By: Rosanne Simunovic
Fourteen songs in one show! My poor fingers! And voice, thanks to the awesome new dictation feature on the new IPad. Apple rocks!
But, I digress. This week, the Top 7 singers performed two numbers – one from the 21st century and the other from the vast array of numbers available from the 20th century.
However, with 100 years of songs from which to choose, I was expecting a more diverse selection of songs from the 20th century. Weren’t you?
And wouldn’t it have been great if each singer chose a song suitable to his or her specific performance genre? But, this is American Idol – or should I say “Screaming Idol” – and an agenda is in place so all logic is thrown out the window.
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: Colton – you are such an introspective performer and, of all the remaining performers, have exhibited the most growth during the American Idol process. I don’t know if it s your determination, work ethic, greater confidence or a combination of all three, but, whatever the reason, it has worked so well for you.
You dig deep, Colton, and I am sure your spirituality has a great deal to do with this. You know how to address and mold every elemental aspect of a song.
“Bad Romance”? Who knew? I am glad that you decided to quicken the pace from your more recent performances, Colton. We needed to see this side of you post-haste! This was a very innovative take on this song – full of passion and fireworks. I absolutely loved it! You totally surprised me!
And – bonus – your voice was extremely clear and transparent throughout your range. Your articulation was much better than in previous performances and, because of this, the communicative energy needed for this song was heightened.
Your decision to drop the octave in a portion of a song was a very smooth and wise one. It provided great contrast to the upper range sections of this number.
Your second song, “September” featured you at the piano, again reminding everyone of your sublime musicianship. Some of your upper notes were just beautiful – ringing and clear.
Once again, you applied your emotive style which has now become your signature on this show and I really appreciated this. You do stay very true to your artistic vision and I applaud you for this. Great work,Colton.
Critique: Colton – generally speaking, your vocals were extremely well delivered In your first number, “Bad Romance”. With everything going on on that stage, I thought your did a remarkable job balancing the vocal and choreographic elements.
However, just a subtle reminder: Do not push your upper vocals by squeezing your throat muscles. Sing over those high notes – don’t attack them. And use the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to deliver and focus your voice in your vocal masque.
This was more problematic,however, in your “September” song where I felt that your voice lost presence. I don’t know what was going on with you but there was almost a mumbling aspect to your vocal delivery.
Also, as in previous performances, you were back to neglecting the clarity of your words when singing through your lower range. As a result, your your voice lost presence and was less expressive. The energetic focus of your voice was greatly diminished.
Also, some of your upper vocals exhibited tension during this number, a push to the sound. This was not the case with your first song but in this song, whether it was the fact that you were playing the piano and were distracted or the adrenaline was pouring from your system too quickly, it did change the correct method for producing resonant vocals.
Slow numbers still need to be sung with energy and focus; the intensity has to be there but it has to be a controlled intensity and, at all times, the diaphragmatic support must be central to the delivery.
However, all in all, it was a good week for you Colton. Kudos!
Strengths: Elise – “No One” was a great song choice for you. I loved the intensity of your lower rich vocals at the beginning of this song and part of me ached for you to stay there.
And with this song, you perfectly mixed the head and rustic vocals, allowing the diaphragm to guide and focus your sound. You can’t ask for better than that. I loved the passionate delivery of this song. It felt real and was well-phrased via a seamless momentum.
“Let’s Get It On” was a lovely realized performance and you added your signature style and substance to this great number. And, as always, you moved with professional ease on that stage.
Good work, Elise!
Critique: Elise – your first song, “No One” was just beautiful. I honestly could find little fault with this song. When it works, it works!
Boy, song choice makes such a difference! You looked and sounded so relaxed so either the technical skills were flowing with ease or you have been practicing like crazy. Whatever the reason, it worked m’lady!
However, during your second number, “Let’s Get It On”, you were back to the old chest voice rules approach. All that beautiful head voice that we heard in the first number was lost to us. Darn!
But what was even more disturbing was the introduction of the screaming element into your singing style. It was just so wrong and, even worse, not believable.
You don’t have to do this to deliver strong emotion as you so aptly proved in Round One.
I am a huge fan of the different textures in your voice. Generally, you use them wisely. However, problems begin when the chest voice overpowers the head voice – we then lose the inherent clarity and beauty of your voice.
I know you do have the ability to stabilize and focus your voice correctly. I hear the technique kicking in every so often and that is a good sign. Now, you must work toward establishing continuity in your technical support.
You can still sing with passion and fervor and all that, but the technique has to provide the foundation for the emotional connection. However, that being said, there has to be a delicate balance between the technique and the performance or else your vocal delivery will lose its impact.
I tell my singers go make sure the technical problems are sorted out early on in the rehearsal process so the interpretive skills can kick in naturally and unimpeded on stage.
However, to end this evaluation on an upbeat, I thought your first number was stellar I all aspects. This is what you have to strive for each week – believable, refined performances that come from your heart and soul. Good luck, Elise!
Strengths: Hollie – you are such a brilliant singer, loaded with technical skill that empowers you to create gorgeous, memorable vocal moments during your song delivery.
Your breathing skills are impeccable and, when coupled with your bel canto approach to singing, allows you to center and focus your voice with consistency. It helps to have a bit of that British accent in your speaking voice, as the refined British speak with pure vowels and crisply articulated consonants – which is exactly the way you should sing.
And, although you have only studied for a year or so, it proves that you are an intelligent young lady who is determined to improve and strengthen her voice. Kudos to you for that!
However, you elevate this art form in your own special way, similar to the great legendary artists, Judy Garland. Like Ms. Garland, the dichotomy between your innocent face and angst-filled voice is exciting to watch. It significantly raises your SQ or, in Masterclass Lady terms, star quotient.
The a cappella beginning of “Rolling In The Deep” was just beautiful. It was a very nice twist on the arrangement and not a note out of place! Gorgeous! This was not an easy way to begin this song and a cappella to boot. Therefore, it speaks to the strength and confidence in your vocal ability. Kudos!
This was well-paced, strongly communicated delivery of a very difficult song. You moved with ease and grace on stage and, with this song, this was not easy to do – not at all.
Your sustaining power on the pure vowels like “ah” and “ee” were superbly done. You have mastered the art of bel canto singing to a “t” and have the diaphragmatic skills to match.
As a result, your phrasing had breadth and shape, allowing you to sing with a forward momentum during this showcase. The song flowed from your body with incredible ease and, yet, we all know that this wasn’t easy. Those rib cage muscles were working 24/7 during this number!
“Son Of A Preacher Man”, although not my favorite song for you, was very well done. There wasn’t enough in that song to really show off your vocals. But, what it did show was your performing skills. You were finally having fun on that stage and establishing strong communication with the audience.
Excellent work, Hollie! This was a superb week for you, young lady. Brava!
Critique: Hollie – “Rolling In The Deep” was as near perfect as anyone was going to get with this song. There was one “oops” on the “ee” vowel in the word “deep” during the a cappella version at the beginning of this song. Your mouth was horizontal vs. circular on that vowel, so your vocal sound lost focus and presence – but only for that moment.
But the rest of the song was exceptional – the vocal and artistic presentation was absolutely phenomenal. Brava! Brava!
There was so much movement during “Son Of Preacher Man” that your vocals were knocked off center a couple of times. But, that’s to be expected. It is a big, soulful song and you have to make sure that the choreography doesn’t inhibit the correct production of the vocals.
Make absolutely certain that you solidify your vocals before you add any choreographic elements. Do not become too active on stage during the technically tricky moments of a song. No one will know but you!
Or, vice versa, allow the movement to serve as a productive element for your voice. Incorporate some knee bends when accessing those upper notes. It will free your larynx and your vocal sound will just pop out – as long as your jaw is relaxed and extended. Or raise you arms to the side to increase the length of your rib cage area, making you more aware of your diaphragm. All of these movements can be done subtly and within the context of the performance. Great tricks!
I did love the visual aspects of this performance – the brass band, the lighting etc. – it all came together to create a strong performing environment for you. Brava!!
Strengths: Jessica – I was happy that you selected Alicia Keyes’ “Fallin” as it perfectly complimented your soulful style.
The stellar a cappella vocal at the beginning of this song was brilliantly executed. Like a Perfect 10 gymnast! The vocal run propelled this song forward and upward to stratospheric heights.
I loved the grit and grime in your voice this week. You grabbed the emotional core of this song, sounding downtrodden and full of angst.
Also, as Jennifer said, you played with your song. And, as I said last week, explored ever nook and cranny in the song structure. And then knocked down walls and renovated the original composition. Pretty amazing, star-making stuff and this was one of those moments.
The control you maintained throughout this number was truly inspiring. And, yet, you sang this song from your heart, allowing the soulful aspects of this number to resonate in a very profound way with the audience.
Then you returned to the stage and performed “Try A Little Tenderness”. Oh me, oh my how I love this number. You really rocked this song, perhaps a bit too much. However, you showed a side of your personality we have never seen before, so, in this respect, I have to congratulate you for that.
I really appreciate how you are always willing to grow and stretch beyond the limitations of your 16 years. You never stop developing and, in fact, singers of all ages must realize this. The voice matures with your body but every decade adds a new and interesting twist to your vocal sound – some good, some not. The idea is to allow the technique to mold and shape the development of your voice at every stage and never to rush the process.
That being said, I felt that, in a nutshell, the process may have been realized too early in the game for this second number to rest comfortably in the eyes, ears and heart of the listener.
However, taking everything into consideration, you rendered a great showcase this week, Jessica! Brava!
Critique: Jessica – as I said last week, be very careful of that mid-range push. You tend to let down your technical guard when you vocalize through this area of your range, quite possibly because it lies within your speaking range.
Always incorporate head voice to every part of your singing and dynamic range. Your voice can still sound passionate yet relaxed and free at the same time. That is why technique is so important – so that you can call up any emotion and know that the voice will still sound centered and free every step of the emotional journey.
This became a slight problem in the first number but a huge problem in the second number, “Try A Little Tenderness”. In an effort to connect with the audience in an expressive and meaningful manner, you abandoned some vital technical skills and bullied your voice outward. There was a push to your sound that was quite disconcerting.
And what the what? All that screaming during this song? Who told you to do that? This is not who you are! I was not a fan of the screaming in this song, Jessica. In fact, this screaming madness has to stop for all the singers this season. It’s like some sort of virus permeating the Idol mansion.
Also, be careful of that horizontal spread in the mouth area. Circular rules! Pure vowels rule! And, by relaxing those facial muscles, you will feel the need to access your diaphragmatic breathing muscles in a more consistent manner.
Great work though Jessica! You are such a bright star on that stage!
Strengths: Joshua – “I Believe” was a very logical song choice given your love for Fantasia. I loved how you took your time with this song, caressing each and every word. And I appreciate the depth of emotion and range you brought to this song. It was truly heartfelt.
I loved the inflections in your voice when you sang this number. It was expressive and heartfelt. This was a perfect song choice and, overall, a good performance.
“A Change Is Gonna Come” was well-suited to your vocal style and, like Round One, you poured your heart and soul into this number. You were perhaps a bit over-pumped, but the feeling for the music and lyrics were prominent.
Critique: Joshua – in your first song, “I Believe”, the horizontal position of your mouth took precedence to the technically correct circular formation, thus forcing you to push your vocal sound from your mouth and throat.
You need to work towards achieving a more relaxed demeanor in the facial muscles so your diaphragmatic support can work at a more consistent pace
When you delivered your power vocals, out came the shouting and screaming which I can’t full accept. I never liked it when Fantasia did it and I like it even less when you do it because you have an inherently beautiful voice which you are abusing week after week on this show.
Also, I felt you were imitating Fantasia’s take on this song rather than initiating your personal style in the interpretation of this number. Why go there? We’ve already been and, for me, once was enough.
You had the opportunity to add something new to this number, a softer approach with more head voice would have been a welcome change. And, this is what bothers me now. Your interpretation of each song from week to week is sounding old and tired. We need to see and hear something different.
This is your pattern: start slow and soft, then slowly build to an out-of-control wail. Why can’t we just have soft and medium soft every so often? That would take control, of course, but you need to challenge yourself to do so. You really do!
And, it all became much worse during your second number, “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Your voice sounded really strained during this song, probably residue from your belting and screaming from Round One.
This is what screaming does to singers. It ruins their voices and quickly too! Yes, there was emotion, yes, there was feeling but, if we can be honest here, you were barely singing throughout this number. It was scream city all the way.
Somewhere, somehow and with someone, you need to be told how to deliver a song with strong passion using diaphragmatic support. And, since I suspect you will be here until the end, you still have time to make these changes – if not for any reason but to preserve the longevity and health of your voice.
Good luck, Joshua!
Strengths: Phillip – “You’ve Got It Bad” is a song that I am not familiar with so I could really listen to this song objectively.
Surrounded by your acoustic musicians, you exuded a relaxed and accommodating demeanor.
I love how your poured your emotions on to that stage and with such passion and fervor. Sometimes, performance supersedes technique and this was one of those moments. It was an incredibly intense and vivid performance, your body moving rhythmically to that contagious rhythm.
You sang “In The Midnight Hour” with such sparkle in your eyes. You are quite the player on stage. I was wondering why I was enjoying it so much and then I realized – no guitar!! No! Guitar! It was so great to see you perform without your guitar that I didn’t even care that you were screaming and yelling for half the song. Honestly!
What a performer you are! What took you so long to diss the guitar? With performing skills like this, why stand behind a mike stand? You can move and groove like no other.
This was a well-paced song, with a flowing momentum. You were rhythmically and melodically “in that moment”, with spontaneous vocals. This was an animated performance – one that was all about the music. Exceptional performance, Phillip. I absolutely adored it!
Critique: Phillip – you and that blessed guitar! Boy how I wish you had left it back at the Idol mansion for both numbers.
Although your first song, “I’ve Got It Bad” was a great performance, you still need to continue to ease the tension in the mouth and jaw and neck.
However, you are quite the clever dude – you managed to select a key that works comfortably for your voice in order to avoid excessive strain. I don’t know if this was intentional or not but it helped ease the tension in your voice.
In fact, all the singers need to be reminded to meticulously select the proper key, one that works to enhance their natural singing range.
That being said, continue working on establishing complete and utter freedom in your vocal delivery. That means delivering your vocal sound via the diaphragmatic breath support.
And a horizontal mouth will just create more tension in your voice. Relax your jaw, feeling the openness in the back of your throat. With the facial tension at bay, you will have no other recourse but to support from the diaphragm.
Ditto for your second number, “In The Midnight Hour”. Yes, there was some yelling and screaming, but because your performing skills were so great, I’ll let it slide this time if you promise to work on your vocals for next week. Deal? Good!
Strengths: Skylar – I love that you adopted the country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”. And yet, you rocked it out at the same time blending country and rock extremely well.
Your voice always has incredible presence and unbelievable focus. You possess natural head voice at every level of your vocal range which I love.
Your confidence and bravado on that stage is just outstanding. Additionally, you are a smart performer and this song is a glowing example at how detailed you are in choosing your songs from week to week. I don’t think there has been a song that didn’t suit your personal style of singing. You know where you are going as an artist and it shows each and every week. Brava!
Your second number, “Heard It Through The Grapevine” was also well done, although not as refined as the first number. I don’t know if everyone was rushed to select a second song but, for me, all the numbers in the second half, except Phillip’s, were not as strong as the first.
I loved the melodic twists you added to this number. It was great to hear the variation, as this number is timeworn and really needed a refresher. So thank you for adding your signature sound to this number.
Always the consummate entertainer, you really worked the stage like the little pro that you are. You make it look so easy.
You poured your little heart and soul both numbers and, as always, strived to include your audience in your musical journey. Your EQ = Entertainment Quotient
always ranks very high in my book! Brava Skylar!
Critique: Skylar –be careful that all that be-bopping does not get in the way of your vocal delivery. I felt that, during both numbers and, in particular the second, the vocals were a bit off-center.
Also, like some of the other singers, there is a sameness to your performances from week to week. We need to hear and see a more vulnerable side to your persona. With the capability of choosing two numbers this week, I was hoping you would choose a slower, perhaps quieter ballad.
Also, your voice is always on overdrive, I feel. You need to add more layers to your vocal delivery – a variety of dynamics. You are expressive, but always in an overpowering way. You can still move and touch and entertain your audience by lowering the decibels.
For me, your best performance to date, one that showed off your vocals skills, was “Wind Beneath My Wings”. It was an incredible showcase, one that showed the depth and breadth of your vocal talent.
Also, the screaming ensued at some point, but, you know, it’s a virus and it has invaded the Idol stage and mansion, so get plenty of bed rest and watch your diaphragm move up and down when you breathe.
Then apply it to your singing. Always power your vocals by using your diaphragmatic breath support.
It also helps to sing on clean, pure vowels, with a relaxed mouth loose jaw. Watch those nasty diphthongs, especially the “eye” one in words like “vine”. Grab the first pure vowel in that word – the “ah” vowel – and sustain your voice on that vowel, closing on the remainder of the diphthong when you ate ready to articulate the final consonant.
Good luck next week, Skylar.