By: Rosanne Simunovic
I really, really enjoyed last night’s performances. I predicted they would be good and, generally, I feel that prediction came true. There were some neat surprises last evening as well that made a difference in my evaluations this week.
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 enjoyed watching you perform with your string bass once again. It is certainly a different experience for the viewers and I can’ t recall ever seeing this unique combo of voice and piano. It may exist out there in our big musical world, but I can safely say that, for most people, it is something new and different.
So, kudos to you for being adventurous and exposing us to a new way of vocalizing. You obviously have an immense passion and love for music and you certainly impart these elements to your audience.
You performed the song very well, Casey, and your signature, relaxed style was very much appreciated.
Great work, Casey.
Critique: Casey – not to sound fickle here, but I was hoping that you would move away from the string bass at some point during the song. This would have elevated the visual impact of this week’s performance, something that I feel many of this week’s singers have yet to learn as wel.l
Also, by navigating the stage, you would have increased the visual, even the aural, momentum of the number and established a firmer connection to your audience.
I love watching you with the bass, but I don’t want to see you use it as a crutch. As a performer, you need to use the stage as your playground in order to add drama and excitement to your performances.
From here on in, the element of surprise is not a luxury but a necessity. You need to move and, along with this, develop a more creative approach to your vocal line.
Technically, your voice sounded less coherent and true than last week’s performance. The raspiness and, perhaps, fatigue crept into your vocal sound and your voice lacked focus and clarity. I was also missing some nuance in your vocal color, something I know you can do, but elected not to this week.
Also, be careful of your mouth position – avoid the horizontal position and try to maintain a circular formation throughout your song, grabbing the first pure vowel in every word. This way, your voice will sound seamless, well-positioned and, the pièce de résistance, resonant and full.
Finally, remember to relax your throat and jaw, to ease the flow of vocal energy from your body. If the throat is tense and/or you continue to use your throat muscles to produce vocal sound, not allowing the diaphragmatic muscles to do the work, you will create great tension in your voice, leaving your vocal cords open for injury somewhere down the road.
Fine work, nonetheless, Casey! Kudos
HAYLEY REINHART: “Piece Of My Heart”
Strengths: Hayley – given the bluesy quality of your voice and style, this was a perfect song choice. And, my goodness gracious lady, you sang the guts out of this song.
Personally, this was your best performance to date. It looked and sounded perfectly authentic – you seemed wholly connected to this song and it just seemed right and felt right. Just wonderful!
I loved the raspy quality in your voice – it mirrored the angst nature of this song. Also, you added just the right amount of clarity in your vocal mix to remind us that you know and appreciate the necessity of head voice in your vocal range and dynamic.
More than any of the other singers, I have to say that your facial features are fully open and relaxed when you perform. Not only is this great for your technical delivery, but also it elevates your comfort level while on stage. You looked so liberated and, if you were nervous, it never was apparent to the viewer.
You came out to play and used the stage as your playground. As a result, your showcase with entertaining and memorable.
This was a strong vocal presentation, Haley! Congratulations!
Critique: Hayley – hmm, I had difficulty isolating any major problem in your performance this week. However, you do need to watch that your left arm doesn’t move incessantly and uncontrollably. It wasn’t as problematic as in previous weeks, but that arm seems to have mind of its own, so be careful to refine the movements.
Also, try to avoid the horizontal spread in your mouth position. You must remember to keep those lips rounded, relaxing the jaw as well, so that your voice has more focus and presence.
Practice sustaining pure vowels by singing a scale, keeping your throat open and free and the mouth circular. However, in order to assist the process, make certain that your diaphragmatic breathing muscles are working properly or you will go nowhere fast.
Another trick to help you fully understand the difference and improvement in your vocal sound when using the correct technical approach is to sustain a note on any vowel – holding the note with your mouth in a horizontal position and then gradually adopting a circular position. Quite a difference in depth and focus when you compare the two sounds!
Hope this helps you, Hayley. Great work this week!
Strengths: Jacob – what I enjoyed most about this number was the application of your resonant vocals during the dynamically potent refrain. Your fiery demeanor was perfect and purposeful and highlighted the passionate dynamics even more so.
This week, your vocals were not overdone but rather sung with perfect passion and nuance. And you were brave and wise enough to use the stage to accent the emotional core of this song.
Your voice, when used and projected properly, is truly beautiful. It is a naturally endowed gift from God and, with proper guidance, is capable of a range of nuance and dynamics. This week, more than ever, I heard all that you were capable of achieving and hope that, with technical guidance, you realize your true vocal potential.
Good work, Jacob!
Critique: Jacob – you have a worrisome tendency to sing through every vowel in your diphthongs. It really struck me when you vocalized the word “right” and basically every word with the “eye” diphthong. Your voice sounded poorly focused and it definitely lacked a “bulls eye” placement in your intonation.
You need to adopt a purer and more refined approach, similar to how the refined Brits speak when they articulate their words. Presently, you are sustaining your voice through every vowel in the diphthong and not adopting the bel canto approach of grabbing the first vowel – the “ah” vowel- in this diphthong.
As a result, your voice, during the opening and closing verse, lost its center because it lacked focus and clarity. And, along with this, the pitch was noticeably affected because there was little evidence of ringing head voice in your vocal mix.
Head voice is a pure element in a singer’s voice that renders a transparent and clean quality to the vocal timbre throughout the singer’s range and dynamic levels.
The lack of this important vocal element in this week’s performance caused your pitch to waver because your noticeable vibrato was less controlled, approaching the unappealing tremolo quality, in fact.
Be very careful when you sing through your lower range or use a softer dynamic. Make absolutely certain that you are harnessing your vocal sound with potent diaphragmatic breathing skills. Those breathing muscles, when used properly, are very important and the energy to support your voice can’t be confined solely to your upper or stronger vocals.
If you correct these issues, Jacob, your voice will no longer sound vague and uneven. Over time, you will adopt a seamless, focused quality to your voice and your performances will rise to the next level.
Best of luck, Jacob!
Strengths: James – finally a ballad and not a moment too soon! OMG. The final bars of this song were just beyond description. In fact, the entire song was a masterpiece and the passion and vulnerability you brought to this song was exceptional. For me, this was one of those rare show-stopping moments on the American Idol stage.
I loved how you maintained a circular formation with your mouth and relaxed your jaw, especially for the impeccably sustained upper note at the end of this song. This is how it’s done, folks. All the strength is coming from his diaphragm and, even more important, from the emotion in his soul. The two go hand in hand – totally inseparable.
And, to think, he never had to leave the stool he was sitting on to leave a powerful musical impression with the viewers!
Bravo and standing “O”, James. This was the performance of the night – two weeks in a row. Kudos and thank you for sharing your vulnerability and passion with us on that stage.
Critique: James – you started out a little shaky and I sensed that you were having problems grounding your voice in your lower/softer range. It was a bit worrisome, at first, but it all came together in the end, so good for you for working out the nerves on live television.
However, make certain that, when seated on a stool, you elevate your rib cage so that you can become fully aware of the powerful force coming from your diaphragmatic ribcage muscles. Breathe deeply, breathe greedily and let the air guide your voice to your vocal masque and all be well and good throughout your dynamic range.
You are so “in the zone” when you sing that, incredibly enough, you manage to avoid the technical problems by accessing the depths of your soul to deliver the song in a meaningful way, just showering us with expressive continuity for the full performance.
Congratulations once again, James.
Strengths: Lauren – you looked absolutely radiant this week and I was thrilled that you selected this song. It is a difficult song but I feel it was a good fit for your voice.
Your stage technique was excellent – that walk forward always is a good rule to follow during the opening moments of a song, so long as you keep the diaphragmatic control of your voice front and center. The relaxed walking pace helped ease you into the performance and relaxed the muscles well.
Good work, Lauren!
Critique: Lauren – at the beginning of this song, I detected a timing problem. I don’t know if the arrangement was a bit wonky, but your voice, for just a second, was not lining up properly with the music. The good news, however, is that you got back on track and were rhythmically cohesive with the arrangement for the remainder of the song.
Now, you need to work on incorporating more head voice into your vocal mix. Presently, you are straining like mad for those upper notes, carrying far too much chest voice into your vocal sound. As a result, your voice sounded weathered and tired.
Make absolutely certain that you center your vocal sound with head voice and then, if you need more power in your voice, then access those diaphragmatic breathing muscles to create a fuller sound. Never push, never force! Remember to lift from the diaphragm – that’s all you need to do.
Added to this problem, you were elevating your head, really straining for the upper notes. All this did was create more tension in your voice while, at the same time, diminish a stronger connection with your audience.
Also, I did notice that your phrase endings were poorly sustained, signaling to me that you were not using your air properly to complete your phrases. That breathy quality seemed to creep into your vocal sound from time to time; therefore, your vocal performance had less impact because of this. You need to release just enough air to create sound and then your voice will sound pure and focused.
And, while working on your head position, make absolutely certain that your mouth remains round on all your vowels and your jaw stays relaxed and free. The freedom in your vocal masque will make you even more aware of the support necessary to deliver a refined vocal sound.
Good luck next week, Lauren!
PAUL McDONALD : “Folsom Prison Blues”
Strengths: Paul –I would never – ever - have guessed that you would choose this song, but good for you for doing so. I love this song and I loved how your voice embraced the melody.
And you had a blast on that stage. This was plain ‘ole fashioned entertainment and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. You have such an affable demeanor on stage and, because of this, it is obvious that you love what you do so very much. We do too, Paul.
I particularly enjoyed the instrumental section where you highlighted your guitar skills while jamming with the other musicians. Because of this, the visual dimension of this performance increased considerably and just set the tone for the final moments in this exciting showcase of performances.
Congratulations, Paul. Very good work!
Critique: Paul – technically, you were all over the map but, the performance was so outstanding that I feel guilty critiquing you. However, critique I must, so here goes!
You love to smile and there is nothing wrong with that. But singers learn to smile with their eyes. Why, you ask? Because by adopting more circular formation in your mouth position, your sound increases in depth and nuance and, over time, in range.
Presently, you are using very little - if any - diaphragmatic breath support and your voice sounds very emaciated because of this. You need to make better use of your air supply to direct and shape your vocal delivery, while at the same time, keeping your throat open and free.
Also, make sure that you rehearse your song without the guitar and, definitely, without the stage movements. Become aware of any technical problems – phrasing, focus, breathing – and correct these problems. Then, after the song feels musically secure and comfortable, then add your guitar, followed by your stage movements.
By following this rule of thumb, you will increase your comfort level on stage and will definitely augment the strength of your vocal delivery. Never allow your voice to take a back seat to anything. You must wisely balance the vocal and choreographic elements – this is what makes for a truly memorable vocal performance.
Good work, nonetheless, Paul!
Strengths: Pia – this was a long-awaited change of pace. Finally! And you totally and absolutely nailed it. What an absolutely stellar performance. You paced this song so effortlessly and your voice sound resplendent with passion and energy.
I enjoyed watching you saunter throughout the stage, then off the stage, then toward the judges and back again. All the while, your voice never sounded breathless which gave strong indication that you knew how to properly use your diaphragm to harness your vocal energy.
As always, your demeanor was just lovely. You are so graceful and so giving on that stage – I just love and appreciate this quality in you so much.
Wonderful work, Pia!
Critique: Pia – you still need to work on the refinement of your stage movements but certainly the energy and drive you gave throughout this performance compensated for this. However, you would be wise to try to loosen up your body moments before you perform. Bring your arms up to your side to open and expand the diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
Also, allow yourself some personal space on the stage. As much as you were indeed physically active this week, I still felt that you were physically “boxed in” and this probably impeded the full capacity of your diaphragmatic breath support.
Also, I felt that you were carrying far too much chest voice into your upper range and, added to this, you were raising your head and away from the audience. Remember that, to ensure a uniform and aesthetically refined vocal timbre, your head voice must be a central element in every area of your vocal and dynamic range.
Bend those knees and squeeze that butt girl! Allow your body to tilt slightly toward the audience when you sing. You never want to give the appearance of moving away from your audience. Forward is the way to go and, the physical momentum will increase the aural and visual momentum of this song as well.
You are a gifted vocalist, Pia and I look forward to your performances so much each week. You have more to give and are evolving beautifully. Just continue to reach your full potential in rehearsals and all will be well.
Strengths: Scotty – this was a very neat song choice and a perfect fit for your distinctive country style of singing.
You had such blast on stage; your youthful energy is contagious and I wish some of the other performers would channel this. You are not self-conscious in the least and, also, you are very comfortable in your own skin. The latter statement is very unique for someone your age. so kudos to you!
Also, what I have come to appreciate about you is your absolute love for the music. The ease with which you move on stage is wonderful and allows you to fully connect with your very appreciative audience.
I also applaud the fact that you have stayed loyal to your country style. You are a genuine and likeable performer and this alone will carry you very far in the music industry.
Great work, Scotty!
Critique: Scotty – why oh why do you sing out of the side of your mouth and why hasn’t somebody corrected this technical glitch for you. When you hold the mike sideways , it all just looks a little awkward to me and, even worse, causes you to adopt a horizontal position with your mouth.
As I mentioned last week, circular is the way to go, Scotty. This round formation on all the pure vowels within your lyrics will naturally expand the depth, brilliance and uniformity of your vocal range.
Additionally, relaxing your jaw and allowing the breathing muscles to direct your vocal projection will expand your phrasing capability, which, for the most part is still quite limited.
Also, that sideways tilt detracts from a visually confident stage presence and impedes the correct application of your technical skills. I know this will take time to correct, but I just want you to be aware that it is something that does need constant attention. So, hopefully, you are working hard to refine your posture and your alignment when on stage.
However, that being said, at least you eliminated that low note ending that I was ranting about in last week’s performance, so you are learning and growing.
Good work, Scotty!
STEFANO LANGONE: “When A Man Loves A Woman”
Strengths: Stefano – this was an ambitious song choice. Mamma Mia!! How I loved the manner in which you applied your delicate head voice at the beginning of this song. It was just beautiful and your voice sounded perfectly centered and nicely projected. It provided wonderful contrast with the louder dynamic later on in the song. Therefore, the aural dimension of this song was very well implemented indeed.
Throughout this performance, you sang your heart out with consummate style and presence. You are also blessed with enviable technical skills that allow you to feature musical elements that others can only dream of.
Your phrasing, as always, was impeccable and the musicality and work ethic very clear indeed. Your voice resonated so beautifully in your vocal masque and you continually made certain that your head voice was not forgotten once you sang through the louder passages within the song.
This was a sincere, heartfelt performance, Stefano. Congratulations!
Critique: Stefano – watch that raised head position – it really impedes the liberated delivery of your vocal sound. Your technique can’t work to full capacity if your head and throat get in the way of a fluid vocal sound.
Also, height-wise, you are a small guy and when you raise your head, your stage demeanour is further fragmented. You need to move forward toward your audience, using a slight bend in your knees to assist this process. And the knee bends, coupled with the butt squeezes. will further enhance the strength and support from your diaphragm.
Try not to work, so, so hard on that stage. Your vocal delivery has to look effortless and, oftentimes, it doesn’t, Stefano. You have to allow your voice to flow with less effort from your body and have confidence that the diaphragmatic breathing muscles will guide the vocal process. And it will. You know that – I know you do, so take comfort in this knowledge.
Also, when are you going to add your piano skills to your showcases? This is concerning me and many of your fans. Until America sees this, they will not fully appreciate the depth of your talent. I was hoping to see this in this week’s performance, but it was not to be. Hopefully this will happen soon, Stefano! Pretty please?
Wonderful work, nonetheless! Bravo!