the programme, we can hear his mother, Leila, speaking, and to my ears, I experience the same characteristics and colours of timbre in her voice, as Adam has in his. So for me, there is some of the evidence that he was built and born to be a singer.
So what did the young Adam sound like? Here is a very short clip from that TV show where we can hear his voice and you’ll notice how articulate he was, even then.
He sings so sweetly with his child’s voice, and I know it’s only a very short clip, but we can clearly hear, although typically, for that age, not having the breath and voice control we associate with him today, that already he was clearly musical, and understood the nuances of lyrics, because he repeats the second line softer and more gently than the way in which he sang it the first time. And later we find out, that as for most singers, lyrics are particularly important to Adam. Also, his diction was already very good and he sings proper diphthongs to the ends of the phrases – so good singing training is already in evidence.
Later in the same part of that programme, we hear an even shorter clip of the 17 year old Adam singing in a competition in which he came second – I’d love to know who came first. But here we can hear the distinctive timbre of the voice we’ve come to know so well today. And here too, we can see in the video, he already has the beginnings of the strong stage presence and immediate connection with the audience which he displays so effortlessly today – this, by the way, is something many singers don’t master until they’re much older. Having said that, this is the age and level of vocal development usually presented at auditions to conservatoires or music colleges/academies when people know they want to become professional singers. Listen carefully because it is only seconds long.
To hear a little more of what he sounded like at 17, here he is singing – “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday” at his graduation in San Diego.
The beauty of his voice, the sensitivity and the artistry, the story-telling ability, and the astonishing techniques are clearly already in evidence here, although we can hear that there’s still some work that needs to be done on voice production, placement, and control, in particular.
Let’s move on a few years later when Adam is 21 and singing “My Conviction” from Hair – his first big break touring Europe.
This song deserves a whole programme on its own in my opinion, but briefly: oh my lord! Amazing interpretation, fantastic, uninhibited, over-the-top, campy singing – perfect! Those remarkable techniques have kicked in, but the voice production and placement is still a little all over the place, as I’m sure Adam himself would probably agree, but what a huge development from our 17 year old Adam, right? We can also clearly hear the operatic manoeuvres and astonishing flexibility in the voice, no doubt honed during his time singing light opera, just prior to being cast in this musical.
The next time we can hear this light classical vocal production is when he sings “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from Brigadoon, with which all his fans are familiar by now. But during that song, we can begin to appreciate his astonishing breath control as well and an exceptional sensitivity to lyrics and phrasing, again, something we’ll see later is of enormous importance to Adam.
By 2004 when he sings “Is Anybody Listening” from The Ten Commandments, we experience a perfect display of how malleable his vocal instrument is, what an excellent interpreter, what an emotional, insightful and versatile a singer he had become. And now he’s singing in a way that takes his audience with him – no longer do we find only the singer with the beautiful instrument, now we find the rapport-builder with his audience.
And then there is his wonderfully tender version of “Dust in the Wind” at the Upright Cabaret, in which he displays his by-now-legendary breath control, and brilliantly thrilling improvised riffs, demonstrating perfectly how they are to be a part of the interpretation of the song and not done just for the sake of it – which, let’s face it: most people do, perhaps not understanding the subtlety, but oh so important difference, and which he could so easily do, too, to show off that ability, right?
On the other end of the spectrum, also in 2004, he made his debut on The Zodiac Show with his unforgettable version of “A Change is Gonna Come.”
I’m sure you’ll all agree that in this performance, we get a sense of the performer and the artist Adam is today – fantastic vocals: we hear that characteristic wail, the changing up of the lyrics and the melody to suit his clearly very personal interpretation of the song – a terrifically powerful and emotional interpretation, fantastic storytelling, utterly uninhibited freedom and complete control of the musicians, the stage and the audience. For me, this performance lacks only Adam’s characteristic poise and sophistication, but I totally get that he felt frustrated and possibly even angry, seemingly on many levels, and that he wanted to communicate that. And I feel he absolutely did that with this performance. So here we can see that he’s starting to share more of himself with his audience.
In 2005, when he was in the musical, Wicked, we can also hear him singing Shir LaShalom (A Song for Peace) and his vocal control, sensitivity and wonderful phrasing, again is not only very much in evidence in this performance, but it’s more polished, more deliberate, becoming more sophisticated. Here too, we hear how brilliantly the minor key suits his voice – something I will return to later in the programme.
If we jump now to 2007, we can hear Adam performing with Monte Pittman in their band, Citizen Vein – this song is called: “Nocturnal by the Moon” and I believe Adam’s time with Citizen Vein, albeit short, plays a very important part in his development and in becoming the artist he is today. It gave him the freedom to experiment with the ‘rock’ side of his voice and personality. And to be much more himself as a singer – and that, I assure you, is not an easy thing to do. Not having to portray a role someone else had written, or having to move in a way a director or choreographer had told him to, and not having to conform to the rigours of the musical theatre stage, must have been such a relief for him.
Somewhere during this time, or even a little earlier, Adam apparently co-wrote and recorded a number of songs with friends, and I’m sure his fans are all familiar with a song called: “Live the Life,” which Adam has given permission to be released, and which demonstrates him flexing his song-writing muscles. And I must say that the lyrics of the song, reminds me of Adam’s positive outlook on life.
But it was in the summer of 2007, that Adam says he got his inspiration at the burning man festival – He said he had a realization that if he wanted to be a singer and make it happen, then HE had to MAKE it happen – it wasn’t just going to happen TO him. He also said he feels that that was the first time he started to realize that HE had control over his world.
And unlike most other people who perhaps also receive inspiration like that, only to slump back into non-inspiration after the experience, Adam clearly took his inspiration seriously.
So, in 2008, by the time Adam got to American Idol, he was already an accomplished singer and musician, and a polished performer, with a deep understanding and complete control over his vocal instrument. He was also already a compelling story-teller with convincing, captivating stage craft skills, and he was also an instant rapport-builder with his audience.
Here, to demonstrate that instant effect he has on his audience, no matter who they are, let’s listen to him singing Bohemian Rhapsody at his audition.
And now, the American Idol audiences got to experience that phenomenal stage presence we had only glimpsed previously when he was much younger. But something else also came to the fore during Idol…something that is vitally important and separates forever and absolutely the performer from the artist: and that is – musical originality and musical imagination.
My first in-your-face experience of this on Idol was when Adam performed Ring of Fire – his sheer audacity, his fearlessness, his perfect, but shocking vocals, his over-the-top dramatic presentation of the song, left me speechless and in awe and delirious with incredulity and excitement, and I knew then that I was witnessing the birth of a legend. (Clearly I had no clue about the Zodiac Show at that time!)
Adam’s body of work on Idol really is a master class in contemporary singing and stage craft skills, but the song that stood out for me because of its poignant emotional supremacy, was his version of “If I Can’t Have You.”
Not only does his voice sit securely and perfectly in his mask at all times, he sings this song in a stunningly musical way, with inspired phrasing and using as much of his range as possible, and by that, I don’t mean only the notes – I mean also the colouring and the shape of the voice, as he creates the colour and shape of the song. Here we can also hear very clearly how he uses his breath and breathing as an interpretative element in the story-telling. On top of which, he seems to lose himself in the song with almost deliberate abandonment. Also, in my opinion, this song is a complete piece of art, whereas some of the others could not be art so totally, because of the short time frame the contestants were allowed for their performances.”
At the end of American Idol, looking back at his body of work, it was very clear to me that Adam had been singing his life story to us, choosing very carefully the songs and the lyrics that would most specifically tell us about him and his life. It was an exceptionally masterful and courageous thing to do.
During the Idol tour, came the rapid realization that Adam was already a star, as many people went to the show, essentially to see only him. And it is true that he took his performances on the tour to whole new level – we can clearly see him flexing his performance muscles as the tour went on and he became more and more comfortable with performing in the large venues.
So I wasn’t in the least surprised to learn that Adam had been approached to lend his voice to a song called “Time for Miracles,” the soundtrack for the movie, 2012, which also appeared on his first album, For Your Entertainment. What WAS surprising – to me at least – was the idea that he was capable of such unbelievably stunning vocals when I thought I’d heard it all on American Idol, but boy, “Time For Miracles” is something else! It made me wonder what other gold is hidden in that voice and what else he was capable of.
Let’s jump forward to the AMAs – I do not want to dwell on it, because it wasn’t his best vocal, but in my opinion, everything that went wrong with it, showed us exactly what a consummate, skilful and instinctive performer Adam truly is and how ‘safe’ we are with him. Even when he gets wild and crazy, he’s still entertaining, he’s still mesmerizing, he’s still better than the best currently out there, and he also made it clear that he won’t ever let us down with a mediocre or ‘conventional,’ or predictable performance. And he never has. I believe it was also the first time that the world saw him perform the exciting, and difficult-to-sing title track from his first album, For Your Entertainment.
Prior to the Glam Nation Tour in June 2010, which followed the release of his first album, Adam performed his first official solo concert at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in California, where he performed live for the first time, a stunning song he had co-written, called Broken Open, so we can see how much he’d developed as a song-writer from his first stab at it in songs like “Live the Life.” It was also here, that he performed his renowned acoustic version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” which further perpetuated his reputation as an exciting, unique performer and artist!
This presentation is clearly yet another few notches up the performance scale: a distinct, more sexually explicit, hypnotic version of the song, in which his voice hits stratospheric notes, unlike those mere mortals are capable of.
Of course, by now, we are all used to Adam changing up songs and injecting the same song with new nuances and riffs and improvs so that they sound fresh and new every night, no matter how many times he sings them, so baring that in mind, I invite you to also listen to the progress he makes with each new rendition of the song, “Ring Of Fire.” Of course “Ring Of Fire” is also in the harmonic minor key, which so perfectly suits his voice.
This is what “The Ring of Fire” sounded like on the opening night of his Glam Nation Tour in June 2010, Wilkes Barre.
This is what it sounded like mid-way through the tour in Indianapolis.
What an enormous difference in Adam’s vocals – obviously part of that is due to the fact that he’d been singing pretty much every night for a few months already by the time he got to Indianapolis, and all singers know that your voice develops more and more the more you use it.
And this was “Ring of Fire” at the very last night of the Glam Nation Tour in LA.
We can clearly hear the further development in vocal confidence, nuance and intent…and THIS to me is what is so phenomenal about Adam’s performances. He just keeps getting better and better the more he performs. We saw his growth from his first performance to his last performance on American Idol, we saw it again during the Idol tour and it’s been beyond belief to see him gearing it up to yet another, higher level during the Glam Nation Tour. You may say, “Well, that happens to other artists, too, surely?” Well, yes, it does, but not at this speed – it’s like he’s a Formula 1 Racing car, whilst everyone else are maybe only Ferraris or even Lamborghinis.
This brings me back to the book, The Talent Code, I referred to at the beginning of the programme – I sincerely believe that Adam understands the method of using “deep practice” when he works on his voice, his music, his performance: his art in general – possibly entirely intuitively – but I feel sure that this is an important reason why he is able to make such enormous progress at such a fast pace in his development as an artist.
The last time I saw Adam performing live was in London at the end of last year and I thought he was pretty much perfect then. To my mind, he was already an international superstar, who deservedly went on to receive a Grammy Nomination for “Wataya want from me”, a track from his first album.
Imagine then, my shock, when I saw him live in Canada in July.
When he walked out on that stage, not only did he look amazing – well-rested and bronzed, at ease, content, in love, and wonderfully, glamorously rock-god-like. BUT he seemed transformed on a deeper level, too: he had become the legend I’d thought he’d be from the beginning of this crazy, exciting journey we’ve all been sharing with him.
It felt to me as though Adam had fully come to embrace his amazing good fortune, the adulation, the fame: the good and the bad – he’s accepted it all, just like he’s been telling us he’s accepted himself: the good and the bad – in order to love himself completely. And now he’s on a totally different level, personally as well as artistically. He’s become that international superstar – in a league of his own. And to me, in the same vein as major superstars, like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Shirley Bassey – he’s there, with them – now.
And it reminded me of what Adam said during BTM:
“I think as an entertainer that is one of the best things that we have in our artillery, is that we can affect people – I definitely want my albums to take the listener on a journey.”
“I’ve liberated myself and accepted myself and learned how to love the person that I am.”
“I’m not TRYING to be anything – I’m just being me.”
So when he started singing and I heard that his voice was also on a different, more phenomenal level – even more perfect, than the last time I’d heard him sing live, far exceeding all my expectations – no doubt because he has been singing for months whilst working on his new album – I blissfully opened myself up to be swept up in his sound and to receive that extraordinary new energy I felt he was sharing with us.
And to demonstrate his new-found confidence – if that’s what I can call it – he treated us to a feast of unexpected and surprising new notes and riffs – for me Aftermath was a great example of the new energy in his voice.
He also had a real surprise up his sleeve, his brand new song, “Outlaws of Love.
This song definitely needs an entire programme dedicated to it! And in fact, I’m in the process of recording it now – it will be available here on 15 September 2011 as well as on The Sound Bath’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/thesoundbath
When I first experienced it, I don’t mind telling you that I was almost howling with the pain of it and I couldn’t listen to it for ages afterwards without crying.
In fact, during the show in St Agathe, I couldn’t remember anything else he sang after this song – I knew “Whole lotta love” happened, because I so badly wanted to see it live, and I know it rained, because the canopy sagged with the weight of the water and buckets of the stuff came crashing down on us, nearly drowning us, but that’s about it – I had to reconstruct what happened after “Outlaws of Love” afterwards.
Again, this song is written in a minor key, which works so magnificently with Adam’s voice, and it’s one of the reasons why the melody feels so sad and painful, quite apart from the lyrics. And what lyrics they are, right?!
Here we can hear clearly how far Adam has travelled vocally (and of course, lyrically) from the songs he sang on the first album.
He also uses his voice in a different way here – there’s almost a kind of crying and sobbing that happens – unusually so on some of the consonants and I get a feeling that it’s deliberate, because it’s not on all of them. What is remarkable is that his voice is so totally forward in his mask on this song, which is one of the reasons that the sound travels so perfectly to our ears and into our bodies.
I could go on, but I guess it’s time to finish. But if this is an example of the calibre of music on the second album, I’m already in ecstasy!
Lastly, I want to say, that whilst for me, Adam became an artist during Idol, it’s only recently, and specifically during the Behind The Music programme, that I heard him refer to himself constantly as an artist – and my heart clapped hands!
I can’t wait for the next phase in his development – because as impossible as it may seem, I just know there’s more to come!
Freakishly, today the video below was posted on YouTube. Adam and his designer friend are talking about what it takes to become an artist and, I believe, their conversation fits in really well with what we were talking about on the radio programme earlier in the week.