By: Rosanne Simunovic
Last evening’s performances were a little of this and a little of that in terms of a successful delivery from each singer. I was enjoying the show, then not, then loving it again. Some of the songs were not suited to the style of the singers, in part due to relevance of song choice during each stage of this competition
Rock and Roll legend, Sheryl Crow, collaborated with Jimmy Iovine during the mentoring process and worked very hard to refine these singers into true artists. I feel she gave them excellent advice and was an extremely supportive force in this week’s show. I could do with a steady diet of her! Love her!
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: Hayley – seated on the steps, you set the perfect mood at the beginning of your first number, “You And I“. Not only did this give you time to ease into the performance, to pace yourself, but also it added visual dimension later in the number when you decided to move about the stage. Your performance skills during this number were wonderful, full of emotion and extremely liberated.
You make it all look so easy, Hayley – your effortless style instills confidence in your performance from a viewer’s perspective and we are able to enjoy and connect with your vocal offering in a real way.
I loved the freedom in your voice and spirit. You feel, therefore, you do and I love this about you.
You second song was “House Of the Rising Sun” and, even before you opened your mouth to sing, I knew this was going to be a huge hit with the crowd and the judges. And it certainly was that.
I loved the decision to begin the song a cappella; it reinforced the haunting nature of this song and showcased how controlled you are as a vocalist.
Your voice was perfectly tuned throughout this performance. Also, I so appreciated the many vocal layers you added to this number. We heard some rasp, some grit, definitely some head voice; the addition of all these nuances established your connection to the storyline while reinforcing in our minds what a gifted, multi-dimensional vocalist you are and aspire to be.
This 2nd number was certainly your redemption in this dual showcase and I am so happy you had the opportunity to perform it as the final number in this week’s Top 5 showdown.
Excellent work, Hayley
Critique: Hayley –although I know you were very excited to obtain clearance to perform Lady Gaga’s unreleased song, “You And I”, all I kept thinking during this number is: “Now I know why this song was never released. It goes nowhere”.
Therefore, suffice it to say, I was not a fan of this song choice. In fact, I think you were extremely ill-advised by Jimmy Iovine and company.
Rule #1: never let emotion sway you when you select your songs. You have to be rational and, given the performance circumstances, balance the pos and cons when choosing your material. At this stage of the competition, you needed a song that would energize the audience to vote like crazy for two hours
However, you seemed very committed to the performance and, as always, very animated in communicating the emotional core of the lyrical line. You did all you could do with this number, minus the smoke and mirrors that often accompanies Lady Gaga’s performances. (and I mean this in a good way, Gaga fans. Don’t get excited here.)
Also, I was disturbed to hear the raspy quality in your voice this week. Wow! Are you tired? Sick? There was so much chest voice in your vocal mix, particularly in this number. What I have come to love about you is the agility in your voice, that light, glowing quality that allowed your voice to consistently soar with ease and freedom.
However, this week and, in particular, this number, there was a heaviness to your sound that really disturbed me and I have to question whether you really felt comfortable with this song. You seemed committed to this vocal project but maybe your body was sending you mixed messages.
Rule #2: If the song doesn’t feel right, if it s causing you to abandon your technical freedom, can it like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t know how often I have done this very thing with my vocal students, sometimes at the 11th hour, and have never regretted the decision. The comfort level of song has to resonate with authenticity in a singer. I really felt that this was lacking during this number and, thus, your technical problems escalated.
Your “House Of The Rising Sun” number was much more successful. This was the Hayley I know and love. I loved the vocal textures your introduced throughout this song, but be very careful of that rasp in your voice.
You have to make absolutely certain that your mouth remains circular and the jaw relaxed, even when you add angst and passion at various points in this song. Keep the throat muscles free from constriction and use your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles for the correct energy you wish to produce with your voice.
The throat must remain open and free AND you must make certain that you have enough air to guide the emotional compass of your voice.
Hope all this helps, Hayley. Remember, you entered this competition with a solid technical foundation. Don’t abandon it now – or ever!
JACOB LUSK: “No Air” and “Love Hurts”
Strengths: Jacob – given the difficulty of your first song, “No Air”, I thought you gave a very solid performance. It is not easy to flip back and forth between the two separate melody lines in this song and I thought you handled this very well indeed.
And it was very comforting to see that you reined back on the vocal acrobatics that were adversely affecting some of your earlier performances. You have such a vocal gift – you don’t need to drive this fact home to the audience. We get it and we love it.
You second song, the rock ballad, “Love Hurts” was absolutely terrific. I loved everything about this performance. Everything! The passion, the vocal presence and delivery, your stage persona – all these elements came together to create such a strong, indelible showcase.
You began this song by highlighting the fullness of your head voice. Your upper range sounded so rich and yet very transparent. It really spoke to the strengths you possess as a vocalist
And that high note at the end? Stratospheric. You really should study classical voice and explore the enormous, enormous potential in your voice. You have so much potential for growth – your voice is such a rare gem.
You really poured your heart and soul into this song. Your vocals were strong and pure, and you clung to those pure vowels with seamless continuity. Additionally, your phrasing was so musical and fluid. You have exemplary breath control and are able to achieve so many wonderful moments in all your songs.
Congratulations, Jacob! This was just an exceptional showcase.
Critique: Jacob – when I realized that you had selected the Chris Brown/Jordin Sparks duet I said to myself, “Why”?
First of all, I didn’t like the song anyway, but forcing yourself to deliver two separate melody lines in a fragmented portion of this song was just the wrong vehicle for you at this stage of the competition. It was confusing for the listener and, in fact, diminished the natural flow of the song.
Once again, your spread mouth became problematic, causing you to lose control of your breath support. As a result, your old friend, the tremolo was out of control and, to make matters worse, that lack of control carried up to the top of your range later in this number.
Because your tremolo was so wide, the center of your pitch was adversely affected. Your pitch was very sharp. Toward the end of this number, your voice seemed on the right track in all regards but, by then, the damage was done.
Also, you seemed a little over-pumped for this number; you didn’t quite pace yourself. You must always make sure that you ground yourself with the correct technique from the opening line of a song. If not, you risk losing control of the song, which is what happened during this number.
The fact that you had to deliver two distinct vocal parts just increased your work load with this song and, unfortunately, was not a judicious decision.
However, thank heavens for second chances! Your “Love Hurts” number was excellent and vocally I could find little fault in your delivery.
However, you must be very careful that you don’t over do the body movements. You were stamping your feet a couple of times and I thought: don’t go there. Don’t get totally lost in the music that you can’t find your way back.
You are a big guy with a big voice and you need not work as hard as other performers. To me, the stomping disturbed the flow of the song, which, up to this point, was working quite nicely. Your voice, alone, Jacob, carries so much passion and fervor that you do not need to rely on excessive body movements to emphasize this fact. That’s when I feel you need to rein it in.
And, make sure you work on your articulation skills. Don’t drown your voice in the melodic delivery. The words need to be articulated with clarity and precision. This will also assist you in controlling your air while giving your voice added energy and direction.
Good work, nonetheless, Jacob. Kudos!
Strengths: James –as always, you displayed strong performance skills during your first number, “Closer To The Edge“. And, indeed, you always seem to be moving toward the edge in every performance, taking risks and being successful with those risks. You never fall off the edge – you know your limitations, which seem endless. The element of surprise is integral to each of your performances; in fact, I think surprise is your middle name.
I particularly loved the vocal slide up to your highly developed falsetto range. It is this depth of character and nuance that I have come to enjoy in all your performances, James. You are fearless on that stage and I love it!
Vocally, the grab on your pure vowels was wonderfully consistent. I certainly can’t fault you there. As I have mentioned before, you have a distinct hold on the correct technical approach that services you very well and enhances the naturally rich timbre of your gifted voice.
This was a strong, muscular, passionate performance and you captured the spirit of this song perfectly. It was a true rock and roll experience; you are an authentic rocker not a poseur and this is why your performances resonate easily with the audience.
Your second number, “Without You” just stole my heart a million times over. Your intense, sensitive delivery was absolutely phenomenal. How you managed to complete this song when it was obviously affecting you emotionally just speaks to the level of your professionalism and commitment as a vocal artist.
And, believe it or not, that shaking body was actually helping you to support your voice. Your lower voice, in particular. had more presence than usual and you articulated your words with heightened clarity. Your shaking muscles were contracting and, by doing so, assisted you through the vocal process, keeping the voice front and center.
I loved the range of dynamics in this number, from the hushed intensity at the beginning of this song to the brilliant power vocals at the end. And, strangely enough, the slight wavering in pitch was incidental and actually strengthened your expressive vocals. We could feel the hurt in your heart, the vulnerability and the longing.
Your phrasing was musical and meaningful and, the words were crisp and clean. The emotion took over and inspired you to carry those words toward the hearts of your listeners. Such poignancy in delivery is very rare indeed. Musical theatre star, Bernadette Peters, inherited this rare performance quality and it was, indeed her trademark. You are now carrying the torch James. Beautiful!
Excellent work, James. Congratulations!
Critique: James – you must, must remember to support your lower range. This has been such a problem for you from Day One of this competition.
In your first number, “Closer To The Edge”, I could barely hear your voice. It was so frustrating. And given that the melody sat so low at the start of this performance, it was even more important that you follow this guide.
The song began on shaky ground and, although it picked up when you sang through your upper range, it still hindered a completely satisfying performance from a personal perspective.
Additional attention to your articulation skills will help you here. Pronounce those consonants with clarity, using the consonants as a springboard to the vowels, which are important to the sustaining process. Then your voice will sound seamless and even from top to bottom there.
Unfortunately during this song, I was hearing two voices, one shaky, lacking in presence and the other strong and powerful and brimming with charisma and authority. You need to bridge this gap, James so that your voice commands authority at every point in your vocal and dynamic range.
Your second song, “Without You”, was just so special, so perfect in ways that were important, that I cannot spoil the memory with a critique. What’s there to critique? That you feel? That you care?
And, truth be told, so many problems with your articulation and lower range disappeared during this number. Your emotional compass seemed to make you more determined to deliver this song with purpose and conviction.
Bravo, James! You are one special musician.
Strengths: Lauren –you began this Carrie Underwood song with confidence and poise and it remained a permanent fixture throughout this performance. I thoroughly enjoyed the bubbly country flavor you added to this song and , in particular, the country slide in some of your phrasing.
It was evident that some wonderful preparation and attention to performance detail was instilled over the course of the week and, because of this, your performance was visibly and audibly enhanced.
The song never lacked in momentum; in fact, there was a driving force throughout this number that grabbed the audience, keeping them fully entertained and engaged throughout. You entertained the masses and showcased all the strengths that you have brought to this competition: a naturally resonant voice, lovely stage presence and engaging performance skills.
This was a very convincing and enjoyable performance. Your movements were youthful, yet exciting – no more shy Lauren here!
Your second song, “Unchained Melody“, was a tough one wasn’t it? However, I loved the metamorphosis in your appearance. You looked radiant and elegant in your long gown and captured the emotional essence of the song beautifully.
Nice work, Lauren
Critique: Lauren – I must continue to remind you not to push your chest voice when you sing through your power vocals.
During your first number, “Flat On The Floor“, I loved the character in your voice- all the neat inflection and nuance. However, make absolutely sure that the head voice element is central to your power vocals in your upper range. I still sensed tension and strain in your throat muscles.
You must make certain that all the heavy work comes from your diaphragmatic breathing muscles, leaving the throat open and free. By doing so, your voice will seemingly float from your mouth and will reach a higher degree of clarity and ring.
The technical foundation must provide direction for every level of expressive sound coming from your mouth. I was concerned about the tension in the vocal mix; at times, you lost the head voice element and your voice was walking a fine line between screaming and not.
Now, during the second number, “Unchained Melody“, you encountered many, many problems. In retrospect, this song was an unwise choice; it exposed every single problem you have experienced over this the course of this competition.
In particular, you were having problems managing the longevity of your breath control. Your phrasing was fragmented throughout the song, your voice sounded breathy and lacked momentum and direction and the song never reached the pinnacle that we normally associate with this number.
All your technical deficiencies were exposed and emphasized your lack of a strong, consistent grasp on proper breath control. This tender, highly nuanced song, requires great skill in the vocal delivery and, unfortunately, you are not quite there yet.
As soon as I heard you were singing this number, I was squirming in my chair here. I can’t imagine you selected this song. You looked uncomfortable and awkward throughout the performance, almost as if you had no choice in the decision-making process. As I mentioned before to Jacob, never sing a song that doesn’t sit well in your emotional, physical and technical makeup.
Also, you need to practice technical exercises to strengthen your breath control and assist you in stretching out your phrases beyond a couple of words. You cannot breathe incessantly throughout a song; the breathing must assist you in phrasing the song in a meaningful way, shaping your phrases with musicality and fluidity.
The performance of this song remained stagnant, had little flow or substance! What a shame. Hopefully, you will be able to reinforce your voice with a proper ballad or two in the remaining weeks.
Best of luck, Lauren and, remember ,follow your instincts when selecting your numbers.
Strengths: Scotty – you went through a pretty exciting transformation this week. You were jumping like an athlete and moving with rhythmic intensity. You were animated and free and I was lovin’ me some Scotty.
What an excellent showcase. In “Gone”, your voice was brimming with nuance and character; you told the story and, truth be told, I couldn’t take my eyes off this performance. You mesmerized the old Masterclass Lady! I was enjoying your ride and you brought a smile to my face.
In previous weeks, I would have completed a thesis midway through your live performance, but, this week, it was all about the style and even more substance. You finally lowered the wall and revealed all that you could be through this beautifully realized performance.
You connected with the audience both on and off stage and captured them in the palm of your hand. It was so rewarding to witness the growth of your artistry during the course of this competition. I remember how shy, how introverted you were at the start of this competition and now all of this seems a distant memory.
Additionally, your voice had expressive presence, resonating freely via your relaxed energetic movements. Movement is so important to a singer’s success as a performer as long as he is able to perfectly balance the choreography and the vocals. I felt you achieved this balance, Scotty – one complimented the other. Wonderful!
Your second song choice, “You Were Always On My Mind” was a powerful decision. And not fair – it is one of my favorite songs in the universe and, therefore, moved me immensely.
Your heartfelt vocals and presence told the story with sincerity and conviction. creating an intimate moment with the audience . It was truly beautiful.
Really fine work this week, Scotty! Bravo!
Critique: Scotty – aside from the side mike thing, there wasn’t a great deal not to like about your first performance. And, truth be told, even the “side mike thing” is starting to grow on me. It’s your trademark, as long as you use it for performance purposes and not an everlasting presence in every song.
That being said, you have achieved noticeable improvement in your mike technique. so a special shout-out to American Idol vocal coach, Peisha McPhee, for refining your mike technique.
During your second number, “You Were Always On My Mind”, I was aching for you to refine your vowel placement on that nasty “eye” diphthong in the words “mind“, “died“, “satisfied“. Always remember to sustain your voice for the full count on the first pure vowel in every diphthong.
In this case, it was the “ah” vowel and how easy is that? This vowel is the easiest and most neutral of all the vowels and adds a naturally rich quality to the voice at every level of one’s vocal range. By doing this, you will ensure a more aesthetically pleasing and centered vocal quality. And, your voice will not only escalate in presence and charisma, but also become easier to deliver via your diaphragmatic breath support.
Also, make sure you develop a more inventive approach to your phrasing element. Don’t be afraid to stretch your phrases and to hold on to your final notes. Keep the forward momentum viable.
Now, I have to say that this element has improved from previous weeks, but, what I need and hope to hear now is a stronger sustaining approach on the pure vowel over a longer period of time throughout the melody line. Make the voice grow as you sustain your notes. Always allow the voice to move forward.
Great work, Scotty! You are improving every week. Congratulations on your very hard work! Bravo!