By: Rosanne Simunovic
Well, this was quite a night! American Idol listeners were treated to fantastic performances highlighting the musical repertoire of Michael Jackson and, for the most part, all of the Top 13 finalists delivered admirably well.
Welcome, everyone, to another Vocal Masterclass season of American Idol!
I have to say that this year’s crop of singers are quite the diverse group! And to be given the opportunity to select songs from Michael Jackson’s songbook must have been such a fulfilling musical experience for these young artists.
This was an absolutely brilliant way to “kick off” the eighth season and, additionally, it showcased the current elements that permeate MJ’s music. His music has easily withstood the passage of time -after all, genius is genius at any point in time.
Now, let us move forward to my Vocal Masterclass evaluations and I welcome your commentary and suggestions after the read!
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.
Also, I am experiencing some technical issues with the inclusion of YouTube videos for the various performers.
When I updated my article, some of the videos were “stripped” from the final copy.
Is this a forecast of things to come? Probably not, but I just wanted to explain that the lack of a video for some of the performers was not intentional. I will try to remedy this problem ASAP!
Strengths: Adam-you are a consummate performer and your enviable background in musical theatre equipped you with a solid foundation for this week’s Michael Jackson theme.
Throughout this number, you provided the viewers with an extraordinary visual and aural experience. This was a strong performance in every respect – expressive vocals, fantastic stage skills and authentic communicative ability.
Your strong theatrical background obviously prepared you for this phenomenal moment in time. You waited for the right time and place to audition for this show and the wait was well worth it – for you and for us.
The key to success is realized when preparation and opportunity collide and you are a stellar example of this statement. You have obviously worked extremely hard to hone your craft and to develop into the confident performer we have recently had the privilege to meet.
I feel you will be an unstoppable force in this show, as you are like a chameleon and wear a coat of many colors in your singing style. A true Cabaret Idol! How I have been waiting for this day!
Bravo and congratulations on bringing such a high level of disciplined artistry to the American idol stage!
Critique: Adam-over the coming weeks, be very careful that you “rein in” the screaming aspect of your vocal delivery. You have strong diaphragmatic breathing skills, so I feel that you understand the fundamental aspects of solid technical singing.
However, you do not want to over-extend the natural capability of your vocal gift, so always make certain that the more potent sections in your songs are delivered through the support of your diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
And, make absolutely certain that you practice both the vocal and choreographic elements slowly and meticulously, in order to ascertain that one performing element is not over-powering the other. We never want your voice to take a back seat to your stage performance nor do we want you to perform like a robot. Ha!
However, you are a stellar performer and I do look forward to what you have to offer in the weeks ahead.
Strengths: Alexis-this was a phenomenal performance, respendent with artistry and vocal excellence. What a star you are on that stage! Your vocal skills were generally technically solid and, unlike Paula’s critique, I did not feel that you were over-stepping your singing boudaries at all!
I thought that you were in complete control of the stage and really solidifed the power of your natural singing voice with superb technical skill.
The very naughty communicative aspects of this song were well done – you characterized the song exceptionally well and played the role to perfection.
I also love the bright timbre of your voice – it is resplendent with natural head voice and, as a result, your pitch and focus always remained centered. You sustained your melodic line on the pure vowels, thus rendering a seamless quality throughout your entire range.
Excellent work, Alexis. Kudos!
Critique: Alexis-I found little to critique in this performance. However, just make certain that you work on your articulation skills. At times, I found it difficult to understand your words, especially when you vocalized within your lower range.
Make sure you spin out those consonants quickly and crisply – before and after you grab those beautiful bel canto vowels. Also, make certain that your mouth remains perfectly round at all times. There were a few moments, albeit brief, that I noticed a stretch to your mouth position, thus causing some intermittent tension in your voice.
Remember: round mouth, relaxed jaw and liberated diaphragmatic breathing skills are key to a successful vocal delivery.
Strengths: Allison-what a great song choice. This was a very strong, very confident performance. I loved your vocal presence and fire – it was absolutely phenomenal with a capital “P”. You possess strong technical skills and a rustic artistry that I am growing to love more and more with each performance.
Additionally. your “look” suited your rockstar persona . Your voice is ridiculously strong and potent – so muscular, in fact, that it defies logic given your young age.
I was so impressed with this performance because I was expecting less. Well, you showed me, didn’t you? You have an “Avril Lavigne” quality about you which is something quite different for this show. Most 16 or 17-year old female singers on American Idol have leaned toward the pop genre, but you? You are rockstar all the way and I am loving it!
Critique: Allison – don’t push the chest voice, sweetie. Easy does it! At times, the clarity of the head voice element was obliterated by too much chest voice in the vocal mix and, as a result, your voice lacked the ringing quality that I look for in each and every singer, regardless of the style of music.
Make certain that you channel that choirboy quality in your voice and then allow the vocal sound to increase through the application of pressure from the diaphragmatic rib cage muscles. Never push from your throat – the throat must remain open and free, so that your voice can project freely in and toward your vocal masque (facial muscles).
Great work, Allison. I was very impressed. Brava!
Strengths: Anoop-you snagged one of Michael Jackson’s best-known and most successful songs. It was a good move on your part in the sense that the entertainment value of this particular song is extremely high.
Overall, I thought you made a great effort to deliver this song with a saucy and angry stage persona. Good for you! You moved around the stage quite well and used the area to create some visual dimension to your performance.
I especially loved the clarity of your upper register voice; it was so transparent – pure head voice.
Good work, Anoop!
Critique: Anoop- because you needed to apply a great deal of choreography for this song, your vocals were diminished in the process. Although the song held a high degree of entertainment value, it was not the best selection to highlight your vocals.
There is a great deal of repetition in this song – in the melody and in the lyrics – and if the vocal delivery is not expressive and resplendent with nuance, the song will fall flat. And it did!
In order to have created a more convincing performance, you needed to work slowly and meticulously with the vocal and the choreographic aspects of the song, so that one element complimented and elevated the other.
Also, never rely on the natural markebility of a song to sell your performance. Sometimes these songs are the most difficult to convey to your audience, as it allows the singer to relinquish his artistic guard in the rehearsal/performance process.
As much as you did your best to internalize the attitude and passion of this song, it was not the correct fit for you in a stylistic sense and, as a result, the performance felt less than genuine.
Hopefully, you will select a better song for next week’s showcase, so that we can truly hear the vocal artistry in your voice. Tap into your artistic identity, Anoop, and choose songs that mean something to you – to which you can relate.
Strengths: Danny – from the opening notes of your terrific song choice, your voice and presence commanded the stage. You moved with absolute ease and professionalism. What is there to say but “wow, man!” Who knew? I have goosebumps here. This was an incredibly potent performance – in.cre.di.ble!
Your powerful, muscular vocals projected the absolute depth of your technical strength. And, I loved the dancing – it’s truly “who you are” – and I wouldn’t change a thing.
This was natural and effortless performance and meticulously rehearsed. How I admire this level of discipline in a performer. You remind me of Season Five Top 3 Finalist Elliott Yamin and that has to be a good thing, given his great success post-Idol. You appear to be channeling both his R&B style of singing and his genuine persona. Great combination – nothing could be better than this!
Also, the resonant quality of your voice was consistent and true. You grabbed those pure vowels and adhered your vocal sound in the true “bel canto” vocal style of singing. As a result, your voice sounded rich and robust throughout this showcase.
Excellent work Danny and truly inspiring!
Critique: Danny – I found no fault in this performance. It was excellent all the way. Your nuances were perfect, the technique was concrete and the communicative aspects genuine and meaningful. Bravo! I look forward to next week’s showcase very much.
Strengths: Jasmine – this was a stellar song choice, perfect for your voice and your gentle style of singing. I particularly adored the beautiful use of your head voice at the end of this song. You looked radiant on stage and I was extremely impressed with your level of professionalism at this young age.
Vocally, your voice is quite developed for your young age and you appear to have some evidence of proper diaphragmatic breath control. You approached your melodic line in a musical way and really added some wonderful expressive moments to this song.
Critique: Jasmine – be careful that you do not push that chest voice when producing your power vocals. When you did so, this allowed the notes to flatten. Too much chest voice does this time and time again.
Remember to ease onto your upper notes, accessing the head resonance in your voice and then creating a stronger dynamic sound by applying pressure and support from your diaphragmatic muscles. Never push and never attack the upper and/or louder notes. You will always fall short if you do and the pitch will suffer immensely.
A little trick that I have used seems to always work: when singing through your upper range, slightly or dramatically (this works for the louder dynamic)bend your knees and squeeze your butt muscles. However, while doing so, make certain that you have maintianed a circular mouth position and a relaxed jaw, thus allowing the rib cage muscles to begin the supportive process in a liberated manner.
And remember to fully breathe from your diaphragm – allow the stomach muscles to expand during the inhalation process and contract/flex during the vocalization process. Good luck, Jasmine!
Strengths: Jorge -this was a great song choice for you. You are quite the romantic presence on stage and you moved with ease and effortlessness on that stage.
I love the dark, expressive timbre of your voice; as your vocal cords mature, I sense you are going to develop a very strong, very potent vocal range. With proper vocal training and conditioning, your true vocal potential will be realized in a monumental fashion.
I loved the rhythmic motions you added to this song via your hands and facial expressions. I wait for the day when you can really break free and sing a song that is more up-tempo and rhythmically challenging. I suspect you are a great dancer, therefore, you need to find songs that heighten both aspects of your performing ability – dance and voice.
Great work. Jorge! Bravo!
Critique: Jorge- watch that you do not implement too much chest voice into your vocal timbre. This recurrent problem caused some poorly pitched notes throughout the majority of your melodic line.
Additionally, be very careful to avoid undue tension in your upper body – your shoulders were very constricted and your facial features extremely tense. You need to adopt a more relaxed approach in your upper body and allow the rib cage muscles to support and direct your vocal sound.
Always remember that the energy for proper vocal support occurs in your lower body; your upper body has to be open and free, so that the air can spontaneously vibrate the vocal cords to whatever frequency or dynamic you desire. Upper body tension will impede the process.
Additionally, your facial features as well must be open and relaxed – this is where you want to focus your vocal sound and if there is tension in your vocal masque (face), your voice will sound diminished and poorly centered.
Also, I wish that the composers could have been more inventive in the arrangement of this song – it sounded very pedantic at times and almost robotic. It gave you no room to expand your vocal delivery and/or deliver a more nuanced approach in your singing style.
Hope this helps Jorge. Good luck!
Strengths: Kris -I thoroughly enjoyed watching you perform with your guitar. You are as cute as a button and, although you have a light timbre to your voice, you generally use it technically well.
Performance-wise, this was a good and solid showcase and it is obvious that you and that guitar are meant to travel together on that stage. You are an engaging performer to watch, very genuine and real. Although I still do not have a sense of who you are as a performer, I feel that this will become evident with time and patience.
Good work, Kris!
Critique: Kris -there was so much tension in your mouth and jaw; you need to learn to relax these muscles ASAP. As you have a light timbre to your voice, you would most definitely gain more depth to your vocal sound by maintaining a circular mouth position on all your pure vowels. Also, a relaxed jaw – and an extended one when you navigate your upper range – is crucially important to a cohesive, seamless vocal sound.
Allow the diaphragmatic muscles to hone and direct your vocal sound. However, at the same time, make sure that your throat remains open and free from constriction so that your vocal sound can travel in uninhibited fashion toward your vocal masque. Once it reaches your vocal masque (facial features), the resonation process begins as you glue your vocal sound to the pure vowels in your lyrics.
And relax your knees and “butt squeeze” your way to the top of your range. It’s a no-fail trick, as long as your upper body is truly liberated and you have inhaled the proper amount of air for solid diaphragmatic support.
All of this does require some solid effort on your part, but, with proper coaching, this is not as difficult as it seems on paper. Watch American Idol David Cook or Top 2 Finalist David Archuleta – they had the right technical approach in their singing style last year, singing contrasting genres of music, and it worked in a huge way! Watch their mouth position and listen to their vowels – very pure and always grabbing the melody.
You have so much potential Kris and I hope that this little bit of advice will assist you in realizing it!
Strengths: Lil -you possess such a resplendent vocal instrument, due to a wonderful compilation of your natural vocal ability and exceptional technical skills. And, this week, you exuded a relaxed, yet strong vocal and artistic presence on stage. I loved the circular formation of your mouth during this great number; your exceptional diaphragmatic support allowed your voice to float effortlessly from your body.
I loved the relaxed choreographic elements your brought to this song -truly living and breathing the joyous aspect conveyed through the lyrics and bouyant melodic line.
Additionally, you paced this song extremely well; I always had a sense that you were in perfect control of this number from begining to end. Your rhythmic movements beautifully complimented your expressive vocals and it became obvious to my eyes and ears that this was one well- rehearsed performance. Kudos! I love singers who do their homework!
I also appreciated your expressive nuances – the revelation of your lovely head voice toward the end of this song provided wonderful contrast to the rich timbre of your mid-register voice.
Wonderful work, Lil! Brava!
Critique: Lil – you have a very solid technical approach to your singing style, so I could find little fault after this week’s performance. However, make certain that you consistently maintain a circular mouth position on all your vowels. I did notice that you had a slight spread on the “ee” vowel when you sang the word “feel” in your head voice.
Also, on your final note, your mouth and jaw were slightly trembling on that upper note. Trust the diaphragm to harness and direct your vocal sound and always remember to relax that jaw
Strengths: Matt -what an absolute treat to watch you tickle those ivories while you sang this great number. As a pianist myself, I truly admired your piano skills – the phrasing and the musicality were absolutely first-rate. You really dig into those keys and your aggressive, but expressive approach to your piano accompaniment signaled to me that you are a confident, well-educated musician.
I loved your bluesy, introspective approach to this song very much and the generous manner in which you exposed every possible layer in your vocal range and dynamic. You take risks, Matt, and I like that very much. You obviously possess some gorgeous head resonance, as we could so appreciate toward the end of this song.
You, along with a few others, bring a new dimension to the Idol stage this year and, in your case, it is a relaxed, soulful style that looks and sounds folksy and contemporary at the same time. Very neat! Very distinctive! Very singular! And that spells success in my book.
Superb work, Matt!
Critique: Matt-okay, we need to get you some vocal lessons stat! Would that you could apply as much energy into your diaphragmatic support as you do when you play the piano!
Throughout this song, your voice lacked direction. You suffered some pitch problems and your overall vocal timbre was very vague, almost wispy in content. I completely understand that you are going for a very relaxed, carefee style here, Matt, but, yous till have to harness your vocal sound with potent technical skills.
You encountered some problems when you soulfully engaged your upper range and your voice, unfortunately, lacked the clarity and ring that is necessary in this part of your range. Therefore, your pitch was off-center and you lost control of the reins, even when you moved back to the lower part of your voice.
And your mouth! Oh my! The position of your mouth was far too horizontal; a circular mouth position while you focus your melodic line on the pure vowels is the way to go, Matt! And, drop that very tense jaw – loosen up those facial muscles and let your stomach and back muscles do the work.
Remember to keep your throat open and free, thus allowing your voice to float effortlessly from your body. Of course, this means that the diaphragmatic muscles have to be thoroughly engaged to release the perfect amount of air to create the purest vocal sound possible at every dynamic level.
You are an extremely musical young artist and I hope that this advice will help you to advance and achieve your true potential on this show.
Strengths: Megan-I love you so darn much! You are a signature artist. I absolutely enjoyed this song and you certainly added a great deal of your sparkling and vivacious personality to this number.
This was a delightful showcase and provided a wonderful contrast to the other performances this week. Therfore, in a huge way, you distinguished yourself from the “rest of the pack” and that is always a good thing indeed at this stage of the competition.
And what a great song choice! It was a perfect fit for you, as the light-hearted aspects of this song complimented your naturally buoyant and carefree persona. You looked and sounded totally relaxed with this song and communicated the essence of this song in a genuine and real manner.
I loved the earthy, expressive quality in your voice; when you sang, I heard a wonderful array of nuance and inflection. Because of your jazzy and singular interpretive style, this classic song went through a renewal process and was the recipient of a new and refreshing “Megan” sound.
Great performance, Megan! Kudos!
Critique: Megan – make sure you continue to work on your stage skills. I actually love some of your quirky movements, but be very careful that the arms and hands do not become too busy in the process. Many times, excessive body movement can diminish the technical process when you sing, as it consumes energy that could be utilized in the diaphragmatic breath support system.
And, make certain that you diaphragmatically support your vocal sound. Presently, you use a great deal of chest resonance when you sing and I would like to hear a little more head resonance in the vocal process. I sense that there is some knowledge of proper voice technique, but want to make sure that you are using this knowledge on a continuing basis.
However, that being said, you are one clever lady, as you have made certain, this week and in past weeks, that the key selection of your songs lies in your natural mezzo singing range. Good for you!
Hopefully, we can hear a ballad from you next week, so as to better evaluate your sustained vocal ability. You have a musical way of phrasing your melodic line and a ballad would further highlight this element in your singing style. Also, a slower song would encourage you to provide further focus on the correct breathing process.
Congratulations once again, Megan! Great performance!
Strengths: Michael – you exuded a relaxed presence at the beginning of this song which never dissipated throughout this passionate performance. And your vocal technique was generally good, especially when you sustained some of your longer notes in your upper range.
I also appreciated your subtle stage movements, starting from a seated position (which helps to set the mood and ground the singer) to a standing position where you were able to freely walk across the stage.
This enabled you to not only communicate your song more effectively to your audience, but also to create a multi-layered visual effect throughout this performance.
Also, the standing/walking element is such a “freeing” element for any singer that I am often surprised that more singers do not use this opportunity to liberate and relax the tension in their body. Also, it energizes the breathing muscles to work in a more efficient fashion.
Overall, I thought this was a very strong performance and your vocal instrument sounded extremely resonant and seamless throughout this showcase. Good work, Michael! Oh – and I loved your song choice very much. Kudos!
Critique:Michael -try not to raise your head for those upper notes. This increases vocal tension and you lose communicative attachment with your audience. Keep your head level with the camera and bend those knees when accessing your upper range. And a “butt squeeze” or two will not hurt. Try it – it works!
Also, be very careful to keep your mouth round and your jaw relaxed when grabbing those pure vowels. I saw a great deal of tension in your mouth when you performed this song.
For the most part, you adopted a horizontal position with your mouth, particularly when you vocalized the trickier vowels such as “ay” or “ee”. These vowels need to be sustained through a circular mouth position and relaxed jaw. This will add further depth and brilliance to your voice and relieve undue tension in your facial features and throat.
Also, make certain that you avoid singing all the vowels in your diphthongs. For instance, when you sing the “ay” vowel, focus and sustain your voice on the first pure vowel in this diphthong – “eh”. It is a great deal easier to sing when all you have to think of is “eh” instead of “eh -i -ee”.
In other words, adopt the more refined British approach when you sing, grabbing pure vowels and sustaining them for as long as possible while crisply articulating those initial, middle and closing consonants in all of your words.
So, there you have it! Masterclass homework just in time for next week’s country-theme!
Strengths: Scott -I loved this song choice. It truly complimented your creative artistry. Your voice sounded very controlled from the very beginning and your charisma on camera was absolutely stellar.
Also, your piano accompaniment skills were superb and it speaks volumes about the depth of your musicianship that you just learned the piano score this week. It looked and sounded as if you were playing and singing this song for a lifetime. Your piano skills were exceptional and further elevated the musical standard of this performance.
Vocally, you exhibited flawless elements in this performance. You moved effortlessly into the upper range, signaling a seamless quality thoughout your vocal range. You definitely have a sense of where proper vocal technique can take you and, with a little refinement, your voice will continue to grow and flourish.
More important, you communicated the inspiring essence of this song in a genuine and sincere manner and the expressiveness in your voice reflected this. The clarity of your diction, the musical and creative phrasing, the inherent passion in your voice and so much more added to the nuanced approach in this performance.
You are a consummate musician Scott and I look forward to hearing some more performances from you – with or without the piano. Now, how about we aim for an upbeat song next week? Let’s loosen you up a bit! :)
Great work Scott! Bravo!
Critique:Scott- my biggest concern was that horizontal postion of your mouth. Actually, it was somewhere in between a horizontal and circular position formation.
You have to make absolutely certain that you maintain a rounded mouth formation on all your vowels, especially the trickier ones such as “ay”, “ee” and “i”. Also, you need further work in the relaxation of your jaw. Your eyes are beautifully open and expressive; now we just have to relax and liberate the lower half of your face. Once this is achieved, you will have perfectly positioned every feature of the facial masque so that your vocal sound can resonate freely in that area.
Also, when seated at the piano, make absolutely certain that you are accessing full support from the diaphragmatic breathing muscles. Energize those elevated muscles and allow the lower half of your body to create sound in the upper half of your body, directing it always toward the vocal masque (facial features).
However, this was a great, great showcase Scott! Kudos!