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American Idol Season 9 Top 3 Vocal Masterclass Article: Judges’ Choice And Singers’ Choice


American Idol       

In past seasons,  the  Top 3 show has generally been less than spectacular. By this point in the competition, the singers are succumbing  to the pressure of the  competitive astmosphere, thinking that, in the grand scheme of things, how well they sing doesn’t seem to make a difference.  Just ask Jennifer Hudson, Carly Smithson, Michael Johns, Siobhan Magnus or Katie Stevens!      

Also, the behind-the-scenes negotiations have possibly begun, with prospective recording companies and managers chomping at the bit to snag an Idol or two or three.      

However, the reality is this: each week they have managed to stay in this competition, it is imperative to give unblemished, spectacular performances, as one never knows who is watching. The answer to your lifelong dreams could be sitting in the comfort of his or her living room or den watching your performance and ready to make that phone call that will positively change your life forever.      

Did Casey, Crystal and Lee realized this with their performances this week? Read on to see!      

UPDATE: I added some information in Lee’s “Critique”.  Earlier today, my computer was acting a little strange, so I published the article sooner than I would have liked. I didn’t want to lose the information. :) 

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.       

        

Casey James,       Crystal Bowersox,     Lee Dewyze,       

CASEY JAMES 27 -years old: “Okay It’s Alright With Me” and “Daughters”       

Strengths: Casey –  generally, I enjoyed both of your Top 3 songs.   Over the weeks, I have come to realize that less instrumental clutter combined with a relaxed ambience assists the efficiency of your vocal delivery. This was never so apparent than in this week’s dual showcase.  You looked and sounded relaxed, therefore reinforcing a confident, sincere performance of both songs.      

Your personal selection, Okay It’s Alright With Me, emphasized your commitment  to the lyrics of this song .  This was an expressive, albeit laid back performance and I did appreciate the high degree of inflection you incorporated throughout this number.  It highlighted your honest, forthright musical approach to this number.      

Also, the key selection for this song was perfect, allowing you to perform with a confident and comfortable demeanor,      

 You second selection, Daughters by John Mayer, was even more impressive.  And, before I continue, I would like to say that I know many male viewers who love you Casey, so it is not only female viewers -as was implied by Kara DioGuardi – who are attracted to you.  Sorry for the digression but I had to put this comment out there!      

I thought your acoustic performance of this beautiful number, wisely selected by Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson, was just beautiful and so meaningful.  As I said above, the quieter, more subdued numbers offer less distraction in your vocal delivery, allowing you to concentrate on the expressive aspects within these introspective song performances.      

As a result, you gave an extremely sensitive, heartwarming performance  – very moving and ever so real.        

Also, your concerted effort to relay the  lyrics  in a meaningful way emphasized your crisp articulation skills. The precision in which you articulated your words added energy and focus to your voice, thus increasing the full presence of your vocal delivery.  Whether you realized this or not, the consonants acted as a springboard for the correct vowel placement in your vocal masque (face).      

Furthermore,  this song, with its gentle lilting melody and poetic lyrics, encouraged you to relax your facial muscles and, more important, your throat muscles, allowing you to sustain your voice more efficiently on the pure vowels.      

The linear arrangement of the melodic line, positioned in the perfect area of your natural singing range,  allowed you to increase your focus on the vocals. I thought this was a stellar song selection, further proving that  great performances don’t have to be loud, noisy and abrasive to create an impression.       

Excellent work, Casey! Bravo!      

Critique: Casey –  during your first number, Okay, It’s Alright With Me, I thought that your phrasing was very  fragmented and drew attention to your lack of solid diaphragmatic breathing skills.  You were breathing far too often, when, in fact, it would have been more musically impressive had you carried a couple of these phrases through in one breath.  Also, some melodic variety to the original melody line would have been a good call as well.      

Also, as mentioned above, during both numbers, you were singing smack dab in the middle of your, comfortable singing range and, although this was good on one hand, it felt far too safe on the other.  This was less problematic in Daughters because I thought that your expressive interpretation of this song was just beautiful.      

However,  Okay, It’s Alright With Me, lacked dimension and excitement and, at some point, everything started to sound the same.  It just didn’t have that extra punch, you know?      

And that horizontal mouth position was back in full force, thus impeding the full depth and resonance of your vocal timbre. You have a great smile, Casey,  but it doesn’t do a lot in terms of adding depth or dimension to your voice.      

This technical glitch was very evident during Okay, It’s Alright With Me.  However, during your performance of Daughters, the crisp articulation did assist you in the focusing your voice properly and rounding out the corners of your mouth to a higher degree.     

      

Now you need to consistently remember to adopt a circular mouth position and relaxed, loose jaw on all your vowels in every song, while allowing the expressive elements to appear in your eyes. Once you do so, then you will feel the correct need to support your voice from the diaphragm and not push the sound from your throat, as was clearly evident during your first number.      

Remember: your eyes are the window to your soul and singers must learn the significance of this statement sooner than later. The importance of  keeping the eyes open and expressive cannot be over-estimated.  Also, it will add further resonance to your vocal sound and assist you in implementing more head voice into your vocal blend.       

 Also, I really appreciated hearing your stellar guitar skills once again but, why oh why do you insist on remaining  stationary behind the mike. (sigh). Why don’t you move – we don’t bite, you know?   Similar to last week’s performance, your audience wants to embrace you.      

However, I do feel you will have a successful career if you are skillfully marketed. You are an exceptional musician and do have a great deal to offer to the music industry.  Just keep working on those vocals, allowing the technique to unravel the full potential of your vocal ability.       

Casey, I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world as you move forward with your musical career!      

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX 24-years-old: “Come To My Window” and  “Maybe I’m Amazed”.        

Strengths: Crystal –  the first thing I noticed during both of your numbers this week, was the fairly consistent circular formation of your mouth formation. This important vocal element has been quite noticeable over the last couple of weeks, but this week, it was extremely obvious that you were making a concerted effort to grab and sustain those pure vowels via a rounded mouth position and loose jaw ! Good for you! I am doing the happy dance here!    

During your first number, Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window”, you showcased the many sides to your musical talent. However, before I comment further, I have to say that I applaud your selection  of this song. It was a good one and one that emphasized your particular brand of artistry in a very real and comprehensive way.    

 With the harmonica  draped around your neck and the guitar cradled in your arms, you showcased your multi-faceted approach to this performance. Using the harmonica to open and close the song was a brilliant idea, adding an exciting aural dimension to this number.    

At this point in the competition, I want to see and hear what the performer is capable of accomplishing during a performance and I felt that, during both numbers, you accomplished this goal extremely well. No stone was left unturned!    

 Returning to the spectacular improvement in your vowel placement, I noticed that not only the rounder vowels, but some of the wider vowels, were more pure and clean.  Yes, there was the occasional spread vowel placement but, generally, you were grabbing those vowels with a relaxed, loose jaw and circular mouth formation.    

As a result, you did incorporate some additional head voice into your vocal blend, increasing the clarity and precision of your vocal placement.   You sustained your vowels so well, with more focus and certainly less strain coming from your throat.     

This was an expressive, impressive performance and, given the short time frame of the song, you successfully incorporated many different performing elements. Good for you -this shows effort and determination!    

 Your second song, “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCarthey and selected by Ellen Degeneres, was truly your MOMENT!  This is the song where everything came together for you. The performing and vocal elements were beautifully synchronized. Yes, there were a few bumps here and there along the way, but, it would be foolish for anyone to admit that this wasn’t a less than stellar performance.     

I don’t know what impressed me more, the incredible range necessary to sing this song, the dynamic variation or the performimg elements. You packed a lotta bang for your buck in this song and did so with your trademark laidback style . As a result, this was a well-paced, well-formulated performance.    

I also appreciated the fact that you abandoned your guitar for this performance, allowing you to focus your energy on your vocal  and performance skills.  Good girl.  Didn’t this make you feel more relaxed? Movement always does – that “mike stand position” was starting to stifle you, as well as many of the other singers.    

Starting from a seated position, you subsequently decided to walk to center stage and then -surprise – move off the stage and connect with your audience. This monumentally increased the communicative aspects of this song .    

Also, the simple arrangement of the number afforded you opportunity to expressively focus on the words. In previous weeks, there were problems with your articualtion, but this week, I felt that this was not the case.    

 Vocally, I loved your glissando up to “oh” at the beginning of this song and so many of the other vocal elements you incorporated to this song.  This number really challenged the depth and dimension of your range, encouraging you to add inflection and nuance in your singing style.      

You confronted the true capability of your vocal talent and basically went for broke. It was a  pretty impressive 90 seconds for you, Crystal, and I commend you on your determined efforts to render such a believable, multi-faceted performance.       

Brava!! Congratulations    

Critique: Crystal- during your first number, “Come To My Window”, I have to agree with the judges that the arrangement of this song was too busy, almost distracting in a way!  Your vocal performance was better than the arrangement.  The arrangement was very fragmented.  Fortunately, you added smooth vocals throughout the song, so it compensated for the bumpy road on which the  arrangement was fabricated.        

Also, although the majority of your vowels were well placed and focused,  I did see and hear some intermittent spread on the wider  – and trickier -vowels such as “eh”   in the word  “care” . When this happened, then the heaviness of your chest voice kicked in and weighed down the song, overwhelming the clarity and transparency of your voice. At these junctures in the song, the all-important head voice element was absent from your vocal timbre, throwing your voice off-center and diminishing the resonance.    

I do agree with Kara that an acoustic version of this song would have been more impressive. The arrangement was very frantic, almost disjointed and required a simpler approach. Now, I don’t mean simple in terms of the song delivery – just a less busy harmonic compass to the overall rendition.      

Your “Maybe I’m Amazed”, on the other hand, was just beautiful and I have nothing further to add.  However, you need to be reminded to continue to work on the relaxation of your throat when singing through your power vocals. It still worries me everytime I hear that rasp, but when I see that rounded mouth,  I start to smile, realizing that the effort and will is there. Now, time will make to process complete.    

Great, great work Crystal! Brava!    

LEE DEWYZE: 23-years old “Simple Man” And “Hallelujah”       

Strengths:  Lee –  you sang this  – and both songs – with fire in your gut and determination in your eyes.  Both numbers were strong and memorable and you added artistic character and a distinctive sound to both numbers.
 
Cumulatively, this must be your strongest showcase and, although you still need to sort through some technical problems (which I will discuss below), it is clearly obvious that you have worked extremely hard at refining your technical skills.
 
Like Crystal, your increased improvement in the bel canto approach to singing  is indeed commendable. In both numbers, your mouth was noticeably round on all the vowels, the jaw relaxed and free. What a trip to see and behold!  As a result, the clarity of your voice was augmented and I heard more head voice – and less chest voice – in your vocal mix.
 
Even though you never relinquished your position  behind the microphone stand, the energy and passion you gave through these expressive  performances reached to the back of the theatre. The physicality of both performances was strong and bouyant and, because of this, the lack of movement throughout the stage was not necessary. Actually, it may have caused some vocal issues for you, as you tend to experience more problems when you add movement to your vocal performances. 
 
It’s not something that I would advise if you were to stage a full-length performance; however, for these two numbers, it was a wide and prudent decision to remain stationary, yet expressive in demeanor.
 
Your personal selection, “Simple Man”, was a great call and vocally, you added great style and substance to this number. Your approach to the  diphthongs in your lyrics was, for the most part, clean and precise. You used every opportunity to grap the vowels to sustain your voice, the noticeable being in the second syllable of   “simple”.
 
You performance of Simon Cowell’s Song suggestion, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen was very, very good.  Alhough I prefer an understated performance of this great song classic, I did appreciate your vision for this song.
 
Backed and surrounded by a gospel song and a gorgeous string accompaniment, the song soared to a new and exciting level.  For a moment there, I thought you were going to branch out into the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah!  Now there’s a medley waiting to happen!
 
This was an extremely passionate and expressive performance. It energized you like no other and, for the first time, I actually understood and appreciated everything that you are capable of achieving as an artist. 
 
Bravo Lee!  Kudos for a truly exceptional showcase!
 
Critique:  Lee – during “Simple Man“, there were moments of noticeable strain when approaching your upper register .  You were still encountering some problems with maintaining a level head position. Each time you raised your head to access your upper notes,  your pitch moved off the radar as well.
 
Similar to last week’s performance, there were some tricky intervals in this song.  It helps to remember that,  when moving from a lower to upper note, you have to engage your lower note through the correct diaphragmatic process, allowing  your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles to connect these intervals.  
 
Also, remember to sing over the upper notes, never reach for them. The answer to seamless, confident vocal  projection lies in the diaphragm and not on the ceiling.  Also,  everytime you move your eyes away from the television camera and/or your audience, you lose vital connectivity with your listeners.

Your “Hallelujah”  performance was a great visual and aural experience.  However, in fairness to the other two singers, if you eliminated the smoke and mirrors aka the choir, orchestra and dry ice, I don’t know if your vocal delivery would have been as memorable.
 
You seemed to run out of steam as you approached the end of the song and then failed to hold the final note for its full value.  You were over-pumped – rightfully so given the circumstances – but it caused you to loose footing with your breath control during this number. When you sing a passionate number such as “Hallelujah“, you need to slow the process down in your mind so that the song doesn’t run away from you.
 
Now, I know this was an emotional ride for you, but, still, I felt that the phrasing lacked substance and flow in the early stage of this song. And all those breaths between the “Hallelujahs” should have been avoided.  It dissects the song far too much.
 
However, you sang passionately, did some wonderful work changing the melody line and really delivered at just the right time in this competition. I have been truly impressed with your growth throughout this show – such a pleasure to behold!
 
Amazing work, Lee! Congratulations!

  For all the latest American Idol News, visit SirLinksalot: American Idol or the American Idol Official Site .     

       

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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

14 Responses to “American Idol Season 9 Top 3 Vocal Masterclass Article: Judges’ Choice And Singers’ Choice”

  1. SherylNotCrow May 19, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    MCL, after reflecting on AI performances and talking with my buddy China80, I look forward to reading your professional posts so much! They either validate, explain or correct my opinions and add so much credibility to the reality of each contestant. What I like most is your graciousness and true sense of ‘helping the artist’ with your words. I am forever a fan and follower of yours…thank you so much for your effort! :) And I must say, as I ‘impatiently’ wait for David Archuleta’s next album/single/whatever!!, I equally await your opinions and relfections on his next set of wonder! Have a great week and God Bless you and yours!

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  2. MCL – thank you so much for the review. I thought they were a little hard on Casey and appreciate your appreciation for him. Hearing him do the John Mayer song helped me realize why JM is so successful. He plays in a pop bluesy way, writes about tender emotional subjects and his voice is very innocent and plaintive sounding. It’s a juxtaposition to his somewhat naughty, tatooed bad boy image. I’ve seen a few live numbers of John Mayer, plus studio footage. I don’t think I’ve heard him sing a pitchy note! I think I needed a little more purity and clarity in Casey’s voice. (Do you think John Mayer has perfect pitch? I know he went to Berklee School of Music for awhile. Talented guy beyond being a rocker.)

    Often in rock ‘n roll, a juxtaposition of voices works really well – like Lennon/McCartney, Bono/Edge, Michael Stipe/Mike Mills (REM). I think Casey’s voice will work better in concert with someone with a purer voice (as it did with Mike). Can’t wait to see him in the band.

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  3. Masterclass Lady I would like to point out that Casey’s guitar was not mic’d…..they did not put the amp on stage….right when he is about to start the song you can see him stuff the cord into his front pocket and you never hear his guitar the whole song. He just strums along and it’s obvious the band takes over the “lead” guitar part…from what we heard about the rehearsal is Casey was supposed to “rip it up” on the guitar this week and when listenting to the original version of this song’s piano accompanyment, I can see how it would have been an awesome version with guitar…shame : (

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  4. Kateri -was this during the first or second number. He did play a nice solo during the second number, didn’t he?

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  5. It was his first song choice….you can see it on youtube…and watch him stuff the cord into his pocket

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  6. Goodness, poor Casey! This kind of reminds me of the judges sabotaging Syesha with the happy Feet song. Man, if Siobhan was still there what do you think they would have done to her?!?!

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  7. using crystal’s live footage of her performing her original song, “holy toledo,” during her homecoming video clip (it was also used for the background in various permutations), is, i believe, a first for AI.

    as i understand it, they have not allowed performance of original material before for various legal reasons. someone thought this up as a way around that and it gives a much better feel of how she is with an audience outside the AI weekly format.

    since her voice and performance during that trip were spot on, that suggests to me that something was off, most likely blood sugar levels, during last night’s performance.

    on reflection, i wonder if allowing her original to appear won’t work in her favor for those who are undecided, if for no other reason than the difference in the ease she has on the stage and how she interacts with the crowd….

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  8. I love Casey. Doesn’t matter what happens, who gets voted off, who wins, blah, blah, blah….to me he’s already won. Actually the last three are my favorites out of the whole show but Casey is my top favorite. He seems like such a nice guy, too.

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  9. At the end of Lee’s performance of Hallelujah that the last note he did not hit it because he was so emotional. I still think he didn’t need the hype of Hallelujah, Simple man was a much better performance. They all did so good! Will miss Casey next week, but I am happy with the top 2!

    Thank you MCL always enjoy your site!

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  10. Sue,

    Thanks very much for the link to the Elliott Yamin article–he certainly was completely honest in his opinion of this year’s contestants. It was interesting to also see him point out the fact that the judges sometimes try to sway the voting with too much pimping of one contestant. I recall in the Season 2 finale, Simon told Clay that he had just won the competition after he finished “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Of course, he didn’t. I always thought that Simon made that remark just to encourage Rueben voters to vote more.

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  11. Sue,

    Thanks so much for the link to Elliot Yamin’s article. I love his take on the final three! I think he was honest in his thoughts and especially, the blatant pimping of Lee by the judges. He saw it as a much more evenly matched evening of performances than the judges. However, Elliot doesn’t have an agenda. I happen to agree with him. MCL also saw it the same way.

    I think Casey was dealt a harsh hand from the judges. I didn’t love his personal song choice, but I thought he did quite well with “Daughters”. It’s who he is. He is never going to be the kind of singer who will blow the roof off the place. If that cost him a spot in the finale, then so be it. He is who he is.

    I personally loved Elliot’s honesty about Lee. I have serious reservations about him as the next Idol. I don’t see him ever being a truly polished live performer. He has been up and down all throughout the finals. That performance of “Kiss from a Rose” would have, at one time a few years ago, been bad enough to get him sent home. The fact that he made it through tells me that he has a serious fan base. Lee did sing probably the best I have heard in the competition. However, I still think he has some very real vocal limitations and performance issues.

    I agree with Elliot’s feeling that Crystal deserves the win. She really is an original, unique artist with her own appeal. She has given consistently great, artistic performances. She did seem to have lost some of her energy the other night, but that’s understandable after this long, grueling competition. It would be great to see such a talented female win this year. Listening to some of her own compositions, it becomes obvious that this young woman has something to say through her singing.

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  12. Wow guys, check out Crystal Bowersox back in 1999 when she was just 13! http://new.music.yahoo.com/blogs/realityrocks/359660/reality-flashback-crystal-bowersox-at-age-13/

    And if you haven’t seen it already, Siobhan Magnus when she was 14

    Like

  13. OK, that embedded kind of weird… I actually didn’t want to use a direct link to Crystal’s because there was a pretty nasty comment on the first page. I thought you’d need to click on the links either way, but I was wrong.

    And I’m definitely rooting for a Crystal win in the finale, but I won’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t turn out.

    Like

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