Pop music barely causes a ripple in my life, so it is not surprising that the death of British singer Amy Winehouse has gone by little noticed. The staples of my relaxation are blues and jazz, while the hip-hop that blasts from my teenage son's room is, by order, kept behind closed doors. What I hear on the airwaves is sometimes catchy, mostly unremarkable. It may therefore seem surprising that I have become one of Lady Gaga's admirers.
Like Winehouse, the American pop icon has been best known to me for her off-stage antics than her music. She has more followers on Twitter than anyone else and a legion of the most loyal of fans, but to me, there was no evidence that she was worth the purchase of a download or a ticket to a live show. Yet, there I was last week, on the verge of tears after listening to a 100-minute radio interview, finding her a sincere and gifted entertainer. It makes me wonder how many other people, famous or otherwise, I have misjudged based on snapshot opinions.
Before hearing Gaga being questioned by US presenter Howard Stern, I had believed her to be shallow and untalented. Popular music is now so over-produced and performers so hugely hyped that it is possible that someone devoid of personality and unable to sing a note can become a star. Naturally, I was sceptical when a friend in the US e-mailed me the interview with the highest of recommendations. But Stern's show is on satellite radio, which means he can ask and say what is not possible on terrestrial channels. That, I quickly found, can lead to the subject being more open, honest and down-to-earth than they may otherwise have been. Within minutes I was hooked and by the hour mark, smitten.
Gaga - her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but says even her parents call her by her stage name - did not seem affected by her fame. Despite being the one of the world's highest-paid entertainers, she claimed not to care about money. She spoke candidly about her love of family, what her fans meant to her and how she went about writing and performing. And then came my conversion - her explanation of how her latest single, The Edge of Glory, came about, followed by her sitting down at a Steinway piano and performing it, sans wizardry, with tear-invoking power and passion.
It was an amazing, moving display of true talent, the likes of which I have not heard in any musical genre for some time. In a world where entertainment involves bursts of light, colour and sound coupled with special effects gimmickry, it was refreshing to know that there are still stars capable of singing with truth and emotion. Gaga refers to her fans as 'little monsters' and they treat her with cult-like devotion. Based on the songs I had listened to and the comments and profiles I had read, I could not understand the worship, but having heard her with the gloss stripped away, I see what the fuss is about.
I am not about to become a little monster. Lady Gaga has nonetheless taught me a lesson I have been prone to forget when it comes to public figures - never rush to pass judgment. That is difficult when all we often have to form opinions are sound bites and short interviews. But taking time to find out more and being willing to change minds will ensure that people who have something valuable to give can be heard.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post