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Hollywood Tone-Deaf
When a character is supposed to be a bad singer, they will often use a ridiculous fake voice to simulate a supposedly "tone deaf" sound. Sliding the notes up and down randomly and screeching at the top of your lungs, often complemented by bad lyrics, is a popular portrayal of bad singing, even though it is blatantly fake to anyone who has ever heard the real thing. If you listen to genuine bad singing (for example, certain American Idol contestants, or Jeremy Hardy on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, or any unskilled person trying to karaoke at a party), it typically sounds nothing like this.

There's a very good reason for trained (or even just "decent") singers to do this: they have to ignore everything they've learned about singing (which is naturally hard for people who've trained for years). But even after just a year or two of singing the proper way, the physical mechanics of singing mean that it's genuinely hard for someone to return to their untrained or "bad" singing since trained singers habitually try to correct being off-key or off-tempo as soon as they realize it or someone points it out. Hence, the best way for them to consistently sing badly is to make their singing so horrendously godawful that they stop trying to correct themselves. It's like a self-inflicted Informed Flaw. (Also, trained singers are quite sensitive to the stress on their vocal tract that most styles of bad singing cause—they shy away, voluntarily or otherwise, from what feels like it's doing damage.)

Even if not familiar with proper vocal techniques, the majority of people are capable of hitting the approximate notes and even harmonizing within a group. In addition, most anyone when listening to music can recognize when a note is off-key. Because this includes the audience as well, the extreme is usually needed in order to properly convey someone who cannot sing at all. Not to mention, it's OK to laugh at fake bad singing, but most audience members are hesitant to laugh at bad singing that is too real, just in case it is.

Expect "tone deaf" to be misused as a blanket term to describe anyone who sings badly. A truly tone deaf person lacks "relative pitch," the ability to hear the difference between musical notes. A great deal of self-proclaimed "tone deaf" people can't sing because they're untrained, not because they have any sort of impairment.

The "cause" of true tone deafness, if it can be called that, is the fact that people's own voices sound very different in their heads than they do to other people, due to the fact that people hear their own voices through bone conduction, rather than just air conduction. As a result, there are some people whose voices in their heads are pitched several notes higher or lower than the way they sound to other people (leading to Do I Really Sound Like That? as soon as the phonograph was invented). If this is the case for someone, it takes a great deal more work and training for that person to learn to match pitch in a way that sounds good to other people.

For extra comedy, the bad vocals may become a Glass-Shattering Sound.

A close cousin of Stylistic Suck. See Bad Bad Acting for this trope applied to acting. Compare Cute, but Cacophonic. Dug In Deeper is this trope masquerading as a plot. See also Irony as She Is Cast. Also compare Dreadful Musician, the even more painful version.


Examples

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    Anime 
  • Lucia without her pearl in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch. Accidentally averted in the same series with Caren, a genuine terrible singer.
  • In Azumanga Daioh Yomi is supposedly a bad singer, but when you consider that her VA is Rie Tanaka, another very famous actress known for performing anime theme songs, the "bad" singing ends up sounding completely fake.
  • In episode 16 of Mai-HiME Natsuki attempts to sing and does a horrible job of sounding like she can't. As a bonus for viewers, the song she's pretending she can't sing was sung by Saeko Chiba, who voiced... Natsuki.
  • An obscure show called Koi Koi 7 features singing (go to about 1:50) by a character named Miya that is truly indescribably horrible and you can understand how it knocked everyone out.
  • The otherwise angelic Aya Hirano's screaming/singing as Konata on Lucky Star.
  • Show Within a Show Kujibiki Unbalance takes this to the n-th degree with Tokino's karaoke. Not only is her singing completely over-the-top tone-deaf, it's not even her own voice actor doing the singing.
  • Several characters exhibit this trope in a karaoke-themed episode of Digimon Adventure. It's present in both the Japanese and English versions.
  • Eimi Date in Pretty Sammy TV (aka Magical Project S). Her classmates have to silence her whenever the class sings.
    • In the soundtrack CDs, Eimi's seiyuu sings her signature song straight, proving that she's at least a competent singer—except it sounds completely wrong and disappointing, because Eimi's song should be sung lethally off-key and with great gusto.
  • Coco from Pecola. In one episode, she was practicing her singing for Pecola's band, which was assaulting on the ears of everyone in Cube Town. Towards the end of the episode, Coco's screechy voice became smooth during vocalization, and Pecola compliments her on it.
  • Whenever Kirby copies a singing ability in the anime, his own allies shudder in dread of his apocalyptically bad singing. The Manual stats this is how the enemy-erasing "microphone" ability in the game works. One of the opening sequences in one of the games even has him being attacked by his own music notes.
  • Shinichi (and therefore Conan) in Detective Conan is tone deaf and can't sing worth beans. (His Japanese voice actress, however, makes up half of the J-Pop duo Two-Mix.)
    • This isn't consistent; in a Non-Serial Movie he has perfect pitch, but still sings terribly.
      • Even if you discount that movie it's impossible for Shinichi to be tone deaf, he's supposed to be able to play the Violin really well, which would be damn near impossible if he was actually tone deaf.
      • There is a difference between "tone deafness" and "perfect pitch"...
  • Akira Nagisa in Chrome Breaker - so bad she scares magical sidekick birds.
  • In Hidamari Sketch, Yuno's bad singing manifests as a completely different (but consistent!) melody line — which Miyako can subsequently sing back perfectly.
  • Maya Natsume in Tenjou Tenge; she loses her karaoke "battle" with Friendly Enemy Mitsuomi because she's a terrible singer. Since her voice actress in the anime was Aya Hisakawa, they telegraphed this by making her Hollywood Tone Deaf - in the karaoke scene, she basically just groans into the mic.
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: According to Word of God, Hikaru Shidou has singing as her worst subject in school. Surprisingly, her seiyuu Hekiru Shiina was actually an accomplished singer. This is played around in one moment when Hikaru seems like having No Indoor Voice.
  • Some characters' renditions of the Zetsubou Sensei Drawing Song in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei delve into this, most noticeably with Kaere Kimura.
  • One episode of Maple Town has the Hollywood Tone-Deaf Puriprin picked for the lead role in a play. Hilarity Ensues as everyone is kept up at night by her ear-shredding attempts at "singing practice". The kicker? The VA for Puriprin is none other than Satoko Yamano, who sings the opening and ending theme songs.
  • Averted with Takehito Koyasu, of all people, in Macross Seven. Even though he's an accomplished singer, he manages to be very believably, incredibly off-key when singing the theme song. (His character, Gamlin, is tone deaf.)
  • Both English and Japanese versions of female Ranma in Ranma ½ belt out an off-key verse during the "Tendo Family's Christmas Scramble" OAV, where she's shanghaied into joining Kasumi, Nabiki, Akane, and Shampoo in a song to entertain the guests. Similarly, the Japan-only "Hot Song Battle Contest" album and OAV have her screeching out a cloyingly cute kiddy song about balloons. While Brigitta Dau's singing credentials are unknown, Megumi Hayashibara is actually an excellent singer, including her in-character performances as part of the DoCo supergroup (which is composed of those same five characters) as well as the rest of the Ranma ½ Image Song collections.
  • Rio in Sora No Woto — played by the aforementioned Yuu Kobayashi — sings a god-awful snippet of the opening theme song in one of the DVD-only extra episodes. Then again, the character is a trumpeter, not a singer, and is completely drunk at the time.
  • K-On!
    • Although Yui's seiyuu is quite a talented singer, during a childhood memory scene, she sings an ear-grinding song about turtles, not only off-key, but mostly off-beat as well.
    • Azusa can't sing at all.
  • In the Karaoke Box episode of Kannagi, some of the characters sing their songs pretty badly. The singing is made better for the Image Song release.
  • In Bakuman。, Miho is nervous about Mashiro hearing her singing, because she says she's not very good. The first time she's heard on TV, her best friend Kaya laughs at her and Mashiro feels as embarrassed as he thinks she must have felt. Saori Hayami, on the other hand, is praised as one of the best singers among modern voice actresses, and sings fairly well. Eventually, however, Azuki gets better at singing, and sends Mashiro some of her songs on a disk.
  • Once in Gosick Victorique singing was mistaken for her moaning in pain.
  • Giroro from Keroro Gunso has no singing talent at all. Made painfully clear when he's ordered to lullaby the temporarily age reverted Kururu. His screeching singing is so horrible, it drives Kururu to hit the self destruct button on his human suit to make it stop.
    • However, his voice-actor is the lead singer on the show's first theme song.
  • In the last episode of the first season of The World God Only Knows, a sleep-deprived and delirious Keima sings a beautiful song - with backup singers!
  • Haruka in Kotoura-san does this with the anime's OP and ED.
  • In Sasami San At Ganbaranai, the titular character sings the ending very half-heartedly. The fifth episode, she duets with Kagami - the former sings normally and the latter sings half-heartedly and doesn't know the words.
  • In Saikin Imouto No Yousu Ga Chotto Okashiinda Ga, Yuuya cannot sing, at all. He even butchers something as simple as the "Happy Birthday" song. Even Hiyori, who practically worships the ground he walks on, cannot stand his singing.
  • Tomoko Kuroki's voice actress sings the Ending Theme of No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular with an exaggerated whiney, nasaly voice and off-key and, as the song goes on, she starts to have an emotional breakdown, resulting in singing worse.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Shadow of the Dragon: Both Meiling and Toya describe Syaoran's singing in chapter 14 as sounding like a strangled cat.

    Film 
  • Minnie Driver's character in GoldenEye.
    James Bond: Who's strangling the cat?
    Zukovsky: [shoots Bond's chair] That is Irina, my mistress!
    Bond: Very talented girl.
  • Aversion: In My Best Friends Wedding, Cameron Diaz's karaoke actually sounds realistically off.
  • Amanda in The Holiday, also portrayed by Cameron Diaz. She's singing along with the radio. Badly. And inordinately loudly [though the reason she's doing it is a plot point].
  • Shrek: a sequence in which Fiona's (also voiced by Cameron Diaz) singing kills a bird actually had a talented singer come in and replicate the sound of an incredibly off-key note. This was noted on the DVD, in which they explained that a true bad note required either a truly tone-deaf person or a professional singer that knew the difference.
  • Anna Faris' character in Lost in Translation...who is said to be a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Cameron Diaz.
  • Summer, the band manager from School of Rock.
    • The DVD commentaries tell us (and prove to us) that Miranda Cosgrove, her actress, actually sings really well, and she had to be taught how to sing badly.
      • And she's still got a singing career. Even the iCarly theme song is proof of her talent.
  • Averted in Steven Spielberg's The War of the Worlds when Tom Cruise's character sings to his daughter. It toes the line between off-key and too-good-for-an-average-Joe nicely.
  • American Beauty: Kevin Spacey sings along to "American Woman." Terribly.
  • Hammer in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, who sings a very poor rendition of "Grazing in the Grass" as it plays on his car radio. It's funny to begin with, but he's played by singer Isaac Hayes, which takes it into Casting Gag territory.
  • The singing girls in Dick Tracy were coached to sing worse than they normally would so that they could have the nasal, squeaking sound that invokes recordings from the 1930s.
  • Two words: Bridget Jones. Especially in the first movie.
  • Cacofonix in the live-action film Astérix and Obelix vs. Caesar (based on the popular French comic series) is portrayed by Pierre Palmade; the character is supposed to be a really awful singer, but Pierre Palmade had to practice singing badly.
  • Clarke and Rogers (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) in Ishtar.
  • The nuns of Sister Act are all hilariously off-key and screechy. A few pointers from Whoopi Goldberg's character, however, has them singing like a proper choir. All of the actresses playing the nuns are genuinely good singers—except for the novice, the nun who ended up with most of the solos; her voice was dubbed over for those parts.
    • She essentially assigned each nun a part within her vocal range, and made sure the sopranos, altos, and so on were standing in clusters rather than scattered around the risers. That alone really can make a good difference.
  • Cleverly averted in Citizen Kane. In order to put across the idea that Kane's mistress, Susan Alexander, is out of her depth in the opera, they overdubbed the actress with a professional opera singer, but hired an alto and had her try seriously to sing a soprano part. As a result, her singing voice sounds realistically strained.
  • Older than Television: One of Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer's trademark shticks in The Little Rascals was his (deliberately, at least later on in life) off-key singing, which Alfalfa was oblivious to. Subverted in that Switzer was allegedly a gifted singer in real life.
  • A number of the students auditioning for the Winter Musicale in High School Musical displayed this trope (in addition to other bad singing tropes...)
  • Averted by Denise Richards's off-key, whispered performance of "You're Just Too Good To Be True" (tastelessly addressed to Jesus; watch here) in Drop Dead Gorgeous. She may be actually tone deaf, at least if the video of her singing at the 7th Inning Stretch of a Cubs game is any indication.
  • Randy Watson (Eddie Murphy) in Coming to America, who performs Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" with his band Sexual Chocolate.
  • Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun. Made worse by the fact that he was impersonating a famous opera singer, Enrico Pallazzo, while the said singer was tied up and forced to watch.
  • In the film The Losers, Jensen sings a painfully screechy rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" while infiltrating the computer security company in order to convince bystanders that they don't want to join him in the elevator.
  • In Ted, John tries to win back Lori by singing "All Time High", the theme song of Octopussy, their favorite movie. Unfortunately, John's singing is so bad that the crowd boos and an angry man tries to assault him. In real life, Mark Wahlberg is a talented singer.
  • Earlier on, Wahlberg also did some bad singing in Boogie Nights, mangling "The Touch" in a scene in which Dirk Diggler attempts a singing career.
  • David Spade and Chris Farley have a scene in Tommy Boy that ends with them singing along to "Superstar" by The Carpenters at the top of their lungs. They're realistically bad (i.e., not great, but not terrible either).
  • The first auditionee in High School Musical sings in this fake off-key way. A later candidate inverts this: she sings too well, treating the song like an opera when it's nowhere that dramatic.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Brady Bunch: In real life, the four younger kids were varying levels of tone deaf, but Chris Knight was the most obvious one; by his admission, he cannot sing a note. This worked perfectly into the Season 3 episode "Dough Re Mi," where Peter's voice is going through puberty and begins to crack just as the kids are rehearsing Greg's newly written song. Still, Chris did record an entire album of duets with Maureen McCormick (who is a decent singer) and got a solo on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (covering The Carpenters' "Sing"). If you are familiar with the lyrics, "Sing" is the perfect song for the worst singer in the group.
  • Little House on the Prairie: Both the Oleson girls. With Nancy, it's funny because her portrayer, Allison Balson, is a very talented singer. Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie, will be the first to admit she is a very bad singer.
  • A prime example of this is Madame Edith from 'Allo 'Allo!, who fancies herself a cabaret singer, and insists on singing to the customers of her cafe. (Some customers jam cheese in their ears to avoid the horror.)
  • Lily in Hannah Montana, London on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, a subplot on That's So Raven, Paolo was exposed by Gordo, Isabella, and sometimes Lizzie to put a stop to his lip-synching in The Lizzie McGuire Movie....is there a Disney show that hasn't featured this?
  • Not likely. Echo in another Disney series,Mr Young, is a very off key singer. Naturally she believes otherwise and the episode we find out is, of course the one were her friends try to stop her from embarressing herself at the school talent show. Though unlike others Echo doesn't learn she can't sing by the end, even attacking Brendan for admitting she can't sing seconds after telling him he could tell her honestly.
  • That one episode of Full House where Jesse gives Rebecca singing lessons. Becky is shown to be a horrible singer when she joins Jesse, Danny, and Joey in singing Nicky and Alex to sleep. Jesse attempts to surreptitiously give her singing lessons and Hilarity Ensues. However, it's later shown that she's a wonderful singer when she's singing them actual lullabies.
    • Another example from Full House is Kimmy Gibbler, as exhibited during the 1989-90 season. One episode where D.J. is having trouble with her first babysitting job leads to Kimmy showing up early in the episode where the kid doesn't go to bed and Kimmy volunteers to sing (or more accurately, scream) a lullaby to him. Later that season, after Stephanie somehow backs the car into the kitchen window, she walks in nonchalantly. At that point, we hear Kimmy singing a little bit of the chorus of "Straight Up", sounding much better.
  • Hyacinth in Keeping Up Appearances. Fits this trope to a T because Patricia Routledge is an accomplished stage actress with a more-than-adequate singing voice.
  • A non-singing example is Klink's violin playing in Hogan's Heroes. His violin playing is hideous but he's the only one who doesn't seem to notice. Of course, in real life Werner Klemperer was a concert-level violinist.
  • In an episode of Mamas Family, Mama has to audition to sing the town's anthem "Raytown, O Raytown" for a Founder's Day event and mangles it rather badly before getting the part anyway and refusing it. The actress, Vicki Lawrence, had a hit in 1973 with "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia".
  • Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! gives us Casey, who is (or appears to be) a severely mentally challenged young adult, who suffers emotional breakdowns on stage in addition to having poor singing talent. Note that Tim Heidecker is actually a skilled musician. In fact, most singing on the show isn't that great, but considering Tim and Eric's pool of actors, it's a mystery as to which singers are faking it and which ones are genuinely bad.
  • Any show on the "TNBC" Saturday-morning block had at least one episode dealing with someone who's "tone deaf" (and usually a love interest who's lying to them, saying their singing is wonderful.) Fun Fact: The California Dreams episode of this trope (in which the girlfriend of the lead guitarist tried to join the band so she wouldn't be a "groupie") was named... "Yoko Oh No!" (No bands were disbanded, however.)
  • This was a running gag on I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball was a decent, if not quite stellar, singer in real life.
  • Beautifully averted in an episode of House, with a little girl singing along — only slightly off-key and off-rhythm — to a CD as she gets dressed in the morning. As a bonus, the fact that she wasn't singing quite right took the scene from overly-cute to realistic and affecting.
  • Averted in Peep Show when Mark decides to sing "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" to Sophie, in a romantic moment. He's in tune - he just sounds nervous and as if he isn't putting much breath into it.
  • Scully in The X-Files episode "Detour". In context Mulder cajoled Scully into singing when she didn't want to, so she wasn't very enthusiastic about it.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Cordelia utterly murders the Whitney Houston standard "Greatest Love of All" during talent-show rehearsals in the first-season episode "The Puppet Show."
    • Averted in the musical episode "Once More With Feeling". Actress Alyson Hannigan was a self-admitted poor singer and requested that she be given minimal singing lines in the episode to the point where her character's song was sung by her girlfriend. Michelle Trachtenberg also requested that Dawn's singing be minimized, and was given a ballet number to perform instead.
  • Angel:
    • "There's three things I don't do: tan, date, and sing in public." When forced to do the last at Lorne's karaoke club in the second-season opener "Judgement," Angel's completely monotonic, and badly off-tempo. (Then the outtakes of David Boreanaz that close the episode turn into one huge lampshade of this trope.)
      • However, when David Boreanaz sings on Bones, (which he does in a couple of episodes) he has a perfectly respectable voice.
    • Harmony murdering "The Way We Were" onstage at Cartas.
  • Supernatural justified it in "No Rest For The Wicked". Jensen Ackles is known to be a very good singer yet when Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive" comes on the radio, Dean (and later Sam) sings it obnoxiously loudly and badly. Why? Because it's his last day alive and he wants to cheer Sam up like the awesome big brother he is, that's why.
    • Dean seems to alternate between being completely unable to sing a note and not being all that bad. He's not awful doing the REO Speedwagon tune, but when he sings a Christmas carol at some point, he's awful. Jensen Ackles actually said in an interview that he thinks Dean is the kind of character that couldn't carry a note if he tried, so he makes a deliberate attempt to sing badly.
    • Jensen also confirmed at a convention that the writers wrote on his copy of the script, "JENSEN—DON'T SING ON KEY."
    • Averted by Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam and genuinely can't sing.
  • Barney Fife had a whole episode devoted to how bad of a singer he is on The Andy Griffith Show, even though he had sung with Andy on earlier shows, and Don Knotts had a fine country tenor voice.
  • Averted in an episode of Frasier, featuring someone who is superior to Frasier in many ways but is a somewhat realistically awful singer.
  • Played straight in Moesha. Professional R&B singer Brandy has a terrible voice in the show, to make way for the talents of her co-stars.
  • Averted in Dexter: When he's singing his girlfriend's children to sleep, Dexter's voice isn't horrible, just a little off-key. In real life, Michael C. Hall's a trained singer with a very good voice. Jennifer Carpenter, on the other hand...
  • Averted in Gilligan's Island: Dawn Wells by her own admission is a terrible singer, so whenever an episode called for her to sing, her voice would generally be dubbed in by a professional singer. However, the episode "The Second Ginger Grant" called for an amnesiac Mary Ann, believing herself to be Ginger, to sing badly. Rather than faking a bad singing voice, Wells, knowing her own restrictions, made an earnest attempt to sing the song properly. The result ended up being just off key enough to sound believable and fit the plot at the same time.
  • Andy Kaufman's Alter Ego Acting persona Tony Clifton, a Lounge Lizard, averted this. Tony's problem wasn't that he couldn't hit notes, but that 1) his voice itself was incredibly nasally and unpleasant by nature, and 2) he was a usually grouchy Jerkass who picked on his audience. This aversion was probably one of several reasons many people (at least at first) were successfully fooled into thinking Andy and Tony were separate people.
  • Subverted by Grace in Will and Grace. In real life, Deborah Messing has a perfectly serviceable, if not gorgeous, singing voice. Her character Grace kept to the tunes relatively well, but always started out way too high, and when the key of a song was supposed to change, she changed too far. A lot of poor singers actually do sing this way. Grace was also incredibly loud.
    Grace: (singing) "My baby don't mess around becaus she loves me so and this I know for sure...HEEEEY YAAA! HEEEY YAAA! HEEE— *phone rings* Hello? ...I'm sorry, I'll stop. Hold on, I have another call...hello? Yes, I'm sorry, I'll stop."
  • Touched by an Angel has Monica, who is also a bit self-conscious about this, because as an angel she loves to sing.
  • Averted on Seinfeld, where Broadway star Jason Alexander was able to sound quite convincingly amateurish on George's musical answering machine message in the episode "The Suzie." But played straight when Jerry's girlfriend (Miss Rhode Island) tries to sing in "The Chaperone".
  • In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Broadway actors Avery Brooks and Rene Auberjonois sing "You Can't Take That Away From Me" together; Brooks' character has a good voice, but Auberjonois sings in Odo's gravelly monotone, even though he's appeared on Broadway in musicals like Dance of the Vampire, Big River and Coco.
  • Jeopardy! has a recurring category that avoids this: the clues will be the lyrics to a song, which are read automatically by either Alex Trebek himself, or occasionally by The Announcer, Johnny Gilbert.
  • 30 Rock has Cheyenne Jackson's character Danny Baker doing this very intentionally during a duet with diva Jenna Maroney in the 2009 Christmas Special so as not to steal her spotlight. At one point he slips into his natural (and excellent) singing voice and quickly switches back to tone deaf after a Death Glare from Jenna.
    • Bonus points for knowing that Cheyenne Jackson and Jane Krakowski were both in the stage play of Xanadu before 30 Rock started (though not in the same cast; Jane was in an industry-only workshop performance of the musical with a different actor. Cheyenne joined the show later when the original male lead was injured and performed on Broadway with Kerry Butler.)
  • In Degrassi, Hazel affects a terribly fake "bad" singing voice when she is trying to show off her vocal skills to Paige and Ashley. Further proof that the voice was fake came when Andrea Lewis released a music video on the same channel and sang just fine. In season 9, Fiona auditions for the musical and has a similarly fake failure.
    • This trope was also averted in that same episode with Hazel's "bad singing". When the girls perform at a talent show, Paige sees her rapist sitting in the audience. After this, she grabs the microphone from lead singer Ashley and sings the song (which happens to be about rape) herself. Her singing was a little bit... rough, but realistically so.
  • Katey Sagal is a good singer (she got her career start as one of Bette Midler's Harlettes), but her character of Peg Bundy from Married... with Children isn't.
    • She fakes bad again as Leela.
  • Parodied in Harry Enfield and Chums. When Lance makes a painfully bad attempt to sing "Who's That Girl Running Around With You", Lee attempts to put him right by inserting correctly-pitched noises such as "bing", "bong", "ding" and "dong" into the melody. Lance begins to get the hang of this, only to revert to his initial attempt when the noises are removed. He then remarks that he's only tone-deaf in English, and not in Italian, proving this by launching into an impressive rendition of an operatic piece.
  • Played straight in Glee, when Rachel gets sick and loses her voice. Kind of subverted earlier in the series when Kurt blows the high F; his voice doesn't slide so much as break, very realistically, even though Chris Colfer really can hit the note.
    • Mike Chang doesn't think he can sing, so when he has to do a duet with Tina, they play this trope for laughs with a rendition of "Sing!" from A Chorus Line.
      • He later proves himself wrong in season 3, when he auditions for West Side Story. His singing is actually not that bad.
    • Let's not forget Sugar's awful rendition of "Big Spender." Vanessa Lengies is a pretty accomplished singer (American Dreams).
  • On a Private Practice/Grey's Anatomy crossover episode, Naomi (Audra McDonald) and Sam (Taye Diggs) were heard singing quite badly. - McDonald in particular is a six-time Tony winner!
  • The opening to All in the Family. Jean Stapleton could apparently sing quite well in real life.
  • Galina Sergeevna from Daddy's Daughters screeches through a song in Episode 14.3. Her actress, Liza Arzamasova, can actually sing decently, so to sing badly, she has to caterwaul.
  • There was an episode of the tv series "Clueless" where Cher tried out for her school's Holiday play. Problem was, she couldn't sing to save her life (or so we were supposed to believe). Of course, her "bad singing voice" was so fake that it was laughable to anyone who's heard genuine bad singing. This ended up being revised later in the series when the writers decided they wanted Cher to sing in her school's production of Grease. Turned out, she actually had a pretty good voice once she learned the right technique (which was said to be something along the lines of squeezing your buns and breathing).
  • In the Korean Drama Twinkle Twinkle, Jung Won loves to sing popular music and trot tunelessly. I mean, really tunelessly.
  • Averted in The Night Shift, when Olafur sings for a judge on the Icelandic version of The X Factor. It's realistically weak - generally in tune but a little strained and with a trying-too-hard kind of sound to it.
  • Averted in Victorious with Tori's sister Trina. Trina is clearly a bad singer, but her tone-deafness isn't over the top and she usually sounds realistically bad.
  • The Orgs in Power Rangers Wild Force are this: They consider human music to be repulsive, yet Flute Org's terrible tunes are music to their ears.
  • Averted in The Big Bang Theory, in the episode "The Vengeance Formulation", when Howard is singing a song for Bernadette. He actually sounds like he's trying to sing well, and while it definitely doesn't sound good, it's still possible to understand why he doesn't get that.
    • Played straight in the first season episode "The Loobenfeld Decay" with Penny's painfully awful performance as Mimi in Rent.
  • An initial plot point in Nashville is that Juliette Barnes is a bad singer who'd be lost without AutoTune, as illustrated in this clip, but it sounds suspiciously like Hayden Panettiere deliberately singing off-key as called for in the script. Ironically, while the show itself regularly claims Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) is more talented than Juliette, more than a few people find Panettiere to be the better singer of the two... and it's telling that the show's stopped pretending Juliette sucks.
  • Aethelwynne in Pixelface is constantly shown as this, and most of the cast appears to suffer from this in "Rock Star" (the only episode where most of them sing).
  • Cleo in H2O: Just Add Water is revealed to be a horrible singer in the episode "The Siren Effect". Even the dolphins dive underwater for cover when she starts to sing. Rikki parodies the trope later on in the episode when she sings karaoke so dreadfully she's clearly doing it on purpose.
  • This godawful rendition of "One Love" by The Daily Show's Stephen Colbert, a very able singer who has performed in musical theatre.

    Music 
  • Darlene Edwards would often sing in a high grating voice, change keys without warning, and make weird sounds for no reason. Her husband Jonathan Edwards would do equivalent on the piano, playing an untuned piano, switching meters as the winds changed. (See The Kentucky Fried Movie for their rendition of "The Carioca".) They were actually a comedy duo played by respectable musicians Jo Stafford and Paul Weston, who enthusiastically claimed the two were a lounge act they had discovered.
  • The fake 80s heavy metal band Bad News consists of 4 comedians (3 of them from The Young Ones) gleefully massacring "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Pretty Woman". Okay, Adrian Edmondson has a good voice, which he tones down for the songs. The other three, however...
  • This version of "O Holy Night" is the closest to a true, unironic example of this trope you'll ever hear.
    • Producer Steve Mauldin offers some pretty good evidence that he was the original singer on the track, which would make it a straight-up example as he (claims he) did it as a spoof.
  • Mozart has fun with this trope in Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke).
  • The country music version of Jonathan & Darlene Edwards: The Statler Brothers recorded an entire album in the persona of a hilariously untalented group called Lester "Roadhog" Moran and His Cadillac Cowboys.
  • Biz Markie deliberately sang "Just a Friend" off-key, thus becoming a one-hit wonder.
  • Grand Puba sings off key in 'I Like It' and a few other songs. It adds to the humorous tone of the music and also makes his rapping sound even better.
  • The song "A Word on My Ear" is from the POV of a tone-deaf singer and requires a very good ear for music, since you have to sing at odds with the pianist. Word on My Ear example 1 and Word on My Ear example 2.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins, who ironically used to command large audiences because people would flock to hear how genuinely awful she was, ultimately appearing at Carnegie Hall a month before her death. Despite lacking a developed sense of pitch or rhythm Florence herself remained fixedly assured of her own greatness; due to early recording technology we can decide for ourselves.
  • Lacuna Coil once held a contest to promote their upcoming DVD, where fans could send in footage of themselves hanging out at concerts, rocking out to the band's music, or doing other band-related stuff, with the chance of having the footage appear as bonus material on the DVD. Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro made a Youtube video demonstrating the kind of thing that fans could send in, where Cristina hilariously sang a deliberately off-key "karaoke" version of the song "Closer".
  • The William Hung might count, depending on whether or not his bad singing is intentional. If it isn't, it's So Bad, It's Good instead.
  • In "I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)," Jay-Z raps "In the club, high, singing off key/'And I wish I never met her at all...'." His delivery of the second line is, as promised, sung off-key.
  • Harry Chapin's "Six String Orchestra" is sung from the POV of a terrible guitarist, and includes several instances where Chapin deliberately stumbles over the notes.
  • Another rare non-ironic Real Life example: This poor guy, made somewhat famous in a viral video, has been described as the "Worst Church Singer Ever." He appears to be Southern Gospel's answer to Florence Foster Jenkins: he's completely sincere and even appears a bit smug about his singing, but there's not one note on key in the entire song. That takes... talent?
  • In his brilliant parody of Metallica's St. Anger, Matt Smith, singer of Christian Power Metal band Theocracy, sings horrendously off-key in order to emulate Hetfield's performance on the album. The lyrics even include the line "and boy it sounds raw to intentionally sing out of key."
  • NOFX's Cover Version of "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac, performed as a duet between Fat Mike and guest vocalist Greg Graffin: Greg Graffin sings in his normal style and plays things relatively straight, while Fat Mike deliberately sings off key and off beat the entire time.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This and Gag Boobs are pretty much WWE diva Jillian Hall's entire character. Have a listen. Or better yet, don't.
    • This gimmick is what reportedly drove Hulk Hogan to TNA, as he told everyone who would listen it was done to insult his daughter Brook, whose career WWE was reluctant to promote. In reality it turns out it was just something Jillian does (she thankfully has a more bearable voice in real life) that she decided to do onscreen to get more boos (it worked), which is also why it kept up long after Jillian had left the WWE (and also likely why Hulk Hogan was willing to come back).
    • Incidentally she's not that bad of a singer when she really tries. Her in character album may still be off tone but is nowhere near as grating as her live WWE "performances". She did...decent enough... that crowds at Pro Wrestling Xtreme shows actually chanted "let her sing" though it so far seems to be the only promotion where the crowds have embraced her "music".
  • When Bret Hart signed with WCW and was supposedly going to join the nWo, the nWo celebrated his signing with an extraordinarily horrible rendition of the Canadian national anthem.
  • La Resistance's Sylvan Grenier. The rendition of the French anthem combined with the fact the team was the Foreign Wrestling Heel type made for some pretty intense heat.
  • Used straight with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who has admitted more than once that he can't sing worth a damn—yet still attempted a duet with Lillian Garcia in 2003.
    • This was played with immensely during the Invasion angle in which he sang a revised Queen song into "I am the Champion" and "Kumbaya" for a despondent Vince and singing an a capella duet of "Margaritaville" with The Rock towards the end of the story.
    • And lampshaded on the WWE Originals CD. In between the real songs (most of which featured actual bad singing) were spoken tracks of Austin getting ready to record his song for the album. Of course, the song doesn't actually exist.
    • Austin recalled a story from his upbringing where he was looking to be a rock star until one day his brother slapped the headphones off his head while he was practicing and declared, "You suck!"
  • Following Austin's lead, Kurt Angle played with this trope as well, singing "Jimmy Crack Corn" to Vince and later a revised "Heartbreak Hotel" at the prompting of the Rock. He also did the famous "Sexy Kurt" bit but that involved more non-singing than bad singing.
  • Heath Slater, who calls himself the "One-Man Southern Rock Band". In June 2012, he interrupts a guest-starring Cyndi Lauper and declares himself a better singer... and proceeds to sing horribly until Lauper and Roddy Piper beat him up.

    Radio 
  • Harry Secombe's Goon Show alter-ego was an enthusiastic but Hollywood-terrible singer, in deliberate contrast to Secombe's accomplished singing in real life.
  • Jack Benny's violin playing. In reality, he was a very talented violinist, and counted virtuoso Isaac Stern among his friends. Jascha Heifitz, another virtuoso violinist and friend of Benny, once remarked of him "It takes a lot of practice to play as badly as he does." (i.e. that a genuinely bad violinist would play in a way that was unlistenable rather than laugh-out-loud funny)

    Theater 
  • The musical Souvenir is about the notoriously bad singer Florence Foster Jenkins. Actresses playing Jenkins have had to study bad singing in an effort to sound genuinely awful.
  • The first girl auditioned to sing "Who Wants To Live In New York?" in the "Opening Doors" sequence of the musical Merrily We Roll Along. "Sopranos with voices like bees" indeed.
  • Played straight in all versions (film, theater, TV movie) of The Phantom of the Opera, where we are lead to believe that Carlotta is a terrible singer, when in reality, she sounds almost exactly like any opera singer would.
    • In the film, Margaret Preece—who sings for Carlotta—obviously has a lot of training and talent, but one can also tell she's doing all she can to sound really annoying; she turns her high notes squeaky as they end, pushes way too hard in her lower range ("from our saviors, from our saaaaaaAAAAAAEEHHHVIAAAAAHS") and, particularly in her rendition of "Think of Me", uses way too much glottal emphasis at the beginnings of the higher notes.
  • Kristine in A Chorus Line, who has a song about how she can't sing.
  • In the comic opera La Fille du Régiment. Marie (coloratura soprano) has been raised by soldiers to sing rousing patriotic songs and camp ballads, but apparently needs to be retrained to sing "refined" music. Meanwhile, her mother clucks and squawks like an old hen. The contralto has be genuinely horrible throughout, which only makes Marie's already beautiful voice sound even better.
  • In the reverse, or flip-side of the trope, Peter Schickele's "P.D.Q Bach" operas are performed with legitimate opera singers, and orchestras, who perform them straight.
  • In Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia, Limited, the number "A Tenor, All Singers Above" calls for the singer to purposely botch the high notes, on the grounds that he has let himself go from being too madly in love.

    Video Games 
  • In one of the voiced dramas for Riviera: The Promised Land, Serene's singing ability comes up. She's supposed to be a very bad singer, but when she actually has to sing part of a spell to save her friend Polly, she performs it without any screeching. Her voice isn't particularly strong, but she's not tone-deaf, so it's something of a subversion.
  • An entire tone-deaf band makes an appearance in Brutal Legend. Kabagge Boy, the Nu Metal Boy Band that Eddie starts out roadying for, is made up of posers with a tween demographic who blend rock, pop, and rap into something so bad that all three musical styles would disown it, then beat it up and take its lunch money. They suffer a Karmic Death for their terrible music (and their maltreatment of Eddie) when Ormagodden shows up. The God of Metal simply screams at them, and their heads fall off.
  • Hitman: Blood Money, The female assassin posing as a singer in the Dance with the Devil mission sings this way.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: Edy Nelson actually attempts to sing Rosie's song. The results? She ends up flooring everyone within earshot of her, and not in a good way. Even Homer, who normally can take her usual punishment, can't take her singing. She'd better stick with just acting.
    • Her sister from Valkyria Chronicles II, Anisette, is also tone deaf, which might explain why she's the only person ever to be able to tolerate her sister's singing. Despite that, she's actually good at singing.
    • Vario. A celebrity wannabe/ Captain Ersatz of Elvis, this guy has quite the horrifying voice when he attempts to sing. He does improve, however.
  • Saints Row 2, The Boss has 6 different voices to choose from when creating your character, and each gets a different song they sing along to on the radio, one voice has two(They all sing to "Take On Me" by A-ha). The songs range from The Final Countdown, to Sister Christian and your character can not sing worth a shit to any of them.
    • The male voice that sings to "Sister Christian" actually semi-raps it, occasionally improvising spoken word nonsense like "cuz you're a bitch!!" and "aaah! man! guitars and shit!" at the end of lines. Not even trying.
    • Pierce, similarly, can't sing well. At all. This is played for laughs throughout the series, although he and the Boss generally get better by Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV when they sing What I Got and Opposites Attract, respectively. "Generally" being the operative word.
  • Guybrush Threepwood in The Curse of Monkey Island sings incredibly off-key while trying to convince the three Barbary Coast pirates to join his crew. Voice actor Dominic Armato described trying to intentionally sing badly as 'interesting'.
  • Wei Shen in Sleeping Dogs, if you play the karaoke minigame badly. Observe.
  • In Lunar: The Silver Star, the bar in Meryod has a dancing girl who sings just like the other dancing girls except horribly off-key and off the beat.

    Web Original 
  • Sarah in lonelygirl15 sings a tuneless, croaky rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" in "Mission Gamma". Actress Alexandra Dreyfus is a classically trained singer.
  • In Whateley, Merry has a rather unique version of this. When drunk on electricity, she sings exactly off-key, enough that they're pretty sure that's it's part of her abilities. Unfortunately, she's a prankster, so she's probably doing it on purpose.
  • A central feature of Miranda Sings. It would be better if she actually knew the notes', but she doesn't.
  • Megami33 is actually a really good singer, but when she voices Serena in Sailor Moon Abridged, she has to make her sound bad.
  • The Nostalgia Critic's review of The King and I features a sketch of Russell Crowe (played by Doug Walker) and Shakira (played by Rachel Tietz) both performing off-key renditions of the songs from said musical. In reality, both Walker and Tietz are very accomplished singers (Walker has sung in previous episodes of the Nostalgia Critic, and Tietz's Youtube channel features her performing a mixture of original songs and cover versions).
  • Disembaudio in Rifftrax often performs painfully off-key renditions of award bait songs (such as "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic and "I See You" from Avatar over the end credits, singing over the actual singer.

    Western Animation 
  • Happened with Deedee in an episode of Dexter's Laboratory, who was so bad Dexter tried to mute her...and instead gave her an incredible bass, which allowed her to join a barbershop quartet.
  • As seen in the Kim Possible episode "Hidden Talent", hitting high notes is one of the few things Kim can't do. (However, her voice actress Christy Carlton Romano is — like many Disney Channel stars — a trained professional singer.)
  • Both straight and subverted with Jane Turnkey. One episode shows she can't even perform scales without screeching like a sickly cat. Yet that's her singing the show's theme song.
  • In Danny Phantom, Jazz's singing is yet another misuse of the term tone deaf. But not as severe as Tucker who abuses this trope.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Carl and Sheen. Compared to Sheen's singing, Carl's is angelic. No really, Sheen's singing voice is really horrible. However, in Attack of the Twonkies, his singing voice proved useful in stopping the horrible beasts the eponymous creatures turn into from exposure to music. His singing made them change back because it was so bad that the Twonkies couldn't even register it as music. Carl's singing, on the other hand, was just decent enough to make Twonkies transform.
  • In Samurai Jack, the Scottsman's bagpipe-playing is really bad. This actually comes in useful in "The Scottsman Saves Jack" when his playing proves an efficent counter for the Sirens' enchanting singing.
  • Peewit and Harmony Smurf in The Smurfs.
  • In the Ruby Gloom episode "Unsung Heroes", Ruby and Iris sing in off-key, off-rhythm shouts that, although still not totally realistic, are not as overdone as some examples of this trope. Misery (while awake) does sing in the top-of-her-lungs, randomly-pitched shrieking wail that exemplifies this trope, but it's justified, as she appears to actually be a banshee.
    • They still though produced a Ruby Gloom image single in Japan, though, with a professional singer portraying Ruby.
    • All three eventually develop into fine singers, so their early stumbles can be dismissed as rookie mistakes. Or the No-Talent Ball. Whichever.
  • Clash, the Misfits' groupie from Jem and the Holograms, is Hollywood Tone Deaf. This is revealed near the end of "One Jem Too Many", when she is impersonating Jem and the real Jem challenges her to sing.
  • Happened in Arthur when Francine attempted to play the drums while singing. What ensues resembles nothing so much as a sick eagle wrestling a cat in a tumble dryer. In the end, it turns out she can sing just fine; she just can't do both at once. In another episode, she sings "There's-Nothing-to-Do-Today Day" in an Imagine Spot. Cut back to the real world, she tries to reprise the song and it comes out... a little off, but believably so.
  • In an episode of Disney's Doug, Doug and the gang discover that Patti is a terrible singer when she tries to perform her entry in the "Bluffington anthem" contest. They spent the rest of the episode trying to stop her from performing it at the contest without actually letting her know she can't sing. Sadly, this casually disregards a few episodes of the original series in which Patti sings passably. Of course, given the reception of the Disney version, we might disregard the retcon.
  • In one episode of Megas XLR, Coop uses his mediocre singing as a weapon, "The Jammer". To specify, it's the one weapon Megas has that Coop considers cruel to use and has more safety measures preventing its activation than Megas' NUKES!!! Although Coop's singing isn't all that terrible, more flat than horribly off key. The extreme sonic amplification is what makes it devasating.
  • Huckleberry Hound ("Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine...") and Quick Draw McGraw are both examples, since they were voiced by Daws Butler, who could sing rather well.
  • My Gym Partners A Monkey: "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH! (Glass shatters) I'M A FRIENDLY ARMADILOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I'M A GENTLE PUSSY WILLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!"
  • Grace on Home on the Range. It's actually important because it was the one thing keeping her from being brainwashed by Slim's hypnotic yodeling, unlike all the other cows.
  • Henry on KaBlam!, especially if you compare it to June's singing (which is angelic, even if she's kinda devilish).
  • Invoked by Seth MacFarlane as the plot demands on Family Guy. One of the characters he voices can be a stellar singer in one episode and totally amateur the next. Seth has perfect pitch in real life and is freakishly good at staying just out of tune enough to sound believably bad; see episode "The King is Dead" featuring Brian (fantastic) and Peter (awful) back to back. Even better the actual episode version of Peter's ''I Need a Jew'' (off-key and mediocre) vs a live performance (perfect).
  • Garth from Alpha and Omega. He is such a bad howler that birds drop from the sky every time he sings. However, it actually portrays this trope rather realistically, as he just hadn't learned how to properly howl; once Lilly gave him some lessions, he sang very well.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "The Show Stoppers," Scootaloo's singing voice is so horribly off-key it helps her team unintentionally win an award for best comedic act in a talent show.
      • She does a rather better job in "One Bad Apple."
    • Pinkie Pie, whose talent for singing random songs out of nowhere is legendary, throws pitch and meter out the window when she sings about Zecora in "Bridle Gossip."
    • Sweetie Belle, normally the best singer of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, screeches her way through a campfire song in "Sleepless in Ponyville." Justified in that she's singing a G-rated version of "99 bottles of beer", which is supposed to be sung as terribly as possible.
  • Leela is such a bad singer on Futurama that when she tried to sing Whitney Houston, she convinced the Omicronions that Earth was launching a surprise attack. Katey Sagal, as mentioned earlier, is a very good singer.
  • Invoked by the producers of Moral Orel with the character Bloberta Puppington who was played by Britta Phillips (a Truly Outrageous! woman) known for her powerful vocals, she was directed to sing loud and off key when it came to Bloberta's enthusiasm for singing even though she couldn't sing.
  • The ReBoot episode "The Crimson Binome" has Bob singing along wordlessly and horrendously off-key to his music player. It's hilariously dreadful.
  • Eddie in one episode of Birdz sings so badly that his entire class begs him to stop. As does his family after he breaks some dishes.
  • Girl racer Ninki in The BBC's pre-school show Kerwhizz sometimes breaks horribly into song, causing her canine companion Pip to howl in agony.
  • Angelica from Rugrats is inconsistent about this. It's justified seeing that most kids at age three don't really know how to sing well. However, it's revealed in All Grown Up! when she's not tone deaf for the sake of comedy or the plot, her singing voice is actually decent.
  • In one episode of The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, Bamm-Bamm had a thoroughly awful singing voice — unless he was taking a shower, in which case his voice suddenly and inexplicably became gorgeous. Chances are, Jay North voiced both versions of Bamm-Bamm's singing voice. You can imagine the exaggerated bad notes of the "bad" voice....
  • Whenever Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures sings, it usually sounds very goofy and childlike. Cree Summer is actually a very good singer and has released an album. Unlike Elmyra's, her singing much more mature and perhaps menacing.
  • Johnny Bravo. Made even funnier considering his voice is basically an Elvis Presley impersonation.
  • A Dudley Do-Right short has Nell having such a bad singing voice, that it puts the audience to sleep, giving Snidely the idea of making her a "star" so he can pickpocket the sleeping listeners.
  • In one episode of DuckTales, Launchpad plays his harmonica, and Scrooge says the sound is "torture". This leads to a Flashback story of the time they first met, where he's able to use it to confuse some giant bat monsters who use echolocation to fly in the dark.


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