By: Rosanne Simunovic
O once again, i thought the Top 8 singers put out a splendid show last evening. I found it absolutely hilarious how many of the singers were counteracting the advice given to them by Jimmy Iovine. This was the highlight for me and I am surprised American Idol would air all this nasty stuff. But, hey, it was one wild ride and I loved it.
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 – your Nat King Cole selection, Nature Boy, was an inspired choice. I have always loved the jazzy vibe about you. I think this is where your innate musical talent starts to surface in a more authentic manner.
You added such a neat spin to this song – that relaxed jazz flavor was just the ticket. I also appreciated the vocal gymnastics you tastefully incorporated into this song. This is what attracted me to you from Day One – your liberated style, flecked with nuance and character.
And you truly love what you are doing on that stage. You believe in your particular brand of art form and this level of artistic confidence perfectly translated to the audience.
Great work, Casey!
Critique: Casey – you and that double bass have to part ways at some point. I respect the fact that you have most definitely brought something new and exciting to the Idol stage but, as a performer, you have to also learn to move seamlessly on the stage .
Also, by clinging to your bass, you ignore the fact that your vocal issues needs to be addressed. You are using that bass as a crutch, I’m afraid! Your voice would be more expressive, more tangible and more centered if you would just take the time to change and improve your technical skills.
This week, as in previous, that horizontal spread in your mouth was wreaking havoc with your pitch. Your runs, although tastefully executed, were poorly centered because you were not focusing and sustaining your voice properly.
If you would adopt a circular formation in your mouth formation on all the vowels, your voice would sound more secure and centered. This is not to detract from the liberated quality you bring to your vocal style, but to enhance it by stabilizing your vocal timbre throughout every dynamic level.
And understandably adopting that semi-crouched position while holding your bass is not helping matters. The diaphragmatic breathing muscles are somewhat crushed and not expanded and this is diminishing the full extent of your diaphragmatic breath support.
You need to practice your song without the bass so as to draw attention to the weaknesses and flaws in your technical skills while singing. This is the only way you will correct your vocal problems and, at the same time, allow your voice to grow and develop as it should. The full potential of your vocal ability will never be realized if you continue this way, Casey.
Good luck next week and in all your future performances! Remember – round mouth, relaxed jaw and diaphragmatic exertion and support = a new and improved Casey Abrams.
HAYLEY REINHART: ““Call Me” from American Gigolo”
Strengths: Hayley – I loved this performance very much. You and James Durbin are probably the strongest physical performers left in this competition. You move very easily and seamlessly on stage and I enjoy watching you. You entertain and engage your audience and, in the end, that’s what it is all about.
I loved the pure head voice you added to the melodic line of this song. It contrasted just wonderfully with the muscular and/or raspy nuances you added throughout this performance. You always incorporate tons of inflection in your performances in such a fluid manner and, because of this, the song lives and breathes on that stage.
Technically, you have a strong grasp of what to do and what not to do. I never sensed that you were forcing your vocal sound at any point in your song. The manner in which your pure head voice just happened to flow from your mouth is strong indication of this. You manage to sneak a little head voice into every part of your range and dynamic level and therein lies the rub!
So many singers sing with far too much chest voice in their vocal mix and, when this happens, they struggle with their top range and/or have trouble revealing a pure, delicate vocal sound in their performance because the vocal mix is heavily laden with chest voice.
This was an expressive and dynamic showcase, Hayley. Great work!
Critique: Hayley – as I mentioned above, I thought this was a superb showcase and your stage mannerisms were less affected than previous performances. Therefore, I have little to critique this week.
However, I would like to hear you sing a ballad next week, so as to be treated to a sensitive and sustained performance. This would urge you to relax those arms and hands even further while challenging your diaphragmatic muscles to guide and focus your voice in a more prolonged manner.
Also, as I said last week, make absolutely certain to shape your mouth correctly when grabbing those pure vowels and certainly when singing through your upper or more powerful dynamic levels.
However, overall, this was really fine work, Hayley. Congratulations!
JACOB LUSK: “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” from The Pursuit Of Happiness
Strengths: Jacob – this was a very strong performance and deserved the accolades from the judges. This showcase amply demonstrated noticeable improvement in your vocal and performance skills.
You sang with vocal passion and sincerity and phrased your vocal line so musically. I loved how you paced your walk to the front of the stage – it was in perfect tempo and allowed you time to relax and ease into the performance. It also added a strong visual dimension to this week’s performance.
As a result, you looked much more comfortable on stage – your stage technique was just right. Now, you have to keep it there and not change a thing.
And who can ignore that unbelievable three-note climb at the end of this song? It was absolutely spectacular. It was tastefully and artfully delivered and your technique was spot on. Nice round mouth, relaxed jaw and beautifully focused vocal sound resonating freely and easily in your vocal masque.
Great work, Jacob!
Critique: Jacob – over the weeks, but especially this week, I have noticed that you tend to wallow in your vibrato rather than exercise control over it – especially in your lower range. This is where you lose control of the reins. When you sing through your upper range, the vibrato is certainly less noticeable, but this is not the case in the lower part of your range.
I think – no, I know – what is happening. You are not harnessing your vocal energy correctly. Those lower notes were vacillating uncontrollably because your diaphragmatic breathing muscles ran amok! So many singers neglect the lower part of their singing range, feeling that, oh well, it’s just the lower notes so I can relax my technique. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You want to achieve a seamless, coherent vocal timbre throughout every part of your range. To that end, you need to control the vibrato in the lower part of your range because, presently, it sounds more like the less pleasant tremolo aspect which singers try to avoid like the plague. A tremolo disturbs the central core of the pitch and the voice sounds fuzzy and poorly focused.
Also, because you were not adequately supporting your lower range, two distinct voices were evolving in your performance. It was very noticeable this week. You needed to maintain a smooth, even vocal sound from top to bottom, incorporating the vibrato in an aesthetically correct manner.
To that end, you need to discover the little boy in you and work on appreciating and sustaining your pure head voice, making certain that this important vocal aspect is at the core of your vocal delivery.
However, this was your most seamless performance to date. You have obviously taken steps to improve your stage performance and I congratulate you for this, Jacob! Bravo!
Strengths: James – as always and forever it seems, this was another stellar performance. I don’t really enjoy heavy metal, dude, but this was a thoroughly and thankfully exceptional showcase.
The one thing I really noticed and appreciated was the crystal clear articulation of your lyrics and the incredible presence of your resonant voice. How your voice cut through all the loud music with clarity and precision is really quite astounding!
And, oh how I love watching you perform because it means little work for me. You are a master on that stage and, of all the remaining singers, at this point in time, you truly belong there. This is your home – it is where you feel most comfortable.
You are such an artiste – you can sing anything, can’t you? And, more important, you follow your instincts and are never swayed by opinions from the experts in the field. Good for you for standing your ground with Jimmy Iovine. A singer has to follow his instincts or the performance will be less authentic.
However, it is important to keep your mind open to new ideas - otherwise you may never know what opportunities await for you if you don’t take, or at the very least ponder, the advice people are trying to give you.
Another standing “O” from Masterclass Lady! Bravo!
Critique: James – this performance was perfect. Perfect! Round mouth, relaxed jaw, strong diaphragmatic skills, tons of nuance and expression, enormous stage presence. What more can one ask?
Congratulations on a very entertaining and beautifully realized performance.
Strengths: Lauren –this was a very predictable song choice. Good, good call ! Your voice sounded just beautiful during this performance. It wrapped beautifully around the melodic line. Even your vowels were purer on the “eye” diphthongs. You managed to sustain your voice on the first vowel in this diphthong – the lovely ”ah” vowel - and the result was a purer, more focused and ringing vocal sound. If singers only realized how much easier it is to vocalize when one adopts the pure vowel – aka bel canto – approach.
Your composure on stage this week was perfect – just what I was waiting for! This is why song choice is so important. You connected to this song and this strong connection propelled your voice to stellar heights.
You looked absolutely radiant on stage – just glowing! Personally, I felt this was your strongest performance to date. You exuded confidence and charisma while remaining emotionally connected to the song’s lyrics. It certainly doesn’t get better than this.
Oh – I must mention that your phrasing was more interesting – very musical and less fragmented than when we first heard you sing many weeks ago. It is always wonderful to watch a singer evolve on the American Idol stage and you are a strong example of this very process.
Congratulations Lauren on a very fine performance!
Critique: Lauren – you are getting stronger and stronger in terms of your technical skills. I found that your incorporated more head voice into your louder dynamics and, as a result, achieved a truer balance between the chest and head components in your vocal color.
However, I would like to see you manoeuver your way around your upper range in a softer, more delicate manner. This would allow you to highlight the crystal clear purity of your head voice and the softer dynamic would add more nuance and flavor to your overall performance.
Presently, your dynamic level is pretty even – very little variation in shade and color. In order to achieve your true potential as an artist, you need to vary the color in your vocal timbre for heightened expressiveness.
Don’t be timid to sing softly, Lauren, but, at the same time, make absolutely certain that your softer dynamic is supported through your diaphragmatic breathing muscles. This way, your quieter passages will still have intensity and purpose.
Great showcase this week. Brava!
PAUL McDONALD : “Old Town Rock And Roll” from Risky Business
Strengths: Paul - this was another great song selection this week! Perfect! You certainly energized the crowd and got the show off to a rousing start. You love energizing your audience and you certainly have fun doing so.
And, like Rod Stewart, you adopted a female sax player to play with! I always laugh when Rod Stewart brings out the female sax player – it’s just good ‘ole-fashioned entertainment. Your voice has a Rod Stewart vibe so it was a neat idea.
Good job, Paul!
Critique: Paul – unfortunately, you were painfully under pitch throughout this song. In fact, I had to turn up the volume on the TV to make sure that I was hearing correctly. More than any other week, it was just so noticeable.
As much as I loved the run down the stairs at the beginning of this song , clearly your voice was not ready for the journey. The sudden and hurried movement misplaced the center of your vocal intonation and, as a result, you were a half-tone under pitch from the chosen key.
If you had paced this song correctly, your voice would have enjoyed a clearer and cleaner projection. Why the run down the stairs? A rhythmically precise walk down the stairs at a slower pace would have given you an opportunity to ease into this very animated performance. Just don’t start at the top of the stairs. There, problem solved!
Also, because your diaphragmatic breathing muscles were thoroughly misplaced throughout this number, your vocal skills never materialized. In fact, 50% of the song was spoken. At times, I could barely make out the melody and, when I did, it was poorly tuned. You almost gave a rap version of this song – strong rhythmic skills, but very little vocal skill.
And, your throat was so tense and constricted. I was hurting for you. Your mouth was in a horizontal position throughout this song – really spread and so tight. Your TRUE voice remained locked in your body – there was no way it was going to make it past your throat blockade.
You need to sit down with a veritable vocal coach and work on attaining strong vocal skills. If you do, you will enjoy more vocal freedom and, in the process, preserve the longevity of your singing voice.
Good luck, Paul!
Strengths: Scotty – was it just me or was your posture more aligned this week? Your mike technique was better also. Good for you, buddy. And, because of this, you looked more confident and professional on stage.
And, for the very first week, I finally got you. The song worked, your voice worked and your phrasing was very musical and sincere because you loved the song choice so much.
Your voice was strong and resonant and pure and you absolutely nailed those upper notes. You approached your upper register cleanly and added just the right amount of head voice to the stronger dynamic passages in this song.
And, big surprise, your mouth was noticeably rounder and your jaw relaxed when you sustained those upper notes. This is why your posture is so important- it assists your technical skills. If you do not have elevated posture when performing as a vocalist, you cannot take full advantage of the diaphragmatic breath support. Your rib cage plummets and, therefore, inhibits the full complement of your diaphragmatic breath control.
Therefore, overall, I thought this was a wonderful performance this week with great improvement in your vocal delivery. Now, keep the ball rolling in this direction and all will be well.
Excellent work, Scotty! Kudos!
Critique: Scotty – you stIll need to refine your posture and make absolutely certain that you continue to align your body vertically, moving it forward toward your audience and never away. Bend those knees but never the upper body. You must always and forever keep your rib cage expanded and elevated.
Also, make sure that you continue working on your mike technique. At least, this week, it wasn’t continually hanging out of the side of your mouth so it was nice to see such a vast improvement in this area.
And, like Lauren, you need to explore your ability to sing with pure head voice (falsetto) and become comfortable doing so. This would add so much depth and dimension to your singing range and increase the level of nuance throughout your performance.
However, at least you have dropped that “low note” ending. Very good move. Now, I am waiting for a soft upper note ending from you. Can you imagine? What a contrast to the rich depth of your low bass/baritone voice. The audience would go wild!
Bravo Scotty! Very fine singing indeed!
STEFANO LANGONE: “End Of The Road” from Boomerang
Strengths: Stefano – this was a very strong performance. Very strong! You were absolutely emotionally invested in this song. This week, there was fire in your eyes that ignited your soul with passion and purpose.
You are a small but mighty performer. What you lack in physical stature you make up in strength and drive as a musician and artist. I strongly suspect that you are the hardest working singer remaining in this Top 8 – it shows in your eyes and your willingness to take advice and direction like a pro, thus allowing you to grow and evolve before our very eyes.
You have a wonderful grasp of the bel canto technique – always maintaining a circular mouth position and relaxed jaw when grabbing those pure vowels, especially in the upper end of your voice.
This was pure magic, Stefano. I love watching you – your heart is large and your artistic mission so transparent and real. Congratulations on your excellent performance this week. Bravo!
Critique: Stefano – you have to relax, buddy! You were not as wound up as the last few weeks, but you still need to loosen your body just a bit more.
Added to this, that worrisome head has to come down when you sustain your upper notes. You are sustaining your notes correctly, now lower your head. Raising the head is counter-productive in terms of using the correct technical skills. You never, ever reach for upper notes but rather sing over them, hitting them down as you would a volley ball.
Also, your extended head position puts extensive pressure on your throat muscles and, therefore, your vocal cords. This approach inhibits the true freedom of your vocal delivery and it also detracts from an aesthetically pleasing stage persona. You lose eye contact with your audience and, in fact, push them away during the most dramatic moments of your song. That’s when you need to grab them, Stefano, and show them that you mean business.
I know this is quite a drastic change to make in a few weeks. These old habits are firmly ingrained. But, I hope there is even the tiniest bit of improvement next week. If it’s there, I will notice and happily applaud you for a job well done.
Still, all in all, this was an exceptional showcase. Now, haul out the piano next week and show us the full extent of you talent. I also think that we will see a more balanced level of energy in your stage performance if you disperse this energy between your vocal and piano skills. Fingers crossed!