By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s guest instructor and mentor, the legendary Tony Bennett, made a timely visit to the American Idol set and succeeded to inject some personality and spontaneity into this year’s group of talented, but intense idol finalists.
Revisiting and interpreting the classics coerced the singers into concentrating on the beautiful simplicity of the melodic line and the poetic emotion conveyed through the lyrics. For some of these singers, this refined style of music encouraged them to move beyond their comfort zones to achieve surprising results.
Here is this week’s vocal evaluation of this great performance showcase.
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: “Mack The Knife”
Strengths: Blake – this was a great song choice for you. You looked more relaxed and expressively open throughout this number, something that I feel has been lacking to some extent in some of your past performances. Your eyes maintained the necessary sparkle and feistiness that is so necessary for the communicative elements of this song.
I loved how you negotiated the syncopated rhythms in this song. Your choreographic skills were impeccable and added great dimension to the overall entertainment value of this song performance. You connected with this song and the song connected with you.
However the big news is your vocals! My, what a difference from weeks past! Gone was the elevated head position that was a constant critique in these evaluations. You maintained an even and uniform head position throughout this song, thus improving on the level of your vocal and communicative skills. We could see your eyes, Blake, and, as a result, you were able to connect in a stronger and more believable fashion with your studio and television audience.
This technical change in the head position could not have been easy to achieve, as old habits are very inflexible and stubborn. However, you were diligent and persistent enough to make this change and your truly reaped the benefits during this week’s showcase.
Additionally, this procedural change in your head position made a huge difference in the presence and quality of your vocal ability. Your voice resonated with greater efficiency, as the muscles in your throat and neck were more relaxed and free, thus allowing you to access the diaphragmatic muscles in a more consistent manner. The lower half of your body finally kicked in and strengthened and solidified the forward projection of your voice. Awesome!
Your sustaining ability on the pure vowels, while maintaining a circular mouth position, supplemented the excellent quality of your vocal timbre. Your voice wrapped with ease and clarity around the melodic line and the pitch -centered purity of your voice, save for a couple of instances, was a viable presence throughout this showcase.
Very good work indeed, Blake!
Critique: Blake – you suffered a couple of extremely minor pitch problems at the beginning of this number, but, I felt that this was due to nervous energy rather than a lack of technical skills. As the song moved forward, your pitch was secure and centered, so I was happy to see that you accessed your diaphragmatic breathing skills to rectify this problem early on in this number.
Also, as previously stated, your vocal timbre did indeed sound crystal clear throughout this song. However, I felt that you needed to add some more of the “gangsta” quality in this song. The song calls for some grit and growl in the vocal timbre and these nuances were noticeably absent in this showcase.
Make certain that you fully internalize the emotion of your song, so that we hear more dimension and expressiveness in your vocal style. I know this is difficult for you, Blake, as you have a very light, lyrical quality to your voice and this makes it hard to add color and dimension to your vocal sound.
However, if you feel> and live the words and music of this or any song, you might surprise yourself. Be an actor. Act aggressively if the emotion calls for it and I think you will be amazed at the renewed energy and focus that your vocal sound will achieve. You are a creative artist in the sense that you do visualize different harmonic elements in a song. Now, what you must do is apply this level of creativity to the emotional delivery in your songs and you will be good to go.
However, all in all, this was a solid and noticeably improved vocal performance this week. Bravo!
Chris Richardson : “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”
Strengths: Chris –I loved this song selection for you – the mood, the style, the key selection – everything worked in such a formidable and timely manner for you. You are improving and honing your technical and performance skills to great success and this is what this competition is all about. The growth process is fascinating to watch, especially considering that all of this progress is being developed on live television each week.
Your voice sounded increasingly resonant this week and there was evidence of further muscle and depth in your vocal timbre. Also, your ability to articulate your words with clarity and precision added to the energy level of your vocal sound, ensuring that your voice was fully projected in your vocal masque. Your mouth, although still not as round as I would like, was less horizontal than when we first heard you sing in the Top 24.
You are finally “getting” the technique, Chris and it is really make a huge difference on the positive impact of your vocal performances. You are keeping the breath support front and centre and that is the key to producing outstanding vocals. With each passing week, we hear less and less of the whiney nasal sound that permeated your vocal performances. Now your voice is starting to resonate with a bright ringing timbre and the nasal tone is almost a distant memory.
Additionally, I enjoyed your rhythmically charged demeanor during this performance. It was just the ticket and your rhythmically paced steps as you moved across the stage indicated that this was indeed a very well rehearsed and formulated performance. Also, I loved your skillful camera work – another indication that you paid great attention to every detail of this performance.
Bravo and encore! This was excellent!
Critique: Chris – the only thing I have to say in this portion of the evaluation is this: try loosening up that jaw even more so, especially when you move into the upper range. It will seem strange at first but, at the same time, it will encourage to utilize your powerful breathing muscles in a more consistent manner.
Practice singing scales or broken chords to pure vowels such as “ah, “eh”, “ee”, “oh” etc., keeping your mouth circular and your jaw relaxed and free. Remember to drop the jaw as you vocalize into your upper range. When you can feel your voice vibrating inside your head and your ears are ringing, this will indicate that you are producing a free, technically enhanced vocal sound.
And keep your knees relaxed and your rib cage in a state of suspended elevation as you inhale and exhale. Also, the butt squeeze is very helpful as well. Try it! It works because it fortifies the back muscles to join the support process. Lots of tricks to really good singing but they do work!
Great work, Chris!
GINA GLOCKSEN: “Smile”
Strengths: Gina – for the second week in a row, you abandoned your rocker chick image and sang another heartfelt and powerful ballad. This performance was absolutely astounding and you vocalized this song in a manner that was sincere and genuine. My, how your voice embraced this absolutely gorgeous melodic line! The poetic emotion of the song was communicated in a very real way, one that allowed the listener to fully internalize the message you conveyed through this song classic.
Vocally, your voice sounded exquisite and I was quite impressed that you moved beyond the boundaries of your comfortable and naturally resonant lower range. Your mid to upper range sounded beautifully focused and significant as you sustained those pure, uncluttered vowels throughout your melodic line.
It was wonderful to see the expansion of your vocal technique since you made your first appearance on this season’s show. By allowing your mouth to remain round on all your vowels and eliminating unnecessary tension from your upper body, you solidified and accelerated the diaphragmatic technical process to outstanding results.
And you avoided that messy diphthong in the word “smile” – sustaining your sound on the pure “ah” vowel instead of “ah-eye –ee”. Oh, how I detest that diphthong. It just encumbers and confuses the vocal energy and clarity so much. Your voice attained a richness and depth that would not have been evident if you did not understand the importance of the bel canto style of singing in pop music.
Additionally, the quasi a cappella beginning of this number was just beautiful and provided wonderful contrast to the full accompaniment later on in this number. Throughout this song, you displayed beautiful control and you navigated all the tricky elements in this song, such as the a cappella opening refrain and the key change with skill and finesse
This was another sublime performance, Gina. You just continue to improve each week!
Critique: Gina – I have nothing to critique this week. This was a meticulously rehearsed, extremely controlled and flawless performance. Brava, young lady!
Haley Scarnato: “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
Strengths: Haley – now this was a genre of music that complimented and highlighted your personal vocal and performing strengths. You looked extremely comfortable during this week’s performance and moved with grace and poise both on and off stage. I loved the intermittent changes in tempo, allowing you to intersect the transition from the upbeat measures in this song into the more emphatic rhythmic strut in this arrangement with great success.
Furthermore, the arrangement was top notch and I felt was extremely conducive to the choreographic success of this week’s performance. Never underestimate the value of a superb arrangement and/or musical background. The musical foundation of this song encouraged you to move and sing with relative ease and comfort, the likes of which we have not been able to enjoy until this week’s performance.
Also, I felt that your voice was enjoying the more familiar clarity and ring that were noticeably absent during the last few weeks. Once again, it all comes down to song selection and genre comfort level. This made all the difference this week, Haley, so make certain that you thoroughly rehearse and research both song choice and arrangements in your future performances.
Critique: Haley –although your voice sounded energized and expressive throughout this performance, I felt that your pitch wavered intermittently during this week’s presentation. Your stage skills were excellent this week; however, in refining and improving on your stage choreography, many of the technical skills necessary for really good singing were compromised.
Communicative movement on stage is absolutely necessary in order to achieve performing success; however, the vocals must never be sacrificed. You must make certain that the stage and vocal skills are rehearsed judiciously, so that one compliments and strengthens the other. Successful musical theatre artists have this down to a science, as they must sing and dance with impeccable skill and finesse. It takes years and years of training to refine and solidify the choreographic and vocal technique so that both connect successfully during a performance.
I felt that, in an effort to create a more physical presence during this week’s performance, the diaphragmatic breathing skills were neglected and, as a result, your pitch was noticeably compromised throughout this song. I hope that you continue to grow as a performer, Haley; however, always remember that your vocal technique must remain a constant in your life.
My advice to you at this stage of the game would be this: less is more. Try not to be too busy on stage. Yes, we need to see some physical activity, but we also need to hear strong and confident vocal ability. Balance is the key word here!
Good luck in the future!
JORDIN SPARKS: “On A Clear Day”
Strengths: Jordin – the exuberance and glow you displayed throughout the performance of this number was just so heartwarming. This is a song about embracing life and through your innate ability as an artist, you told this story in a very real and positive way, with a demeanor that absolutely radiated warmth and affection for all that life has to offer.
Oftentimes, a singer’s song choice can be very revealing, offering a glimpse into the heart and soul of the singer. I suspect this is one of those times, Jordin. You seem to be a very generous and loving spirit and, given your natural personal gifts, this song rose to unbelievable heights through this performance.
I thought you added just enough melodic variation to lend a unique approach to this song while, at the same time, retaining the song’s original composition as a viable and recognizable presence. Your voice worked its magic through the ebb and flow of the melodic line and soared beautifully toward a superbly controlled and dynamic ending. Your breath control toward the end of this number was spectacular and your voice sounded absolutely immaculate and even throughout your range.
Even though you remained in one spot through the entire performance, I felt that you truly reached and moved your audience through your very special vocal gifts. You internalized the emotion of this song and made absolutely certain that the poetic message of this song was conveyed in a very real and tangible manner.
This was just a spectacular and inspiring performance. Bravissima!
Critique: Jordin –just be ever so careful of your mouth formation when you vocalize the “ee” vowel. This week, you had a tendency to spread that vowel and I felt that it encouraged you to add too much chest voice in different sections of the song, especially when you vocalized the word “clear”.
“Ee” is a very bright vowel and the circular position of the mouth adds more depth and pitch centered beauty to this vowel, while at the same\e time ensuring that the diaphragm and not the throat muscles are supporting the vocal sound.
Also, you had a little problem with your breathing at the beginning of this number. It was quite audible and extremely shallow and I suspect anxiety was the culprit here. The problem quickly resolved itself as you accessed the diaphragmatic muscles with increased efficiency – so good for you!
It just reinforced the depth and refinement of your vocal technique. Another performer would have panicked and the song would have been compromised, but you kept your wits about you and took hold of the reins! Brava!!
Lakisha Jones: “Stormy Weather”
Strengths: Queen Lakisha –I knew you would really excel in this style of music and, in particular, this superb song choice. Your naturally dramatic approach in your singing style was absolutely the ideal vehicle for the correct interpretation of this classic song. Of all the people in this year’s group of 12, your voice is the only instrument I could envision for this song. The rich, creamy, multi-layered texture of your vocal timbre worked so beautifully in the performance of this number.
As always, I appreciated the addition of your customary speech like inflection into your singing style; it heightened and expanded the message of this song – the heartache and torment of a person who has been rejected by love. Your emotional demeanor was so convincing, Lakisha, and you remained immersed in the heartrending significance of this song until the very end – the sign of a true and authentic performer.
As always, your technical skills were generally consistent, except for a few problems at the outset of this song that I will discuss in the critique portion of this masterclass evaluation. You have instinctive qualities that are quite exceptional and your creative approach to your song selections each week has been absolutely brilliant.
Wonderful work once again!
Critique: Lakisha – I loved the pointed nuances at the beginning of this song; it provided an expressive contrast to the velvety vocal timbre you adopted later on in this number. However, it also compromised the customary pitch centered clarity in your voice, as it diminished the full capacity of your breathing skills.
The appropriate, yet abrasive and spread vocal sound at the beginning of this number encouraged you to let down your technical guard, allowing you to lose control of the pitch perfect clarity of the melodic line. Always remember that these nuances are most definitely important and can be achieved with good technical control. You just have to make certain that your breathing muscles are reinforcing the emotional quality of a song at every stage of the performance.
I think this was just a transitory misstep on your part, Lakisha, as your singing has never been less than phenomenal throughout this competition. However, on the other hand, it just goes to show that excellence is in the details and a singer must never leave anything to chance. Just remember to meld the expressive qualities and vocal skills so that both elements are in perfect harmony – literally and figuratively – throughout your performance.
Once again, congratulations!
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: “I’ve Got Rhythm”
Strengths: Melinda – what a showcase this week and I am in total agreement with the judges: you are becoming very difficult to critique, as you always bring meticulously rehearsed performances to each showcase. What was there not like about this performance? It had all the elements for success: magnificent musical arrangement, tons of personality, superb stage and vocal skills, impeccable song choice – the whole nine yards! You covered all the bases necessary to nail and complete a memorable and flawless vocal performance.
Let’s address the arrangement first. There were three distinct levels to this song: the slow, relaxed introductory verse of this great song, followed by a superb jazzy up tempo accompaniment into the familiar refrain, finally leading to the strut like, rhythmic stride at end of this fabulous number. You choreographically and vocally traversed all three changes in tempo with absolute brilliance and ease. It was truly a joy to behold.
You do indeed immerse yourself in the essence of each and every song you perform; however it is so much more than that. You pay absolute attention to every detail in the song, making certain that the choreographic and vocal elements work smoothly and efficiently to enhance and create memorable and solid performances.
Your vocal creativity, combined with your impeccable technique, was just wonderful, Melinda. You are an artist in every sense of the word and are not afraid to experiment and bend the vocal line in an effort to create interpretatively unique performances.
Your are a vocal scientist, always testing the waters, seeing if you can come up with a new and ingenious vocal discovery. And, 99% of the time you do! You take performing to a whole other level and, this week, more than any other, you internalized both the poetic and rhythmic intensity of this great song. Your sense of joy and exuberance was palpable and heartfelt and connected immediately to your appreciative audience.
Critique: Melinda – for the second week in a row, I was hard pressed to find any fault with this performance. It was a brilliant, well-rehearsed and thoroughly researched showcase. Kudos, Melinda!
Phil Stacey: “Night And Day”
Strengths: Phil-this was a vocally excellent performance and, as I said last week, you are creating noticeably improved and stellar performances with each passing week. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the beautiful vocal presentation of this song. Your flawless and seamless vocal power was a consistent presence throughout this song, a testament to the development and refinement of your diaphragmatic breathing skills.
Like ole’ blue eyes (Frank Sinatra for those of you who are not familiar with this legendary singer), you adopted the classical bel canto method of singing during this number, sustaining and resonating your voice on the pure, uncluttered vowels. No messy diphthongs for you, Phil! You refined and honed your vowel placement and the result was a vocally secure and dynamic performance.
Your also negotiated the wicked interval jumps in the melodic line in a clean and precise manner, always maintaining the same level of focus and resonation of your voice in your vocal masque (facial features). As a result, we were treated to a smooth, cohesive vocal performance and your voice radiated presence and security throughout your vocal range.
It was so obvious that you were truly in your comfort zone when you performed this style of music this week. The slower tempo of this number really challenged your vocal ability and, thankfully, through your hard work and diligent preparation you were up to the challenge, jumping over vocal hurdles that, weeks ago, would have seemed impossible for you to achieve.
Kudos Phil on an excellent showcase.
Critique: Phil – if there was anything to critique this week, it is the fact that you stayed glued to that microphone stand for the entire number. Movement, however slight, is so important to the visual aspect of a performance and, additionally, it would have allowed you to maintain a more relaxed and loose approach to this number.
I think the performance –not the vocals – fell a little flat because you did not adopt Tony Bennett’s wise suggestion to add a swinging rhythmic beat to this song. Also, I think that it would have been more beneficial to syncopate the rhythm at various points in this song. This is hard to put into writing and it reminds me that, at some point, I need to work on attaining a vocal blog for these masterclass articles. But, I digress…..
What I am trying to say is, the song would have enjoyed more dimension and presence if you had initiated more rhythmic and vocal variation, emphasizing a word here and there, adding a triplet feel in some sections of the song, accenting “night and day” on the off beat and so on. It would have highlighted the expressive elements in this song and the poetic nature of the song would have resounded more efficiently in the ears of the listeners.
Therefore, I heartily encourage you to work on the increased development and refinement of your artistry. Your vocal technique is moving along wonderfully, Phil. Now, we have to unleash your artistic soul so that you can create increasingly memorable and unique vocal performances.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: “Dancing Cheek To Cheek”
Strengths: Sanjaya – this was a wonderfully relaxed and entertaining performance and, if nothing else, it strengthened the credibility of your vocal ability. At the age of 17 years, your voice is still in the developmental stages and many changes in the range and timbre of your voice will ensue with each passing year. However, it is, presently, a fairly solid vocal sound and will only improve through the advancement of your technical skills.
I thought you brought a sense of joy and naiveté to this performance that was so reminiscent of the big band era. The male voices from that era were not large instruments; rather, they were gentle, yet convincing messengers of the mood created through the song and lyrics. It was more about establishing an intimate ambiance and about entertaining an audience – not about achieving the glory notes. The late and great Sammy Davis Jr. was the exception to the rule; everyone else, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore, and even Tony Bennett had a more relaxed quality to his or her vocal delivery.
Therefore, for all of the above reasons, I thought that you did create a very enjoyable and genuine performance. You certainly had fun, moving effortlessly through the audience and then finding yourself dancing with Paula Abdul toward the end of this number. Also, I loved your look and you demeanor; it was pure sophistication and complimented the style and mode of this era of music.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable performance.
Critique: Sanjaya –I have called attention to your adorable smile numerous times in these masterclass articles. As much as it endears you to your audience and reinforces your gentle and sensitive demeanor, I would like to see you establish a higher degree of animation in your performance level. As stated in previous weeks, your facial demeanor never changed and, hence, your vocal sound remained stagnant as well. I was longing to see some variety in your facial and bodily expression; it was all a little too one dimensional for me.
Also, that ubiquitous smiling mouth position diminished the pitch centered ring of your voice and detracted from establishing a more resonant, robust timbre in your vocal quality. You can have a young, light voice and still sing in tune if you are supporting your vocal sound through the correct technical process. The horizontal mouth position discouraged you from accessing your diaphragmatic breathing muscles and so the focus and forward projection of your voice was never established at any point in this song and your tuning was periodically off centre.
I still think that you rehearse your songs with an approach that buries your lack of technical skills and I wish, just once, you would stand on stage, feet planted firmly in place and sing a beautifully sustained ballad. You need to challenge yourself, Sanjaya, and I wonder if this is ever going to be a possibility during your tenure on this year’s season of American Idol. It seems that it is too easy to hide behind the smoke and mirrors of your vocal act. Prove me wrong!
Your comments are always welcome