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Idol Worship

American Idol has local voice coaches up to their ears in students.



In the era of American Idol and other TV talent competitions like America's Next Top Model and Top Chef, dreams of becoming a pop-culture icon -- or just being on television -- have become much more tangible.

To fulfill those dreams, an increasing number of people -- especially young people -- have started taking voice lessons in hopes of being the next Taylor Hicks, this year's American Idol winner.

"When I get calls, they are 90 percent of the time related to American Idol," says Charlotte Wilson, a voice coach who has taught in Memphis for 30 years. "American Idol has given a dream to a lot of people to expand their talents and to actually want to be a star. ... That show has been the impetus for that."

Like Wilson, vocal coach Bob Westbrook has recently had many students who want to audition for Idol.

"There is a greater interest from shower singers and those who have never had solo lessons before wanting to work on their voices to audition for American Idol," says Westbrook, a Memphian who has been teaching people to belt like Aretha since 1967. "That's a fact."

Westbrook has a strong track record. In addition to molding several Miss America contestants, he trained former 'N Sync-ers Lance Bass and Justin Timberlake, as well as Britney Spears. Since Idol began, Westbrook has noticed a shift in the type of material that his students want to sing.

"The desire to learn the pop and the retro ... has increased since American Idol started," Westbrook says.

Wilson has seen the same trend. "A lot of times in the past you'd get people that want to do Broadway and theater, and now they want to sing things that are marketable. And everybody wants to make their own CD."

While there's no way to prove that the increase in people seeking voice lessons is a direct result of the Simon Cowell scowl, there's no denying the impact of the show.

"On any given day, it's totally just in the hands of who's judging or how they feel that day. It doesn't diminish their talent," says Wilson, adding that some kids are more suited to the Idol dream than others. "It's good in that it gives people a reason to work hard. It's bad if they're not being realistic about it.

"I'm very honest with people when they come to me, in a real sweet, tactful way," she continues. "But I never squelch a dream, because I've seen people transform incredibly."

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