Introducing Jackie Evancho

I have been cursed throughout the years with perfect pitch.

And, amazingly, the Yankees don't want me.

I mean in the musical sense, of course.  And, after a thorough, exhaustive 2-minute search through Wikipedia, it appears the precise nature of my affliction is known as 'relative pitch' or, in medical terms, relativepitchitis.  That is, I can hear a note being just the teensiest bit off.

My first clue that I was crippled with this life's burden was when a group of us rowdy college students went up to Seattle and visited the World's Fair, which had taken place a few years earlier.  Space Needle and all that.  There was a machine that would issue a tone for a few seconds, then you tried to match it exactly using a variable dial.  I was the only one of five who could do it, and did it three times in a row.

It's been pretty much downhill ever since.

When I walk into a night club with a live band, everyone else is thinking, "Hey, what a great lead guitarist!"  Me, I'm thinking, "His high E-string is out of tune!  Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!"

Cursed, I tell you.

Which brings me to Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion and Jackie Evancho, the brightest new star in the summer sky.


First, a quick note about Auto-Tune™.  It's a digital editor that makes everyone's voice sound perfect by altering the pitch of the sung note to the nearest perfect tone in real-time.  It started getting frequent use in the studios in the early Oughts.

With that in mind, I would note that the first two singers I'm going to highlight were both around long before Auto-Tune was invented, so these two are the real deal.  As for the third, I somewhat doubt that 'America's Got Talent' allows the contestants to use it.

So, poor cursed me heads into adulthood, and with no Auto-Tune around, everywhere I turned I was surrounded by vocalists who were just the teensiest bit off.  What a nightmare.

But, shimmering there on the horizon, was one glowing exception.

I dubbed her The Voice of a Generation, and for two decades she stood alone as the pinnacle of perfection when it came to alleviating the abject misery we poor afflicted relativepitchitis sufferers must endure.

For twenty years, with hundreds of singers passing by, no one ever replaced her.

Until one day in 1990.  I was working out in the garage and had the radio on.  I remember hearing the first few lines from "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" by Celine Dion and just standing there, staring at the radio, transfixed.  Back in the days before Auto-Tune, there simply wasn't any way around it:

You either had the gift or you didn't.

The following clip is one of the oldest files on my computer.  There are better, later versions on YouTube, with quality graphics and sound, but I've always treasured this clip because it's back when she first got confident and feisty on the stage, but wasn't famous and Las Vegas glittery yet.  And when someone sounds this perfect live in some crappy auditorium, you know you're hearing something special.  To my poor, afflicted ears, she doesn't miss a single note.

There in the garage I thought,

Meet the new queen.

Like Streisand before her, for two decades Celine stood at the top of the mountain, and while — like Streisand before her — I never particularly liked her songs, I'd sit there and listen to whatever schmaltzy thing she was belting out, just to give my poor, afflicted ears a break, content in the knowledge that for the next three minutes they would be spared the agony of awaiting the next cringe-worthy note.

For twenty years, with hundreds of singers passing by, no one ever replaced her.

Until the other day.  I was just horsing around YouTube, looking at some Sarah Brightman clips while putting together my Phantom post, when I stumbled upon the following.

Now, remember what I said earlier about either having the gift or not?

Sarah Brightman (the singer in the Phantom post) does not have it.  She's what's referred to as studied, in that she knows the microtones so well that she can hear and hold them, but they aren't there naturally, as is so obviously displayed with Streisand and Dion, above, who hit the highest notes absolutely perfectly from the first, seemingly without notice or effort.

It's that "from the first" part that's the giveaway.  Great singers like Brightman can get mighty close, usually nailing it, and, when they're just the teensiest bit off, they know how to immediately compensate.  Streisand and Dion virtually never need to compensate.  That's the difference.

We of the painful affliction relativepitchitis can hear this quick, tiny compensation.

Her name is Jackie Evancho. Until further notice, I consider her to be the rightful heir to the throne.

And I'll show you why.

Ready to try out your new, improved, ultra-sensitive relative pitch ear?  I'll tell you exactly what to listen for and let's see how you do.

There are three high notes in the refrain.  Both singers sing them twice solo, six notes apiece.

Here's my scorecard:


1 – 6: absolutely nailed every one


1: sharp, reduced
2: perfect
3: perfect
4: flat, raised
5: perfect
6: perfect

These people know their own voices so well that it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see Sarah look over that list and say, "Yeah, I always have a little trouble with high c-sharp.  And you can see what happened on my first attempt, when I overcompensated and went a little too far.  Then I didn't go far enough on my second attempt.  Ya just can't win!"

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new queen.

I imagine others might agree that the most transcendental moment of the video was when she went back to her skimpy little-girl's voice (and awkward body language) to introduce Sarah.  The next time you're tempted to scoff at some scrawny 10-year-old claiming, "I want to be a singer someday!", that'll be the moment to remember.

As for the actual 'America's Got Talent' finals, I'm sure there were a number of relativepitchitis sufferers staring slack-jawed at their television screens watching the following, thinking, as I did, that we were witnessing history unfold before our eyes.  Or ears, to be more specific.

We afflicted sufferers had ourselves a new savior.  With Streisand retired and Dion married and settled down, it was about time.

It's the same song as above, but this is what the judges heard and must have marveled at.

Hit it, kid.

But for the final proof that Jackie belongs in this exalted category, I offer the following.

Before, we noted the subtle, almost-instantaneous correction a pro like Brightman makes when she raises up to a high note and doesn't quite hit it.  But, more to the point of possessing that magical it is the ability to sustain a note perfectly, and that's what we'll see here.

Maybe pairing Jackie up against the likes of Brightman — someone who doesn't have the gift — was doing her a small disservice by not presenting her with a suitable challenge.

Let's see how she does against a goddess in her prime.

The above picture says it all.

The crown has passed.