American Idol Season Six: Vocal Masterclass For The Top 10 Male Performances
By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, the 10 remaining male singers presented their second showcase and, thankfully, the result was a huge improvement over last week’s lukewarm musical presentation However, I still found that some of the singers did not quite hit their artistic stride and, hopefully, some of these singers will have another week to solidify their place in the Top 12 Finale. Until then, these are my observations of the Top 10 male performers from this very eclectic American Idol Season.
The singers are evaluated in performance order and your comments are always welcome
PHIL STACEY: I AIN’T MISSING YOU AT ALL
Phil- as I said last week, you possess a concrete vocal presence when you perform. This week we were treated to more of the same. Your convincing demeanor was a continuing entity throughout this song. I loved hearing the softer dynamic range of your voice in the opening bars of this song, as it contrasted beautifully with the more powerful dynamic toward the end of this very good showcase.
Also, the bending technique you utilized when you entered your more powerful dynamics was excellent. Whether you knew or not, it assisted you in projecting your vocal sound toward the front of your face (vocal masque) and alleviated some of the pressure from your throat. It’s a great technical tool, so never lose this.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think the song selection drew positive attention toward the huge potential in your vocal abilities. Additionally, the song encouraged you to create a very fragmented approach in your phrasing, causing you to breathe more often than necessary. You should really experiment with your breathing, Phil, allowing yourself to sustain your melodic line in a more creative and efficient manner.
In the future, I would love to hear you sing a song selection that would allow you to expose your ability to sustain and elongate your vocal sound on the pure vowels within your lyrics. You are almost there – but not quite and, by avoiding this process, you are not allowing the diaphragmatic breathing process to develop properly. Once you develop your breathing skills, you will be amazed at the control and power you will experience when you sing.
JARED COTTER: LET’S GET IT ON
Jared- you have a wonderful personality, both on and off stage. You emit a self-effacing, positive vibe that is contagious and really allows you to effectively bond with your studio and television audience.
This week, I thought your stage movements were effectively maneuvered and they complimented the sophisticated and sexy vibe of this Marvin Gaye song. Your movements were very fluid and free and some of this fluidity translated to your vocal line. There was a forward momentum to your melodic line that enhanced the overall musicality of this number. You had some wonderfully original choreographic moves that proved to be very entertaining to both the audience and the judges.
On the other hand, you did experience similar technical problems to last week’s performance. I felt that your vocal sound was very constricted due to the tension in your throat, not allowing you to utilize your diaphragmatic breathing skills to full effect. As a result, the forward projection of your vocal sound was never realized and therefore the proper resonation of your voice was impeded. Please continue to work on the correct placement of your voice in your vocal masque (facial features), as it will further highlight the depth and beauty of your natural vocal abilities.
The mouth must remained circular on all the vowels and sustaining on the one pure vowel within your words will not only add dimension to your vocal timbre but will also allow you to sing with additional ease and comfort. Your phrasing will improve and your vocal range will enjoy a seamless, even quality.
A.J. TABALDO: FEELING GOOD (Michael Buble arrangement)
A.J.- I never tire of listening to this number and I thought that you did a wonderful job of performing the abbreviated version of this song. Because of the slow paced opening segments of this song, you didn’t have a great deal of time to experiment with the upbeat segment of the song. However, I thought that you really added a wonderful bluesy style that was quite different than Michael Buble’s version, but still very commendable, nonetheless.
Your stage movements were free and easy and your vocal range was very even and well sustained throughout, particularly during your more powerful singing passages.
However, be very careful when you sing with a softer dynamic. In an effort to create a hushed vocal effect, try to control the airflow from seeping into your vocal sound, as it did affect the pitch centered purity of your vocal timbre during this number. You must learn to intensify and support your voice through the correct breathing process, as you would if you were to sing a louder dynamic.
As I said last week, aim your vocal sound forward and feel the sound resonating behind your facial features, allowing the strength of your rib cage and back muscles to manipulate the correct amount of air for the vibrating process of your vocal cords. Lots of work? You “betcha,” but you’ll never regret it and will, with time, notice a huge difference in the vocal and dynamic range of your vocal abilities.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: STEPPIN’ OUT WITH MY BABY
Sanjaya –call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed this song. It was refreshing and, even better, totally unexpected. The band arrangement was super and your retro look and genuine, gentle demeanor was just the ticket for this laid back, jazz -infused number. I thought that your performance was wonderful and your voice wrapped easily around the melodic line. Your excellent phrasing and musicality was very evident throughout this showcase; I always felt that the song was moving forward and this is an extremely important element in really good singing.
However, as I mentioned last week, you need to work on a more cohesive and consistent technical support for your vocal sound. Even though this song does call for a more relaxed style, you still must make certain your voice has intensity and focus; your vocal timbre needs to be secured with the correct diaphragmatic breathing skills so that your vocal sound can resonate more efficiently.
Also, be very careful, Sanjaya, with your head position when you navigate your upper range. Never raise your head, as it contradicts the technical process and, additionally, you lose valuable eye contact with your studio and television audience. Furthermore, watch your mouth formation when you sing. Remember that your vocal sound will achieve greater depth and beauty if you strive to maintain a circular mouth position on your pure vowels. Many times, throughout this song, your mouth was in a horizontal position, rather than circular and vertical.
At times, you appeared very tentative during this performance and so much of this has to be attributed to your young age. However, technique will grant you further confidence and ease, so that your future performances can attain a level of sophistication and refinement.
CHRIS SLIGH: TROUBLE
Chris – this was an excellent song choice, as it not only highlighted the strength and beauty of your vocal timbre, but also addressed your bluesy style of singing. I thought your voice sounded absolutely radiant throughout this performance and you looked relaxed and confident in your stage demeanor.
However, be ever so careful with your technical support when you vocalize within the lower part of your range. Always remember that the low notes need to be sustained as impeccably as the upper notes. The vocalization process is still the same. The only difference is the placement of the sound; the sound needs to be placed in the lower half of your vocal masque (face) and sustained always on the pure vowels within your lyrics.
Furthermore, make sure that your mouth remains circular on all the vowels and that you avoid sustaining your voice on all the vowels within your diphthongs. For example, the word “saved”, which was repeated many times in this number, should have been sustained on the “eh” vowel; it is the first pure vowel in this diphthong and singers must always remember to grab the first vowel in the syllables of your lyrics and allow the voice to resonate on this vowel. Also, make certain you do not spread your mouth horizontally on this vowel; round and circular is the way to go in order to ensure a pitch – centered ring to your vocal timbre.
Finally, make certain that you truly internalize the emotional feelings behind your songs. This particular song is heartfelt and loaded with angst and passion. I felt that we needed to hear more of these emotions coming through your voice, Chris. You have to dig into the core of your heart and soul and truly communicate the story behind these lyrics, similar to the way you would speak them. Stay in your own world when you perform a song with this kind of depth and truly live in the moment.
NICK PEDRO: FEVER
Nick – you have a voice that totally suits the retro era of music. The relaxed, nuanced sound from the big band era compliments your smoky voice and you are wise to choose songs that work within the framework of your vocal abilities.
However, that being said, there still must be a technical foundation in place to enhance the quality of your veiled vocal timbre. Even Frank Sinatra, in an effort to enhance and refine his vocal ability, studied classical singing. He wanted his sound to attain the depth and focus of classical vocalists, yet, at the same time, work within the framework of his pop/big band/jazz oriented style.
The same approach must be adopted by you, Nick, as presently, your voice sounds very one-dimensional and has very little dynamic range. You vocalize without the benefit of the correct technical support and, additionally, your mouth formation is too horizontal and your facial features are extremely tense and congested.
You are stretching your facial features, rather than allowing them to remain open and free for proper resonation.
Additionally, this song is very familiar and, as of late, a very popular song selection for numerous performers. Therefore, you needed to bring something new and original to your interpretation of this number and, unfortunately, this was not the case this week. You must work on developing a creative approach to your cover songs; they have to sound refreshing and new. Also, once you start showcasing your voice with the correct technique, you will be able to expose a wider dynamic range in your voice that will allow you to be more experimental and inventive in your interpretive skills.
BLAKE LEWIS: VIRTUAL INSANITY
Blake – well someone wants a spot in the Top 12 and, unless my instincts are off the mark, I have a strong feeling that you will be among the Top 12 finalists.
Everything about this performance was absolutely first class all the way. I thought it was authentic, risky (with the beat boxing and scat singing mixed in with your lyrical sound) and chock full of vocal intensity. You are a focused, determined and musically intelligent performer and, even more important, a true original.
Vocally, the beautiful head tone sequence at the end of this number was flawless; when you navigated this area of your vocal range, I thoroughly heard the classical counter-tenor potential in your vocal timbre.
This was a well-paced, meticulously rehearsed performance, Blake, and yet, it looked relaxed and comfortable to the viewing audience. You exercised great technical skills when you sang and it became more evident as the song progressed, as your voice never sounded breathy or poorly pitched. Make certain that you always keep the technical foundation an important part of the performing process, as it will allow you to further develop the high level of potential in your singing and performing abilities. Great work.
BRANDON ROGERS: TIME AFTER TIME
Brandon – this was a great song choice for your sincere and genuine demeanor. Additionally, the heartfelt lyrics complimented the smoky quality of your vocal timbre. You have a wonderful and personable demeanor both on and off stage and this will continue to carry you very far in the music world. Never lose that.
However, we needed to hear Brandon the soloist and not the back-up vocalist sound to which you are more accustomed. Your vocal timbre is perfect for background vocals, as you are expected to blend and meld your voice into the harmonic structure. However, as a soloist, you presently run short of the mark. Your voice lacks the ringing presence necessary to stand out in the crowd.
Also, your interpretive abilities need to be honed and crafted. I felt that you could have added more originality into the melodic song structure, while at the same time, keeping the emotional impact true and real. Try experimenting with the song line, being more inventive with your breath spots and, therefore, your phrasing. The song sounded fragmented and predictable and lacked a forward momentum that is so important to the natural ebb and flow of the rhythmic structure.
Like so many others this week, you need to sharpen and refine your technical skills, allowing the diaphragm to support and place your voice in your vocal masque. I still am not hearing the true potential of your vocal abilities, Brandon. It’s time to move away from background and into the foreground
CHRIS RICHARDSON: GEEK IN THE PINK
Chris –once again you exuded great energy on the stage. You were a rhythmic dynamo, so engrossed in the spirit and essence of the song. I cannot emphasize enough how important this essential performance element is to the success of a successful and veritable showcase. Despite, some vocal technical issues, the performance was creditable and real and, the technical issues, to my mind receded, as the song progressed. Your know how to perform and, at the end of the day, this is what counts in order to succeed as an artist.
Now, you have to slowly eliminate some negative elements in your vocal performance. First of all, be very careful of that incessant bopping, as it was very distracting at times and the television camera was experiencing difficulty keeping you front and center. Sometimes we saw the lower half of your face, other times the top – it made me dizzy.
Also, articulation of the words became problematic at times. Make certain that the consonants are enunciated clearly and act as a springboard for a sustained vocal sound on the pure vowels. You love to spread your mouth when you sing and maybe this is part of your distinct sound. However, a little roundness in the mouth goes a long way to creating a brighter, richer, more focused vocal sound that will allow you to use your diaphragmatic breathing muscles more efficiently.
However, you are a distinct artist and I love and fully appreciate your artistic ingenuity and skills.
SUNDANCE HEAD: MUSTANG SALLY
Sundance – you are back, big fella. Good for you. What an outstanding performance and such a positively drastic showcase from the Sundance we heard last week. You could not have picked a better song to highlight your enviable vocal gift. The faster pace of this week’s song allowed you to sing “full out” and free, allowing the voice to resonate and boom with authority and conviction.
I loved the manner in which you incorporated the rustic vocals into your melodic line. It provided a beautiful contrast to your smoother vocals and, as well, allowed the passion and spirit of the song to be fully emphasized. Inflection and modulation is an important part of the singing technique. Singing is, after all, sustained speech, and the words must be emphasized and communicated in an expressively spoken, but sustained manner. Therefore, the nuances in the voice must be explored and utilized for a successful and entertaining performance. So, congratulations, Sundance, for understanding this integral performing technique.
Now, you have to ensure that this same kind of intensity and control is translated to your slower – paced voice selections. Really work on securing the same power and control behind your diaphragmatic breath support when you support your vocal sound through a softer dynamic and slower tempo. You must exercise and develop your technical skills so that you are able to perform with ease and comfort, regardless of the speed and dynamic level of the song selection.
Your comments are always welcome.