By: Rosanne Simunovic
Here we go everybody. We are on our way to crowning the next American Idol.
This week, we added another diva to the mix when the legendary Diana Ross appeared as a coach and mentor to this season’s 12 performers. The original Dreamgirl had plenty to say to these young artists. Her advice was excellent, thorough and intuitive and I feel that, generally, the singers’ performances improved through her timely expertise.
Here are my evaluations and, remember, I am reviewing each singer in (first name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome.
To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
BLAKE LEWIS: YOU KEEP ME HANGING ON
Strengths: Blake – I credit you for creating a unique arrangement for this Motown classic. You are staying absolutely true to your artistic vision of creating and implementing a contemporary sound to this year’s American Idol format.
I loved your stage technique right off the top of the number. It was excellent and emphasized the extent of your performing talent. You are an intelligent and focused young musician and this choice of song arrangement coupled with your performing talent authentically communicated this.
You have a very strong, rhythmic sense when you perform and I could feel that your body was totally synchronized with the basic rhythmic core of this number. Your stage movements were fluid and refined.
Vocally, your voice sounded quite resonant throughout this performance. I have great respect for your ability to implement a sound technical approach in every performance, Blake, and this week your more sustained singing emphasized this fact. Your mouth was circular and relaxed on the sustained vowels and your vocal timbre had a seamless, light quality that indicated a high degree of head tone implementation in your vocal projection.
Good work, Blake!
Critique: Blake – now I am going to say something that I rarely have to say to any singer. I felt that you needed to add more chest voice to your overall vocal timbre in this week’s performance. Chest voice? Yes, chest voice! I felt that your overall vocal sound lacked intensity and variation in the dynamic range. I felt that you needed to access the diaphragmatic breath support in a more cohesive and aggressive manner, in an effort to add more dimension to your vocal timbre.
Chest voice, when utilized properly, adds a meaty sound to your vocal texture, adding contrast to the lighter, softer dynamic in your voice. Head voice always must stay at the core of vocal production, but you must work to blend some chest voice into your vocal sound so that we can hear the full extent of your dynamic range.
I know it is there, Blake, because I did hear evidence of a slight vibrato in your previous performances. Perhaps the absence of the beat boxing, free style of your singing was proving to be an obstructing factor in this week’s overall performance, thus creating a lack of energy and muscle in this Top 12 performance. If so, you have to work on implementing more dimension in the more sustained singing with the same technical passion. You must feel your muscles flexing to support and cultivate every note in the melodic line.
Finally, perhaps it was a technical issue, but I felt that the key was a semi-tone too high for your voice, thus eliminating the depth and richness of your overall timbre. Make certain that you are rehearsing your songs in a variety of keys in order to establish the most perfect singing range for a particular number.
BRANDON ROGERS: YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE
Strengths: Brandon- your initial performing demeanor was excellent and secure. As I have said in previous weeks, you are an extremely engaging and communicative performer, possessing excellent stage skills. Your stage movements were rhythmically secure and appeared absolutely effortless.
I especially loved your leaning posture, as it not only emphasized a forward projection in your voice but also allowed you to effectively interact with your audience. It was very obvious that you have a real love for singing and entertaining, Brandon. Despite the nervous energy in this week’s performance, the passion for the music and the respect for your audience rang through loud and clear.
Your choreographic stage skills were innovative and secure; this is one area where you absolutely excel and it is an important area, Brandon, so always keep this element at the core of each and every performance.
Finally, I applaud the improvement in your vocal projection – your mouth was noticeably more circular when you sustained and formed your vowels and you were truly attempting to produce your vocal sound in a more resonant and technically secure manner. Good for you. Keep on developing the correct technical process for the art of singing, Brandon. It takes a while to implement perfectly, so patience is a virtue that cannot be ignored when correcting faulty vocal habits. Good work!
Critique: Brandon – you know how to perform; now you have to continue on your road to developing and refining your vocal technique. As I have said in previous weeks, your voice has a veiled quality in its timbre that is, presently, inhibiting the depth of your dynamic range. Remember to keep your throat open and relaxed when you vocalize and catapult your voice toward your vocal masque (face) in order to achieve proper resonation and projection.
Make certain that you practice your songs slowly, in a methodical and analytical manner, thus allowing you time to focus on the technical deficiencies at various points in your song. Further to this, practice your stage movements in slow motion, making certain that the choreography is working to balance and enhance the vocal line in your song. You have to make sure that you are balancing every aspect of your performance, Brandon, so that stage skills and vocal skills are collaborative forces during your performances.
Finally, your memory lapse during this week’s performance was, indeed, unfortunate. To your credit, you handled it quite well. Now, how do you avoid it in the future? Recite –don’t sing – your text from memory in rehearsals. This will allow you the time and luxury to memorize the words as a poem, rather than an element that is part of the melodic process of the performance. Oftentimes, singers do not even realize what they are singing about in a song and that will not only affect the memorization process, but also the communicative process.
Another idea, try to sing your song to the pure vowels within your text. This will assist you in developing a seamless, resonant quality in your melodic line and will allow you to associate certain vowels with certain notes in the melodic line, thus solidifying the memory process once again.
CHRIS RICHARDSON: THE BOSS
Strengths: Chris –as a segue to your successful performance last week, you managed to hit another home run with this great number. I was entertained from the very beginning of this song, where you ran rhythmically on to the stage and just engaged the audience with a relaxed and fun loving demeanor. This was an extremely well paced showcase, especially given the fact that so much energy was exerted during the course of this number.
I loved the many communicative aspects you added to this showcase – the innovative stage moves, the interaction with the audience on and off stage, your expressive and genuine facial demeanor. All of this, in fact, contributed to a more pleasing vocal presence when you performed this number. Your voice sounded energized and animated. There was a wonderful forward momentum to this number and you included many creative vocal elements during this song, thus isolating yourself from the one -dimensional style of singing. Good for you!
This was a great showcase this week, Chris. Bravo!
Critique: Chris – I thought that, given the physically buoyant interpretation of this song, you handled the technical deficiencies in a more satisfying manner. You are showing some evidence of applying a more technical approach to your vocal projection. I felt that you were trying to sustain the pure vowels in your vocal masque and that is a big step forward in and of itself.
However, Chris, the diaphragm must be accessed to fully accomplish the resonation process. The ongoing focus and projection of your voice must be secured from the strength and power of the rib cage muscles as they release air to create vocal sound. Without this level of support, the circular mouth position and relaxed facial features will not be enough to complete the technical process we call vocal projection.
Furthermore, your vocal timbre has a thin quality that, through careful study, can be enhanced and augmented. You need to access and apply a consistent level of diaphragmatic support, as presently, you are singing with very little chest voice or head voice. What we are hearing is your natural singing voice without the support and you have yet to realize the true extent of your vocal or dynamic range.
However, you do bring a very current sound to the Idol stage that I fully embrace and appreciate. Kudos!
CHRIS SLIGH: ENDLESS LOVE
Strengths: Chris – this was a very good song selection indeed, as it highlighted your beautifully sustained vocals. As I have said in previous weeks, you know how to select the appropriate key for your singing range, thus allowing you to sing with technical ease and facility.
The head tone component was always at the core of your vocal timbre, thus showcasing the pitch-centered purity of your vocal sound. The transition into your falsetto range emphasized this fact, as your voice navigated this area of your range with superb technical skill. Your vocal masque was totally relaxed, thus allowing you to center and focus your vocal sound behind the facial resonators.
Additionally, you presented this song with a dynamically varied vocal presence that worked well with the emotional meaning of the song lyrics. Your demeanor was relaxed and sincere and you attempted to convey a meaningful and sensitive rendition of this great song classic. Good work, Chris
Critique: Chris – as much as I wanted to like this arrangement, I felt that, in the end, it was not suitable to the emotional intent of this song. Perhaps, if the lyrics had been different, this arrangement would have worked to greater efficiency, but, honestly, it was a much too frantic arrangement for this particular number. The melodic line is so beautiful and, with the hurried and very busy nature of this arrangement, the song lost its emotional centre and core.
Also, this arrangement encouraged you to phrase your melodic line in a fragmented manner, thus detracting from the forward momentum of the melodic line. Always remember to be inventive with your breath spots, Chris. Vary the breathing in a way to add variety and interest to the melodic line.
Finally, I think you can challenge your vocal abilities, Chris. I still feel you are holding back some excellent potential in your dynamic range. Allow yourself time to work on the expressive elements in your voice, the inflections and nuances and try to expressively sing the words as you would speak them. Reciting the text apart from the music is an excellent way to hone and refine the communicative elements in your singing voice.
Hope this helps Chris! Good luck!
GINA GLOCKSEN: LOVE CHILD
Strengths: Gina- finally you showcased the inherent beauty of your mid range vocal timbre. You wisely chose the absolutely perfect key for your song choice this week, thus highlighting the rich, velvety texture of your mid to lower range. Why does everyone want to sing into the higher range all the time? The late Karen Carpenter carved out an enviable career singing through her lower range, after years of being rejected by recording companies when she showcased her soprano range. She saw the light and so did you, Gina, so congratulations for making these changes at this stage in the competition.
You have made great inroads in the security and prominence of your vocal technique. I thought that, generally, your sound was produced and sustained with the true bel canto style – nice round mouth, relaxed facial features, and quite good breath support. Additionally, as requested by Diana Ross, your enunciation was clear and concise and I felt that you were slowing the up-tempo pace down in your mind to achieve this effect. This is what all singers must learn: you have more time than you think to enunciate the wordy passages in your song effectively. Therefore, it is very important to create space in your song to achieve this end.
Finally, Gina, you were a visually strong presence on the stage this week and you moved with credible ease and comfort, allowing the communicative element in this song to be emphasized to full effect. Good work!
Critique: Gina – the key of the song was perfect, but, like so many others this week, the song choice let you down in the end. This song did not challenge you to discover the expressive qualities in your singing voice. The singing dynamics were very one dimensional –a forte dynamic throughout.
Also, periodically, the repetitive, cyclic nature of the melodic line encouraged you to sing in a technically inefficient manner. You really have to be careful, Gina, when you vocalize a melodic line and/or phrase over and over again. There is a tendency for you to loosen your technical guard, allowing the phrase to sound flat and monotonous.
The chant- like phrase “love child” would have been more effective if you had been more inventive with the melodic line, changing up the tonality of the original melody line. This would have encouraged you to keep the technique a more consistent element at this point in the song.
Be very careful in your future song selections, Gina, and work hard to develop a creative artistic approach to your song selections. Good luck and keep highlighting that mezzo soprano range!
HALEY SCARNATO: MISSING YOU
Strengths: Haley – I have to agree with Diana Ross; you have a superlative recording voice and I believe that it translates well to a multitude of genres. Time will tell as the competition unfolds, but I expect your voice to be very adaptable during the American Idol thematic process.
You had a beautiful and radiant presence on stage and I felt the song choice was absolutely perfect for you. Despite the memory loss, you really pulled the song together in the final stages of the performance. I thought the louder and higher dynamic vocal range shimmered and resonated beautifully, emphasizing the technical experience and training you have received thus far.
You are a genuine and sincere performer and never underestimate the value of those characteristics when carving out a successful performing career. They are invaluable assets that will endear you to your audiences.
Critique: Haley – perhaps the transition from the smaller stage of the Top 24 to this larger venue didn’t sit well with you, but, I expect, given time, you will be just fine. So, you had a memory loss. Whoop-dee-do! It’s nerves plain and simple and it happens to all of us. I can’t even remember what day it is half the time. (laughing). That’s what stress does to you –good or bad!
Now, how do you cope? By meticulous preparation and leaving nothing to chance. There is no such thing as over rehearsing; that concept is a fallacy. However, by rehearsing, I don’t mean singing 24/7, because, of course, the voice needs to rest. I mean working beyond the bounds of just singing this song over and over.
Like Brandon, I would heartily advise you to memorize and recite your text away from the melodic line. You would be surprised how difficult this is. However, once you have mastered the lyrics, the emotional core of the song will be ingrained and you will not have a problem with memory when you attach the words to the melody line. The lyrics are a separate entity from the music – always remember that.
Also, practice singing the melodic line of the song to the vowels within your lyrics. This will not only stabilize the bel canto technique, but also, you will become accustomed to attaching certain vowels to certain notes, thus solidifying the memory process in another way. Hope this assists you in preparation for next week’s performance.
JORDIN SPARKS: IF WE HOLD ON TOGETHER
Strengths: Jordin – once again, you embraced us with your exceptionally mature artistic performance. From the hushed intensity at the beginning of this song to the gradual crescendo into the more powerful dynamic sections of this beautiful song, this performance was unblemished and spectacular. Your communicative skills throughout this number were heartfelt and genuine. You took Diana Ross’ advice and told your story, adding the appropriate nuance and inflection in your singing voice to reflect the lyrical content.
What was even more noticeable was your ability to sing a softer dynamic with such beautifully placed head voice immediately following a louder dynamic level. This is so difficult to accomplish. The ability to sing softly is tricky at best, but when it follows a more powerful vocal projection, it requires immense control and confidence in the technical process. Yet, you accomplished this transition just beautifully, Jordin, and you are to be commended for your technical diligence and consistency throughout this competition.
Additionally, you conveyed a radiant and calming presence throughout this superb song selection and the slower pace of this week’s song selection gave you space to mold and shape the melodic line creatively and effectively. Your breathing was more relaxed, yet energized and I felt that you had control of the reins this week.
This was an excellent showcase this week and you very much deserved the coveted final spot in this week’s Top 12. Brava!
Critique: Jordin – I have just one area of concern. Be sure that your softer dynamic is completely supported so that the intensity and focus is viable. Toward the end of the song, I felt that your voice acquired a breathy sound, but, to your credit, you pulled it together and moved the sound forward, allowing your diaphragmatic muscles to dictate the release of air.
As I said above, this is not an easy element to accomplish, but you have the skills to solidify this tricky element sooner than later. You are so young, so there is so much growth and potential in your future, it’s actually frightening. So, here’s to the future. It’s going to be a good one!
LAKISHA JONES: GOD BLESS THE CHILD
Strengths: Lakisha – personally, this was the performance of the night. Your showcase was a masterclass in absolutely stellar vocal and stage technique. You selected a song that has been sung many times and, yet, you added your own distinct and brilliant artistic stamp on this number.
You performed this song with passion, with sincerity, with controlled vocal and performing skills and, in doing so, emphasized that this competition is about creating inspiring and memorable performances. You have adopted a clever and well-formulated strategy in this competition, Lakisha, and I can only imagine what is in store for us in the weeks to follow.
Your phrasing elements were extremely musical and wonderfully creative. You treated this song like a vocal work of art and the added inflection and modulation in your voice communicated the heart and soul of the song text. I always speak about performances being too one- dimensional. Now, listeners will know what constitutes a multi dimensional performance because you had it in spades, Lakisha
How easy it would have been to over power this song and yet you wisely chose to rein in this song. The result was a rare gem that will remain indelible in the hearts of your audience. Brava and kudos to a phenomenal showcase.
Critique: I have nothing to critique this week, Lakisha. When the performance works, it works. This was a perfect 10 performance. Take a bow, young lady!
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: HOME
Strengths: Melinda – I love this song very much and you had the inherent passion and sincerity to bring artistic justice and validity to this song selection. As always, your vocal instrument sounded healthy and robust and I have come to appreciate and respect the level of stellar vocal finesse that your are bringing to this competition each week.
This is not an easy song to sing, as the vocal range of this song is extremely wide. However, your voice generally sounded radiant and well focused and I thought you maneuvered the higher and more passionate vocal dynamic at the end of this song quite well.
Once again, you radiated a sincere, yet commanding presence on stage, totally within your element. You have great respect for the music, Melinda, and even greater respect for your audience. Great work, once again!
Critique: Melinda – be very careful that you do not give away too much vocal power too soon in these ballad like song selections. Actually, I felt that this song could have benefited from a more relaxed, perhaps poignant approach, showcasing your ability to vocalize with a softer dynamic in various sections of the song.
Further to this fact, you encountered some breathing problems midway through this song selection, which fragmented the proper phrasing of your melodic line. To your credit, you maintained absolute control and worked through this problem – the result being a strong, memorable ending to this song.
However, this problem was indicative that you were overextending the voice and adding too much chest voice throughout every part of your range. Therefore, you lost your air supply. You have a naturally resonant voice, Melinda, and can afford to cut back on the power singing. This would allow you to highlight the nuances in your vocal quality, while at the same time encourage you to pace your song accordingly. Always remember to keep the head voice front and centre to the projection of your vocal sound.
Also, in the early stages of this song, your mouth maintained a horizontal position, thus encouraging you to sing with less efficient technique. This added to the breathing problems you encountered late in this number, as your breath support wasn’t solidified in the early stages of this song.
You are an intelligent and meticulous artist. Now what we need to see is some variety in the dynamic range of your vocal sound. And – it would be nice to hear that beautifully rich lower range that was showcased when you performed “My Funny Valentine” in the Top 20 showcase.
Strengths: Phil- I thought this was your strongest performance to date. Visually, you commanded the stage with security and romantic passion during this number. You moved with ease and purpose and, as a result, the performance had a wonderful combination of flow and controlled energy. I felt that this was a meticulously rehearsed, well- paced performance, yet, you always appeared genuine and spontaneous on the Top 12 stage.
Vocally, the technical improvement was huge – extremely noticeable. You were sustaining your vowels with a beautifully round mouth position and it was very obvious that you were attempting to resonate and place your voice in your vocal masque. What a difference it made in the overall quality of your vocal timbre. It was like night and day from last week’s performance.
Finally, that beautiful vocal timbre had more presence and freedom and it translated to other areas of your performance this week. Your phrasing was extremely musical and you were bending and shaping the melodic line in a very creative manner. Your technical control was just wonderful and, yet, you never abandoned the emotional core of your song. Just excellent!
Also, you gave us a glimpse into the resounding beauty of your lower range and I hope that you will visit this area of your vocal range in future song selections. Bravo Phil! You worked hard and it paid off.
Critique: Phil – last week I cautioned you about song selection, advising you to make wise selections that would address the natural strengths in your vocal ability. Well, this week, you did just that and this, coupled with your technical advancements, really catapulted your performance to an extremely high level indeed.
However, I caution you to be very careful when you sing or sustain your notes in your upper register. Resist the temptation to raise your head; this will not help you vocalize in an efficient manner and, even worse, we will lose eye contact with you. The camera had a wonderful shot of your neck when you sang your final notes. Also, the elevated head position actually counteracted the correct technical approach of thinking “down” when singing “up” in to your tenor range.
By physically and mentally reaching for your higher notes, you were actually causing more tension in your neck and throat muscles. These muscles needed to be thoroughly relaxed; it’s the rib cage and back muscles that needed to be energized for the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to work efficiently.
Finally, when you approach a higher note that needs a louder dynamic level, center the sound with pure head tone and then add more strength from the diaphragm to increase the level of sound. You will have more control and your vocal sound will be more beneficial if you adopt this practice, as you will be keeping the chest voice in check. Remember that too much chest voice in every part of your range is a recipe for disaster.
Great work though this week, Phil. I was very impressed.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH
Strengths: Sanjaya – I felt this was your best performance to date. You are becoming increasingly more comfortable on stage and, this week, showed evidence of burgeoning talent and performing ability. You moved with increased comfort and ease, while showcasing the effort and thought that went in to this performance.
I agree with Diana Ross when she said, “there is something in your spirit that is the winning ingredient”. Well, that something is your sincerity and your boyish charm, elements that you have been bringing to each and every performance. You are a naïve spirit, Sanjaya, but not so much that you could not confront Simon for an explanation to his analogy toward your performance. That totally brought a smile to my face and showed the determination that is buried deep within you.
Vocally, you did a wonderful job echoing the back-up vocalists; you have a strong rhythmic sense when you perform that speaks to the potential revelation of your overall musicality. Also, even though I suspect that you were nervous, you looked relaxed and happy to be on that Idol stage and attempted to communicate the spirit of this song classic to your audience.
Critique: Sanjaya –find a voice teacher and let’s get this voice under control. Presently, I don’t think you are singing with any technique whatsoever or, perhaps, you are still learning how to technically produce a technically sound singing voice and it hasn’t settled into your performances.
That smile of yours is endearing, but it works against what is beneficial for proper resonation of the voice. You must work on maintaining a circular mouth on all your vowels, dropping the jaw gradually as you move into the upper range. By doing this and only this, will you be able to fully access the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to behave in a consistent and secure manner.
Always remember, Sanjaya, that the eyes are the window to a singer’s soul; so much expression can and should be conveyed through the eyes, as long as these features remain open and free. Additionally, this will add a beneficial ring and presence to your vocal sound. Also, don’t raise your head when you sing into your upper range. Bend your knees and think over the upper notes; never reach or physically strain in an attempt to sing into your upper register. Always think down, never up.
Also, just for fun, attempt to sing your pop songs by imitating a classical singer’s approach, like Pavarotti or Il Divo. What will happen, if you allow the process to work properly, is that your voice will immediately gain more depth and forward presence. Why you say? The exaggerated classical singing style will encourage you to sing with more exertion from the diaphragm, similar to a classical singer.
Make sure that you exaggerate the round position of the mouth as well. Then, refine this approach to the correct singing style for your pop songs. If nothing else, you will discover the depth and potential of your vocal range. I have used this method periodically when singers were having trouble interpreting the correct technique and it does work. However, the key is to use the classical approach correctly when performing popular music. You never want to sound like a classical artist when singing pop music. You merely want to transfer the classical technique to enhance and develop your pop style of singing.
Good luck, Sanjaya!
STEPHANIE EDWARDS: LOVE HANGOVER
Stephanie – throughout this song performance, you exhibited a strong and confident stage demeanor. I felt that you were in absolute control of every element of this showcase. Your vocals were stellar, the stage technique was flawless and you added a wonderful variety of nuances in your vocal delivery.
Once again, you demonstrated your meticulous attention to every detail in your song selection. This week, in particular, I felt that you were thoroughly relaxed with your number and your voice embraced the melodic line seamlessly and effortlessly. The high degree of your technical control was back in place as it should be.
And, until Randy mentioned it, I had no idea whatsoever that you forgot your lyrics. So, kudos to you for remaining in the moment and in control of your momentary lapse in memory. It’s all about how you handle a technical problem and you obviously have the stage and performing skills to correct an uncomfortable moment on stage. Remember last season, when Taylor Hicks tried to kick the microphone stand and it wouldn’t fall, so he laughingly gave it another kick and moved on through the rest of his number? It actually added to the entertainment value of this song.
Excellent work, Stephanie!
Critique: Stephanie – if there was any downfall in this week’s performance, it was the issue of song selection. This was such a melodically repetitive song and it did absolutely nothing to challenge and highlight your admirable vocal ability. The song itself fell flat, not the performance.
I agree with the judges on this one. Take absolute care to select the very best songs so that you can create memorable and vocally inspiring performances. The audiences want to be moved, entertained and inspired with riveting and surprising song selections. Unfortunately, this was not the case this week, Stephanie, so, hopefully, this forewarning will prevent and encourage you to research your repertoire with intuitive attention to the performance aspect of each and every thematic showcase.