by Jessica Tharaud
4 out of 5 stars
Winner of Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, “20 Feet from Stardom” brings backup singers into the spotlight for the first time, including interviews from famous singers like Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger to convey the heart-wrenching struggle of several extremely talented background singers trying to make it big. As each singer is introduced, the audience feels the pain of the unsung legends of the music industry with increasing sadness.
Many of these singers also experienced the indignity of singing uncredited behind the scenes, watching as their songs became famous while they remained unknown to the public. According to backup singer Darlene Love, she was tricked by her producer, Phil Specter, into recording the lead for the 1962 track “He’s a Rebel,” which was then credited to the girl group called the Crystals. Specter kept Love under his thumb, refusing to let her out of her contract, and she was eventually forced to work as a housemaid until she returned to music.
A contestant on the fourth season of The Voice and formerly Michael Jackson’s duet singer for his ill-fated “This is It” tour, backup singer Judith Hill has been trying to break out as a solo artist. She is beautiful, young, and talented, but she is the prime example of the struggle that backup singers face when trying to make their own music.
The documentary’s success lies in its ability to convey the backup singers’ stories with honesty and sincerity while evoking emotion from the audience. Additionally, it examines the reasons that the singers have not found fame, mentioning the ego necessary to be that famous and the intangible qualities that create a star. Unfortunately, success in the music industry is not purely in the voice, as many backup singers in the movie reflected on. They thought that because of their powerhouse vocals, they would make it big, but unfortunately they never made it big.
Overall, “20 Feet from Stardom” is a fascinating telling of backup singers under appreciated for their hard work and incredible talent.