I was extremely happy to see that Oscar winner Jamie Foxx was back in action for another season of mentoring the Idol finalists. I thought he did a superb job guiding the Top 5 Idol Finalists from Season 8 during Rat Pack Week and so I was expecting no less this season.
Although these singers were less experienced than singers from past seasons, I thought they responded to Jamie’s excellent artistic suggestions in a respectful manner and did make a strong attempt to follow his advice during their performances.
Overall, the duets were far more engaging than the individual performances. I think at this stage of the competition I was looking for spectacular and I honestly can’t say that this was the case this week. I wish I could – but I can’t
And so, without further delay, here is my Top 4 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.
Strengths: Casey – I can’t believe you selected this song. It just seemed like an odd selection. The simplistic nature of this compositition reminded me of your Blue Skies selection during last week’s performance.
However, unlike last week, I really enjoyed this performance! Were you looking for votes from the female baby boomers? That was my first thought while you were singing this song. Well, we shall learn soon enough if this strategy worked.
Generally, your voice was back on track and incorporated so many of the stylistic elements I have come to enjoy in some of your past performances. Your natural inclination for incorporating a bluesy style in your vocal delivery is one aspect that I enjoyed hearing once again. Also, you initiated some wonderful phrasing, adding added some new and refreshing content to the original melody line.
I also appreciated your clean and expressive diction. Your lyrics were internalized and expressed in a very relaxed and liberated manner. Very sensitive, as well, Casey! You were wise to tailor your style to reflect some of your earlier performances, where you could emote the lyrics with open sensitivity.
Also, because the arrangement was very simple and uncluttered, it encouraged you to become expressive and nuanced in your vocal delivery. I feel this is when you excel, as too much instrumentation overwhelms your voice and, perhaps, you as well.
Also the self-accompaniment on the banjo mandolin was an inspired touch! And familiar! It conjured up an image of Season 7 Top 4 Finalist, Jason Castro and, with your curly locks and endearing persona, it was easy to make the comparison.
Also, by sitting close to and surrounded by your audience, you established an intimate and comfortable ambience that translated easily to your vocal delivery.
This was an excellent performance, Casey! Bravo!
Critique: Casey – once again, that horizontal mouth position was still a fixture during your vocal delivery. By stretching your vocal sound, your voice did sound less resonant, lacking in depth and presence. Even though this technical problem was not as prevalent this week when compared to last, it still continues to pose a threat to the longevity of your voice.
The preferred circular formation of the mouth adds focus to your voice, adding intensity and authority to the vocal timbre. Further to this, by relaxing your jaw and extending it when singing through your upper range, the diaphragmatic muscles would support your voice with increased efficiency.
Your vibrato was under better control and was less obvious. It was still there – however, the quiet, restrained mood of the song did help to control the wobble we heard in your vocal timbre last week.
Again – this is due to the tension in your throat and the lack of real support from the diaphragm. As long as your throat and facial muscles continue to push your vocal sound forward, you will continue to have issues with this problem.
The intake and release of air through the diaphragm, combined with relaxed and open facial features, will assist you in controlling your vibrato, using it only when necessary and in an aesthetically pleasing way.
However, this was another performance in which style compensated for the lack of technically substantial vocal delivery. It was believeable and genuine and that makes a big difference in the eyes and the ears of the listener. Given the song title, I was expecting less and, upon receiving more, this elevated my assessment of your performance this week.
Great work, Casey!
Strengths: Crystal – I always know when you connect with a song. It is very apparent from the opening line. That being said, this was a solid and believable showcase. Your vocal and physical presence exhibited wonderful control throughout this performance. You lived and breathed the lyrics and your voice wrapped easily and expressively around the melodic line of this song.
At every point in this song, I heard a high degree of genuine passion in your voice. It was wonderful to see you perform in a relaxed, less intimidated style. Of course, your guitar was cradled preciously in your arms, so I am sure that this made a monumental difference in your comfort level this week.
Also, similar to last week’s performance, I did notice the occasional attempt to sustain some of your rounder vowels through a circular mouth/relaxed jaw technical combo. This encouraged you to add more head resonance throughout these areas of the song and your voice sounded more relaxed and free.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable and strongly delivered performance, Crystal! Congratulations!
Critique: Crystal- the “eye” diphthong was causing you huge problems this week. I wish I could get passed it, but I can’t!
You have to understand that there are three vowels in this diphthong and by not fully sustaining your voice on the first pure vowel -ah - of this diphthong, you diminish the clarity and ring of your vocal sound. And, it is so much easier in terms of projecting your voice with ease and effortlessness.
Now I understand you were going for style over substance, but a purer approach to your diphthongs would have yielded a more aesthetically pleasing vocal sound. As it happened, your upper vocals sounded very dry and strident, especially when you attached your voice to all the vowels within that “eye” diphthong in many of your words such as ”alright“.
If you had sustained your voice on the “ah” vowel in that diphthong, your voice would have enjoyed increased resonance and presence. It also would have encouraged you to add more head voice . I heard that light, crystal-clear soprano quality in your voice during your duet with Lee and it was just beautiful.
However, this solo performance was lacking in this integral vocal element – you were singing with chest voice throughout the performance. That is adding a lot of strain to your vocal timbre – not a good road to travel.
Also, you still tend to discard your consonants and, although the words were slightly more coherent this week, it is something that needs to be addressed and corrected. At times, it did sound like you had marbles in your mouth – your vocal sound and articulation were both so vague.
Articulating your consonants with precision will add coherence to the words and energy to your vocal sound. Use the consonants as a springboard to your pure vowels, making certain that the vertical and relaxed mouth position remains intact while doing so. This will power-up the diaphragm to work with increased efficiency as well!
Finally, I can’t leave this evaluation without addressing that final note. That was a scream, sweetie, not a vocal sound. You were going for power and I understand this, but one can still achieve power through the utilization of your diaphrgamatic rib cage muscles. The throat should not be involved in your vocal projection - it should remain open and free.
Hope this helps, Crystal, as you prepare for next week’s Top 3 showcase. Good luck!
Critique: Lee – how I wish I could say something more positive about the vocal delivery, but, unfortunately, it was not to be this week. You were absolutely brilliant last week, so I must admit I was taken aback by what I heard in this performance. I think that last week’s song had more breaks in the melody line and the melodic range was more even, therefore allowing you to comfortably project your voice with increased technical efficiency.
Therefore, all I can offer are some positive suggestions to improve your technical skills. First of all, we have to go back to the manner in which you produce the lower end of your voice. At the beginning of this song, the melody sat lower in your vocal range and, therefore, the diaphragmatic support became lazy and inefficient. This was not a good way to begin this -or any -song for it is very hard to get back on track once the song gains in momentum and power.
The diaphragmatic support has to be established from the first note and this never happened. As a result, your voice sounded lifeless and weak and, at times, was fading away. And your tuning was poorly centered, especially when you were confronted with those tricky intervals in the melody line.
Also, usually I love to hear the raspy qualities in your vocal timbre, but this week, it sounded very wrong. Either your voice was very tired or you were developing some level of laryngitis, but the strain when you sang the upper notes was worrisome to hear.
This, added to your poor articulation skills, diminished the focus and clarity of your voice. I also felt that you seemed to have lost your way during this number. Did you have a memory lapse?
Whatever the reason, your phrasing was poorly defined this week and you offered nothing new or exciting to this oft-performed number. I don’t know how you could change your technical focus so drastically in one week, but, unfortunately, it did happen.
This song offered many challenges - the ticky and very wide intervals within the melodic structure and the dynamic variables being the most difficult to achieve. It is a shame that you didn’t transfer the technical elements you successfully added in last week’s performance to this week’s showcase.
You have to remember that technique provides the foundation to secure, refined singing, regardless of the genre of music. You don’t change your technical skills from genre to genre - your style, yes, but not the substance.
The beautiful sustaining elements, the musical phrasing, the crisp articulation of the lyrics, the pure vowels -all of this was a distant memory. It almost appeared that you didn’t have time to rehearse this number properly and I have to ask whether or not this song was your first choice.
Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to get your voice back on track for next week’s vigorous showcase. Good luck, Lee!
Strengths: Michael – backed by a gospel choir, your voice sounded absolutely resplendent. Now this is the Michael I have come to know and love. It has been – what? 2 or 3 weeks – since I have heard your sing with this level of vocal brilliance and confidence.
Since the majority of the song was fortified through powerful dynamics, you were singing with more diaphragmatic support. The forte level of the song, combined with the passionate emotion evoked through the lyrics did advance your diaphragmatic support and, as a result, your voice sounded rich and expressive.
As always, I appreciated the wonderful manner in which you communicated the strong emotions to your audience. Your physical movements were not overdone and added such a meaningful visual dimension to your Top 3 performance.
I have mentioned this in previous evaluations – the fact that, given the size of your physical demeanor, you have to adapt your stage movements – otherwise, your voice suffers from the physical exertion and the overall impression appears too dramatic and less genuine. I thought you got this just right this week, Michael.
This was a splendid performance! Congratulations!
Critique: Michael – like the rest of the singers, you are still still adopting a spread position on the “ee” and “eh” vowels. These naturally wider vowels are extremely tricky for any singer, as one has to learn to sustain these vowels with a circular mouth formation, adding a bit of the “ah” vowel component into the vocal mix.
By doing so, you will ensure the seamless continuity of your voice throughout the melodic range, as all the vowels in your lyrics will be sustained in the same manner.
Also, as much as I could understand the basis for choosing this song, I felt that the melodic line was very limited and extremely repetitious. Now, I have to say that you did work hard to ensure the passionate delivery of this song, but, given your superb vocal gift, I was hoping for something more spectacular.
Stylistically, I think that you did all you could possibly do with this number – the staging, the addition of the gospel singers, the dynamic delivery of the song – all of this was great, but, the lack of vocal challenge left me a little empty.
However, it was so very good to hear the full capacity of your vocal skills. Now, you have to ensure that the technical elements are properly and consistently enforced. This will encourage you to add even more range and scope to your vocal delivery.
Good luck, Michael and remember to relax that jaw!
Strengths: Crystal and Lee - I adored the fact that you stood face-to-face as your performed this beautiful duet. And you programmed the harmonies and solo content exceptionally well.
The solo lines at the beginning of this number were well done and simulated an echo effect between the two of you. Then, when you harmonized together, the vocal blend were very, very good indeed.
I also applauded the individual musical tangents you journeyed through -those ad lib vocals were brilliantly synchronized. This is called counterpoint and it is achieved when both singers are very musical and secure with their personal vocal style. If not, it can sound like one great big mess.
However, this was not the case with the two of you – it looked and sounded effortless. The vocal and physical communication between the two of you, while providing self-accompaniment on guitar, was genuine and refreshing to watch. You obviously practiced extremely hard, resulting in a professional and believable performance.
And, Crystal, your soprano voice at the end of this song was a beautiful surprise. You have an exceptional tone when singing with chest resonance and I hope to hear more of this element in future performances. You have given us glimmers of this integral vocal element in past performances, but not as well as you did during this duet with Lee.
Great work, Crystal and Lee! Brava and Bravo!
Critique: Crystal and Lee - both have you have to be careful not to strain when singing through your upper vocal register. However, because the two of you produced your vocals in a similar manner, the harmonies were properly balanced. It was a drier balance than I would have liked, but it worked. However …….
However that forced, overwrought manner of projecting your voice is just a bad, unhealthy road on which to travel. All that forced vocalization from the throat is just so wrong and it accents the fact that very little support is being initiated from the diaphragm. Also, the clarity and presence of your voices are not fully apparent and the lack of confident support limits your capability to add dynamic content to your vocal delivery.
However, the expressive manner in which you delivered this song to your audience cannot be under-estimated and I congratulate you on a fine duo performance this week.
Strengths: Casey and Michael – this was a very beautiful and sensitive performance and you planned your individual and combined vocal entries very, very well. I was actually amazed watching the two of you, as your vocal timbres could not be more dissimilar and yet, the blend was just lovely.
Each of you stabilized your vocal presence and style through your solos within the verses and provided wonderful contrast when the two of you sang in harmony throughout the refrain of the song.
And what a surprsie this was! Casey singing in head voice throughout the refrain? Who would have thought? But, it really worked!
Casey – your light, falsetto provided a descant -like quality to Michael’s rich vocal timbre on the main melody. It was a perfect contrast. Well done, guys!
I loved the different vocal style emanating from each of you – it was neat to hear and yet when you performed in harmony, the voices blended so very well. And your phrasing was extremly musical and fluid.
Also, your self-accompaniment on guitar was stellar and added so much to this fantastic showcase. This was an expressive, meaningful performance and I congratulate both of you on your fine work! Bravo!
Critique: Casey and Michael- your voices never sounded better. You still need to work out the permeating technical issues that you endured in your individual performances.
For instance, Casey, your falsetto did not sound fully transparent and at times faded in and out. This highlighted the lack of solid diaphragmatic breath control – your voice lacked forward direction and, because of this, air was escaping with your vocal sound, resulting in a weak and not fully centered vocal timbre.
Michael – you, as well, need to continue to work on the areas of tension in your face and throat so that the full complement of your rich, robust,vocal quality can be realized.
However, technical issues aside, I truly loved this performance. Just beautiful, guys! Kudos!