By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s American Idol theme was one of my favorites. It was Elvis Week and the timeless quality of his music is always cause for celebration. However, with Season 8 Runner-Up, Adam Lambert acting as mentor for the Top 9 singers, his presence added further performance fuel to the artistic fire.
The singers welcomed Adam with open arms and embraced Elvis’s music with wonderful style and substance, thus proving that with time, guidance and experience, anything is possible. Well, almost anything. There were some slips along the way, but, generally, they captured the some – if not all of -the magic that was created during last week’s Lennon-McCartney themed show.
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: “Blue Suede Shoes”
Strengths: Aaron – I really enjoyed the interaction between you and Adam Lambert. I felt that Adam brilliantly coached you in all things “Elvis”, encouraging you to fully explore and sustain your playful and youthful demeanor. I think Adam should be highly praised for encouraging and guiding you toward a more risky and edgy approach in your performances. I have wanted to see this since Day One, and this week, all the playful elements solidified quite well for you.
I did enjoy the confident swagger in your stage movements, as the supplementary physical energy actually increased the vocal dimension of this performance As a result, you captured the audience more fully with your musical presence and made them understand that there is musical depth and sophistication behind your shy demeanor.
The key and tempo change midway through this showcase was wonderful – I love when the musical arrangement throws curve balls midway through the song. It adds so much to the overall performance and keeps the audience interest alive and vibrant.
You rhythmically punctuated the tempo change with extremely musical physical movements, further evidence that you do indeed have a natural musical gift that needs to be unleashed and showcased to a higher degree. I felt that this song allowed you to do this and, hopefully, you will transfer some of this ease and freedom to the slower numbers in your repertoire.
Good work, Aaron and I applaud the increased visual dimension in this week’s performance. Kudos to you!
Critique: Aaron- the increased energy in this up-tempo song eliminated some of the problems you experienced in last week’s showcase. Now, you need to apply the intensity and buoyancy in your technical support when singing slower numbers. However, the circular mouth position is imperative or you will continue having problems focusing voice in your vocal masque. For example, be cautious to correct that horizontal mouth position on the “i” vowel in the word “thing ‘.
Also, continue to refine your approach to the diphthongs within your lyrics. Pure vowel focus will add depth to your voice and urge you to add some head voice into the vocal mix, thus creating a vocal timbre with further ring and presence. I still think your vocals are too restrained and lack ring and clarity. Although you are still young, further technical adjustments would remedy this problem very quickly.
Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen this song for you, Aaron. However, because you were trying to diversify your stage persona, you felt compelled to choose an up-tempo song. It is a shame that you didn’t do this last week, as some of the Elvis ballads would have resonated more assuredly in this week’s performance. Up-tempo songs from The King’s catalogue are pretty iconic and, unless you can really deliver muscular vocals, then it is best to stay away from these numbers.
However, I did enjoy your performance. It took courage and you obviously benefited greatly from Adam’s suggestions. Bravo!
Strengths: Andrew- kudos to Adam for being honest in your all-too-frequent linear, musical approach to your numbers. By doing so, he assisted you in increasing the momentum in this week’s performance. You rendered a laid back, bluesy nature to this song and, although my immediate impression was tentative, I started to enjoy the performance to a greater extent as it moved forward.
You moved well on stage and, when you started to drag your microphone stand closer to your audience, you impressed me with your dogged determination to establish strong communication and rapport with your audience. I do applaud your effort to continuously find ways to enthuse and involve your audience in your performance. This shows remarkable growth in such a short time span.
Your vocals sounded exceedingly good and, similar to last week’s performance, the added movement on stage enhanced the vocal projection in your performance delivery. And, finally, you allowed yourself to be more creative and inventive with the original melodic line. This element was missing from last week’s performance, so I was thrilled to see that you did your homework and added your own stamp on this iconic song from the Elvis catalogue.
With each passing week, your confidence is gaining in momentum and your vocals are sounding more resonant and secure. You are exploring the ebb and flow of your vocal range - all the dynamic possibilities of the human voice – and I am hearing less of a wispy, emaciated sound in your vocal mix.
Good work, Andrew and superb improvement!
Critique: Andrew – be careful to approach the diphthong in the word “mine” in true bel canto style. You need to remember to sustain on the first pure vowel in this diphthong – “ah” – while allowing your mouth to maintain a relaxed circular position through the sustaining process. This will encourage strong, diaphragmatic support and, thus, allow the voice to resonate with freedom in your vocal masque.
Also, as a musician, I did appreciate your song choice and everything that you accomplished in the interpretation of this song. However, at this stage of the competition it was a misguided decision. The relaxed, laid back flavor of your performance was not the way to go in terms of grabbing and inspiring an audience towards a voting frenzy.
Overall, the song didn’t leave a strong imprint on that Idol stage and, although you added all the bells and whistles, it just wasn’t enough. A ballad may have been the may to go Andrew, perhaps starting from a seated position and then standing and moving across the perimeter of the stage. This visual element always works, especially if the vocals are meticulously rehearsed.
However, when all is said and done, I am with Ellen on this one. It was a great performance and I hope that it resonated with clarity with the majority of viewers. You demonstrated tremendous growth on that stage and I applaud you for your efforts!
Strengths: Casey-first of all, I loved the party atmosphere created by your position on a circular platform, surrounded by your enthusiastic audience members. It was wonderful to see you intermingle with the listeners with such ease and ingenuity.
Although, at times your throat suffered some tension when delivering those robust, whisky-flavored vocals, I thought that you generally tried to adhere to the proper mouth formation when grabbing your vowels.
Your voice certainly has attained presence and fire as the weeks progressed and I feel that this is due to the increase in your confidence level on stage. With one, comes the other and, along with the increased efficiency of your technical skills, you certainly are on the correct path to securing authentic performances.
Great work, once again, Casey!
Critique: Casey- as much as I did enjoy your showcase this week, you looked mighty stiff this week! It was strange to watch and process as, at times, I sensed a tentative, cautious approach to your song. Was this really the first song you selected or was it your fifth pick? Just curious! Something just seemed a little “off” to me.
Also,when approaching those power vocals, you really have to avoid the wide position of your mouth. Although your voice did sound quite resonant throughout, possibly because there was some level of diaphragmatic support, your constricted throat muscles were an irritating presence during the performance of this number. All that tension in your throat, when added to the horizontal spread of your mouth, became a bit of nuisance. It inhibited you from resonating your voice with ease and freedom.
And so, like a broken record, I would like to remind you to practice your upbeat numbers slow and sustained. This will allow you time to identify the areas of tension in your voice and correct them in a relaxed manner.
Upbeat numbers need the same kind of technical control that one assumes when singing slowly. Even though this technical process works at a quicker pace, mentally, the focus of the vowels and the support from the diaphragm must still be there – front and center. You need to take the time to do this.
Hope this information assists you, Casey! Select your songs wisely and leave nothing to chance!
Strengths: Crystal – how wonderful that Adam guided you toward the electric guitar. It was a wonderful suggestion and one of many that he shared with you and all the singers this week. This number was well selected and you gave a very good performance.
Your voice just oozes from your mouth with such expressive ease. You are such a bluesy gal and, as one of the judges appropriately said, you do radiate a “Bonnie Raitt” vibe.
I loved the change of tempo midway through this song. It added an aura of excitement and artistic “kick” to the number. It was a necessary element of surprise, especially since you maintained your position behind the mike stand once again this week. It also gave you a moment to step back and pace yourself.
Also, did you notice that, when you vocalized through the slower section of this song, you did indeed grab those vowels with that very important circular mouth position? As a result, I heard a richer vocal timbre emanating from your vocal cords because you did incorporate some head voice into the vocal mix. It was just lovely. Perfect!
You also seemed more relaxed this week – perhaps the song sat more comfortable withing your singing range or you benefited from the confidence boost given to you by Adam Lambert. Whatever the reason, it was a very strong performance, very distinctive and oozing with creativity and style.
Good work, Crystal
Critique: Crystal – I have one word for your! Articulation! I really had trouble understanding your words throughout the majority of this song. It was one big mumbo-jumbo, especially when you moved through your lower range. You have to crisply articulate those consonants, using them as a springboard for the sustaining process of your vowels.
Also, the energy used to articulate your lyrics would lend improvement in your vocal quality as well – a forward vocal presence that, with practice, would make room for some head voice. You presently sing with far too much chest voice in your vocal delivery, leaving little room for incorporating the ringing clarity that is the nucleus of head resonance.
But first you need to eliminate that still persistent horizontal mouth position, especially when singing the uptempo portion of this song. It was not as prevalent this week and you are showing tremendous improvement in this area; however, you need to reach the point where it becomes firmly ingrained in your technical delivery. You want to maintain an integrated vocal sound from top to bottom and relaxed facial features and a free jaw will aid this process.
So, as I mentioned to Casey, practice your upbeat numbers at a slower pace and identify and correct the technical problems. There has to be a sustaining process for your vowels in place when you sing quickly or your voice will lack dimension and presence.
Good luck next week, Crystal!
Strengths: Katie – I loved how Adam assisted you in internalizing the emotional aspects of this song in your vocal delivery. As a result, your performance came alive this week, fueled by the confidence boost and stellar guidance via Adam Lambert’s timely suggestions.
Additionally, you moved with ease and determination on stage, superbly accompanied by the stellar brass section. This was a high-powered performance and nothing was left to chance. You were surrounded by the best because you were performing at your very best this week, surpassing your outstanding performance from the previous week. You just get better and better, raising your own bar and shooting for stars that are truly within your reach.
You moved throughout your vocal range with such ease and clarity. Your voice wrapped so easily around the melodic line, allowing your voice to sound fluid and effortless. All diaphragmatic support elements were in play here and you demonstrated to everyone why solid technical resources are so important. It reinforces one’s confidence level and, in actuality, allows the rehearsal process to proceed in a logical manner.
Additionally, there was a strong visual component to this number. You fearlessly paraded around that stage, using the vast space as a valuable entertainment and communicative tool. And yet everything appeared effortless! At no time did I feel that the choreographic skills were underlying your vocal skills – both were in perfect symmetry.
This was a flawless performance, Katie! I. Loved. It! Brava and Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady!
Critique: Katie – you are critique-free. This was an immaculate, well-rehearsed performance and the technical and artistic elements were just stellar. Congratulations!
Strengths: Lee – I am glad that Adam attempted to create more facial expression during the performance of this week’s song – especially given the lighthearted nature of this upbeat number. I believe that you have enjoyed yourself on the stage each week, but I always felt that you needed to somehow find a way to add sparkle to your eyes to better reflect the emotion conveyed through your music.
To that end, I felt you made a concerted effort to involve your audience in this rollicking performance. Even though you maintained your station behind the mike stand throughout this showcase, you did move your head from left to right to center, so as to address the entire audience. You conquered the number one rule in vocal performance: sing to the back of the room. Do not allow your voice stop in front of you. It has to travel and reach the farthest corners of the venue. I feel you did achieve this very important performance element, so kudos to you!
I am also a huge fan of your raspy vocals, because, in addition to the grittiness in your vocal sound, there is a pure element attached to your vocal delivery. For some reason this was not evident last week, but this week, you were back in the groove as they say and your vocals were more centered and true.
I also appreciated the relaxed tempo you established with this song. Usually the tempo is more frantic and I find that the singers run out of steam or, even worse, start to become sloppy with their articulation skills. Then the song is one great big mess! But you demonstrated great pacing throughout this number, playing it slow in your mind and yet maintaining a controlled forward momentum.
Excellent work, Lee! I absolutely loved this performance! Bravo!
Critique: Lee -well, you still looked a tad worried up there. You need to move and free yourself from the microphone stand. Honestly, you would feel more relaxed and by association you would look more relaxed.
However, I can understand your thought process on not allowing this to happen this week. Last week, although you did enjoy yourself on stage and did indeed move around, you did encounter major vocal issues.
Perhaps a better approach would be: everything in moderation. In other words, why not begin with the guitar and then, midway through the song, abandon it and move out and about the stage? This would give you an opportunity to pace yourself – as long as you don’t obsess about the upcoming movement from the beginning of the number. That would be fruitless.
However, if you rehearse the choreographic and vocal elements extremely well and meticulously sort out all the kinks, it just may work.
However, vocally this was a superb performance this week. Kudos!
Strengths: Michael – well, this was a wonderful change of pace from last week’s dramatic presentation. And how generous and intuitive of Siobhan to suggest “In The Ghetto” as your performance song this week. Beautiful song choice!
This week’s performance showcased why you absolutely deserved to be saved by the judges last week. Your voice is such a precious commodity and it would have been disastrous for the show to see you eliminated this early in the competition. I expect that, after this week’s performance, you will easily sail through to the next round and more.
While seated on the edge of the stage, strumming your guitar, you established the perfect ambience for this song. Your demeanor was so poignant and so vulnerable and transferred effortlessly to your vocal delivery. The words resonated so beautifully with the listener. You took time to tell the story; your stripped down version of this song was heart-rending and expressive.
Also, your articulation of your consonants were crystal clear this week. Every word was understood and expressively vocalized with tenderness. Your voice, as always, was truly magnificent and technically “über-efficient”. Last week, I felt that you incorporated too much into one performance when, in fact, this week you proved to yourself that – when you have the goods – it just wasn’t necessary.
I am running out of superlatives to describe this performance, Michael, so I will leave on a high, technically sound note and merely say: “Congratulations for bringing such class and eloquence to the American Idol stage each week” .
Please continue to stay true to your instincts and remember that, from you, less is more. You have a generous and abundant physical and vocal presence , so keeping this information in perspective when you rehearse your music will continue to help your success in the future.
Congratulations and a Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady
Critique: Michael – I just was so moved by your rendition of “In The Ghetto” that I was hard-pressed to find any evidence of any technical or artistic mishaps. Bravo, sir! Keep up the stellar work!
Strengths: Siobhan – so, you loved Elvis as well? Well, good for you. It shows that you have respect for and embrace the road he paved for distinctive musicians to follow – including you! During his time, Elvis was different and that is why he is now an icon and continues to be celebrated to this day. You are paving your own special road, Siobhan, and you must never let anyone steer you from your unique, exclusive vision. Presently, your journey might be a solitary one, but all this will change with time and patience. Trust me!
It was exciting to see paths crossing between you and Adam. I am glad that he instilled and reinforced some fire and passion in your performance. I feel that you have done so since the show began; however, it was great to hear the reassuring comments from Adam and his acknowledgment that you should indeed take more risks on stage.
I loved your stance at the beginning of this song. While standing with your back to the audience, you began the opening strains of this great song selection, calmly pacing yourself for the high-energy performance that was still to come. Smart!
Then, as you moved to center stage, you staked your claim and went in for the kill! However, I should say here that my initial thought was that the vocals sounded misplaced or muffled but then that thought was quickly replaced with your distinctive “Fourth of July” vocal fireworks emanating from your mouth.
The sparkle and pizzazz began during the show tempo change, when you vocals became more dynamic and expressive. It was like watching a flower bloom – that voice opened ever so gently and then, boom , it was glowing with maturity and perfection.This contrasted so well with the lower end, softer vocals you displayed in the earlier segment of this song.
Also,as your voice moved forward with additional passion and verve, the multi-layered texture in your dynamic and vocal range was absolutely breathtaking. I loved the gritty sound you added to your vocal sound closer to the end of the song – on the word “never“, I believe! I don’t believe I have heard this from you before so good for you for exploring different levels of inflection in your vocal style.
You are truly fearless on that stage and the control that you exhibited when vocalizing through this incredibly difficult arrangement was just remarkable.
And can I tell you how much I loved that sustained upper note on the word “you” at the end of the song? The beauty and clarity of your gorgeous head voice was so lovely. The transparency was perfect and is also responsible for the rich, even quality of your voice throughout your range. And, what a great sustained note on the final word “baby” – talk about the “wow” factor. This song had it all!
Finally, brava to you clarifying this labeling nonsense to the judges. Who cares? Why do we need to label these singers? Isn’t success today measured in your ability to cross genres. Hello? Shania Twain? Andrea Bocelli? Michael Buble?
What you do each week is bring passionate and innovative performances to the Idol stage and I just have to say” “Kudos” and “Standing O” from Masterclass Lady! Keep them coming, Siobhan, and thank you for being different and so darn artistic.
Critique: Siobhan – no critique from me. I think you have heard enough negativity for one week. Just make sure you support your lower range to keep your pitch nicely centered. However, other than that, I thought your were phenomenal, m’lady! Brava!!! And Standing “o” form Masterclass Lady.
Strengths: Tim – this was great song choice for you, if for no other reason than you will have everyone voting for you like mad. However, the timbre of your voice wrapped beautifully around the melodic line and, given your natural vocal presence and your ability to sustain so well, I felt the song was a perfect fit for you.
I loved that Adam did try to encourage you to sing in your head voice at the end of this song. You rock, Adam and, were so correct when you told Tim that it was a great way to end the song with vulnerability and tenderness.
I thought that this was a beautiful acoustic performance and, with your guitar in hand, you exuded a sensitive and gentle demeanor as you serenaded your way into the ladies’ hearts. I really enjoyed and appreciated the lovely broken chords you strummed on the guitar – they were well- done, clean and precise.
I also appreciated the lovely modification in the melodic line during the second verse. It was very well done and did not subtract from the original line of the song. Ditto for your vocal revision through the bridge of this song. This demonstrated that you prepared this song in a meticulous manner, making sure there was just enough alteration in the melody to personalize it - or urbanize it, for that matter.
And, your vocal timbre, as always, was radiant and secure. I particularly loved the hushed intensity you incorporated with you more resonant vocals. This added inflection throughout your performance and, naturally, increased the communicative aspects of this song.
Additionally, you certainly looked less restrained and more liberated this week, than last week. Sometimes, it all comes down to the perfect song choice and, for whatever reason, this song landed smack in the heart of your comfort zone. But then, it is a classic love song, so what is there not to love?
Generally, you phrased this song very well and, although the breathing became a little compromised at times, you still maintained a certain level of diaphragmatic composure throughout!
Extremely good work, Tim!
Critique: Tim - because you didn’t heed Adam’s advice and add the head voice at the end, the last phrase of the song fell a little flat to me. Also, the final word – “you” – should have, at the very least, been sustained for a longer time period. You could have, perhaps, added a little riff on that last note- something to make it interesting.
And, the fragmented breathing, although intermittent throughout the song, became really problematic for me. I was aching for you to carry your phrases through in one breath. So often, because you were breathing after every word, the song lacked momentum and flow.
The intricate guitar work did keep you busy and I think somewhat distracted you from your technical support. Did you practice the song without the guitar? If not, you should have done so as to solidify the vocal delivery of this song. Then, when you were satisfied and confident in your vocal delivery, the guitar could be confidently added with the reassuring knowledge that the vocals were in place.
Good luck Tim! You have a beautiful voice – now remember to balance the vocals and instrumental so that they compliment – not hinder each other.