This week’s theme show focused on the music catalogue from the Grand Ole Opry. Generally, given my classical and musical theatre background, I hold little interest in this particular theme night; however, I do respect that there is an enormous audience for this music and that spells ratings!
Performance-wise, this was a splendid showcase for the singers. The straightforward musical structure of the selected songs generally encouraged the singers to apply a distinct, innovative approach to these often-performed numbers.
As a result, we were treated to some refreshing and modern twists on the original cover songs. This is what I was listening for and the singers that succeeded in this artistic task gave the strongest and most memorable performances.
Randy Travis was a superb guest mentor and he patiently guided these singers through the rehearsal process.
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.
Strengths: Adam-well, that was one, sexy, take on this signature Johnny Cash number! And the Cabaret Idol becomes even more evident with every passing week! This week, another piece of the Lambert musical puzzle was revealed and it is shaping up to be a good one.
Your Middle Eastern interpretation of this song was quite the inventive arrangement. Your eyes really connected with the television camera, bringing all of us along for this very unique musical ride. However, I do have to say that the first part of this song was lost on me, but then, as the song progressed, Cabaret Adam kicked in and I loved it! Loved! It!
Your head voice was gorgeous and you effortlessly accessed this area of your range with the support of your advanced technical skills. The beauty of your head voice accented the fact that you have the range of a counter-tenor, but I think you already know this. The beauty and the clarity of your upper range is really remarkable – so transparent and true.
I also loved the dramatic hand, arm and head movement; they strengthened the visual components of this number and beautifully complimented the aural experience. You were totally immersed in this song and your artistic focus throughout this number was exceptional.
Paula was so correct when she said: ”You are raising your own bar each week”. In essence, you think like an athlete and are competing against yourself. That signifies confidence and a promise of creatively exciting showcases in the coming weeks.
Critique: Adam-you need to adopt a more vigilant approach to the production of you lower range. At the beginning of this song., I felt that your voice lacked true focus. Part of me thinks that it was due to nerves. There was a bit of a quiver in your voice, which signaled to me that the diaphragmragmatic breathing muscles were not fully engaged during the supportive process.
Breathe deeply and dig into those lower notes and make sure you create a cohesive blend of chest and head voice in that part of your range. You need depth and clarity in this part of your range, so that your baritone voice sounds seamless when you move into your stellar upper range.
Propel your voice to your vocal masque and make certain that the lower end of your voice is brimming with head resonance. Otherwise, your baritone voice will continue to sound vague and ambiguous.
Also, from an artistic standpoint, always know that I have deep admiration for everything you have to offer to the American Idol viewers each week. However, I feel that you are going to have to “reel it in a bit” and create performances that touch Middle America. You can still be “artsy” over the long term, but, in the next couple of weeks, we need to see and hear performances that will grab the voters, performances with which they can identify.
You are intelligent enough to do both at the same time and, from watching your pre-Idol videos, I know you can do this. Just stand there and sing your heart out – be one of us and let your vocals shine in a way that will rock this competition out of the water.
Presently, the theatrical aspects of your performances are masking the stellar beauty of your voice. I can appreciate it, but, I am not too sure if the general audience is on the same page as me.
However, when all is said and done, you are a consummate performer, the likes of which we have never seen on American Idol. You take artistic risks and I truly admire your creative tenacity. The show is fortunate to have discovered you, as your performances are truly distinctive and absolutely unique.
Strengths: Alexis- you selected one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs. You looked and sounded radiant and it was such a pleasure to hear you sing such a sensitive ballad. In fact, I would like to hear more in the future. You certainly highlighted your sensitive and expressive persona with this stellar song choice.
I would like to congratulate you on the melancholy flavor your incorporated into this signature Country classic. I thought it was well-formulated and complimented your natural style and ability.
Additionally, your exposed the beauty and ring of your pure head voice midway through this song and, in doing so, provided a wonderful contrast to the full sound of your natural singing range. Generally, your vocal timbre is brimming with head resonance, thus rendering clarity and transparency throughout your entire vocal range.
Technically, you on the correct pathway; you generally apply a cohesive approach to your pure vowels, sustaining them through the support from the diaphragm.
Also, your stage demeanor reflected the angst emotion in the song lyrics – you felt and communicated this song extremely effectively to the audience and in a genuine manner. Good for you!
Good work, Alexis!
Critique: Alexis-make certain that you sustain your falsetto with even stronger diaphragmatic support. I felt that, overall, the vocal sound was beautiful, but was starting to go astray because of lack of continued support. Make certain that you grab the pure vowels and flex those muscles so that the support is consistent and true.
Also, as I said last week, keep working on a more consistent approach to your mouth formation when sustaining your pure vowels. Presently, your mouth is still somewhat horizontal when you sing through your melodic line, thus allowing some tension and negative pressure to prevail in your overall vocal timbre.
You need to relax that jaw and allow the diaphragmatic muscles to guide and focus your voice in your vocal mask. Also, a proper technical approach will keep the chest resonance “in check” – something that was a bit too prevalent in your voice this week.
As a result, when you did access your falsetto range, I detected a bit of an unsteady timbre in your vocal sound. The head resonance, not being at the core of your natural range, lost its center. Your support muscles were not as elevated and energetic as should have been the case, so you had to quickly make an adjustment. And you did! You worked it out as the song moved forward and you corrected the problem toward the end of the falsetto passage.
However, when all is said and done, you want to mainitain a seamless continuity throughout your entire range, so that the melodic line sounds smooth and effortless throughout the entire song.
However, I still loved your artistic approach to this song Alexis! Very well done!
Strengths: Allison- you selected a less familiar song to my ears, so I could sit back and fully appreciate your interpretation in a truly unbiased fashion. My goodness, you have a voice, girl! And you have a confident stance when you are on that Idol stage – like you truly belong there and you do!
You even added a country flare to this song – diverting from the customary rock flavor in your vocals. It was a rock-country sound in every sense of the word and I was loving it. Your voice sounded energized and vibrant, brimming with artistic confidence and musicality.
Also, you worked the stage like a pro and, given your young age, your stage skills were truly impressive. You effortlessly navigated the perimeter of the stage, establishing a strong bond with your live audience.
This wa s great performance, Allison. Kudos!
Critique: Allison- as I said last week, be very careful that you do not push those vocals into pure chest resonance. Do not leave the head resonance behind. I love your voice when you sing through your lower range- it is wonderfully low and sultry; however, the upper vocals are lacking the ringing presence of necessary head resonance and, as a result, your vocal range sounds uneven and disjointed.
Also, I felt that your throat was so constricted and, as a result, there was a discernible “push” in the overall quality of your voice. Like some of the other singers in this competition, you are struggling to maintain a circular position to your mouth when grabbing the pure vowels in your lyrics. And your jaw is noticeably tight, thus impeding the proper support from the diaphragm.
I think what is saving your voice right now is the key selection of your songs. Both last week and this week, the key selection highlighted your naural singing range – not too high, not too low, but just right! Smart lady.
However, at some point, you will need to expand the boundaries of your natural singing range if you want to grow as an artist. Therefore, keep working on the expansion of your technical resources.
Also, in future performances, I hope to hear you sing a slower-paced song, one that would demonstrate your softer, vulnerable side. Up until now, all of your songs have been quite identical, so it is imperative that you change your selection focus and opt for a ballad in the near future.
Good luck, Allison
Strengths: Anoop- this was a great, great song choice, one that lends itself to different styles of singing – even classical. In fact, you adopted a classical “bel canto “approach and, in doing so, demonstrated to everyone that a classical technical approach to other genres of music actually works.
You sounded absolutely spectacular this week and your improvement level was enormous. Huge, in fact! You did not sound like the Anoop I heard in past weeks. This week, you looked and sounded like a refined, charismatic performer and I applaud you immensely for your hard work and determination to elevate your craft.
I loved the hushed intensity at the beginning of this song; it perfectly established the romatic mood of this number. And kudos to the pianist, who added some neat chords to compliment this wonderful arrangement, thus elevating the musical dimension of this song performance.
Your vocals were beautifully sustained on the pure vowel and your mouth was perfectly round and that jaw extremely relaxed. As a result, because the resonating areas behind your vocal masque were open and free, your voice exhibited a centered focus and ring . It sounded seamless and pure from top to bottom
Additionally, you added some wonderful vocal variation to the original melodic structure, distinguishing it from so many of the other covers of this song. You poured every ounce of your heart and soul into this number, Anoop, and, through your natural sensitivity and musical skills, established an even closer bond with your growing fanbase.
Bravo and standing ovation!
Critique: Anoop-I can”t add anything in this critique because you improved in such a monumental way. The way you performed this song was so perfect and when you added the passionate riffs toward the end of this song, then that solidified this expessive performance as a “slam-dunk”.
Hopefully, you will continue to grow as a vocalist and create memorable, noteworthy performances! Somehow, I have no doubt that you will. Excellent work!
Strengths: Danny -you tackled Carrie Underwood’s first successful single with soulful artistry. You looked and sounded sincere and you communicated this song to the audience with clarity and authenticity. Just beautiful! All lyrics were crystal clear.
That is one round mouth for someone that apparently has never taken a voice lesson. Maybe you are a little bit British? :) Whatever the reason, the relaxation in the lower half of your face really harnesses the pure quality in your vocal presence.
Additionally, your rhythmic presence on stage was spectacular. What a great, innovative approach to this signature song. Totally Danny all the way. Where does this musical depth come from? It is just outstanding. This was a wonderfully nuanced approach – from the soft dynamic at the beginning of the song to the slow, determined build-up to the passionate vocals during the second half of the song. Simon calls it “light and shade” – good one, Simon!
A well-paced and well-rehearsed performance.
Critique: Danny -make certain that you are consistently supporting your voice in the lower range – think higher when you sing lower. The voice needs to have a lift in the lower range, otherwise it will fall flat. I didn’t feel that it was a major problem in this song, as you have a naturally resonant vocal instrument.
However, it could become increasingly more problematic over the course of time. You want to deepen and strengthen tyour lower range, so that it mirrors the ringing presence and potency of your upper range.
And speaking of your upper range, be very careful that you do not push the chest resonance into your tenor range. You have a very rich instrument, so it can fool the listeners, but do not trade solid technical skills for forced potency in your upper vocals. If you do, you will over-extend your vocal cords and run the risk of permanently injuring the muscle.
Make sure that all the strength and power for your vocal sound is emanating from your diaphragmatic breathing muscles. Breathe deeply and let the rib cage and back muscles guide the air to achieve whatever dynamic level you wish to attain. And always center your power vocals with head resonance – this element always has to be at the core of your vocal sound, high or low, loud or soft.
Great work, Danny!
Strengths: Kris – you totally captivated me this week with your sensitivity and emotion. The lovely ballad that you selected for this week’s performance was perfect, as we were able to appreciate your sensitive and gentle artistry. Good for you! I was waiting for this!
Also, I enjoyed the fact that you performed without your guitar, as it allowed you to focus your energy on your vocals. This decision paid off in major dividends.
Seated on a stool, you established a quiet, romantic mood and a confident, accommodating demeanor. Additionally, your voice was beautifully resonant and pure this week. The circular formation of your mouth and the relaxation of your jaw was an obvious technical improvement and, for this reason, your voice sounded absolutely gorgeous. It had presence and focus!
Also, you exhibited great posture – a nice high rib cage, signaling to me that the diaphragmatic breathing muscles were able to work in a very consistent fashion. It also accentuated your confident stage demeanor, allowing you to communicate your words with confidence and sensitivity
Artistically, this was a sensitive and heartwarming performance. And, yes, I was waiting for the head voice on your final note and you delivered! A little crack in the veneer, but you added some more breath from the diaphragm and sustained the pitch beautifully in the end.
This was a superb performance Kris! I loved it!
Critique: Kris -keep working on that mouth position and relax that jaw. Trust the diaphragm to do the work. Your voice is so naturally pure and clear, that once you become more comfortable with the circular mouth position on all the vowels, you will be astounded at the additional depth and resonance in your vocal timbre. It just does the trick – trust me!
However, overall, like Anoop, I felt that your performance and vocal skills improved in a monumental way and this indicated to me that you are working extremely hard at honing and refining your technical skills. What more can Masterclass Lady ask for, right? Keep up the great work, Kris and best of luck with your rehearsals for next week’s showcase.
Strengths: Lil -you looked absolutely radiant this week. That red dress was beautiful – it added to the visual aspect of this wonderful performance of Martina McBride’s song. Throughout this song, you generally retained the perfect “bel canto” mouth position and this resulted in a seamless vocal quality throughout your vocal and dynamic range.
I also appreciated the slight bend in your knees, as it allowed your soft palate to remain elevated and your throat open and free. As a result your voice always sounded resonant and focused in your vocal masque (facial features)
And speaking of facial features, every feature was fully relaxed and liberated throughout this anthem song. I especially noted the beautiful implementation of head resonance in your soft and louder dynamic levels. Once again, this signaled to me that your technical resources were in full swing in the lower half of your body, guiding and focusing your sound consistently and evenly in your vocal masque.
And, more than any other singer in this competition, you understand the importance of maintaining a circular mouth position on all of the pure vowels. You do try to avoid the messy diphthongs at all cost and, as a result, your voice sounds beautifully centered and true.
For example, you sustained the “ay” diphthong” in the final word -”day” - on the “eh” vowel and made certain that the circular formation of your mouth assisted the process. That was super to see and hear – almost a mini-Masterclass moment for the readers at the close of your song.
Brava Lil! You are a tremendous singer!
Critique: Lil – I would have loved to see you take advantage of the stage area to a greater extent. The vocals were spectacular, but the performing skills seemed very restrained this week. As you yourself said, this was quite a departure from your R&B roots, so this fact quite possibly hindered the stylistic aspects of your performance.
You need to maintain confidence in your natural artistry and allow your creative juices to spin any song to reflect your personal style. Don’t let the song rule you – you must rule the song.
Also, make absolutely certain that you support your lower range (I feel that I am typing the same advice for all the singers this week) as consistently as you do the upper! I felt that your support was not as strong in the lower end of your voice and, at times, you gave into the messy diphthongs in your words.
It wasn’t as problematic as when I listened to some of the others this week, but, the tendency to become lax in the lower end was still visible to the eye, if not to the ear.
You are fortunate that you have a naturally resonant vocal instrument that resonates with relative ease and freedom. However, make certain that you harness this natural energy with consistently applied technical resources.
Great work, nonetheless, Lil.
Strengths: Matt -once again, we saw and heard you seamlessly connect your vocal and instrumental skills in a monumental way. Seated at the piano, you appeared very immersed in your comfort zone. You adopted a very personal approach to this song, distinguishing it from the original Carrie Underwood cover.
Therefore, for this reason alone, your performance deserves the highest praise. You reinvented the song and arranged it to suit your style. You grabbed control of the artistic reins and guided the listener down a new and exciting musical path. Bravo! For all of these above reasons, I found this performance to be spectacular.
Also your piano abilities are brilliant. Brilliant! You really know how to create a full orchestral accompaniment with that piano. You fingers don’t just “tickle the ivories” – they dig deep into the keys and create gorgeous shading and nuance to mirror the same effect in your stellar vocals.
And speaking of your voice, you projected a more resonant and confident vocal sound than in previous weeks, looking and sounding like a softer version of The Buble. Did the judges just notice this? It was pretty transparent from the minute I saw you in the semi-final rounds.
Your voice has a husky quality mixed in with a lighter “head voice” texture and, although your technique is not as solidified as I would like it to be, you most certainly made advances in this respect during this week’s showcase.
Your final note was testament to this: sustaining the word “all” in pure head voice with that ever-important circular mouth and relaxed jaw. You even managed a slight crescendo (gradually louder) on this sustained note, by pushing some air from your diaphragm to achieve a forward momentum. Good for you, Matt!
Great, great performance! I was truly impressed!
Critique: Matt- keep on working to consistently achieve a circular mouth formation . Presently, the horizontal placement of your mouth is “winning the day” in this respect. Vertical is the way to go!
Also, make certain that you grab those pure vowels and focus your voice on the vowels for as long as possible. Do not let the consonants interfere with the process; they are meant to be vertically articulated in a crisp, clean and expedient fashion.
Also, remember that beautiful head voice at the end of your song? Always remember to incorporate some of this crucial vocal element into every area of your range, thus ensuring the ringing presence of your voice throughout your range. Presently, I feel that your voice is lying back in your throat; I need to hear and feel it more forward in placement, resonating freely in your vocal masque.
However, you need to make certain that your intake of air is efficient and deep, allowing your elevated ribcage muscles and back muscles to expand in the process. Then, when you begin to sing, the reverse effect takes place – similar to slowly letting air out of a balloon -and the muscles begin the flexing process that is so important to the perfect vibration of the vocal cords.
This requires slow, consistent practice, but something tells me you are a quick study – and a determined one as well – and you will make inroads in your technical growth at a faster rate than most.
Hope all of this helps Matt! You are an outstanding artist and I look forward to all you have to offer in the coming weeks.
Strengths: Megan- as you said in your brief interview, you changed this song to be comfortable and it really worked. I loved your quirky, almost throwback persona. It rings very true in my heart and I feel that you are not playing a part on stage – you are being Megan – and I like what I see.
I loved the bluesy, relaxed, laidback style when you performed this song. It was superbly suited to the lyrics and, as a result, the communication level of this song was very strong indeed.
And I did notice that you did refine your excessive body movement, but I found it adorable how every now and then it “kicked back in”. As I said last week, I actually enjoy some of these atypical and unusual movements, so just streamline them a bit and work them out so that they do not interfere with your vocal line.
Also, I have to applaud you and give you a rousing standing “O” on your outstanding vocal performance, given the fact that you were extremely ill with Influenza B. Wow! And to think of how beautiful those upper notes would have sounded if you had not been so ill? You went for them anyway and they were crystal clear – like a bell! One could hear the congestion in your voice and, yet, still, you were confident and determined enough to sing this song to the very best of your ability. And you did!
Critique: Megan – be very careful of your mouth formation when you enunciate the “ee” vowel. In this week’s performance, your mouth adopted a horizontal spread and you would be wise to maintain a circular position with your mouth on this vowel. You do so with the rounder vowels, like “ah, “oh” and “oo”, but now you need to focus on a consistently circular approach to all your vowels.
Also, watch those hand movements – they sometimes seemed a little bit “out of sync” with the rhythmic flow of the song. A mirror is a singer’s best friend, so, from time to time, make sure you rehearse your song in front of a mirror to correct any excessive or incorrect body movements.
However, because you have been so ill this week, the best advice I have to offer you right now is to rest with a capital “R”! We want to see a healthy Megan in the coming weeks. Get well soon, Megan and be proud of what you did accomplish on stage this week. Kudos!!!!
Strengths: Michael – this was a really good song choice and extremely “lyric-friendly” Generally, I thought you communicated the lyrics quite well and did not hesitate to spin those words out of your mouth. All the words were fairly coherent and, in this respect, the song was communicated very well. Great memory work!
I loved the vocal slide on “oh” midway through this song and you negotiated key change very well. You also acknowledged the “entertainment aspect” of this song, moving quite effortlessly on and off the stage in order to fully engage your audience. This song requires showmanship and, as a result, encouraged you to highlight this natural performing aspect in your stage persona.
Good work, Michael!
Critique: Michael -you had a very spread, horizontal mouth position throughout this performance and this detracted from your vocal energy. The voice never moved forward – never truly projected. I found your facial muscles extremely tense due to the lack of a vertical mouth position on your pure, uncluttered vowels. Additionally, your throat was extremely constricted, thus deterring the natural resonating presence of your vocal timbre.
Be very careful when rehearsing songs with a verbose, cyclic pattern in the lyrical content. You have to make sure that the vowels are cohesively and continuously attached to the notation in the melodic line. I felt that you were, in essence, “chewing the words” and not allowing the vowels to assist you in the forward focus of your melodic line. The consonants are important – but need to be articulated quickly with a vertical mouth formation.
Also, you tend to sustain your words on multiple vowels or diphthongs, thus diminishing the natural essence of your vocal timbre. Make absolutely certain that you grab the pure vowel in your words and ignore the diphthongs at all cost.
Finally, when you are rehearsing a fast-paced song, it always helps to slow down the tempo in the rehearsal process. This allows you to deliberately focus on the proper placement of the vowels, making certain that you are diaphragmatically supporting the melodic line in a way that establishes clear focus of the melody in the vocal masque.
Best of luck next week, Michael!
Strengths: Scott -you exuded an extremely peaceful presence during this exquisite showcase this week. Seated at the piano, you communicated this song with passion and musical sensitivity. It was a superb performance!
And, like Matt, your pianos skills are outstanding. For me, there is nothing greater than watching a vocalist seated at the piano – totally immersed in his element.
I also loved listening to the refined approach you applied to your lyrics: e.g “perfect world” – relaxed “r” consonant, and uncluttered, ”British-style” vowels. You really grabbed your pure vowels, as evidenced in your vocal sound during the “wild angels’ segment - lots of pure vowel sustaining ability and a supreme effort to avoid the messy diphthongs in both words.
And without stopping the compliments here, I applaud you on mastering the circular mouth formation when sustaining the “ee” vowel in the word “be” - it was absolutely perfect and, as a result, your voice sounded centered and clear.
Your voice sounded so transparent throughout this song and, because of your stellar technical efforts, your vocal timbre had presence and ring throughout this showcase. Gorgeous!
What a phenomenal performance! Your musical honesty was absolutely inspirational and, as Kara said you bring class and poise to the stage each and every week.
Critique: Scott- you experienced some problems with your falsetto passage. Always remember to trust your diaphragmatic support system and focus the sound through this technical resource. You needed to access your pure head voice and, if you wanted to increase the dynamic level, then apply the appropriate amount of support from the diaphragm to achieve the desired result.
Also, you intermittently constricted your facial features, thus closing off the resonating areas in your vocal masque. Remember to keep your facial features open and relaxed and allow your voice to be guided toward your vocal masque through the breathing process.
Also, we need to hear an upbeat song from you in the very near future. It really doesn’t matter to me whether or not you leave the piano – I would just love for you to expose a fun-loving, entertaining side to your stage persona.
It will also diminish some of the pressure that comes from singing musically expressive and sustaining ballads each week and I will bet your voice will take on a revitalization process.
Also, and this is an aesthetic piece of advice, you might consider donning sunglasses. It might add a “cool” element to your stage persona and, given your visual impairment, take the focus away from your eyes. This advice is coming not only from me, but also from several of my artistic friends, who felt this might enhance your stage persona in a positive way.