By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s American Idol Top 6 theme was a tribute to the music of Shania Twain. And, sharing her generous mentoring skills was the lovely Shania Twain! Surprise! I thought she did a tremendous job with these singers and was wonderfully supportive and caring to all of them.
As I wrote my article, it made me realize that the outcome of this show was a good one. It certainly wasn’t as memorable as the Lennon-McCartney showcase, but there were some genuinely surprising moments throughout this week’s Top 6 performances. A couple of singers jumped back on the horse, highlighting the reason why they deserve to have emerged this far in the competition.
And so, without further delay, here is my Top 6 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: “You’ve Got A Way ”
Strengths: Aaron – ordinarily, I would have said: “What? Another ballad?” However, given the theme this week and the limited selections suitable to your particular vocal and performing style, I thought your song selection was very astute and inspired .
Throughout this song, you established a very calm, poignant demeanor on stage. Once again, as in so many of your previous performances, I loved your sophisticated, intuitive approach in the vocal delivery of this song. You possess innate musical skills that enable you to connect with the lyrics with genuine artistry and mature refinement.
Technically, I noticed tremendous improvement in your vocal projection. The circular formation of your mouth was more prevalent this week; I thought you were sustaining those pure vowels with efficiency and consistency.
Particularly noticeable was the way that you approached the “aye” diphthong when sustaining your voice on the word “way”. By resonating your voice on the pure “eh” vowel in that diphthong, you were definitely striving for a cleaner and more refined vocal sound. Someone has done his homework, Aaron! Kudos!
As a result, your voice had enormous presence and control and really came alive with your newly acquired technical skills. The powerful ending to this song was very impressive and your voice resonated with immense confidence honed through meticulous preparation and training.
I love to see a singer grow and blossom over the course of the American Idol season and you are a worthy testament to this level of growth and achievement. You have attempted to improve and hone your vocal skills and are a strong example of what can happen when you follow the correct road to vocal success.
Congratulations, Aaron and a Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady.
Critique: Aaron- I can’t believe that I have nothing to add in the critique portion of this evaluation. Compared to last week, and, in fact, so many of the previous weeks, this performance showed tremendous growth and expansion. You are definitely moving forward in acquiring valid, deep-seated technical skills and I shall leave it at that.
Hopefully, you will continue on your path to vocal freedom. By doing so, your vocal charisma will escalate to exciting heights, similar to what we did enjoy in this superb Top 6 performance.
Bravo Aaron! This was a beautiful and enlightening showcase!
Strengths: Casey – from your interview with Ryan and Shania, it seems that you really “stepped up” the preparation for this song. Like Aaron, I was very pleased that you selected a ballad – the decision was smart and timely.
I further appreciated the fact that you escalated a stronger connection with your audience by performing on the lower stage situated behind the judges. It seems that you had your ducks lined up in a nice clean row for this performance and it showed.
Everything that went oh-so-wrong last week, was a distant memory this week. This song mirrored your remarkable and tender Top 9 performance of “Jealous Guy”. Back in the game was your sensitive and refined artistry that, for whatever reason, disappeared over the past few weeks.
You communicated this song with expressive honesty and candor. Every word was expressive and every phrase beautifully nuanced. Your articulation skills were precise and clean and, because of this, it added energy and presence to your rustic vocals.
I also felt that the key selection of this song sat comfortably in your natural singing range, allowing your voice to project with relative ease and effortlessness.
You established a poignant yet confident demeanor on stage and openly allowed the song to live and breathe in your vocal delivery. And once again, the blend of your pure vocals with your rustic vocals was just the ticket for this plaintive song. You really captured the flavor of this song so very well.
Although this wasn’t a technical masterpiece, it most certainly was an artistic one. The injection of genuine nuance and inflection established a memorable performance. This is what happens when you dig deep and don’t settle for the safe and easy.
This was a wonderful performance, Casey! Bravo!
Critique: Casey- last week, I spoke a great deal about elevating your artistic approach to your music. This week, however, the artistry was there for all to see and hear, so congratulations for taking the risk once again to move beyond your comfort zone. It must have been getting pretty claustrophobic in that box you built around yourself! It was time to move out and take a chance and it did pay off on a monumental way!
However, technically, you still need to work on relaxing those facial features, especially in the lower half of your face.
By adopting the horizontal vs. the circular mouth position on the “ee” vowel, you were not making a full and complete connection with your diaphragmatic breath support. As a result, the absolute timbre of your vocal quality was never realized. By constricting those throat muscles to produce your vocal sound, you are, in fact, decreasing the full intensity and dynamic flavor of your true vocal quality.
You really have to start taking the bull by the horns, Casey, and work to solidify your technical skills. By maintaining a round and relaxed mouth position on all the vowels, you will indeed establish stronger connection with the diaphragm and be less inclined to push your vocal sound via the constriction of your throat muscles. Also, your voice will sound even and seamless from top to bottom and flow effortlessly from your vocal cords.
You must remember internalize a floating sensation when vocalizing – the voice suspended and buoyant on the correct amount of supportive air released from the diaphragm. Also, the jaw must be relaxed and free to drop as you move toward your upper range, thus releasing constriction in the throat. The “yawn” effect!
However, that being said, you did make significant inroads in the artistic delivery of your Top 6 performance. With the flip of a switch over the course of one week, you managed to highlight your vulnerability and sensitivity via a passionate and heartfelt performance.
Excellent work, Casey! Kudos!
Strengths: Crystal – I did enjoy this song selection for you, if for no other reason than the fact that we were treated to the lovely quality of your pure head voice. It is not often that you expose this free and centered quality of your vocal range, so I was thankful that the melodic structure of the song did challenge you to do so. And quite well, I might add!
You looked lovely on stage and you gave a relaxed laid back performance of this very familiar Shania Twain song.
Good work, Crystal!
Critique: Crystal – oh dear – that spread mouth! I wanted to reach through the TV and squish your mouth into a circular formation. Week after week, this technical glitch in your vocal delivery has been a ubiquitous presence and it really is diminishing the full range and clarity of your vocal timbre. The circular formation of your mouth, when combined with a free and relaxed jaw, will urge you to access the powerful support located in your diaphragmatic support muscles.
Additionally, by correcting the above technical flaw, you will enjoy a seamless, even quality throughout your vocal range. For example, although the overall quality of your falsetto (head voice) was quite good, it didn’t flow easily from your natural voice and back again. The technical support in your lower range was unsteady and, therefore the transition from lower to upper voice and vice versa did not sound fluid or confident.
Also, your performance demeanor seemed somewhat tentative – you didn’t seem fully relaxed while singing this song. Now, I know you love Shania Twain – perhaps, you were a little intimidated? She certainly was a supportive mentor, so I can’t see why this would be the case. Or, perhaps it was a fatigue issue more than a nervous issue? Hard to say!
However, for whatever reason, the song lacked punch and attitude. You must remember that, even though you did prefer to deliver a laid back rendition of this song, you still needed to add a measured level of intensity. Because this never happened, the song did sound flat and linear throughout this Top 6 performance. There were no plateaus within the melodic line.
Added to this was your lack of facial expression. You must remember that Shania is a very visual artist and, as a result, exudes a ton of charisma when she performs. You lacked that all-important sparkle in your eyes and buoyancy in your physical demeanor – two very important performing elements that ensure a strong, meaningful connection with your audience.
I do agree with your statement that bigger is not necessarily better. However, Crystal, there must be committment and respect for the lyrics and the music and the emotion must be genuinely conveyed with conviction to the listeners. I felt that you needed to add more muscle to your sound and more inflection and nuance to the lyrical line. As a result, there was no forward momentum in this song and the phrasing elements were extremely limited.
Hopefully, next week, you will be back on track and able to perform a song that sits within the parameters of your vocal talent. You have a natural gift for delivering a song with musical ease and expressive authenticity. Therefore, select wisely and rehearse and refine every aspect of your performance. And, believe in your genuine artistry and give yourself permission to let it explode on that stage.
Good luck next week, Crystal!
Strengths: Lee – I am so glad that you selected this lovely ballad for your Top 6 performance. It really is one of the most beautiful ballads that Shania has recorded and it was a refreshing change to hear a male vocalist’s rendition of this song.
Generally, I thought you gave a wonderful performance of this song. I particularly enjoyed the melodic changes you made to the arrangement of this song.
I also noticed that you were grasping the general bel canto method of vocalizing. Some of the vowels, especially the rounder ones such as “ah” and “oh“, were well-focused and your mouth position was round and relaxed. Perfect!
Also, during the second half of this song, your voice sounded well grounded and brimming with that special blend of pure and raspy vocals that have distinguished you in this competition.
And I did notice that your head position was more centered and less inclined to move up when you sang through your higher register. You were still struggling with this new technical element, but, at the very least, I could sense and applaud your effort to correct this problem.
I also commended Shania’s suggestion to start this song with voice and piano, followed by the addition of the guitar and orchestration. This added a nicely layered effect to the song and augmented your powerful vocals when you moved into the refrain.
Veyr good work this week, Lee! Kudos!
Critique: Lee – during the opening segment of this number, you slid into your vocal delivery and, unfortunately, lost your balance. The vocals were off the radar and it struck me that, perhaps, that you were not connecting with the starting note or key of this song. Could you hear yourself in the monitors?
At any rate, your vocal sound was very airy and breathy during the front portion of this song and this coincided with the fact that you were singing through your lower range. As I have mentioned in previous weeks, you have to make absolutely certain that you are harnessing your lower vocals with diaphragmatic breath support.
It is very normal to want to relax the diaphragmatic support when singing lower and softer, but, in actuality, this is not a good idea. The diaphragmatic rib cage and back muscles have to maintain the same intensity and control throughout every area of your vocal and dynamic range. This is the only way the voice can sound consistent and seamless from top to bottom and from loud to soft.
This is why you encountered pitch issues early on in this song – your voice wasn’t grounded and, as a result, you struggled to get back on track. And, to a certain extent, you did. As I mentioned above, your power vocals were more animated and better tuned.
However, your general lack of support throughout this song inhibited you from connecting many of those tricky intervals in the melodic line, especially when you moved from a lower note to a higher one. The pitch was not centered or well-supported on the lower, resulting in a less than seamless connection to the higher note of the interval.
Therefore, you must continue to work on the continuity of support from your diaphragm. It must be established from the opening moments of a song, especially if the earlier portion of a song begins with a softer dynamic and/or in your lower register.
However, many of the sustaining elements in this song were fantastic and I did appreciate your special effort to taper many of your vowels. Also, for the most part, your jaw was quite relaxed – only the wider vowels, such as “ee” or “eh” interfered with this process and certainly not to the extent that it did last week.
You are growing and learning, Lee! Bravo! Keep up the excellent work!
Strengths: Michael – I never heard this song before, so I could evaluate it with an open mind. I couldn’t compare it to Shania’s rendition and, having said this, I thought you were very wise and prudent to select one of her less familiar songs.
Visually, you added some lovely depth to this number, starting from a seated position on the stairs and then moving toward your audience with comfort and ease. How I wish some of the other performers would lay their instruments aside and follow your lead. Or, at least travel with their instruments. For me, it makes a huge difference in the memory level of any performance.
As always, you did such a wonderful job adding inflection and nuance to this extremely repetitive melody. This was no easy task and you, being the stellar musician that you are, realized this. You made sure that the song glowed with definition and expressiveness. Therefore, we were treated to a lovely soulful flavor in this song performance, one that Shania totally embraced as shown through her swaying in the audience.
I also appreciated your effort to maintain a circular mouth formation, especially on the rounder vowels like “ah” and “oh“. It reinforced your vocal sound in specific areas of this song and gave us a glimpse into the rich beauty of your vocal instrument.
This was a meaningful and heartfelt performance and the expressive delivery of this number touched me so much.
Critique: Michael - you are still experiencing so many of the problems that I highlighted in last week’s evaluation. And, what is very disconcerting is the knowledge that your vocal problems are becoming increasingly obvious and prevalent with each passing week.
Particularly worrisome was that horizontal mouth position on some of those wider vowels like “eh” and “ee“. And, although I loved the tender head voice at the end of this song, I felt it needed more muscle and support from down below in the diaphragmatic area.
You just seemed to be running out of steam during this number and couldn’t summon up the energy to support your voice properly. You must be tired – you certainly came equipped to this competition with the correct technical approach but, in the last couple of weeks, you have abandoned it. Fatigue will do that to you - that and lack of proper preparation time.
Also, why are you raising your head? This will only cause you to needlessly strain to produce your vocal sound. You were working far too hard throughout this number, Michael. The performance didn’t look or feel effortless. For whatever reason, be it fatigue, stress or illness, your voice has lost its presence and resonance – the brilliance and sparkle has left the Idol building. And that is such a shame.
Here’s hoping that you are able to summon up the strength and resilience to cultivate the glorious vocal gift we came to know and love during the earlier stages of this competition.
Good luck, Michael! Courage!
Strengths: Siobhan – only you came equipped with the proper attitude necessary to convey this song in a way that embraces Shania’s brilliant rendition of this number. You started out with confidence and showmanship, energizing and encouraging the audience to clap along with you. What a great way to get the party rolling! Brava!
And so your journey began, as you strolled off the stage and established further connection with your audience. However, this did worry me at first – I thought that all this excessive movement would cause you to lose steam and, even worse, wreak vocal mayhem.
However, you paced this performance very well and made absolutely certain not to spend too much energy during the walking segments.This was an extremely wise decision considering the amount of vocal energy you infused throughout this performance and, in particular, at the end of this song.
This gave me a glimpse into the meticulous attention to detail you initiated during the rehearsal of this song. You, more than anyone else in this competition, understand how to maintain proper balance between the vocal and choreographic elements. Both the visual and aural dimensions of this number were exceptionally well done.
And let’s talk about that ending. You doubled the ascending passage at the end when singing the word “mine” – what a great moment that was for all of us and for you! Pretty amazing stuff, m’lady!
This was a superb performance, Siobhan! Kudos! Brava!
Critique: Siobhan – there is a disease going around the American Idol 9 singers and it’s called “horizontal mouth syndrome”. It appears that you have also been bitten by this annoying bug, particularly when approaching your “ee” vowel or “aye‘ diphthong.
As I mentioned last week, you have not fully ingrained the process of applying the circular mouth formation on those wider vowels, like “ee” or “eh“. As a result, your voice can suffer from an uneven quality in your vocal delivery. These vowels are very bright vowels and the roundness in your mouth position will add depth and brilliance to these vowels when vocalized. That nasty horizontal mouth position will only make these vowels sound strident and poorly focused.
Also, you need to adopt a purer approach to your diphthongs, particularly the “eye” diphthong. And again, you must avoid that prevalent horizontal spread in your mouth. By not fully sustaining your voice on the first pure vowel of that diphthong – “ah” – with a circular mouth formation, you are placing unneeded pressure on your vocal cords.
Finally, as I mentioned last week, you need to learn the importance of incorporating some head voice into the lower end of your vocal mix. Presently, your lower voice sounds very dark and poorly focused and it needs more sunshine aka head voice. Nasal resonance – not nasal tone - is an important vocal component in a singer’s timbre and it can only be initiated through proper diaphragmatic support and by making certain that the soft palate is fully raised.
To this end, make sure you remember to create some more space in your mouth when singing through your lower end and, more important, articulate your words with clarity and precision. It will add energy and forward direction to your vocal sound. Don’t get lazy down there and do not allow your diaphragmatic muscles to collapse.
However, all technicalities aside, this was a well prepared performance. Just outstanding! Brava once again!