By: Rosanne Simunovic
Well, thank heavens for Country Music week. I am not a huge country fan, but I do like the crossover appeal of many of the songs from this genre, as well as the fact that, like the song classics from the big band era, the lyrical and melodic components of many of these songs are extremely important.
Country music emphasizes the communication of the poetic emotion with a genuine and tangible singing style. I was hoping that this would propel and motivate the Top 7 to follow this creed, if only to showcase that there is indeed personality and talent hidden within their individual beings.
Well, through the wonderful and constructive guidance of country diva, Martina McBride, the majority of the performances were just wonderful this week. Many of these singers not only soared to new heights, but also rekindled a keen interest in this year’s American Idol season. Now, we have a reason to watch and believe!
Excellent work singers and brava to Martina McBride.
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: “When The Stars Go Blue”
Strengths: Blake – as in last week’s performance, your understated demeanor was absolutely perfect for this particular song. I have never heard this song before. Therefore, being unfamiliar with the original version. I felt that you adopted an intelligent, almost esoteric approach to this country song. If there is such an idiom as country jazz, then this performance filled that niche perfectly.
This week, the implementation of your solid technical foundation was a tangible and continuing presence throughout this performance. My ears perked up immensely when I heard you vocalize those classical “Ah” sounds when singing the “A” vowel. Further to this, the relaxed, lightly articulated “r” consonant was excellent. When singers learn to adopt the more formal English pronunciation in their singing style, then the aesthetic qualities of the singing voice sound more refined and polished.
This week, we heard more dimension in your singing voice, as you moved quite smoothly into your crystal clear falsetto (head tone) range. You have always incorporated head tone into your vocal sound, Blake, and this is why your voice has always resonated with pitch-centered security throughout your range.
Also, like Lakisha, that circular mouth of yours has now become a “Blake trademark.” I have great respect for singers who place a high value on the importance of singing technically well. The artistry is important, but you have both elements going for you, Blake, so I applaud your intelligent and studied approach to your singing style.
Also that wonderful crescendo in the early stages of this song, as you sustained your upper register note, was perfect. Did anyone else hear this except me? It was beautifully done and the gradual movement into the louder dynamic level was technically secure. You started with a perfectly placed, softer dynamic – pure head tone really – then allowed the diaphragmatic muscles to create the crescendo toward the forte dynamic.
As always, your choreographic skills were flawless and rhythmically implemented and added the perfect touch to a beautifully programmed showcase.
Great work, Blake!
Critique: Blake – this week, we still had some problems with your elevated head position, so I would caution you to continue to work on this distractive element in your stage presence. I know that this is a very difficult habit to change, as it has become ingrained in you over the years.
However, I find that this week it wasn’t as prevalent, as, the camera angles were working in your favor. You owe the cameramen a free dinner! (smile)
Also, make certain that you continue to work on developing the expressive elements in you face and in your voice. I still felt that you were somewhat detached from the emotional core of the song. Perhaps, expressively reciting the lyrics apart from the music will assist you in developing more nuance and flavor in your singing style.
Best of luck in your future performances, Blake!
Chris Richardson : “Mayberry”
Strengths: Chris – I am not familiar with this song, but I really loved it. I thought it was perfect for your voice. Once again, as in all your performances, the visual components of this showcase were excellent. You moved with rhythmic security throughout this performance and this sustained and underscored your inherent musicality.
You paced this song extremely well and, although your voice never sounded breathless despite the strong energetic stage choreography, you still ran into some technical issues that I will discuss below in the “critique” portion of this article.
Critique: Chris – once again you experienced numerous problems with your vocal presence, due, of course, to the inefficient level of technical foundation in the control and projection of your vocal sound.
All the persistent technical problems remained clearly evident this week – the spread mouth position, the lack of strong and consistent support of the diaphragmatic breathing muscles, the constricted throat muscles, the intermittent pitch problems and the lack of sustaining ability on the pure vowels within your lyrics.
As you have a very light tenor quality to your vocal timbre, it is imperative that you must learn to enhance and therefore develop your vocal sound through the correct technical process. If you do not learn to do so, you will never be able to transport your voice beyond the level of sound coming from your musical accompaniment.
Your voice needs to soar like it has wings and the only way you will be able to experience this sensation is to allow your upper body and your facial muscles to thoroughly relax, thus allowing the diaphragmatic muscles to resonate and “place” your vocal sound in your vocal masque. If your voice does not “ring” inside your head then this should signify that you are not producing and enhancing your voice through a technically correct regime.
And, by the way, Chris, nasal tone is never considered to be a valid vocal nuance when you sing. It is extremely annoying and very grating and, although some singers do adopt it while singing this style of music, it is a less acceptable and technically incorrect vocal element in many genres of music. It encourages singers to sing with poor technique and will do nothing to expand, enhance and develop their voice.
In closing, I would really caution you to develop more vocal discipline when working on your future performances. There was concrete evidence a few weeks ago that you were moving in this direction and then, for whatever reason, you abandoned this technical journey. Good technical singing is not something that will happen overnight, but, with consistent practice and determination the results should be quite noticeable and welcomed even in the early stages of development. Good luck, Chris!
JORDIN SPARKS: “Broken Wing”
Strengths: Jordin – oh my, this Top 7 performance was reminiscent of your memorable Top 11 performance when you sang “I Who Have Nothing”. The professional maturity and full extent of your artistic and vocal capacity was nothing short of astounding. The range of dynamic variation you employed in this song was absolutely outstanding. At no point in this song did I feel that your voice was incapacitated from lack of vocal dimension and color.
The intensity within the poetic message of this song was beautifully maintained throughout and you communicated the message of the lyrics with authentic passion and feeling. Your stage movements were appropriately simple and, yet, you still managed to thoroughly engage your audience with this absolutely brilliant signature performance.
This was an extraordinarily well paced and formulated presentation, as you followed Martian McBride’s intuitive advice and delivered the message of the song with vocal acumen and artistic skill. This was all about allowing your vocals to soar to unbelievable heights, again mirroring the message within the lyrics.
You maintained a wonderfully fluid and musical momentum as you vocalized through your phrases with musicality and expressive intent. This showcase was one of those “star search” moments that encouraged jaws to drop, as your voice resonated in our minds and hearts long after this performance ended.
This was just an excellent showcase, Jordin! Brava!
Critique: Jordin –be ever so careful of your mouth position when you vocalize into your upper range. Once again, I found that your mouth formation was more horizontal than circular and this encouraged you to slightly manipulate your vocal sound from the throat rather than allowing the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to hone and place your upper register sound.
As a result, I felt that perhaps there was just a little too much chest voice in the upper register mix, something that you have struggled with from time to time. Make sure that the power you are implementing when singing with a louder dynamic level is thoroughly accessed and supported through the use of the strength of the diaphragmatic breathing muscles. Never ever push from the throat – it will cause damage to your precious vocal cords and you want to avoid this at any cost.
Keep the head voice front and center when singing at any dynamic level within your upper range. This will add a sense of clarity and cohesion to your voice and will ensure that your vocal sound is properly centered and focused.
However, this was such a superb performance, Jordin! Generally your breath control was a cohesive factor throughout this showcase and I applaud your hard work and preparation in this and all your showcases. Brava once again!
Lakisha Jones: “Jesus Take The Wheel”
Strengths: Queen Lakisha –I thought this was an astonishing performance. Even though I felt there were, perhaps, more politically correct song choices for you (it’s difficult to sing a song so strongly identified with a current artist), I applaud you on selecting a song that spoke to you as a person, one that you could relate to and “feel”.
I loved every aspect of this song performance: your sincere and authentic demeanor, the outstanding vocal performance, where you displayed an enormous sense of control and color in every area of your vocal range and the clear and distinct communication of the song lyrics. This latter element – the clarity of the lyrics – was extremely well done. I understood and, more important, “felt” the message conveyed through your enormous vocal gift during this song performance.
The first part of the song was so darn impressive. You have an ability to tell a story like no other and you made me listen. Your ability to phrase your melodic line and add expression and nuance to color or express the lyrics was just outstanding and extremely inspirational.
Like Blake, you have a consistent and cohesive technical approach that allows you to move with ease and effortless from your lower to higher range, from your softer to louder dynamic levels. Contrary to the judges’ comments, I never sensed that you were belting; you maintained absolute control over your voice and your vocal timbre sounded rich, radiant, pitch-centered, luscious and velvety throughout this song.
This was another stellar performance from Queen Lakisha! Brava!
Critique: Lakisha – I have nothing to critique this week. This performance was beautiful and heart rending and the vocal and artistic delivery was absolutely brilliant. You have a wonderful gift for telling a story in a way that speaks to your inherent dramatic and theatrical abilities.
Even though ballads are your forte, I would love to see you turn on the charm and sing a song that illustrates to the viewers another side to your personality. Learn to discover the child within you and, when you do so, this playful and lighthearted emotion will surface in your up-tempo ballads.
However, congratulations on another stellar and memorable performance. Bravissima!
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: “Trouble Is A Woman”
Strengths:“Trouble is a Woman named Melinda” who came out on stage to kick some serious butt during this week’s country showcase. Melinda – you were absolutely brilliant this week. You highlighted all the necessary elements to secure a perfect performance – excellent song choice, tons of personality and charisma, strong and energetic vocals and outstanding stage choreography.
And Simon hit the nail on the head when he correctly observed that you were channeling some Tina Turner during the performance of this number. This was a sassy, youthful and exuberant showcase and this inspired song choice allowed you to expose the depth and dimension of your vocal and performing ability. It was wonderful to see you display your charming, playful and animated personality – one that was clearly missing in last week’s performance. What a difference a week – and a song choice – make!
Also, I noticed something about you that I have failed to mention in previous Masterclass articles. Your lower body posture was excellent, as you never allowed your ribcage to collapse. It always remained expanded and elevated, thus ensuring that you were consistently supporting your voice throughout your performance. Even when you leaned into the audience, this important technical aspect remained steadfast and true.
Visually, you looked absolutely wonderful this week – the stylists really worked their magic, as they rendered a more youthful look to your stage demeanor. As a result, the two very crucial elements – style and substance- were beautifully displayed throughout this showcase. This was an impeccable, meticulously rehearsed presentation – a signature showcase that resonated in a believable and genuine way in the ears and eyes of the viewing audience. Just outstanding! Brava!
Brava and kudos, Ms. Doolittle
Critique: Melinda – you make my job here so easy and I needed the break this week due to my busy schedule. How can anyone find any fault in this performance? It was a perfect 10 – the bomb! Congratulations once again!
Phil Stacey: “Where The Black Top Ends”
Strengths: Phil – now this was more like it! Your song selection and vocal delivery rose to renewed heights and, as a result, you rendered a confident and, more important, believable performance this week. You established convincing, communicative contact with your live and televised audience from the opening strains of this number and your energetic and enthusiastic personality was a joy to behold.
Like so many of the other singers this week, you initiated a wonderful connection to the lyrics and emphasized the story line of your song with expressive clarity and accuracy. Further to this, your physical movements, both on and off stage, were smoothly negotiated and extremely well paced.
Never did I sense that the vocals were compromised during the choreographic elements in this number. Both artistic elements were beautifully cohesive and it was evident that you worked extremely hard to blend the two to create an outstanding overall performance.
Also, the repetitive sections within the melodic line were musically shaped, allowing the phrasing elements within this song to maintain a forward and buoyant momentum. Your performance had a sense of flow and purpose during this week’s musical journey and, more important, you encouraged and stimulated the audience to participate in the ride. This is what performing is all about – engaging and captivating your audience in a believable and genuine fashion.
Vocally, your voice sounded technically controlled and resonant in the lower to mid area of your range and, since the majority of the song was in a comfortable key for your voice, the overall vocal performance was very fine indeed. The technical support of your vocal production has enjoyed noticeable improvement over the past few weeks – last week was the exception – so I applaud your supreme effort in applying this disciplined approach to your singing.
Good work, Phil!
Critique: Phil – this week your song choice was a more comfortable fit for you and, therefore, many of the technical areas that were problematic for you last week automatically and thankfully disappeared. Therefore, you must continue to choose your songs wisely and judiciously, making certain that your voice and persona are identifiable with every aspect of the song.
Nonetheless, you still encountered some problems with your upper range vocalization. Your voice sounded really tense and constricted, as you carried far too much chest voice into that upper range. Remember that, as you move on up in your vocal range, the lighter head tone element must be accessed so that this area of your voice can enjoy a ringing and pitch centered presence. Carrying too much chest voice into this area of your range will put an unbelievable amount of negative pressure on your vocal cords, resulting in a poorly centered and free vocal sound.
You would be wise to practice singing scale exercises, starting in the falsetto area of your vocal range and then descending in to the normal tenor portion of your vocal register, making certain that you keep and blend the head tone element as you move out of the falsetto area of your voice. This way, you will be working toward creating a ringing, pure presence to this area of your voice, encouraging and accessing your diaphragmatic muscles to assist in the process.
However, make certain that you do not push from the throat in the process; rather, allow the mouth to remain round on all the vowels and keep the jaw relaxed and support your vocal sound solely through those powerful rib cage and back muscles.
And the old adage of “thinking down when moving up” will mentally assist you to place and resonate your voice in proper fashion –in the vocal (facial) masque.
Hope all this helps, Phil and good luck next week!
SANJAYA MALAKAR: “Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About”
Strengths: Sanjaya – I thought that you had a great deal of fun while performing this very entertaining song selection. You looked extremely relaxed on stage and your stage movements appeared effortless and natural.
Also, the key selection for this song was excellent, as it emphasized the developing strength and power of your lower range. You have a wonderful vocal sound developing in that part of your range; it is rich, extremely resonant and pitch centered. I sensed that you were most relaxed when singing within the mid to lower vocal register, so kudos to you for understanding the margins of your vocal development and highlighting them to full effect.
I felt this was a sincere and honest performance that emphasized the growing development and future potential of your vocal and performing style. As a voice teacher, the promise of “what is to come” was wonderfully evident to my eyes and ears. You have a wonderful future ahead of you, as long as you continue to acquire more discipline and concentration in the development of your vocal and performing skills.
Good job, Sanjaya!
Critique: Sanjaya – so much of what I have to say here has been repeated over the last few weeks, so I would encourage you to read my comments about your past performances.
However, that being said, I felt that your biggest problem this week was the song choice. It wasn’t your most inspired and, although I understood your artistic intentions for choosing this song, the cyclic passages in the melodic and lyrical line just sounded so flat (literally) as the song progressed. Once again, I needed to hear more dimension and, perhaps, a rough edged passion to your voice so that the song would enjoy more grit and fever.
Also, you need to work on adding more speech like inflection into your singing style. For example, how would you say: “Let’s give them something to talk about!” You wouldn’t speak this phrase in a meek and submissive manner, correct? Then, that’s how you should sing this phrase. Then continue to apply this emotive principle to every part of the lyrical content, changing the sound and color of your voice to reflect the lyrical flavor at different points in this song.
Also, be very careful how you maneuver the transition to your upper range. I thought your voice sounded quite stretched and pinched, giving evidence to the fact that your throat muscles were constricted and the diaphragmatic breathing muscles were working in an efficient manner.
Again, this comes down to technical training and I hope that you really develop the initiative to equip yourself with a solid technical regime. Your voice has already improved during your tenure on American Idol, so do not hesitate to continue on this journey.
Best of luck in the future, Sanjaya!
Your comments are always welcome