Olly Mann: Sing it loud!

BY Olly Mann

18th Mar 2024 Life

3 min read

Olly Mann: Sing it loud!
Olly Mann reflects on whether people who can't sing but enjoy doing it should be deterred or encouraged

Pop idols?

Do you remember how compellingly cringey it was, the first time you saw a keen, puppyish candidate standing on that plastic star, singing their heart out to the cameras—eyes full of emotion—only to be told they couldn’t sing at all? And then, regardless of whether the wannabe looked like an FHM pin-up or a fugitive from the local hospital, the director would cut to Pete Waterman wincing, and you’d laugh…
"As you watched a TV singing show and opened another pack of Maltesers you said, 'who told them they could sing?'"
And then, do you remember what you said, as you popped open another packet of Maltesers? You said: "Who told them they could sing?!".
Which, in the salad days of the Simon Cowell era, was what everyone watching Saturday night telly was saying. Because, for an audience weaned on Opportunity Knocks and New Faces—competitions whose contestants were, for the most part, established regional or touring variety acts—the very concept that a singer could feature on an ITV talent show despite having no discernible talent felt truly novel.

Age of the influencer

Of course, these days, a lack of talent doesn’t prohibit you from having a music career, and you don’t even need a record label: if you’re pretty enough, you can simply film yourself miming along to a professional pop vocal, and millions of people might Like your videos on social media.
Then, as an "influencer", you can attract lucrative advertising revenue, lounge about in complimentary suites in lush resorts, and film multiple more miming videos, standing aside various Singaporean waterfalls, and maybe some girls will come to your book signing, and you can launch your own fragrance. It’s a weird world.

Singing shows and a lack of talent

Performance masks, happy and sad
But back then? Back then, it seemed that those poor souls who had the ebullient self-confidence to audition for a singing show, yet lacked any actual ability in the skill of singing itself, were in a uniquely pitiful predicament which must have only occurred due to some pushy stage school parent behind the scenes, or perhaps a well-meaning friend who thought they were doing the right thing by telling their mate that sure, everyone bullies you at school, but you should follow your dream to become a pop star because that’s your passion.
So: “Who told them they could sing?!”, you’d exclaim from the sofa.
And I agreed with you. When televised singing contests dominated the cultural conversation, I was in my early twenties, and the lesson I gleaned from them was this: parents need to step up. If ever I have kids, I told myself, I’ll be cruel to be kind. If my children can’t sing, I’m going to tell them so to their faces—so they don’t end up embarrassing themselves on national television. This dictum became so hard-wired that, two decades later, I’m still struggling to suppress it.

Parenting a singing child

Now a parent, I understand the benefits of encouraging children to develop their interests. Supporting their personal growth easily outweighs any concerns that they may not actually be particularly proficient at their hobbies; and anyway, if they persist, they might improve.
So, when my older son scrawls a picture of a splodge with two arms and calls it a portrait, I tell him he’s a great artist. When he kicks a ball into the wall, missing the goal by two clear metres, I claim he is playing great football.
"There's certainly not a lot of subtlety in my younger son's stagecraft"
Fortunately, he has no interest in performance. (He’s so shy of the limelight, he even tried to drop out of the investiture ceremony at the scout hut—lest his contemporaries, all wearing identical ridiculous uniforms, might somehow denigrate his flag-saluting skills).
My younger son, however, has apparently inherited my interest in showbiz. He will spontaneously start dancing when I switch on Magic at the Musicals. He will be the first, and by far the loudest, to launch into a fulsome rendition of "Happy Birthday" in any given Pizza Express—whether he knows the celebrant or not. He eagerly jumps up to volunteer to take part in the panto. And, accordingly, he was recently cast as the lead vocalist in his school concert.
But he can’t sing. He really can’t. He shouts, he proclaims, he gurns, but he cannot sing. He’s certainly charismatic—I’d typify his schtick as half-Pavarotti, half-Brian Blessed, if you can imagine that from a four year-old boy—but there is, let’s put it this way, not a lot of subtlety in his stagecraft. Some in the audience openly laugh at his bum notes.

Infectious confidence

But do I tell him he is wonderful? Of course! His confidence is infectious, his stage presence is unquestionable, and his joy in sharing music is delightful. The sound itself is unpleasant, yes—when he rehearses at home, even the cat leaves the room. Yet still I applaud, heartily, and have just enrolled him in the school drama programme.
"His confidence is infectious and his joy in sharing music is delightful"
Though, if they bring back Pop Idol… I think I’ll talk him out of it.
Banner photo: nicoletaionescu/iStock

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