AMERICAN IDOL SEASON 7 TOP 11 VOCAL MASTERCLASS: THE LENNON McCARTNEY SONGBOOK PART DEUX
This week, some of my all time favourite Lennon-McCartney songs were highlighted and, generally, the Top 11 singers were in excellent form.
I wasn’t on the same page as the judges were in terms of evaluating the Top 11 showcase. I thought that the singers chose some really complex songs and, in doing so, revealed even greater potential in their performing ability.
Also, just a quick note: I will be vacationing in sunny Florida next week, so there will be no Vocal Masterclass article available for the Top 10.
Additionally, the Top 9 Vocal Masterclass article will be posted later on in the week, as I will be travelling back from my Florida vacation. I will post a discussion thread, so there is solid Masterclass input from the readers.
So, let’s get to it, shall we?
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.
Strengths:Amanda- once again you selected a great song to showcase your Southern rock style and, additionally, performed this number with relentless energy and enthusiasm. As you mentioned in your post- performance interview, you are here to entertain and showcase your unique focus as an artist and I value this single -minded quality in a performer. Therefore, I applaud you for staying true to your artistic intentions!
Your relaxed and open facial features allowed your voice to ring pure and true when mixed with the raspy outer layer of your vocal timbre. I was watching your mouth formation throughout this performance and you very consistently maintained a circular mouth position while sustaining the purest vowel in your lyrics.
And the knee- bending assisted you in the technical process, as it encouraged you to raise the soft palate, thus exposing a free and open throat. It also enabled you to fully access the strength and security of your diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
You appear to be a physically strong person – very muscular and athletic. This is so important for singers, as it develops stamina and strength in a singer during the rehearsal and/or performance regimen and accents the technical efficiency of the diaphragmatic breathing process.
Finally, I felt that your diction was clearly articulated. I wasn’t struggling, as last week, to understand the words, so this technical advancement greatly enhanced the communicative aspects of your performance.
Continue to stay true to your roots and your particular vision as an artist. This will take you very far in your music career once you move beyond the Idol experience.
Great work once again Amanda!
Critique: Amanda – be very careful when you sing the repetitive notes in the melodic line of “Back In The USSR”; make sure that you visualize them a little higher each time you sing the note and, in doing so, you will keep the pitch nicely centered throughout the cyclic melodic line.
I think this is where you encountered some pitch problems; these repetitious notes can be a downfall for many singers.
Also, as much as I love to hear you sing this high energy brand of Southern rock, I am very curious to see and hear your artistic take on a soulful ballad.
I understand you are a bit of a live-wire and that is all fine and good. You are an exciting and dynamic performer on stage, but I would love to see you take this energy to a new place and, perhaps, expose some vulnerability through a slower-paced introspective song selection.
Not only would you reveal another side to your personality –the sensitive side – but you would also be challenging your technical ability through purely sustained singing at a slower tempo.
Strengths: Brooke- this song, although not as challenging as last week’s song, suited your” free spirit” approach in your singing style. I enjoyed watching you live the musical experience set forth by the lyrics and it emphasized to me that you are not afraid to take risks or to have unbridled fun on that intimidating Idol stage.
Like the title of this song suggests, you are like a ray of sunshine when you perform and the relaxed and focused timbre of your vocal sound is testament to this observation. I appreciated the fact that you did not push your voice to scary places that would, ultimately, create a tense, poorly pitched vocal sound.
You have a fairly sound technical approach to your singing, although this could be further developed in an effort to expose a wider degree of your vocal range. However, you fully understand the importance of selecting the correct key of your song, making certain that the melodic line rests in the most natural part of your singing range. Smart girl!
Critique: Brooke – as I said in the “Strengths” portion of this evaluation, this song was not the most challenging. The melodic and lyrical elements were extremely repetitive and needed to be refreshed or altered during the course of this performance.
I think your little dancing component helped to bridge some of the performance gaps and, certainly, your genuine and communicative spirit added animation to the simplistic nature of this song
However I feel that, in an effort to elevate this song, you needed to be more daring in your vocal approach. A change or bend in the melodic line would have been a very good artistic decision and would have challenged you to utilize a wider area of your vocal range – not just the lower vocals.
Also, like Amanda, you were saddled with repetitive lyrics and this called for a higher degree of creativity during the rehearsal process. The “Here Comes The Sun” phrase needed to be approached with a variety of nuances and, again, the vocal line needed to expand beyond your lower range.
I understand that it is difficult to find a perfect song to suit your voice; the limitations placed on all the singers are tremendous. However, really try to “re-invent the wheel” when you are confronted with a song with limited musical and lyrical dimensions as “Here Comes The Sun”. It’s a challenge, but I feel, artistically, you are “up for this type of challenge” because of your inherent sensitivity as an artist.
Good luck next week, Brooke.
Strengths: Carly – oh my, from the very opening of this superb song selection your voice sounded glorious and beautifully resonant. The key was perfect for the mood of the song and the timbre of your voice. Throughout the entire song, you exhibited an intelligent artistry that allowed you to communicate this song with maturity and ingenuity.
You have a stellar lower range – so rich and velvety. This area of your vocal range is your “money range” – always highlight it as often as you can! It’s just beautiful.
Also, you did make certain that your incorporated the correct amount of head voice into this area of your voice and, therefore, your lower voice sounded brilliantly pitch-centred.
I also appreciated your pure approach to your vowels, avoiding the diphthong pitfalls – especially in the ubiquitous word “fly”. There are three vowels in this syllable –“ah, eye and ee” and you consistently sustained on the “ah” vowel, resulting in an immaculate and resonant vocal sound. Good for you. This was a stellar and sensitive vocal performance – one of the best of the night. Congratulations and brava, Carly!
Critique: Carly – as I said last week, be very careful not to spread your mouth when vocalizing through your upper range. Visually, your facial features were beautifully relaxed and open when you vocalized within your lower range; however, when you moved to your upper range, it was a different story. You exhibited a high degree of facial tension and the circular mouth moved to a horizontal formation.
Therefore, your throat became constricted and your vocal sound was aesthetically less pleasing. Some of the beauty that was so evident in your lower range was not present in the upper range, the result being a disjointed and less seamless vocal sound from top to bottom.
You have to understand that you cannot push too much chest voice into your upper range, for in doing so, you are losing the natural ringing beauty that is characteristic of the soprano range.
Allow the lightness of your soprano range to shine and then add more breath from the diaphragm if you wish to augment the sound. And really keep your eyes open and free and drop your jaw, thus allowing the lower half of your body to reinforce your vocal production.
Also, take heed from Amanda and bend those knees when you move into the upper range. And, some butt-squeezing will help to solidify the back muscles and propel the vocal sound forward toward your vocal masque.
However, this was still a superb performance. I loved it so much. Very moving indeed.
Strengths:Chikezie – you are such a character and I loved the multi-dimensional aspects of this performance. You teased us with many styles – a little R&B, then on to bluegrass or country. This was a great entertainment package and, similar to last week, you made certain that your brief tenure on stage was going to be a jam -packed showcase that screamed entertainment
It seems that you have a love for bluegrass music and it is one genre of music that is not performed often on this show. So, in this sense, you are bringing something innovative and different to this season’s line-up and the diversity is most welcome.
You exhibited a strong vocal presence from the opening strains of this song. You possess a naturally rich and resonant vocal instrument that is seamless and smooth from top to bottom. Generally, your voice is beautifully projected and you seem to possess a basic understanding of the importance of technique in the vocalization process.
This was a most enjoyable performance, Chikezie, and the segue from the slower to the up- tempo sections of the song were easily negotiated. The variation in tempo added interest and enjoyment to your performance and emphasized your absolute love and passion for the art of singing.
Great work, Chikezie!
Critique:Chikezie – the performance aspects of this song were super; however, you encountered intermittent problems with your voice when you moved into the up-tempo portions of this number.
First of all, always make certain that your mouth maintains a circular formation as you sustain the vowels. This week, you were spreading you mouth, causing your throat to constrict. As a result, you lost the pitch-centered security in your vocal production. You carried far too much chest voice into your upper range and the head tone quality in your voice was unfortunately diminished.
In these Vocal Masterclass articles, I have often stressed the importance of practicing your up-tempo songs slowly – at a snail’s pace. This allows you time to focus on the technical aspects of your vocal production, eliminating and correcting areas of tension while focusing on your breathing.
Then, when you sing the song up to speed, your voice will sound more confident and you will feel more confident as a performer. You will have a renewed sense of control because you have taken the time to eliminate the initial vocal flaws.
Always keep the technique at the core and make sure that the performance elements of your song are not overriding the vocal essentials of your song. Both must be harmoniously synchronized and extremely well-paced and nothing accomplishes this better than slow, methodical practice.
Good luck next week, Chikezie!
Strengths:David A. – this is one of my favourite songs from the Beatles. This song has such a beautiful lyric and melody and I thought that the sensitive and poignant lyrics and soaring melody line complimented your prodigious vocal instrument and genuine personality.
This was an absolutely stellar performance. The feeling and the emotion behind your singing were palpable. It was just one of those spellbinding musical moments that are truly special and I just marvelled at the depth and maturity of your talent.
As in many previous performances, you treated the listeners to a vocal showcase that emphasized everything that is so important and correct in solid technical skills. The forward momentum, the beautiful and heartfelt phrasing, sustained vocal quality on the pure vowels, the open and expressive facial features – need I say more?
Yes, one more thing, the soulful bending of the melodic line was creatively superb and not overdone. You bring such discipline and intelligence to this competition, given your young age, and you are a fighter. I love this!
I had goose bumps and, as Simon said, it was a“Masterclass” – so there you go!
Congratulations and bravo, young David! Just excellent!
Critique:David – this poignant showcase, emphasizing the strength of your performing and vocal ability left you – and me – critique-free!
You are back on the horse, young man. Giddy ‘yup!
Bravo once again!
Strengths: David C. –you rendered an absolutely confident and credible performance. Once again, you proved that you are in total control of this Idol stage and possess a high degree of focus and intelligence in your showcased material.
I loved everything about this song – the use of the voice box combined with your stellar capability on guitar, the relaxed yet rock- infused demeanor and, finally and most important, your very controlled vocal ability.
You vocalized with freedom and agility and, in doing so, emphasized the importance of bringing supreme preparatory song material to your performances. Each musical dimension of this performance was beautifully synchronized and cohesive.
Additionally, your guitar solo, glistening with impeccable riffs and runs, emphasized the depth of your musical ability and experience.
Technically, your voice was very well grounded and you efficiently applied the classical technical skills to compliment your rock inspired vocal style. All the important elements were in place – the round mouth, the open throat, the sustaining presence of the vowels and strong diaphragmatic breathing skills.
This was an excellent showcase, David and I strongly congratulate you on your hard work, determination and creativity. Bravo!
Critique: David C. – for three weeks running you have executed brilliant performances, so it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what to say in this portion of your evaluation .
However, there is something missing and here it is. It’s time to strip bare and expose your vulnerability by selecting a ballad for your next showcase. I think that the audience needs to hear and see another side of you –one that I instinctively feel is within your musical grasp.
I know I am curious to hear an acoustic vocal from you. You have a solid voice – technically grounded – and I feel that this is the time to whip out another surprise vis a vis a ballad selection. You might also consider a song that has a change in tempo –one that, perhaps, begins with a slow sustained segment and then segues into a faster tempo.
However, you are a very strong contender in this competition and I applaud your work ethic throughout this 7th season of American Idol.
Strengths: Jason– I thought that this song was perfectly suited to you voice and personality. The lovely simplicity of this number beautifully complimented your very relaxed demeanour on stage. Your natural charisma and genuine charm worked extremely well with this folksy song arrangement.
I also enjoyed the fact that you performed without the guitar this week. It was wonderful to see you cruise along the perimeter of the stage, allowing you to communicate more efficiently to your audience.
Vocally, I feel that your voice enjoyed more resonating presence this week. You really were trying to add inflection and nuance to this romantic number and, to some effect, you were quite successful – especially in the latter half of this number.
Good work, Jason
Critique: Jason – although you looked more relaxed this week, you still were encountering some major vocal issues with this performance.
As I said last week, you truly need to hone some serious technical skills in order to stabilize and challenge the breathing process when you sing. Your biggest problem is the shape of your mouth; presently it is set in a non-effective horizontal position, therefore adding tension and pressure to your vocal production.
You need to stand in front of a mirror, making certain that your rib cage muscles are very elevated and breathe deeply from the diaphragm. At the same time, you also need to make sure that your mouth is positioned in a circular fashion, while grabbing and connecting the vowels within your lyrics. Let the air vibrate your vocal cords – never push or force the vocal sound forward from the throat.
Your breathing deficit was also affecting the manner in which you phrased your music. This week, the 4/4 time signature of “Michelle” sounded very square and stilted – like you were marching to it. The natural ebb and flow of this song was severely compromised because you didn’t have the breathing skills that would have allowed you to float through the melody line. You were not connecting the vowels in an efficient and consistent manner.
Always remember to establish a lilting forward momentum through the phrases when you sing and try not to breathe as often or as expected. In other words, challenge your breathing skills and be creative with your breathing.
In fairness to you, I thought that the musical arrangement of this song was really choppy and uneven and the tempo very square and tedious. It really gave you nothing to work with and the dynamic level never changed. It did not allow you to breathe in a relaxed manner and that is really a shame.
Hopefully, you will have a better song arrangement, one that will challenge and inspire you to sing with increased technical and artistic efficiency.
Good luck next week, Jason!
Strengths: Kristy Lee –I absolutely loved the timbre of your voice during the opening strains of this number. The melodic line rested in the lower part of your range and allowed you to expose the glorious vocal quality in your contralto voice.
You chose your key wisely, one that continually highlighted the depth and beauty of your lower range. Smart girl!
Additionally, I felt that your singing was extremely resonant this week and you were easily sustaining your vocal line on the pure vowels. Your relaxed and open facial features were testament to this, as your voice resonated beautifully in your vocal masque (face). There was no push or manipulation from your throat and that was wonderful to see and hear.
Your upper body was nicely relaxed, again allowing you to sing and communicate effectively and consistently throughout this showcase. You exuded more confidence and poise, signalling that you did deserve to be in this very talented group of performers.
Once again you treated us to a lovely head tone ending, one that rang with crystal clarity and transparency.
Excellent work, Kristy-Lee!
Critique: Kristy-Lee – as I listened to you navigate the upper recesses of your voice toward the end of this song, I was thinking that it would have been wonderful if you had exposed that area of your voice to greater effect.
I did love listening to your velvety lower range, but adding your upper range midway through this song would have created a higher degree of dimension and interest in the melodic line. You have a seamless and smooth vocal range and you should showcase this as much as possible. There is a perfect blend of head and chest voice throughout your vocal registers, so flaunt it girl!
Visually, you still need to work on your stage presence. Don’t be afraid to wear your emotions on your sleeve. You still seem a little lost on that stage and I want to encourage you to utilize the stage more effectively. Do not be afraid to take a risk or two – but use baby steps. Too much too soon will challenge your comfort zone.
Remember to balance the performance and vocal aspects and try to select songs that move and inspire your creative juices, making sure that the vocal arrangement is appropriate for your voice and style.
Good luck next week, Kristy!
Strengths: Michael- I love the depth and sophistication you bring to this year’s season of American Idol. You are an extremely talented musician and you are not afraid to take risks nor are you afraid to be vulnerable and genuine. I love these qualities so much in an artist. Because of these attributes, your audience is able to identify with you and establish a wonderful connection that is real and true.
Once again you selected a very complex song from the Lennon-McCartney songbook and, although it is difficult to compress this song into 2 minutes or so, I felt that you highlighted the best parts of this number most effectively.
The segue into the faster tempo was smooth and seamless and I loved the fact that you moved with greater ease than in previous weeks. It heightened the communicative aspects of this song, successfully involving your audience in your vocal showcase
Your vocal instrument is one of quality and I stand behind last week’s statement that you are generously endowed with a classical pop vocal sound. You need to correct some technical flaws in the process, but your natural gifts should make the transition an easy one.
I loved this performance. Congratulations!
Critique: Michael – this week, you encountered some vocal difficulties and I attribute it to further tension because of the complexity of your song selection. Please remember to practice the stage and vocal elements in a manner that will compliment the overall performance level of your showcase.
You had a lot on your plate this week – the change in tempo, the complexity of the song selection, choreographic elements to consider and so on.
I think that you were a little over pumped at the beginning and were not allowing yourself time to breathe deeply and efficiently. Always remember to ease into a song – allow yourself time to think and live the lyrics.
Also, I noticed that your head was very elevated and this signalled a high degree of tension in your upper body. Remember to keep your head and eyes level with your audience. Raising the head not only generates additional pressure on your vocal cords, but also diminishes effective communication with the audience. Yes, you were moving and grooving and that was all good, but your eyes were conveying a different story.
Your first upper note was compromised because of all of these problems mentioned above. I noticed a great deal of tension in your throat and the circular formation of your mouth was not as consistent as in previous weeks. Therefore, your breath support system was severely compromised.
Also, please remember to drop your jaw when you enter your upper range and access the strength of your diaphragmatic muscles for proper vocal production and focus.
Finally, try to relax! I wish I could wave a magic wand to assist you in this process. You have real, serious vocal talent, Michael, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you perform with absolute confidence and vocal security.
Hopefully, as the weeks go by, you will more fully expose the power and potential of your vocal gifts and artistry to fuller effect. Fingers crossed! Now, go and practice some technical scales and let’s get that voice back on track.
Strengths:Ramiele – I am so happy that you chose an upbeat song this week. You made great effort to involve yourself with your audience and had a relaxed and open demeanour throughout this performance.
Also, the song arrangement was more cohesive and buoyant and, more important the key selection was a much better call than last week.
Your confidence level and natural energy were a joy to behold and, although I would have enjoyed seeing you move around the stage a bit more, I still felt that the “less is more” credo worked wonderfully for you this week.
Your voice sounded rich and resonant and you exhibited a lovely seamless quality throughout your range. This was very noticeable when you negotiated the major 6th interval while singing the word “mine”. You connected both notes utilizing your diaphragm and, additionally, made certain that you sustain on the pure “ah” vowel in the “eye” diphthong.
Your mouth formation was consistently circular, thus allowing you to display a ringing, even, pitch-centered vocal timbre.
You appear to be a very studious and disciplined performer and I hope that, as the weeks go by, you continue to expose different facets of your genuine and charming personality.
Good work, Ramiele!
Critique:Ramiele – you are a shy one, aren’t you? Next week, regardless of the speed and/or mood of the song, try to make an attempt to move gently along the stage perimeter. If anything, the walking will relax your body and assist you to sing with even greater comfort and ease.
However, more important, the stage movements will lend interest and dimension to your showcase and encourage you to connect more efficiently with your audience.
Also, remember to select songs that rest comfortably in your singing range and speak to your distinct artistry. I thought this song worked very well this week, Ramiele, so continue to research your song material judiciously, making certain that all performance and vocal aspects of your song are perfect for your individual vocal style.
Good luck next week!
Strengths:Syesha –this was such a beautiful rendition of this fabulous song. I applaud you for performing a purely acoustic version of this composition; it allowed your vocal power and artistry to glimmer and shine.
I absolutely loved the subtle beauty of this song arrangement and you allowed the nuances and the fragility of the emotions to shine through with inspiring ease and comfort. Additionally, the guitarist who accompanied you was just excellent and complimented the variety of nuances you exhibited throughout this performance.
The lovely peaceful mood you established at the beginning of this song moved effortlessly into the more resonant vocal sound you exhibited in the bridge.
You utilized your head tone so effectively during the softer passages and this encouraged you to keep it central to your vocal production as the song progressed to a more passionate dynamic level.
This is not an easy song; the melodic line ascends by step and the singer must make certain that the technique is utilized effectively in this song. I feel that, generally, you did do this, Syesha, and at the same time, you allowed the emotion to permeate your vocal timbre with the appropriate amount of inflection.
Excellent work! Brava!
Critique: Syesha– always be certain that you are breathing deeply from the diaphragm so that you can cement your voice in a more formidable manner. Sometimes the pitch was slightly compromised as you climbed the scale in the melodic line. You did correct this as the song progressed and moved into the louder dynamic level and this positively affected the remainder of your performance.
However, your pianissimo singing level (softer) needs the same level of technical security as your fortissimo level (louder). Encourage those diaphragmatic muscles to buoyantly propel your voice forward – toward your vocal masque- and always connect your words through the purest vowel in your song lyrics.
And –remember – a circular mouth position and a relaxed jaw will ensure a ringing pitch centered security in your vocal production at every dynamic level.
Visually imagine a forward momentum in your phrase line; this will keep your voice nicely focused and the support more consistent and cohesive.
In closing, I have to say that I thoroughly appreciated the intelligent and sensitive preparation of this song and look forward to more multi-dimensional performances from you in the coming weeks.