One Song, Two Singers: Who belted it better?

“Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you!” sings Annie Oakley to her future husband Frank near the end of Annie Get Your Gun. For many, competition is the fuel that keeps their blood pumping. Nothing gives them more of an adrenaline rush than the feeling of victory. Myself included, to an extent. As a child, I was ridiculously competitive and a sore loser. Nowadays, I take a stealthier approach to competition…kill them from the inside out, but wear a poker face until the bitter end. Then you can cry into your pillow, if you want.

The world of music and theatre is no stranger to this. For years, great songs have been covered by multiple great artists, and that naturally sparks debate over who provided a better rendition. This one had a prettier voice- but that one felt the emotions so much more! The factors are endless. In this week’s post, I’m gonna present some of my favorite examples of musical competition. Then it’s up to you to decide which songster or songstress struck the right chords.

ROUND I: “She Used to Be Mine.” Jessie Mueller Vs. Sara Bareilles. I suppose this one is a little unfair because both women are key components of Waitress, the musical for which the latter wrote this song. I’ve listened to both of their performances, and although Mueller and Bareilles have very distinct voices, I think they both “got” the emotion of the number- just differently. I think the former’s is raw and tearful, while Bareilles brings a more subdued and contemplative side.

ROUND II: “They All Laughed.” Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga Vs. The Nice Work OBC. In a bizarre twist, I heard the Nice Work interpretation of this classic Gershwin tune first, but it wasn’t until Bennett and Gaga sang it on the Cheek to Cheek album that I realized how brilliantly written it is. It serves as the finale for Nice Work If You Can Get It, so all the principal characters sing lines, which is really fun. By contrast, the cheeky duo offers a more stripped-down interpretation. Both versions, however, incorporate horn sounds generously in the song.

ROUND III: “Reflection.” Jackie Evancho Vs. Christina Aguilera. I’m leaving Lea Salonga’s version of the Mulan power ballad out of the equation because it is quite different (lyrically and musically) from these two. Aguilera performed the song for the movie’s end credits, while Evancho covered it on her Songs from the Silver Screen album. Though both ladies have incredible vocal ranges, their timbres couldn’t be less alike. As “Reflection” calls for more of a pop sound, I do think the latter is better suited to it. The former is more at home with classical styles of music.

ROUND IV: “All I Ask of You.” Josh Groban & Kelly Clarkson Vs. Patrick Wilson & Emmy Rossum. Josh and Kelly dueted on this iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber number for his album Stages. On the flip side, Patrick and Emmy did the song in-character for the film adaptation of Phantom. Surprisingly, the orchestrations for both versions are fairly similar. Then again, this song wouldn’t exactly mesh with an acoustic guitar. Or perhaps it would?! Vocally, Kelly Clarkson is remarkable in a song that would appear out of her range. It calls for legit soprano, and she is more of a belter…but she pulled it off. Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of Christine Daae has its critics, but I do feel this song is one of two (the other being “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”) that she sings exceptionally well in Phantom. The men are on pretty equal footing, I think.

ROUND V: “All I Care About.” Chita Rivera Vs. Every Billy Flynn actor ever. And now for a fun one! Kander and Ebb’s intro song for the greedy Chicago lawyer has been sung many times- notably, by Richard Gere onscreen. But I don’t think there’s been a rendition quite as memorable as the one Chita Rivera nailed at last year’s Broadway Backwards event, benefiting BCEFA. The living legend, clad in a tuxedo and surrounded by showgirls, has more rhythm than performers young enough to be her grandchildren. It’s just amazing. Seriously, folks, go watch the video. You won’t regret it!

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