"Stop! In the Name of Love" is a golden oldie, a classic song by the Supremes that skyrocketed to the charts in 1965 and is still adored by fans today, whether they can carry a tune or not.
Would you be embarrassed if you were singing the song badly in public? Not if you were an an actress hired by ABC News to purposely sing poorly for a hidden camera experiment.
If our actress, Ambre, was a contestant on "American Idol," Simon Cowell wouldn't mince words. But will ordinary people be equally honest? We decided to find out.
New York City's Bryant Park is an oasis in the busy city just steps away from Broadway. As Ambre approached people and asked whether they would listen to her sing, she asked that they tell her their honest opinion. But of course, Ambre gave her worst screechy, squeaky performance.
One woman in a group of three sat and listened. Afterward, she told Ambre, "I thought it was great!" Her male companion piped up as they quickly got up to walk away. "It was good!," he said, after Ambre asked whether she was ready for her audition. "I think you're ready."
Next, Ambre approached a woman walking through the park. She too told Ambre her performance was great and left quickly.
According to Colgate University psychology professor Carrie Keating, there is no one best policy on how to react in this situation.
"You have to sort of use some fairly subtle intuitive processes to try to figure out whether the person standing in front of you is actually asking for honest feedback or whether they're asking for emotional support," she said.
Ambre also approached two women who were visiting from Texas. As she belted out the song completely off tune, they began to laugh over her squeaking.
Ambre stopped and asked them whether they were laughing at her and whether she was bad.
"It's bad," said Belinda Palacios, who then apologized for her brutal honesty. She asked Ambre what she did for a living. Ambre said she really wanted to be an actress or a singer. Palacios began to laugh, shaking her head. Ambre asked whether she could sing again. "No! No, no, no, no," said Palacios, who has heard quite enough.
Peter, who listened with his wife, Zofia, heard quite enough too. He abruptly stopped her after just a few off-key notes.
"What do you do during the day," he asked. Ambre said she had just finished school and wanted to become a singer. Peter asked her whether she thought about composing as opposed to singing, and as he walked away advised her to "try writing."
Ambre sang again for an man passing through the park. There was a limit to the agony he would endure. He held up his hand as she sang and said, "OK, that should do it." He asked Ambre what she wanted to hear. She asked him whether he thought she'd be OK to go to the audition and make it. "I don't think so, I hate to say it," he told her.
"I want to tell her the truth," he said. "If that's all she's got, I don't think she's gonna make it."
So Ambre tried again with more bad singing to a couple visiting from Germany. Chalking up the tone deaf performance to a case of nerves, the couple offered some free advice. "Try not to be so nervous. Or get drunk and try again."
Would the response be any difference if our singer was a guy?
At first, people fled as he approached them, but then a mother and daughter agreed to listen. Jason began croaking out "You Really Got Me."