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Reena Gupta, MD

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Will Scotty McCreery's Voice Hold Out?

Posted: 04/27/11 11:46 PM ET

Scotty McCreery, the 16-year-old American Idol contestant with the incredibly low voice, has become one of America's favorite Idols. His low country twang is a huge hit with the voters, who text their support and vote online for him in droves. But is his baritone larynx really all that unusual for a 16-year-old? Could his voice really be that low or is he hurting himself trying to make it be?

Like it or not, we associate young men going through puberty with awkward, high-pitched squeaks. Think back to having your ears assaulted by Peter Brady in the recording studio, as his family gamely attempted to sing along. Are young men are supposed to sound like Peter or Scotty?

For many people, it's surprising to hear a steady, low-pitched voice come from the 16-year-old body (and 13-year-old face) of McCreery. It's the reason Justin Bieber's voice change is considered news. We are anticipating that he will struggle and that it will possibly affect his career. Voice change is expected to be noticeable and it's expected to taint the voice of any male in his teens.

It may be surprising to know that voice change is only prolonged and unsteady in a minority of young men. The transition takes just a few months and there are only infrequent pitch breaks (the kinder way to refer to the squeaky sounds). By the time young men hit age 15, they've usually completed their voice maturation. That means that as a young man wraps up adolescence in his mid-teens, he will have established the final pitch of his voice. It's not that Scotty McCreery's is only 16 and can sing so low that is amazing. It's the fact that he can sing so low at all. In other words, he has settled into the final pitch of his voice at a normal age; that pitch is just lower than what we're used to hearing.

What's fortunate for Scotty is that he completed this transition before coming into the spotlight. Unlike Bieber, he will not suffer the hoarseness and strain that most young men put themselves through to hide these embarrassing pitch breaks. Chances are, in an age of increasingly young self-launched artists, we will see a lot more pre-adolescent artists go through voice changes in the public eye. Sadly, some even may lose their careers because of a difficult voice change. It's hard to feel too badly for Bieber, though, given that he has the luxury of working with a vocal coach and can probably take a decade-long hiatus and still come out on top.

So does this mean that Barry White walked around as a 17-year-old, uttering "Hi, how are you?" the way he sang "Can't get enough of your love"? Pitch-wise, yeah, he probably did. As the voice matures, regardless of your gender, what changes is your control of it. As singers age, they master control of different muscles. This allows them to make their voices ring, adding color, tone and the depth that makes a singer's voice different than a speaker's voice.

So while we may marvel that such a deep, rich sound comes from such a young man, what's really marvelous is that it's come at all. That's the real reason this voice expert is one of the many female fans of Scotty McCreery's low country twang.