By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s American Idol theme was focused on the weath of music penned by legendary artists, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. So, suffice it to say that the singers were treated to a wealth of musical riches in the song selection process. I could not imagine any of the singers experiencing problems in terms of uncovering the perfect song to highlight their individual style.
But, then again, so many elements must be considered when choosing a song - the correct key for their singing range, the arrangement, the communicative aspects, performance skills and, of course, genuine and expressive vocal delivery.
However, the singers delivered this week. Kudos to all!
And, another shout-out to Ryan Seacrest: I am loving these dramatic intros. This week, Ryan was in the control booth announcing the start of the show and I was loving it! I love all the “behind-the scenes” shots this season – wonderful idea!
And so, without further delay, here is my Top 9 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 each singer, simply click on the singer’s link below.
AARON KELLY 16-years-old: “The Long And Winding Road”
Strengths: Aaron – you selected one of my favorite songs. The lyrics and the music just resonate in one’s heart in such a special way and the emotional center of the song can easily pertain to any personal situation.
Your youthful approach was very refreshing and, yet at its core, there was an element of wisdom and sophistication in your performance that defied your chronological age. You are a sensitive soul and have leaned toward selecting songs that mirror your intuitive delivery skills.
That being said, the song was a perfect fit for you. I felt that you delivered this song very well. I also noticed improvement in your technical skills: your mouth was not as wide when you sustained your pure vowels and I felt that you were generally attempting to avoid losing your voice in all the vowels contained in the diphthongs.
I also appreciated seeing you move in a relaxed and determined way throughout the stage. I find this an extremely important attribute in any singer, as it escalates the confidence level of the performer while allowing him to establish further communication with his audience.
This was a very good performance, Aaron. Congratulations!
Critique: Aaron- while watching the other singers speak about you, all of them referred to you as a fun-loving young man. Therefore, it would be nice to hear you sing a song to reflect this. I have mentioned this repeatedly in past few Vocal Masterclass articles – here and here - and now, this week, Kara and Simon mentioned this as well. So, now you have been out-voted and, that being said, it was nice to finally hear that you do indeed have an up-tempo number planned for us next week. Bravo!
Also, I should caution you to make absolutely certain that you are fully supporting your lower range. Most of time the song resonated quite well in your upper range; however, when you moved through your lower range, you barely skimmed the surface. You need to “dig deep” to deliver those rich, lower notes, always making certain that the diaphragmatic muscles are supporting the vocal process.
Along with the natural chest resonance that is a natural element in your lower voice, one has to remember to implement some head voice or your lower notes will lack clarity and precision. The lightness and purity of head resonance allows the lower end of your voice to ring. Without it, your baritone voice will have no carrying power and will fall short of its center.
Also, you still need to watch your approach when faced with the “eye” diphthong. Sustain your voice on the first pure vowel of that diphthong – “ah” - and notice the increased ease and focus of your voice. But, that jaw must be relaxed also, so continue working on freeing it, allowing it to drop when moving through your upper range.
Also, I noticed that your left arm was flinging back and forth when you performed. This signals unease to me and also a faulty habit that should be rectified sooner than later. All this does is detract energy and momentum needed for the diaphragmatic breath support.
You need to use your arms in a meaningful, expressive manner, so make certain that you not allow this arm to move randomly when you sing.
Finally, I also wished you could have been a little freer with the melodic line. You hinted at this earlier in this song and then, what started out as a great idea, was abandoned. Too bad!
I am looking forward to the playful side of Aaron next week, but make absolutely certain that all the technical elements are in place before you begin the choreographic movements. Pacing is extremely important in an up-tempo number, so use your movements wisely and in a way that compliments your vocal energy.
Good luck, Aaron!
Strengths: Andrew- I loved the fact that you positioned yourself on the stage situated at the back of the judges. This allowed you to establish wonderful connection with the audience. And, since you were seated with your guitar during the entire performance, this made absolute sense, didn’t it?
Also, I feel that the crowd energized you, giving you positive feedback and vibes as the song progressed. As a result, you looked genuinely relaxed and carefree throughout this showcase – professional and extremely grounded.
And, lo and behold, your vocals sounded better this week! Your voice certainly had more presence and you made consistent effort to sustain those pure vowels with greater efficiency during this week’s performance. This made my day! Also, the increased energy of the song and your escalating confidence level energized the diaphragmatic support muscles to work with greater efficiency.
I love to see this level of growth in a singer during the American Idol season. It shows that he has determination to learn and make the very best of the suggestions being offered to him during the course of a show. And, you are certainly doing all of this and more, Andrew, so kudos to you!
I thought this was your best performance to date. You were having a blast on that stage and looked extremely comfortable – a visual A+ without a doubt! Great work, Andrew!
Critique: Andrew - you seem like a free spirit and this is why you are so loved by all your fellow Idols.
However, this natural freedom needs to be applied in your creative approach to your music. This song could have used a little refresher in the original melodic line. There was plenty of opportunity for you to move the song through your upper range – the repetitive aspects of the song left the door wide open for this kind of imaginative risk-taking throughout this performance.
Therefore, the aural aspects of the song were very one-dimensional and I was waiting and hoping for something new and exciting. As I mentioned above in the Strengths portion of this evaluation, this was a strong and genuine visual performance; however it did lack the vocal pizzazz that was necessary to deliver a “slam-dunk”.
This problem has been referenced in past Vocal Masterclass articles and this is something that I do hope you will continue to develop. You need to take creative risks and, considering how well you performed during the Hollywood auditions, I believe you are more than capable of achieving this.
However, I was very happy to see and hear the improvement in your technical skills. I did feel that you were attempting to grab those pure vowels while sustaining your voice in vocal masque, so one cannot expect everything to click at once.
Keep up the good work, Andrew, and remember to tap into your artistry during the rehearsal process.
Strengths: Casey- this was the week you exposed your sensitive side with an acoustic ballad. And, I would like to say that the wait was worth it! More than worth it! It was like winning a lottery. When you buy the ticket, you never expect to win or maybe you expect to win a few bucks. But when you win the grand prize, then one is totally surprised and drowning in a sea of exhilaration and disbelief.
This is what I was feeling during your brilliant performance of “Jealous Guy“. Somehow I knew you would perform well while singing a slower ballad, but this well? Totally unexpected! However, everyone loves a surprise and this was the masterclass of all surprises! Incredible!
The heartrending, poignant lyrics were delivered with expressive conviction and blatant honesty. Your voice was so nuanced throughout this performance – this is how one adds dimension to a performance – singing from the heart and laying all the cards on the table. No card unturned and no regrets!
This week, you established that you are more than a pretty face on that stage. You showed that you are not afraid to wear your emotions on your sleeve and not terrified of taking a vulnerable risk in front of millions of viewers.
In addition to your acoustic guitar skills – and a nice change from the electric guitar, I might add – I loved the sensitive accompaniment by the cellist. It suited the mood of the song so well. It has been said that the mellow sound of the cello is the closest instrument to the human voice, so it was a fitting addition to this stellar performance.
I also loved the step back from the mike stand at the end of the song - I don’t know why - I just loved it! It seemed to gel with the mood you established throughout this number – the Jealous Guy and all his deepest, darkest thoughts moving from emotional darkness to physical darkness, perhaps?
And, you really were determined to grab those vowels while sustaining your voice throughout the melodic line. Great improvement in this area, Casey, and like the lottery win, totally unexpected!
Emotionally, you fully exposed the heart and soul of this song – it was so meaningful and so soulful. The contrast between your pure vocals and your rustic vocals added inflection and nuance to this song .
One final note: the key selection for this song was well-established. I felt that the song fell in the most natural part of your singing range, thus allowing you to sing with emotional ease and passion.
I really could go on and on, but I have other evaluations to write. (smile) This was arguably the best performance of the night - on a night when there were many stellar performances. It doesn’t get better than this!
Bravo, Casey and Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady (MCL)
Critique: Casey- although some of the vocals were not technically sound throughout, the artistry was impeccable. I understood and felt every word and your performance was a perfect example when artistry, authenticity and believability trumped perfect vocals. Substance over style - one of those times when it actually worked!
I also sensed that you are working on expanding the efficiency of your diaphragmatic breath support, as some of those pure vowels were wonderfully sustained. When you did experience some pitch problems, that indicated to me that your throat muscles were experiencing too much tension. Therefore, the vocal sound was less centered.
So, I would like to remind you to continue working on the relaxation levels in your face and upper body. This will enhance the effective resonation of your voice in your vocal masque. Make absolutely certain that your vowels are not too wide – try to aim for that perfectly round mouth on all the vowels. Also, remember to relax your jaw – keep it, along with your throat muscles, free from constriction.
However, what a night for you Casey! Congratulations! All the accolades are very well-deserved! Bravo once again!
Strengths: Crystal - you looked absolutely gorgeous tonight and, considering the fact that you were fighting a cold, I thought you gave a superb performance. And, after watching the Idols’ comments about you, you seem to be a very sensitive and special young woman. It is no wonder that your performances have resonated so fully and completely in the hearts of the listeners.
I thoroughly loved the inflection you added to this song – the freedom of your vocal line was just wonderful. This is a natural, musical gift with you, Crystal, and although it may seem easy to do , in actuality, it is a difficult element to hone and craft. However, you are so musical that the creative juices flow from you with melodic ease and simplicity.
I also appreciated the fleeting glimpse of pure head voice in this song. It was absolutely beautiful and is a vocal element that you should try to implement more often and throughout your entire vocal range.
The fog horn guy – on the Didgeridoo- was a neat instrumental addition to your splendid guitar skills – it accented your folksy, relaxed style, adding a novel visual dimension to this performance.
This was a splendid performance, Crystal! Brava!
Critique: Crystal - oh how I wish you would not scream through those upper notes. It really worries me – the wide position of your mouth, the tense facial features and, generally, the lack of proper focus for your voice in the upper range. These are technical problems that need to be addressed and ultimately remedied or you will start to experience serious health issues with your voice.
You need to discover the strength and power that comes from solid diaphragmatic breath support and relaxing your facial features and throat muscles will allow this to happen with greater ease. By doing so, you will be stimulated to provide support from the diaphragamtic rib cage muscles versus pushing the sound in an unnatural manner from your throat.
Presently, you sing with far too much chest resonance throughout your range and this is creating a very constricted, thick sound in your vocal delivery. To remedy this, you need to add some of that beautiful head resonance into every part of your range, all the while maintaining a circular mouth position on all the vowels and a relaxed, loose jaw.
Also, you are still experiencing some difficulty establishing a cohesive connection with your audience. Similar to last week’s performance, you really have to start moving away from the mike stand. If you can’t handle this, then, perhaps, moving your position to the stage behind the judges might be away of establishing a stronger bond with the audience.
Also, I noticed that you were frequently looking down at your guitar during your performance and, although the studio audience may not have fully perceived this as problematic, it was a very distracting element in this week’s performance when viewed through the television screen. It further distanced you from your audience.
You seem to be a shy, introverted young woman but, always remember that you are the boss on stage. You must own the stage. Do not be afraid of it – use it to establish a confident presence. You have the vocal skills, now comes the part of actually believing that you have all this and more
Best of luck nest week, Crystal! Be brave!
Strengths: Katie - what a beautiful, acoustic performance of this song! And so poignant and so very well-controlled! You have always impressed me, Katie, but this week you truly exceeded the high expectations I knew you were capable of achieving. You are obviously surrounded by a savvy and intelligent team who are nurturing and guiding you in the right direction.
The phrasing element, for the most part, was impeccable and so very musical. Your voice embraced the melodic line with ease and simplicity, but, at its very core, there was a technical foundation rooted securely in place.
Your voice sounded liberated, yet there was never a moment that I felt or sensed that you were abandoning the diaphragmatic support system. At every point in the road during this number, the clarity of your head voice and the expressiveness of your vocal delivery gave me goosebumps.
I loved the melodic variation you added to this song – it was done tastefully. Very refined! And the poise you exhibited throughout this very nuanced performance was extremely impressive. But then, when one does her homework, as you so obviously have done, then it all makes sense, doesn’t it?
The dynamic levels were not overdone and, yet, there was just enough contrast to lend a variety of layers to this performance. And, by allowing yourself to become more involved with the emotional core of the song, you raised the communicative aspects of this vocal performance to stellar heights.
This performance was easily one of the best of the night, Katie! Congratulations and a standing “O” from Masterclass Lady.
Critique: Katie - so, the other singers revealed that you are a dancer. Well, bring out those moves next week, honey!
However, joking aside, I found very little to critique in this very genuine and exquisite musical performance.
Oh – one thing -I would have liked more connection between all the “let it be” phrases. In the earlier stages of this song, I would have joined a couple of those phrases in one breath, encouraging your voice to maintain a crescendo on the “ee” vowel in the word “be”, before moving toward the next phrase.
However, this was not a problem in the later stages of the song – when your voice gained in momentum and verve.
So that’s it, kiddo! This was close to sheer perfection in my book. Brava!
Strengths: Lee - you sang this song with tons of energy and I loved the soulful vibe you established throughout this performance. I laughed at the bagpipes on stage – it didn’t make sense but it was an entertaining addition.
I thought your rustic vocals were perfectly suited to this song and so I applaud you on your song selection. Well done!
It was wonderful to see you enjoy yourself on stage and basically “hang loose”! In past weeks, you seemed a little reserved; however, with each subsequent week, you have worked extremely hard to establish a better connection with your audience.
Well, your hard work and determination paid off, Lee! This week’s Top 9 showcase was your most relaxed performance to date and it is obvious from the enthusiastic applause that it fully resonated with your audience.
Good work, Lee and congratulations!
Critique: Lee - oh my, your voice was all over the map during this number. As you were not vocally grounded at the beginning of this song , your pitch noticeably wavered and continued to do so as you moved through your upper range. You were having so much fun on stage that you totally abandoned the necessity to support your voice from the diaphragm.
You must remember that upbeat performances have to not only look great, but also sound even better. Your voice lacked center and because you didn’t establish proper diaphragmatic support in the lower range, your upper notes failed to hit the bull’s-eye in your vocal masque.
You were reaching for those upper notes, raising your head to complete the process. However, all this misplaced effort was in vain. You must remember to think over those upper notes, keeping the head level and relaxed. The elevation of the head merely puts additional strain on your vocal cords and adds constriction to your neck muscles.
This song has some wicked intervals and, if you do not connect these intervals through the use of the diaphragm, then the voice starts to sound inefficient and less focused.
For instance, the Perfect 5th interval leap during the words “sad song” and “made to” sounded very unfocused and wide. Both notes in that interval were distantly off-center. And that spread in your mouth position when grabbing those vowels did not help the situation. Where was that circular mouth that I so enjoyed in last week’s showcase?
Also, your inefficient breathing skills resulted in a fragmented approach to your phrasing. The song was so jumpy and was lacking in a smooth, effortless approach. You may have enjoyed your performing experience, Lee, but the overall impression looked forced and unnatural due to your lack of solid technical control in your vocal delivery.
In the future, make absolutely certain that you rehearse these upbeat numbers at a snail’s pace. This will allow you to correct any technical flaws and ultimately lend a sense of control to the number when performed at the regular tempo.
Good luck next week, Lee!
Strengths: Michael - from your interview, you obviously put a lot of thought and research into this song. Backed by a string orchestra, I thought this song was wonderfully conceived and, although I would have appreciated a more simple approach, I understand your thought process in your chosen arrangement. You were aiming for distinct and new and it certainly was all that. Good for you for moving beyond the boundaries of the song.
Additionally, I loved the strength and passion you brought to this song and this became increasingly clear as the song moved forward. Your upper vocals were well-delivered and the focus of your voice was wonderfully sustained in your vocal masque.
I also applauded your decision to move away from the mike stand during the closing moments of this song. Movement is such a liberating experience for the singers and, when used wisely, it can escalate the visual dimension of a performance.
You perform with such a big heart on that stage and really work very hard to energize and captivate your audience. Kudos for your very fine work once again this week, Michael! Bravo!
Critique: Michael - I thought the front end of the song sounded a little vague. At first, I almost felt that the song was sitting too low in your natural singing range, but then I realized it was a technical issue. I think added diaphragmatic support, as well as precise articulation of the consonants, would have fixed this problem.
As I said above, this was not a problem in the second half of this song when you turned the volume up several notches and moved through your upper range.
So, you must remember to consistently articulate your words in your lower range, using the consonants as a spring board for your vowels. This will create additional energy that can be transferred to your voice and you will also notice the diaphragmatic breath support working with increased efficiency.
And, remember to keep that all-important circular formation in your mouth. Your vowels were mighty wide in the front end of this song, resulting in lack of clarity and presence in your vocal delivery.
Also, as much as I appreciated the risk you took in re-inventing this Beatle classic, I thought the finished product was pretty dramatic – too much so. Part of this has to do with your enormous physical and vocal presence on stage. You must be careful to add just the correct amount of energy in your performance to compliment the strength of your persona and natural vocal talent.
However, that being said, I thought you still gave a very good performance this week. I love your voice and you generally use it so very well. Congratulations!
Strengths: Siobhan - I was very excited to hear that you selected Across The Universe. This is such a beautiful song and your poignant rendition of this number left me breathless.
Seated behind a microphone stand through the entire song, you radiated great beauty, presence and vulnerability. Your lower voice is scrumptious and your vocal timbre is so distinctive, And then, as you delicately moved toward your upper range, you blessed us with your angelic soprano voice. It was total goosebumps time for me, missy! Gorgeous!
In fact, you incorporated a wonderful use of your head voice throughout this song. Your voice had so much ring and focus throughout this number. Also, the sensitivity you displayed as an artist was real and profound. You dig deep with your emotions when you sing and, because of this, we feel your passion and gain a glimpse into the beauty of your soul.
The control you exhibited throughout this song was remarkable. To sing the majority of this song with a soft dynamic demonstrates courage and confidence in one`s vocal ability. Brava! Personally, I think there is too much oversinging going on in the world. It tends to be all about the loud and the furious and it really gets tiresome. No wonder everyone is under so much stress – lots of edgy, loud music out there.
But, I digress! The quiet confidence that you displayed throughout this performance coupled with your sincere artistry was a gift to all of us. Your voice is an exquisite, unique force of nature.
Thank you for sharing this very personal performance with us. You are a sincere and believable artist and this competition is fortunate to have discovered you. Your performance was easily one of the best of the night!
Congratulations and a standing “O” from Masterclass Lady.
Critique: Siobhan- make sure you articulate those consonants when you with softer dynamics. I think this is what was lacking and what, perhaps, may have caused Randy to say that the song was a little sleepy. Crisp consonants and energy will bring additional focus to your voice and increase the inflection and nuance when singing with a softer dynamic.
However, other than this, I have to say that your performance was just exquisite and was a timely contrast to the other performances you have contributed over the past few weeks. Keep up the delicate balancing act when selecting your repertoire, Siobhan, and you should continue to move nicely throughout this competition.
Kudos once again!
Strengths: Tim - I loved the slow start at the beginning of this song that gently segued into the original upbeat tempo that we normally associate with this number. I also enjoyed the variety of dynamic and harmonic levels within the orchestration throughout this song. It added wonderful dimension and interest to the overall presentation of this number, balancing so well with your vocals.
And speaking of your vocals, your voice sounded impeccable – extremely smooth from top to bottom. You have a beautiful timbre to your voice – it is resplendent with head voice and perfectly centered.
I also enjoyed your personal interpretation of this song. Your flexible approach to the melodic line was tastefully done. I am glad that you resisted the impulse to over think this song. By nature, it is a playful song and the whimsical nature of this song must be approached with simplicity and ease.
All in all this was a wonderful performance – the subtle implementation of the orchestration and your “aw shucks boy-next-door” demeanor was just the ticket for this number! And, let’s not forget your voice! It was just fantastic and so relaxed.
Excellent work, Tim! Bravo!
Critique: Tim - visually, I was looking for a more liberated approach. You looked a little stiff and a touch distracted on stage. Your eyes didn’t seem to reflect the fun-loving nature of this song and, given your open personality, it left me confused.
Were you waiting for those judges to jump down your throat again? Well, guess what? It didn’t happen! They loved you and so did I and I am so glad that your work ethic was finally rewarded through this week`s performance.
I hope that, while preparing for future performances, you will feel comfortable to practice in front of a mirror. It will help you in refining your facial expressions as well as correct any technical flaws that you may be experiencing at the time
However, when all is said in done, this was a great showcase – now relax those eyes next time and allow them to shine!