By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, our Top 6 performers inspired the American Idol viewing audience with “life anthem” songs that signified the humanitarian values of hope and compassion. This theme paralleled the huge Idol Gives Back Performance Gala that was to follow the next evening. This unprecedented event drew some of the world’s biggest entertainment and music stars, all in support for children and young people from the USA and Africa who are living with extreme poverty and endless suffering.
Blake, Chris, Jordin, Lakisha, Melinda and Phil gave absolutely wonderful performances and the format of the show added a very special and meaningful dimension to the entire program. Intermingled with the singer’s performances were heartbreaking, mind and soul-altering video footage, emphasizing everything that many of us take for granted in our daily lives. Simple, yet crucial things like food, water, a clean and healthy environment, good health and peace of mind.
Somewhere during the presentation of this program the performances receded in my mind, as I became extremely pre-occupied by the message delivered through this very unique and very timely show. Priorities were reversed. However, here is what I do remember from these performances.
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: “Imagine” by John Lennon
Strengths: Blake – I absolutely loved the opening strains of this song which included the lovely acoustic guitar accompaniment accompanied by your quiet, yet passionate vocal and visual demeanor. It firmly established the emotional mood and texture of this wonderful song classic. Additionally, I loved the added reverberation in the microphone; it was the perfect touch and it added depth and resonance to your clean, pitch perfect tenor voice.
Once again, that circular mouth on those sustained pure vowels were a welcome presence throughout this song, and rendered a cohesive, smooth approach to your melodic line. Your refined, bel canto approach when vocalizing this song allowed your voice to have presence and ring, as it encouraged you to center and place your voice in your vocal masque. Also, it drew attention to the fact that you were, indeed, exercising a high degree of diaphragmatic breath support in the vocalization process.
That being said, your vocal range sounded quite secure throughout this song, save for one misstep that I will discuss in the “critique” portion of this article. Also, the 2nd time you sang through your falsetto line you exhibited wonderful control and you moved effortlessly from your natural tenor range into this lighter, headier quality of your voice.
Also, I really felt that you were attempting to keep that head level with the camera and with your audience. Yes, every so often we would lose your eyes, but you quickly maneuvered your head back to the proper position. This is really a difficult habit to lose, but with time and patience that problematic elevated head position will be a distant memory.
The key selection for the performance of this song was “right on the money”. Any higher and you would have encountered some serious vocal issues with your upper range.
Also, the tonality of the song allowed you to highlight the beauty and depth of your gorgeous baritone range. Your voice sounded velvety and creamy in texture when you entered this area of your range, providing beautiful contrast with the light, ringing quality of your tenor range. Again, you moved with ease into the lower register, incorporating the essential “head tone” element to render a ringing baritone sound.
Please give us more “baritone treats” in your future performances, Blake. To me, your voice sounded the most natural and free in the lower part of your range. Just a little something to consider in your future song selections!
This was, all in all, a solid and moving performance. Kudos!
Critique: Blake – you encountered a problem with the first area of falsetto singing in this song. For whatever reason, it seemed to take you by surprise and, as a result, your diaphragmatic support system failed you.
Sometimes, if the voice is tired or dry, then this can affect the upper range – almost cause a delay in the manifestation of the sound. This may have been the problem and it is to your credit that you have the technical prowess to assist you when problems like this occur on stage. Obviously you do, as the second falsetto portion of this song was absolutely flawless.
Also, echoing the statements of the judges, I have to agree that, although the song was beautifully sung, you could have, perhaps, been more inventive when phrasing the melodic line. At times, I felt that you were taking a fragmented approach to this song, breathing in all the predictable places instead of carrying your breathing a little longer through the phrases in the melodic line.
For instance, you did breathe in the normal breath spot after the words: “It’s easy if you try”. It would have been more interesting if you had carried the phrase further into the next line: “No hell below us” without a breath, allowing the voice to crescendo and move toward the 2nd line. I hope I am making myself clear here, Blake.
As beautiful as this song is, it is one of those songs that can fall into the dumpster unless you add something new and interesting that has not been heard before. The song still needs to attain the correct level of simplicity so as not to deter the emotional and poignant message it conveys. However, inventive phrasing combined with dynamic variety would have added increased dimension to this song.
Hope this assists you, Blake. And –where oh where did the beat boxing go? This is what defined you as a unique artist. We know you can sing, now let’s try to combine the two in at least one of your future performances.
Chris Richardson : “If I Could Change The World” by Eric Clapton
Strengths: Chris – the opening strains of this song were just beautiful and that lovely, understated guitar accompaniment enhanced the initial artistic effect of this number. Additionally, your voice had a more refined structure in the early moments of this song presentation – your vocal timbre sounded clear and transparent, less reedy than in previous weeks.
I thought your natural voice moved easily through the melodic line of this wonderful song selection, signifying that you chose the perfect key for your light tenor range.
Visually, you moved with your signature rhythmic intensity throughout this number and I appreciated your earnest and honest approach in the performance of this song.
Critique: Chris – what am I going to do with you? That mouth formation is driving me crazy. As in previous weeks, you adopted a “smiling” position with your mouth formation, encouraging you to vocalize with a less efficient technical regime. If you had adopted a more circular formation with your mouth position, your vocal timbre would have enjoyed a greater sense of depth and ring that, presently, is a non- entity in your vocal production.
To add fuel to the fire, the less relaxed position of the mouth and jaw caused you to tighten and constrict your throat muscles and, as a result, you encountered a few “cracks” in your vocal armor along the way to securing an aesthetically pleasing performance. You were squeezing out your vocal sound, not allowing it to flow free from an open and non-constricted throat.
As I have said numerous times in these evaluations, you are presently producing your vocal sound with little to no technical support and this is causing you to delay the process of developing a dynamically rich and exciting vocal sound. Your voice sounded emaciated and, although you have the passion of a singer, you still do not have enough vocal dimension to deliver a truly exciting and memorable vocal performance.
Also, as much as I love the earnest and relaxed rhythmic energy you exude throughout your performances, part of me is wondering if you do so in an effort to detach yourself from really secure technical singing. It takes energy and discipline to sing technically well and move at the same time. Both the choreographic and vocal elements have to be carefully balanced throughout a performance so that each compliments the other.
You should try practicing your songs while keeping your body perfectly still, yet relaxed. This would allow you time to focus on the areas of tension throughout your body and give you time to work on accessing the proper breathing technique.
You need to develop the security and the confidence that comes from superb diaphragmatic breath support when you sing. It’s the only way to go, Chris and I hope that you will someday allow the technique to enhance and craft the true potential in your voice.
Presently, your voice is “hiding under the covers”; it’s time to waken up your vocal sound with stellar vocal training and start a new day in your life as a vocalist. I promise you, you’ll never look back. Good luck, Chris!
JORDIN SPARKS: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Strengths: Jordin – this is a song classic and I am glad that someone decided to choose this song. You were obviously transported into another dimension while singing this song, as the emotional impact of the song’s message really spoke to your innate sensitivity and compassion as an artist and as a person.
You set the mood beautifully from the beginning of this song and that breathless quality actually contributed to the initial strains of this number. If anyone has seen the musical, “Carousel”, the opening segment of the song is sung with hesitancy and trepidation, mirroring the heartbreaking context in which this song is performed.
Then, as the song progresses, strength, determination and hope take over and the singer, along with the chorus, sounds more resonant and powerful in vocal stature. It really is a wonderful and poignant transformation and adds such impact as the song moves toward the climactic ending.
Therefore, whether intentional or not, I thought that you, Jordin, really performed this song in character and, as a result, the message of the song was delivered loud and clear. It made me listen and this is so important in the successful communication of any storyline behind a song.
Vocally, your voice gained strength toward the middle and end of the song and your long sustained phrasing was a joy to behold. You have it happening in your diaphragm, Jordin; if not, you would not have been able to sustain that powerful, upper register note at the end of this song. However, what was even more important to me was the fact that I felt what you felt when you performed this song. The artistry and the passion were just outstanding, young lady! Brava!
Critique: Jordin – as in last week’s performance, you really have to watch that horizontal mouth position, especially when you enter your upper register. As in last week’s performance, it encouraged you to tighten and constrict your facial and throat muscles, allowing you to carry way too much chest voice into this area of your range. There was little or no head voice in this area of your range and, as a result, your overall vocal timbre was less resonant and had little ring or transparency.
Also, that shallow breathing was a ubiquitous element throughout this performance and there are many reasons in my mind why this has become problematic in a couple of other performances as well.
First of all, your posture was not elevated as it should be and therefore your rib cage muscles were not fully expanding with the intake of air. Additionally, this collapsed support system allowed your air supply to be released with your vocal sound, rather than controlled to produce a clear vocal sound. The support was not consistent or cohesive. It was there for the louder dynamic – to a certain extent – but certainly not a viable presence for the softer dynamic and lower range vocals.
Also, it made me wonder whether you suffer from allergies or a mild form of asthma. I have taught some students with similar problems who have experienced the same difficulties you encountered with your breathing in this performance.
Because of the congestion in their chest, it requires great effort to support and control the air regulation in the production of their vocal sound. The result is a cloudy vocal texture that is really beyond their control on any particular day. It requires unbelievable stamina from the singer to sing efficiently, more so than when the singer is having a healthy, allergy free day.
Lastly, the fact that you were so emotionally involved with the song may have compromised the full compliment of your breathing capability. You were in tears after this song performance, so I suspect that the emotion overrode some level of technical security during this song’s performance.
Also, I was hoping that you would have performed a gospel version of this song. I have done so with my choir and it is to die for. I actually prefer it to the original version and I think it would have better suited your youthful personality.
However, this was still a meaningful and professionally mature performance, Jordin. Great work, once again.
Lakisha Jones: “I Believe”, originally recorded by Fantasia
Strengths: Lakisha – I thought you rendered a thoroughly believable and vocally compelling performance this week. As always, the lyrics were central to your theatrical style of vocal delivery and well they should be. You have an innate ability, Lakisha, to communicate the storyline with absolute clarity and conviction.
Now, let me draw some attention to the so- called “shouting” issue perpetrated by the judges during this week and last week’s performance. First of all, I think everyone is confusing shouting with natural vocal power. To say that you were shouting is to say that classical singer Montserrat Caballe or Jesse Norman “shout” or “scream” when performing their enviable range of vocal repertoire.
Both of these internationally renowned artists are known for the strength of their natural singing voices and have carved an exciting career based on their enormous vocal gifts. What constitutes one singer’s forte (loud) singing may be another singer’s mezzo forte singing and so on. It’s all relative to the innate strength and vocal resonance of the individual voice and its owner.
Therefore, you, Lakisha, with that disciplined circular mouth position, relaxed jaw and open and expressive features vocalized the louder dynamic levels of this beautiful song with what I believe to be excellent and finely honed technical skills. And, quite honestly, if anyone shouted this song it was the song’s original recording artist, Fantasia. In fact, she was screaming to the point that her vocal sound was absolutely grating and difficult to listen to.
However, before the numerous Fantasia fans throw something at the computer screen and send harassing emails, I want to further say that I am a big fan of Fantasia and am really tickled pink to see that she landed a coveted role in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple”. Further to this, she has obviously worked hard to develop and strengthen her considerable vocal skills through the proper technical process and her current voice sounds healthy and renewed. Good on you, Fantasia.
However, getting back to Lakisha, I want to emphasize that this was a solid, concrete performance in both style and substance. I loved it very much and just have tremendous respect for the level of vocal and performing discipline that you bring to the Idol stage each week.
Brava Queen Lakisha!
Critique: Lakisha –why are you selecting songs that are blatantly identifiable with other Idols? You perform them brilliantly – no question – but you are inviting subjective comparison that, so far, has obviously worked against you save for your initial Top 24 performance of “And I Am Telling You”.
Your song selection process over the past couple of weeks has been a worrisome trend and I hope you are given an opportunity to showcase a song that allows you to distance yourself –and your audience -from the original artist.
Also, perhaps, in an effort to relax the powerful dynamic level in your voice, you can work to more effectively pace yourself in your future song performances, adding more nuance and color to your vocal production. In other words, do not give away too much vocal power too soon; keep some in reserve, so as to add increased interest and dimension to your song performance.
I thought your Top 12 performance of “God Bless The Child” was absolutely brilliant, in that it was an understated, vocally creative showcase, where you permitted yourself to add color and dimension to your vocal timbre. You proved that you are an artist with the technical and artistic gifts to color and craft your voice through a vast spectrum of possibilities and I would love to see you approach this level of artistry again, Lakisha.
However, this was still a beautifully rendered performance and it would be foolish and dishonest to suggest otherwise. Congratulations on a stellar showcase, Lakisha! Bravissima!
“There Will Come A Day” by Faith Hill
Strengths:Melinda –how I loved this brilliantly performed song selection. I think that you could give a Vocal Masterclass in the importance of programming song selections that truly speak to the emotional, physical and vocal strengths of an artist. You have “mastered” this important component consistently well throughout this competition. Additionally, your impeccably rehearsed performing and vocal elements have not only showcased songs that were convincing and memorable, but also songs that defined you as an artist and as a person.
This was a heartfelt performance, Melinda and your voice sounded radiant and secure throughout the showcase. Also, more than any other week, I thought your upper register incorporated more of the ringing “head tone” element that is so important in creating an aesthetically pleasing and transparent vocal sound in this area of your range.
This was a very strong and believable visual performance as well. Your voice mirrored your very animated facial features – sometimes poignant and heart wrenching and other times echoing the virtues of faith and hope that this song embodied. As a result, your singing voice had a wonderful array of speech like inflection when you sang this number and the words were communicated with ease and expressivity.
I always tell my singers to create a picture or situation in their mind when performing a song, because singing is all about telling a story. How can it not be, right? You have to connect with the lyrics and then be generous and vulnerable enough to allow the lyrics to connect with the listener. This is what elevates a song to a level that resonates in a memorable and inspiring way in the minds and hearts of the audience.
Also, by allowing yourself to sing expressively, so many of the technical issues are resolved or, at the very least, tend not to be as prevalent in a performance. Words are articulated with more clarity, the voice gains dimension, there is physical buoyancy throughout the performance and more. Expressive energy and technical energy are interconnected, as you have definitely demonstrated to us through this great performance.
Once again, the visual transformation was exceptional. Keep the longer hair, Melinda. I love it and, what’s more important, your new look is heightening your sincere and radiant charisma on stage. You are looking like and sounding like a star, yet, at the same time, your sensitive and approachable persona is a joy to behold.
No matter what the outcome is from this competition, all the vital artistic elements are easily falling into place as you move ahead to creating a new direction in your performing career. Brava, once again, on another stellar performance!
Critique: Melinda – once again, I found nothing to critique this week. And, believe me, I was looking because in previous weeks when singing a ballad, you did encounter some breathing issues.
However, it is obvious that you have been working extremely hard to secure and sustain cohesive and musical phrasing within the melodic line. The forward momentum in this ballad was clearly felt, something that I felt was lacking in your previous ballads. So, once again, congratulations on your diligent and methodical effort to correct and secure a strong, technically efficient vocal performance this week.
Phil Stacey: “The Change” by Garth Brooks
Strengths: Phil –how I “heart” this song. This was an excellent choice of song for this week’s theme and I thought that your voice and your sincere demeanor rendered artistic justice to this song’s delivery.
Also, this timely song choice reinforced your innate strength in the genre of country music, as it was originally recorded by country legend, Garth Books. And, even Garth abandoned his customary nasal twang when performing this song; his voice sounded clean and refined and his vowels were “British” pure – not a diphthong was heard throughout his original performance. Plus, like you Phil, he had a round mouth and relaxed jaw. Bel canto country style! Ha!
Therefore, your vocal style was absolutely perfect for this number. This is a potently moving song that requires real vocal pipes and committed and serious singing talent and you absolutely “fit the bill”, Phil!
You have enjoyed enormous improvement in the production of your vocal sound and style throughout this competition. Your voice is gaining in depth and resonance and developing in a technically secure way. Your hard work and determination has allowed you to “step up your game” in this competition and this is what this show is all about – watching a talent grow and emerge before our eyes on live television.
In addition to your stellar vocal ability while performing this number, I deeply appreciated the genuine vocal delivery during the performance of this song. Your subtle hand and arm gestures and the speech like inflection you incorporated into this song emphasized your commitment to the communicative aspects of this song’s delivery. You made sure that the story behind the song resonated with your audience.
In addition, there was enough dynamic variety to add dimension to this song. Again, you accomplished this in an understated and carefully rehearsed manner, making sure that the stage gestures complimented rather than detracted from the vocal potency of this song selection. I always sensed that this song was moving forward as your phrasing was accomplished in an impeccable and meaningful manner.
This was a confident and moving performance! Just excellent! Bravo!
Critique: Phil – as soon as you sang your first note I thought – this song is too high. This was my major issue this week, Phil, the key choice for this song. I felt that you were singing beyond your natural singing range and, so, at times, there was audible strain in your voice when singing in your upper register. The tonality of this song did not sit properly in your natural singing range, so, with or without technique, some audible tension was inevitable.
Key selection is tantamount when preparing and researching your songs. Even a semi-tone lower would have made a huge difference in your comfort level and your voice would have resonated with a more liberated and relaxed vocal quality.
Also, as I mentioned to Blake, do not forego the possibility of experimenting with your lower range. I have a sneaky suspicion that you have a resonantly beautiful lower range that is crying to be released from your body.
I am happy that you have another week to blossom as you should and am very anxious to hear your next song selection. Surely it will be upbeat once again. Moving toward a country gospel sound would be the correct avenue for you.
However, watch your key selection! Promise? Okay! See you next week!
Your comments are always welcome