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Disclaimer: I am not a singer. However, when the opportunity arose to test drive Christina Aguilera’s new singing series with MasterClass.com — a web program which features courses taught by masters in various trades, including acting classes by Dustin Hoffman and performances classes by Usher — I accepted the challenge like a brave soul volunteering as tribute. But inwardly I schemed, “this is my chance to become the popstar I always knew I could be.”
I quickly learned, however, that the 23-part, 3.5 hour program, available for $90, is geared more towards, you know, actual singers — those who have six weeks to dedicate to the course, rather, than say, a reporter attempting to speed through it in four days. (Some background: The extent of my vocal training is fourth grade choir class, which I quit halfway through the year in order to take up the flute. We all have regrets.)
Unfortunately for me, the program isn’t the kind of bootcamp-style program that will magically transform you into a diva over night. With the exception of one or two “how-to” tips, including “the secret to hitting the high notes,” Aguilera mostly aims to teach singers and performers to hone their unique, personal sound as well as how to sing with emotion, presence and to command the attention of the audience.
Whereas this writer was ready to practice scales “do-re-mi”-style and sing along to my go-to karaoke numbers (“Genie In a Bottle” and “Beautiful,” duh), I found myself instead watching case studies of Aguilera’s hits, where the pop legend broke down the intricacies of particular singing styles — when to belt it and when to be soft, for example, in order to convey the true “feeling” of the song, or as Aguilera says, “to express your truth.”
Anyone who has seen a singing competition show — The X Factor, American Idol and of course, The Voice — knows that one of the most common critiques of singers is the lack of “emotion” or “stage presence” (that, and Randy Jackson’s infamous line, “Yo, it’s a little pitchy for me, dawg”). Imagine if the judges/coaches were given 3.5 hours rather than 30 seconds to explain just how to harness that raw, star-making quality, and you essentially have Aguilera’s MasterClass.
As one vocal student (who notes he is, in fact, an actual, trained singer) commented in section 11, “this is great to go along with training. You need a teacher to hear you and see if you’re singing correctly and help you [with] problems you are having… From Christina I’ve learned a lot about what I can do with my voice and performing, stuff that most vocal teachers don’t teach.”
That’s not to say, however, you must be a trained vocalist to enjoy the course. While some tips are oddly specific to the life of a diva (how to sing the national anthem in front of a stadium crowd of rowdy sports fans, for example), several of Aguilera’s tips are quite universal. The 35-year-old’s advice for creating a calm, inviting environment, finding serenity through yoga, learning to collaborate with other creatives and commanding respect as a woman with regards to sexuality and artistry, reach beyond the realm of just performers.
Plus, it never gets old seeing Aguilera switch gears from instructing in her delicate speaking voice to belting Whitney Houston so that students can better understand a particular concept. Truly, her ability to pull a ballad out of thin air is a treat in itself.
With endearing anecdotes of Aguilera’s own journey from Mickey Mouse Club to ultimate diva-dom, including how the “Don’t look at me” adlib in the opening of “Beautiful” came to be, as well as the origin of her red lipstick tradition, the MasterClass is always engaging. Personally, I found even her drink rituals (hot tea, hot coffee and room-temperature water are a must) as well as her on stage necessities (unwrapped Ricola cough drops and a plate of raw honey for easy access) to be fascinating.
Though this writer is no less a popstar today than prior to the class, the program did manage to open my eyes to just how grueling, demanding and difficult the life of a singer can be. Natural talent will only take you so far, but Christina can take you farther.
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