By: Rosanne Simunovic
I am finally back from vacation and that means the Vocal Masterclass articles will be up and running each and every week during the American Idol Season.
So, last night, the singers performed the music of Elton John. However, they only had 20 songs from which to choose. Does this make sense to you? It makes me wonder why bother having an “Elton John” theme night when 11 singers can only choose 1 out of 20 songs.
It would have made more sense to wait until, say, the Top 6 or 7 and then, at least, there would have been more selection for those singers. I wonder which songs were rejected? Ha!
Anyway, let us move forward to my Vocal Masterclass evaluations and I welcome your commentary and suggestions after the read!
Here are my evaluations and, remember, I am reviewing each singer in (first name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome. To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
Strengths: Casey – I was hoping to hear less growling from you this week and my wish was granted. This was the perfect song for you. It showcased your vulnerability and innate ability to sing expressively.
And I loved the cleaner look! It complimented the improved makeover of your voice – nicely polished and pure. Your whole demeanor was relaxed and beautifully controlled. You paced this song very well, knowing and embracing every step of the journey.
You also communicated this song in a genuine and heartwarming manner. You were speaking and feeling every word but, at the same time, sustaining the melody so very well.
And, towards the end of the song, I was happy to hear you once again implement your head voice, followed by the slightest hint of your signature growl. It elevated the aural dimension of this vocal showcase so well. Good for you for grabbing the high note at the end. I heard that pause before your final note and said to my family: “He’s aiming for a high falsetto finish”. Loved it!
This was just an outstanding performance, Casey. Bravo and standing “O”. One of the two best performances of the evening and certainly your best to date.
Critique: Casey –I don’t know what to say here. There was so much noticeable improvement in every aspect of this performance, that it really is difficult to critique you.
However, looking toward the future, I would like to encourage you to add the wonderful sustaining elements from this performance to your uptempo numbers. Always remember to grab your vowels, to add nuance and inflection and to become inventive with your phrasing. If you do all these things, your uptempo numbers will soar as high as this beautiful ballad did this week.
In closing, please remember that your highly refined musicianship must dominate all your performances. I hope this is the start of a new and improved Casey Abrams. If so, you will move very far in this competition.
HAYLEY REINHART: “Bennie And The Jets”
Strengths: Hayley – I have noticed incredible improvement in your performances over the last two weeks. I find you vocalize so freely, so naturally and seem very connected to your vocal soul.
This week, you brought out your rocker soul with this great song selection. I loved your saucy style, starting from you position on top of the red piano to your flirtatious movements on stage later on in this number. You really do enjoy the stage, don’t you? That’s what it’s all about.
You exuded wonderful charisma on stage and were totally “in the zone” throughout this performance. It was interesting to hear this song performed by a woman. It isn’t an easy song and it really is such an iconic Elton John song. It was fun to see and hear you incorporate his style into your performance.
Good work, Haley.
Critique: Hayley – everything seemed to work for you until the “Bennie” screams at the end. Your voice is just not dark enough for this and, as a result, it sounded very shrill. You would have been more successful, I feel, had you interpreted this part of the song differently, perhaps re-arranging the melody to incorporate your lower range rather than repeating the melody throughout your upper range.
Also, as much as I enjoyed your style on stage, I find that it was all a little too studied and deliberate. I never felt a strong connection to your performance and it makes me wonder if you were sincerely internalizing the emotion of this song.
Yes, it is a playful number and, although you appeared to be having a great time on stage, your movements and demeanor appeared exaggerated and grandiose. You really must work on refining your stage technique. I think in your case, Haley, less truly is more. Once you find that balance, then your performances will soar in a genuine, real manner.
Strengths: Jacob – I loved the first half of the song as it allowed me to enjoy the simple beauty of your voice. Like Hayley, you must always remember that less is more and not work so hard on that stage. We need to feel that your vocal delivery is innate and effortless.
Your voice just oozes from your body with such ease that you do not have to expend so much energy on that stage.
That being said, I felt that you gave a meaningful and sincere performance of this number. Very good work, Jacob.
Critique: Jacob –right off the top, I found the arrangement very over blown and exaggerated, especially during the second half of this song. This was totally unnecessary and actually diminished all that you accomplished during the first half of this performance.
How much more effective this song would have been had you performed an acoustic version, accompanied by a quiet guitar or piano! This is a heartwrenching, poignant number and the words and melody fuse so beautifully to create this effect. You certainly don’t need a gospel choir with this number and, in fact, I found them very distracting. As a result, this arrangement was more of a parody of the original song.
Also, you need to work on controlling your vibrato. Normally, this element is rarely problematic in this competition but your vibrato is quite pronounced and, due to inadequate breath control, bordering on a tremolo.
As a result, your pitch sounded poorly centered most of the time because of the misplaced energy with which you were delivering your vocal sound. You need to incoporate more head voice into your vocal mix and then your voice will sound more transparent and pure.
Always remember that when singing with a louder dynamic, you need to incorporate the lighter head voice element, or your voice will sound harsh and muddied. You are fortunate to possess a naturally rich and resonant vocal tone in your timbre and, therefore, there is no need for you to push your voice beyond its boundaries. One never should, actually.
Good luck next week, Jacob and remember to scale it back!
Strengths: James –at this point in the competition, you are the brightest star on that stage. This was a jaw-dropping, incredible performance.
You are a performer! You are a star! You know who you are and you love, thoroughly love, what you a doing. The passion you exhibited during this -and all of- your performances is a very special and rare occurrence on the American Idol stage. Your talent is a gift from God and now it is up to you to continue to nurture and guide it in the right direction.
Bravo! Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady. This is one of two performances that I considered to be the best of the night.
Critique: James –easy with the screaming element in your vocal delivery. There was a great deal happening on stage- very high energy and momentum, so it opened the door for a louder dynamic throughout.
That being said, make sure that you use your diaphragmatic muscles to direct your louder dynamics – never, ever push from the throat or you are going to encounter an early burn in your prolific career.
Also, we need to see and hear a quieter dynamic from you. Next week is the perfect time to introduce a ballad. The element of surprise in your performances is starting to go downhill and you need to bring it back up to the top in order to highlight further dimension and vocal skill. I know you have the vocal chops and the musicality to sing a poignant ballad in a purely acoustic setting, so I hope this is on your “to do” list next week.
Great work, James! And, if I might add my two cents, yours should have been the closing act in this week’s Top 11 show. Kudos!
Strengths: Lauren –this was far and away your best performance to date. And, thankfully, you showcased that long-awaited ballad. Your phrasing was just beautiful and your sustaining power even more so.
You moved very gracefully on stage. Also, the key selection of your song was perfect and allowed you to sing and move with comfort and ease. So many other performers need to realize that the key selection is imperative to a confident, polished performance. If one doesn’t sing a song that blends with one’s singing range, then one will definitely encounter vocal and performing problems along the way.
I sensed that you were internalizing the emotional aspects of this song quite well; it appeared that you were trying to fully communiate the storyline to the audience and for that I give you a strong “thumbs up“.
Your voice is naturally resonant; it possesses a sparkling quality in the vocal mix, evidence that you do maintian some level of head voice throughout your vocal range. for this reason, your pitch always appears centered and accurate.
Like Jacob, I hope you retain many of the wonderful elements you incorporated into this week’s performance and apply them to future performances. Your phrasing was more seamless and musical, the vowels more pure and the breathing not as labored.
What an improvement in one week! Brava Lauren!
Critique: Lauren –make sure you continue to work on keeping your throat open and free. This will allow you to access your upper range with increased security and consistency. This is one aspect in your vocal technique that is causing you to struggle.
In one fleeting moment during this song, you approached a higher note and it came out as a whisper. You need to make certain that your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles are directing your vocal sound to the front of your vocal masque (face). Plus a little bend in the knees will allow the soft palate to rise, thus liberating the throat muscles.
However, this was an overall solid performance and, as I said above, my personal favorite of yours to date. Kudos!
Strengths: Naima – how clever are you? You did a wonderful job arranging this song to a reggae beat. And, you added the accent to boot! Loved it! Creativity is my middle name and so I could fully appreciate the work and effort you invested in this Top 11 performance. It was just wonderful and I hope to see more and more of this from you.
Like last week, your key selection was absolutely perfect. It highlighted the lovely, rich quality of your contralto voice and so you steered yourself away from the pitch problems you encountered when you showcased a song that sat too high for your natural singing range. You are one smart cookie!
All singers must realize that they must showcase their strengths and work within those boundaries until the advancement of their technical skills take them to the next important level of their singing careers. You have already learned this lesson and applied it beautifully over the last couple of weeks.
Also, you moved with rhythmic ease and confidence on stage. You have so much style and presence on stage and, of all the remaining singers, probably have the most creativity. I love the artistic risks that you continue to take – that’s what performing is all about!
Critique: Naima – watch that spread mouth – it makes you push far too hard from the throat and we loser the centered clarity of your head voice. We need to hear this characteristic in your vocal delivery. That “head voice” element would add a ringing quality to your lower range while giving you the security to explore and highlight your upper range.
As much as you love bathing in the beauty of your lower voice, you need to now work on expanding your range, one or two notes at a time, making certain that the diaphragmatic rib cage muscles are guiding the process. Added to this, your mouth must maintain a circular formation so that you can sustain the melodic line on pure vowels – bel canto style.
This expansion in your vocal range will only heighten the creative approach in your singing style, allowing you to accomplish even more exciting vocal possibilities during your performances. So it’s all wise and good.
Great, great work, Naima! Loved it!
Strengths: Paul – I love this song and, overall, I thought that it was a good choice for you. And I also enjoyed the melodic twists you incorporated into the melodic line.
You are a genuine performer; no one can take that away from you. You have an extremely likeable quality on stage and I am always rooting for you to “go for it”! To a certain extent, this song liberated you and you added more punch to the nmelodic line than I have seen in past performances.
Good work, Paul.
Critique: Paul – presently, you sing with a lot of air in your vocal mix. You need to really work on the correct projection of your voice.
I don’t mind the softer vocal quality, so long as you mix it up with some stronger vocals. Technique will assist you with this. Grab your vowels and make certain that you are sustaining the notes in your melodic line on these pure vowels.
Additionally, access the power and security of your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles, making certain that you are breathing deeply from the diaphragm and not through the chest cavity. Presently, you are incoporating a shallow method of breathing, which certainly is not helping your voice to stretch and grow.
Also, make certain that the key selection of your song is sitting comfortably in your singing range. While listening to you perform, I was wondering if a different key(lower) would not have added some depth and security to your vocal delivery. However, too low can be problematic, as it has given you problems in past performances. Experiment with different keys – insist on it during rehearsals.
Also, while your smile is contagious, it is interfering with your technique. You need to smile with your eyes, while maintaining a circular mouth position on all the vowels and a relaxed jaw. This is going to require a great deal of work on your part, as it works against everything you are doing now. But, the effort will be well worth it and the improvement will be undeniably noticeable.
Good luck, Paul!
Strengths: Pia – you moved! You walked forward! And, because of this, you were physically more in tune with your song.
There was definitely more visual dimension to your performance this week and I feel that the audience at home and in the theatre responded favorably to this. Good for you! Now, we want more – much more. But, given the passionate nature of the song, you got it just right this week.
This was a passionate performance. and I loved the melodic flexibility you incorporated to the arrangement. It definitely enhanced this frequently performed number.
You have an elegant and refined manner on stage, very poised and stylish. You are lovely to watch and your voice is surely a naturally endowed instrument which you, generally, use wisely and carefully.
Good work, Pia!
Critique: Pia – I implore you: don’t raise your head for the upper notes. All this does is create more tension in your throat and cause you to push through your upper voice. Plus, the communicative aspects of this song are diminished because you are looking up to the ceiling rather than engaging the audience with your eyes.
Have you not encountered the “knee-bending” plus “butt-squeezing” trick? As you approach your upper range, slightly bend those knees and squeeze the tush and watch the magic begin. Of course, this is taking into account that you are breathing diaphragmatically and maintaining a relaxed jaw and throat.
Overall, I would have preferred another song selection. This number is becoming very tiresome to hear year after year on this show and, given the limitations of the song selections, I guess you didn’t have much choice to begin with.
Great work, nonetheless, Pia! Keep it going and let’s see your eyes next week!
Strengths: Scotty – who knew there was a country song by Elton John? Well, apparently you did and given your ability to nail country music, this was a serendipitous find in the Elton John catalogue.
As always, I loved your comfortable style on stage; you have an endearing, genuine manner that connects you to the audience with incredible ease.
Your distinctive baritone voice, resplendent with “head voice” clarity and centered pitch, embraced the melodic line very well. And, as always, you communicated your story with sincerity and conviction.
This was a wonderful performance, Scotty!
Critique: Scotty – we need to address some technical issues that are, presently, reducing your effort to grow and expand as an artist. First of all, given your young age, you are so fortunate to possess such a rich, robust sound in your lower range.
However, that being said, you are presently using only a portion of your God-given talent. The clarity we are hearing in your voice, the beautiful implementation of your natural head voice, the pitch accuracy – all of this will disappear over time if you don’t work hard to expand your very green technical skills. Presently, all these wonderful vocal elements are a product of your youth and you must work very hard to preserve them.
For instance, that upper note toward the end of your song was very strained. You approached it the wrong way. You were physically and vocally reaching for it, rather than singing over the note. This is a mental process that really works, Scotty. Always think down when singing up and vice versa.
And, never, ever raise your head. All this does is cause you to tighten your throat and use all the wrong muscles to produce your vocal sound. Your voice needs to be guided from the diaphragm and your facial muscles need to be open and relaxed.
Also, while sustaining your melodic line, you need to work on your vowel placement, making sure that you are singing only the pure vowels in your words and not all the vowels in your diphthongs . Relax your throat and jaw, remembering to adhere to the circular mouth formation on all the vowels. This will encourage you to make stronger use of your diaphragmatic muscles.
And don’t forget to relax and bend those knees. This will keep the soft palate elevated and the throat unobstructed.
Also, your signature method of ending your songs with a lower note is becoming very predictable and predictable is never good in this competition. You need to come up with something different – perhaps a high, falsetto note or two or three? Anything but the low, low note. Time to give that a rest.
Finally, you need to correct your tendency to lean sideways with your body when you sing. It detracts from your stage presence and really inhibits your vocal technique.
I have given you lots to think about Scotty because you have enormous potential in your voice. Take it one step at a time and let’s see one or two changes next week.
Strengths: Stefano – once again, you gave a beautiful vocal performance. It was great to see you elevate the visual aspect of this song as you vocalized through the bridge. Even more, your connection with the judges at the end of this number was the perfect finishing touch to this number. Now that’s connecting, right?
Your voice is just so gorgeous, so rich and clear and your pitch is always centered and true. Your technical control was, once again, exceptional and, yet, you exhibited more freedom in your performing style this week.
In the opening remarks before you performed, it was obvious that you took the judges’ comments very seriously last week and worked extremely hard to engage your audience and internalize the emotional aspects of the song.
This was a very solid and refined performance, Stefano! Bravo!
Critique: Stefano – you must remember not to raise your head when you sing, especially since you are trying to establish a strong connection with your audience. But, more than this, it works against your technical skills, causing your throat to tense and reducing the liberation of your vocal skills.
You need to implement some deep knee bends when accessing your upper range and move the body forward, toward your audience. Not only will this relax and free your upper range, but the forward tilt will add positive visual impact as you move toward your audience, while in effect, staying in one position.
Singers must realize that you don’t necessarily have to travel the entire stage to make a connection to their listeners – a forward tilt of the body (while maintaining an elevated posture) and/or a few steps forward and to the side is all it takes, so long as they are totally immersed in the song.
Good work, Stefano. Your voice is truly beautiful and I know you are going to enjoy a wonderful career beyond American Idol. Kudos!
Strengths: Thia – this was a beautiful and sensitive performance. I absolutely love the tone of your voice- the vibrato makes it so distinctive and, yes, you know how to control that lovely vibrato just perfectly. Don’t change a thing! Ever!
Your phrasing was so musical and so heartfelt. I could feel your passion and expressiveness so very well. You wear your heart on your sleeve when you perform and it endears you immediately to the listener. Your eyes mirror your sensitive soul so well. More than any singer in the Top 11, I can see the emotion in your eyes and you are not afraid to show it. It is just there! Simply beautiful.
This was an inspired song choice for you, Thia, and an exceptional performance.
Critique: Thia – you need to work on accessing your upper range with more clarity. The falsetto section of the song sounded
very tentative and vague, almost airy. Always remember to summon the power and strength of the the diaphragmatic muscles to direct and project your head voice.
Also, make absolutely certain that you maintain a consistent circular formation on all your vowels and you will notice considerable improvement in the seamless quality of your voice. Presently, you still sing with a bit of spread in your mouth. By rounding the corners of your mouth, you will definitely increase the richness and focus of your voice and, additionally, gain confidence in singing through your upper range with ease.
However, I feel that you have improved each and every week. Congratulations for bringing such a strong work ethic to this competition. Brava, young lady!