By: Rosanne Simunovic
Ihave been waiting a very long time for the opportunity to hear Carole King’s music on American Idol.
Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds was along for the ride, collaborating with Jimmy Iovine during the mentoring process.
However, the ” cut and paste” approach to Carole King’s songs left much to be desired. Her songs need to and deserve to be heard in its entirety. They are folksy, yet sophisticated and the complete story line must be told for the songs to have full impact on the listener.
Some performances were better than others, but, for the most part, I missed seeing and hearing these songs with the piano. This would have been a good week for a “stripped-down” theme, don’t you think? At this stage of the competition, it is about the voice. Entertainment value is important, but I want to see and hear both.
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 - this was an entertaining showcase. From the little doodling at the piano, to your jazz-infused vocals to your strong communicative skills and that neat fedora, you gave a very enjoyable performance. You initiated a ton of style and even more flair during this number, something that we have come to enjoy in all your performances from Day One.
And, once again, your female saxophonist was on hand to lend musical support. In fact, you were surrounded by what looked to be an all female brass band and this reinforced the big band style of this song.
You do have a real gift for making the music come alive and ensuring that the lyrics throughly resonate and move your audience. You are a fearless performer and are not afraid to lower the curtain and engage your audience in a very real manner.
You feel the music, it inhabits your soul. As a result, your performance this week was loaded with nuance and inflection. At times you spoke your lyrics and, although you walk a fine line in this respect, you somehow make it work. Your weaknesses actually become your strengths.
Great work, Casey! Congratulations!
Critique: Casey – you scream, you yell and vocally do everything wrong but, somehow, it seems to work for you. I am glad that you work within the framework of your vocal abilities. This takes courage and confidence.
However, because of the multi-dimensional aspect of this performance, it is so easy to dismiss the importance of strong technical skills. There was a huge amount of style in this week’s performance but not a lot of vocal substance.
I always ask myself after each singer’s performance: “Could I take a whole evening of this style of singing”? In your case, Casey, I would have to say an unequivocal and resounding ”no”.
It would have been good that, if some point in the song, you could have demonstrated the actual purity in your vocal tone. I know it’s there – I have heard it in past performances.
But, instead of addressing the fact that this is indeed a vocal competition, you growled and grunted through the entire song and, at some point, abandoned the melody line and spoke the words.
You must never lose sight of this fact that this is a vocal competition and the viewers need to hear the VOICE. The performance is important, but one cannot abandon the vocal delivery. It is an integral part of a meaningful showcase.
With all the performance antics and the back-up band, the smoke and mirrors approach was working at full throttle. A little of this goes a long way and I was hoping that, at some point, you could have finished the song on your own, without so much confusion on stage.
However, I give you credit for abandoning the string bass and the guitar. Over the weeks, you have demonstrated much diversity in your performance skills and I know that deep inside your vocal bag of tricks there is a real voice waiting to be heard.
Good luck, Casey!
Strengths: Hayley – you chose a very beautiful ballad this week, layered with different emotions. And I just loved how you communicated this uplifting song. The change in your mood at different points in this song demonstrated that you understood the lyrics and rehearsed this song in a meticulous way.
You brought a lot of energy and verve to this song and your stage movements were very fluid and so relaxed. Generally, your voice was nicely liberated, exuding a passionate and expressive vocal quality.
I loved how you carried your voice seamlessly down to your lower range and then moved with ease into the higher register, thus allowing the voice to resonate freely in your vocal masque.
Your broad vocal range is so even and pure and, because of this, you are able to vocalize throughout your range with confidence and ease. You take risks in your performances and I love this in a singer.
The vocal nuances throughout this showcase were wonderful, genuinely laden to express the emotional core of this song. And, as always, your head voice was central to every vocal dynamic throughout your range, reinforcing your pitch and, again, adding consistency to your vocal delivery.
Excellent work, Hayley! Congratulations!
Critique: Hayley –your voice sounded very tired this week and, because of the technical glitches, you started a little on the hesitant side.
However, like a true pro, you picked yourself up and made it all happen midway through this song. This is why I am such a fan of your vocal style – it seems grounded in a pretty solid technical approach.
However, please watch your tendency to spread your mouth on some of those vowels. You are grabbing the vowels, but that horizontal spread in your mouth allows the throat to remain tight and constrained. This encourages you to push your sound toward your vocal masque, and not allow the voice to float freely on the air supplied though the diaphragm.
I mentioned that you sounded tired. That again would account for less clarity in your vocal sound. Your muscles need rest so they have the strength to reinforce your voice with consistency and ease. Make sure you pace yourself wisely and don’t let your technical skills slide as you move forward in this show.
Wonderful work, Hayley!
JACOB LUSK: “Oh No Be Mine Baby”
Strengths: Jacob – you began this song, standing quietly at the piano so I was expecting a performance akin to last week’s excellent showcase.
However, you took the judges’ advice and decided to let it all hang out with a very energetic and buoyant performance. Good for you. I thought that you managed to do so without overdoing the vocals and that’s what everyone was waiting to hear and see from you Jacob.
I felt that you found your true groove midway throughout this song. At this point in the song, you were having a blast and a half, weren’t you? There was some really skillful singing scattered here, there and everywhere.
I also loved the inclusion of the very fine scat singing. You do have many surprises in your vocal bag of tricks and was so happy that you treated us to yet another this week.
However, I really appreciated the beautifully sustained moments in this song, when your voice could soar through a stabilized technical process. This is when I could once again appreciate the depth and strength of your vocal skills.
Great performance, Jacob! Congratulations!
Critique: Jacob – be careful of that horizontal formation of your mouth. At the beginning of this song, it was quite evident and you lost a stable hold on your intonation. That tremolo, although not as noticeable this week, was still there. It was diminishing the true center of your pitch and you were not in tune with the key of this song.
Then there was the problem with your stage movements. You were bouncing and jumping all over the place and, although it added a good visual component to this performance, it created havoc with your technical skills.
You must remember that the choreography cannot and should not diminish the technical hold on your voice. Despite all the stage movements, it is always necessary to deliver a clear, centered and aesthetically pleasing vocal sound.
You would be wise to practice your song apart from the stage movements. I am sure you already do this but I want to make sure that you address your technical issues first and THEN add the stage elements, making certain that the voice is not overpowered by the choreography.
Still, all in all, it was your best upbeat performance to date. You are improving, Jacob! Good work!
Strengths: James – I was so happy that you had the opportunity to sing a stripped down version of this beautiful song classic. In fact, that is the way it should be sung. Tell the story.
And your voice, starting a cappella, was just beautiful, strong, centered and gorgeous. As always, I loved the round mouth formation on your vowels coupled with that great, relaxed jaw! You have a cohesive approach to your vowels which I cannot emphasize enough. It is so important in terms of securing vocal presence and charisma during a performance.
You took risks with this song, James, and, although I wasn’t 100% sold on all the artistic decisions you made with this song, the bottom line is you believed it and made it happen and created a monster of a performance.
Your vocal courage knows no limits and, as a result, your performance this week, and every week, was jam – packed full of surprises. You care for your audience and never want to disappoint and you never do.
Kudos on another outstanding performance, James!
Critique: James –personally, I wouldn’t have screamed so much in this song. I appreciated the high-end of this performance, but the rock and roll sound just didn’t resonate with me in a genuine way. You may have felt it, but I didn’t.
As I mentioned above, I loved the quiet ambience you created at the outset of this song and I would have kept it that way. The song’s lyrics are so poignant that your voice alone, communicating the words, would have been enough. The vocal acrobatics disturbed the sensitive foundation of this song and basically knocked this song off-kilter.
Leave the screaming to the other songs and never feel that you need to add it to every song that you sing. That’s when it becomes tedious and, additionally, it puts a great deal of strain on your vocal cords.
Your voice is far too good, James! You don’t need to drive this fact home to your audience every week with excessive singing. Believe in your vocal talent and in the power of quiet, meaningful singing.
Good luck next week James. Keep it real.
Strengths: Lauren – you looked absolutely radiant this week. You moved effortlessly and seamlessly on and off the stage without disrupting the clear consistency of your vocal delivery.
Your voice sounded rich and possessed a great deal of bite and freedom. Yes, you had the little crack, but, hey, who doesn’t? The important thing is you worked your way through it and did not permit this gentle mistake to adversely affect the overall outcome of this performance, which was very, very good!
I loved how you embraced the audience, not only with your voice, but also with your stage mannerisms. Your simple arm gestures and rhythmically charged movements refined this performance so very much.
I also loved the light head note ending on the word “leave“. It was clear and pure and centered. This was a strong performance and, in fact, your performances have been gaining momentum and strength each week.
Congratulations once again, Lauren, and continue to believe in yourself.
Critique: Lauren – once again, I have little to critique in this week’s performance. Your stage confidence is increasing by leaps and bounds and I congratulate you for working so hard to realize your true potential throughout this competition.
However, make sure you continue to practice your singing as a separate entity and leave the choreography for the final stages of preparation. This way, your technique will remain central to your final performance and muscle memory will kick in during the adrenaline-charged live performance.
Also, always make certain that the light head tone element is central to your stronger dynamics. Do not -I repeat -do not carry too much chest voice into your upper and/or power dynamic range. This way, you will minimize further glitches in your vocal armor and will have smooth sailing from beginning to end.
Great work, Lauren.
Strengths: Scotty – you picked one of my favorite Carole King songs. And it was a challenge for you. And, guess what? You rose to the challenge, embraced the opportunity and, arguably, gave your strongest performance to date.
I absolutely loved and fully appreciated the quiet ambience you maintained throughout this song. I also applaud the tasteful melodic changes you made to this song. They were not overdone and, yet, distinctively made this performance unique and personal.
You sang this song passionately and sensitively. You added nuance and inflection to the song and told the heartfelt story embedded in the music with expressive ease and sincerity. Just gorgeous.
It was nice to hear you sing through the tenor part of your vocal range. It is obvious that your voice has much dimension and potential in its make-up and I hope that you continue to challenge the full complement of your vocal gifts.
You are still so very young and your voice is still changing and growing, so make certain that you equip yourself with strong technical skills to assist you in the developmental process.
This was an exceptional performance,Scotty! Bravo!
Critique: Scotty – I must caution you not to drop the words at the end of your phrases. Support those final words and don’t let the air escape. I was aching for longer phrases and even more continuity in the melodic line.
This is where strong diaphragmatic breathing skills come in! When you breathe deeply and fully from your diaphragm, you can accomplish so much, the most important being a forward momentum in your phrasing. The air lends support and direction to your voice, making absolutely certain that the forward momentum is not disturbed, but rather enhanced.
Also, be very careful of your upper range – support, support, support! And watch that horizontal mouth position – round is the way to go! Because the horizontal position causes the throat to constrict, it diminishes the active and continued support from your diaphragm, causing you to strain and reach for your upper notes.
A good rule of thumb: sing over the notes, never reach! Keep the throat open and free and enjoy the delivery of your voice in a liberated way.
Also, as much as I was thrilled to hear you sing through the tenor part of your range, I sensed that the key selection for this song was a little high. Even a semi-tone lower would have made a difference and you would not have had to struggle to secure those upper notes.
And finally don’t slouch when you perform a song in a seated position. It diminishes the full effect of your diaphragmatic support. Keep the rib cage elevated and create space in your rib cage muscles so you can breathe with more efficiency from the diaphragm.
Okay, I have given you lots of food for thought. I hope you digest some or all of it and continue to grow. Baby steps! Good work, Scotty!
Strengths: Casey and Hayley – the two of you are perfect together. You gave a very entertaining performance and looked completely at home singing this style of music. The earthy, bluesy quality of this song complimented your individual styles extremely well.
It was a pleasure to see and hear you perform as a duo once again.
Critique: Casey and Hayley – throughout this song, your harmonies were poorly centered. I was hoping that the problem would go away, but it just never did.
In fact, it felt to me that the song was hastily thrown together as an afterthought – you know sort of like when you ask two people to sing at a party at the last-minute?
Throughout this performance, the blend was very uneven. Hayley, although you have a nice raspy edge to your voice, you also have an overall clean approach to your vocal sound. You are able to summon up an array of nuances.
However, Casey, your voice implemented far too much chest voice into the vocal mix and, as a result, did not mesh with Hayley’s naturally light, pure tone.
Also, both of you sounded very tired and looked ill-prepared for this showcase. And, Hayley, I felt that you were competing with Casey -trying to use more of a screaming element into your vocal delivery. Your voice was not as pure as I have heard when you sing solo numbers.
Casey, it was a scream-a-thon all the way with you and, as a result, the harmonics fell flat because of this. You really need to use your head voice and make it central to your vocal sound or you will continue to have more problems with your singing.
Strengths: Jacob and James – I actually sat in my chair and applauded this number. It was delivered with so much joy and enthusiasm and with almost a tongue-in-cheek approach that made me laugh and cheer.
What was there not to love about this performance? The harmonies were the best of the night, the camaraderie genuine and playful and the individual vocals just outstanding!
I loved your serenade to Jennifer Lopez . It was very cute and hilarious all at the same time.
Bravo guys! Loved it! Standing “O”!
Critique: Jacob and James – you are critique free. This performance made me stand up and cheer! Glad you are enjoying the ride and are not taking yourselves too seriously.
Strengths: Lauren and Scotty - the two of you looked so cozy and comfortable together. This was an excellent song choice. The lyrics and melody mesh so well in this number and gives the singer so many layers with which to work.
I felt that both of you gave a genuine and heartfelt performance. In particular, your individual solos were excellent and captured the mood of the song extremely well.
Critique: Lauren and Scotty – I found the arrangement a little square and mundane, causing both of you to sing in a less fluid manner. The phrasing felt very fragmented and never achieved that all-important forward momentum that creates excitement and drive in a song.
Also, the harmonies didn’t quite work. The blend was just not there. Lauren’s vocal timbre is much brighter than yours, Scotty, and she sings with a little more head voice in her vocal mix than you do.
And, Scotty, although you carried your harmony descant very well, it really sat beyond your natural singing range, causing you to strain and reach for those almost unattainable higher notes and not sing over them.
Therefore, you encountered pitch problems. You can’t sit on those upper notes, they have to soar and spin from your vocal cavity. Then your pitch will be true. Remember – head voice!
Again, I question the key selection for this song. Even lowering it a tone would have been more beneficial to both singers.