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Vocal Masterclass Discussion For American Idol Season 9 Top 5 Show: The Music Of Frank Sinatra With Harry Connick Jr.


Harry Connick Jr. And Frank Sinatra

Picture Courtesy Of AmericanIdol.Com

This week, Harry Connick Jr., will mentor the five remaining singers of American Idol Season 9 as they attempt to re-invent the music of the legendary Frank Sinatra.

And you can tap into ITunes to view the enormous catalogue of songs generated by “Ole Blue Eyes” over the course of his phenomenal career.

Also, there will be no guitars this week. Finally!

There should have been a limit in place over the course of the entire season. Perhaps we would have witnessed further growth and artistry from the remaining singers.

However, with the knowledge that Harry Connick Jr. has written specific arrangements for each singer, I would imagine that the vocal stylings of the singers will sound new and, perhaps, unconventional.

However, I do hope that the fundamental structure of  Frank Sinatra’s songs remain intact and that the arrangements increase and not diminish the wonderful blend of music and lyrics.

Best of luck to the Top 5 Finalists and feel welcome to add your comments before, during and after the live telecast on Tuesday, May 4th.

Copyright © 2008. MasterclassLady.Com. All rights reserved.

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About Masterclass Lady

Rosanne (Giallonardo) Simunovic began her musical career in Timmins, Ontario. She studied piano with Anne Pizzale and later, at an advanced level, with Soeur Anita Vaugeois (Sister Cecile of Les Soeurs De L’Assomption in Timmins). Her vocal and accompaniment skills were nurtured by her aunt, the late Dorothea Mascioli. When Rosanne graduated from O’Gorman High School, she moved on to the University of Toronto where she continued her piano and vocal studies while attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She was hired as a piano accompanist for several musical companies, most notably, the National Ballet Of Canada. She presently holds an A.R.C.T. Teacher’s Diploma in Voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Rosanne has studied choral conducting with numerous well known Canadian Conductors, including Wayne Riddell of Montreal, Quebec and the internationally renowned Dr. Elmer Iseler. She has been a founding member of numerous community-based arts organizations: the Timmins Arts Council, later known as Arts & Culture Timmins, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra, and, the Timmins Youth Singers…as well as the TYS Alumnus choir, the Timmins Concert Singers. In 1987, she was also selected to be the conductor of the Timmins Board Of Education Choir, comprised of talented students from Grades 5 to 8. In 1988, she was elected to the Board Of Directors of the Ontario Choral Federation (now known as Choirs Ontario), where she served as Chair of the Festivals Committee for six consecutive seasons. In 1996, in honour of the Ontario Choral Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Rosanne was selected as one of 25 recipients of the OCF’s Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contribution to the choral art. The ceremony was presided by Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman. In November 1997, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Rotary Club Of Timmins to receive the prestigious Paul Harris Award for her years of dedication to the artistic development of young musical talent in Timmins. In August of 2002, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Board Of Directors of Choirs Ontario to serve as Conductor of both the Provincial Junior and Teen Choir Camps, now renamed in honour of the Camp Benefactors, Don and Lillian Wright. In November 2002, Rosanne was the one of the recipients of the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, honouring her work in the development of the arts in Timmins. Under Rosanne Simunovic’s direction, the Timmins Youth Singers and the Timmins Concert Singers have been featured in numerous choral festivals and performing opportunities outside of Timmins. In 1985, they were selected to partici

62 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Discussion For American Idol Season 9 Top 5 Show: The Music Of Frank Sinatra With Harry Connick Jr.”

  1. What an interesting concept!? Harry Connick, Jr. is arranging for each contestant? With such a theme, which highlights a genre that didn’t mix the singer with the songwriter, I understand, somewhat, not allowing guitars. I understand your bias, MCL, of preferring the vocal artist and emphasis, as well as the immersion in depending on your voice week to week as your artistic emphasis. I wonder though, if this type of challenge, is too preferential. Certainly ever week brings its own challenges, but it stands that the contestant must bring his or her own sense of artistry to the song rather than adapting to the genre. I’m not sure that this is the right test. No one expected Carol King to sing country, Johnny Cash to sing pop, or, for that matter, for Harry Connick, Jr. to sing the Beatles. Johnny Cash, however, certainly did do an amazing job of making all sorts of genres fit him on his “American” series.

    I think other vocal challenges like duets, singing with an onstage band, or singing a Capella would be better. Every pop star or rock star should be able to harmonize and have a stage presence with fellow artists, which is why I loved duets last year.

    That all said, I am looking forward to Frank week. Some of my favorite songs are: “It Was a Very Good Year,” “High Hopes” (ah well, Crystal showed us the danger of doing a fun sorta ditty), “I Get a Kick Out of You” (is that Cole Porter? anything Cole Porter, really), or “Summer Wind.” What’s really great about Sinatra is listening to different performances of songs. He did them differently every time. Sometimes, he’d talk to the audience or make a quick spoken interjections, change up the beats and rests, etc. I have a CD set of him on tour with a small band (5 or 6 pieces?) rather than a “big band” and it’s a different experience listening to him interact vocally with a small band and small crowds.

    MCL – two questions 1) On Glee, is Kurt a counter-tenor? and 2) is there a contact or a place to ask vocal questions?

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  2. “I don’t know why they voted you off and I don’t care, but you should be our American Idol”
    david letterman

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  3. It would be interesting to know which of remaining contestants can read music or who have any music theory training. Maybe the producers realized that this season needed real mentors as opposed to tor-mentors (AKA judge-mentors).

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  4. SurelyBSerious May 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    My favorite of the Old Blue Eyes is the “Thanks for the Memories.” My dad’s favorite, he is gone now, but I can hear him hum it.

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  5. I have some of Mr. Sinatra’s stuff from the forties and fifties that my grandfather loved. It was amazing the many layers of emotions he could evoke.

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  6. MCL,
    If you would be so kind, perhaps you could add a small critique of Siobhan’s Summertime in the mix or as comment? It’s great to see her singing relaxed without being in the pressure cooker.

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  7. Here are the songs from mjs blog.

    Aaron Kelly – “Fly me to the Moon” -

    Casey James – “Blue Skies” –

    Crystal Bowersox – “Summer Wind” –

    Mike Lynche – “The Way You Look Tonight” -

    Lee DeWyze – “That’s Life” –

    Like

  8. Yes, even though I’m a big Siobhan fan, I watched Idol tonight and I loved, loved, loved Lee’s performance. He was absolutely terrific tonight. I’ll bet Siobhan is really happy for him.

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  9. Lee was indeed very good. But, putting it all in perspective, this was the weakest Big Band night I have ever seen on American Idol

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  10. I am a long reader of this blog and I think it is time to start posting. It is nice to find a place where i can have a civilized discussion about idol. Louise, it is nice to see a Siobhan fan with a positive attitude. I also enjoyed Lee today. I felt like he connected to the lyrics and his vocal was terrific with very few pitch issues. I also enjoyed Mike today. He is extremly underrated around the internet.

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  11. Mika, I also thought that Mike was really good. I think he has a wonderful voice but I’ll be surprised if he actually wins because I know that some people don’t like his perceived “arrogance.” Personally, I don’t see that about him. I just think he has a lot of confidence.

    I think I was really surprised that Lee did so well tonight. I honestly didn’t think he had it in him to pull that off.

    And as much as I missed hearing Siobhan sing tonight, in some ways it was a relief not to have to be on pins and needles waiting to hear Kara and Simon belittle her.

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  12. Lee certainly did a wonderful job tonight. I can’t really say that I’m a big Lee fan, but he so much deserves to make it to the final 2!!
    I’ve been really down on Kara for her ridiculous and unfair comments in regards to Siobhan, but I have to say, I loved her comment to Lee that he should full heartedly believe he can win this competition.I’m not saying this out of disrespect for Casey, he’s had a few great performances this season, but why oh why did America choose him over Siobhan. This is a singing competition, is it not????

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  13. This is really a question concerning the acoustics on the stage and the comment Mr. Harry Connick Jr. made after Casey’s performance that it is hard to hear. I have seen that comment before this year. Why is is worse this year? Would ear buds help?

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  14. Why is this worse this year… Sorry about that typo…

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  15. best performance of the day was Siobhan`s Summertime

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  16. I have completely accepted that this year is not nearly as good as previous years. That is a fact. I decided back when the top 12 started that I wouldn’t be comparing to previous seasons. I have to look at the singers and not compare them to previous years, or else they will always fall short. Having said that, I enjoyed tonight’s performance, as I thought everyone stepped up and delivered better. It goes to show you the importance of good song choice.

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  17. Julia-I’m not sure this year the acoustics are any worse. I think it’s one of those things that has always been part of Idol, but rarely talked about. I think the problem is the the Idol stage is a TV sound stage first and a concert stage second. Ear-buds were allowed for a while in season 7. It was an advantage for those who were used to them a disadvantage for others so they stopped allowing them.

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  18. Julia – You asked a very good question. ;) If I’m interpreting your question correctly, you’re asking: why are the contestants experiencing more pitch problems this year and/or why are they having a harder time hearing themselves?

    I can think of two possible reasons right now. For one, the stage layout has changed over the years, and although the changes may be aesthetic improvements (people may disagree), it’s possible that the fancy upgrades are actually making things worse, at least in terms of whether or not singers can hear themselves. The location (and volume, I suppose, as well) of on-stage monitors have made it notoriously difficult for singers to hear themselves throughout the years.

    For another, the vocal coaches made the point that this year’s group of contestants is more inexperienced, so it just might be that these contestants have a harder time adapting to American Idol‘s sound system, which is already difficult enough for seasoned professionals. (I’ve heard some very talented guest mentors encounter pitch problems on the Idol stage!) These contestants may not be used to hearing so little of their own voices.

    And yes, in-ear monitors could possibly help. Many singers prefer them to on-stage monitors.

    jayray – I’m not sure of the acoustics are any worse either, although it’s certainly possible. It might just be harder for this group of contestants to adapt, which is highly understandable.

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  19. *I’m not sure of = I’m not sure if

    Those pesky typos! =P

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  20. Best performance of the day was Siobhan`s Summertime on Wendy

    she didnt hit couple notes but overall sound outstanding and refreshing.
    she sounded a smooth Janis Joplin, is the same tone she uses to sing stevie`s songs. She should sing more in this range because she is mesmerizing.

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  21. I really missed Siobhan this week, but Lee was a nice surprise.

    Anyone here remember Brian Melo on Big Band night? (Canadian Idol). I still remember his performance of Mack the Knife. He was awesome and totally worked that stage. Just reminiscing. LOL.

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  22. I really enjoyed the amazing Harry Connick Jr. tonight and his refreshing sense of humor. His arrangements were great however they sometimes fell short in the ears of our competitors. I hate to be brutally honest but the weak group of contestants left is horrifying. Is it not shocking that either Aaron or Big Ole Pompass, arrogant Mike will be in the final three if Casey is sent home tomorrow night which seems like a given. Neither of these contestants are deserving of that honor. Seemingly our judges just didn’t care about the quality of talent as they passed these people through. Crystal seems to be dropping somewhat similiar as to what happened to David Cook near the end when they kept giving him bad reviews to pimp Archie. That doesn’t work, then we have Lee who is the Chosen One this week. The judges just did not give us a good year. Nasty critiques like Simon gave Casey tonight (*said he sounded like a goat) are totally unnecessary. Judging and poor talent is really bad this year hence poor ratings appear. Aaron should have left weeks ago and Mike should not have been saved. We did have some good talent but obviously not good enough. The kid doesn’t have the chops or consistantcy to win, neither does Mike who thinks he is the best thing since sliced bread. I refuse to vote any longer and quite possibly will not watch anymore. Kara is a horrible judge and thinks she is the second coming so I just mute her. If this show goes on, they have to replace more than Simon. Enough said, this is the weakest season ever.

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  23. I think Harry Connick Jr. was a great mentor! He put in a lot of work. Frank Sinatra made it look easy when he sang these classic songs, but for mere mortals they can be quite difficult. The melodies are tricky and complex and quite challenging. I think we had a mixed bad tonight. Overall, a bit disappointing but there were two really good performances.

    Aaron just sings his little heart out! You have to love this kid. I don’t know that this was the best song for him, but no matter what he picked it was always going to be a tough task to try to emulate Sinatra’s cool and swagger. This guy is just seventeen! He always gives it his best effort, fights on some of the notes but never gives up. I think if we heard him sing this in two years it would sound entirely different. But I really admire his earnestness and perseverance.

    Casey was really in a difficult spot this week. He seemed so lost without his guitar. I don’t think “Blue Skies” was a good choice for him. This song is just too challenging for his voice. But I think what did him in was sheer nerves. Harry Connick Jr. said he sang it well in rehearsal, so I have to believe that the tension and nerves compromised his vocals. He was way out of his comfort zone. One thing I noticed was when Kara blurted out that ridiculous comment about his vibrato sounding like a lamb! I saw Casey’s Mom in the audience and she jumped out of her seat and pointed her finger at Kara like she wanted to scratch her eyes out! Mom did NOT like that particular analogy! So classy, Kara! Like she hasn’t heard this from him in previous weeks. I guess this was his week to be thrown under the bus. Simon all but told him to pack his bags. I am not into being too critical anymore. I have had enough of it listening to the judges. Casey loves his guitar and should be fronting a band and playing small venues. He can sing his blues and country and will do well. This isn’t his thing.

    Crystal seemed kind of uncomfortable to me. I love “Summer Wind”. I have listened to Michale Buble’s version many times. Again this is a case of being taken out of your comfort zone. A great pop standard will expose any weaknesses in your voice and that’s what happened with Crystal. She has trouble enunciating the words and that will really create problems with a song like this. I think it’s going to be tough for her, having had such a moment with “People Get Ready”. How do you top that? But Simon said something that I have been waiting to hear for weeks. This is the Simon I have been looking for all season. He genuinely likes her and told her that she needs to up her game. Crystal didn’t seem to be hearing what he was trying to tell her. That’s why he said that he is trying to help her. He is concerned that she won’t be able to maintain the momentum heading to the finale. If she listened and didn’t talk back, she might have understood what he was saying.

    Can I say how much I love big Mike? I was hoping that he would do well this week. I wasn’t disappointed! I loved his performance! Way to go, Mike! MCL will discuss the technical elements. I am just thrilled with how he sang the song, how he got into the words and feeling and swing of it. Harry Connick Jr. gave him a terrific arrangement. I think he sounded better this week, the technical vocal skills seemed to be much better, but the performance itself was just brilliant! Whatever happens, Mike has shown us all what he’s made of, who he is.

    I think “That’s Life” was a great song choice for Lee. It suited his voice perfectly. I don’t know what Harry Connick Jr. said, but somehow he managed to give Lee enough confidence to just go out there, relax and sing! He was actually smiling and moving and connecting with the audience. The performance value was excellent! I definitely heard pitch problems all through the song. I think this time the artistry trumped his vocals. I am concerned about his pitch issues, but he captured the essence of the song and gave a wonderful interpretation.

    I think Mike and Lee did the best by far. The others were not nearly as good. It certainly wasn’t the best pop standards week I have ever heard, but Harry Connick Jr. worked his heart out and deserves a good deal of the credit for getting a few terrific performances.

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  24. Lee was indeed very good. But, putting it all in perspective, this was the weakest Big Band night I have ever seen on American Idol.

    This is very true!

    Michael Slezak from E.W. wrote:

    Whenever American Idol swings into big-band mode, great things happen. Season one gave us Kelly’s “Stuff Like That There” and Tamyra’s “Minnie the Moocher.” Season five found Paris nailing “These Foolish Things,” Daughtry changing gears on “What a Wonderful World,” and Katharine tearing up “Someone to Watch Over Me.” And last year’s (Seson 8) Rat Pack night found Kris, Adam, Allison, Matt, and Danny in terrific vocal form. So say what you want about “relevance” or “being current” — don’t get me wrong, I’d love a “songs written in the post-2000 era” night — you can’t blame Ken Warwick & Co. for taking a stroll down Standards Lane.

    http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/05/04/american-idol-top-5-sinatra-connick/

    Strangely, he forgot to mention the “Big Band” theme from Season 3 – Top 5. There were some wonderful songs that night. Diana DeGarmo was just awesome. Well, they all were good… mostly because they could sing. It was a strong TOP 5.

    Tonight was a major disappointment. It was not the theme, and God bless Harry Connick, Jr. for all his efforts! I agree Lee did a nice job, and Crystal was not as bad as the judges implied. Ofcourse, I will think about Siobhan singing, “My Way” – how couldn’t I? Mike did the same thing he has done in previous weeks which shows no growth on his part. I cannot believe he will be part of the TOP 3. Aaron really struggled but may survive another week.

    Now, Kara mentions the lamb’s (goat) vibrato, but Casey has displayed that several times and the judges ignored it. I think Casey will have an opportunity for success, but it is his looks that will make that even more possible. Whereas, Lee does have a good voice. Reminder, he is not a paint salesman with no singing experience. Idol fails to recognize that he did record two albums.

    I do think they will get their desired Crystal vs Lee finale, but I would rather have seen Siobhan. I really thought she would be TOP 3. I guess I am still in shock. Please give me a little bit more time.

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  25. The good folks at AI have just put up a very detailed questionaire for viewers to fill out. It looks like they are examining all aspects of the program in an effort to improve its ratings.

    http://www.americanidol.com/news/view/pid/3087/?ref=socialmedia_2010_05_04_IdolSurvey2010

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  26. Dear J. –

    Thank you for the comments concerning the sound system and acoustics. I am giving all the contestants a pass on Sharps, Flats, and Pitch issues – please give them all ear pieces for the remaining weeks!

    I had to cool down a bit after last night’s disappointing evening – I do WANT to like this group of contestants.

    Here is my non-technical appraisal of last night.

    Harry Connick Jr. – Mentor –

    A+ – One of the best mentors ever on American Idol – Thank you for all the time, work, and especially the humor.

    My only regret is that Siobhan did not have the opportunity to work with this professional.

    Aaron – “Fly Me To The Moon” –

    B+ For all the effort and heart and going first into the dragon’s mouth this evening, I though that he had the pacing and phrasing but lacked the emotional depth that only comes with years.

    Casey – “Blue Skies” –

    C I think that Mr. James is not a solo performer but a musician that needs his band and instruments to be in his comfort zone.

    Crystal – “Summer Wind” -

    B I agree that Ms. Bowersox did not enunciate and could not narrate her story here.

    Performing these Jazz and Big Band standards looks deceptively easy because we have had so many wonderful artists – Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Anita Baker, and Doris Day to name some of my favorites — that have made it sound like smooth silk. We have been spoiled.

    Mike – “Someone To Watch Over Me”

    A Best of the evening – He has an amazingly pure sweet sound and I BELIEVED him tonight and for some reason I could hear Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight”.

    I just think that Mr. Lynche is just too overwhelming (by this I mean that his personality and voice are too large for our puny little home screens and living rooms). He is a wonderful artist and I hope I can see him in performing on a live stage.

    Lee – “That’s Life”

    B+ I thought Lee was overrated by the judges last night. I listened to this again this morning. Mike had the best performance. Lee had a good performance, but probably plays better in our living rooms.

    Judges –

    Ellen gets an A for injecting humor (the banter with Mr. Harry worked
    into this painful process.

    Randy –

    C+ for at least showing some compassion.

    Simon and Kara –

    F What are the contestants supposed to do with the information they were given this evening? a Mouse? a Lamb? What were they thinking?

    American Idol –

    D (saved from going to a dark place by choosing Mr. Harry Connick, Jr. as a mentor).

    Like

  27. Dialidol Predictions (Top 5)

    Dial Idol is very strange – no one is safe this week – all yellow. Has everyone given up on the rest of the season?

    http://idolbloglive.com/idolblog/?p=9793

    Lee
    Mike
    Aaron
    Crystal
    Casey

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  28. For any Big Band My Funny Valentine – Melinda Doolittle is my favorite along with Just Like That There Kelly Clarkson.

    I also respect Mr. David Cook for his intelligent arrangements. In fact, I think Mr. Cook made a bigger impact on AI than almost any other Idol because he CHANGED the way we see the contestants – we expect so much more of them.

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  29. If this is the best that an experienced, expert, engaged mentor like Harry Connick Jr. could get out of the Top 5….well. Frank Sinatra sang some of the best songs in the Great American Songbook, so it should have been a total gimme week. Yes, many–perhaps most–of the songs are far from as simple as they sound, but, unlike most songwriters today, the Tin Pan Alley songsmiths deliberately wrote songs to be eminently singable–tunes that didn’t jump around but built organically, big notes placed on open vowels, all due consideration given to the technicalities of singing. (Because the songs were most often bought by the singers themselves, and if they weren’t comfortable singing them, they didn’t buy them and the songwriter would starve.) I was very disappointed, overall. Perhaps the bigger band was a problem for the singers?

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  30. I didn’t really pay that much attention to the performances but Kara’s comment, while accurate, came off very rude to me. I dunno why I’m still expecting something different from the judges after all that I’ve seen and heard (using the contestants as a verbal punching bag, Kara cutting off Simon’s critique, etc), maybe I should stop.

    Grammie Kari we are feeling the same way! I still feel like I got cheated out of a potentially epic (or not) performance from Siobhan this week. *sigh*

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  31. The star performance this week was from Harry Connick Jr. He redefined the role of an American Idol mentor. I don’t know how many other professionals could duplicate his efforts but I would like to see them try. He was outstanding on every level. He was able to bond with each of the contestants, putting them at ease with his own self confidence and humor. He stepped outside of the box that had previously been drawn around guest mentors by providing a custom arrangement for each contestant. I was astounded when I saw that he would actually be accompanying them on stage for their big performance. It is very generous for a professional performer to put his own reputation on the line by being as personally engaged as Harry Connick Jr was this week. Well done!

    If they would fire the two judges who are dead to me, they could probably afford to put him on staff and maybe have enough money left over to hire a hard working, highly qualified vocal coach to round the judges panel back out to three.

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  32. Sue,

    Thanks very much for posting the link to the Idol survey. I just took it and feel good that I was able to express my opinion–especially about Kara.

    I also want to mention that I watched Lee’s performance again this morning and found that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did last night. I think my reaction to it last night was because it was one of the better ones of the night, not because it was so perfect. I do think he did a fairly good job and he definitely exceeded my expectations of what he was capable of doing.

    And, Gene, I completely agree with you about Harry Connick, Jr. I’ve NEVER seen a guest mentor, with the exception of maybe Barry Manilow, give so much help to the contestants. I was shocked and very impressed that he actually accompanied them. Plus his interaction with the contestants was terrific!!!

    Like

  33. Hello to Mindy and all the other regulars here, and to all newcomers as well!!!!

    Hope all of you are healthy and happy!

    Love Lee! Would like to see him win it all….Yes, I understand and accept that many would disagree that he doesn’t have the best voice, and having absolutely zero abilities to assist me in critiquing how well any of these folks are able to sing; more likely then not, technically speaking, he does not have the best voice.

    But, for lots of us, it’s not the quality of one’s voice that matters, but the character of the voice, and just what it is that voice is trying to convey. For this reason, I am most drawn to Lee.

    I feel really bad for Casey! I like and understand where he’s coming from, and believe I do know just what it is he’s trying to say, but he can’t seem to put it all together and make it work. A shame really. For me, he and Lee are the best “artists” of the pack.

    Crystal, Mike and Aaron just aren’t my cup of tea. Not that they are not good. They just don’t stir my soul.

    That’s all I got!!!!! Hope you are all having fun discussing Idol this season!!!

    Good health and happiness to all!

    Like

  34. I WAS very impressed with the effort and commitment Harry Connick Jr. displayed. As Louise said, so far as I can recall, only Barry Manilow got as involved–and Barry Manilow didn’t put himself on the stage to back up the singers.

    And here’s Harry singing the same song Mike sang last night…oh, yeah, he knows how to do it!

    (MCL, maybe you could help by embedding this too? :) )

    Like

  35. skid,

    How are you? It’s been too long! So great to see you back. I totally get where you are coming from with Lee. I really understand. You make a great point that it’s not always about the best pure voice. Sometimes it’s about connecting with someone who sings in a way that appeals to you. I don’t think you are along by a long shot in liking Lee.

    Gene,

    You are still the man! I completely agree with you about Harry Connick Jr. as a mentor. Talk about throwing down a gauntlet! This is what should be happening every week, as far as I am concerned. Bring on a mentor who is willing to spend a significant amount of time with these young people, get to know them a bit, understand their voices and how best to use them. Harry Connick Jr. put in the time to write the arrangements, bring his band, and go out there and be on that stage with them. He did all that anyone could do to help them be their very best.

    I have listened to the performances again, with my eyes closed as I like to do and here are my thoughts.

    Aaron is just not quite there yet. As I said in my previous comments, if he was about two years older this would sound very different. He doesn’t yet have the attitude that Sinatra brought to his songs. I still don’t love this song for him, but vocally he did about as well as he could. It’s the intangibles, the confidence, the maturity, the cool and swagger that Sinatra was able to bring, the sheer performance value, that is just not there yet. But Aaron should be proud of what he has accomplished in this competition.

    Casey was just too nervous to pull this off. When Harry Connick Jr. said that he sang it well in rehearsal, then that tells me all I need to know. I feel for him, because he was lost without his guitar. He tried his best, but it sounded like he might have lost the melody. Watching it again and seeing his Mom’s reaction when Kara made her comment about him sounding like a lamb, was priceless. Her mouth actually dropped open. She was furious! She kept yelling to Casey as Simon was giving his critique. I would love to know exactly where Kara has been this season. Is this the first time she has heard Casey’s vibrato? If it is, then she needs to get her hearing checked, because it has been much more prominent in other performances. How come she didn’t say anything earlier? Ridiculous! I think Casey will be fine doing what he loves best – playing his guitar and singing those bluesy songs. We have seen him at his best with “Jealous Guy” and “Don’t”.

    I found it interesting that Ellen was the only one to observe how Crystal seemed to swallow the words. She is the one judge who really doesn’t have any technical knowledge, yet she pinpointed the problem. Listening with my eyes closed, I heard the lack of enunciation and the breathiness that resulted in the words getting lost. I didn’t think Crystal was entirely comfortable with this style of singing. She still has that distinctive voice and hit some nice notes, but it wasn’t memorable. Simon is now trying to get her to step it up, but she doesn’t seem to want to hear it. He did for Crystal what I wished he would have done for Siobhan. But she got too defensive. I said that they were not doing her any favors with the incessant, unqualified praise. No one is perfect. But they have been so deferential to her that they are partly responsible for her inability to take any criticism, even if it is well intentioned.

    Mike was a revelation on a second listen. Just simply marvelous! I will wait for MCL’s critique, but I thought he was much better technically. He wasn’t drowned out by the band as Casey and Crystal seemed to be. He hit every note beautifully. It was a truly exceptional blend of vocal skill and great artistic interpretation. For me this is now my favorite performance. I fear that voices like Mike’s will become extinct, like the dinosaur. There is nothing like hearing a technically skilled performance, infused with a real respect for the words, feeling and emotion of the song. No matter what happens, Mike has done himself proud.

    Listening to Lee, I could hear some pitch issues, maybe a bit of losing the melody, but this was a strong performance from him. This is probably my least favorite Sinatra song, but it was a perfect fit for his voice. I think he was more comfortable and confident than I have ever seen him. I credit Harry Connick Jr. for that. I watched it again with my eyes open and could appreciate his engagement with the audience. He has these bedroom blue eyes that should drive the women crazy. I think the judges are not pimping him over Crystal.

    I know one thing – I do not want to see Kara as a judge on this show. She is an embarrassment, a poseur, someone who is so involved with herself that she can’t properly give the contestants the attention they deserve. Her critiques come off as phony, insincere, filled with cliches and totally irrelevant. This show needs to do some serious retooling if it wants viewers to come back next season. This season has been a debacle.

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  36. Sorry for the silly typos again!

    I don’t think you are ALONE by a long shot in liking Lee.

    I think the judges are NOW pimping him (Lee) over Crystal.

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  37. SurelyBSerious May 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Hi Skid, Good to see u here. I remember your name This is only my 2nd year and just beginning to know others. I do not have knowledge in music but enjoy to read Masterclass Lady’s comments about the contestants.

    My 2 cents. I was disappointed about last night because the week before was all-stars. They all did well and enjoyed it tremendously.

    Last night, meh. I cringed when Casey, Crystal and Aaron was on.

    For me, my fav was Tim Urban. I can hear the song he did during Beatles’ week~~All My Loving. Being a Beatle fan from the 60s and saw them live at the Chicago Shea Stadium—Tim had that sound–the melodic sound that made the Beatles famous and popular. He did not do well the week that made him eliminated.

    But like Harry said last night, it is hard to hear on the stage and right, someone else mentioned that they should wear those ear-thingys. Harry said that Casey nailed it 2 hours earlier. Too bad. He DOES have star quality but rough around the edges. Dunno why, because he had been on stage before. But like someone else earlier said here….his solos are meh. But Jealous Guy was his golden moment…although I noticed if they are not prepared on the stage right before they sing—uh-oh…gotta concentrate!! That is what happened to Crystal too, IMHO.

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  38. Mindy –

    Your critique said it all so much better than I. This is why I come to this website.
    Kudos!

    Bless you Master Class Lady for creating this forum -

    You have proven that Cyberspace does not have to be a vast wasteland full of raging and inarticulate voices.

    While we all feel passionate, you have provided a great civilized forum in which we may discuss and explore ideas.

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  39. Julia,

    You should read MCL’s critique of the performances. She pointed out things that I missed. That’s why she is the expert here. Sometimes I hear things that I cannot identify. I decided to pretty much spare Aaron any criticism of the technical aspects of his performance. I heard it, but just didn’t feel like going there. MCL did her usual brilliant job of addressing it in her constructive and supportive way. Aaron was really struggling, but I just wanted to commend him for hanging in there and working hard.

    I also didn’t go after Casey. It would have been redundant. I think we all realized that this was probably his weakest performance vocally. The technical aspect wasn’t there, but again I decided to leave it in MCL’s capable hands. I still do not think that Kara should have said that he sounded like a lamb. MCL did point out that he even lost the vibrato aspect of his vocals. It deteriorated to tremolo and that’s not a good thing. But I really did not expect him to be able to deliver with this style of music.

    I heard Mike sounding much better, but MCL pointed out that some of his ongoing technical issues. I hope the stress and pressure of this competition isn’t getting to him, because he has always had the best pure voice. I still loved his performance, but am concerned about the technical problems that MCL pointed out.

    I liked Lee more this week than I have in a long time. If you want the definitive critiques MCL is the one to whom I defer. I have some vocal technical background and my pitch perfect musical ear, but I am far from an expert. I have learned so much since I have come to this site. You will learn a good deal, too. I appreciate your kind words. I just speak from my heart and always trust what my ears tell me.

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  40. Dear Mindy and MCL -

    Yes – to both of you on your evaluations of the contestants and I think I understand the points you have made.

    I am just a devoted amateur music gourmand who participated in school plays, choir, church and took minimal music theory and lessons. My brother got the real musical ear and soul from our father and our father’s mother. I think we can learn to participate in and appreciate music; but I believe that the magic gift or talent is inside of a few chosen ones that need support, luck/opportunity, training, and work/practice.

    I love to learn and this provides a great environment for that.

    I liked Mike’s performance better than Lee’s last evening and that is just my preference.

    I do not know where these two will end up – I can see Lee winning the prize this year if he can keep improving through the season. I think MCL is correct in saying that Mike is not as technically proficient now as when the season began.

    I wish we could get Siobhan to rest and find a great coach to help save her voice. Even the great ones (for example, Callas) have had issues maintaining their instruments.

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  41. Dear Julia,

    You are very welcome; thanks for your clever reply! ;)

    I can only imagine how much of a nightmare it is to hear on that stage! Some of the stages I’ve dealt with were very difficult as well, and it’s absolutely frustrating to not be able to hear oneself over the band and everything else. (The contestants admit all the time that they don’t always hear the judges’ critiques over the audience’s screaming, but they don’t seem to mind, lol.) When I perform on difficult stages, I always find myself wishing I had Mindy’s perfect pitch, hehe! ;)

    Thanks for the mention of Ella Fitzgerald; I absolutely adore her! And I believe Mindy will appreciate the reference you made to Maria Callas very much as well. ;) Maria’s vocal decline really was such a shame. Vocal decline saddens me so much in general. Being a singer myself, I can’t bear the thought of no longer being able to sing. I do hear of singers who retain their voices well into their 60s and 70s, though, and I certainly endeavor to be one of them (if God gives me the opportunity to live that long and wills it so).

    I completely agree with everyone—you, Gene W, Louise, REReader (thanks for the wonderful video of Harry’s performance!), Mindy—that Harry was in a league of his own as a mentor! What a breath of fresh air and a true musician! He has a wonderful sense of humor (it was hilarious seeing Ellen engage with that!), a true sense of compassion for the contestants, and a true understanding of his craft. Why aren’t all the mentors like this? I also agree with Gene and Mindy that Harry displayed remarkable generosity, lending his band, his arranging skills, and his accompanying skills as well.

    *

    Dearest Mindy,

    I still do not think that Kara should have said that he sounded like a lamb.

    I completely agree! Casey looked so hurt in his facial expression; my heart really ached for him. I’m sure Casey is under no illusions about his vibrato; it’s probably a sore spot for him as well. Kara really committed a faux pas by mentioning the elephant in the room. I still can’t really believe she went there. I don’t see why it was necessary to mention Casey’s vibrato now if she never bothered to mention it before. *sighs*

    I know it must be a struggle to come up with a critique (and a metaphor) on the spot, but sometimes, Kara and Simon really do say things that make me scratch my head and wonder…

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  42. Dearest J,

    I just am in such awe of you at times like this, that I honestly don’t know to say! I feel a little undeserving when people compliment me, because you are the one who has helped me to understand what my ears hear. You are the one who has taught me to trust in this gift that I have been given for reasons I will never understand. I was quite an average singer with an okay voice, but this musical ear is something I always had even when I a little girl. My parents realized that I had something and that’s why they bought me my own little record player. I used to run around the house and sing to the opera records my Mom played. I grew up listening to the great musicals and trying to sing along. Music and singing has been in my blood.

    Ella Fitzgerald is my lady! I have her songs downloaded from itunes on my custom made cd’s. I sing right along with her all the time to “Blue Moon”, “But Not For Me” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Whatever key she sings is the right one. I can sing along with the great, one and only Ella as I am driving my car! So much fun! I remember watching a special that was broadcast on TCM some time ago,featuring Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in an old TV special. Talk about a master class! They were both at the very peak of their vocal prowess and it was spectacular. At one point when they were doing a duet, Frank Sinatra just looked at Ella while it was her turn to sing and had this look of awe, admiration and real affection on his face. They were going back and forth and then Ella did her scat singing. I was just listening to these two work their magic. My ears were on a high with their flawless singing. I was thinking to myself -these two can never be replaced! I gave them my own personal standing “O” at the end!

    Maria Callas was my Mom’s favorite opera singer. She has all her records. I grew up listening to her. But I had to get a lot older before I could really appreciate her. I have read everything about her and the tragic decline of her voice. I read somewhere that when she couldn’t sing anymore, she said that she didn’t want to live. My musical ears love her voice! When she was at her best, no one could come close. She sang notes that I didn’t think existed. I would love to know her range and the highest note she was able to sing. She was such a dramatic singer and put her body, heart and soul into her performances. I think my Mom was in shock when I told her that I was listening to Maria Callas and other great sopranos. Now she knows that all those records I heard when I was young lived inside me all these years. Her efforts to instill a love of great music and singing were not in vain.

    After Siobhan was voted off, I spoke long distance with my Mom and told her how grateful I was that she took me to museums, ballet and Broadway. She seemed so surprised, but really happy. I told her that her efforts weren’t wasted. She raised me to know the best when I heard it. I wanted to celebrate that in the midst of my sadness at Siobhan going home.

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  43. Sorry guys for the typos. I don’t know if it pays to call them all out, but hopefully you will understand what I was trying to say. When I get excited, I type too fast.

    Julia,

    You are such a sweet person! I am merely a student of MCL. She has given me a window into understanding this gift that I have. I don’t know that there are words to say what she has meant to me. This site is such a haven, where we can converse with respect and civility and understand the miracle of the human voice. I think MCL knows how much I admire her. Somehow, the words never seem to be enough, but I hope she knows that I will be forever grateful to her.

    I agree with you that Lee may have given the better performance, but Mike was my favorite. I guess this was one time when his sheer artistry surpassed the technical issues. I hope he will be okay and take care of his voice. I am concerned that he is losing some of that technique. It’s something of which he should be proud, because you don’t often see people on this show who are grounded in good vocal technical skills. He must be suffering from exhaustion, like the others.

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  44. Question: Is it just that the judges have ignored Casey’s vibrato to date, or that he probably already knows it is a problem that mentioning it the other night was a faux pas? If it is the elephant in the room, then what is the point — on a reality show — of ignoring its existence?

    Is anyone doing Casey any favors by pretending it isn’t there? I mean, professionally speaking?

    Some weeks he seems to have it more under control than others. Not having any clue what causes it, I don’t know if it is something a singer can reduce or eliminate, or if it is just part of who you are as a singer.

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  45. Jeanne You asked some very good philosophical questions! I actually wrote you a lengthy post that Firefox subsequently ate (*sadness!* God must be telling me something, I’m sure), so I’ll try to summarize as succinctly as possible what I wanted to say.

    I do think that there is a constructive space for mentioning Casey’s vibrato. In the right context, buffered by the right factors, I think Kara could’ve delivered a different presentation of that critique, and it would’ve been understand and maybe even appropriate. My main issue is with the timing. I feel that if the judges intended to mention Casey’s vibrato at all this season, they should’ve mentioned it much earlier in the competition (I was very surprised when none of the judges did so in response to “Heaven,” where I noticed it very prominently) and/or in response to an otherwise good performance (to cushion the blow, so to speak). I suspect that Casey is absolutely aware of his vibrato issues, and in fact, his vibrato may very well be one of his weaker, sensitive spots, which is why I felt that Kara really hit him where it hurts the other night. Casey’s facial expression certainly suggested as much; he seemed rather hurt. Simon mentioned feeling uncomfortable, and that’s how I felt about Kara’s comment as well. It wasn’t that it was untrue; it was just very ill-timed and tactlessly presented. I am certain that Casey knew what Kara meant even before the “baaa” demonstration. So, in your response to your question, for me, the fact that Casey problem already knows his vibrato is a problem is a huge factor, and timing is the other: why mention the vibrato now after ignoring it in so many performances? There were so many instances that would’ve been much more opportune; doing so the other night, in my opinion, just came off as insensitive in context.

    [I said much, much more, but that's the CliffNotes version. =P]

    Also, vibrato problems can certainly be fixed! Carmen Rasmusen, who was commonly panned for her “goat” vibrato during her Idol run, has made remarkable headway in that department. And really, the speed of a singer’s vibrato is a pretty reliable indicator of how healthy his/her vocal production is. A pleasant vibrato is a natural byproduct of healthy singing. “Unusual” speeds suggest issues with airflow and/or cord closure and also unnecessary tension (e.g. in the jaw, tongue, etc.).

    See if these articles help:

    http://www.voiceteacher.com/vibrato.html

    http://www.voiceteacher.com/wobble.html

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  46. YIKES. Clearly, I did not proofread the main paragraph in the last post at all. >.<

    Here is what I meant:
    *understand = understandable
    *So, in your response to your question = To summarize, then…
    *Casey problem = Casey probably

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  47. Hi Skid…I had to pop back in and say hi to you, glad to see you posting again!

    Lee’s my pick this year too, I want a Lee, Crystal, and Casey top three.

    I need to scoot, have a great day everyone!

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  48. Thanks, J. I have to say that I haven’t had a chance to watch the show this week yet. I wasn’t home when it aired and fast-forwarded through it just to get an idea of how everyone performed and didn’t listen to the judges. I’ll watch the whole thing this weekend. I do agree that the judges should have mentioned the vibrato earlier in the season, but even if they chose to not do so, to discuss it by imitating a lamb is wholly inappropriate. While Simon can sometimes be blunt and cruel (which, if I remember correctly, is really why AI took off and became so popular years ago), he does at least have some personal dignity which would prevent him from imitating livestock and would instead use a metaphor.

    I do cut the judges more slack than some other people do, not because I necessarily approve of their approaches — sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t — but because every contestant knows or ought to know what they might encounter when it comes to critiques. Reality television survives by creating drama, and the critiques are part of the drama. Kara can be a little classless and in love with her image, but you know what? We saw that last season, it doesn’t surprise me that it has blossomed now that she is in her sophomore year and Paula isn’t around. I was surprised and disappointed that they invited her back for another season, but it’s their show and their call, and so I either don’t watch the judges’ comments or else fast forward through them if I decide I don’t want to hear what they say. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over it.

    I do think in general, though, that the AI contestants deserve the judges’ honest opinions and don’t necessarily feel that it should be delivered with chocolate topping and whipped cream. Sometimes the only way to get your point across to an artist is to hit them over the head with a sledgehammer. It’s amazing how wonderful people can think they are (remember some of those horrendous auditions where you know the non-singer really thought they could sing.) Well, this disease doesn’t just affect the talentless; it can actually be worse for the people who are pretty good.

    If someone really wants to make it in this business, they need to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. The people who ignore the ugly — and we all have it — are the ones who end up working a desk job instead of being an artist.

    You know, AI offers an incredible opportunity to anyone who makes it to Hollywood week, and an especially great opportunity to anyone who makes it to the Top 12. The sort of experiences and, more importantly, the exposure that every AI contestant gets is incredible, and I think the contestants mostly appreciate that. It is the fans that sometimes have a difficult time with it.

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  49. J,

    I am in complete agreement with your comments about bringing up Casey’s vibrato issue. I have been quite perplexed that the judges haven’t mentioned it earlier. I think there were several performances where that sound that Kara mentioned, was more than evident.

    I think that what I take issue with is the arbitrariness of some of the criticism. Why bring up Casey’s vibrato issue at this relatively late date in the competition? Kara knows that Casey has had this so-called bleating lamb sound on previous performances. So why now? I don’t think critiques need to be sugar-coated, as much as I think they should have some element of constructive advice. Give the contestant something to work on, to improve, a goal. Provide specifics if needed. I realize that the entertainment element of the program is important, but I don’t think all relevant criticism need be thrown out the window to achieve it. Ellen has included humor in her critiques, to great effect. Sometimes it can make it easier to take. I don’t see why crassness and rudeness need be the order of the day.

    I think Harry Connick Jr. may have provided a good formula when he mentored the contestants this week. He managed to get his point across about what they needed to do, but did it in a way that wasn’t hostile, angry, threatening or derisive. That’s what you do if you honestly want to help these young people succeed. If it’s just about throwing them out there and seeing how can handle the insults and digs the best, well, then that is something I do not wish to watch. Tough love can be given in such a way that a person is left with their dignity intact. One doesn’t have to be psychologically destroyed in order to understand how tough you need to be to survive in the music business.

    I have no problem with the contestants hearing the good, the bad and the ugly, but if you resort to crass and lame name calling and insults, then they aren’t going to hear it. Instinctively, people recoil and withdraw when they are attacked. That is why strong criticism can be tempered with some measure of simple common decency.

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  50. Sorry, typo again. If it’s just about throwing them out there and seeing WHO can handle the insults and digs the best.

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  51. Jeanne and Mindy,

    Thank you for your replies! You both made lovely posts, and I agree with pretty much all of your points! I wish I could thoroughly reply to all of them, but I’m afraid I’m much too verbose as is. Your thoughts really had me thinking about one particular issue I wanted to address, though, and I decided to devote my post to honing in on that specific issue. I apologize in advance for digressing at parts!

    I just realized why I found this particular set of critiques so tough to swallow; after hearing them, I felt hopeless. It’s moments like this when I wish the judging panel had more technical knowledge. The judges point out a lot of problems, but they don’t give any solutions. If I were Casey, I don’t know if I would have taken anything away from those critiques besides feeling untalented, vocally uncoordinated, and so on. If a performance is bad, I don’t think that the judges should pretend it’s good, but I think the judges should give the contestants advice that they can really sink their teeth into. Good constructive advice empowers, not debilitates. Ideally, the contestants should be able to walk away feeling hopeful: “Okay, I didn’t do so well, but the judges really gave me tools I could work with and help me improve!”

    The biggest thing I want all singers to combat is a “fixed mindset” towards talent (and/or skill level; not synonymous, but related ideas) and the mistaken notion that “types of voices” exist. What I mean is this: yes, voice type exists in the sense that voices can be categorized according to fach (soprano, mezzo, tenor, etc.), but I strongly dislike artificial distinctions that suggest that singers have a certain “type of voice” (e.g. a “Broadway type of voice”) that prevents them from ever singing any other genre successfully. If a given singer is skilled at Broadway but unable to perform rock music, it is not that the singer was genetically programmed to sing only Broadway music; it’s that the singer never developed the particular technical and stylistic skill set needed to pull off rock music—that is, heavier coordinations; effects like growls, healthy raspiness, and distortion; the inflections of rock phrasing; and so on. There are no “types of voices” in this latter sense; there’s only technique.

    My main critique of Casey’s performance is that he lacked the nuance, inflection, and phrasing to pull off a jazzy piece like this—one with a relatively simple melody. Simple melodies naturally put the burden on the singer to do something memorable with them. Casey’s vocal was respectable within his capabilities, but this genre and song choice really highlighted his technical deficiencies. That said, there is hope! If Casey really put in the effort, he could learn how to sing a song like this. If I were a judge, I would have given him the advice to really immerse himself in this genre, listening to Frank Sinatra’s original recordings, and to observe what made Ol’ Blue Eyes great. I’d encourage Casey to try to cultivate that nuanced inflection and expressiveness in his tone, which currently isn’t present but could be if he learned.

    This is what I mean by having a “growth mindset” and not a “fixed mindset.” A singer with a growth mindset says, “I’m not there yet, but I can be if I put in the effort.” A singer with a fixed mindset says, “This is the best I can ever do with this song. I’m stuck with the voice I have. I’m just not cut out for this type of music” (and various other permutations of “This is the skill level I’m stuck with”).

    Unfortunately, many singers fall into the trap of the latter category. And in fact, this seems to be a much easier trap for singers who actually possess a certain amount of skill because they end up pigeonholing themselves into the first genre they could actually sing respectably. One of my guesses is that people get too attached to the idea of their technique being “good” and what that entails. This is a train of thought I sense from many people: “I sing _____ type of music very well, so my technique must be ‘good.’ And if my technique is ‘good,’ then technique can’t be what’s preventing me from singing _________ (different genre). What’s holding me back then is the ‘type of voice’ I have. I just don’t have ______ type of voice.”

    [continued in the next post for the relief of your eyes]

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  52. My friend actually said this to me: “I just don’t have a powerhouse type of voice like you do.” I was very sad to hear her say that. I wanted to scream: “It’s your technique!” and not from a point of anger but from frustration at untapped potential. That type of mentality is extremely self-defeating.

    I’ve mentioned this several times before, but it is absolutely key: singers need to understand that many technical skill sets are non-overlapping. A singer can have excellent technique when it comes to opera and lighter coordinations, but have very poor technique when it comes to rock music and heavier coordinations. Putting all philosophical debates aside on how to define “good technique,” I would say that that such a singer’s technique is limited, but since skill level isn’t fixed, this isn’t depressing in any way. The singer just needs to develop the technical skill sets he/she currently lacks. And when it comes down to it, these skill sets can be fleshed out very concretely and developed systematically, which I find extremely exciting!

    I don’t think I’ve shared the following tidbit on this website before, but here’s a glimpse at my singing journey: when I first started singing, I was not very good at all. My voice was weak, breathy, slightly nasal, and lacked range. My pitch was compromised by my technique. And if you heard me then, you would’ve thought, “This girl has no power in her voice whatsoever.” And maybe you would’ve even thought, “This girl should give up on singing.” My only redeeming quality was “emotion,” and I was just devastated the moment I realized how completely unskilled and uncoordinated my voice was. Fast forward to the present day, and wow, what a world of difference technique makes! I really do sound like a completely different person. And not to trumpet my own accomplishments but really to give all the credit to God, I can stand here and tell you that nowadays I’m known as the “section powerhouse” in my choir, the girl with a really big voice, the “loud one,” and so on. And I warm up into the whistle register. I’m living proof that drastic vocal makeovers happen. And it sounds weird to say this, but I’m almost thankful now that I had to endure a period of time when my voice was not very good because even though it was very painful at times—I felt so insecure and inadequate—it motivated me to do extensive research into vocal technique. And combined with my stubbornness and DIY attitude, that’s really what has made me the person I am today. I’m much more grounded in how my voice works because I had to build it from the bottom up. And really, I’m so thankful for the support system I had: my first choir director, who placed me in the soprano section even though my audition was terrible, and all the mentors who made me truly understand and believe that if I worked hard enough and developed my technique comprehensively, I could sing anything.

    And I truly, truly believe that last statement holds true for everyone. The “catch” is that the hard work is just that: hard work. And becoming great takes lots of it! And I know that most singers, if they’re serious about their craft, aren’t afraid of hard work, but are they willing to go through the vocal training and the often painful process of dealing with all their vocal deficiencies head on, feeling untalented, sounding “bad,” and cracking all over the place for some time in order to eventually achieve a higher skill level? That’s ultimately up to them, but sadly enough, in my experience, people would rather hold onto the idea that they’re a “good singer” (if not great) and limit themselves to singing in a way that makes them feel as such rather than the alternative—that is, confronting the truth of their limitations, deconstructing those limitations, and eventually conquering them through an often grueling and emotional process.

    Speaking for myself, I want to be great! And my greatest fear for this group of contestants (and any aspiring singer, really) is that they’ll resign themselves to always being “good,” never being “great.” I don’t want them to settle for anything less than their full potential (unless they’re truly happy with their limited potential, of course). Most people do resign themselves to just that, unfortunately, but here’s to hoping that some of these contestants decide to take the harder, narrower road to greatness.

    (Props to anyone who read all of this. ;))

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  53. HEY VONNIE: Hi right back at you!!!! :-)

    Thoughts for the day:

    “The better voice doesn’t mean being a better singer.”
    Luciano Pavarotti

    “You might be a great singer or a great musician but, in the need, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them.”
    Etta James

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  54. skid – Good to see you again! Great selection of quotes. Definitely some food for thought. Being as obsessed with vocal technique as I am, I used to have a really hard time understanding why certain singers who had a generally solid technical foundation failed to find favor with the audience. I was confused when vocally competent performances were considered “horrible.”

    And this season is the first one that I’ve watched really understanding that singing is all about the intangibles and, most of all, connecting with the audience. Singing, at its core, is a form of communication. And I think this is where many common laypeople get it more than the technically obsessed: People know what moves and resonates with them when they hear it. They don’t get distracted or caught up in vocal runs, embellishments, the technical skill a singer must have to do this or that. Technique doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use that technique in service of something bigger, creating moments and relationships through your music. Technique is a means to end, not an end in itself.

    And for me, this is the first season when I can say: I get why performances that get a clean technical bill of health still fall flat. And on the flip side, I get why performances that aren’t technically perfect move me so much more. That gap or disconnect is filled with the intangibles: namely, artistry, the instinct of knowing what is right for the song, how to really connect, and so on. The transcendent ones all have it. For the rest of us, it’s a challenge to cultivate it. ;)

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  55. Just wanted to add: the best ones are often masterful interpreters. :) That instinct and skill for interpretation really feeds into one’s ability to connect with others.

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  56. More thoughts (because skid just really had me thinking):

    I realized just now that I harp on technique to the extent that it impedes communication. Poor technique is distracting for me (and for the record, so is “good” technique that’s overdone), and I can’t fully appreciate the sentiment being communicated, even if the singer genuinely feels it, has good musicality, and so on, if the presentation obscures it. An analogy I can think of is a letter. A moving letter doesn’t need to contain high-level diction, fresh metaphors, and Shakespearean skill, but if the grammar is extremely poor, the message of the letter might not come across to the reader. On the flip side, I think it’s possible to write a letter that is so steeped in flashy or overwrought prose that the meaning is also lost. There are so many factors operating here, but I can say that (1) for me, there is a baseline standard of grammar and syntax (technique) and (2) the letter can be written in so many ways and still be moving and effective—and that effectiveness often stems from factors that aren’t directly tied to grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

    This extends into another topic: that of singers really knowing their voices and really being good at what they do. (If pressed, I would probably lump these qualities under artistry, style, and those other intangibles.) Such a statement sounds obvious, but I don’t believe it happens commonly enough. A lot of contestants on American Idol run into trouble for (1) trying to be some other (better) singer, (2) making song/key choices, etc., that are completely ill-fitting for their present capabilities, and (3) not being able to tailor, transform, or remake songs in their own style.

    I talk a lot about being a jack-of-all-trades singer (because that’s what I aspire to be), but it’s not truly necessary to be a great singer. Some singers might have a ten-note range or whatnot, but goodness do they know how to use that ten-note range! The artistry and creativity they can muster within their range makes the “size” of that range irrelevant. Furthermore, some singers never aspire to sing rock music in a way that is authentically rock (something I also aspire towards), but they are able to wholly remake songs and communicate effectively through their preferred genre. Chanel Cole on Australian Idol was very skilled at this.

    Put another way, with the analogy of prose, two letters can employ the same level of vocabulary, but one letter can be considerably more effective because of how the writer strings together the same limited vocabulary words together in clever, thoughtful, and innovative ways, while the other one is completely dry.

    I guess one way to be great is to really carve out a unique niche (style, personal artistry, etc.) and excel in it. I don’t expect Ella Fitzgerald to be able to “belt it out” like Kelly Clarkson, but I don’t love Ella any less for that because her scatting, jazz interpretation skills, and so many other qualities are bar none.

    Singers don’t need to possess all technical skill sets, but having a good grasp on the ones they choose really allows them the greater capacity for communication. Technique opens up possibilities. Really, when I think of singers I love, I tend to think of ones who, even if they couldn’t produce every coordination known to man, are/were so skilled at what they do that they move me, “speak to” me, and make me believe that what they can’t do doesn’t matter. I like to think of them as limitless (even if they’re not) because they’re limitless at what matters; they’re flawless at what they can do. (I never ever think when listening to Ella Fitzgerald, “I wish she would belt out this note!” It seems so irrelevant.) This task of really knowing one’s voice is a tall order, indeed, though. Contestants on singing competitions have a way of inadvertently exposing their flaws and deficiencies. Thinking about these things just makes me want to encourage every aspiring singer to keep working at it, keeping honing their craft and working on the technical skills and the intangibles. It’s exciting, challenging, frustrating, and everything, isn’t it? It really makes me appreciate the work ethic and talent of the great ones even more.

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  57. In a nutshell: I like “polished communicators.” And I use the term “polished” very loosely to describe a singer who’s very skilled at producing the sound he/she intends to accomplish. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I think even a gritty, earthy vocal can be “polished” in the sense that the singer has control over his/her instrument and is intentionally using non-standard technique. (Also, for great singers, the unintentional flaws that do pop in from time to time have a curious way of validating those singers’ greatness because the flaws tend to arise in the act of truly communicating the song.) The problem with many singers is that they want a particular sound, but they (1) fail at producing it correctly and/or (2) do so in a damaging way. Concretely, an example is “powerhouse vocals.” Many people want to produce that coordination, but some fail by singing in a legitimate coordination that is too light (and thus, not ideal or appropriate), and others fail by straining their voices and singing unhealthily. And that is where technique comes in. ;)

    As for the “communicator” part, in the end, that’s what it always boils down to, isn’t it? I love soaring powerhouse high notes (probably even moreso than the next person), but if those notes are sung without feeling or used just for the sake of showing off, I can’t connect with the person singing them. The artistry is missing. Conversely, I don’t think I could ever frown on a singer for not doing skyscraping high notes if his/her artistry, communicative skills, and intuitive technical feel/understanding of his/her voice were so compelling.

    Whew! Okay, last post for now, hehe. ;) It’s fun and interesting to analyze why some singers move me and others don’t. It really challenges me in my own artistry. My definition of success would really be to move people with my singing, my writing, anything I do. I really aspire to that; when I listen to singers who really move me, I hope that some day, I can move other people even half as much as they do.

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  58. J — Can I just say that I never thought I would find anyone who could write longer posts than I do, and I am somehow grateful to find that you beat me in this category (my husband would roll his eyes and say “Oh, no” if I told him!) But of course, I find them very interesting and don’t mind their length at all, and I am also not in the least fooled when you go to Part II; as far as I’m concerned, it’s all one post!

    Incidentally, our recent conversation where you revealed that you are an INFJ made me go back and retake the test (I’ve got the original laying around the house somewhere, but who knows where) and discovered that I am currently an INFJ as well, not an INTJ, which reminded me that I was really sort of on the fence with regard the T and F part. So either I am becoming more of a feeler as I get older, or it just depends on which day you ask me. Anyway, I wonder if our INFJ-ness has something to do with verbosity!

    Some of your recent posts have really opened me up to things about singing that I didn’t know before, and I appreciate that no end. I may never get around to doing anything about my own singing, but I love having a better understanding of what good singing involves. I’ve got to reread them to make sure I really get it, but I do so appreciate your time and clarity.

    I am completely with you in these recent posts. While I understand the technical complaints about Lee, I’ve personally been annoyed at his sometimes vacant stare when he performs, etc., I like him despite myself. I do think he is trying very hard and loves music as much as everyone else on the show does. Don’t know if he’ll win or if I even want him to, but I completely understand why he’s still here. When he connects emotionally to a song, it gives dimension to a very interesting vocal tone.

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  59. J: Two words: Judy Garland.

    skid out…

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  60. skid,

    Yes!!! Judy Garland! My idol when I was growing up! I adored her. She meant the world to me. I have watched every special, seen her movies countless times, know her songs by heart and believe that she was one of the greatest singers and performers that ever lived.

    If you want to know how it’s done, just watch this lady on stage doing her thing. It should be required viewing for anyone who wants to be a singer.

    It was pure agony to watch her slowly self-destruct over the years. It broke my heart. But we will always have her legacy of unmatched, one of a kind performances. She is someone who truly deserved the often overused word “legend”. I feel blessed to have been privileged to watch her.

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  61. Mindy:

    It is impossible for me to think or speak of Judy Garland in any other way than that which commands complete and total reverence and unparalleled respect. In my opinion, in my lifetime, there has never been and will never be a more gifted, talented performer than she.

    The pure, raw emotion so evident in most every ballad she sang always seemed to be as if she were living the pain the torment of the words at the exact same time she was on the stage singing the song, and from the look on her face, or her “far off” stare, I can’t help but think how terribly hard it must have been for her to get through what had to have been some extremely overwhelming moments. Yes, she lived only a short time indeed, but often I have wondered, as sad and lonely as life turned out to be for her, how she was able to hold on for the meager 47 years she did.

    It matters not that every note she sang wasn’t the perfect note. It matters not that her voice cracked from time to time, or that she may have sometimes forgotten the words to a song she sang 500 times before. What mattered is that she had the courage to expose herself to others; to lay her tortured and tattered soul on the stage for all those in attendance to see; whether doing so was flattering to her or not, and people LOVED her for it.

    In my opinion, Judy Garland had more emotional honesty and emotional integrity as a singer than any other individual who has ever stood on a stage and uttered a single note. She is, quite simply, the GOLD STANDARD; standing alone, whom others can only watch from somewhere in the abyss.

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  62. I was watching an episode from the Inspector Morse series – Second Time Around – that had excerpts from Puccini. Although I don’t think the series could have used Maria Callas, I found this video on YouTube and it made me think that Callas fans might enjoy her rendition of Puccini’s Senza Mamma from Suor Angelica.

    I think you can download her remastered music these days:
    Puccini: Suor Angelica – Senza Mamma
    by Maria Callas
    From the Album Las Voces del Siglo XX Vol. 3

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