What Would You Do If I Sang Out of Tune?

Bystanders give their opinions to actors hired to perform poorly in public.

ByABC News
April 22, 2008, 3:24 PM

April 24, 2008 — -- "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.