Why do so many su­per­star singers lose their voice?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE - By ALICE VIN­CENT

In 2015, ris­ing US opera star Stephen Costello was min­utes away from mak­ing his Metropoli­tan Opera de­but when he lost his voice. “All of a sud­den I did some­thing and my neck got re­ally tight. I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘oh my god’ — it felt al­most like some­thing in my throat had popped”, he told The Daily Beast.

“Then I couldn’t sing. Noth­ing would come out. Then, as they were call­ing me to the stage to get ready and walk on ... my neck went into spasm, my throat and all the mus­cles around it just got so tight… I could barely talk.”

It tran­spired that Costello’s voice has dis­ap­peared due to stress in­duced by the di­vorce from his so­prano wife. Acid re­flex had ir­ri­tated his vo­cal cords, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to sing. Those who had paid $300 for a ticket were left wait­ing while fel­low singer Francesco De­muro stepped into the lime­light in the last minute.

On Satur­day morn­ing, Adele had her own Costello mo­ment. Mere hours be­fore the penul­ti­mate and fi­nal shows of an 18-month-long tour, she was forced can­cel both. In the post­ing of a Twit­ter up­date, nearly 200,000 fans, who had clam­oured for tick­ets for her sold-out fi­nal gigs, were let down. The Grammy Award-win­ning, record-break­ing singer had dam­aged her vo­cal cords; she was un­able to per­form on med­i­cal ad­vice.

Many fans lent their sup­port, singing out­side Wem­b­ley as signs flashed, “Sorry, Adele show can­celled” as part of a #SingForAdele so­cial me­dia cam­paign. But oth­ers strug­gled to find sym­pa­thy for the singer, es­pe­cially af­ter pay­ing hun­dreds of pounds on flights, trans­port and ac­com­mo­da­tion to make what were be­ing tipped as Adele’s last ever shows.

This was fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for Adele fans. In 2011, the singer can­celled her en­tire US tour and six UK dates af­ter suf­fer­ing a vo­cal cord haem­or­rhage as a re­sult of talk­ing too much off-stage and smok­ing, she told The Sun at the time. Adele un­der­went vo­cal surgery at the hands of celebrity laryn­gol­o­gist Dr Steven Zei­t­els shortly af­ter­wards, and en­joyed such a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery that he was the first per­son she thanked dur­ing one of her six Grammy Award ac­cep­tance speeches the next year.

Zei­t­els’ later de­scribed the pro­ce­dure — and Adele’s sub­se­quent ren­di­tion of Rolling in the Deep in the clinic — as “one of the most mem­o­rable [mo­ments] in my ca­reer”. Both sur­geon and pa­tient at­tested that Adele’s voice was bet­ter than be­fore, clearer and higher, she had lost her husk.

So how have her cords be­come dam­aged again, and, hav­ing un­der­gone surgery once, can Adele’s voice be fixed?

‘It felt like some­thing rip­ping in my throat’

In Jan­uary 2011, two sig­nif­i­cant things hap­pened in Adele’s ca­reer. She re­leased 21, her scorched sec­ond al­bum that cat­a­pulted her to in­ter­na­tional su­per-star­dom, and she first started hav­ing trou­ble with her voice. Weak­ened by a bout of flu the pre­vi­ous De­cem­ber, Adele’s voice never re­gained its full strength by the time of her pro­mo­tional tour and, as she ex­plained at length on her now-de­funct blog, “it just got weaker and weaker un­til it even­tu­ally ‘broke’ ”.

Adele wasn’t aware of the storm brew­ing in her throat. She was still smok­ing, and this was the first in­stance of her hav­ing prob­lems with her voice. She was diagnosed with laryn­gi­tis and or­dered to rest for 10 days, only to re­turn im­me­di­ately to an in­ter­na­tional tour­ing sched­ule. In May, still tour­ing, she was diagnosed with her first vo­cal hem­or­rhage. “It’s like a black eye on the vo­cal cord,” she wrote, “it was in­cred­i­bly ten­der and dan­ger­ous if I was to sing through it.” When she did, it felt like “some­thing rip­ping in my throat”.

By Oc­to­ber, af­ter be­ing laid down with a res­pi­ra­tory and chest in­fec- tion, Adele de­cided to have surgery. “If I con­tinue to pick up ev­ery­thing be­fore I have prop­erly con­quered these prob­lems and nipped them in the bud, I will be to­tally and ut­terly f *****”, she wrote.

‘The in­juries oc­cur be­cause of their un­be­liev­able work ethic’

Adele is not alone in suf­fer­ing vo­cal hem­or­rhages. Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2015 the mu­sic in­dus­try press sought an­swers af­ter Sam Smith be­came the lat­est Bri­tish Grammy win­ner to can­cel tour dates due to bleed­ing vo­cal cords. All About That Bass singer Me­gan Trainor fol­lowed suit weeks later. They were the lat­est in a string of stars who had pulled out of in­ter­na­tional tours due to vo­cal cord trou­ble: Ari­ana Grande, John Mayer and R Kelly were forced to let down fans, as Adele had be­fore them.

Rather than an epi­demic of vo­cal cord ill­nesses sweep­ing show­busi­ness, there are more ba­nal fac­tors at play be­hind this plethora of can­cel­la­tions. The in­ter­net has made all as­pects of tour­ing more vis­i­ble to the pub­lic, from open­ing of a hot ticket sale — and its in­evitable sell­ing-out — to what goes on back­stage. It is com­mon prac­tice for artists to share their ex­pe­ri­ence of tour­ing through In­sta­gram, lift­ing the veil on what would pre­vi­ously only have been cap­tured by trusted pho­tog­ra­phers with a AAA pass.

In the same way, when a star can­cels, it be­comes ma­jor en­ter­tain­ment news on­line. Dis­ap­pointed ticket-hold­ers share their an­guish on so­cial me­dia and the artist may ex­cuse them­selves through their web­site or Twit­ter feed. Blan­ket cov­er­age means that ev­ery­body hears about can­cel­la­tions that pre­vi­ously would have only af­fected those go­ing. As Zei­t­els told Vul­ture: “Fif­teen years ago, [it] didn’t hap­pen. Peo­ple would can­cel the show in Kansas, but you didn’t know about it in New York”.

But tour­ing in­ten­sity has ramped up, too. The de­cline in record sales has pushed artists to make money from tour­ing for the last decade, if not longer. In the decade since her first con­cert tour, in 1983, Ce­line Dion per­formed 306 shows. Ri­hanna, 13 years later, clocked up 437 be­tween 2006 and 2016. Adele was sched­uled to play 174 across just two con­cert tours since 2011.

“We ad­vise not to do more than a cou­ple shows in a row and a day off in be­tween,” Evita vo­cal coach Joan Lader told En­ter­tain­ment Weekly in 2015. Zei­t­els agreed: “More of­ten than not, the in­juries oc­cur be­cause of their un­be­liev­able work ethic.”

Just to let all my beau­ti­ful fans know, I’m ok. I am in­sanely re­laxed and am some­where in the mid­dle of Aus­tralia with no phone, no lap­top and I haven’t spo­ken a word in three days. Try­ing my ab­so­lute best to be back on my feet and singing for next week. So amaz­ing to have this time to turn off, but it does make me re­alise how much I love what I do, and how much I miss you all when I’m not on stage. I hope you are all happy and healthy wher­ever you are. I’m gonna go back to my black and white movies and pre­tend I’m Judy Gar­land for a few more days xx A post shared by Sam Smith (@sam­smith­world) on May 1, 2015 at 7:08pm PDT Gut­ted for my mum. Al­ready in Lon­don and @Adele can­cels shows. Aw­ful sit­u­a­tion for all re­ally. — Oliver Banks (@Oliv­erBanks) July 1, 2017

‘To­tal si­lence, no whis­per­ing, no hum­ming; you have to write ev­ery­thing down’

Adele is yet to spec­ify what is hap­pen­ing with her voice be­yond telling fans, “I have dam­aged my vo­cal cords”. De­clan Costello, a con­sul­tant ear nose and throat sur­geon spe­cial­is­ing in voice dis­or­ders, told The Tele­graph that Adele’s can­cel­la­tion sug­gests that “some­thing more acute or im­me­di­ate [must be] go­ing on


Lost for words: Adele has dam­aged her vo­cal cords.

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