By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, the Top 8 singers celebrated the Music Of Motown. And, as expected, this theme proved to be trickier for some than others.
It is safe to say that Motown is not only a specific genre or theme, but also a way of life- an innate ability to soulfully express your musical gift. This is something that cannot be taught – it just IS!
The singer has to establish a deep connection to the music and lyrics and then, intuitively, translate the core emotion back to the audience. One either has this gift or no and, although environmental and genetic factors can play a key role in the development of the Motown sound, many singers have just been born with this freedom of vocal speech.
This is the time where singers can and must bend their phrases and shape them in a creative and meaningful way. And they have to dig deep – particularly in the ballads.
So, in addition to all the technical aspects that I was evaluating, I was also looking to see how believable each singer sounded while expressing their number. Did they move me? Inspire? And, more important, did they stamp their song with their personal signature? This was key from my perspective.
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: Amber – you have a face and voice that ignites the stage. Your grace and poise are wonderful and it is very apparent that you sing from your heart. There is a poignancy about you that touches the listener and it stems from the sensitive nature of your artistry.
This week you once again gave a very memorable performance of this wonderful song by the great Stevie Wonder. You personalized this number, however, and added wonderful subtleties in an almost magical way. The nuances and inflection coming from your voice were heartfelt and pure.
And that voice! It was so translucent and brimming with head voice, allowing you to easily move throughout your range with pitch perfect clarity.
However the mark of a great singer lies within her ability to phrase the melodic line in new and interesting ways and this is where you truly excel, Amber. Your soulful, creative phrasing created a new musical concept for the song and brought it to another level.
This is not to say that the original was not good – far from it! However, the mark of a great singer is to reinvent the way one listens to a song – the phrasing, the words, expressive qualities. And this is called artistry and this is what you possess by the truckloads.
This was exceptional Amber. Standing O!! Times 1000!
Critique: Amber – careful! Try not to raise your head when you move through your upper range. You are adding tension to your vocal sound – it is subtle – but it is still there.
Think over those upper notes, bend your knees and squeeze your butt ( it really helps). This will reinforce your diaphragmatic breathing skills, raise your soft palate and allow those upper notes to flow toward your vocal masque with ease.
And relax your shoulders – your upper body needs to be free from tension. Again, this will help your vocal projection and will heighten the visual aspect of your performance.
However, you are an amazingly gifted vocalist. I just want you to be amazingly amazingly gifted! Congratulations Amber! Love you!
Strengths: Angie – it was great to see you move away from the ballads. You perform this style of music exquisitely but all singers in this competition thrive on their ability to display diversity in their singing style.
So kudos for you for upping the tempo! I would never have imagined this song for your voice so good for you for taking the risk by selecting this number. You added some neat vocal twists and turns to this song – very creative stuff.
And Smokey gave you some great advice, as he encouraged you to explore the fun side to your persona. And you did indeed have blast on that stage, flirting with the musicians.
You brought a neat spunky attitude to this performance and it was a pretty solid performance. Not your absolute best but still quite good.
Critique: Angie – okay, who made you select this song? I applaud the risk you took by singing it but, honestly, I would much rather rave heard you sing another ballad than try to adapt your singing style to this number.
However, I admire your attempt to capture the mood of the song via your stage movements. However, as much as you see end to be enjoying yourself, I have to agree with the judges that your pitch did suffer throughout this song.
As I have said many times in these Vocal Masterclass articles, the movement on stage is a good thing as long as the diaphragm is consistently supporting your voice. Too much movement can throw your technique off balance especially if not rehearsed properly.
So, it is important to practice the song at a slower tempo and without movement to make certain that your voice is operating as it should – clean pitch, creative phrasing, steady rhythmic flow.
And never feel that you have to move constantly during these upbeat numbers. A little movement goes a long way – you need time to just emote without movement so that you can keep the song centred at all times. Also, this will help you to fully engage your audience. I felt that your audience was on stage in the form of the back-up musicians – you were playing to them instead of the people that count – us!
Also, stay true to who you are as an artist. Your mentors should not be deterring your inherent classical approach – they should be applauding it. I think this was the main problem with this number – your training went out the window. Heavens – even your speaking voice was slightly hoarse when the song was over. Not good.
You were using more chest voice than was necessary and all the gorgeous head voice that truly is your signature sound went out the window. Along with your tuning! Head voice ensures great tuning while too much chest voice makes the voice sound muddy and poorly centred.
So, in preparation for next week, sing a song which will highlight the consummate singing skills and artistry you bring to this competition. This song was just too much fluff for you. It was not who you are. You are better than that.
Good luck next week, Angie!! Fingers crossed here!
Strengths: Burnell – you have such a distinctive tone to your voice and it was naturally suited to the Motown theme this week.
You selected a very popular song from previous seasons and, hurray, it was an upbeat one to boot. I love Burnell the balladeer but it was time to showcase another side to your personality.
I thought you performed this song very well. I will be honest – it is not my favorite song and I was hoping you could have selected something different. This song is practically an Idol staple and should be retired along with some others.
However, you spun your vocal magic and made this song come alive. You are a story-teller, first and foremost, and the lyrics are central to your delivery. Additionally, you natural soulful style was a bonus. You ooze soul! Those runs up and down and all over the place were so fluid and seamless. Oh my!
But I am always taken in by the easy way you tell your story. I always come back to that. You wear your heart on your sleeve and, therefore, the nuances come through so beautifully in your singing. You embody inflection in your singing style.
It speaks volumes to your artistry for me to admit that I enjoyed this song a thousand times more than I thought I would.
Exceptional showcase Burnell! Bravo! Love you!
Critique: Burnell – as I mentioned above, your voice has a unique flavor – the kind that makes me hesitate to critique. I don’t want to change the timbre of your voice with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, but rather, I would like to give you some hints to heighten the dimension within and longevity of your vocal gift. Because it is indeed a gift and needs to be cared for properly!
Your style is perfect – never change that. You are on the right track.
However, the vocal substance needs a little tender loving care. I would like to see you work on the position of your mouth when you sing. By maintaining a circular formation on all the vowels, your tone will sound more seamless. And your pitch will be more controlled.
Also, the rounded shape, coupled with the relaxed jaw, will encourage you to support your voice more actively from the diaphragm. As much as you love creating nuance in your vocal line through changing mouth position, in the long run this approach will put too much pressure on your vocal cords.
You need to adhere to the correct bel canto method in order to liberate the full potential of your voice. Remember – you are still young and your vocal cords are still flexible and youthful. So, your voice “just works” with minimum of technical effort.
However, over the course of time, it is technical skill that will ensure the stability of your voice, allowing you to perform with confidence in the years ahead.
Also, you articulate so well but what was the “m” sound I was hearing at the end of some of your phrases? It was very strange and, more importantly, wrong.
To me, it sounded as if you were using the “m” to assist you in completing your word endings, especially with words that ended with an open vowel in the syllable – like “amour”, “adore”. This is a nasty little habit you will have to ax as soon as possible, Burnell.
However, this was still a great performance Burnell. Congratulations!
Strengths: Candice – you chose a classic and, although it is another overdone song on this show, I nevertheless enjoyed your performance. Enjoyed? What am I saying? I was blown away by your performance. You took this song to another level.
Your bluesy take on this song was just the ticket! It was a very sultry, relaxed interpretation of this number. And the jazz riffs you added were exceptionally done. And that raspy “yah” at the end was brimming with sass and spunk and all the good things that you need for a song like this.
Your voice is such a force! I think it is the breadth of your range that impresses me the most, this week being no exception. No matter how high or low you climb in your range, the sound is seamless, pure yet rich and wonderfully projected and sustained.
Because of this, I sense a classical quality in your voice. Classical singers strive to achieve a high level of evenness and sostenuto in their vocal quality and range and, depending on their personal skill level, this can take years to achieve.
But, you have this in spades Candice and, yet, you sound as far removed from a classical sound as one can possibly get. The technical approach is similar, but your style is so soulful and free – as one would expect when we hear this song.
You brought this number to another level, Candice, and you keep raising that bar higher each and every week. Brava! Absolutely spectacular.
Critique: Candice – I honestly could not find anything wrong with this performance. Your stage and vocal skills were impeccably refined. Very solid.
And so, for two weeks in a row, your are critique – free. You obviously don’t need my help! Ha!
Congratulations Candice! Love you!
Strengths: Devin – this was a spectacular selection. I enjoyed Smokey Robinson’s explanation behind the meaning of this song. Very powerful indeed!
So, I was looking for you to deliver the power behind the message. And, to a certain extent, you did very well in this regard.
I loved how you easily explored the upper part of your range. You made it look and sound so easy and in many ways your performing skills greatly improved this week.
You are a sensitive young artist and this sensitivity added a wonderful soulful element to this song.
Good work, Devin!
Critique: Devin – you need to relax and the only way you will be able to do this is to refine your breathing skills. And once you do this, your facial features will be even more expressive.
Also, I would have liked to see you move in the second half of this song. This would have added more visual appeal to the song plus would have enabled you to relax.A little walking when you sing liberates and energizes your body and then these elements are transferred to your voice.
Also, I don’t know if this is a factor of your youth or what, but I felt that you were a tad disconnected from the emotional core of the song. You did not fully and completely internalize this song and so there was very little nuance in your performance.
You need to tell your story – make those words come alive. Emphasize some words more than others – as you would when you speak. If you were speaking the lyrics, you would, hopefully, recite them with expression, adding a variety of inflection.
This is what you needed to do with this song – move away from the music in rehearsal and just recite the lyrics – from memory mind you – as you would a monologue.
Not only would this have assisted you with the necessary expressive qualities needed to sing this song, but also it would have reinforced a more solid approach to memorizing your lyrics.
Mind you, your memory didn’t fail you in this performance, but part of me was wondering if you were still thinking about remembering the words and therefore you couldn’t be fully expressive with the lyrical line. Just a thought!
And keep working on fully resonating your voice in your vocal masque. You have a great instrument but your voice lacks a ringing quality which means that there is too much chest resonance in your vocal mix.
You need to incorporate more head voice throughout your range and the only way you can do this is to relax the throat muscles and let the diaphragm do the work.
Bring your natural head voice down into your mid and lower range because, presently, I was hearing two distinct voices in this performance – high, heady falsetto and mid range with too much chest resonance. Your singing range was not seamless and I heard many breaks in your voice when going from one level of your range to another.
I have given lots of information to think about Devin but with all of this critique comes great respect for your vocal gift. You are very talented and I want the very best for you.
Strengths: Janelle – well, if anyone was going to break open a guitar this season then I am glad it was a gal. Oh yes I am! WGWG still reigns supreme on American Idol, except this time the “G” stands for “gal” instead of “guy”. So, I suppose that is progress.
You did an interesting take on this Motown classic. Your country-flavored style and guitar finesse created a personal showcase experience that was truly memorable. We saw a very sophisticated side to your artistry, Janelle, via the delivery of this song and it was very exciting to see and hear!
This is what singers must do during these theme weeks. Nowhere does it say in any rule book that you have to sing this song – or any song – in similar style to the original. In fact, it is just the opposite. You need to show originality to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. And, oh yes, you achieved your goal this week, Janelle!
You managed to capture the essence of this number while still reinventing the soulful sound to suit who you are as an artist. The key section was perfect and the minor tonality you selected for your arrangement was a stroke of genius! It captured the sense of longing in the lyrics, something that one never senses when you hear the original version. Interesting! It highlighted the depth of your musicianship.
I was happy to see that you decided to go with a slightly uptempo song this week, providing great contrast to the beautiful ballad you sang last week. This allowed you to communicate more fully with your audience and really engage them – and you never had to move an inch. That is quite the feat!
Your voice has such a distinct, bell-like timbre. It is the kind of voice that rests nicely on the ears. It also appears that you have equipped yourself with some solid technical skills.
Yes indeed – your interpretation of this number was inspired. And you came up with it yourself? Incredible! Keith Urban was correct – the words resonated in a more powerful way with the listener through your arrangement. It was so poignant and your voice wrapped around the melody line with such fluidity.
What more can I say except Brava and Standing O to you!
Critique: Janelle – if anything, I would just like to caution you to maintain a circular position on the “ee” vowel. It will add greater depth to that very bright vowel, which you need. Your voice is very bright and loaded with natural head voice, so you need to make certain that the bright “ee” vowel is not too bright.
Other than that m’lady, I have nothing else to critique. You were totally in the moment and gave a creative, inspiring performance. I absolutely loved it! Brava!
Strengths: Kree – it was wonderful to see you bring a little more personality to your performance this week. You moved around the stage and, as a result, your voice sounded energized and full.
I have to say that this is the first time that I have seen you sing with purpose and conviction. Finally! You selected a great number and it seems to me that this was a song that truly spoke to you as an artist.
And, you seemed pretty consistent in maintaining that all-important circular formation with your mouth. I think this assisted you in the full projection of your voice, although there were other technical issues that still needed work.
However, you are on the right track – round mouth, relaxed jaw and open facial features.
Great improvement this week, Kree!
Critique: Kree – you need to continue to work on your stage technique. I don’t know if you are just shy, unassuming, scared or what but you always seem a little tentative when you perform.
As a result, your facial expression does not line up with the emotion contained within the lyrics so, for me, there is a bit of a disconnect. And, in this style of music, the singer must be one with the lyrics and truly embody the emotional core of the song.
And, as much as you moved a little on stage, your movements were stiff and your posture slightly deflated. This less erect posture wreaks havoc with your vocal control and diminishes the visual aspect of your performance. I don’t want you standing straight and stiff like a soldier, but that rib cage needs to be more elevated.
In rehearsal, try raising your arms to the side. You will notice that the rib cage will naturally become more elevated. Now, without disturbing the position of the rib cage, bring your arms slowly down again. This is how you should be standing when you sing and you will notice that you have just created more space for the diaphragmatic muscles to fully assist the singing process.
Presently, your body folds into itself and that is so detrimental to the proper way in which you support your voice. And, as I said, visually, your stage presence is less exciting and is greatly diminished.
Also, as much as your vocal sound was strong, particularly in the second half of this song, I felt that you were pushing the sound from your body, rather than allowing it to flow in a liberated manner. This immediately signals that the diaphragmatic process is not fully engaged.
Again, this all comes back to your technique and that deflated posture. So, you need to really work on this very important aspect of singing – you will not regret it and, equipped with the correct technical approach, you will enter each performance with renewed confidence and energy.
Good luck, Kree!
Strengths: Lazaro – I liked this song for your voice and it was nice to see you perform an entertaining, upbeat number. We needed to see this from you and, in truth, sometimes the quicker numbers allow a singer to evolve and to come out of his shell.
Last week’s song was not you, not in the least. You are young, handsome, personable and we needed to see the youthfulness and playfulness in your performing style. And this week you gave us that.
You have a solid voice that is still developing but it is a good voice and I want you to realize this.
It was wonderful to see you perform a song that you totally love. What a difference this makes!
I loved the slower tempo of the song during the front end of this song. It provided great contrast to the upbeat portion of the second half of this song. It also allowed you to ease into this number, to pace yourself, and, as a result, the song flowed.
You looked like you were having a great time. As a result, you performed with great confidence and stellar stage presence. You had quite the moves on that stage and I was happy to see you embrace the stage and make it your home.
Fantastic work, Lazaro. Bravo!
Critique: Lazaro – you need to continue to work on your vocal technique. There were some minor pitch problems and part of the reason for this lies in the lack of consistency in your diaphragmatic support.
Because everything happened so quickly, the upbeat nature of this song did not highlight your lack of diaphragmatic support as much as the ballad did last week.
However, these energetic songs present other problems. The excessive movement can detract from the technical support if it is not thoroughly ingrained in you. It has to feel part of the process.
Therefore, it helps to practice the upbeat songs at a slower tempo, making certain that the technical process is guiding the vocal delivery. You need strong muscle memory when you perform and, the quicker the tempo, the more important it is to draw from this muscle memory.
However, the nasal tone was not as evident this week, which makes me think that the faster tempo allowed you to feel relaxed, yet energized, throughout this number.
Now, you need to make sure that you can sustain this level of comfort when you sing slow, sustained ballads. The body needs to feel energized and the diaphragmatic muscles need to be strongly engaged when singing slowly. Very important!
However, this was a huge improvement from last Lazaro and I want you to enjoy it! But, keep working on the development of your diaphragmatic breathing. Your voice will thank you!
This was such a perfect match. The two country girls together rocking it out to Madonna.
And, for the first time, I realized how similar your voices are. Therefore, the blend of your harmonies were very good. There were some slight pitch issues and I would suspect this was due to nerves. And perhaps lack of rehearsal time.
My only complaint lay in the staging of this number. I would have liked to see both of you use the stage space instead of just standing in one spot.
I honestly thought the solo performances were even across the board. I did not think that one singer shone more than the other (as a couple of judges indicated), nor was I looking for that.
In fact, what was missing was a solid, playful interaction – it would have been very visually appealing to see the two of you having fun with this song.
Nevertheless, it was a good combo. Not as strong as I expected but good.
This was just splendiferous and perfect. The harmonies were a tad sketchy at first but then started to settle.
All the solo entries were strong and, as a trio, you performed the heck out of this song. You deserved the standing O from the judges. It was an incredible trio and all three of you were ridiculously strong.
Encore please? Kudos!
What a great number! All the solo entries were spot on, except for a few flubs, and I loved the choreography behind the mikes. Perfect!
And the harmonies were nicely tuned and blended. Burnell – I loved your “oh” lower descant lines. Very nicely done.
I apologize for Nicki Minaj. She was having a “whatever” moment I guess because, visually, this was a solid performance. I was writing and listening so the memory slips happened when I wasn’t looking at the TV. Whatever! I was entertained. And, at the very least, the three of you put in the effort to stage this song properly and stayed “in the moment”.
Sometimes we hear what we see and, in this case, the saying is oh so true.
Nice saves by Devin by the way.
Congratulations guys! I was entertained! Ha!