Former X Factor and BGT voice coach Yvie Burnett talks about her new book that explains how you can unearth the star within...
Yvie Burnett, 49, a Scottish mezzo-soprano turned vocal coach, has worked with a host of stars, from Sam Smith to Susan Boyle. As she releases her book,
Yes, You Can Sing!, the former opera singer talks about how to hone your singing skills, and some of the celebs she’s worked with… Hi, Yvie, do you believe anyone can sing? Everyone has a voice. It’s whether you can learn to hold a tune. My book first asks, how do you become a singer and not just a person who sings? Proper singing takes more than just a good voice. It’s hard work, and you need that drive.
Who’s your new book for?
Those who just love singing and genuinely want to improve their voice, but don’t necessarily sing as a career. It’s also for those who want to become professional singers, and need to learn exactly what that takes before auditioning for a talent show like The X Factor or The Voice UK.
What tips can you give people who want to give singing a go?
I include my tips in the chapter How To Prepare For An Audition, together with some advice from the likes of Gary Barlow and Susan Boyle. In most cases, it comes down to song choice. Learning that song then becomes really important, as we’ve seen many contestants on The X Factor get the tune wrong, or sing the wrong lyrics. I also explain how to control your breath – and your nerves.
So how do you choose the right song?
I like a surprise. Someone might walk in with a boring song, but sing it really well. If you choose something more taxing, it may show a few flaws, but it will demonstrate passion. There are a few songs in my opinion that should be avoided. Adele’s Someone Like You – unless you have her incredible voice and passion; At Last by Etta James; Summertime by George Gershwin; and Eva Cassidy’s version of Over The Rainbow. Or anything by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey…
What are your tips when nerves kick in?
It’s always possible you’ll ‘dry’ at an audition. The key is recovery. Don’t stop and apologise, carry on – even if it means you repeat a verse you’ve already sung. You can always joke about it afterwards!
Your voice coach career began in 2005 with a call from Louis Walsh, didn’t it?
Yes. He was looking for a voice coach for his acts on The X Factor, and insisted I should do it. That year, Louis had Shayne Ward in his final three, and I worked with him to make his final song, Over The Rainbow, a bit special. He
went on to win, and suddenly Simon and Sharon [Osbourne] wanted me to coach their acts, too.
Didn’t Simon once text you at 2am?
Yes. I had helped Alexandra Burke with a song, and he texted me to say well done. I didn’t recognise his number, so I texted back and said, ‘ Who is this?’ Then he replied saying, ‘It’s me, Simon!’ That’s when I realised he tends to work through the night!
It comes across in the book that you adore Louis. What makes him special?
He stuck his neck out for me. We shared a dressing room on The X Factor, and he never acted like a big star. We just had a laugh.
You claim Leona Lewis was the best singer to ever win. Why?
She had the ability and was ready to be moulded into a star. She lacked confidence, but we worked on that. She still calls me today if she needs help with something.
You’re also close to Sharon, aren’t you?
She was so lovely from the beginning. I remember going back and forth to LA, and she’d say, ‘Ring me as soon as you get there.’ I thought, ‘I can’t do that.’ Then she’d call and say, ‘ Why haven’t you rung me? Come and have lunch at the house!’ Sharon’s not false. If you’re her friend, you’ll always be her friend.
You coached Susan Boyle and you’ve remained close. How is she to work with?
Susan would always say she wasn’t clever, but that isn’t true when it comes to singing. Musically, she has an instinctive talent. She may be eccentric, and we now know she has a form of Asperger syndrome, but she has this ability to move people. Our relationship has become incredibly intense, and it has lasted so long.
In 2010, you lost your mum. Was that a tough year?
I was working in LA with Sarah Brightman when I got the call. I was an only child, so I was very close to my mum. It hit me hard. I flew home for the funeral, at which Susan sang Amazing Grace, then she and I flew to Tokyo the next day. I went straight into Britain’s Got Talent. It was crazy because I hadn’t had the time to grieve properly for my mum. I then got a phone call to say I wasn’t needed on The X Factor that year. So, yes, 2010 wasn’t a great year for me.
You then went on to work on BBC’s The Voice UK. How was that?
I’d already coached Ricky Wilson and Paloma Faith, so we got on fine – and will.i.am is the funniest man you could ever meet. I also loved Kylie and Tom Jones. His voice is still amazing, he could have been an opera singer!
Yes, You Can Sing! by Yvie Burnett is out now (John Blake Publishing, £14.99).
Yvie can get anyone to sing… even Jedward!
She’s been working behind the scenes of The X Factor… … since Louis asked for her help in 2005
Gary Barlow even offers singing tips in her book