By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week American Idol paid tribute to the fantastic music from the Motown Era. Legendary artist, Smokey Robinson fulfilled his role as guest mentor to perfection by working and weaving his Motown magic on the remaining 10 Finalists .
I would also like to mention how absolutely exciting it was to see and hear Stevie Wonder(ful) on the Top 10 Results Show. Is he phenomenal or is he phenomenal?
And I did enjoy hearing Ruben Studdard – it’s been a long time and he still sounds spectacular, doesn’t he?
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-your performance was gorgeous beyond belief. You are an extremely intelligent performer, as evidenced in you interview with Smokey Robinson. You voiced weighty, thorough questions for Smokey and I feel it elevated your approach to this song. It’s always good to do your homework, but you went “above and beyond”, so kudos to you for this.
The peaceful and poignant setting you established throughout this song was absolutely beautiful. You sang the song in a manner that reflected and highlighted the emotional core of the message, thus demonstrating that one does not need to sing loud to get his or her point across to the listeners.
The sign of a true artist is to fully translate the mood and the message to your audience and to make them listen without forcing them to listen! In this respect, you were supremely successful, Adam, and I applaud you for exposing yet another side to your persona. And another piece of the cabaret puzzle is in place!
I also loved the classy, sophisticated new look. Wow – tres chic indeed! I barely recognized you – you are quite the chameleon! This new look was so perfect for this song -you exuded a quiet sophistication throughout this number and it mirrored your refined and elegant vocal style.
I was also extremely impressed that you had the courage and confidence to sing with restrained head voice and resonance throughout this song. It really emphasized how prepared and meticulous you are as an artist in this competition. You emoted this song in a tender, delicate way and allowed the beautiful lyrics to translate to the hearts of your listeners. The words and music came to life through your superb artistic rendition of this wonderful classic.
Your signature style is truly indomitable, Adam, and I congratulate you once again for giving us a glimpse into the essence of your stellar performing ability.
Bravo! Excellent showcase once again!
Critique: Adam-I guess you have your own way of approaching your technique – spread mouth and all. In the long run, you have to be so careful of the continued use of this approach in your singing style. I felt that, this week, it really diminished the full clarity and core of your head resonance.
Also, the horizontal placement of your mouth also encouraged you to sing through all the vowels in the diphthongs in some of your words. When you vocalized the word life at the 1:24 mark in the video, I would have preferred a cleaner, pure “ah” vowel. You grabbed every vowel in that “eye” diphthong and, for me, your voice projected back instead of front. It lacked stability.
Same thing happened at the 1:49 mark on the word “smile”, and at 2:43 in the word “place”, but this time you were entering an even higher section of your vocal register and it was more pronounced. You voice did not sound grounded. It was a recurrent problem throughout this number; however, I am just pointing out some significant areas in the song where I felt that your voice noticeably suffered because of this technical glitch.
It is so imperative that you keep your mouth circular and your jaw relaxed, thus allowing the diaphragm to harness and direct your vocal energy. And avoid those diphthongs – the pure vowel is the way to go. Your voice will enjoy more depth, more resonance, more transparency if you follow this regimen in the rehearsal and performing process.
However, I could audibly hear the lovely crescendo in your voice on the final word “need”. The mouth was all wrong, but the stomach muscles were obviously kicking in to create this very difficult, yet effective, crescendo.
Yet, I was aching to hear this final note with a perfect mouth position – circular and relaxed. I have no doubt that it would have been an even more effective ending to this beautiful number and would have released unnecessary tension from your throat muscles.
Congratulations, however, on an outstanding artistic performance.
Strengths: Allison-what a great song choice! What a great performance! And how I loved the low, sultry timbre in your voice at the beginning and throughout this song. And I appreciated the fact that you incorporated some lovely head voice along the way. Good for you!
Your rhythmic presence on stage was contagious. Oh my, such musicality and such a gift with your phrasing elements! I also loved the gritty vocal nuances you incorporated into this song. It perfectly elevated the communicative success of your performance and emphasized how deeply you internalize the emotional core of the song.
You really commanded the stage in a monumental way, Allison – showed everyone who’s boss here, but in a genuine and honest manner. You effortlessly worked the stage like a pro and your voice just bounced up and out toward the audience because of your rhythmic passion and stylistic pizzazz and zing!
You are also one clever young lady – you always extract the correct key choice for your natural singing range and thus is the secret of performing success – even if the technical elements are still not quite there yet.
This was a really “crazy good” performance young lady. This was not an easy song and yet you tackled it with confidence and innate musical style! Brava and kudos to you!
Critique: Allison-performance-wise, this song was spectacular. But, in an effort not to repeat myself, you need to refer to last week’s critique and, hopefully move forward with the suggestions I voiced.
First of all, a gentle reminder about the overuse of your chest voice -you are presently over-extending your upper range by incorporating too much chest voice into the vocal mix. Yes, you did have some isolated head voice in this performance, but, when singing your power vocals, there was a discernible push from the throat. As a result, your voice sounded flat at times and lacking in ringing presence.
Also, the tension in your face demonstrated to me that the resonating process of your voice was compromised. Your voice was not being produced in a free, unobstructed manner. You may be subtly applying some diaphragmatic support, but, as long as you maintain the discernible tension in your vocal masque, you will never fully appreciate and realize the true depth of your natural singing range. It’s all punch, now, and no finesse!
In addition, I found your articulation skills to be less than stellar – many times, throughout this song I could not understand the words. Yes, you must sustain the melodic line on the vowels, but, at the same time, the consonants have to be articulated with quick precision and without disturbing the relaxed open features in the face and jaw.
Also, when are we going to see another side of you? I voiced this question last week and I am voicing it once again. We need to hear your ability to sustain your melodic line and watch it come to full fruition. Only a slower tempo number will fully accomplish this and it might draw your attention to the real deficiencies in your technical elements, allowing you to correct and alleviate them.
Also, a slower number would encourage you to sing with increased nuance, as I feel that this has been truly missing in all of your performances. I love to hear the strong vocals, but I also like to hear the sweet tender vocals as well.
Hope this helps, Allison. Nonetheless, Congratulations on a powerful showcase!
Strengths: Anoop- you chose another ballad this week, so, once again, I was looking for the sustaining power you gave us last week. Can he do it two weeks in a row? Yes he can indeed! I loved how you quietly accessed your head voice. It provided a wonderful contrast to the rich quality of your natural, lower range.
Also, you had a nice bend in your knees when singing through your power vocals and this allowed the soft palate to remain elevated, thus freeing any discernible areas of tension in your throat.
This was a very difficult song selection and you took a great, artistic risk in choosing it. You must have been rehearsing like crazy and your ability to maintain control of the rein and pacify the thought process throughout this number was admirable. You exuded a calm, soothing presence on the stage that complimented the romantic, soothing nature of this song.
I also appreciated the visual dimension you incorporated into this number, starting the song in a seated position and then rising and moving quietly about the stage. This was very well done and also added an opportunity for you to relax and release any excess tension in your body.
Congratulations on a very good showcase once again, Anoop!
Critique: Anoop- at times, I felt that your pitch was somewhat unsteady in your falsetto range. Somehow, I think that the diaphragmatic muscles were not connecting properly to your vocal cords and, as a result, the air was not being released in a bouyant and consistent fashion.
Just a suggestion here: try sustaining your falsetto through an increase in your dynamic level. I felt that the head voice had a diminished sound and never maintained a forward momentum. A slightly louder – and I emphasize the word slightly - dynamic would have accomplished so much more and would have established more vocal presence in this part of your range.
Also, when holding those long sustained notes, make certain that you maintain a consistent level of support from the diaphragm. I always tell my singers to envision the sound spinning from their mouth and moving out in one long line.
I also suggest that you think of repeating several notes on the same pitch when holding one note, thus ensuring that the diaphragmatic support is vibrant and secure. This will engage your muscles to flex and channel the air in a more efficient manner so that the head voice remains steady and centered.
Also, be very careful of the messy “ay” diphthong in the word “baby” – grab the purer “eh” vowel and your sound will enjoy a more focused, clearer and centered presence. In other words, think British and make sure that mouth remains oval in the process!
Very good work, indeed, Anoop! You are truly challenging and stretching your artistic style and are to be applauded for your hard work and dogged determination.
DANNY GOKEY 28- years old : “Get Ready” by – Temptations
Strengths: Danny – this was a great and energetic song choice and it suited you very well. You obviously feel truly comfortable while singing uptempo numbers, as you possess enormous communication skills. To that end, I fully appreciated the crisp, precise articulation of the consonants, thus ensuring the complete comprehension of the lyrics.
I also loved how you mingled with the back-up singers and, of course, that abbreviated choreography toward the end of this number was a wonderful visual element in this performance.
You are fortunate in that your voice has natural presence without requiring a large amount of effort from your technical resources. It is rich, brawny instrument that worked so very well, especially for this week’s Motown tribute.
This was a really entertaining performance. Good work, Danny!
Critique: Danny -similar to my comments to Allison, I am beginning to wonder if you are ever going to treat us to a slow, meaningful ballad? As I mentioned last week, you need to challenge your vocal strategy and start selecting songs that highlight your ability to sing with a greater degree of nuance and inflection.
Generally speaking, slower melodies afford the singer opportunity to do so because the relaxed tempo allows the singer time to focus on every aspect of a stellar song performance – solid technical skills, forward momentum of the vocal line, expressive lyrics, impeccable phrasing, etc.
With this week’s performance, you were once again over-extending the parameters of your natural vocal ability. You were weaving far too much chest voice into your vocal sound and, as a result, your voice sounded very hoarse, poorly centered and extremely one-dimensional.
I have a feeling that, had rehearsed this song in a slow, snail-like fashion, you would have uncovered a myriad of vocal deficiencies and, thus, would have been able to correct and modfiy the technical issues when you performed this song in the original tempo. I heard you really struggling for the upper notes, but, because the tempo was so quick – too quick, I thought -it was not as obvious to the average listener.
If you are unable to pace your up-tempo songs really well, Danny, the song loses a sense of control and I feel that this is what happened in this week’s performance. Your stage movements seemed erratic and/or ill-planned, thus removing necessary energy that you needed to pour into the diaphragmatic breathing process.
If nothing else, this competition teaches a singer that disciplined, meticulous rehearsal is necessary to ensure long-term success On this show – or any show – or else the singer will lose stamina and resilience.
Good luck next week Danny and practice slowly and pay close attention to the details. Therein lies excllence!
Strengths: Kris – you decided to “change it up” this week and choose an up-tempo song. This was a great song choice. I loved the slow, sexy start to this song - it was a teaser to the clever movement into the gritty uptempo portion of the song. Through your playful facial expression, you visually mirrored the tempo change to perfection. I love watching you – your natural expressiveness establishes such a bond with the audience. You bring all of us along for a whimsical musical ride.
You are also so very musical, as evidenced by the manner in which you punctuated the rhythmn through the strumming technique on the guitar. There is always a forward momentum in your musical line and, yet, it always looks and sounds perfectly controlled. You are extremely masterful in setting just the perfect pace for your songs.
Your voice sounded beautifully resonant and clear. It is such a gorgeous instrument and you moved seamlessly throughout your range. Do you have perfect pitch? You really have a way of centering your pitch, even if the technique is not where it should be at this moment in time. The lightness of your voice – resplendent with head resonance – is probably the reason for this. Your voice has clarity and transparency that is ubiquitous throughout your range.
I also appreciated your attempt to maintain a circular mouth formation and relaxed jaw. You were really trying to apply a cohesive approach to myour vowels and, as a result, your voice sounded wonderfully resonant
Also, the performance structure appeared effortless and, more important accented your genuine distinctive style. Although this was a well-rehearsed song selection, it appeared and sounded spontaneous and because of this, it felt and looked authentic. This is a signature Marvin Gaye song, but, in your aw-shucks way of performing, turned it into a Kris Allen signature song. And that is what this competition is really about – re-arranging and modernizing music from the past!
I absolutely loved this performance Kris! Bravo!
Critique: Kris -careful that the tension in the neck and jaw doesn’t get out of control No head-raising on the final note – that’s not a good thing! Always think down when moving up – think over the note, never reach for your upper note. This approach will only cause needless tension. And bend you knees and squeeze that butt, breathe, drop your jaw and – presto -watch the magic happen.
Over time, I know all of this will improve and you will feel a more profound resonation process. However, your performance this week was a spectacular one and I. Loved. It!
Strengths: Lil -your interview portion was truly inspiring. You are an intelligent, thoughtful artist and, more than any other singer this week, I felt connected to the inner recesses of your soul. You are obviously a sensitive and caring artist and this is an integral component for success as a musician. Your believability factor is genuine and true! You looked terrific this week.
I loved the retro wig – what a great, great look! Although this was, perhaps, the most inspired song choice, I still fully appreciated the wonderful performing aspects your brought to this number. You looked extremely comfortable on stage and your rhythmic presence practically bounced off the television screen.
Your movements were poised and effortless and you established strong communication with your audience extremely well. Even though the tempo was a little faster than the norm, the clarity of your diction was extremely good – you slowed the process down in your mind and took time to spin out those consonants in a precise fashion.
However, at the same time, your vowel placement was never compromised and, as a result, your voice enjoyed resonating presence throughout the showcase. I also have to applaud the all-important circular bel canto mouth position you maintianed throughout this showcase, allowing your voice to ring freely in your vocal masque. Additionally, your open, relaxed features generally rendered a seamless timbre throughout your vocal range.
You lived this performance and the performance moved from you to us in a very tangible manner. You are such a fabulous artist, Lil, and certainly have earned your proper placement in this Top 10!
Critique: Lil, as I mentioned last week, make absolutely certain that you are maintaining a sense of continuity toward the application of the diaphragmatic breathing process. Close to the final phase of your song, your voice sounded tired and “chest heavy”. Your pitch was slightly compromised, resulting in some poorly tuned notes.
I sense that, toward the end of the song, you were running out of steam and, as a result, your breathing was compromised. You were not able to fully support your voice, thus diminishing the ringing and pitch-perfect presence of head voice in your power vocals.
The tempo of this song was quite relentless and left you little room to breathe, so it was remarkable, actually, that you maintained so poised and relaxed throughout this number. The visual component of this song was never compromised; however, the aural component did suffer -slightly -toward the end of this number.
Although you paced this song very well, sometimes the adrenaline rush starts to plummet as the song moves along and that may have been what happened here. Make totally certain that you practice these up-tempo songs slowly, thus ensuring that the choreographic elements in a song are not compromising the vocal production.
Also, I hope that, in future performances, you will be able to select a song that will truly accentuate the powerful nuances in your voice – something with more depth and, perhaps, a variation in tempi would do the trick.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, Lil. It was extremely entertaining and your confidence level escalated in a monumental way this week. Excellent, excellent work!
Strengths: Matt – you brought wonderful visual dimension to this week’s performance. I appreciated the fact that you moved away from the piano midway through this song – it gave the listeners a chance to enjoy your relaxed vocal skills. Your piano skills are spectacular, but, this week we had the opportunity to solely focus on the gorgeous, mellow quality of your vocal timbre.
I loved the way you frolicked through your head voice -you did so in a playful, yet, soulful manner. And you walked and moved with such confidence and aplomb -good for you! Your showcase journey enabled you to move closer to your audience and, along the way, to the judges’ table. Excellent!
You selected a wonderful song for this Motown performance and it truly highlighted the style that we have come to identify with you.
Critique: Matt-as I pointed put last week, there is still some discernible tension in your voice. You love to raise your head, don’t you? You must be careful that you center your voice from your diaphragm and, at the same time, try to make certain that your mouth retains a circular position.
Also, always remember to allow the jaw to gradually plummet when you sing through your upper/falsetto range; in doing so, it will further encourage your breathing muscles to actively support your voice in a more cohesive manner. And think over your upper notes and never try to reach for them. It also helps to bend your knees slightly when you sing through your tenor range – this will allow the throat to remain open and free.
Additionally, be very conscious of any tension in your throat – it needs to be relaxed at all times so that your voice can project in a liberated manner toward your vocal masque.
Finally, try to grab only the pure vowels in your lyrics. Presently, you are sustaining your voice through all the vowels in your diphthongs, thus diminishing a considerable amount of depth and beauty from your voice and decreasing the nucleus of the exact pitch.
For example, when you encounter the “eye” diphthong in your words, sustain your voice on the first pure vowel in the diphthong, which is “ah“. Isn’t that easier? The same applies to other diphthongs such as “aye” (eh) and “oh” (no “oo” vowel until you are ready to move on to another word or syllable in a word.
However, you must make certain that the diaphragmatic breath support is in place to assist the resonation process of your voice. Breathe deeply and fully from the diaphragm and then flex and contract those muscles to release the correct amount of air for the type of vocal sound you are trying to achieve – high or low, loud or soft.
This will require a great deal of time and effort on your part, but it is truly imperative that you nip these important technical issues in the bud as soon as possible. The result will be a more confident vocal performance and an increase in the dynamic dimension of your vocal production.
However, I have tremendous admiration for your vocal artistry and innate musical skills, Matt. You deserve to move deep into this competition, as you bring a very special and unique dimension to this show.
Strengths: Megan-you looked wonderful and, overall, this was a good performance. Sure, maybe the vocals were not perfect, but your style was absolutely wonderful. You moved easily and gracefully on and off stage and injected you personal, quirky style into this soulful classic.
I enjoy watching you, Megan. You have an obvious love for performing that is truly genuine and real. You also make certain that you establish a strong bond with your audience. To that end, I was happy to see that you were confident enough to move off the stage and into the audience. Your stage movements added more dimension to this performance and afforded you the opportunity to relax and move your body – so very important in alleviating any areas of tension in your physical makeup.
I loved the little growl you weaved into your pure vocals – inflection is extremely important in pop music and I was happy to see that you are not timid in this respect. Your voice is wonderfully expressive and the clarity of your diction is impeccable.
Good work, Megan! Loved it!
Critique: Megan -remember to support sweetie! You were once again singing with an enormous amount of chest voice and when you did move into your upper falsetto range, your muscles were totally unprepared for the transition. Your lovely head voice was unsteady and poorly centered.
You love to belt, don’t you? There is nothing wrong with this approach per say, but singers – especially Broadway singers- learn to do so with a solid technical foundation. You need to blend both chest and head resonance into every part of your range and, by doing so, you will attain a seamless, more confident vocal sound.
As I mentioned last week, your throat was tense and your mouth maintained a horizontal position on some of your vowels – particularly the “ee” vowel.
You need to meticulously work on some technical excercises that will train you to apply a uniform shape to your mouth when singing through all the vowels. And the shape must be circular - similar to biting into an apple.
Also, it is important to relax your throat and jaw muscles and allow the dipahragmatic breathing process to channel and direct your voice toward you vocal masque.
Finally, be every so careful to gauge those stage movements – I felt that all the walking, at times, made you less aware of your vocal production and, thus, some pitch issues ensued as a result of this.
However, I give you high kudos in the sense that you eliminated some of the extraneous body movements we used to see in your earlier performances. So, this makes me think that you are slowly trying to work out these technical issues on a weekly basis. And on live TV! Not an easy task and I congratulate you for your success thus far.
Keep up the wonderful work, Megan, and congratulations once again!
Strengths: Michael -well, you certainly came out of the gate fighting, didn’t you? You openly displayed a more confident presence on stage and, for the very first time, looked like you truly belonged in this competition. You selected a very, very good song and, personally, I felt that this was your best song performance throughout the entire competition.
I loved the growling aspects you incorporated into your rich muscular sound; it perfectly reflected your strong and vigorous presence on that stage. Your charisma level escalated in a monumental way with this performance and, for me, I enjoyed the fact that you had reached such a noticeable level of improvement in such a short time. It accentuated the fact that you had been working very hard to correct the technical flaws that were impedeing the full complement of your vocal production and for that I say: “Bravo”!
I was also loving the rounder mouth, Michael. You cemented those vowels so perfectly in your vocal masque and, as a result your voice had presence – it had power! In previous weeks, the natural beauty and potency of your voice was masked – hiding inside your mouth and throat and not resonating in a full way in your vocal masque.
You also moved in a very relaxed, well-formulated manner, never rushing, and made certain that the vocals were not sacrificed by the physical energy you were exerting. You balanced the choreographic and vocal elements very well indeed and the whole presentation looked and sounded effortless.
This was an exceptional performance, Michael! Kudos my man!
Critique: Michael – make sure you don’t force the issue with your voice – keep the throat relaxed at all times. Trust the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to do the trick – those muscles are very strong and, once you obtain full control over them, then you will never constrict your throat again. Plus, all this facial and throat tension will cause further vocal problems down the road and your voice is far too precious for that.
Always remember to keep the head voice at the core of your vocal timbre and increase the dynamic level from the diaphragm. Once this is fully mastered, you will truly be unstoppable. There are some classical elements in your voice that I absolutely love and that is definitely a good thing.
Bravo once again on such a tremendous performance. Now enjoy some well-deserved time with your family!
Strengths: Scott – I love watching you at the piano. You are -simply put- an amazing singer and pianist. I loved this song choice and also appreciated the opportunity to watch you entertain with a more energetic and vigorous approach. It was a good call, so rest well with that thought if and when you read this.
As with Kris’ number, I appreciated the slow opening of this song that segued into the more customary up-tempo version. Another teaser-likeopening and it always works!
Additionally, by adding some wonderful variation to the melodic line, we gained a further glimpse into your innate musicality. Your ability to mold the shape of your phrases is extremely musical and speaks volumes to your creative and sensitive makeup as an artist.
Your upper range was extremely solid – just brimming with clarity and head voice. In fact, I was very impressed with the uniform quality in your vocal timbre and it emphasized how advanced you are in the utilization of the correct technical approach to your singing style.
I was loving that almost roundmouth – it certainly allowed you to cement those pure vowels in a continued fashion and, as a result, your voice always maintained a forward momentum throughout this number. Your phrasing was impeccable, Scott!
The trio of ladies “doo-wapping” with you behind the piano added a great visual component. You looked relaxed, happy and revitalized and it was wonderful to hear and watch you entertain in such a joyous fashion at that precious piano of yours! This was spectacular performance – bravo! bravo!
Critique: Scott-I heard some nasal tone in your vocal makeup at the beginning of this song. Perhaps the slower tempo didn’t encourage you to support in a vigorous manner? Or perhaps it was nervous energy over-riding the technical support system.
However, once you moved into the quicker tempo, your voice gained in resonance and you relaxed your throat, thus diminishing the nasal tone. Nasal resonance is a good thing – it adds a bright, ringing quality to your voice, but nasal tone comes from tension and lack of cohesive support from the diaphragm.
Also, make absolutely certain that you continue to work on the correct shape of your mouth. You jaw appears to be relaxed, so that is not an issue here. But, presently, there is still a slight horizontal spread to your mouth position and I think this is diminshing some wonderful vocal depth and resonance we could be enjoying in your performances.
A quick fix is to think classical while singing pop and allow the circular placement of the mouth to funnel out the pure, translucent quality in your voice. Also, the increased roundness in the mouth will further encourage your diaphragmatic breathing muscles to work in a more bouyant fashion.
However, I think you are a remarkable artist, Scott, and I sense that you are working tremendously hard during the rehearsal process. I loved your showcase this week very much – it was dripping with charisma and musicality! Bravo!