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Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season XIII Top 6 Performance Show: A Little Bit Country And Rock ‘N Roll


American Idol

By: Rosanne Simunovic

This week, the Top 6 were faced with the task of performing two songs apiece. This was a great opportunity for the singers to show opposite sides to their singing style – in genre and in emotion.

Overall, the singers appeared more comfortable on stage and had obviously matured since Day One of American Idol Season 6.

I am really missing the guest mentors. Are you? I think that, in the past, they added a great deal of sophistication and professionalism to this show. They were such a boost to the singers, giving them an extra layer from which to draw when approaching their music.

I suspect that finances and falling ratings may be the culprit here but still…it is very sad to see.

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.

C.J. Harris, Jena Irene, Caleb Johnson

Jessica Meuse, Alex Preston

Sam Woolf

C.J. Harris: “Whatever It Is” by Zac Brown Band and “American Woman by The Guess Who

Strengths: C.J. – your first song is one of my favorites. It doesn’t get much better than “American Woman”.

I loved your soulful take on this rock song. It had a different vibe than when originally sung by the great Burton Cummings.

Your second number, “Whatever It Is”, was performed with conviction and purpose. You are a very generous performer and have an innate ability to communicate with your audience.

Good work, CJ!

Critique: C.J. – as I have said in precious weeks, you were struggling with intonation. “American Woman” is not an easy song and, for someone who struggles with intonation, this really exaggerated the problem.

The repetition in the melodic structure is very problematic for many singers because the cyclic melody causes a singer to ignore the forward direction of the phrase line.

And you need to remember to “lift” those repetitious notes and passages via your diaphragm versus vocalizing the notes from your tense throat muscles. The latter approach adds far too much chest presence in your voices and you lose the center and the ring in your vocal timbre.

Burton Cummings had perfect pitch and this song worked flawlessly when he sang it. He also classically trained his voice and this should give you pause, CJ. Classical technique is so important for every genre.

Your second song suffered from the same intonation issues. It was almost as if you were speaking the song plus the fatigue in your voice exaggerated the intonation issues.

As I said last week “Singing is sustained speech and once you learn how to cohesively sustain their notes, then the expressive elements carry the song to another level” .

And as I write this, you mentioned that this song was for a young girl that passed away a couple of days ago. I am so sorry for your loss and this puts a whole new light on this week’s performances. You did not seem like the same performer. You lost your spark and now I know why.

God Bless, CJ. I am sure she is smiling down at you.

JENA IRENE: “So Small” by Carrie Underwood and “Barracuda” by Heart

Strengths: Jena – you opened your showcase with “Barracuda” and what a smart move. This was a predictable strong performance. This song was perfect for you and your commanding. stage persona.

I loved the brief duet with one of the backup singer. The harmonies were spot on solid.

My goodness – you are brimming with confidence and a professional presence that defies logic! You are – what? – 16 or 17? This is crazy. You own that stage – so comfortable in your performing skin.

I loved the technical skill you brought to this performance. Yes, your voice is strong but the strength is coming from a strong technical foundation. That round mouth, the sustained vowels, the seamless vocal delivery, the energetic stage presence – all of these factors contributed to a very strong performance of this iconic number

And, thankfully, these positive elements translated to your second number, “So Small”. It really is so hard to believe the depth of skill you brought to this number. It is such a sophisticated number and, to be frank, I have never heard it before. However, you contributed so much to this number – the expressive elements you brought to this number were absolutely gorgeous beyond belief.

Jena – what can I say? You are a star!! Congratulations.

Critique: Jena – I have nothing to critique in your first number. I think you pretty much left everything on the stage when this number was over.

Just be careful not to raise your head when singing through your upper range. It really impedes the freedom in your voice and can encourage you to sing with more chest in your sound than head voice. Sing over your notes – never reach – and bend your knees when you sing through your upper range.

During your Carrie Underwood number, all was well and good.

However, I would caution you to work on your diction because, at times, the articulation of your consonants are not precise. You have beautiful sustaining power – those pure vowels are resonating in your facial features. However, you must not forget to grab those consonants and spit them out in a crisp – and quick – fashion.

And you can do so while maintaining the circular formation of your mouth. It takes practice but it is doable and correct.

However, all in all, you had another phenomenal week, Jena!

CALEB JOHNSON: “Undo It” by Carrie Underwood and “Undo Me” by The Black Crowes

Strengths: Caleb – what is there to say about your first number? It was rock n roll Heaven all the way.

Your voice is so meaty, your presence so spectacular and your performing skills artistically aggressive. You have purpose when you perform, Caleb, and that is to entertain.

Could this song choice be any more perfect for you? You certainly know what works for you and this was it.

Your Carrie Underwood number, “Undo It” was equally forceful. And that rock edge coming from your voice allowed the song to cross over to the other side. Too funny. Both of your songs had a legitimate rock sound this week.

No one can ever accuse you of not being expressive or loose enough on stage. On the contrary, once you hit the stage, you move around with purpose and confidence and inhabit the rhythmic intensity of your songs.

This song was resplendent with nuance and the words same alive through your expressive performance of this great number.

Both songs were stellar, Caleb! Kudos, Bravo and Congratulations!

Critique: Caleb – during your both numbers, I was having issues with intonation in your voice from time to time. It is hard to discern because your voice is very powerful and you can hide behind that powerful sound at times.

You have to learn to pull back from the chest voice and add more head voice in your sound.

When you rehearse, I think it would be helpful to sing your songs softly in pure head voice. You need to get in touch with your falsetto and learn to support it correctly via your diaphragm. Then you will be more aware of its presence when you sing in full voice.

Overall, I cannot fault your general technical skill – everything is in place. However, you do tend to sing with more chest than head when you vocalize through the powerful sections in your song.

Great showcases Caleb! I admire and applaud your confidence and professionalism on stage. Bravo!

JESSICA MEUSE: “Jolene” by Dolly Parton and “Somebody To Love” by Jefferson Airplane

Strengths: Jessica – your first song, “Somebody To Love”, was a superb song choice. Although this is a rock song, you infused some country elements in this number which was kind of neat, actually.

Your voice sounded flawless on this song. The key was perfect, the vocal delivery was flawless and your artistic determination was undeniable.

Then you decided to tackle an iconic song in “Jolene”, originally sung by the great Dolly Parton.
This was a solid choice, as your voice has the same bright timbre that we connect to Dolly Parton’s voice.

Your voice is inherently beautiful – your tone is just exquisite, allowing you to move with ease and clarity throughout your range.

And, the natural head voice quality in your vocal timbre – the ring – eliminates any hint of intonation. What a gift that is!

Good work, Jessica.

Critique: Jessica – during your first number, I could understand your hesitancy in not moving. The judges did you no favours last week with their critiques when you decided to move around so I guess it was back to square one.

However, a little may have gone a long way in this number.

The song is so repetitive and, thankfully, the repetitious melodic line did not cause intonation issues for you.

However, to break the monotony, it would have been great if you had moved away from the microphone stand, stopped playing the guitar and encouraged the audience, while clapping your hands, to sing along with you.

It would have added a more exciting visual element to the overall performance while allowing you to fully connect with your audience.

During “Jolene”, I was aching for more expression once again. It is almost like you don’t want to be on that stage. I felt that you were going through the motions.

You need to rehearse consistently in front of a mirror and it wouldn’t hurt to speak the lyrics, adding inflection and nuance. This would assist you in internalizing the emotion to a higher degree and sing with a less linear approach to your songs.

You have so much to offer, Jessica, so I hope you work on increasing and developing your interpretive skills as this, combined with your gorgeous voice, will heighten your presence and command of the stage when you perform.

Good luck, Jessica.

ALEX PRESTON: “Always On My Mind” by Willie Nelson and “Animal” by Neon Trees

Strengths: Alex – your first number, “Animal”, was so well suited to your Indie singing style. This is the kind of song that allowed you to tap into your artistic sense and let your creative juices flow.

And, did they ever flow! It overflowed in fact, enveloping the listener in your artistic journey.

But with you, Alex, it is more than just the vocals. Your physical presence onstage is absolutely riveting to watch. The manner in which you inhabited the rhythmic force of this song was exciting to see. You were one with the music and this song had no beginning or end – it was an entity.

There was some wonderful sustaining powers in your voice during this song and it provided great contrast to the punctuated sections of this number.

I love the whole marching thing you have going on with your legs. You are so ridiculously musical. You make it look all too easy. This was an excellent showcase.

Your Willie Nelson song, “Always On My Mind” was perfectly chosen – and perfectly delivered.

The melodic structure of this song is so beautiful – long phrase lines and beautiful ascending and descending passages within the composition that really allowed your vocal gift to shine.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, you are your own artist and you know where you can take your voice. It is a gift that no one can teach – it just “IS”.

The bend and shape to the original melody line were beautifully done and sensitively interpreted.

Your voice is as light as a feather and it worked so well for this song. Thank you for singing this song as it should be sung – quietly, peacefully and brimming with humble artistry.

What a great week for you Alex! Bravo, Bravo!

Critique: Alex – your nasal tone was less prevalent this week.

However, you had a few – very few, mind you – intonation issues throughout your first song. This was a busy number and,if the diaphragmatic muscles are not fully engaged from the beginning, then the pitch will suffer.

Always remember to practice these quicker songs at a a slower pace, allowing you time to isolate the sections where you might be struggling with support issues.

I think the judges got this all wrong. You were as loose as can be on stage – perhaps too lose. You need to pace yourself and allow the technique to come to the front a little more.

Also, remember to maintain a circular formation in your mouth. This will undoubtedly assist you in centring and enriching your vocal tone.

However, technical problems aside, the manner in which you interpreted this song was excellent and a great refresh on an iconic song.

“Always On My Mind” – I won’t touch this beautiful performance. Yes, there was a little intonation “thing” creeping In to you head voice at the end of your song, but then, I heard you delicately trying to balance your voice and center the pitch and it brought a smile to my face. Good for you!

Congratulations Alex. What a great showcase. And both songs were completely different. This is what I look for at this stage of the competition. Bravo!

SAM WOOLF: “You’re Still The One” by Shania Twain and “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons

Strengths: Sam – I was not familiar with your first number, “It’s Time”, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it – because I sure did!

What a great song – neat melody, great positive message and I particularly loved the percussive nature in the rhythmic line. It contributed verve and energy to this song and, for you, Sam, assisted you to drive your vocals forward toward your audience.

You completely inhabited this song and your voice had purpose and drive. What a great contrast to your second number and, at this stage of the competition, it is important to unveil many sides to your performing style.

Your vocal focus was well conceived – nice round mouth, relaxed jaw and good diaphragmatic support.

Your second number, “You’re Still The One”, was an absolutely stellar song choice for you. Given your honest and vulnerable persona, this heartfelt song was perfectly suited to your singing style.

And, look at this!! You abandoned your guitar for this number and you walked around and did all those things I have been waiting for. Good! For! You!

Also, your voice embraced the melody in a seamless manner, allowing your phrases to enjoy a fluid approach. There was an ebb and flow within the melodic structure.

And you selected the perfect key for your singing range; the inherent beautiful tone to your voice was on full display and you worked very hard to maintain the correct “bel canto” approach to your singing style.

Finally – and most important – you connected with the listener. This song is all about establishing an intimate and sincere connection with the audience, or with anyone special in your life, be it a girlfriend, a family member or special friend. So, to this end, you worked the camera like a pro and firmly reinforced a powerful connection with the viewers

Very good dual performance, Sam! Bravo!

Critique: Sam – all in all, your first number was vocally secure. I couldn’t ask for more. But, that worried look in your eyes off the top was a bit of a disconnect for me.

You need to find your center Sam, breathe and relax. If you could just fully internalize the music and erase all worried thoughts from your mind then this would translate to a less worrisome facial performance

What are you worried about? Your voice is a gift from God, you are as cute as a button on stage and you are very, very musical. Now, convince yourself of this very fact and watch the magic happen. Just watch.

Ditto for song number two – even more so. “You’re Still The One” was a solid vocal performance but I was aching for some nuance In your vocal. This is one of those songs where you must sing the words the way you would speak the words.

However, you are getting better and better and this improvement in your stage demeanor is exciting to watch from week to week. You are obviously working very hard,so keep doing what you are doing, and that hard work will pay off in dividends.

Bravo once again, Sam!

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About Masterclass Lady

Rosanne (Giallonardo) Simunovic began her musical career in Timmins, Ontario. She studied piano with Anne Pizzale and later, at an advanced level, with Soeur Anita Vaugeois (Sister Cecile of Les Soeurs De L’Assomption in Timmins). Her vocal and accompaniment skills were nurtured by her aunt, the late Dorothea Mascioli. When Rosanne graduated from O’Gorman High School, she moved on to the University of Toronto where she continued her piano and vocal studies while attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She was hired as a piano accompanist for several musical companies, most notably, the National Ballet Of Canada. She presently holds an A.R.C.T. Teacher’s Diploma in Voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Rosanne has studied choral conducting with numerous well known Canadian Conductors, including Wayne Riddell of Montreal, Quebec and the internationally renowned Dr. Elmer Iseler. She has been a founding member of numerous community-based arts organizations: the Timmins Arts Council, later known as Arts & Culture Timmins, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra, and, the Timmins Youth Singers…as well as the TYS Alumnus choir, the Timmins Concert Singers. In 1987, she was also selected to be the conductor of the Timmins Board Of Education Choir, comprised of talented students from Grades 5 to 8. In 1988, she was elected to the Board Of Directors of the Ontario Choral Federation (now known as Choirs Ontario), where she served as Chair of the Festivals Committee for six consecutive seasons. In 1996, in honour of the Ontario Choral Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Rosanne was selected as one of 25 recipients of the OCF’s Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contribution to the choral art. The ceremony was presided by Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman. In November 1997, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Rotary Club Of Timmins to receive the prestigious Paul Harris Award for her years of dedication to the artistic development of young musical talent in Timmins. In August of 2002, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Board Of Directors of Choirs Ontario to serve as Conductor of both the Provincial Junior and Teen Choir Camps, now renamed in honour of the Camp Benefactors, Don and Lillian Wright. In November 2002, Rosanne was the one of the recipients of the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, honouring her work in the development of the arts in Timmins. Under Rosanne Simunovic’s direction, the Timmins Youth Singers and the Timmins Concert Singers have been featured in numerous choral festivals and performing opportunities outside of Timmins. In 1985, they were selected to partici

7 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season XIII Top 6 Performance Show: A Little Bit Country And Rock ‘N Roll”

  1. Oh, wow, I’m first!

    I don’t have all that much to say since I was working through the show last night, so I more listened than watched, and there was nothing this week that made me wince or want to turn off the volume (heh, not exactly a super-high standard! :D). I will say that while I enjoyed the show as a whole, not many of the individual performances made me stop what I was doing and sit back and WATCH, but the two that really yanked me out of my work were Sam’s first number (It’s Time) and Alex’s second (Always on My Mind).

    It’s great to see Sam actually choosing what advice to follow, and one by one incorporating the suggestions into his performances. And he really seemed to connect to the lyrics, especially the chorus–“never changing who I am”. (JLo and HCJ certainly seemed to take it as a personal message!) And Alex’s take on “Always on My Mind” pulled me all the way away from my desk, it was just beautiful.

    And I did notice that they put the song title and song source on the screen this week, yay!

  2. Yes finally! It is so great to see the song titles. Thank you and you’re welcome, American Idol!! :). Yes – those quiet performances by Sam and Alex really pulled me in as well. Which goes to prove that there is power as well as beauty in those quieter performances.

  3. Yes MCL & ReReader there is power as well as beauty in those quieter performances. I actually prefer them to vocal gymnastics.

  4. America got it right. CJ who is a nice guy but badly needs voice lessons.

  5. Yes, he is clearly not ready for this kind of competition. However, his parting so g as beautiful and the bind between the Top 6 was very touching.

  6. I watched last night’s Idol today and thought that all in all, the performances were much better than I would have predicted from these contestants a month or so ago. Sam was much improved (even though I’ve always loved his voice), Alex was beautifully creative, Caleb was SO good, Jena very polished as always, Jessica’s voice was beautiful, and CJ was good on the first song, but not so much on the last one.

    I realize that Jena seems to be the chosen one and she certainly does have excellent performing skills, but I have to agree with Vonnie about not particularly liking her voice. Even though I’m not much of a country fan, I much prefer Jessica’s voice.

    And, for me, it’s hard for me to say who I like most–Sam or Alex. I really love both of them. I absolutely loved Alex’s version of “You are Always on my Mind.” Willie Nelson’s version of that song is one of my favorite songs ever so it’s saying a lot for me to have enjoyed Alex last night.

    If I had to pick right now, the people I’d like to see in the top 3 are Sam, Alex, and probably Jessica. Although I believe that it will most likely be Jena, Caleb, and ???

  7. I think they all did well with this double theme. Finally, one that I really enjoyed. I have been “betting” on CJ to go home the last 4 weeks – only because he was off key or pitchy in several performances. He seems like a sweet guy, loved by most everyone on the show; however, it really was his time to go home. I hope to see Sam continue the growth arc. He has so much potential. I really don’t want to see Alex win, although he has a good voice! I am torn about my favorites but I have given Caleb the most votes.

    I am still waiting for a moment…

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