by Rosanne Simunovic
I had a great vacation last week and feel extremely rested. I am ready to resume additional Vocal Masterclass articles for this year’s Top 8 singers on Canadian Idol.
It was a pleasure to see Enrique’s mentoring system with our Group of Eight. He was an excellent resource for them, although I would have enjoyed watching him lend his expertise to a Latin –themed Top 8 performance. Personally, I feel that his special talents were poorly utilized for this show, but, perhaps, he was the only artist that identified with this more intimate kind of performance.
The cozy atmosphere of this week’s show blatantly highlighted the true vocalists of this competition. Additionally, it exposed the genuine emotional artistry of each singer, with some surprising and some not surprising results.
Very few of the Top 8 performers rose to the high level of expectation that I perceived when last season’s “Unplugged” show aired to brilliant acclaim. It signaled the fact that there was one unplugged instrument –the voice – that has been severely neglected in the selection process of this year’s crop of performers.
But, that’s another article. For now, let’s “masterclass” the Top 8 shall we? Have a good read everybody!
The Top 10 will be evaluated each week according to performance order.
However, to quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
Martha Joy: “True Colors” by Lea Salonga version
Strengths: Martha – as always, I thoroughly enjoyed your consummate technical approach to this song. However, the icing on the cake was your sincere musical interpretation of this beautiful arrangement of this classic song. You emoted this song with absolute sincerity and genuine conviction. You vocalized some beautifully shaped phrasing elements throughout this number that highlighted the poetic meaning in the lyrical line.
Additionally, I loved the dynamic contrast you added to this song performance; both the forte(loud) and piano(soft) vocals were technically secure and pitch centered and as always your voice exhibited a seamless quality throughout vocal range. And that wonderfully placed “head tone” ending was spectacular.
Your diction had clarity and precision yet, at the same time, you displayed a strong communicative ability when telling your story. You thoroughly ingrained the storyline of this song and generously shared it with your audience.
As I said two weeks ago, you established artistic presence and professionalism from the opening strains of this number and I applaud your diligent, preparatory approach to your song selection this and every week. Excellent work, Martha!
Critique: Martha – I have cautioned you in previous weeks to be very careful when choosing your song arrangements. This week’s selection was an excellent choice, so I applaud you for researching this lovely arrangement to share with us this week. It appears that you are becoming increasingly studious and cautionary in this important performance element, so kudos to you for establishing your authority in song selection and arrangement.
However, you did experience a moment where the diaphragm over rode your vocal projection and your voice suffered a tuning issue. You may have underestimated the power of your diaphragmatic support and/or your throat may have constricted, thus creating a poorly centered vocal sound. However, it is to your credit that you professionally guided your voice back on track and, as a result, your little vocal mishap was a fleeting memory.
Also, be very careful that you maintain a highly elevated posture when you sing, so that the rib cage can expand to the fullest. I felt that you were losing some level of support because of your slightly deflated posture and therefore the diaphragmatic breathing was somewhat compromised.
A good trick is to vocalize, in rehearsal of course, with your arms elevated to the sides. This will naturally raise and expand the rib cage, allowing you to breath from the diaphragm without inhibition. And make certain that your shoulders are relaxed and stress free. Very important! The upper body must be totally relaxed and open, as the lower body works hard to support and focus your vocal sound.
However, this was a beautiful performance, Martha. You possess a tremendous vocal gift that will carry you very far in the music world. Brava!
Dwight D’Eon : “Every Breath You Take” by Sting
Strengths: Dwight- kudos to you for playing an instrument. Now, my question is this: “Why were you the only one with an instrument this week?” The Canadian Idol franchise went out of its way to find singers who could play an instrument and you were the only one who took the bait this week. Very strange, especially for an “unplugged” show.
Anyway, I thought this was a very solid performance and I loved your song choice. I thought you sang with sincere emotion and, many times, the nuances you added to this song were wonderfully maintained with good diaphragmatic support. Your voice sounded impassioned and heartfelt and it mirrored your sincere and genuine demeanor.
I loved the melodic variation you added to this number. This is what attracts me to an artist – his ability to refresh the original intent of the composer while still preserving the heart of the composition. Additionally, like Martha, your diction was impeccable, signaling the fact that you are attentive to the poetic core of the song. The emotional outpouring rings so true when you sing, Dwight. This cannot be taught, it just “is”.
Also, I noticed that, in addition to articulating the words with clarity and conviction, you were sustaining your vocal sound on the pure vowels within your lyrics. This was a terrific development in this week’s performance and your voice had presence and muscle because of this technical addition.
And, how can we forget the lovely head tone (falsetto) passage in this song? It was just beautiful and emphasized that you have the ability to add this gorgeous vocal element to every part of your range, thus creating a smooth, seamless vocal sound through every part of your vocal range.
Critique: Now Dwight – your vocal technique is advancing with each passing week. However, you are still having some problems with throat and facial tension. It is very subtle, but it is still there.
Make absolutely certain that, in addition to practicing your songs, that you are equipping yourself with some solid technical exercises that will assist you in “freeing” your vocal sound. Practice vocalizing to the vowels only – “ah”, “eh”, “ee”, “oh”, “oo”, “i”, and make certain that your mouth maintains a circular formation for all the vowels. Also, the jaw should be relaxed and gently lowered as you move into the upper range.
You experienced some intermittent pitch problems in this song, possibly because your posture was compromised when seated with the guitar. Be very careful of this, Dwight. You must make certain that you maintain an elevated and expanded rib cage even when playing a guitar from a seated position. It is so easy to “cut off” the air supply when a guitar is strapped around your neck, so make certain that both instruments- the voice and the guitar – are properly supported.
Hope this information assists you, Dwight and good luck with next week’s show! Good work once again.
Jaydee Bixby: “Time Of Your Life” by Green Day
Strengths: Jaydee- as always, that “sweet as pie” smile and “down home” charisma was as spot on. And, you decided to veer away from a country song selection and I applaud you for this. I think your intentions were truly in the right place and the only thing stopping you this week was the experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t.
You are only sixteen, after all, I really believe that you have an enormous career ahead of you – if you line yourself up with the right people. Make certain of that, Jaydee. Surround yourself with the best, people that will guide and mentor you to a place that is very distant from this week’s performance.
Critique: Jaydee – setting aside song choice for a minute, I would like to know who made you sing in a key so beyond your natural singing range? You are a baritone! Why were you trying to be a tenor? And, because you are a 16-year-old male, your voice is still developing and by vocalizing in an area of your range that puts undue stress on the vocal cords, you are decreasing the longevity of your singing career.
In simple terms, you are going to harm your vocal cords, Jaydee. It is perfectly fine to practice technical exercises that assist on developing the scope of the vocal range, but, when singing a song, you must select a key that rests in the most natural part of your vocal range. Your voice will expand and change with time and patience, but, for now, run- don’t walk- away from any song arrangement that stretches the upper level of your vocal ability.
Also, that horizontal mouth position was not helping the vocal situation. You were pushing and manipulating your voice in an unnatural and technically deficient manner. The mouth needed to maintain a circular formation, while the throat and facial muscles relaxed and remained open. You were using minimal diaphragmatic breath support at best and, considering that the song rested so high in your vocal register, it just added fuel to the fire.
And then there was the song selection. This could have been a good song if you had adopted a more straightforward approach in your singing style. And, yes, you should have nixed the “twang” and added some well formulated “rasp” as per Enrique’s suggestion. However, this song did not sit well with you and you looked extremely wooden and tentative throughout the performance.
Why not sing Willy Nelson’s version of “Always On My Mind” minus the twang? This would have been a beautiful song for you and a simple guitar accompaniment would have been perfectly suited to the acoustic environment of this show.
I could go on and on, but I’m running out of space here Jaydee. Oh yes, one more thing, your left leg is twitching in time with the music and it is quite the distraction. Personally, I feel you were so ill at ease, that many nervous habits became evident in this 90-minute showcase.
So it comes down to song and key selection! If you are not sure what to choose on a weekly basis, then hire a vocal specialist to assist the process. It will be money well spent. Better there than on your clothing budget!
Good luck, Jaydee!
Tara Oram: “Heaven” by Bryan Adams
Strengths: Tara – I loved the barefoot and fancy-free approach to your song this week. It complimented the lovely serene mood you established throughout this number.
Vocally, your voice was quite radiant, not as much so as in previous weeks, but the ringing quality was still there. You added some lovely phrasing elements throughout this song and really attempted to establish a fluid approach in your singing style.
Your open and expressive facial features are natural components in your singing proficiency. This is why your voice has so much clarity and presence – your features are relaxed, thus allowing you to focus your pure vowels easily in your vocal masque.
Also, your diction has noticeably improved over the past couple of weeks and the country drawl is becoming a distant memory. Good for you! The consonants were cleanly articulated in a way that did not disturb the necessary sustaining element for the vowels.
This was a good performance, Tara, but it never quite reached the level that I was anticipating at the beginning of this song. Let’s see if we can examine some ways to improve on next week’s performance.
Critique: Tara – first of all, you needed to research your arrangement with more thoroughness. I found the tempo unbelievably slow and pedantic and it went nowhere. There was little variation in the dynamic level and the tempo was set to a snail-like adagio metronome speed. As a result, it gave you little room to expand in a creative and artistic manner.
The song needed a more innovative approach, one that would have allowed you to highlight the depth of your vocal talents. If this were the first time I saw you, it would not have left a strong impression in my mind. You know – and your fans know – that you have an enormous amount of vocal potential, but, for many reasons, it was not exposed this week.
Also, the energy necessary for consistent technical support is important –if not more so – when you perform slower paced songs. I felt that there was a lack of buoyancy in your lower body support and, as a result, your voice sounded less energized and vibrant than in previous weeks.
Therefore, I strongly advise you to very carefully examine the song material set before you. Then, doubly scrutinize with a fine tooth comb the key and arrangement. And don’t settle for second best. You are a wonderful entertainer, but I sensed that the performance fell flat this week because you were not a happy camper with this song. It has to sit right in your soul and then your voice will soar as always.
Good luck next week, Tara
Brian Melo: “She Talks To Angels” by Black Crowes
Strengths: Brian – this was a veritable performance – so real and so current. You intensified this acoustic environment with the perfect amount of passion and fervour. Now, this was a performance! Not the best vocal performance, but an artistic performance nonetheless.
Zack perfectly summarized why this performance worked so well for you when he said “you used your flaws like virtues”. Your performing style is similar to Canadian Idol Season Two finalist Jacob Hoggard (Hedley) or American Idol Season Five winner, Taylor Hicks. They didn’t have the greatest voices, but boy could they perform! All of you have taken your God given talents and used them in a way that inspires and moves the listeners.
I just loved the theatrical approach in your singing style. It was just outstanding and this enabled you to reach your audience in a very tangible and memorable way. You are an “in the moment” performer. Nothing exists before or beyond the song – except thunderous applause. (smile) And yet, there is a genuine and sincere charisma emanating from you that makes it even more meaningful.
Because of your impassioned delivery, the musical phrases remained fluid and there was a forward momentum to your vocal delivery that never relented. And you sing as you speak, with inflection and modulation, changing your vocal sound to suit the lyrics – one moment smooth, then another time more rustic.
This was a powerful and confident performance and I cannot wait to hear you next week during the Queen tribute showcase. Queen is all about being theatrical with their music, so this should be a walk in the park for you, Brian. Bravo!
Critique: Brian – be very careful that you keep the vocal technique a constant in your performances. You really push that chest voice to the extreme and you need to make certain that your vocal sound is being supported trough the strength and power of your diaphragmatic muscles.
I love the raspy intensity to your vocal sound; it identifies you as a unique artist. However, all the inflections in your voice must be carefully guarded and enhanced through the correct technical process. As I said two weeks ago: “Remember to keep your mouth round and the jaw relaxed, allowing the jaw to descend as you ascend in pitch. You need this space in your mouth so that the upper notes can vibrate efficiently.”
I just hear so much potential in your vocal quality that it frustrates me when I see and hear the tension in your throat muscles. This signals that the sound is being produced in a way that can cause harm to your vocal cords, so make sure that your upper body and facial muscles remain relaxed, allowing the diaphragmatic rib cage muscles to expand for air and flex for the production of a freer, healthier vocal sound.
Good luck next week. Should be a good show!
Matt Rapley: “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
Strengths: Matt – my goodness, you have such a naturally beautiful vocal instrument. Even without the technical skills, your voice enjoyed a rich, resonant quality that sounded smooth and even throughout your enormous vocal range. However, it was very apparent that you do indeed possess a high level of technical expertise and this technical knowledge allowed you to sing with a wonderful sense of freedom and confidence.
I thought that this was a superb song selection for you, Matt. Certainly the style alone suited the bluesy, spiritual-like quality in your vocal presentation. You presented this song with a relaxed and genuine demeanour, so indicative of your genuine and sincere personality.
Additionally, even though you were seated on a stool, your posture was correctly elevated, thus allowing the diaphragmatic breathing skills to take full effect. As well, your diction was impeccable and, even though the consonants were cleanly articulated, there was a cohesive element when you sustained those pure vowels within your lyrics. Thus, as previously mentioned, your melodic line sounded seamless from top to bottom and your voice wrapped beautifully around the notation in this beautiful composition.
Even though this was an artistically safe presentation, you prepared this song very well. Good for you!
Critique:Matt – when I heard you were performing this song, I thought that this was going to be a killer segue to your “Whipping Post” showcase last week. However, although the sincere intent was apparent during this performance, it was lacking the passion, the grit and the heartfelt emotion that everyone agrees lies within your artistic soul.
You seemed strangely tentative during this performance and almost detached. And those “I knows” just seemed to last forever. In fact, at first, you initiated a very musical crescendo in this part of the song that I thought was going to explode into a climactic ending in this number. However, this passage really went nowhere and part of me wonders if this was a performance error. Did you forget your words or lose your focus?
At any rate, even if all those “I knows” were a planned entity, you should have attempted to add some vocal creativity to the melodic line. Yes, the crescendo element exposed your inherent musicality and ability to phrase your songs in a very musical manner. Yet, it was not enough to solidify the overall artistic impression of this performance.
Also, be very careful when vocalizing within your upper range. Try not to overdo the chest voice element. You needed to incorporate the head tone element so that your voice sounded pure and less constricted. I felt that, at times, there was a little push from the throat, thus compromising the full effect of your diaphragmatic breathing skills.
Never sing louder than is naturally possible for you, Matt. You want to develop a wide range of dynamic skills, but this will only be possible if you utilize your breath support and facial muscles in a consistently correct manner.
See you next week and remember to lay bare your soul on stage next week.
Carly Rae Jepsen: “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia
Strengths: Carly Rae – as always, you have an intuitive ability to choose just the right song for each thematic presentation. I thought that this was a stellar song choice and an artistically superb presentation.
Also, I loved the multi-layered vocals you utilized throughout this number, beginning with the softer, almost a cappella opening and moving toward a more potent mid section in this song arrangement. You are the perfect example in demonstrating that one does not need to have a huge voice to sing with emotion and passion, as well as vocal excellence. You work within the boundaries of your vocal gift and I applaud and congratulate you for doing so.
It was so apparent that the preparatory period for this number was very well utilized, as both substance and style played a huge role in the successful performance of this number. Your voice enjoyed a ringing clarity throughout this song, giving evidence that head tone played a huge role in the vocalization process. Therefore, your pitch was beautifully centered throughout this song and your voice soared through the melodic line with seamless and immaculate dexterity.
Additionally, you are a storyteller and I loved how you immersed yourself into the emotional core of this song. You performed in a way that was meaningful and evocative and your natural communicative gifts heightened the vocal impact you left with your audience.
This is the basic rule that singers must learn: give yourself permission to be expressive and vulnerable and the technical problems (if you have worked hard in this area) will naturally resolve and even become less obvious during the performance.
As I said two weeks ago: “You have a strong technical basis that centers and projects your voice and, yet, you never sound like a technical singer.” This is an accomplishment in and of itself and establishes why you have performed so strongly throughout this competition.
Excellent work, Carly!
Critique: Carly- once again, I struggled to find anything to critique in this performance and came up with a fairly blank slate.
One thing, however, that still bothers me is your diction. At times, it lacked the clarity that is necessary to solidify the full extent of your communicative abilities. Make sure that both the articulation of the consonants and the pronunciation of the vowels are correctly implemented. There was some subtle vocal manipulation happening that was affecting the clarity of your diction.
I prefer a classic British approach to the English language. It not only assists with crisp and precise diction, but also adds a centered and rich timbre to the voice, as the vowels are front and center at all times, thus adding a coherent comprehension to the words in your vocal score.
Greg Neufeld: “I’m Ready” by Bryan Adams
Strengths: Greg- as always, you sang with conviction and sincerity during this lovely showcase. You have a wonderful ability to connect with your live and television audience and truly understand how important it is believe in and identify with your song choice. It was very apparent that you were extremely comfortable with your song choice and the melodic and lyrical line of this song allowed you to be easily expressive throughout this number.
You have a beautiful quality to your voice, Greg and the timbre is quite muscular and powerful. However, this week’s song allowed you to use these attributes to enhance the softer side of your vocal dynamics, while still projecting the vocal sound in your facial masque. Therefore, your voice sounded quite resonant throughout this number. It had presence. There were still problems, which I will mention in the “critique” portion of this evaluation, but there was also improvement.
As always, you established a strong and memorable communication with your audience from the moment that this song began. The repetitive nature of this song makes it difficult for a singer to solidify during a performance, but I thought that your sincere and genuine demeanour allowed you to bypass and elevate the repetitive nature of the melodic and lyrical line to great success.
This, to me, was a very risky song choice, but it obviously worked very well for you. You seem to be extremely confident in your own skin as a performer and this will carry you a very long way in your performing career.
Great work, Greg!
Critique: Greg- continue to work hard on your technical skills. I still felt that your vocal timbre sounded somewhat tight and obstructed. It became very apparent when you sang the repetitive “I’m ready” chant. Repetitive melodic structure in a song is often a singer’s downfall, unless one understands the correct technical approach in vocalizing this element.
I would have enjoyed a more creative or varied approach to the melodic line, one that would have avoided the monotony of this phrase. Yes, you emoted it sincerely enough, but vocally, it just fell a little flat on my ears. Also, at this point in the song, you were really pushing your vocal sound from your throat, not allowing the diaphragmatic breathing skills to place and center your voice in your vocal masque.
Also, as in previous weeks, you were still raising your head when you vocalized through upper range and that not only created upper body tension and a less efficient vocal sound, but also, we lost contact with your eyes. You had the knee- bending trick I mentioned a couple of weeks ago down pat – this downward movement should have enabled you to open up the throat and raise the soft palate, thus energizing and accentuating the diaphragmatic support.
As I said two weeks ago: “Think over your upper notes – never reach for them”.
And, oh I was so looking forward to seeing you with a guitar in your hand. Maybe next week? However, this was still an impressive performance and, vocally, I can see that you are really trying to expand your technical skills. It is a process and a slow one, but I am happy that the performance aspects of your songs are not being compromised in the interim. Good work, Greg! Bravo!
I will be commenting regularly throughout this competition and will be contributing Vocal Masterclass articles for the Top 10 performances.
Please feel free to comment and become part of the vocal masterclass process.
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