Stuttering & Singing
Lazaro Arbos describes his life as a roller coaster.
The lows come when he attempts to speak. As someone who stutters, he struggles to get out his words. It started as a young boy growing up in Cuba and got worse when his family moved to Florida at age 10. So much worse he stopped speaking.
"No one wanted to hang out with me in school," he says, fighting back tears. "I had no friends to go out with, so I'd be home."
During his time alone, he discovered the highs. "Since he has so few friends, music became his life. I think without music, he wouldn't know what to do with his life," his father says.
Life today for Lazaro, 21, is reaching new heights. As a contestant on the 12th season of "American Idol," Lazaro left the judges and the audience of the televised singing competition awestruck. During his audition, which was broadcast in January, he struggles to introduce himself and the song he has chosen to sing. As he begins to belt out "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," his stuttering stops. As judge Mariah Carey says, his voice is "beautiful."
Another judge, Randy Jackson, was puzzled Lazaro was able to sing so effortlessly but speak so uneasily.
A lot of other people are wondering that too. Since Lazaro's audition appeared on the Fox program, the Stuttering Foundation of America has been flooded with calls and emails from people wanting to know how someone who stutters can sing so fluently.
The Stuttering Foundation explains brain functions for singing and talking aren't alike, and the way the vocal chords, lips and tongue work when someone speaks is not identical when someone sings.
Furthermore, singing doesn't have the time pressure as speaking nor is there communicative pressure. When we sing, we usually know the words by heart. Trying to retrieve words when speaking may play a role in stuttering.
Why this phenomenon occurs in people like Lazaro, however, isn't fully known. "Understanding what dramatically reduces stuttering during singing may eventually help us understand stuttering better," explains Barry Guitar, PhD, of the University of Vermont.
Jane Fraser, president of the Foundation, said speech-language pathologists can add singing to their therapy toolbox when working on fluency with children who stutter.
"It's a cool way to use biofeedback and helping children understand how they are using their voice box and mouth," she said. "Singing ‘Jack and Jill' or other nursery rhymes can also build their vocabulary and their confidence."
Confidence building often is the focus of avoidance-reduction therapy, Fraser said, where children who stutter learn how to raise their hand during class when they know the answer. For those kids, Lazaro can serve as an inspiration. So what if you stutter in front of the classroom. He stuttered on TV in front of millions of people, and got a standing ovation from the judges.
The season finale for "American Idol" is still months away, and how far Lazaro will go in the competition is not yet known. Already, though, Lazaro is proving like Carly Simon, B.B. King and many others, he can stutter and be a singing sensation.