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American Idol: The Impact of Stage Presence

I watched with surprise as Lee Dewyze became the latest American Idol last Wednesday night. Clearly, he has a bigger fan base than Crystal Bowersox.

I like Lee. He’s cute and has a decent voice, and at times he worked hard to show us energy and passion. But as a presentation skills coach, I’m always looking for more from those in the spotlight, especially when it comes down to the finish line with so much at stake. So even though Lee was good, he was missing one key performance element, namely stage presence.

In contrast, it’s evident that Crystal Bowersox has plenty. She has more personality in her little finger than the final twelve contestants combined, including her last competitor. If this contest had been based solely on stage presence, musical artistry, and pure vocal talent, she would have taken home the title. But alas, American Idol fans are predictable in their ability to overlook this kind of talent in their search for someone with more commercial potential who fits the mold. So while I’m disappointed with the results, I do see a great opportunity to explore one of the most fundamental of all presentation skills—stage presence.

What is Stage Presence?

Stage presence is a unique combination of skills and behaviors that when used successfully create personal presence, charm, confidence and charisma.  Research tells us that ninety-one percent of effective communication comes from using non-verbal and vocal skills including, facial, physical, and vocal skills. When these skills work well together, the result is someone who displays greater poise, power, and passion.

Performing is Holistic Communication

A musician can skillfully play an instrument and possess command of singing skills, but that is not enough to create magic on stage. Stage presence is equally part of the whole performance. Performing (whether singing or speaking) is holistic communication for the performer and for the audience. Every part of the performance must be congruent and in synch. That means your body language, vocal skills and message all work together to create lasting impact for your audience. Developing stage presence requires the same awareness, attention to detail, and practice as playing a musical instrument and singing a tune. In mot cases it is a learned skill.

What skills does it take?

  • Facial Expression: Your face must express your enthusiasm. Crystal’s face was always spread into a wide smile, especially on Wednesday night. If someone doesn’t know what the word “beaming” means, all he or she has to do is look at Crystal’s glowing, wide smile and her eye contact. She had so much energy coming from her face alone that she hardly needed to open her mouth. In contrast, Lee barely smiled. He looked nervous most of the time, and when he didn’t, he looked brooding and uncomfortable.
  • Physical Skills: When performing, the body needs to convey excitement and energy. Crystal’s body was fluid and active. She looked relaxed and excited. With her dread locks, her tattoo, her lip piercing, and all those feathers her appearance was striking and added to her personal presence. Part of me wondered though, was all this too much for the voters? Lee on the other hand was stiff and controlled. He looked like he did not know what to do or how to act. I wanted more variety and excitement from him when he was singing and speaking.
  • Vocal Skills: This incredible experience must have triggered a lot of emotion in the minds and hearts of each contestant. While I didn’t watch every episode of this season’s contest, whenever I did see it, I saw Lee answering every question with the same two phrases: “I feel awesome,” and “I’m having fun.” Maybe the intended audience for this show finds these phrases exciting banter, but again, I wanted more variety, more effort from him.

I know these are young performers, and I hear myself sounding a bit like Simon Cowell right now, but I so want the winners to be polished so that that their essence can shine through, excite us, and not be overshadowed by fear or nervousness.

Standing in front of a group and speaking and singing—that’s a great responsibility. Sharing your talent with an audience is the ultimate gift you can give; make it special every time.

So while I’m disappointed that Chrystal Bowersox did not win, America has spoken and we’ve crowned our next Idol. Let’s wish him well and hope he can live up to his new title.

June 1st, 2010 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

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