US vocal coach Seth Riggs has been the master behind the magic of several superstars, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Madonna. Now the 83-year-old is coaching a new Chinese singing sensation - and she’s just 13 years old.
In early September, Riggs and his family travelled to the Chinese mainland for the first time, offering hands-on vocal training to teen singer “Dou Dou” in south China’s city of Shenzhen.
“I came to visit a friend here and he said we have a girl for you to work with. We want you to help her because she needs to get to the next level’,” Riggs said.
“Dou Dou,” also known as Huang Jiaqi, is a budding star who made her name by singing the 2008 Beijing Olympics theme song “You and Me.” During the last year London Olympics, she gave her first overseas concert at the Hackney Empire Theatre in London at the invitation of the International Olympic Committee.
Watch Dou Dou train here
However, like many young singers transitioning into adolescence, Huang has struggled to find the right methods to keep developing her talent. Riggs’ training is expected to help her learn how to maintain and develop her skill.
During their half-month-long stay, Riggs and his wife Margareta Svensson trained Huang for three to four hours every day.
“Riggs taught me how to sing songs in the right way, get me through the transitional period and eventually have a more mature voice,” Huang said, adding that she has gained a lot from the training sessions.
“She has a wonderful ear and she stays right on pitch when she sings. She had to change from singing like a little girl to singing like all of us,” Riggs said. “She got on very quickly. We are very impressed with her.”
Riggs used a teaching method known as “Speech Level Singing” to train Huang, the same technique he used to coach Michael Jackson.
Riggs created the method while still a music student, as he was unsatisfied with his own singing at that time. He discovered a way of singing that utilizes the same vocal techniques used when speaking. The method allows singers to sing with greater power, clarity and expression, but with less effort.
Riggs has trademarked the teaching method and has since been busy using it to teach professionals and amateurs alike.
“They may come in for one or two lessons instead of thirty years like Michael Jackson and forty years like Stevie Wonder,” Svensson said. “It doesn’t really matter if they are famous or not. He’s going to do the same thing anyway.”
“So what I do is I try to make everyone as good as I possibly can and see how many are willing to stretch and embrace other expertise to add to what they are doing,” Riggs said.
For Huang,the training has been music to her ears.
“In the past, I had to yell with all my strength to sing high pitches and I would be totally exhausted after finishing a song. Riggs taught me to use my stomach and avoid yelling too loudly while singing,” Huang said.
“Now I know why some great singers can perform more than 20 songs a night and still feel at ease,” she added.
According to Riggs, Speech Level Singing has been used by more than 120 Grammy winners. His call sheet is a veritable “who’s who” of singers, actors, dancers and entertainers from around the world.
Jackson was one of Riggs’closest clients, having studied under Riggs for over 32 years. Riggs’decades of training blossomed into friendship as he trained the superstar through years of rehearsals, concerts and tours.
Four years after the King of Pop passed away in 2009, Riggs recalls Jackson as a true professional who would give his life to the perfection of his art.
“We lost a wonderful young man. He was so dedicated to what he did that I don’t think there will ever be another Michael Jackson,” Riggs said. “No matter how good he is, how good he was, no one will ever be able to be Michael Jackson. There was only one.”
Huang is not the first Chinese to have received training from Riggs. Well-known singers JJ Lin, Coco Lee and Leehom Wang have all travelled to Los Angeles to receive voice training from the master coach.
Riggs said he hopes to introduce his singing method to more Chinese artists. He is trying to branch out online in order to reach as many Chinese students as he can. He added that he hopes his efforts can strengthen artistic ties between the US and China.
“We would like to borrow some of your [China’s] technology or perhaps offer some of ours in exchange. It’s a very exciting process,” he said. ”We hope that we can form a bridge between the two nations.”