St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message


You're no Mariah

So spare us the screechy high notes when you take the floor at karaoke night. Leave those higher octaves to a professional.

Published August 3, 2006

[AP photo]
Mariah Carey’s dizzying effect on young singers has become even more intense lately thanks to the 10-million-selling album The Emancipation of Mimi, the biggest selling album of 2005 and the comeback disc that rocketed her back into the celeb stratosphere.

[Getty Images]
Katharine McPhee can sing. (She was this season's American Idol runner-up.) But even for her, venturing into Mariah Carey territory is a dicey proposition.
Ace Young wowed some American Idol audience members with his appearance, but not with his tendency to transform single notes into "pitchy" music.

Still nursing the wounds from my first full season following American Idol, I have come to a painful, altogether head-splitting conclusion:

Mariah Carey is, without a doubt, the worst thing to happen to amateur singing since the karaoke machine.

Now hold on a sec, Mimi fans: That's not a slap against your preferred pop diva. Not at all.

With all her bubbleheaded antics and deep-end decolletage, it's easy to forget that Carey, who's high-heeling her way to the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday, is a tremendous talent.

Ever since the Long Island native crooned onto the scene with 1990's breakout hit Vision of Love - with that mind-blowing five-octave finale, no less - she has been one of the great singers in the pop canon: her breath control, the showoff trills, the high-note gymnastics.

I like her. I really do.

The problem, however, is that for all her talent, the 36-year-old is first and foremost a STAR, the very epitome of pop opulence in today's celebrity-dependent culture.

And thus, millions of young women and men wake up every morning and figure that, simply by imitating Carey's vocal derring-do, they too can wind up on the cover of People or on MTV Cribs or on the arm of record mogul Tommy Mottola.

They also might have a shot at winning American Idol, the most-recent stars of which will perform at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday, the night before their role model.

Forget about learning how to interpret a song and phrase a chorus and gently massage a note.

The kids just wanna wail.

"They always want to hit that big (bleepin') note," says Dave McKay, a DJ on local country station WQYK-FM 99.5. McKay receives amateur recordings all the time, many of which feature painful Mariahesque imitations. They just don't get it, he says. By copying an established singer, McKay adds, "(amateur singers) are doing themselves a disservice."

Note-stretching vocal histrionics first came into vogue during the Whitney Houston administration, when 1992's I Will Always Love You was played on every radio station every minute of every day. But as newcomer Carey quickly became the biggest-selling female solo act of the '90s, she soon became the choice of imitators everywhere.

Carey's dizzying effect on young singers has become even more intense lately thanks to the 10-million-selling album The Emancipation of Mimi, the biggest selling album of 2005 and the comeback disc that rocketed her back into the celeb stratosphere.

Her presence is now felt everywhere from karaoke night at Applebee's to the most popular show on television.

Depending on how you feel about public humiliation, the best/worst parts of American Idol are the audition shows, which normally break down into three distinct parts:

(1) The Talented Kids.

(2) The Weird Kids.

(3) The Mariahs.

The Mariahs are the hardest ones to watch, mainly because most of them think they're reeeaaally good. The poor, disillusioned hopefuls plant themselves in front of judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson - then proceed to stretch, break and mutilate every note of a song, often Mariah's Hero, a tune that has ruined more throats than smoker's cough.

But not all the ersatz Mariahs get booted off early. Idol's most recent runner-up, Katharine McPhee, has a fine voice, but she too often wanders into Mariah territory, usually with disastrous results.

This year's dopey pretty boy Ace Young (remember the pouty-faced dude with all the "Ace" belt buckles?) also had a tendency to turn a single note into what sounded like a yodely recitation of the ABCs. And, as even the fawning Abdul had to admit, he was "pitchy" about it.

It's enough to make a music teacher weep.

Jeff Berlin, 53, owner and president of Clearwater's Players School of Music, sees the Mariah Effect all the time. A world-renowned electric bass player - who once turned down a job in Van Halen - Berlin says a lot of young singers today want to be instant stars.

"All of the Mariah Carey wanna-bes have missed the fact that Mariah is the real article," says Berlin. "It's a youthful enthusiasm. People want to become a star without doing the work that it may take to become this. . . .They don't know music. They don't understand the facts, the meaning, the elements of what makes music. Music is not involved in a person's pursuit of stardom. They end up singing and performing in the most unmusical manner imaginable."

Sometimes, however, the pain of mimicking Mariah isn't just emotional. It's physical, too.

Dianna Prichard, a Tampa vocal coach, says trying to warble like Mariah can cause physical harm. "More and more of my young students are showing up with vocal nodes," says Prichard, referring to polyps that form on the vocal cords from oversinging. "It's every age now, but especially the young ones. They all want to belt. But until you're vocally comfortable, it can be very damaging."

The thing is, even if Mariah falls out of fashion, Christina Aguilera - another belter with phenomenal pipes - is right behind her. And Aguilera just might have more range than Mariah.

Oh, well. At the very least, according to WQYK's McKay, there is one good thing about Mariah wanna-bes making screechy fools of themselves.

"It's always a good sound bite on the radio," he says with a laugh.

By the way, if you're wondering what the singer herself thinks about her influence on the warbly youth of America - well, keep on wondering.

At the last minute, Carey flaked on a interview we had set up for Monday. Hopefully, the kids won't copy her commitment problems, too.

Sean Daly can be reached at or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at


Mariah Carey, with Sean Paul, 7:30 p.m. Monday, St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $19.50-$125. 813 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100 or (813) 301-2500.

American Idols, 7 p.m. Sunday, St. Pete Times Forum. Sold out.

[Last modified August 1, 2006, 13:08:13]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters