• The new Carpenters recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is now available. Use this link to order, and help us out at the same time. Thank you!

Karen's audition with Kenny Rogers

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
Thinking out loud;

I am fascinated with Carpenters history. What might've happened. Today, I am keying on Karen's audition with Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. It seems quite impossible in hind sight how such a magnificent voice as Karen's was rejected. Which leads me to believe it was something else that was a factor for her not being a "good fit" into the group. Thelma Camacho was fired by the group in 1968. In that year, Karen was very "rough around the edges" with the headband and general unkempt appearance. I wonder if she could have sabotaged her own audition considering if she did get the gig Richard would not come along in the deal. I wonder if Karen was reluctant to do this (much as she was to get out from behind the kit to be lead singer).

In Coleman's book pg 73, we get Richard's input concerning this audition;

"Karen you have to do it--and when they tell you that your're it, you've gotta take it, " Richard urged her. "I was more interested in Karen's future as an artist than my own," Richard says. And I though that when they heard her, that would be the end for Karen and me as far as the Carpenters were concerned. Because she was so damned good." With nothing on the horizon for them as a recording duo, he felt she had to sail away independently with that voice.

^^Comment, Can't you just imagine the enormous pressure Karen must've heaped on herself for this audition?!

More from Coleman's book concerning after the audition (pg 73);

But she was rejected. When she broke the news to him, Richard could not believe it. "She sounded like Karen there and then." He fully expected his sister to become the First Edition's lead singer. That group was already successful, and with Karen on lead vocals its popularity would have been lifted enormously, he was certain. "Thank God they didn't sign her," he smiles now.

Speculation - Kenny Rogers was the focal point at this time, the star...could it be that Karen's vocals were too good?!

Early on, they were the "First Edition" before the light clearly fell on Kenny Rogers.

Here is Thelma Camacho singing lead shortly before the axe falls on her;


Now, the woman who beat Karen out, Mary Arnold (seems to be a reduced role from Thelma's. I've not been able to locate a video of Mary singing lead with this group);


Little seems to be known of this audition. Is anyone in the forum privy to the details (Chris May, perhaps?)? Does anyone know what song Karen sang or how many people in total auditioned for the part?
 
Last edited:

Sabar

Well-Known Member
This is just a guess, but maybe the New Edition was looking for a soprano, not a contralto, or maybe Mary Arnold's voice just blended better with the other vocalists in the group. I know...hard to conceive. Or it could have just been a matter of personal chemistry.
 

JohnFB

Active Member
I recently saw a video of Richard briefly talking about the audition (not sure which video as there are so many) - he said his guess was that she was rejected because she had the kind of voice that sounded great when recorded properly up close to a microphone, but which was not strong enough to project well to an audience in a big concert hall...others talked about how quietly she sang - I believe one was her old boyfriend Mike Curb, and another was one of the session players during the recording of her solo album in New York City.

I lean towards the idea that she was just too damn good and was considered a threat to steal Kenny's thunder...

Did she ever explain to anyone her idea about the cause of her rejection?
 

cam89

Well-Known Member
Here's a question...did Kenny ever meet Karen and Richard afterwards, or when she passed, did he say anything about her.....
 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
It seems quite impossible in hind sight how such a magnificent voice as Karen's was rejected. Which leads me to believe it was something else that was a factor for her not being a "good fit" into the group.

I’m going to suggest something radical here: maybe Karen’s voice wasn’t strong enough for their sound. And if Karen auditioned without a microphone (as with some auditions), then it may have reinforced their opinion. How many times have we heard the story that Karen’s voice underwent an extraordinary transformation when she sang over a microphone? The few times I’ve heard Karen ad lib a line or two without a microphone, her voice is in tune, but extremely quiet and “whispery”. Even she herself said in an interview that she could never belt out even if she wanted to. If they were looking for a singer who could project their voice, then maybe that’s why she was rejected. Every group is different and wants a certain type of sound.

Out of curiosity, I went looking for videos from around that time and found a couple from the same era, which is right where Karen might have been with them if she’d been successful in the audition. Not knowing anything about The First Edition, I was shocked to see that in many of the video clips, the role Karen auditioned for was nothing more than a back up singer. I’d thought it was to play a lead vocalist role alongside Kenny or in a band he was responsible for but didn’t perform in. I was wrong.

The clips below all feature Mary Arnold, who replaced Thelma Camacho, so this is the role Karen would have played in the group if she’d been successful. If you haven’t seen them before, I’ll let you make your own mind up. Can you “hear” Karen singing these songs?




 
Last edited:

JohnFB

Active Member
I’m going to suggest something radical here: maybe Karen’s voice wasn’t strong enough for their sound. And if Karen auditioned without a microphone (as with some auditions), then it may have reinforced their opinion. How many times have we heard the story that Karen’s voice underwent an extraordinary transformation when she sang over a microphone? The few times I’ve heard Karen ad lib a line or two without a microphone, her voice is in tune, but extremely quiet and “whispery”. Even she herself said in an interview that she could never belt out even if she wanted to. If they were looking for a singer who could project their voice, then maybe that’s why she was rejected. Every group is different and wants a certain type of sound.

...
That's really not a radical suggestion but another confirmation of what Richard himself said in that interview I mentioned above in my post - others stated the same thing (as I mentioned above) and if Karen talked about it too there must be a lot of substance in the claim...

I watched those videos before and I don't see anything that Mary Arnold is doing or contributing that Karen would find exciting or satisfying to be involved with - she was superstar material and Mary might have qualified to be her backup singer - maybe...

Speaking of Mary, didn't Randy Schmidt report in "Little Girl Blue" that she was somehow related to someone in the group, which could have definitely given her the inside track to be selected...

Another inexplicable decision was the one by RCA-Victor, to not record and release vocals by Karen after they had signed The Richard Carpenter Trio and had at first only recorded jazz instrumentals by the group and then did nothing with them. They knew she could sing and had probably heard demos of her - what moron at RCA made that decision and how long after that was it when he was fired?
 
Last edited:

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
I watched those videos before and I don't see anything that Mary Arnold is doing or contributing that Karen would find exciting or satisfying to be involved with - she was superstar material and Mary might have qualified to be her backup singer - maybe...

I thought the same - the role within Kenny’s group was pretty uninspired. Thank goodness fate stepped in and lent a hand!

Speaking of Mary, didn't Randy Schmidt report in "Little Girl Blue" that she was somehow related to someone in the group, which could have definitely given her the inside track to be selected...

You may be thinking of a different Mary (Rudolph), who is the cousin of Richard and Karen.

Another inexplicable decision was the one by RCA-Victor, to not record and release vocals by Karen after they had signed The Richard Carpenter Trio and had at first only recorded jazz instrumentals by the group and then did nothing with them. They knew she could sing and had probably heard demos of her - what moron at RCA made that decision and how long after that was it when he was fired?

I’m not sure there was any singing going on in those sessions - even demos. It was all rock tuba instrumentals as far as I’m aware.
 
Last edited:

JohnFB

Active Member
Another speculation of mine, which involves a heavy dose of amateur psychoanalysis (in which I do not have a degree) is this: Karen, as we well know, loved Richard and idolized him from an early age. She followed his lead in many areas including their mutual love for the same music and their desire to hit it big by forming a band together. They struggled at this for some time with a couple of promising, but false starts. She knew how much playing music together and having a successful group meant to him. But, they reached the point where nothing much exciting or promising was happening and they both became discouraged.

Then the audition for the First Edition job opened up and he urged her to try out because he wanted her, at least, to achieve a degree of success. She was both excited by the possibilities and seriously worried about what getting the job would mean for Richard and his future (or their possible future together). She was torn between the alternatives, and not wanting to hurt him or destroy his future, and thinking there still was a good chance for them, decided at some point (after a lot of internal debate) that she really didn't want to nail the audition and become the "girl singer" in FE. This internal conflict might have shown up subconsciously in a lackluster performance during the audition - or she might have just simply and consciously decided to deliberately "tank" it.

How's that for a twisted exercise in reading minds and motives?
 

David A

Well-Known Member
There's no shortage of armchair psychologists around these parts, John, so "don't forget to take your place in line
Leave your mind behind"

True (and funny :wink: ), if a bit flip. However, just as one doesn't have to be an astronaut to know you cannot breathe in outer-space, so too are other observations valid - or at least worthy of consideration - when knowledge, insight, and common sense are applied.
 

JohnFB

Active Member
True (and funny :wink: ), if a bit flip. However, just as one doesn't have to be an astronaut to know you cannot breathe in outer-space, so too are other observations valid - or at least worthy of consideration - when knowledge, insight, and common sense are applied.
I thought my observations on Karen's possible conflicting emotional state during the audition were "at least worthy of consideration" and that they were insightful or common sensical, at least to a certain extent...she might not have tried too hard for the reasons I speculated on - and because she became aware of what a limited role she would be playing in the group...

Also, I'm not sure where Harry's quote is from - a Beatles song or Alice in Wonderland or some other esoteric source???
 

no1kandrfan

Well-Known Member
I thought my observations on Karen's possible conflicting emotional state during the audition were "at least worthy of consideration" and that they were insightful or common sensical, at least to a certain extent...she might not have tried too hard for the reasons I speculated on - and because she became aware of what a limited role she would be playing in the group...

Also, I'm not sure where Harry's quote is from - a Beatles song or Alice in Wonderland or some other esoteric source???
It's from Richard's opening speaking voice on Your Wonderful Parade.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
There's no shortage of armchair psychologists around these parts, John, so "don't forget to take your place in line
Leave your mind behind"

Harry you're too literal. Once in a while, you have to take your shoes and socks off, run along the beach and get your feet wet. It's exhilarating!
 

JohnFB

Active Member
It's from Richard's opening speaking voice on Your Wonderful Parade.
I guess I should have recognized it, but it had been quite a while - I even started to listen to that song last week at the start of my general review of all their albums, but quickly skipped to track 3 when I heard Richard...I was anxious to get to Karen's "Someday".
 

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
So, we're "speculating" on circumstances in 1968 ?
Harry is correct in his observation. Purely speculative psycho-analysis on
whether or not Karen purposefully flubbed an audition is patently ridiculous.
There is no "knowledge, insight or common sense" to apply in this circumstance.
What we do know is that Karen considered herself primarily a drummer at this point in time---1968.
What we do know is that Karen's vocals at this time,1968, were not "magnificent." Her vocals evolved over time.
What we do know is that even when Karen's vocals were indisputably magnificent, she was being
"rejected," that is in 1978, when Christmas Portrait LP hit the streets it was not an instant hit.
Music is subjective, so it is anyone's guess why Kenny Rogers would go with another vocalist.
 

JohnFB

Active Member
Point by point:

1. Why not speculate on circumstances in 1968? Or 1968 B.C.? Or any circumstances in any time period? Millions of people have been doing it for thousands of years. It's called historical analysis. The only question is: are there enough facts or evidence to support reasonable speculation and conclusions.

2. True that speculative psychoanalysis is risky business, especially in the hands of amateurs, but people have been known to deliberately fail in an attempt at something important for all sorts of reasons: fear of failure, not wanting to hurt a third party, changing one's mind at the last minute about really wanting the job, visions of something better in the near future, not wanting to travel with strangers, etc. Emotions are complex and tricky and not always conscious and conflicting motives interact, and last minute decisions based on them can't just be brushed off as "patently ridiculous" (although, granted, they would be hard to prove).

3. There is some knowledge about the circumstances here and based on them (and on what others close to the situation speculated on) one could use common sense to gain some insight - or speculate on - the cause(s) of the rejection.

4. Yes, Karen considered herself primarily a drummer, but she had been singing for some time with the R.C. Trio and then Spectrum - she had also sung in talent shows in public since she was 13. By 16 (in 1966) her "natural" voice (as she called it) - the one we know and love - had suddenly appeared to everyone's surprise and delight - that was 2 years before, and she had that time to work on it and polish it somewhat. It wasn't a young girl's voice anymore.

5. In 1968 her voice may not have been "magnificent" but it was pretty damn good, bordering on the awesome or magnificent - to which state it soon evolved. We're talking about Karen Carpenter's voice here, which required it's own special standard of judgement.

6. The Christmas album could have been slow to sell in 1978 for several reasons (promotion, distribution, etc,) but it's hard to believe it was because people were rejecting Karen's magnificent voice.

7. Kenny could have gone with another vocalist for many reasons - including those speculated above. Another not mentioned was that Mary Arnold was the roommate of the just fired singer Thelma Camacho and was well-known and probably liked by the group - and was good enough to fill the mostly undemanding girl singer role.
 

David A

Well-Known Member
So, we're "speculating" on circumstances in 1968 ?
Harry is correct in his observation. Purely speculative psycho-analysis on
whether or not Karen purposefully flubbed an audition is patently ridiculous.
There is no "knowledge, insight or common sense" to apply in this circumstance.
What we do know is that Karen considered herself primarily a drummer at this point in time---1968.
What we do know is that Karen's vocals at this time,1968, were not "magnificent." Her vocals evolved over time.
What we do know is that even when Karen's vocals were indisputably magnificent, she was being
"rejected," that is in 1978, when Christmas Portrait LP hit the streets it was not an instant hit.
Music is subjective, so it is anyone's guess why Kenny Rogers would go with another vocalist.

Since part of your comment includes words I used, I feel it necessary to reply and state that I was not commenting on, nor agreeing with, any particular post or comment.

I was merely making the GENERAL point that not all opinion requires an advanced degree in the subject matter, in order to have some value.
 

David A

Well-Known Member
Back to the subject of @Carpe diem 's post :)

Based upon the insight shown by others here regarding Karen's vocal talent at this time, along with what we (think?) we know about Kenny Rogers and what he was looking for, I agree with those who surmise that it probably just wasn't a good "fit", as Kenny saw it.

In particular, I agree with @newvillefan 's assessment; depending upon how the audition was done, it may not have played into Karen's strengths.

Also - do we know what songs Karen was asked to sing at this audition? This may have also played a huge role in whether Karen sounded "right" for the job.
 

Malu Makana

The Fidler Angel
GaryAlan said:

"What we do know is that Karen considered herself primarily a drummer at this point in time ---1968."

Beyond that she absolutely did not want the stand up out front focal point, and lacked the experience. Had to effect the audition.
 
Last edited:

GaryAlan

Well-Known Member
There is not a shred of documented evidence to suggest Karen sabotaged this audition.
Until more details, more evidence, about the audition comes to light, this borders upon pure speculation.
I do not want to offend anyone, but this topic is not historical so much as ahistorical.
Much as I adore Karen's voice, believing it to be the best I have ever heard,
that is no reason to believe that the rest of the music industry feels--or felt--the same way I do.
By the way, back to 1978: I thought at the time that the Christmas Portrait album should
be flying off the shelves and promoted on radio. Nothing of the sort occurred at that time.
That rejection had to have hurt, as that was a fantastic piece of work.
 

David A

Well-Known Member

JohnFB

Active Member
There is not a shred of documented evidence to suggest Karen sabotaged this audition.
Until more details, more evidence, about the audition comes to light, this borders upon pure speculation.
...
Very true, and I agree. But then again, so is just about every thing else that has been said about the audition. Everyone seems to be guessing or speculating about the reason(s) for Karen's audition rejection. Even Richard and Randy Schmidt. Both Richard (in an interview) and Randy Schmidt (in "Little Girl Blue") said pretty much the same thing. Randy says (speculating) "Surprisingly, Karen was overlooked, most likely due to the fact that it was not a recording audition, and much of Karen's appeal was facilitated by a microphone." Randy probably got this from Richard who seems to have been speculating himself, since apparently he wasn't present at the audition. All of which raises the following questions:

Who exactly was present at this audition, besides Karen and Kenny? All of the other members of First Edition? Their manager and reps from their recording company? And were they auditioning privately or with all candidates present? How many candidates were trying out?

Was it conducted in a large auditorium or concert hall, or in a smaller room , and were they singing with microphones and with accompaniment, or not?

Were the candidates allowed to sing their own choice of song(s) or did they have to sing a song from the First Edition catalog? Did they sing the full song or only part? If there were dozens of candidates were they rushed through the process just to get it over with?

Was the audition recorded? Videotaped? If so, where are these? If not, why not?

Didn't any of those present ever talk or write about the audition later? Would anyone who was there still be alive, and be open to an interview?

What was the atmosphere of the audition like? - fair and friendly and polite, or abrupt and impatient and rude? This was a Rock band after all...

Did Mary Arnold already have the inside track for the job (being Comacho's roommate and well known and liked by the band, and probably having filled in for her on occasion) - and did the other candidates know or sense this? Was Kenny just "going through the motions" with this audition?

Did Karen only discover that this was a "backup singer" job during the audition at some point and did this discourage her from giving it her best effort?
(Or did the "girl singer" for F.E. actually do an occasional solo out front during their typical concert?)


Everything about this audition seems to be mere speculation - so why not speculate about Karen's psychological state and personal motives?
 

Matthew Smith

Well-Known Member
Very true, and I agree. But then again, so is just about every thing else that has been said about the audition. Everyone seems to be guessing or speculating about the reason(s) for Karen's audition rejection. Even Richard and Randy Schmidt. Both Richard (in an interview) and Randy Schmidt (in "Little Girl Blue") said pretty much the same thing. Randy says (speculating) "Surprisingly, Karen was overlooked, most likely due to the fact that it was not a recording audition, and much of Karen's appeal was facilitated by a microphone." Randy probably got this from Richard who seems to have been speculating himself, since apparently he wasn't present at the audition. All of which raises the following questions:

Who exactly was present at this audition, besides Karen and Kenny? All of the other members of First Edition? Their manager and reps from their recording company? And were they auditioning privately or with all candidates present? How many candidates were trying out?

Was it conducted in a large auditorium or concert hall, or in a smaller room , and were they singing with microphones and with accompaniment, or not?

Were the candidates allowed to sing their own choice of song(s) or did they have to sing a song from the First Edition catalog? Did they sing the full song or only part? If there were dozens of candidates were they rushed through the process just to get it over with?

Was the audition recorded? Videotaped? If so, where are these? If not, why not?

Didn't any of those present ever talk or write about the audition later? Would anyone who was there still be alive, and be open to an interview?

What was the atmosphere of the audition like? - fair and friendly and polite, or abrupt and impatient and rude? This was a Rock band after all...

Did Mary Arnold already have the inside track for the job (being Comacho's roommate and well known and liked by the band, and probably having filled in for her on occasion) - and did the other candidates know or sense this? Was Kenny just "going through the motions" with this audition?

Did Karen only discover that this was a "backup singer" job during the audition at some point and did this discourage her from giving it her best effort?
(Or did the "girl singer" for F.E. actually do an occasional solo out front during their typical concert?)


Everything about this audition seems to be mere speculation - so why not speculate about Karen's psychological state and personal motives?
You should be allowed to speculate all you want. That doesn’t mean others should have to do so too. It’s all very good discussion but I think it’s ok if everyone doesn’t agree with you, no?
 
Top Bottom