This is a follow-up question to What differentiates great music from good? I'm referring to singers who have some minimum standard here - those who can hit the notes, etc.

Given two singers in a singing competition, what makes one singer win the competition over the other? For example, here's Idina Menzel and Lea Salonga singing "Defying Gravity". Can we objectively say one singer is better than the other? If so, how? If not, what's the point of singing competitions?

Richard's answer to the linked question makes sense for composers, but it doesn't seem to apply to singers. For example presumably Idina Menzel and Lea Salonga don't influence each other. They might influence fans who try to imitate them, but not each other. Innovation doesn't seem to work either, since they are both faced with the same music. A composer could write a innovative piece of music, but a singer presumably can't innovate on the song someone else has written without changing it.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is about music criticism, not practice and performance.
    – Dave
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 16:51

2 Answers 2


The minimum standard is pretty lax, at least in talent competitions and YouTube the virtual open mic session. People can "hit the notes", but some singers will be more off-key than others because they hit more of the notes out of tune of our favourite tuning systems (12TET, just intonation) and/or with larger and/or more erratic discrepancies in cents between their notes and those tuning systems, and the off-key singers will generally be treated as worse because they appear to indicate that they have less control over their voices.

Beyond singing the song accurately, though (and I'd also suspect that less rhythmically accurate renditions get treated as worse), things get more opinion-based. What some listeners may consider an endearing voice timbre I might find annoying, for example.


Any answer to the question, "who is the better singer between these two" is going to be extremely subjective at best.

Each listener, in a purely sonic (non visual) listening environment, will naturally grade each singer based upon

  • personal preferences of tonality and timbre of voice
  • whether they hit the notes or not
  • how nicely they sustain the notes and,
  • the singer's sense of timing and swing

In a listening environment where they can actually SEE the performance, then you can add the subject scoring points for

  • personal preference for appearance, clothing, hair style, body shape
  • stage presence
  • ability to engage the audience etc, etc.

This is why we don't all flock to buy the same records and download the same songs. We all like what we like, and it's rarely the same thing.

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