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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?
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Active 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.
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