Samantha Cole is no stranger to the music industry spotlight. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, her songs including “Happy with You,” “Without You,” “You Light Up My Life” and “Luv Me Luv Me” (with reggae star Shaggy) charted in the U.S., U.K. and Asian markets and were in constant rotation at dance clubs around the world. Ten years ago, she stepped back from the music world and relocated to Danbury to focus on raising her family. However, her presence in the community did not go unnoticed, and she began to receive inquiries from strangers asking if she could provide their children with singing lessons.
Cole was initially skeptical that she could transition from being at the microphone to teaching others to sing. In 2011, she ran an advertisement in a local Pennysaver offering her voice-coaching services and culled a few students, including a man in his 50s who is still taking lessons from her.
“As soon as I started, I felt like I was happy,” she recalled. “It was like, ‘Wow, I love it — and it’s not work, because it’s like giving back.’ ”
Cole runs her Celebrity Voice Coach service from a studio in her Danbury home, where she averages between 30 and 40 students. She initially traveled to her students’ homes, but that became too timeconsuming as her business grew. Her classes take place in the evenings and she often hosts weekend classes to accommodate students traveling from as far away as Mystic and Long Island.
“Seventy-five percent or 80 percent of my students travel an hour to me,” she said. “If you asked me how many Danbury students I have, I’d say that I probably have one. There is a bit of disconnect.”
Cole’s student body ranges from young performers dreaming of taking home an armful of Grammy Awards to nonprofessionals that developed a late-life urge to unleash their inner Ethel Merman.
“I have ladies in their 60s that do this as part of their bucket list, because it’s something they wanted to do,” she continued. “I have band members who play guitar, but now they have to sing lead and they need some help. I have rappers who just want to learn to sing so they can rap better. I have Spanish singers. I’ve had a guy from Pakistan who sings in his language. I can pretty much do all ages, all styles and all levels.”
However, Cole prefers not to teach operatic singing — she recommended coaches that work exclusively on that art form.
According to Cole, the most common mistake that new students make is their eagerness to burst into song.
“They just sing,” she observed. “They don’t really think about what they’re doing and they just kind of go through the motions. When they start learning about breathing and posture, their reaction is, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of work — it’s a lot harder than I thought.’ That is especially true from musicians that play and sing for fun.”
Cole also warned that many students don’t realize that they need to keep up their vocal exercises in-between coaching sessions. “If you don’t practice at home, it will be harder to succeed,” she said. “If you just come to me without practicing, it’s like you’re doing the same lesson again every week.”
Cole admitted that on rare occasions, she encounters students whose enthusiasm far outruns their talent.
“I’ve only had maybe three people come to me in seven years where I was like, ‘Oh, God!’ ” she laughed, although she preferred to focus on students who achieve applause-worthy response thanks to hard work. “I had one guy from Norwalk who played guitar, and every week for six months we did a lot of ear training. Within two months, he was singing the songs in the right key. So, he was serious about it — he was going home and doing his homework.”
Cole charges her students $65 for a 45-minute session and $75 for an hour. The fee on the latter is rising to $85 per hour in January. She is also offering a new package to help students interested in songwriting.
As for the Celebrity Voice Coach students, Cole stages two events each year — one at the Ridgefield Playhouse and the other at The Bitter End in Manhattan — where her students put on a full-throttle vocal showcase of what they learned. She also hosts a more intimate monthly acoustic show with her students at Empire Szechuan in Bethel. “This allows the students to get over fear and build confidence,” she stated.
For students who excelled beyond expectations, Cole has arranged for them to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” prior to sports events, and she has also coordinated private auditions with producers at the NBC series “The Voice.”
“But they have to be ready and they have to put the time into it,” she insisted. “I just don’t hand that out unless I feel they are working towards it.”
For those seeking out a voice coach for themselves or their children, Cole advised that the coach’s background be double checked — especially in a key area.
“Do they sing?” she asked. “Can they sing? I’ve got stories where students went to a teacher who wasn’t a singer and couldn’t even sing.”