By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s American Idol theme was R& B Music. And the Idols were fortunate to be in the company of Usher as mentor. Usher brought his uniquely gifted style and undeniable substance to American Idol, expertly guiding and ushering the singers to exciting new levels of performance.
Just an aside, I loved the dramatic entry during Ryan’s intro. It gave as a wonderful opportunity to experience all that the singers experience each week as they walk on to that stage. Really exciting stuff and great narrative work on Ryan’s part!
And so, without further delay, here is my Top 10 Vocal Masterclass evaluations.
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: “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Strengths: Aaron- it was great to see and hear your improved vocal health this week. I felt this was a great song choice for you – very mature selection, actually – and was impressed at your determination to once again challenge your vocal artistry. You certainly cannot be accused of “settling” or “playing it safe” week after week. Good for you!
I loved the suggestion given to you by Usher. The crescendo through the repetitive “I know’” section was a very savvy and intelligent suggestion, so I was watching for it.
And, given the light quality of your young voice, you did manage this vocal element very well, adding body energy to compensate for the full power needed for a true crescendo. Your voice is still so young and still developing and I knew you would not be able to capture the magnitude of the vocal crescendo, similar to Usher. However, I sensed that you were trying, at the very least, to communicate the intensity within that section of the song.
I also enjoyed watching your physical freedom on stage. You displayed wonderful rhythmical movements and the physicality of your performance added a strong visual component to the song. As a result, your voice enjoyed increased resonance. Also, I did notice your genuine efforts to maintain the proper technical support for your voice.
Great work, Aaron!
Critique: Aaron- I was missing some upper register love from your voice this week. You did add a glimmer and when you did, I was loving it! Perhaps, you were not vocally ready to initiate this move during your Top 10 performance. Given your health issues from the previous week, your voice still may be healing, so I am going to cut you some slack here!
Also, avoid the tendency to sustain your voice through every vowel in your diphthongs, especially the “ay” diphthong in the word “away“. Your voice lost its lustre because of this and sounded less resonant and full.
Try to remember to grab the first pure vowel in this and every diphthong and sustain your voice for 99% of the time value on this singular vowel. In the case of the “ay” diphthong”, the first pure vowel would be “eh“.
Also, be sure that your mouth is round and your jaw relaxed and released, so that your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles can propel your voice to your vocal masque with freedom and ease. The “ay” diphthong is very problematic for singers and one must remember to add a little of the “ah” vowel in this and every vowel. This will give your voice a seamless, pure quality from top to bottom.
Also, the change of pace in your song selection this week was duly noted - this was a nice move away from the power ballads you have been singing each week. I was hoping for something a little quicker and less intense, but the competition is still young. Hopefully, we will see the lighter side of Aaron in the weeks to follow.
Very nice performance, nonetheless Aaron! Bravo!
Strengths: Andrew-once again, you grabbed your trusty guitar and serenaded us with a great song choice. Seated behind the microphone stand, you established a relaxed, carefree demeanor, perfectly accenting the liberated acoustic performance of this song.
As I said last week, you are finally revealing your artistic vision and performing within the parameters of your comfort zone.
I enjoyed this performance very much, Andrew. Good work!
Critique: Andrew – you are still so green when it comes to projecting your voice to its full capacity. While watching you, I became frustrated and wanted to reach through the television screen and physically form your mouth into a circular position, thus freeing your very tense jaw in the process.
This horizontal spread in your mouth was prevalent during the entire performance, inhibiting the resonant beauty of your true vocal timbre. Your vocal projection was very limited and experienced great difficulty moving forward to your audience.
Additionally, you were releasing far too much air with your vocal sound and, as a result, your voice had little presence or charisma. This added further evidence to the fact that you were not utilizing any level of diaphragmatic breath support, resulting in a vocal delivery that was deficient in control and substance.
Also, you need to remember to maintain a circular position with your jaw and sustain your melodic line on the pure vowels contained in the lyrics. You will be very surprised at the results – but, it does take practice and will not happen overnight. However, with determination and practice, you will notice improvement each week.
Also, I was hoping for a more creative approach to this song -the lack of dynamic energy caused this song to sound one-dimensional. Again, this can be traced back to your lack of technical skills. One cannot create expressive and dynamic performances if the technical skills are not in place to initiate the process.
Finally, Simon is correct, Andrew, in that you need to firmly establish your personality and communicate more energetically with your audience. I still feel that there is a wall there and, to sound like a broken record, your lack of strong technical skills is not helping your cause. It is hard to communicate fully with your audience when you are so inhibited in your vocal delivery.
So, there you have it. I sincerely hope this helps you in your future performances. Good luck, Andrew!
Strengths: Casey- you and that guitar! I was hoping that you would move away from the guitar during this Top 10 performance. However, that being said, the difference in your performance level was astounding this week. Although I was anticipating a ballad, I still enjoyed this number very much. Your performing skills are escalating – it still has a way to go – but you are well on your way to completely commanding the Idol stage with assurance and ease.
As always, I loved the raw vocals and your charisma and persona were extremely strong this week. Although you never venture far from your microphone stand, still you somehow manage to perform with enough energy and buoyancy to reach and stimulate your audience. You have fun on that stage and bring us on an enjoyable and entertaining vocal excursion.
This was another great showcase and I am so happy that you did announce the inclusion of an acoustic ballad next week. Bravo! Finally!
Critique: Casey- Ellen is right and so am I. You need to take more risks – at least move away from the mike stand. You need to showcase a wider range and, yes, like Kara, I have mentioned the need for you to reach for an acoustic guitar.
You are smart in that you surrounded yourself with a ton of musicians and vocalists and this made for a great visual experience, but that’s enough now! Basta! Time to relax and show another side to your artistic persona.
So, I am hoping that my Top 10 critique here should help you prepare for your Top 9 performance next week. I want to make certain that you work on your phrasing and your breathing skills, especially since you are most definitely going acoustic and, I am assuming, slow and easy next week.
Make sure that your voice is grounded and honed through powerful diaphragmatic support. Project your voice to your vocal masque and let the sound resonate there while sustaining pure vowels – like the British! Glue your vocal sound to the vowels within your lyrics and allow your voice to live and breathe on those vowels with freedom and ease.
Also, make absolutely certain to maintain a circular mouth position and a relaxed jaw when you sustain your vowels. And, remember, slowly release your jaw as you move toward your upper range in order for the sound to move forward. If you don’t do this, then you vocal sound will stay locked in your throat and will lack presence and charisma.
Also, become innovative with your phrasing – challenge yourself! Don’t breath in predictable places within the song – carry some phrases longer than others and/or change up the melody, especially within the repetitive sections.
So, there you have it Casey – something to digest as you rehearse your acoustic ballad for next week’s performance. Best of luck!
Strengths: Crystal-first of all, I loved the visual transformation this week. The fashion police did a great job and, yet, you still retained your folksy, casual demeanor. Also, it was a refreshing change to see you seated at the piano, rendering a purely acoustic performance at the beginning of this song.
I was very happy to see you move from the piano during the refrain and finally embrace your audience Good for you! I know this was not easy for you, Crystal, but the attempt was a good, albeit a tentative and shy one and I hope you will continue on this road.
I also enjoyed the vocal risks you took with this beautiful song choice, especially when you treated us with some truly glorious head voice beauty in your upper range. As always, you sang with expression and conviction and left a strong impression on that stage at the end of your performance. Good work!
Critique: Crystal- for me, your performance of this song did not have enough “kick”. I was expecting more in terms of the actual vocal and visual performance. It was a bit too safe and, at times, I thought you looked awkward and tentative. Like someone was pushing you to do this!
You really need to work on your stage skills because, in reality, a performer cannot stand behind a microphone for a 2-hour performance. One has to move around and bond with the audience. You may be the boss on that stage but, similar to the business world, the customer comes first and, in your case, your customers are your audience members. For me, you are still inhibited when approaching your audience and, as a listener, this is not a good thing.
Also, you must continue to develop and cultivate some serious choreographic moves. I felt your showcase this week lacked excitement and momentum and, as a result, the final section of the song seemed emotionally and artistically flat.
Good luck next week, Crystal! I hope that you continue to take risks and not be hesitant in expanding and developing your artistry.
Strengths: Didi – I loved your slow ballad selection this week. And, from your interview with Usher, we learned that this was a personal performance for you and this fact alone catapulted your performance to a very high level. I. loved. it! There was a beautiful tone/timbre to your voice throughout this number – very passionate and nuanced.
Although I am in a minority here, I did appreciate and applaud the dramatic interpretation of this song because it was a dramatic presentation based in reality.
Also, you are one of , perhaps, a couple of singers in this Top 10 with the ability to cross genres with ease and believability. I don’t feel you have received any credit for this up to this point and, given that there are different themes each week, you would think this would be a selling point with the judges. Oh well, I love it, so take a bow, young lady and never stop believing in yourself.
Also, I must tell you how much I appreciated your continuity in maintaining a beautiful round mouth while sustaining your vowels. As a result your voice sounded alive and resonant, moving with ease and liberation toward your vocal masque.
You were so earnest and passionate in conveying the message of this performance. Something was spurring you in your approach and whatever the incentive, it came through in the emotion that was displayed through your vocal delivery. It was a very expressive showcase and I was deeply moved and impressed. This performance rang true.
Also, kudos to you for moving away from the microphone stand and encompassing your audience during the final moments of this song. You understand the importance of reaching your audience and are bravely using all your artistic resources to do so.
Brava! Wonderful showcase this week, Didi!
Critique: Didi – for me, this was a great performance. Sorry to disagree with the judges, but my ears and eyes took in an absolutely stellar showcase.
However, I would like to caution you to not lift your head when singing through your upper range. This adds tremendous stress on your vocal cords and inhibits you from focusing your pitch with precision and clarity.
Additionally, try to remember to bend your knees, squeezing your butt in the process, thus fortifying the diaphragmatic muscles to give added support to your upper range.
However, all in all, this was a lovely Top 10 performance – really beautiful! Brava Didi!
Strengths: Katie -I applauded Usher’s suggestion to personalize your performance . And, to a large extent, you did. Your vocals were excellent and your technical skills were spot on tonight. I really enjoyed the manner in which you moved on stage. It was rhythmically precise and added visual excitement to the showcase.
Additionally, the soulful quality you brought to this song was very good, indeed; it is so obvious that you were in your element this week – although I am not really sold on the idea that you are a true R&B artist. Maybe, because of your youth, I just don’t feel this genre coming from you in a natural way.
However, that being said, you did make great effort to inject the R&B attitude in your performance style and expressive inflection in your vocal substance. One cannot ask for more than that from any artist.
You were capably accompanied on stage by a superb back-up band and vocalists, although the brass had a shaky start that made me laugh as I was typing. Oh, well, the perils of live TV – but it sure makes for great entertainment!
Like Didi, you are very skilled at adapting to different genres with great ease and are obviously working extremely hard behind the scenes to do so with believability and assurance.This was a superb performance, Katie! Kudos!
Critique: Katie – week after week, I have noticed great improvement in your stage skills. However, that being said, you are still a little tight and inhibited in this area. I am not sure that this song was not the best fit for you – it’s been done to death on this show and, unfortunately, you didn’t bring anything new to this often-performed number.
However, you still gave a very solid performance. Now, what I think you must do is throw caution to the wind and perform in a less-rehearsed manner. You are young, so make extra effort to internalize the lyrics so that your facial and bodily mannerisms can mirror the emotional core of your song. This should also assist you in moving with freedom and spontaneity.
I do applaud your work ethic, however, and your stage skills will increase with time. However, make absolutely certain that you practice in front of a mirror to further refine your stage technique. And, make YouTube.Com your new best friend and watch other artists. But, don’t imitate them – learn from them.
All in all a very fine performance this week! Brava!
Strengths: Lee – once again, your voice was so expressive this week and I did love your song choice. Also, it seemed that Usher absolutely loved your voice. How cool is that?
You have a rustic quality in your voice but, what truly amazed me was the high degree of relaxation in your facial features. This is the secret to vocal presence for, even though your vocals were rough and ready to deliver your distinctive sound, your voice was still able to resonate with complete liberation in your vocal masque. There was no constriction in your face – it was just wonderful to see!
Additionally, the openness of your facial features allowed you to perform with a look of confidence and escalated the communicative aspects of this performance.
Also, even though I was hoping that you would move away from the mike, you still managed to grab your audience with a strong communicative performance.
All things considered, this was another great week for you, Lee! Congratulations!
Critique: Lee – make sure you articulate your consonants. This was especially problematic at the beginning of this song. You voice did not resonate as strongly in the beginning and part of this was due to your tendency to diminish the consonants.
The articulation of the consonants would have aided the diaphragmatic process, imparting extra energy and focus to your vocal sound. You must remember not to resort to the old “mumbo-jumbo” when singing through your lower/softer range. Let every aspect of your vocal and dynamic range resonate with clarity and precision – don’t save your energy for the power vocals.
Also, try not to spread your mouth into a horizontal formation when vocalizing. This was not a pervasive problem as, generally, your mouth would vacillate between a circular and horizontal position throughout the performance. However, we need to hear a seamless continuity throughout your vocal range. Hence, the need for a permanent circular formation on all the pure vowels!
Also, I hope that, in future performances, we will once again see more movement away from the microphone stand, similar to last week’s performance. That was just wonderful and I felt that your vocal performance was stronger as a result.
However, this was still a solid performance, Lee! Good work!
[Strengths: Michael -it was nice to see you take a bit of a breather and serenade us while strumming your guitar. And Usher gave you great advice about projecting your vocal energy to the back of the room. This is old-time vocal schooling but it still rings true today and will continue to do so. And, like a good student, you did implement this important element so very well this week during this beautiful love ballad.
By relaxing the energy that you have so powerfully been exerting over the past few weeks, we were able to see another side to your performance skills. And, as always, the calm, slow tempo gave me ample opportunity to appreciate the cohesive manner in which you sustain your pure vowels.
This was a sensitive and beautiful performance and, although your overall dynamic range was not as obvious as in previous weeks, the intensity was still there in a very real way.
Good work, Michael.
Critique: Michael – you must be very careful to consistently relax your jaw. A couple of times during this number, I did notice it quivering, signaling to me that you were pushing the sound from your throat and jaw muscles. Trust your diaphragmatic breathing skills , Michael, and know that they will not disappoint you. The energy for your vocal delivery has to come from your lower body, especially from the rib cage and back muscles.
Also, as I mentioned last week, remember not to raise your head. This serves no purpose other than creating havoc in your vocal delivery while cutting off your connection with your audience.
Additionally, I found that your voice lacked the clarity that I have enjoyed over the past few weeks. You almost sounded tired and this is very understandable. However, this also makes me want to caution you to be absolutely certain that you impart diaphragmatic energy and focus to your vocal sound when singing a slow, quiet ballad.
As a general rule, singers tend to forget this – the slower speed actually creates more difficulty in terms of consistent support from the singer’s diaphragm. When one is singing quickly or with more vocal power, it is naturally easier to pump those diaphragmatic muscles with energy and momentum.
However, this energy must remain a constant when faced with a song that must appear relaxed in demeanor and yet still maintain the intensity in the delivery method. I felt that you gave an intense performance, Michael, but, unfortunately did not technically deliver the same amount of diaphragmatic authority to match your demeanor. This is why your voice lacked direction and focus.
Hope this helps, Michael. You have a beautiful instrument and generally use it wisely, so perhaps, fatigue played a part in this week’s Top 10 performance. Best of luck and stay rested!
Strengths: Siobhan -well, first of all, Usher was loving you, Missy! Now, that’s major. That’s huge! And during the beginning of what I initially thought was a nice soft ballad, you reminded me of a young Barbra Streisand in look and sound. It was really quite mesmerizing and oh how I wish you had stayed on this path. But, I digress!
I also appreciated your exquisite phrasing and breath control. You are so musical and so creative in the manner in which you approach your music. It is something truly special – a gift! I was loving the sustained power vocals midway through this song, as it contrasted so wonderfully with the beginning of your song, which was much quieter and subdued.
The timbre of your voice is so distinctive and you have to realize this and try not to rely on a variety of vocal gymnastics throughout a performance. You don’t need it – your voice is truly beautiful without the bells and whistles.
There was good evidence of pure bel canto singing throughout this performance and you wisely avoided falling into the diphthong pit of vowels. This was most noticeable when you approached the word “fire”, sustaining that word fully on the “ah” vowel and, therefore, avoiding all the others in that annoying diphthong. Good for you!
Wonderful work,once again, Siobhan!
Critique: Siobhan- you have to stop the facial cringing and this is where your lack of truly solid technical skills become increasingly obvious. All that tension in your facial features merely subtract the energy needed to confidently support your voice through the diaphragmatic process. Additionally, the facial tension is impeding the resonators in your vocal masque, thus inhibiting your voice from projecting with clarity and pitch-perfect precision.
Also, there were some intermittent pitch issues and I think a great deal had to do with the enormous vocal risks you set in sight for your showcase this week. You have to approach your voice in a more simple fashion. You are really trying to accomplish too much in each performance and, although this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is not wise in terms of pacing your performances from week to week.
I hope that you will trust your vocal artistry enough to render performances that highlight the natural head voice element throughout your vocal range. Once – just once – I would love for you to come out and sing a soft and expressive ballad, allowing your voice to glimmer and shine like the precious gem that it is. No “over-the-top” vocals and over-reaching for the highest notes possible. It is not always necessary and, actually, may stop you from moving down a path that could eventually lead to poor vocal health in the future.
Think about this Siobhan and see you next week! Best of luck in your rehearsals!
Strengths: Tim – I was happy to hear that your were performing a beautiful slow ballad. Although it was not my favorite ballad, it obviously resonated with you and so this allowed you to sing this song with confidence. And I am happy with the way Usher made you convey your message of love. He brought out the passion and fervor in your voice and, through all this, your body movements accented the emotional core of this song.
I loved the visual aspect of this performance, starting the number while seated on the stairs and slowly moving to center stage as the song progressed. You are obviously doing your homework and trying to work out and refine those stage skills on a weekly basis. What a learning experience this must be for you and the other singers!
I also have to remark at the absolute beauty of your lower range. It is sumptuous. I am not sure if many noticed this vocal aspect because you skimmed through that part of your range so quickly during the earlier stages of this song. But – oh my- it was gorgeous. Masterclass Lady needs to hear more next time – do not short-change this area of your range in favor of your upper vocals – both need to be evenly balanced in a performance and, fortunate for you, you have a ringing, seamless vocal quality from top to bottom.
As always, I loved the bend in the knees, and your ability to grab those sustained vowels. You also had a wonderful way of phrasing your melodic line – extremely musical and fluid.
Great work, Tim! Congratulations!
Critique: Tim -try not to raise your head, as it negates your full ability to sustain your voice from the diaphragm.
Also, when you have a song that is so repetitious in the melody, you have to adopt a more creative approach in the interpretation of the song. The song did start to sound mundane at some point and, although vocally your voice still had presence and authority, I was hoping that you would slightly alter the melodic line during the “sweet love” segments.
Also, you need to spend time in front of the mirror, refining your stage movements and increasing the expressive qualities in your face – especially your eyes. I need to see some sparkle and, more important, the emotion being reflected through your eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and a singer must utilize these two important facial features to convey your emotional energy with sincerity and conviction.
When you learn how to do this, Tim, your performances will become more believable and will thoroughly compliment the inherent beauty of your vocal gift. Then, you will be what they call a “slam-dunk” in the music industry.
Good luck, Tim and never give up on your vocal gifts.