By: Rosanne Simunovic
We have finally reached the end of the Idol road, but, for Blake and Jordin, this is the auspicious beginning of their musical career. American Idol has afforded them a tremendous opportunity for exposure and promotion and we can only anticipate the wonderful things in store for them in their post Idol musical success.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the readers who have either emailed me or stopped by this site to post their intelligent and well formulated comments. You have made these Vocal Masterclass articles a success and I will always be extremely grateful to you for your supportive and enlightening feedback.
And now, for the last time this season, my take on the Blake’s and Jordin’s performances this week.
As always, your comments are always welcome.
To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
Blake Lewis: “You Give Love A Bad Name”, “She Will Be Loved” and “This Is My Now”
Strengths: Blake – I was so thrilled to hear that you were performing an encore rendition of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name”. Due to illness, I was not able to submit a Vocal Masterclass article of the original performance of this song during “Bon Jovi week”. However, I am strong and healthy now and was able to truly enjoy and appreciate your excellent and innovative performance of this number.
I was absolutely mesmerized by your performance, Blake. It accurately accented the unique elements you have brought to this competition – your clear and precise vocal ability, your visionary arranging skills and your strong, commanding rhythmic actions on stage.
I adored the beginning – your ability to beat box the familiar sounds of a record as it is positioned onto the turntable. What a great way to start this number and it was a clever teaser for what was to come in the remainder of the song.
Throughout this number, you interspersed your resonantly sustained vocals with your beat boxing skills and the cohesive balance of the two elements was absolutely perfect. Vocally, your voice had a meaty texture that was not always evident in weeks past and it is a vocal skill that I was hoping you would attain at some point in this competition.
The energy you exerted through the beat boxing was actually transferred to your pure vocals, thus rendering a more acceptable balance of chest and head voice as opposed to the singularly latter vocal component. I think that the beat boxing encouraged you to apply more technical energy and support from the diaphragm and this, in turn, allowed your voice at attain a more powerful presence throughout this performance.
Going back to this unique arrangement, I also thoroughly enjoyed your duet with the drummer, as your percussive vocal sound successfully mimicked the rhythmic beat emanating from the drums. Then, it was back to pure singing as you took that mike stand and traveled the perimeter of the stage, thus creating a strong visual component to this number.
During this number, you truly addressed all the important elements for a successful and credible performance, Blake – unique artistry, strong communicative skills and meticulous preparation.
Then we moved onto the slower paced Maroon 5 number, “She Will Be Loved”. I have to say that, given last week’s performance as well as this week, your voice sounded very comfortable and true when performing this band’s music. It addressed your contemporary approach to your music and, of course, with today’s market, this is extremely important. No Frank Sinatra for you, Blake, although I would pay good money to see and hear your beat boxing rendition of some upbeat big band music.
But, I digress. Once again your vocals were sustained quite well in your vocal masque and your vocal timbre had a pitch centered clarity that comes from your diligent use of head voice throughout your entire vocal range. It was good to sense the more classical pop side of your voice during this number, something that I have always valued in your vocal projection throughout the season. Your lyrics were cleanly articulated in a way that never hindered the sustaining regimen of your melodic line.
Your final song, “This Is My Now”, is this year’s chosen theme song for the winner. As much as this song did not suit your vocal personality, I thought your did a credible job performing this number. I loved the beginning, with you seated against a glowing blue backdrop. It set the perfect mood for this number and afforded you time to pace your self accordingly as you moved toward the high rhythmic energy midway through this number.
Once again your classical vocals were a welcoming presence throughout this song and the fact that you were able to vocalize at a softer dynamic level during the final bars of this song speaks highly for your level of technical training
Overall Blake, the imaginary process when you perform your songs is truly amazing and I look forward, with great anticipation, to the purchase of your first CD. I am sure it will be a huge success, given the extent of your intelligent and creative approach to your music.
You truly deserved this Top 2 level of recognition in this year’s competition. You have brought something fresh and new to the Idol table this season and your musical intelligence is applauded and commended by this writer. Standing ovation!!!! Bravo!!!!
.Critique: Blake – your first song was stellar and true. The imaginatively structured performance level of this song highly complimented the vocal delivery and signified the reason why you are such a unique and highly regarded rising star in the music business.
However, if I had to point to one minor critical detail, it would be to caution you to relax your throat when adding dynamic energy to your vocal sound. I felt that, at times, you were, perhaps, just slightly pushing the sound through the constriction of your throat muscles rather than allowing the sound to be solely projected and supported from the diaphragm. However, it was an intermittent vocal snag in this song and certainly did not detract from the many outstanding elements you conveyed throughout this first showcase.
Yet, in the second and third numbers, this very problem became more prevalent and obvious. For instance, your second number, “She Will Be Loved”, although stylistically suitable for your voice, really caused you to heighten the level of chest sound in your voice when vocalizing the louder dynamic levels of this song.
Now, as I have said in the “Strengths” portion of this evaluation, you need some level of chest voice in the timbre of your vocal sound in order to create a rich and robust vocal presence. However, the more powerful vocals must always be managed from the diaphragm, for, it is in this area of your body, that the air flow is efficiently managed to create an aesthetically pleasing vocal sound at every dynamic level.
I felt that your lower body lacked buoyancy and energy; you seemed to be producing your vocal sound mainly from your upper body. Also, although your overall posture was good, your knees could have, perhaps, been a bit more relaxed, especially when vocalizing in the upper range. As I have said in many other articles, the knee bend and butt squeezing approach really reinforces the strength of the rib cage and back muscles and propels the vocal sound forward in your vocal masque.
Additionally, I feel that when you add beat boxing to your songs, the diaphragm is more active and therefore your vocal sound is more animated as well. However, as some components of the beat boxing sounds are produced from the throat, you have to make certain that, when you sing your sustained vocals, the soft palate is raised and the throat is open and relaxed.
Also, the key of this song was too high for your natural singing range and I felt that the repetitive melodic line in your upper range caused you to support and phrase your musical passages using a less musical and less efficient technical approach. Key choice is crucial in song selection and, just when we were getting used to “baritone Blake”, we were back to square one with this ill advised key choice. If you had performed this song even a semi-tone lower (although I suspect a tone would have been better), we would have heard a more positive rendition of this song.
Also, when singing repetitive passages at any level of your vocal range, it is crucial to keep the support consistently placed and the pure vowel sound evenly resonated in your vocal masque. Also, placing some expressive emphasis on certain words in the melodic line would have added rhythmic interest and shape to your repetitive phrases
Moving on to your closing performance, the American Idol Season 6 winners’ song, “This Is My Now”, I felt that you rendered a very sincere and gracious performance. However, I knew you were in trouble when I heard the title of this song. Good heavens, find a better title already people, at least one that is grammatically correct!
Anyway, it was obvious that this was not a song written for your specific vocal style and it almost seems pointless to critique this song performance. And, why were you not given a different song to perform? Last year, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks each had different singles.
Also, why is every Idol coronation song a ballad? It’s a happy occasion – something upbeat would be heartily welcomed by the fans I would think.
Also, it seems to me that you were quite possibly not given an option to add some beat boxing and/or rhythmic variation to this song selection during the faster tempo mid way through the song. Hence, the awkward stage moves when you reached this point in the song were explanatory – you didn’t have the artistic liberty to re-arrange this song.
Again, you encountered similar technical issues to your second song during the performance of this number, although the key selection was more correct. And we heard the beautifully produced baritone range at the top of this number.
So, in closing, it has been a pleasure to evaluate your performances during American Idol Season 6 and I am so sure that you will enjoy unbelievable success in your post Idol musical career. You are a solid and studious musician who strives for excellence. The world awaits your debut CD! Bravo once again!
JORDIN SPARKS: “Fighter”, “A Broken Wing” and “This Is my Now”
Strengths: Jordin –this was absolutely a fantastic Top 2 presentation and your performances this week emphasized why you have been such a strong and deserving contender in this American Idol Season 6 competition. I thought all of your song selections perfectly complimented your vocal skills, while highlighting the depth and diversity of your performing ability.
Let’s begin with your first song selection, “Fighter”, originally performed by Christina Aguilera. I was concerned when you selected this song, because, generally, you have had some performance issues when singing up-tempo pop/rock songs in the previous weeks. However, my trepidation was alleviated soon enough.
From the opening bars of this high- energy number, you created a strong visual and audible presence on stage. First off, the key selection was perfect, as it showcased the beautiful timbre of your lower and mid range. It is in this area of your vocal range that your voice sounded truly glorious.
You are a big fan of the chest voice element in your vocal sound, a characteristic that becomes more acceptable in the lower end of a singer’s voice. Your voice sounded energized, resonant and technically supported when singing within this lower register and I am glad that you acknowledged and played to your vocal strengths in researching all aspects of this song – particularly the tonality of the melodic line.
Additionally, this was a well-rehearsed, beautifully paced performance and your elevated posture (finally) allowed you to move throughout the stage was confidence and self-assurance. Also, your expanded rib cage muscles were more efficient in managing your air. Therefore, despite the energy you exerted on stage, for the most part, your vocals sounded clear and resonant. As a result, the choreographic and vocal elements of this number were balanced exceptionally well.
Then you changed your mood and performing style by performing Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing”. If ever there was a song suited to your artistic strengths, Jordin, this is the ticket. Your voice beautifully embraced the melodic line, once again establishing the wise key selection for this song.
Additionally you added significant dynamic contrast throughout this number- from the softer, lower ranged opening section of this song to the powerful upper range vocals in the recognizable refrain of this number. I thought your lower vocals were well supported and beautifully projected in your vocal masque, thus providing a comfortable basis for the implementation of your high- energy vocals later on in this number.
You conveyed a sense of buoyancy and energetic purpose while performing this song and, again, I credit your noticeably improved posture during this – and all – your numbers this week. This elevated posture allowed you to expand and utilize your diaphragmatic breathing muscles with increased efficiency. Furthermore, when the powerful diaphragmatic muscles are properly accessed in the production of your vocal sound, then all things are possible in creating memorable and vocally inspiring performances – and this was, indeed a very inspiring performance.
Additionally, your sustained note on the word “fly” was brilliantly implemented, although I would have preferred a purer “ah” vowel sound while sustaining the diphthong in the word “Flaheyeee”. I will discuss this in the critique portion of this Masterclass evaluation.
Finally, the sincerity and genuine emotion you conveyed while performing this number was palpable. You truly sing from your heart and, as a result, the emotional aspects of this song were strongly conveyed to your audience. It was a goose bump performance and you left a strong indelible impression on the stage that resonated long after this song had ended.
Then, like Blake, you ended your Top 2 showcase with this year’s Idol single, “This Is My Now”. Through your vocal gifts, this song composition came alive and your brought to this song many of the performing and vocal elements that were evident in “A Broken Wing”. Your phrasing was impeccable and the rhythmic and tempo changes within this song were beautifully implemented. Truly, this was a song written for your distinct vocal gifts, Jordin, and, once again, the melodic range of this number was beautifully suited to your singing range.
You added many star search moments throughout this song, but none so glorious as that sustained note on the word “now”. It was absolutely stellar – the strength and power of your still developing vocal ability was never so evident than at this point in the song.
The maturity level and poise that you have brought to this competition was fairly eclipsed by the genuine and sincere persona that you have conveyed throughout this season of American Idol. In order to complete the whole package as a singing artist, you must have a beautiful and endearing personality behind the strong vocals.
You possess all this and more, Jordin, for, given your young age, the depth and potential of your voice will undoubtedly grow and flourish. However, what must not change is your beautiful and vulnerable personality. This is what has endeared you to your fans and that voice – well that’s just a bonus!
Best of luck in your reign as American Idol Winner Season 6. You have been a pleasure to review each week and, hopefully, you will continue to make certain that your vocal gift enjoys good health and longevity through a careful and diligent technical regime. Brava!
Critique: Jordin – you encountered some recurrent technical problems from previous weeks and, although none of the technical issues adversely affected the overall successful performance of your songs, I thought that I would emphasize them one last time. I want to ensure that, over the course of time, you will heed and correct some of the faulty vocal problems, as it can only add vocal strength and durability in the years ahead.
Your opening number, “Fighter” was indeed a credible and powerful showcase and your performance skills were just brilliant throughout. No issues here. My main focus of concern was your love of the meaty chest voice when navigating every area of your vocal range. In the lower area of your range, the chest voice component was naturally suitable and acceptable and, since this song mainly traversed this area of your range, then I didn’t have huge issues with your vocal timbre during these sections of this song.
However, problems ensued when you moved into your upper range. I still felt that you were implementing an unfavorable balance of chest voice vs. head voice into your vocal mix when vocalizing in your soprano range. Your horizontal mouth position emphasized this fact, as you were ignoring the more aesthetically pleasing bel canto approach of projecting your voice on the pure vowels while maintaining a circular mouth position.
However, you gave us a glimmer of head tone possibility in the ending section of this number, when you implemented a pure and pitch centered head tone component. Now, this is what is necessary through every level of your vocal and dynamic range.
Always remember that the head tone component adds a clarity and ring to your voice, even when singing in a powerful and energetic manner. It needs to be at the core of your vocal sound. The addition of strength, depth and dynamic power must come from the diaphragm and only the diaphragm. Never push or constrict your throat when you power sing, as you put undue pressure on your vocal cords.
Also, you encountered some enunciation issues when singing through your lower/softer range. Always remember to spin out those consonants with clarity and precision, as you will actually add energy and focus to your overall vocal sound. Additionally, of course, your words will be communicated with transparency, thus rendering a more communicative performance to your audience.
Back to the chest voice vs. head voice issue, you encountered similar problems during your performance of “A Broken Wing”, but, as I said in the “Strengths” portion of this article, your natural vocal gift saved the day. However, with time, you will find that, if the technical regime is not a consistent entity when you sing, you will begin to suffer some health issues with your voice – vocal nodes, hoarseness etc.
A singer is like an athlete, except in singing we use a muscle that athletes never use – the voice. Therefore, you must train and advance the muscular development of the vocal cords correctly for, as time passes, natural ability takes a back seat to technical ability. Case in point: Bette Midler. She sounded vocally unhealthy during the Finale and it always amazes me that singers can continue having careers without the care and direction of a good vocal technician.
Also, as I said in the “Strengths” portion of this Vocal Masterclass, be very careful to sustain your voice on the pure vowels of your words. With that horizontal mouth position, you do, indeed, have a tendency to stretch your voice through all the vowels in the diphthongs and, as a result, your voice lacks a ringing presence that, to my ear, is more aesthetically pleasing. It is so much easier to sustain on one pure vowel and your vocal sound will attain a warmer clarity that I feel is not quite there yet.
However, I must commend you for the meticulous preparation and artistic assurance of your final number, “This Is My Now” Although you did encounter some chest voice issues once again throughout this number, I felt that, in this case, the artistry overshadowed the technical problems. You rendered a thoroughly convincing and powerful performance of this albeit limited song composition. Through your genuine and passionate vocal delivery, this song attained presence and was listenable. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.
I look forward to your first CD with great anticipation. It will be interesting to see the American Idol franchise’s vision in marketing your success as a pop star. I hope that your CD really targets your vocal strengths and performing style and heaven help me if there is an edgy, over produced sound to the recording quality. You definitely deserve more than that. Your voice can and should stand-alone.
Brava Jordin and congratulations Miss American Idol Season Six winner! Brava and standing ovations!
Your comments are always welcome