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Operatic Texan serenades America's Got Talent

by John Scott Lewinski, posted Jul 9th 2009 12:03PM
An opera singer brought down the house on Wednesday's America's Got Talent.It wasn't another "Susan Boyle moment," but singer Barbara Padilla closed Wednesday night's America's Got Talent from Texas with a performance that seemed almost too polished for what's supposed to be an amateur competition.

The wife, mother and cancer survivor stepped to the microphone to sing "O Mio Babino, Caro" from the opera "Gianni Schicchi." Most classical music fans associate that song with the immortal Maria Callas. While Padilla didn't necessarily challenge that diva, she did belt the performance out with impressive power and control.

Padilla is too pretty to play the "Boyle angle" of presenting a local slob who surprises everyone with her unexpected ability. Her hook is "the mom who beat cancer to live out her dream as a singer."

An opera singer won the competition last year, so the odds of another coming in first in 2009 seem unfairly slim. And, if she catches on past the next round, the media will dig up her history and her training. There's no way a woman achieves control as an operatic soprano singing in the car.

Her situation begs the question: If she was classically trained, is she really an overnight amateur success story?

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Donald Braswell and Barbara Padilla are just two examples of the enormous talent in the world that don't get a chance to prove it. My dearest friend in life was a fellow who, according to the director of the Vienna State Opera had the most beautiful tenor voice that he had ever heard, but that he could not hire him because he was black. The Austrian audience would not accept a black tenor. Alex had made the trip to Austria because the same barrier had been erected in the United States.

These two people are very talented indeed, but are they only talented compared to the diluted talent that's available on television. Don't forget, this is a show that is judged by ignoramuses. How many of us who vote even knows the difference between the styles of tenor or soprano voices?

This is why I rarely watch these carnivals. The talent is usually attrocious, the panels are mostly made up of cultural morons and the legitmacy of the final vote tallies is always extremely suspicious.

I daresay that there are thousands of talented people in the world who are every bit as talented as Ms. Padilla and Mr. Braswell who will never have the chance to prove it because they either have too much integrity to be judged by lunatics or they find their way into other more lucrative fields.

September 01 2009 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi Kitty, Thanks for getting back to me. We would love to have you join Donald's fan club. It is free to join, and I think that you would find the information there very interesting. All you have to do is sign up at:
We would love to have you as a member.

August 23 2009 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi Kitty, The reason that Donald Braswell did not sing opera on America's Got Talent is that even though he wanted to, they wouldn't let him. If you would like to hear him sing opera after the surgery, go to his myspace page or listen to him singing Lenski's Aria on youtube. He still has his beautiful operatic voice, and it is as magnificent as it was before the accident.

July 21 2009 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Barbara's comment

Barbara, I just saw your message and listened to Donald Braswell on YouTube. Excellent performance. It's such a pity that his career was interrupted - I can see how he could've been a major star. Had he been allowed to sing opera arias on AGT he'd have won. BTW - I am native Russian and while he has pretty strong accent, I can still understand every word - his diction is very clear.

I find it appaling that AGT producers routinely tell people what to sing. We cannot really believe what we see on these shows, can we? There is no "not having rights to a song" excuse for opera arias - nobody owns rights to them. This is outrageous.

August 23 2009 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I very much agree with you about Paul Potts. I don't typically watch these shows so you may be right about Barbara being the best female opera singer on AGT. However, I think she probably will become a female "popera" star. I guess this makes me judgemental, but with her training and accolades, I see this as selling out. As I said in my comment above I don't see being on AGT leading to a lot of work in the legitimate opera/classical music world. I could, however, lead to a recording contract, a lot of exposure, financial prosperity. Really the whole premise of this kind of a show is ridiculous. It really seems bizarre for three people who know very little if anything about opera to evaluate and comment on a singer with so much training and experience.

July 13 2009 at 10:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Patty's comment

I think Barbara is better than opera singers of both sexes that ever appeared on these shows. The only exception is probably Donald Braswell last year who had a legitimate opera career before an accident that damaged his throat, but he did Broadway songs on AGT rather than opera arias - he either couldn't do opera arias any more, felt he couldn't do them justice or he didn't want to do pop-era.

I admit I watch these shows - there is really not much else on TV in summer - for entertainment.

I pretty much agree with everything you say - about this show not leading to any kind of serious opera career only pop-era, about judges "credentials" (or rather lack thereof). Last year I wondered if any of the judges have ever been to the Met. I'd add audience applauding and chearing before waiting till the end of an aria - if they are really touched by the performance, don't they want to listen to it?

I am just a little less judgemental about "selling out" part. It is just so rare for any of us, not just performers, to be able to earn a living doing what we love so I can see how someone may want to take a chance. If I am not mistaken, she is already 36 (is it correct?). If she hasn't made an opera career by now - for whatever reason including illness or family - it's unlikely she'll do so, there are too many exciting young singers around. This is Barbara Padilla's chance to be able to earn a good living singing. Maybe not on opera stage, but still singing. Why not take it? Yes, it does seem like selling out, but she may feel that she can give joy to many people who aren't familiar with opera, raise the rather dismal standard of pop-era a bit, maybe introduce some people to opera. We could help with the latter - by posting links to great performances of the same aria, for example, suggesting (very diplomatically - people who watch these shows and popera fans are more defensive about their favorites than most opera fans) that people who liked this aria check out this or that link, telling those who are interested about Met HD broadcasts or Met player. Just a thought.

July 18 2009 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't understand why people have an issue with training. An operatic voice is a trained voice almost by definition: either one had a formal education or years and years of lessons, but you'd be hard pressed to find any (real) opera singer who had neither. Being for hours on stage and singing, projecting over an orchestra without amplification, singing in multiple languages, acting - this all requires training. Sure, you can bring up Paul Potts (or other "popera" stars), but he is NOT an opera singer and will NEVER be one: his singing is "good for an amateur" but still amateurish and would not be acceptable in any professional opera house. Why is it that "good for an amateur" is considered somehow better today than a good professional-level performance?

Every year there are thousands of people who graduate from colleges in the US majoring in opera. Only a tiny percentage of them manage to make a living singing opera. So why do people consider them any less deserving of a break than amateurs with inferior talent and bad technique? Why is mediocrity nowadays counts for more than real accomplishment?

Sure, she may not be at the level of Rene Fleming or even much less known Angela Meade (2007 Met Council Auditions grand winner, featured in Met's documentary "The Audition") or other great singers today, but then they aren't taking part in AGT. But Barbara Padilla is still way way better than any of the singers who have attempted opera arias on either AGT or BGT. As such, she is just as deserving to win as any of them. IMHO.

Incidentally, does anybody really think that some of the circus acts we've seen on AGT or some dancers haven't had training? AGT rules have never said that only complete amateurs are accepted.

Saya - you are so right. I am only an opera fan, not a singer, definitely NOT an expert. But I heard a lot of really good singers in opera productions in Caramoor festival, and while some of them make a jump to bigger theaters, many do not. A university I went to had a good music department, and I heard some really good voices in university productions. Very few of them managed to make a living singing.

July 10 2009 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kyle Howard

If I might interject something here. I'm Barbara's husband, the one that you see with the little girl in the video. I created her website a few weeks ago in anticipation of the broadcast of her performance. For what it's worth I've been working in Information Technology for more than 20 years, so it wasn't a big deal.

Barbara received a scholarship to the University of Houston and was fortunate enough to get her Masters degree in music. She had this opportunity solely because she is a talented musician. Who wouldn't take advantage of a chance to get an education in their chosen field?

I would guess that most of the acts that you see on AGT have been paid to perform at some point and I'm sure there's no rule against that. Barbara is an open book about the limited amount of performing that she did before taking time off to raise our daughter. Barbara is a wonderful and dedicated wife and mother and has been devoted to raising our daughter since she was adopted over two years ago. Barbara has never had a recording contract or a CD available. She is truly taking the chance that America's Got Talent has given her to live her dream to perform the music that she loves.

I pray that people recognize her for her talent, sincerity and love of music. I believe that she truly deserves to be the winner of this year's America's Got Talent.

July 09 2009 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kyle Howard's comment

I am curious as to the specifics of her dream? Some contestants are asked that question during their audition. Barbara wasn't or it was edited out. Just saying that her dream is to perform the music she loves is very vague. I'm sure she find a way to do that without auditioning on AGT. Why is AGT the route she is choosing? I think that the opportunities that arise for her are going to be very different than for most singers with her training and experience and I'm curious if she is looking for something different than the conventional opera/classical venues. Its really none of my business but since you have posted here it seems fair to ask a question.

July 13 2009 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Her situation begs the question: If she was classically trained, is she really an overnight amateur success story?"

Really, Jon?

Did you write the AGT rulebook? Does it say everyone who enters the competition must be an "amateur"?

No. It doesn't.

I'm three posts into the current bitchfest that was once known as TV Squad and we now have confirmation that TPTB at AOL really did put out that memo a few weeks ago instructing you guys to bitch, bitch, bitch, and then bitch a little more.

This woman has been raising her child since graduation. She's not had a professional career from what I can tell. She has had a heck of a lot of training and is a very good, if not excellent, soprano.

She has a website up now (find it Jon) that was obviously created soon after this appearance on AGT was taped.

Chill, please. Give us back the TV Squad we used to love.

July 09 2009 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Howey's comment
Joel Keller

Wow, we got a memo from AOL that told us to complain all the time? I have to check my inbox to see if I got it, since I don't remember getting anything like that. Thanks for the head's up.

July 10 2009 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't completely understand why being a professional would be so bad. I would imagine that EVERY one of the illusionists that we've seen has performed professionally. For that matter, do you think the chainsaw juggler just started doing that last night? I'll be Acrodunk has been paid to perform. As long as Barbara Padilla has never had a recording contract or commercially released CD's I don't think it should matter. I hope she wins it all. And I don't think last year's winner should have ANY bearing on my choice for this year's winner.

July 09 2009 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been really impressed with the singers this year. More varied, in age and genre than any other season, and 100% better than anyone on the most recent American Idol. The odds are high for a singer to win AGT this year, at least from what I've seen thus far. It's not like America will vote for a belly dancer - or an Opera singer for that matter.

July 09 2009 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

amateur yes - if she's never gotten paid to sing (or not really) then she's an amateur in my book no matter how much training she's got... overnight success story? no - she's worked very hard to get to this point where she's gotten the attention... (In all reality - she IS very good - but... almost any classically trained soprano can sing that just as well... there wasn't anything unusual about it that made it stand out from the crowd of amateur and/or music ed and/or music minors and/or music majors who end up going into another career field, that I've heard in my life... she's just found a way to get more attention for it... people don't realize the number of people who have amazing voices who never get completely recognized for it, because there's just too many dang sopranos in the classical world!)

July 09 2009 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Saya's comment

I'm sure Barbara has had professional singing gigs. I think it actually says so on her website. This probably isn't against any rules. I agree with you that there are many many sopranos who can sing better. I don't know how many audition for AGT. Win or lose I don't see an AGT contestant getting roles with any legitimate opera companies. At least I hope not. But then that most likely that would not be the goal of someone who auditions for AGT.

July 13 2009 at 10:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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