No one is born able to sing perfectly. For everyone singer you see in the charts, there are countless hours spent practising and rehearsing away from the public eye. As we don’t see these, we can often assume that they’re naturally that good and can get disheartened. However, just as we can be told “you can’t sing,” there are many professional singers who were told the same thing.
When people say “you can’t sing,” what they often mean is “I don’t know how to teach you.” What matters is that they didn’t give up. They wanted to sing and so they put in the work needed to get better. Many of them came to choirs and learned, others had private lessons but all of them remained committed to the love of singing.
1. Elvis Presley
Perhaps the most famous singer in history, Elvis was told time after time he couldn’t sing.
When he was 14, young Elvis was given a C- grade for music, “below average”, with his teacher specifically commenting that he “had no aptitude for singing.”
Later in life, his audition to a local quartet failed, again because of his perceived lack of talent. After a performance at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told by the concert hall manager that he was better off as a truck driver because he would never make it as a singer.
Elvis didn’t quit though. Instead, he studied Gospel and Blues records until he was discovered by Sun Records producer Sam Phillips.
2. Ronan Keating
The Boyzone singer has sold millions of records but it almost didn’t happen. In the early days of the group, a producer demanded that the band let Ronan go because “he couldn’t sing.” Knowing that he could easily be let go, Ronan instead set out to work harder and prove that producer wrong, becoming the hitmaker we all know today. We’d say he definitely showed the producer!
3. Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott
She may be a multi-platinum selling singer for her band, Lady Antebellum, but the cards weren’t always in Hillary Scott’s favour. After auditioning for American Idol twice, and failing to make it to the judges round bound both times, Hillary instead found success with her bandmates in Lady Antebellum instead, dominating the country charts along the way.
Hillary may never have faced the judges but with five Grammys to her name, we don’t think she’s too disappointed she never made it through.
4. Colbie Caillat
American Idol has missed the mark more than once. Colbie Caillat also failed to perform for the judges, being rejected by the production staff. In fact, Colbie also auditioned twice. The second time she tried, she sang her original song “Bubbly” but according to her “I was shy. I was nervous. I didn’t look the greatest. I wasn’t ready for it yet.”
But Colbie didn’t let the rejection set her back, and in 2009 she made her way onto the top 100 best-selling musicians of the 2000s.
She may have sold over 60 million records and she may be one of the most recognisable names and voices in pop music but at school young Shakira was deemed so bad at singing that she wasn’t allowed to join the school choir. Her music teacher thought her now-iconic vibrato was “too strong,” adding that she “sounded like a goat.”
Shakira was motivated by her parents, and aged just 13 she signed her first record deal. However, it wasn’t an easy road to stardom, her first two albums both failed commercially. It wasn’t until she turned 19 and released her third album that she became the star we know today.
6. Fred Astaire
He may be an icon of musical theatre and film but in 1933, Fred Astaire received damning critique from a director during a screen test. “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”
Fred went on to sing and dance in some of the most culturally-important films in history, including Funny face, Daddy Long Legs and Top Hat.
As for the note, it sat above Fred’s fireplace for some years.
So there we are, proof that even some of the biggest acts in the world face the dreaded “you can’t sing” and proof that with proper teaching and determination, a voice to be proud of is achievable.