The science behind Idina Menzel’s recent cringe-worthy performances

Brianne “Beta” Angarole for – Your Universe Online

Oh Idina. We want you to do well…but what is going on with these live performances? The pitchiness? The unforgettably good-turned-unforgettably-bad belty notes? Where has the Broadway star gone? When did you stop defying gravity?

I mean, it’s one thing to occasionally slip up on stage when you’re doing musicals. But these are big mistakes on massive stages: the Oscars, New Years eve, and most recently (cue spotlight) the Super Bowl.

I saw all these posts about how “Idina killed the National Anthem” and it made me scratch my head. Was I watching a different National Anthem as everyone else? Surely, I couldn’t be. All those pitchy, unsure notes leading up to that flat note on “[land of the] free”? I’d definitely heard them. No, they weren’t as bad as her New Year’s Eve performance of Frozen‘s “Let It Go”:

(cringe-worthy moment at 3:04)

Or her performance of the same song at the Oscars last year: “Let It Go”:

(cringe-worthy moment at 2:18)

But it was enough of a sour note to make me wonder: Why does this keep happening? She’s a professional.

As a musician, I’m going to posit it’s a combination of two things: nerves and range.

When you’re nervous, you hold tension, and tension is a vocalist’s worst enemy.

General tension leads to poor breathing which in turn leads to notes being forced through the vocal cords with inadequate support.  This aggravates the mucosal lining and propagates vocal nodes, hoarseness and (yup, you guessed it) flat/ugly notes. Usually professionals know the tricks for avoiding notes that could potentially cause nervousness and tension.

Which brings me to my second point: range.

Every vocalist has something called tessitura. Tessitura is the most comfortable/natural range for a singer. A vocalist may be able to sing higher or lower than their tessitura, but those notes will take more focus and support. In Idina’s performances of “Let It Go” at the Oscar’s, and during New Year’s Eve, she belts an Eb 5 (the fifth Eb up from the bottom of the piano) and it’s obvious the Eb 5 is out of her tessitura. During her performance on Jimmy Fallon, she used a professional vocalist’s trick of lowering the song a half step to a D 5. And guess what? Her confidence combined with singing a note closer to her tessitura resulted in a beautiful, tension-free belt.

Watching this, it’s unfortunate Idina didn’t keep the lowered rendition for the Oscars and New Years Eve.

Despite all of this critiquing, though, Idina Menzel is incredibly talented (and I love her). I leave you with a redeeming trailer of her doing what she does best: singing on Broadway–this time, in her newest musical If/Then.

Sing girl. Sing.

Brianne “Beta” Angarole is a recording artist, vocal coach, and freelance creative out of Nashville, TN. She graduated with a degree in commercial voice from Belmont University, released two albums with placement on NBC and Nickelodeon, and recently appeared on The Sing Off Holiday Special. Brianne owns a private vocal studio in East Nashville called “Betatroupe Lessons” where she emphasizes healthy vocal practices.


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