If you’re a female singer, you’d better be sexy

POSTED: 1915 GMT (0315 HKT), May 18, 2007

var clickExpire = “06/17/2007”;

Story Highlights

• Major female singers of last few years need sex appeal
• Once talent came first, with beauty a bonus; now backwards
• Even scruffier musicians have changed image to glamorous

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NEW YORK (AP) — She was an “amazing talent,” a young singer with a wonderful voice who wrote beautiful songs. But she was no beauty, plus flat-chested and overweight to boot.

Remembering the aspiring star, music executive Jody Gerson still feels terrible about thinking: “She’s never going to get signed, even though she’s fabulous.”

Gerson might feel even worse after Wednesday night’s exit of the matronly Melinda Doolittle from “American Idol.” In today’s music industry, Plain Janes need not apply. Sex appeal was once considered a bonus for a woman; now it’s practically a requirement.

Doolittle and the heavyset, gap-toothed LaKisha Jones were widely considered this season’s most talented “Idol” contestants. Yet both were eliminated from the final four in favor of Blake Lewis, who makes the teen girls swoon, and the long-locked, 17-year-old looker Jordin Sparks. (Watch “Idol” chatter: Shock at Doolittle’s dismissal Video)

A quick check of the Billboard Top 40 turns up a list of candidates for “America’s Top Model”: Avril Lavigne, blonde stunner Carrie Underwood; tomboyish but sexy Ciara, fashionista Gwen Stefani and hip-swiveling Shakira (on a song featuring bootylicious Beyonce).

The only two in the Top 40 who might not be considered perfect 10s: Pink, who is still svelte and appealing; and multiplatinum Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson, who got her break only through winning the democratically elected “American Idol.”

When asked whether a female with so-so looks and sex appeal could get a record deal, Gretchen Wilson quickly replied: “They can’t.”

“I believe that very few will get through and they better be amazing,” Wilson said in an interview. “The music is not about just music anymore, it’s about the look, the ‘it’ factor if you will … it’s marketing.”

True, looks have always been a part of the music business: Diana Ross played a model in the movie “Mahogany,” Marianne Faithfull was considered a beauty, Tina Turner’s legs were part of her sex appeal, Olivia Newton-John was the lovely girl-next-door and Stevie Nicks rocked teenage boys with more than just her guitar.

But there also were stars like wild-haired, pudgy Janis Joplin and Barbra Streisand, who challenged beauty standards with her protruding nose. Even curvy Aretha Franklin was known mainly for her one-of-a-kind voice.

Today, it’s hard to find a singer larger than a size 6 and without a sexy look — all of which are played up with sensuous videos, modeling spreads and provocative magazine covers. Lavigne, who once scoffed at singers who stripped for the cameras, fronts the new issue of Blender topless save for a strategically placed banner that reads “Hell Yeah, I’m Hot!”

Searching for a ‘Pussycat Doll’

The hit reality show “Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll” is a striking example. In finding a replacement for current lead doll, stunner Nicole Scherzinger, the judging panel — which included the cosmetically enhanced rapper Lil’ Kim — did talk about vocal qualities. But while a few contestants had strong voices, all were taut, toned and sexy, and the focus was more on their dancing and overall desirability. Which is to be expected from the group responsible for the anthem “Don’t Cha” (as in, “don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”).

Even singers who are heralded for their talent are pretty, like Alicia Keys, Corinne Bailey Rae or Norah Jones. And while critically acclaimed Amy Winehouse may not win any beauty contests, her songs have a raw sexuality that give her that “it” factor.

Dolly Parton, whose buxom figure sometimes overshadowed her talent as a songwriter and singer, said being “a good-looking woman certainly can’t hurt you any if you’re trying to make it.”

“But I would like to believe that true and great and pure talent will rise above whatever else,” the country legend said in an interview. “But certainly in music these days, the better you look, the more apt you’re going to get a contract.

“It’s a damn pity, though, that people have to judge real talent on looks.”

Gerson says the way female artists look reflects our society, where women are constantly judged on their appearance and oversexualized. But she also says it reflects the way we listen to music these days — or don’t listen.

“They have to look hot and sexy in these videos,” says Gerson, who is credited with helping discover Alicia Keys, among others, and is now executive vice president of the U.S. Creative division of EMI Music Publishing.

“In the days of Aretha Franklin, people saw Aretha maybe a couple of times a year,” she said, “but you listened to a record without a visual. You didn’t watch it. Everything today, you watch it.”

Gerson also agrees with Wilson about the marketing factor. With dwindling profits and budgets, record labels try to maximize artist exposure with clothing deals, cosmetic contracts, movie roles and modeling gigs.

“How many endorsements does Beyonce have? Do you think it’s because she’s the most talented person on earth or do you think it’s because she’s gorgeous? I think she’s talented but she’s also gorgeous,” Gerson says. “I think you need the whole package.”

And that notion, according to Wilson, “totally sucks.”

“My favorite singers in the world were Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, and Patsy was a large woman, and Loretta — she was never some kind of a supermodel, but they were the greatest female voices in country music, and they changed lives and they made a difference,” says Wilson, who, although considered sexy, feels she doesn’t fit today’s beauty standards.

Where are the Patsy Clines of today? More often than not on smaller, underground labels, which put more of a premium on talent. And with the devolution of today’s music industry, Gerson says, small labels may be the best path to success for a woman who doesn’t look like a mold of a Barbie doll.

So how would Gerson advise the flat-chested, overweight, amazingly talented singer to chase her dream? Put out her own music and promote herself on the Web.

“As far as we’ve come as women,” Gerson asked, “where are we really?”

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

3 Responses to “If you’re a female singer, you’d better be sexy”

  1. positivechangeshypnosisblog Says:

    Thanks for posting this on your blog. I hate this attitude of selling sex not music, and regarding American Idol, I don’t buy it. Seriously, that remaining female idol contestent Jordin Sparks is pretty chubby herself – she isn’t much thinner than Laquisha.

    The truth is any knockout body with an okay voice can be made to sound like Streisand by the recording studio, and any plain jane can rise to the sexable status of Marilyn Monroe with the help of cosmetic surgery, and Clairol Blonde. Even Kelli Pickler (was that her name? last year idol contestant) had a boob job.

    As far as music goes, I’d sooner buy a recording by someone who looks like Melinda before I’d buy one from anyone who sounds like Britney.

  2. Don’t we ever get sick of all the “conspiracy theories?” American Idol is an entertaining and often frustrating “reality” show. Period. With the voting system set up the way it is, there are bound to be flaws in the works. You point out that Melinda and Lakisha are overweight and that Jordin is a “looker” – but – have you not noticed that she is also overweight? And, if we are going on looks, why is Haley not in the finals??
    Back up to Season 2. Was Reuben Studdard the best-looking contestant? Season 3 – was Fantasia considered a beauty? Season 4, with Carrie Underwood winning, might have been the only time in the history of the show that “America got it right!” And not because Carrie is a beauty, but because she was the most talented singer. Bo was also great, but his hard rocker style probably appealed to a slightly less broad range of viewers.
    Last season medeocre Taylor Hicks won over more talented and certainly better looking Katherine McPhee – where’s the logic there in your “good looking” theory?
    Jordin Sparks is a talented young woman and she has a pretty face. For her talent, she would be a deserving winner of this season’s Idols.
    If any of you think that Lakisha and Melinda won’t get signed, you are crazy! They will both be signed to recording contracts and their music will sell, and they might be better off NOT to have won Idols, as they will have more choices in the direction their careers take.
    The voting system on Idols allows and encourages the promotion of contestants who have the most friends and family with the most time on their hands – or the more highly populated hometown with more people who have time to sit and dial the phone for hours on end. Last year, it was pointed out that all previous winners had come from small towns…………is that maybe because people in cities are busier and don’t have the patience to make those calls? I think we should take a cue from the attempts at sabbotaging the votes, and “VOTE FOR THE WORST.” Instead of voting people thru, Idols should change the system and ask callers to VOTE OFF the WORST. This would make the voting system more honest and more accurate.
    Having said that, the show is a great launching pad for some talented and deserving young artists – a reality show where even many of the “losers” win! We gotta love that!

  3. Nightfly Says:

    As a dad and musician who could care less about “Idol” but I watch it with the family.I am infuriated at what Ms. Gerson had to say and the message she sends out to young women..I watched Ms.Doolittle..she was brilliant..when she did that Ike and Tina song wow..I said this women is more than
    just a singer she is a muscian..there are very few of them on Idol that have a groove or some real musicality..but America voted her off..yes it’s true we have become a shallow nation of followers..THey wanted someone who looks nice as well..Jordin has a nice voice but at 17 does not have a groove or have
    enough experiences for great depth like Doolittle..
    I have never bought any product from Idol. But I will be looking for Ms. Doolittle’s 1st release..real talent should be supported..We should want more for our daughters, to be looked at as individuals and proud of who they are from the inside-out.

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