This week’s American Idol theme was Billboard #1 Hits. That being said, logic would dictate that each of the singers – barring clearance issues – would have an equal opportunity to select songs suited to their artistic style and substance.
However the question is: Were they all successful and were there some surprising results during the performance process?
Some of answers may lie within 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.
AARON KELLY 16-years-old: “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”
Strengths: Aaron- I am sorry that you have been ill with laryngitis and tonsilitis. Oh my, great timing, huh? This was a big and powerful song and, although you were ill, you still managed to deliver a very strong performance.
You communicated the song with sincerity and conviction and, although the vocals were not working for you this week because of your illness, you left a strong musical impression that stage.
Good work, Aaron!
Critique: Aaron-although I loved this song, I thought it was just too powerful for the light, lyrical quality of your voice. Your technical skills aren’t “there” yet and, that being said, you do not have the natural vocal timbre to execute the dynamic demands that this song requires.
A s I said in the “Strengths” portion of your evaluation, you did feel and internalize the emotional core of the song, but, vocally, you just were not ready to deliver this song. It’s too large for the current development of your voice. You need to realize your limitations (and I mean this is in a positive way) as a vocalist at this stage in your singing career and start selecting songs that highlight the inherent youthful beauty of your vocal timbre.
Also, I must remind you to continue working on maintaining a circular mouth position when grabbing those pure vowels. This week, you noticeably created a ”spread” in your mouth position on the “ee” vowel when you sang the word “sweet” and, then again on the “eh vowel” in the word “ever“. And once again, that “eye” diphthong caused you some vocal distress. Always think “ah” when approaching that diphthong.
Pure vowels, coupled with a consistently round mouth and relaxed jaw, will immediately add depth and resonance to your voice, even at your young age and will also center and focus your voice – thus avoiding further pitch issues.
Also, remember to breathe more deeply and from the diaphragm, especially when you are ill. You also need to expand your facial features and release the resonators in your face. Your looked mighty distressed and all that facial tension created havoc in your vocal delivery. Your voice had nowhere to go, so it basically stayed locked inside your head.
How about trying something a little more upbeat next week, Aaron? You need to release some bodily tension and also add some diversity to your programme. An upbeat song, if properly rehearsed, would do all this and more.
Good luck next week, Aaron, and get well very soon!
Strengths: Andrew- well, thankfully, Miley talked you into losing the guitar because, personally, I have had enough of all the guitars. And this song really should be performed without the guitar. And, guess what? Without the guitar you performed this song extremely well.
This is the first time that I felt I could really enjoy and sense what you were capable of achieving as an artist. By allowing yourself to command the stage and move around with confidence and conviction, your still green technical skills became less noticeable.
You also increased the visual aspects of your performance and, although both the aural and the visual are important, it cannot always be about technique on that stage. One has to perform, to entertain, to touch the hearts and minds of the listeners and, this week, you did just that Andrew.
Your voice sounded more resonant this week because your body was energized your movements. Movement is very liberating and I think you did feel more free and thus more confident on the stage this week.
As an aside, I would also like to applaud the three female background vocalists. They were very good and added great entertainment value to this number.
I thought you enjoyed enormous improvement this week. Very good work! Congratulations!
Critique: Andrew – first of all, I felt that this was not a strong song choice for the simple reason that it has been performed innumerable times on this show. This song is getting old really fast and unless you were to bring something new and refreshing to the table, then this song should never -ever- be performed on this show again. It has had its day in the sun and needs to take a breather.
So, I would caution you to really research your songs choices in the future and try to unveil something new and different. Go on YouTube, download music from ITunes – anything – but start to challenge your self in terms of song selection.
Additionally, you need to challenge yourself in honing and crafting the correct technical skills. Your voice is aching to acquire the potency and support that diaphragmatic breathing skills would give you.
Also, you have to make certain that your stage movements do not interfere with your vocal delivery. Did you practice this song minus the stage movements? The song should stand-alone and sound terrific before you add the choreography. It’s all about balance.
You must make certain that your voice is technically capable of delivering a strong vocal performance before you add the visual aspects of your performance. A singer cannot and should not use stage movements to mask inferior vocal quality – it never works in the long run. Yes, you must entertain and reach your audience but, at some point, your audience will want to hear a ballad from you and then what will you do?
For easy reference, Andrew, you can refer to your Top 12 Vocal Masterclass evaluation and, hopefully, continue working on developing your technical skills.
However, all in all, this was your best performance since this show began. You were making an effort to improve your presence on that stage and, in a general way, it worked. Congratulations, Andrew!
Strengths: Casey- this was a great, great song choice - one of the best of the night in my opinion. I loved the brass band “ hanging loose above you“. Great visual touch!
You sang this song with great personality and, even though you didn’t move away from the mike stand until the final chord, it was still a dynamic and communicative performance. Your voice had presence and personality and your guitar skills were excellent.
Your charismatic level on that American Idol stage is increasing monumentally each and every week. I am truly enjoying the “Casey evolutionary process” from shy Top 24 Semi-Finalist to a now very confident, very musical Top 11 Finalist. This is what I have always loved about this show – watching stars emerge before our very eyes.
This was a memorable and exciting Top 11 performance – one of the best of the night and certainly the best we have seen from you thus far.
Congratulations on your fine work, Casey! Bravo and standing “O” from MCL!
Critique: Casey- I have to slightly agree with Simon in the sense that you could have been more inventive when approaching the melodic line. It really did sound like a carbon copy of the original – a great carbon copy nonetheless – but still a carbon!
All that was necessary was an effort to become more creative with the phrase line, adding a few notes here or there, moving up when the melodic line moved down, carrying some phrases through in one breath - little things that would have made an artistic difference.
Also, at some point I would love to hear you sing an acoustic ballad, as a slower song choice would urge you to apply all the fundamental essentials of the”bel canto” singing technique. As much as I loved the expansive array of background musicians, we need to see you perform without all the bells and whistles – if, for no other reason than to add diversity and dimension to your performances.
It would also encourage you to focus on the fundamentals of solid vocal production, particular your ability to sustain and phrase your melodic line in a seamless and fluid manner.
However, at this stage of the competition, you were very astute in selecting this song – it was a crowd-pleaser, it was highly entertaining and, most important, it punctuated the inherent effectiveness of your musicality and performance ability.
Amazing work this week, Casey! Bravo once again!
Strengths: Crystal-once again you strummed your guitar and remained very tranquil by your microphone stand. However, this week, despite the lack of movement, I felt more connected to this performance because you were making a very determined and expressive effort to communicate the essence of this song to your audience
I loved the liberated, soulful style you delivered and, additionally, the manner in which you added escalating dynamics as the song moved forward. The song just oozed passionate artistry – the expressive levels in this song were brilliantly executed.
You are thoroughly in touch who you are as an artist and, as a listener, I was able to relax and just enjoy the journey you took us on. You looked comfortable and confident on that stage, quite possibly because you sang a song that was so perfect for your distinct style and persona.
Excellent work, Crystal!
Critique: Crystal- make absolutely certain that you articulate your words when you sing through your lower register. Ditto for the softer passages! At the beginning of this song, I could barely understand your words or hear your voice, signaling to me your lack of solid vocal skills. You have loads of natural musical talent, but, now you need to increase the technical aspects of vocal production.
For example, the horizontal position of your mouth contributed to a less brilliant and less resonant vocal sound. Oh how I wish I could get you in a room and teach you a few tricks but this is the best I can do.
Really try to secure a more circular mouth position when sustaining your vowels on the melodic line, as this formation, coupled with a relaxed and open jaw and diaphragmatic breathing skills, will add depth and dimension to your voice.
Also, articulate the consonants with precision and clarity, using them as a springboard toward your vowels. By doing so, you will notice increased energy and focus in your voice. Additionally, your lyrics will be more coherent and, thus, more distinct.
I am glad you have big plans for us next week and I am hoping that involves a movement away from the guitar and the microphone stand. We need to see more diversity from you and you need to take escalating steps to toward a more approachable and confident stage persona.
Good work, Crystal. Overall, a very fine performance indeed!
Strengths: Didi - I loved this performance and your voice wrapped so beautifully around the melodic line. This was a great change of pace and I am glad that you generously unveiled a new dimension to your performing ability.
I loved your playful gestures with the bass man and really loved the gritty vocals midway through this song. I felt that this vocal performance was loaded with nuance and inflection and with at.ti.tude!
Yes, like so many others this week, there were some issues with pitch and I could have predicted this for many of the singers back in January. Many have come to this competition equipped with very green technical skills.
However, to your credit, Didi, you did try to elevate your performance skills in this week’s showcase, looking beyond your present technical deficiencies in favour of capturing a memorable and distinct performance. I feel that this was a very good call – technical development comes with time, but, singers have to realize that when it is time to perform, then one has to perform!
This was very good work, Didi! You had fun on that stage and, basically, surprised everyone with your visual and aural transformation. Surprises are good when they are – well – good! And this was very, very good!
Keep up the excellent work, Didi! Kudos to you, young lady!
Critique: Didi – now it’s time to work on the stability of that lovely voice! This week, you experienced pitch problems for two reasons – your lack of efficient diaphragmatic breath control and the addition of your stage movements.
Let us briefly examine the first problem. Presently, your mouth adopted a horizontal position throughout your song and, as a result, it became difficult for you to center your sound. The focus of your voice was askew and it lost its focus and core. Circular is the way to go and that means maintaining a circular position on all the pure vowels, similar to the way the British speak.
Hopefully, you are working on the development of your voice through the “bel canto” approach in your singing style. When you finally grasp it, you will be amazed at your increased levels of ease and confidence as a vocal artist.
Finally, to reference the second problem affecting your pitch, you must make absolutely certain that your movements are meticulously rehearsed so that they do not interrupt the natural flow and focus of your vocal delivery.
This was problematic for many of the singers this week in an effort to communicate more tangibly with their audience, many through “caution to the wind” and forgot that they were being evaluated on their singing and recording skills. I think this is what was frustrating to the judges and I echoed their frustrations in many instances.
As I have previously mentioned to other singers, rehearse your song well, paying attention to areas where you are encountering vocal issues and then correct them. Then – and only then – add your stage movements. This way your will maintain “muscle memory” in your vocal and performance delivery and the impact will be much more effective to the listener.
However, all things considered, this was an excellent performance, Didi! You sparkled on that stage!
Strengths: Katie - I absolutely loved the song choice – it was refreshing and it was current and it suited you perfectly. Your voice is wonderfully refined. You are gaining in confidence and momentum with each passing week and it looks that Miley’s mentoring actually did help you. Who knew?
Thank you for singing with such stellar technical skills. Your pitch issues generally are the result of nerves more than a lack of knowledge of the proper technical skills. Your mouth is behaving as it should and your facial features are open and free. Additionally, the focus and resonance of your voice is extremely efficient and liberated.
You obviously rehearsed every aspect of this song performance meticulously – you added some movement to increase the visual dimension of this song and the aural dimension came from within the song structure. Your power vocals were outstanding – give or take a few minor pitch problems.
Similar to a few other singers this week, I truly enjoyed the escalation of your stage presence and charisma. I said in a previous article that this will be the season where stars are born and developed before our eyes over a two-month span and you, Miss Katie, are indicative of this very statement.
Brilliant work, Katie! Brava!
Critique: Katie - watch your support in your lower range. Sometimes this area of your voice was less centered and, therefore, you did encounter some pitch problems. It helps to remember to articulate with clarity and precision when singing through the lower range – this will add energy and focus to the lower end of you vocal sound while allowing the words to maintain their clarity. Keep the diaphragmatic support front and center on a consistent basis.
Also, be careful to pace yourself during a number that requires some movement. You want to be able to access your diaphragm with ease and consistency and, if the stage movements become too overwhelming, then the diaphragm can become compromised.
I think this very fact was problematic for you this week, but also, I feel that the stage movements, however subtle, made you a little nervous. With you, it is more of a confidence issue than a technical issue and I feel that this will be remedied with time and experience plus positive feedback from the judges – which you thankfully received this week.
All and all, this was very strong performance, Katie! Brava young lady!
Strengths: Lee - this song and, in particular, this song arrangement was a wonderful choice. And, hurray, you moved away from the guitar and commanded the stage with your complete vocal presence. See, that wasn’t so bad was it?
I loved the brass band – very nice addition. You voice was nuanced and chock- full of inflection – very expressive. I also appreciated your bluesy approach – it was free and expressive and those gritty vocals really complimented your R&B style to perfection.
And look how more effective you were as an artist once your freed your body from that microphone stand? Movement equals magic in terms of the level of relaxation and freedom an artist feels on stage and I am so happy that you took advantage of this crucial stage element.
With each week, Lee, you are increasing your confidence level on that stage. You are taking risks and risks, when planned wisely and within the parameters of your vocal abilities, are often compensated in a monumental way.
Excellent work, Lee! Rehearse wisely and continue to make absolutely certain that your song selections speak to who you are as an artist. Kudos!
Critique: Lee - once again I could annoy and/or burden you with technicalities, but this song was all about the performance. Yes, I want you to make certain that you continue to use the correct breathing skills and, perhaps, relax those throat muscles. Wait – not perhaps! You must relax those throat muscles and feel the push and energy coming from your diaphragm. Allow the intake of air to outwardly guide and direct your voice.
As I mentioned last week, you” still need to make sure that your vocal energy is consistently supplemented through strong diaphragmatic support.” And, strongly connected to this statement is the fact that you need to work on the formation of your mouth and the placement of your vowels in your vocal masque, wherein lie the resonators for solid vocal projection.
However, the very fact that you were moving about the stage and communicating more fully to your audience should be dutifully rewarded. You are to be applauded for your efforts.
In actuality, you increased the energy and momentum in your vocal delivery and, as a result, the visual and aural aspects of this Top 11 performance soared to new and exciting heights.
Excellent work, Lee! Bravo!
Strengths: Michael- what a superb song choice. And look at you – backed by a string ensemble. What a lovely touch!
This song was so perfect for you and for so many reasons. First of all, as an artist, you are at the ideal age to sing this song and can sincerely and realistically communicate all that is being conveyed through the lyrics. You bring life experiences to this song and this is why your Top 11 performance was so outstanding and so meaningful.
Additionally, your soulful vocal style was a perfect fit for this song. You most certainly aren’t a country singer and you aren’t a rock singer, so kudos for you for staying true to your artistry by selecting this exceptional song classic.
You also came equipped to this competition with solid vocal skills – the technical foundation is there and, because you know how to hone and craft your voice during a song, the dynamic levels were varied and meaningful. Additionally, your voice sounded even from top to bottom - there was beautiful symmetry throughout your vocal range.
Your performance skills were equally wonderful and so very genuine. You sing with your heart and soul and your natural ability to use your body and arm movements strengthened the communicative elements of this and every one of your performances.
Additionally, I loved the head voice at the end; it was so beautiful and it added that extra expressive touch to this wonderfully nuanced song performance.
In closing I would like to say that you, Michael, own a beautiful vocal instrument and you use it wisely in every respect. Furthermore, you understand your direction as an artist and have been able to select songs that highlight your artistic strengths. Perhaps, you should mentor some of the other singers! (smile)
Michael -your Top 11 performance was easily and without question the best vocal performance of the night. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
Critique: Michael – I have so very little to critique this week. This was a splendid performance in every respect. It just flowed and was delivered with such sincerity and conviction.
I would like to caution you, however, to be more vigilant with that mouth position when sustaining your vowels. A few times during this performance, that horizontal mouth position crept in, particularly when you had to sustain the notes with longer time values. This allowed your throat muscles to constrict and, thus, overwhelm the full complement of power in your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles.
However, other than that, I applaud you for such a stellar Top 11 showcase. Standing “O” from MCL!
Strengths: Paige - I loved the manner in which you began this number, seated serenely on the stairs, thus establishing the quiet demeanor at the beginning of this song. And, when you stood and moved toward your audience, this added the all-too-valuable visual component to this song, preparing you for the powerful vocals still to come.
You are a very earnest and passionate young artist and you worked extremely hard to communicate the essence of this beautiful song. This was an ambitious song choice and, yet, I can understand your thought process in choosing it. It is a classic and, when performed with genuine passion and artistry, is an extremely memorable number.
However, you, unfortunately, did encounter some problems along the way, which I will discuss below.
Nevertheless, congratulations Paige for your hard work and effort in preparation for this Top 11 show.
Critique:Paige- diaphragmatic breath support is key here! You are presently not making use of the confidence and support that comes from your diaphragmatic breathing muscles. At the very least, the assurance of solid technical skills would have assisted you in handling your obvious case of nerves during this week’s Top 11 performance.
The pitch issues you experienced at the beginning of this song – when vocalizing through your lower range – were due to your lack of consistent breath support. You have an amazing vocal instrument, but, as I said to some of the others, one’s natural vocal ability will only take you so far. You need to develop the true potential of your vocal ability through ongoing technical guidance or you will continue to encounter vocal performance problems as your career unfolds.
When you stood and began to walk to center stage, I was hoping that the added movement would aid and relax you, but it was not meant to be. The power vocals midway through this song allowed you to free your voice to a certain extent but, they were also very revealing. I could hear the push from your throat - that glottal attack – every time you attacked a different phrase within the song. There was so much tension in your throat and upper body that it is no wonder that your pitch wavered.
You must also work on the correct placement of your pure vowels and increase your ability to sustain your sound on pure vowels on a consistent and disciplined basis.
I have given you much food for thought in last week’s Vocal Masterclass article and it seems almost senseless to repeat it. Hopefully, all of this advice will not overwhelm you. It is meant to assist and encourage you to follow the correct process in the development of your voice.
Best of luck Paige! I have my fingers crossed for you!
Strengths: Siobhan – while walking down the stairs. I hardly recognized you. I loved your fashion transformation for this song, especially your lovely upswept hairstyle.
The first thing that struck me was the relaxed tempo you established for this song. It allowed you to pace yourself with ease and, considering the high amount of vocal energy you exerted during the performance, this was a judicious choice of tempo.
And did you notice that I said vocal energy and not physical energy? I thought you balanced your choreographic movements and vocal delivery to perfection. It was all about the vocals and, with that huge orchestra behind you, why do more than was necessary in terms of moving around the stage?
You managed to genuinely connect with your audience without being too intrusive and, in the end, it was your vocal delivery that everyone remembered – not how many times you “high-fived” your audience members. A true vocal artist should not have to rely on gimmicks - if you have a voice and wear your emotions on your sleeve, then you will be touch and move an audience to their feet. Which you did!
And your scatting was absolutely brilliant – so liberated and so centered. This was another reason why this showcase was so memorable. You injected nuance and inflection at every turn of the road and left no stone unturned on that stage.
Exceptional performance, Siobhan! Standing “O” form MCL! Brava!
Critique: Siobhan- who told you to wear those high heels – you looked a tad awkward walking around the stage.
Also, I noticed that your posture was poorly elevated. As a result, you walked around the stage with a deflated rib cage thus negating a confident stage persona and discouraging your ability to breathe fully and completely from the diaphragm,
Also, this is just a suggestion, Siobhan. I have had enough screaming from Adam Lambert last year to last me a lifetime, so you are going to have to come up with another game plan in which to end your songs. It seemed that the primal scream at the end of your number was unnecessary. Your voice is better than that – so much better. I am not suggesting that you completely eliminate this from your vocal delivery – just use this tactic sparingly.
And, as time moves on here, I would love to see you sit on the stage and sing a quiet ballad – one that would highlight the inherent head voice clarity within your soprano range. It’s there – you know it’s there and we know it’s there, so it’s time to relax and let your voice flow freely and transparently through gentler means. So, sift through your catalogue of ballads and take us on a quiet journey next week.
However, this was yet another magical performance, Siobhan! Kudos, young lady.
Strengths: Tim - you , as well, moved away from the microphone and your trusty guitar this week and showcased your veritable performing skills in this great song classic by Queen. I loved your slide across the stage and the increased boost in your confidence level as you moved toward and among your audience members.
I am happy that you performed an upbeat number this week, You basically have a beautiful voice, Tim, one that resonates naturally with little effort. You are fortunate! However, your natural ability can only carry you so far. Given your natural vocal gifts, you are so close to achieving solid technical ability. It is yours for the taking – all you have to do is practice and research and then practice some more.
Good work, Tim!
Critique: Tim- first of all, try not to raise your head when you sing those upper notes. The support cannot be found on the ceiling but rather from the diaphragm.
Also, you must remember that your stage movements must be balanced very carefully with your vocals and I think, to a great extent, this did not happen. It was too much movement and not enough singing – the focus was removed from your vocal delivery because you were too busy partying with your audience. It seemed as if were campaigning for votes with all the “high-fives” and “nice to meet you” gestures. The idea was right, but, unfortunately you went overboard. Too much too soon! Remember -baby steps!
Additionally, you must learn to rehearse the song separate from the choreographic skills, making certain that the song can stand on its own. Then, when you have solidified every aspect of the song – phrasing, nuance, dynamics, etc., then you add the choreography - not before. Other wise, the song will run away from you during the performance and this is what happened. You didn’t pace yourself. You tried to implement too much movement while sacrificing the naturally playful element within the song structure itself.
As I said last week, you have a beautiful timbre to your voice and need to work on maintaining this God-given vocal gift through solid technical skills. Also, the advancement in technique would encourage you to be more creative in your vocal style and you will be less inclined to rely on your guitar and/or excessive stage antics to sell a performance.
Best of luck, Tim! I truly love your voice – now it’s time for you to love and cherish it through the correct technical process.