By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, the Top 8 Redux took on Songs From The Eighties. There was a ton of material from which to choose, depending upon which songs were cleared for the singers.
That being said, I have to say that, overall, the personal selections were disappointing and it is hard to know where to place the blame. So many songs out there – so color me confused.
However, is was super great to see and hear David Cook work his magic with these kids. He did a superb job and was a master at re-arranging and revitalizing these classic songs. I suspect that is why Idol snagged him. Oh – and the ratings! Can’t forget the ratings! Bravo David.
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 (last name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome. To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
Strengths: C.J. – what I love about this particular song is the wide melodic range within its structure.
Starting in your lower range and then moving into your upper during the second half of the number allowed you to highlight the depth of your range. Therefore, in that sense, I thought the song serviced you very well.
I loved the rhythmic elements that David Cook implemented in this song. And, from your remarks, I see that David had a profound influence on you. You were mentored by the best and it became evident as the song unfolded.
As with last week’s performance, I wished you had moved away from the microphone; however you still managed to reach your audience and blanket them with your voice and presence. This is a gift and testament to your honesty as a performer.
Great work, CJ!
Critique: C.J. – you were lacking the proper support in your lower range – similar to what Tom Petty lacked as well. This initial lackadaisical approach to your vocal support carried over to your upper range in the second half of this song.
Because the support was not there from the beginning of this number, it was hard to “kick it in” as the number progressed to a louder and higher dynamic. Your breathing was shallow and also you incorporated too much chest voice into your vocal mix.
What you must realize, CJ, is that energy and intensity is important at every level. The softer and lower passages need your total commitment and the articulation of the words need to be less sloppy and more precise – and expressive.
Singing is sustained speech and once you learn how to cohesively sustain their notes, then the expressive elements carry the song to another level.
Also, increasing your technical skills – diaphragmatic breathing, circular mouth formation, relaxed jaw, open facial features and crisp articulation – will ensure that your pitch is beautifully centered.
As I said last week:
“You need to work on establishing a stronger center to your voice. As I have mentioned to others, as well as you in past weeks, a HORIZONTAL mouth position, tense throat and little to no diaphragmatic support are all causes for disaster.
A circular mouth position is key here, especially when you develop the technique of focusing and gluing your vocal sound to the pure vowels within your words. Do not grab every vowel in the syllable but rather the the first pure vowel. This will add uniformity to your melodic line and your voice will sound absolutely seamless and centered”
Good luck C.J.
Strengths: Jena – this took guts, young lady. You have a creative mind and I love that in a performer. David Cook offered you fantastic guidance. Intelligent guidance. I think has advice really assisted you to move this song in the correct direction.
I loved the very fact that you started this iconically quick song at a subdued, slow tempo while seated at the piano. It speaks to your creativity and it would have been something I would have done. Ha!
And my goodness you put the rock in this song once it kicked in; your original and inventive take on this song was just excellent.
I also enjoyed how you inhabited the stage – from being seated at the piano to using the space surrounding you on that stage. This kind of a performance is multi-dimensional with loads to see and hear in such a short time.
Brava Jena. I loved every minute of this song.
Critique: Jena – last week I said that you had big shoes to fill – YOURS. Well fill them you did and I congratulate you for always taking risks and displaying such confidence on that stage week after week.
I would just like to caution you to always use your voice correctly. You displayed so much movement that I felt that the chest voice was, intermittently, too prominent in the vocal mix. Be careful when you sing these potent numbers – pace yourself and your voice.
However, all in all, this was another strong performance. Great work!
Strengths: Caleb – finally a change of pace! A slower song. You go guy! And, from your remarks, it was apparent that you LOVE the 80s.
David Cook wanted you to give the song more reverence. And your most certainly did that and more.
Could your voice sound more glorious, more present, more rich, more everything? Talk about commanding the stage. This was an enormous performance and a potent and perfect delivery.
And your technique! I could throw an opera aria at you and you would nail it. You have such a vocal gift that can cross many genres. The round mouth, the strong diaphragmatic skills, the nuances and impeccable phrasing were there for all to see and hear.
Great, great work, Caleb! Loved it! Standing O!!
Critique: Caleb – how do I critique near perfection? Simple. I don’t. This was an exquisite, honest performance and – finally – a sustained ballad.
Bravo Caleb. Bravo!
Strengths: Jessica – I liked that you wanted to add a modern twist to this iconic song. Good thinking on your part.
And I am glad that David Cook encouraged to connect more consistently with your eyes. In this respect, you really succeeded monumentally with this song.
This song was beautifully paced, it had flow and the tempo was perfect. Perfect. I always felt that you were in perfect control. There was not a hint of breathlessness when you moved around the stage, toward the judges and then back again.
Your movements and your voice basically glided through this performance which, to me, meant that you meticulously rehearsed this number. Brava!
Like last week, your voice sounded expressive, alternating head voice with raspy nuances. You never push – I love this. You understand how to control of your voice – very, very impressive.
Good work, Jessica.
Critique: Jessica – as I said last week, “watch that mouth position. It was better than in previous weeks but, with the natural brightness in your voice, you need to find a way to add depth at times to your voice”.
But how great it was to see you move and loosen up on stage. You took the risk and I think the judges should have given you some slack about that. Rome wasn’t built in a day!!
I was impressed, Jessica. Excellent work.
Strengths: Alex – I really, really loved this song choice for you. Smart choice. And David Cook wisely reinforced the expressive elements in this song.
In a nutshell – this was artistic brilliance at its best. The manner in which you reinvented and communicated the soulful essence of this song was just beautiful and inspiring. You are your own artist and you know where to take your voice.
Also, there was a beautiful descending scale in the melody line which I loved. Your voice was beautifully sustained on the pure vowel and your intonation was spot on. It really was a strong nod to your diaphragmatic support. Kudos!
And, lest I forget, your guitar skills were impeccable and sensitively echoed the sound of your voice.
Artistically, this is as good as it gets on the American Idol stage and I applaud you for being such a visionary in this season’s competition.
Good work, Alex!
Critique: Alex – that nasal tone. You need to keep working on it and I gave you tons of advice last week to assist you in this respect.
Here is a quote from last week’s Vocal Masterclass. It’s a quick fix:
“Hold a note with a horizontal spread in the mouth – like a smile – and, while holding the note, slowly adopt a circular position in your mouth. Hear the difference? The sound is more pure, more centered and is enjoying the addition of natural head voice”.
Also, just a question – is the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth when you sing?
If so, this would count for the nasality in your tone. Your tongue should be resting behind your lower teeth – not tense, but rather like a wet dish rag
However, technical problems aside, the manner in which you interpreted this song was excellent and a great refresh on an iconic song.
Congratulations Alex. This was, for me, a show-stopping numbers. Standing O!
Strengths: Dexter – I love that David Cook encouraged you to enunciate your words. He is the “word” man but, truth be told, correct articulation cures many technical problems.
And how great it was that you had a guitarist from the band duet with you. It was visually and aurally appealing and, also, it gave you an opportunity to interact with your audience.
You are the consummate showman, Dexter, and this song was pure, unbridled entertainment. A real crowd pleaser.
Very, very good showcase!
Critique: Dexter – oh how I wish you would remember to add a circular formation to that mouth. It would add a more pleasing and even sound to your voice – more ring and clarity.
Also, I wish I could have heard the consonants in your words – as much as David encouraged you to articulate them, I don’t think you were quite there yet with the correct approach. You need to think like a Brit – clean, quickly articulated consonants sandwiching beautifully sustained vowels.
It would help to practice these quicker paced songs at a slower and sustained tempo so that you could get in touch with your diction, phrasing and breathing. It would make such a difference in your approach once you brought the song back up to speed.
And, as much as this song was fun to watch, I didn’t find it particularly challenging at this stage of the game. Although, truth be told, you did challenge your performing skills by moving around the stage and reaching out to your audience for a few high fives. Therefore, it was a trade-off and I understand this.
Also, after you poignant performance last week, you were due, I suppose. So, I should cut you some slack. Ha! But select your future songs cautiously from here on in.
Great work, Dexter!
Strengths: Malaya – so you are a Chaka Khan fan! Good girl! And David Cook gave you excellent advice about pacing yourself during this – or any – number. Very smart!
First thing I noticed was the purity of your vowels. The sustained focus of your pure vowels helped to center your pitch in your mid and lower range. Your upper? Well, that is up for discussion below in the critique section.
You obviously loved and coveted this song like no tomorrow. You were totally committed and the passion was honest and free.
Good work, Malaya!
Critique: Malaya – David gave you great advice about pacing and focusing etc. and I wish you had followed his direction more studiously. At the beginning of this song, you seemed on track and then…
…it fell apart in the second half.
Once again, there was too much chest voice in your upper register and it knocked your voice off its center. With you, Malaya, less is more. You have to realize not to complicate a song with excessive runs or shouting. Your voice cannot handle this at your age nor should you risk trying to handle it. You will burn out.
And, once again, I would like to remind you to not raise your head. Keep it level with your audience. This will establish a stronger communication with your audience, while avoiding too much tension in your neck and throat. Sing over the notes – never reach!
Good luck, Malaya.
Strengths: Sam – I am so happy that you connected with David Cook who, in turn, assisted you to connect more fully with your audience.
However, i wish you had ditched your guitar because you were barely playing it. Although, the fact that it was just you and your guitar was pretty impressive. So, I will give you a pass…I guess. Ha! But, no guitar next week – please!
You have the most exquisite tone to your voice and your technical skills are pretty solid. You possess a solid work ethic – I can see it in your eyes. You are so committed and so dedicated to your craft – now, all we want to see is you enjoying it.
Very good performance, Sam! You are improving and working hard to make these improvements. Bravo!
Critique: Sam – you need to get away from the mike stand and that guitar. Please! I beg you!
When you sang “Babylon” last week during your “save” song, you moved and grooved without the guitar and never sounded better. Seriously, Sam. Think about this in advance of next week’s performance.
And, why didn’t you make eye contact with one of the girls surrounding you. Or, better yet, all of them. I mentioned this during your Top 13 performance and Harry Connick Jr. pointed it out again. Throw yourself into the moment and you will never regret it.
Good luck as you prepare for next week’s show, Sam!