Editor’s Note : The Wow Factor

Recently, I attended a Utah Jazz game, and sat in amazement while fans screamed themselves hoarse at every twist and turn of the action on the court. My favorite shout was, “Booooo-zer, Booooo-zer, Booooo-zer!” Someone finally explained to me that the fans were screaming the name of a favorite player, rather than an insult about the way someone was playing! I have a lot to learn.

As I write this, I am listening to the muffled sounds of my family in another room as they watch some important football game. Shouts of “UNBELIEEEEVABLE!!” and similar sentiments waft down to me here in my office. I’m smiling at the brash enthusiasm, but it makes me think, of course, of the field I know best—and it doesn’t happen to be green or need mowing.

I’m thinking of those moments in the field of singing that make me want to actually stand up and shout, “UNBELIEEEEVABLE!!”

I call it “the WOW Factor.” If you have it, and you’re being judged in a competition, you’re likely to get high marks as a winner. In an audition, you’re likely to get the job.

Few singers have “the WOW Factor.” Maybe it’s because they have been told it is showing off, or perhaps they don’t know when to take the time to make a special moment special. Or maybe they aren’t technically up to the demands of the aria and don’t know how to trill, make a beautiful messa di voce, or sing piano—so they bluster their way through, hoping loud equals good. (Hint: It doesn’t. Choose an aria that shows off your current technique. Never show off your deficits!)

It’s a good idea to study singers who can make an audience go wild. How do they do it? Where do they do it? What moments in your aria or song are audiences waiting for? If you want to know, study live recordings—or better yet, videotapes—of great singers. They really know how to drive an audience wild—and it isn’t about playing it safe.

Try ordering some videotapes of your favorite famous “mentor” singing your rep in live performance, and sing with them. (Live performance is the only way you’ll learn the skill!) Watch what they do and try it out along with them. (This is just is to get the feeling of it, not to copy!)* Notice how long they hold that high note—actually count the seconds. Can you do that? Can you do it better in some way? Listen to their ornamentation. You absolutely don’t want to copy it, but can you get ideas of where it goes, and of how to be dramatically authentic with it?

What do they do with their hands, arms, and eyes? Most especially, watch how they handle applause so as to encourage more! These seasoned pros know that the audience has a need to applaud, and if you rob them of it by false modesty, they will feel as cheated as if you cut off a note too short.

Here’s a hint: Watch what great singers do at the very end of an aria or song! Watch how they hold the magic, how they don’t drop the energy as soon as their part is done, nor look as if they wish the pianist or orchestra would hurry up so they can get off the stage! Don’t do it!

Great artists stay totally immersed in the magic they’ve created until after the musicians are finished. Do you do that?

You don’t want to go overboard, or steal attention from your colleagues when it is their turn to shine, but you definitely need to learn how to make “the WOW” happen. For this reason, be careful of some few teachers who have been in ensconced in their studios too long. They may have learned to be careful and accurate, and may not tell you what you need to know to learn how to generate the WOW Factor. In fact, I’ve heard stories of singers being ridiculed by their own teachers for committing “sins” such as holding a great high note—the high point of the aria—longer than the two counts allotted. (Second hint: It’s OK to hold selected great high notes for longer than their face value—within reason!)

Some may ridicule you if you work on your WOW, because you are stepping out of the proverbial box! But if you are able to back up your actions with examples from two or three star artists on the scene today, you should feel confident that you are on safe ground.

Some teachers don’t want you to hear or view performances by other singers because of the real concern that you may copy these singers and not develop your own performance. No one wants to see a cloned performance! Copying is just a choice you have to make. Promise yourself to learn from as many artists as you can, whether from CD, video or live performance—but vow that you will think through that aria, song, or role yourself and come up with your own ideas. Don’t copy!

If you never watch or listen to great singers, you’ll never have the physical and musical alphabet to start coming up with your own vocabulary to express your own ideas. You must know what singers out there are doing, and what they have done in the past. You, too, will be expected to sing a cadenza at the right moments, to know the stage business that goes on at certain points, to know the traditions associated with each role you sing. Coaches and teachers’ words only explain so much— a picture (video) is worth a thousand words!

If you want to know how to make the WOW Factor happen, study singers who have done it—who are doing it right now! Then your audience, judges and auditioners will say, “Unbelieeeeevable!” about you!

*Stage movement and gesturing will be taught for beginners and advanced singers at the Classical Singer Convention in New York City, May 27-29. See page 42 & 43.

If you have a question about this article or anything else, please write to Ms. CJ Williamson, the editor of Classical Singer magazine, at cj@classicalsinger.com or P.O. Box 1710 Draper, UT 84020. Letters can be used as “Letters to the Editor” if you would like, “Name Withheld” if you would like, or meant for the staff only. Just let us know.

CJ Williamson

CJ Williamson founded Classical Singer magazine. She served as Editor-in-Chief until her death in July, 2005. Read more about her incredible life and contributions to the singing community here.