By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week our Final 3 singers showcased the traditional song selections at this stage of the competition: Judge’s Choice, Producer’s Choice and Personal Choice. I can imagine that a great deal of mentoring, arranging and coaching have been percolating throughout the Idol camp this week. Don’t you wish you were a fly on the wall at this stage of the competition? I do.
Blake, Jordin and Melinda rendered some outstanding showcases and underlined their longevity in this competition. So, without further ado, let’s move right into the Masterclass evaluations
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: “Roxanne” (Judge Paula’s Choice), “This Love” (Producers’ Choice) and “Can I Get You Alone” (Own Choice)
Strengths: Blake – first of all, let me congratulate you on selecting three new songs to showcase this week. It was a brave journey to travel, considering the tremendous pressure you must be feeling at this stage of the competition. However, this fresh repertoire added a high level of interest and of diversity to your Top 3 showcase and intensified your depth as a true artist.
Paula selected your first song, “Roxanne”, and, although it wasn’t the best vocal fit for you, I still felt that you performed this song quite well. You stayed very true to some of your ingrained technical skills, maintaining that circular mouth formation, thus allowing the bel canto process to take hold of your melodic line. I also loved your inventive, although tentative use, of the mike stand in your choreographic movements. It added to the mood of the song and allowed you to inject some wonderful personal elements into this performance.
However, it was the second song, “This Love”, selected by the producers, which allowed you to sing within your own very unique, very distinctive element. All the “Blake” moments were beautifully displayed with confidence, meticulous preparation and musical intelligence. This “Maroon 5” song was an excellent choice, Blake and the tonality of the melodic line was perfect for your vocal range
I loved your rhythmic steps in the opening bars of this song; I knew then and there that this was going to be a super showcase. Your rhythmic choreography accented and complimented your vocals and both elements were in perfect cohesion. That glimmer in your eyes as you performed this song was infectious; it was obvious that you were having an absolute blast with this song and we were all there for the ride.
Vocally, it was bel canto all the way and that diaphragm was pumping hard to inject a variety of nuances and energy into your vocal sound. The result was an entertaining, extremely communicative vocal performance.
Also, the expertly applied beat boxing/scat elements were flawlessly intertwined with the sustained vocals and did provide an extraordinary take on this great song. You are quite the arranger, Blake, and this, in and of itself, is a talent. This will carry you quite far in the music industry. I can honestly see you using this talent to compose catchy commercials – probably one of the most lucrative fields in the music business. This is how Barry Manilow began and, to this day, he is considered to be one of the most prolific pop arrangers in the business.
Finally, your last song, “Can I Get you Alone”, selected by you, was a great choice for your final Top 3 performance. I have never heard this song, but it didn’t really matter because your rendition made me fall in love with the composition. And how cool was it that Beethoven’s Fifth formed the basis of this pop song? This classical pop composition addressed the classical pop components in your own voice, Blake, and, thus created a perfect match, a match made in Heaven.
And, to add icing to the cake, the lower baritone range of your voice was the star of the show during this number, something that I was hoping to hear displayed to greater effect in the closing weeks of this competition. And you did, so you are my new hero!
What a rich, resonant quality you have in this area of your range! The fact that you easily can implement “head tone” throughout your vocal range allowed you to maintain a smooth, cohesive sound throughout the melodic line. Therefore, the lower and mid range notes sounded pure and pitch centered and, more important, the quality was bright and transparent.
The ending was so entertaining, reinforcing the Beethoven Fifth’s rhythmic components with the your distinctive pop riffs. It was an inspiring song choice and an inspiring performance. Bravo Blake. Just excellent!
Critique: Blake – your second and third songs were just excellent and I have nothing to critique in the two numbers. Even though you probably felt extremely comfortable with these songs, you took unbelievable artistic risks with these numbers and it truly reaped huge rewards for you.
Both numbers addressed the high degree of artistry and intelligence that you have brought to this competition. Also, you are positively unique – different and current. There has never been a “Blake Lewis” clone on this show and this fact alone has allowed you to rise to the top of the pack.
However, the first song, “Roxanne” was just not a good choice at all. Sorry Paula. First of all the key was so wrong – it sat far too high in your vocal register and, thus, you were singing outside of your comfort zone. You have a lovely tenor range; however, the problem with this song is that the melody line was consistently high, encouraging you to push the vocal sound from your throat than allowing the diaphragm to support and focus your voice.
Back in full force was the head raising issue, another sign that you were experiencing tension throughout this song, allowing you to reach for the high notes rather than sing over them. If the key selection had been a tone lower, I think your performance would have been more successful and you would have been able to easily add you Blake –isms to this performance, such as you beat box and scat skills.
Also, your eyes conveyed your anxiety. A few times I noticed you looking back to the orchestra – whether it was for direction or the fact that the discomfort level sat too high in your train of thought during this live performance. Also, your mike stand movements were hesitant – first you had the mike stand, then you didn’t. You were not a happy camper on stage during this number.
Oh my – I am so happy that your final two performances far outclassed the first, as you certainly are a much better artist than this song allowed you to showcase. Even though this song selection was beyond your control, I still want to emphasize that a lower key selection would have rendered a far superior performance. Sometimes, this makes all the difference.
However, this was still a great week for you Blake. I am so glad that you were confident and secure enough as an artist to hop back on the horse and finish the Top 3 show case with two brilliant performances. Kudos! You are a very deserving candidate for the Finale.
JORDIN SPARKS: “Wishing On A Star”(Judge Simon’s Choice), “She Works Hard For The Money” (Producers’ Choice) and “I Who Have Nothing” (Own Choice)
Strengths: Jordin – your three song selections were indeed diverse and you handled the wide range of diversity quite well.
“Wishing On A Star”, although selected by Judge Simon, really was not the best song choice for you. I actually found it a confusing song choice, as it really didn’t address the strengths of your natural vocal ability. However, I loved the jazzy expressive elements you added to your interpretive approach to this song, as it accentuated the melodic line of the song most effectively.
You did try to implement some dynamic layers to this song. The delicate “head tone” vocal shading in the opening bars of this song contrasted nicely with the more powerful vocals later on in this number.
Moving on to the Producers’ Choice, “She Works Hard For The Money”, this song provided great contrast to your opening number and encouraged you to highlight your genuine personality. Not too sure whether the song or the song lyrics were appropriate for your age, but the quicker tempo of this number allowed you to have fun with your audience with a relaxed and comfortable stage demeanor.
Your mid range vocals were absolutely perfect – the technique was spot on and your vocal quality was rich and resonant. I absolutely loved the sustained power notes toward the end of this song; it emphasized the depth of your technical development and that you do indeed know how to sustain and focus your vocal sound in the proper way.
Sometimes, the quicker paced songs create energy and momentum and I think this is why your technique enjoyed considerable improvement during this number. There was a sense of buoyancy throughout your entire body and this, in turn, encouraged you to support with consistent efficiency. Most noticeable was the improvement in your posture throughout this song. There was visible elevation and expansion in you rib cage area and your shoulders were relaxed and loose.
Of course your personal selection, “I Who Have Nothing” was still the gem I remembered it to be from your Top 11 performance. I still marveled at your mature and professional interpretation of this very difficult and complex song composition. This was such a poised, technically secure performance and your voice embraced the melodic line with technical and artistic security.
Additionally, you controlled your air intake deep within your diaphragmatic resources, thus eliminating that extremely audible and technically inefficient shallow breathing that we have heard in previous showcases.
Good work, Jordin and congratulations on your advancement toward the Finale. Brava!
Critique: Jordin – as much as I have great admiration for the strength and power of your natural vocal ability, I found that, over the past few weeks, your technical training has faltered tremendously. I am sure that the pace and stress of this competition is extremely exhausting and, along with this high level of exhaustion, comes poorly defined technique. Your body just collapses and, therefore, loses so much of its natural resilience.
Let’s begin with “Wishing On A Star”. As I said in the “Strengths” portion of this evaluation, I felt that this song choice was not the best. The melodic line was so limiting and, in the end, lost a sense of precise vocal direction. It was a monotonous, repetitive composition and straight away all the alarms went off in my head when you performed this song.
Although you added some lovely nuances throughout this song, you did have trouble focusing and placing your voice in your vocal masque so as to achieve a clear, pitch centered vocal timbre. Your upper voice sounded husky and airy, indicating that you were having trouble achieving full support of the air from the diaphragm. The head tone component that is so necessary when singing through this part of your range was conspicuously absent
Then as you moved into the albeit more interesting mid range section of this number, the absence of pure head tone was even more noticeable, as your voice sounded very tight and edgy, indicating that you were using far too much chest voice throughout this number. The throat muscles were very constricted and your mouth formation was not only horizontal but also extremely tense and rigid.
The repetitive vocal line encouraged you to apply a less consistent level of technical skill. You must remember that, when you encounter these cyclic passages, you must support and phrase them in a very musical manner. Many times the support system fails because the mundane melodic component causes singer to let down her technical guard. I do believe this is what happened to you, Jordin, during the performance of this number.
Also, your posture was problematic as well. By not maintaining an elevated and expansive rib cage, your support system collapsed and, of course, the airflow was erratic and poorly controlled.
Your second number, “She Works Hard For The Money” was a better fit for you. I enjoy listening to and watching you sing up-tempo numbers. It allows you more opportunity for vocal freedom and, actually, works to solidify the technique with more buoyancy and energy. I can’t say I really like this number – at all – and I have no idea why, out of all the possible songs from which to choose, this is what the producers settled upon. Go figure!
However, that spread mouth position was really encouraging far too much chest voice in your vocal timbre. You must always remember to incorporate the head tone component into your vocal sound – whether soft or loud, high or low. This will ensure a beautifully even, aesthetically pleasing vocal sound throughout your range and will alleviate undue stress on those precious vocal cords.
Your final number, “I Who Have Nothing” was exceptional, Jordin. However, the hunched shoulders and collapsed posture were back in full force. Although you managed to control your shallow breathing, it would have been even more successful if you had allowed your body to maintain an elevated deportment. Also, this elevated carriage would have signified a more confident and embracing stage presence. When you stoop or hunch your shoulders and/or have poorly defined posture, you are sending out a less confident and convincing message to your audience. Your overall stage demeanor really suffers.
However, I would like to congratulate you on advancing to the Finale and I thoroughly look forward to your performances next week. Stand tall! Brava!
“I Believe In You And Me” (Judge Randy’s Choice) and “Nutbush City Limits” (Producer’s Choice” and “I’m A Woman” (Own Choice)
Strengths:Melinda –what more is there to say about you? I am running out of superlatives here. You may not have secured a place in the final two spots of this competition, but you definitely should be crowned Ms. Style and Substance of American Idol. You are simply an amazingly gifted singer who has performed with meticulous consistency throughout this competition. The special musical gifts you have brought to this competition will remain an indelible memory in the minds of all the viewers.
So, let’s examine all the wonderful elements you brought to each extremely diverse performance this week. Your opening number, which was selected by Judge Randy, was an inspired song choice – so yea for Randy Jackson. “I Believe In You And Me”, originally performed by Whitney Houston, is an extremely complex, vocally challenging song.
However, with your terrific work ethic and deep understanding of the artistic complexities of this and every song, you managed to surpass some of your previously stellar performances from past weeks while performing this great number.
This was truly a Masterclass Performance in every way. I often talk about the classical pop approach to singing when performing non-classical music. Thank you Melinda for demonstrating this style of music with clarity and precision. All the fundamentals were beautifully placed throughout this song performance – the strong and powerful diaphragmatic breathing skills, the creative approach to your phrasing, the stellar vocal projection and the implementation of speech like inflection in your vocal sound.
How I loved the seamless way you negotiated the key change, adding a crystal clear melisma (vocal scale) as you moved into the change in tonality. Equally brilliant was the sustained upper note on the word “me” – it had ring and clarity and was wonderfully centered with the correct blend of head and chest voice.
Your lower range was equally effective. I loved how you navigated and highlighted this area of your range, Melinda. What a beautiful velvety sound you possess in the lower register – yummy! I truly could go on and on, as there were so many special moments throughout this song. This was a flawless, beautifully rehearsed performance and the communicative elements were so sincere and so gracious.
Then, in your second number, we were treated to your inner rock child with the Producers’ Choice, “Nutbush City Limits”. This was an inspired song choice as well and it just cemented the obvious fact that no style is too daunting for Ms. Style and Substance – Melinda Doolittle. I loved your choreographic skills during this number – the best being when you raised the microphone stand as you glided into your upper range. Did anyone else notice this? What a great moment this was in this song – really neat and creative.
Once again your vocals were jam packed with edgy rock and roll nuances ala Ike and Tina Turner. This was another well-formulated and stylistically believable performance. Also, your posture was so correct – beautifully elevated and expansive, allowing your diaphragmatic breathing skills to work their magic in projecting your vocal sound into your vocal masque.
And then you ended your Top 3 showcase with what I consider to be your signature song, “I’m A Woman”. How neat was it that three back-up singers exploded on stage to back-up you, Ms. Melinda? Last year at this time, you were enjoying a wonderful career as a successful back-up singer and this year – well, different story indeed.
Your performance of this song was superb, and, quite frankly, you concealed those forgotten lyrics beautifully. You stayed truly in the moment and this very minor misstep had no effect whatsoever on your presentation. In fact, it accented your professionalism and confidence even more so, as others would have perhaps been flustered, allowing this problem to affect the rest of the performance.
However, you sashayed and shimmied all over the stage and allowed your wonderfully expressive vocals to entertain and inspire. You are such a generous performer, Melinda. Your talent is a gift, but your ability to share it with all of us so freely speaks to your commitment to and respect for your audience.
Brava x 1,000,000,000! Now, start recording that album. I will be the first in line!
Critique: Melinda – all three numbers were brilliantly performed. As I said last week, be very careful with that spread mouth position. I understand the method to your madness, as the horizontal mouth position actually assists you in adding a higher degree of inflection and nuance in your vocal delivery.
However, be careful that the throat is open and relaxed. Never push from the neck muscles and/or throat. I don’t think you are, but one can never be too careful. Access the powerful support from your diaphragm at all times; in doing so, you will ensure that your voice will enjoy longevity and good health.
Also, I was hoping that you would choose a new selection for your personal song choice. In fact, given the level and depth of your artistry I was expecting it. Perhaps it was a clearance issue? Nevertheless the implementation of the background vocalists gave me a chuckle and added to the entertainment value of this repeated song choice.
Congratulations once again, Melinda. It has been such an immense pleasure to watch and review your performances each week. Kudos!
Your comments are always welcome