Arts & Culture News

When Idol Judge Randy Jackson Says "You're Too Broadway," Betty Buckley Takes It Personally

Tony Award winner and Fort Worth resident Betty Buckley watches American Idol. She loves American Idol. But she's about to blow a gasket over Idol judge Randy Jackson's putdowns of some of the singers who have what he deems to be a bit too much vibrato. Whenever Jackson rejects a singer, saying "You're too Broadway," Buckley starts to steam.

On Twitter Thursday, Buckley, who's starred in lots of Broadway shows, including Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Pippin and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, typed a series of 140-character rants about Idol, Jackson and the whole "too Broadway" insult. To get the longer version, we got Ms. Buckley on the phone and told her to let it rip. She did. Go, Betty:


"I always watch Idol and I'm revving up to watch it tonight. But Randy Jackson, he makes me sick. Every time he disses Broadway, I'm like, who are you kidding? It drives me mad! First of all, Broadway is a place. It's not a style. The great composers like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, the Gershwins, those early composers of the classic Broadway days, they all wrote different types of music. Today musical theater -- that's the real term to use -- is really vast. There are all kinds of composers for Broadway and all kinds of success in that realm. Musical theater is an American art form, an indigenous American art form. Who the heck is this guy to diss it?

"There's a resurgence of musical theater in television and film, i.e. shows like Glee and this new show Smash. People are doing musical numbers in all kinds of comedy shows. The form is consistently used in the pop-rock concert arena. All big pop-rock shows are fantastic theater these days, with massive instrumentation, massive set and lighting design. With singers and dancers, the whole bit. Randy Jackson is a freakin' bass player with some success as a music producer. He doesn't like a certain kind of vibrato in the sound of a voice. But that doesn't mean it's a 'Broadway voice.'

"Audra McDonald [currently starring on Broadway in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess] is an opera singer with a four-octave range. But you wouldn't call her just a Broadway voice. Kristin Chenoweth is a star on Broadway and on television. My peer group -- Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters -- we have very disparate kinds of voices.

"All human voices have vibrato. Even Ella Fitzgerald had a vibrato. Aretha Franklin has a vibrato. [Jackson] takes the singers he does not like and he puts them in the category of Broadway. And I want to spit! I completely respect him. But I do not respect this recurring theme and commentary about an art form that deserves nothing but respect. To be successful in musical theater is a rare and blessed thing. How dare he belittle that form and those of us who are in it?

"Many pop singers have vibrato. It's, like, what is your problem, dude? It makes me so mad. Mainly because I loathe that people lie to the American public and especially to kids to whom Idol is the center of the universe.

"Look at Constantine Maroulis [who starred on Broadway in Rock of Ages and will star in the next Broadway revival of Jekyll & Hyde], Fantasia Barrino, who did The Color Purple on Broadway. Diana DeGarmo [Brooklyn the Musical and Hairspray). Jennifer Hudson, who did Dreamgirls, which was musical theater on film. They all came from American Idol.

"It's certain voices [Randy Jackson] doesn't like. I can do a straight tone. Some people sing with pure straight tones. But there's always some subtle form of vibrato.

"What I resent is that he is educating in his forum on television and on this TV show -- he's coming off as some kind of authority in general. He keeps making these stupid comments.

"Steven Tyler [another Idol judge], I love him, but he completely wrecked the national anthem at the playoff game. And he turns to Randy Jackson after one of those 'too Broadway' comments and he says 'they learn that.' It's ignorant and stupid.

"The Voice [NBC's vocal talent show] doesn't make that kind of commentary at all. They don't categorize. [Judges] Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine and CeeLo Green all have vibrato.

"[Jackson's comments] suggest that musical theater singers are in a lesser position than pop music singers. We maybe don't make as much money as they do, but so what? It's an art form. He should just say, 'That's not the voice I want to hear.' He shouldn't say, 'That's too Broadway.'

"The point is, musical theater is an indigenous American art form. It deserves nothing but respect. It encompasses many kinds of voices, styles and composers. You cannot say that one voice or another is a Broadway voice. It isn't. It's just a human voice unique to that individual. In Randy Jackson's commentary, he is educating a whole group of young people in America to demean one type of voice. It's absurd. All of the great singers have vibrato. It's the sound of the human voice."


And on that note (a high one, given Betty Buckley's incredible range), we'll tell you that you can learn to sing better in Ms. Buckley's Song Interpretation master classes. A new session begins February 22 at Fort Worth's Modern Art Museum. For more info, go to here. You can also see her finished products when her students perform a concert showcase called "Story Songs" in May at the Modern.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner