Good Girl/Bad Girl

Maude Maggart at the Algonquin Hotel on Saturday, January 27.

One of the many things that annoy me about American Idol (which I watch occasionally out of morbid curiosity) is the way the judges throw around the word cabaret like an insult. I understand that they’re looking for a pop star, not a chanteuse, but to dismiss an entire genre, a great tradition of American music, with such carelessness strikes me as unseemly.

I think part of the problem is the implicit assumption that cabaret is monotonous—invariably a low-voiced, cigarette smoker drearily husking her way through songs of the 1930s and ’40s—and that’s grossly unfair. Thirty-one-year-old Maude Maggart puts the lie to it immediately with her deliciously versatile voice. A skilled interpreter, she expressively modulates from rich and sultry to breezy and girlish or brassy and bold or warm and full to match the mood of each song she sings. The effect is hypnotic. On Saturday night my brother and I hung on her every note.