By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s American Idol top 7 theme was, in fact, a prelude to the star-studded Idol Gives Back Special this evening.
So, in keeping with the wonderful spirit of generosity and goodwill toward all, the Top 7 performed repertoire gathered from an American Idol catalogue of Inspirational Songs. And, it was quite a revelatory group of performances. Suffice it to say that, unlike last week, no one will be receiving critique- free evaluations this week. In fact….well, you’ll see!
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: “I Believe I Can Fly “
Strengths: Aaron – you always perform with a ton of heart and soul. When one factors in your young age, it solidifies the knowledge that the intensity in your performances is really quite staggering.
Currently, your voice is still changing - your singing range sits very high in your vocal register, but not naturally so!Therefore, as you move forward with your technical skills, this technical knowledge will aid you with the vocal changes you will undoubtedly encounter over the next couple of years.
However, that being said, your overall performance of this beautiful song was passionate and expressive. You also added some refreshing melodic twists that was testament to your innate musicality. No one can ever criticize you for not “going for it”, Aaron. You communicated the essence of this song with the sophistication and style that I have come to appreciate and expect in all of your performances.
Also, although your voice is presently not a large instrument, the amount of physical energy you exert on stage makes up for the lack of power in your light, young voice. Consequently, you have mastered one of the basic elements as a performer – adding physical energy to enhance the overall delivery of a song.
Years ago, when I was your age, I was struggling to deliver more volume to my vocal performance. Like you, my voice was very light and sat naturally high in my register. Although this was a good thing when singing softly, it was frustrating when I wanted to add a stronger dynamic level to my voice.
However, my wise vocal teacher said to me – just sing with more energy! Become passionate and add more punch to your articulation skills. And, presto, the problem was solved and the overall impression of my vocal delivery looked and sounded more nuanced.
So, whether you realize it or not, Aaron, the physicality of your performance style is compensating for your still very green technical skills. Never abandon this ( the physicality) - it is very important. Also, your movement and energy creates a liberating feeling when you sing and, furthermore, allows you to establish a powerful connection with your audience.
Good work, Aaron!
Critique: Aaron- you and those diphthongs! This was such a bad week for all the performers regarding the misuse of diphthongs. It was driving me crazy!
However, your problem was twofold. First, you must continue to be more careful to avoid the horizontal spread of your mouth when sustaining your diphthongs. The circular formation of your mouth, when combined with a relaxed, loose jaw, will result in a more beautiful, centered and pure vocal quality. AND it will also encourage you to breathe more efficiently from the diaphragm.
Secondly, the sustaining process for your voice must be completed via the first pure vowel of a diphthong. This is the fundamental teaching behind the bel canto technique. It is an essential classical approach that, when used properly, can transfer to all styles of music.
Particularly problematic for you this week were the “ay” and “eye” diphthongs found throughout your lyrics. For example, in the word “away“, you adopted a very wide formation in your mouth position and, additionally, avoided sustaining your voice on the first pure vowel of this diphthong, “eh”.
You encountered the same problem when you sang the word “fly” – I was needing to hear more of the “ah” vowel in that diphthong and to see less tension in your facial muscles. Your facial and neck muscles were so constricted and your diaphragmatic breathing so compromised that is it any wonder that your voice cracked when your sang the word “fly”?
Also, by not maintaining a consistently round formation in your mouth position, you were subtracting added depth and clarity from your vocal timbre.
Also, during the opening segment of this song, you sounded very cautious and tentative and it signaled that the diaphragmatic support was not connecting with your voice. The power vocals were much better. The second half of the song was terrific, the first half not as much. However, that being said, you were still punching through those louder vocals via the constriction of your throat muscles. This is why your voice had little carrying power – it was not being produced in a liberated and fluid fashion via the diaphragm.
I have noticed that your knees are always relaxed. Good for you! Now use those knee bends to maximize the full support from your rib cage and back muscles and squeeze your butt on those upper notes. However, keep your mouth round and your jaw relaxed, extending the jaw down as you move toward your upper range. Everything must work together or your attempt at achieving a free, well-centered vocal sound will be ineffective.
Best of luck, Aaron. You have great potential that is being impeded by your lack of solid technical support. Hope this information assists you and energizes you to unlock the full beauty of your vocal talent.
Strengths: Casey – once again, you decided to select an upbeat song for your showcase while accompanying yourself on the electric guitar. Although this is a great, oft-performed number, I felt that it was a perfect fit for you. Also, you looked terrific by the way. I loved the fancy duds - you were all suited up for this very big show! Very nice!
Additionally, highlighting your superb guitar skills during the musical interludes added another musical layer to this performance, while emphasizing that you came to this competition with solid musical skills in tact.
As always, your voice was expressive and communicative and I loved the hint of purity mixed in with your raspy vocals. Also, I applaud you on your very good attempt at adhering to the correct placement of your vowels - you were really trying to glue your voice to those vowels and this technical bonus escalated the overall presence of your voice.
Obviously, the song sat well within the framework of your comfort level, as you certainly looked and sounded more liberated than was evident during last week’s performance. Although you didn’t move around the stage as much as I would have liked, at the very least, you did move away from the mike stand when highlighting your outstanding guitar skills.
I also appreciated the relaxed tempo in place for this song, as it allowed you to pace this song very well. Nothing ruins a performance more than a song moving out of control and beyond the reach of the performer. Therefore, the effortless nature of this song performance emphasized a more confident, self-assured Casey and allowed you to communicate the song to your listeners with great ease.
Good work, Casey!
Critique: Casey- this inspirational theme of this week’s showcase would have been a perfect opportunity for you to return to a slow, meaningful ballad. And the timing was right as well. I feel that the public was aching for a change as you so marvelously accomplished when you performed “Jealous Guy“. a couple of weeks ago. Why did this level artistry disappear and will you ever reveal it again? More important, will you have the opportunity to do so? Timing is everything with this show and I sincerely hope that your time is not running out as I feel that you still have so much to offer.
Also, as the judges clearly stated, I do concur that this song was the not best song to mirror the Inspirational Theme this week. If one analyzes lyrics, then, yes, the words are perhaps reflective and have a positive, well-intentioned meaning. However, the rollicking flavor of this song added a playful atmosphere that didn’t fit the intentions of this week’s profound and inspiring atmosphere.
Also, the repetitious nature of this song did little to challenge your vocal artistry and, at some point during this number, I became more impressed with your guitar skills than with your vocal skills. The vocals certainly were secondary to this performance and that was really a shame.
You needed to establish a more creative approach to this song, perhaps by adding some diversity from the original tempo. For instance, you could have opened the song with a slower, bluesy tempo, allowing the lyrics to resonate in a more inspiring manner with the audience. Then, a segue into the quicker tempo would have provided wonderful contrast and dimension to this performance.
Added to this, your phrasing was very monotonous and totally predictable. Just because the original performer adopts this phrasing doesn’t mean that you had to do so!
Also, a change in the rhythmic structure would have been a great addition. Adding syncopated elements to this very square, very monotonous rhythmic structure would have been a more creative approach to this song. By doing so, the song would have remained more memorable in the minds of the viewers while highlighting your artistic skills in the process.
Also, you must continue do work on your vocal projection, eliminating the need for the throat to become involved in the process. All the power and support for your voice should be enhanced through the diaphragm, as indicated in last week’s evaluation.
Good luck, Casey!
Strengths: Crystal – I loved the a cappella singing at the beginning of this song. Your voice sounded beautiful, pure and perfectly centered. Also, the gentle manner in which your segued into this song was just the ticket to accelerate the forward momentum of this song. It was like watching a beautiful flower blossom and grow – your voice was radiant and transcended the technical boundaries that can, at times, truly stifle a momentous vocal achievement. Technique and artistry must go hand in hand.
And, if I can be perfectly honest, this is the first time you actually touched my heart with a performance. This performance was singular and memorable, one of those special performances where technicality counts for so little and where artistry wins the day.
It was also exciting to hear the beauty and clarity of your gorgeous head voice in your softer passages. How I wish you would blend it in to your power vocals – but certainly, there was clearer evidence of this element throughout your range this week than in previous!
At one point in the song, you flirted with a lower note and it sounded gorgeous. It made me think how good it would be if you could further highlight the depth and beauty of your lower range. Your vocal timbre in that area of your range sounds rich and velvety! Don’t hide this area of you range, Crystal – flaunt it!
Also, it was just wonderful to see you perform without the guitar and really making such a supreme effort to embrace and connect with your audience. I have no problem watching you play guitar and/or keyboard, but at some point, the listeners do crave more interaction from a performer and this week, you got it just right, Crystal!
The expressive depth and dimension you displayed during this performance was extraordinary. You were obviously engulfed in the moment, as evidenced by your gentle emotional breakdown at the end of this number. Could there be any stronger evidence of your honest involvment in this week’s performance? You lived and breathed this number and, as a result, gave a strong, authentic performance that was truly singular.
Brava and Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady! Congratulations, Crystal!
Critique: Crystal - be very careful regarding your tendency to push your vocals. Although your voice sounded rested and revitalized this week, you were still pumping out your vocal sound from your throat.
Also, as with so many of the other singers this week, you had a tendency to distance yourself from the pure vowels within your lyrics, especially when approaching those tricky ” diphthongs.
And that wide mouth position and tight jaw simply added to the tension in your throat. You need to do be aware of and incorporate the”ah” vowel in every vowel so as to maintain a circular mouth position and open throat. This will also assist you in a more efficient and seamless approach to your vowels.
So, my advice to you is to simply continue to work on the relaxation of your throat, allowing your voice to resonate with freedom in your vocal masque. This will thus ensure consistently strong, confident performances because the diaphragmatic support system will have your back!
However, this Top 7 showcase was truly an extraordinary experience – your best to date – and I congratulate you for taking such huge risk in your performance style this week. Kudos on your stellar showcase, Crystal!
Strengths: Lee – this was such a beautiful number and the lyrics were just so perfect for this week’s inspirational theme show. And the instrumental arrangement of this number was just lovely – starting with your self-accompaniment on guitar, followed by the addition of the keyboard and, finally, for added depth, the string orchestra. This is how one adds layers to a performance, allowing it to evolve and grow in a memorable way.
Although this song is well-known, thankfully, it has not been performed to death on this show – if ever! How smart to find a song that would resonate with the listeners and, yet, would still sound fresh and clean to the listener’s ears.
I also appreciated the expressive manner in which you communicated this song – it was real, genuine and heartfelt. Also, your distinct vocal style imparted a contemporary flavor to this song, adding a refreshing twist on an old and much-loved classic.
Technically, I sensed that you were making a concerted effort to glue your vocal sound to the pure vowels. It was very evident during the 2nd “la, la” section, where you cohesively grabbed those “ah” vowels, allowing your voice to inherit more presence at this point in the song. Additionally, your pitch was finely tuned at this point and I felt that the overall quality of your voice was more centered and secured.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. Excellent work, Lee!
Critique: Lee – like so many others this week, you have to watch how you approach your diphthongs. Generally, you fared much better this week, but you still have to adopt a consistently cleaner approach when faced with words or syllables that contain many vowels.
Also, attached to this you need to consistently secure a horizontal mouth position during your performances. This technical element is not fully ingrained yet – it is getting better – but it still needs attention. An example of this problem occured when you vocalized the word “shame” – there was too much spread in your mouth and you did forget to resonate your voice on the pure “eh” vowel.
However, as the song progressed, your voice became more centered and secure, but you want to strive for better consistency of this technical element throughout every performance.
Also, I wish you would leave you guitar behind and move toward center stage to embrace and connect with your audience. Your shtick is starting to become old news and now is the time to change up the visual dimension of your performance. As I mentioned last week, this can accomplished by taking baby steps – better that than taking no steps whatsoever!
Also -watch that head, buddy – keep it level! You are still playing those head games with me Lee. First it’s up, then it’s down! Level is the way to go and it will gently coerce you to relax those constricted throat muscles.
Best of luck next week and keep refining your technical skills. You are on the right track so do not deviate from this route.
Strengths: Michael – you selected a superb song to accommodate your soulfully sophisticated style of singing. Your rendition of this song was heartfelt and meaningful. Accompanying yourself on guitar, you gave a sensitive, yet passionate performance.
Your vocal instrument is just stellar and the manner in which your voice championed the melodic line was pretty remarkable. And, although you never strayed from your position behind the microphone stand, the physicality of this performance was strongly communicative, your voice easily reaching to the back of the venue with ease and effortlessness.
Although you bring a high level of vocal training to this competition, you have used your training wisely. You sing with freedom and flexibility and move beyond the boundaries of your technical skills. Pop singers must learn to balance technical skills with artistic skills and each week you have proven to complete this very task.
Good work, Michael.
Critique: Michael – I don’t know what happened but, for the first time in a long time, your voice went all wonky on me. What was extremely disconcerting was the persistent horizontal position of your mouth throughout this song. This happened several times, the first being early on in the song when you vocalized the word “high”, throwing your voice totally off balance. Additionally, you fell into the diphthong trap by not allowing your voice to resonate easily and completely on the pure “ah” vowel in that diphthong.
Furthermore, that ubiquitous word “away” encouraged more of this technical mayhem and, as a result, your tuning was all over the map.
I almost felt that the song was running out of control. Although you were moving freely and easily behind the microphone stand, perhaps it was too much! It appeared to me that the physicality of this performance threw your support system out the window. I have cautioned you about this before, Michael – you have to tailor your movements so as to not distract from a balanced, technically sound delivery.
Pacing is everything when delivering a song to your audience. You want to start confidently, but in a controlled manner, allowing the adrenaline to be released evenly throughout a performance. If you release too much adrenaline too soon, you will lose control of your song and, given the fact that you only have a 90-second time frame, it is all the more reason to conserve energy.
However, even with all of these problems, your beautiful voice is a force of nature. I love it – now handle it wisely in the future!
Strengths: Siobhan – two of my singers will be performing this song at my annual student recital in June, so I had a smile on my face while you performed this number. This was probably your most understated performance since you performed “Across The Universe” during Lennon-McCartney week, so it was wonderful to see you scale it back once again.
And you know, Siobhan, I am beginning to enjoy your post -performance chat with Ryan and the judges, as it gives all of us a glimpse into your sweet, gentle and sensitive persona. And Ellen really loves you and has your back, so there you go!
As always you gave a sensitive and controlled performance. Your clear soprano notes were resplendent – so crystalline and centered – and it was so refreshing to hear this purely classical form of singing on this show. You wisely re-invented the song to suit your performing style and left the “diva-belting” to Mariah and Whitney. That’s not what you are about and it is wonderful that you embraced this distinction in the interpretation of this song.
Also, that sustained note on the word, “believe” when moving through the key change was absolutely breathtaking. It was so secure and so darn risky and yet, every week, you plant your feet on that stage and you show us the remarkable depth of your talent. And your work ethic! Ditto for the three -note ascending scale on the word “believe” during the final moments of your song. Those notes were brimming with head voice clarity and oozed from your mouth with expressive ease.
This was just another gorgeous performance, Siobhan, and I am running out of superlatives to describe your vocal artistry. It is singular and it is distinctive, Brava!
Critique: Siobhan -your mouth was spreading on “ee” in the word “believe” and, in fact, throughout the entire song. It mystified me. This technical glitch has never been a huge problem for you in past performances and the only thing that I could think of was that you were not aware of the correct method needed to enunciate this vowel. It requires that all-important circular mouth formation.
And because this vowel was so prevalent throughout this song, given that the title of the song is “When You Believe”, you maintained this wide mouth position throughout the entire song. Therefore, during the opening segment of this song, I felt that your pitch was compromised and along with this problem your vibrato became very wide.
Also, you were breathing in a shallow manner, gasping for air. This was never a problem for you – it almost seemed as if you could not get a handle on your diaphragmatic support system this week. You did look awfully tentative on that stage and I am sure that your low comfort level with some of the judges contributed to this feeling.
Also, I feel you need to incorporate more of your naturally beautiful head voice into your lower range. This week, your lower range sounded extremely vague and dark and would have greatly benefited from the ringing quality of your natural head voice. You need to remember that, in every part of your range, head and chest voice is important and the blend of these two integral vocal elements is the secret to a seamless, centered, pure vocal sound throughout your vocal range.
Head voice allows your voice to have presence and charisma – it allows the voice to become transcendent, even when singing through the lower part of your range.
However, you are an artist extraordinaire and even when your performance is not a perfect 10 in terms of the vocal delivery, it is always brimming with artistry and sensitivity! You are a star waiting to be cultivated by the right hands!
Strengths: Tim – I absolutely loved this song for your voice. It sends a wonderful message and captures the positive quality that emanates from your forthcoming personality. You do have a refreshing aura on stage. And your voice reflects this. Your voice always exudes a lovely timbre, so that’s a very special gift that you have inherited.
When you moved through your louder vocals, your voice certainly gained in resonance and presence and wrapped easily around the melodic line. And you made a special effort to articulate your words with clarity and precision and, beyond the strong communicative element in your peformance, your articualtion skills added energy and focus to your voice.
Additionally, your self-accompaniment on the guitar was very good indeed. I congratulate you on your hard work leading up to this point!
Good work, Tim!
Critique: Tim - oh man, you were nervous and, perhaps, ill? I noticed the cough at the end of this song.
Whatever the reason, everything was going wrong for you this week. Your inefficient diaphragmatic breathing skills, your poor head position, that horizontal mouth spread – you name it – it was all causing havoc in this week’s performance. I don’t know if you just didn’t have the time to rehearse this song properly, but it left me a little speechless, let me tell ya!
Your diaphragmatic breathing seemed totally off the radar, as your voice was lacking in stability at the beginning of this song. You were incorporating air to your vocal sound during the 1st half of this number, signaling to me that you were unable to focus your voice properly through the diaphragm. It is really tough when you are off to a rough start ina 90-second number because, like Michael this week, it was very difficult to get back on track again.
Then to add fuel to the fire, you elevated your head to the heavens looking for help, when in fact you needed to utilize your God-given support system known as the dipahragmatic breathing muscles. The tilted head minimized your lower body support and added increased tension in your neck and throat muscles. Additionally, your eye contact with the camera was diminished and we were left with a lovely shot of your neck muscles throughout the majority of this number. And it helps to think down when moving up in your vocal register.
I think it is time to relinquish the guitar and concentrate on your vocals. You and some of your Idol peers are having diffculty delivering both instruments to the viewers with ease and precision. It is just starting to look like too much work. You need to focus on your voice, Tim – it is a beautiful instrument and is capable of more than we are hearing each week. Your true vocal potential has been untapped and you need to surround yourself with a good technician to unravel the marvelous mystery that is your voice.
Good luck next week, Tim!