American Idol 4 Top 11 Vocal Masterclass: Billboard Numero Uno Hits!

BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC March 23rd, 2005

Here we are once again! Week Two was a great showcase – so good, in fact that the American Idol producers decided to repeat it and postpone the Results show. Apparently, the wrong voting numbers were flashed on the screen at the end of the show and, so, we were treated to a live repeat of the Top 11 in order to remedy the voting confusion.

This Master Class, however, will address the original telecast on March 22nd, 2005

To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below and, voila, with the touch of a click, you will be forwarded to your favorite singer’s link! Enjoy and please let me know what you think!

Bo Bice Anthony Federov Mikalah Gordon

Constantine Maroulis Anwar Robinson Scott Savol

Jessica Sierra Nikko Smith Vonzell Solomon

Nadia Turner Carrie Underwood

Bo Bice “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce. #1 the week of December 29, 1973

Strengths: If anything, Bo, your vocal performance this week was a welcome respite from the powerful and edgy vocals and instrumentals throughout this week’s show. It allowed the listeners to actually “listen”! What a concept! I absolutely adored the quiet and subdued opening phrases of this excellent Jim Croce classic. Your genuine and sincere song style allowed this beautiful song to materialize and resonate in the eyes and ears of your viewers.

This week, you demonstrated the pure, pitch perfect beauty of your voice. You are able to achieve wonderful expressive nuances and layers within your vocal range. Although you didn’t showcase your upper voice, as in previous weeks, you managed to deliver a really brilliant vocal performance, one that highlighted your ability to sing with simplicity and elegance.

Your vocal timbre is a naturally resonant instrument and you utilize your technique consistently and naturally. Also, you were one of the few performers that really articulated your consonants and, as a result, expertly communicated the poignant text to your audience.

Your collaboration and interaction with the excellent guitarist featured in this week’s performance just added another special dimension to the entire showcase. Thank you, Bo – you are a sensitive and caring artist who is not afraid to stretch his artistry each and every week. Kudos!
Critique: Toward the end of your song, I sensed a bit of hesitancy on your part; your relaxed stage demeanor changed and seemed more tentative. Then I heard the “la la las”, wondering if the lyrics were forgotten or if, in fact, they were part of the song. The words seemed to fade and almost disappear, as did your voice.

If, in fact, you were trying to sing softly, then you must remember to really support your quieter nuanced voice. Do not allow the voice to become too breathy, as the rich texture of your natural vocal sound will be lost to us. Support and anchor your softer (piano) passages through the diaphragmatic breathing process and allow the quieter vocal sound to resonate in your vocal masque. Implement more “head tone” when you sing softly – this will add ring and focus to your voice. Good work Bo!

Anthony Fedorov “I Knew You Were Waiting” by George Michael (with Aretha Franklin). #1 the week of April 18, 1987

Strengths: Anthony – I love the confidence and the exuberance that you bring to the Idol stage each week and this week was no exception. You have such a superb tenor voice –significantly resonant and focused. It was a naturally excellent performance and the song selection was a good one.

You are equally at ease moving from slow to mid to fast- tempo songs without compromising your considerable technical skills. You have intuitive phrasing skills when you sing, Anthony, and really adhere those pure vowels to the melodic phrase line.

You moved with ease and abandon on the stage and really worked very hard to involve your audience in the mood and ambience of your song. I loved your upper register ad lib toward the end of your song. Your voice really shines in this part of your vocal register. Great work, once again, Anthony!

Critique: This week I found that you were having some difficulty stabilizing the center of your pitch. I think that, perhaps, the faster tempo didn’t allow you to sustain your vowels and utilize your diaphragm in a consistent and secure manner.

Last week, the slower pace of your song selection allowed you some space to really access and highlight your considerable technical ability. However, when you sing up tempo numbers, like “I Knew You Were Waiting”, you have to pace yourself very carefully; if you don’t, you will start to sing in a less efficient manner and all sorts of problems begin to happen – breathiness, poorly -centered pitch and spread vocal quality.

You were a victim of all of these problems this week; it was not an ongoing issue throughout the song, however, you should be aware of this nonetheless. Always practice up- tempo songs at a snail’s pace, making certain that all the technical elements are in place. Isolate the areas of tension; make certain that the mouth is round and the jaw relaxed and that you are sustaining your vocal line on the pure vowel(bel canto). Watch those messy diphthongs, such as the word “fight” or “night”. Pronounce them “faheyet” or “naheyet” – in other words, sustain on the first vowel (ah) of this diphthong. Just think British and “by george, you will have it!”

Mikalah Gordon “Love Will Lead You Back” by Taylor Dayne. #1 the week of April 7, 1990

Strengths: I never tire of this song, Mikalah, and I thought this was an excellent song choice for you. You always sing with sincerity and openness and with a youthful passion that compliments your exuberant personality.

It appears to me that you have had some voice training in your background, as you really attempt to adhere to the technical “must” of a round mouth and relaxed jaw throughout your song performance. This was excellent and I applaud you for your hard work and commitment to your technical growth.

You also have a wonderful ability to sustain extended phrase lines; this was one of the first things that I noticed in this week’s performance and it was impressive indeed. Keep working to further develop these elements, as this forms the basis of musically expressive and unique performances. Creative phrasing ability brings a performance to another level. It’s no wonder that you love Barbra Streisand, as she has turned this vocal element into an art.

Best of luck, Mikalah and never give up your dream!

Critique: Your biggest problem this week was your inability to center your pitch in an efficient and consistent manner. This was especially evident in your lower register, presently the weakest part of your vocal range. I sat watching you throughout your performance, wondering how you could have such a perfect mouth position and sing those elongated phrase lines and yet still were not able to secure the center of the pitch.

Then I realized that you were singing with too much chest voice in every part of your register; your voice was lacking the essential head tone that brings clarity and a bell-like ring to every note in your vocal range. Head tone, when supported through the diaphragm, also creates a truer sense of pitch throughout your melodic line. It is a lighter sound and chest voice, although necessary, can be detrimental if used excessively. You have to learn to mix and balance the head vs. the chest voice when you sing; once you master this, you will notice an immediate difference.

This is why I always insist that my singers explore their soprano range and really try to extend that upper range as much as possible. However, in doing so, you must make certain that the throat is relaxed and you are allowing the vocal sound to be supported and produced freely through the diaphragmatic breathing process. No straining allowed, Mikalah! Become comfortable with a pure upper voice “head tone” sound and then slowly incorporate it into every part of your vocal range. The difference will be palpable!

Constantine Maroulis “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy / The Partridge Family

Strengths: Constantine – what an innovative and energetic performance this week! I loved the retro meets theatre meets rock and roll twist on this song. You have the theatrical background and the panache to pull this off and you most certainly did that and more. Flamboyant – yes! Creative- yes! Stylistic-yes! Innovative-yes! This was entertainment, pure and simple!

Your voice resonated phenomenally with the mood and style of this song. You have a natural vibrato in your vocal timbre that really complimented the dynamic drive and energy of this song arrangement. I love the quality of your voice, Constantine, and your vocal performances are always enhanced by solid technical skills. Also, like Bo, you articulate your consonants distinctly and, as a result, we are never at a loss to understand the lyrics.

You are certainly not afraid to use the stage and you just enjoy your audience so much, really bringing them along for the ride of their life! Excellent work, Constantine! Bravo!

Critique: Be very careful, Constantine, that you do not allow that beautiful vibrato to lose control. I felt this was a tiny problem at the outset; I think, with the old adrenaline pumping away, you lost contact with your diaphragmatic breathing mechanism and the pitch was not as secure as it could be.

As I have said to other singers, pace yourself in these up- tempo numbers to allow yourself to breathe in a relaxed and controlled manner. This problem mainly affected your lower range, but you should be cautious of this situation throughout your entire range. You have to remember that the lower range needs to be supported through the diaphragmatic breathing process and the lower voice must resonate in the lower have of your vocal masque(your face).

Really focus the sound efficiently and make certain that your vowels are pure and adequately sustained with head tone so that the vocal vibrato doesn’t lose control and transform into a less attractive tremolo.

However, other than that, I can find very little to critique. This song was just so much fun to watch and to hear and, it appears, that you, Constantine, have one surprise after another up your sleeve! Great work!

Anwar Robinson “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan (1984)

Strengths: Anwar –you attempted a very difficult number this week and I applaud you for always bringing something new and imaginative to the Idol table. I was so happy to hear you sing an up-tempo number, although, I suspect that your heart lies in the beautiful soulful ballads that you own so well.

As always, your upper range voice resonated with pitch perfect clarity and transparency. Your voice has such a brilliant quality in that part of your range – almost breathtaking. You sang with your signature sense of style and ease on the stage.

You are a genuine and sincere artist and, even though I may harp about technique and artistry in these Master Class articles, the sincerity and vulnerability of an artist is an essential component as well. In fact, oftentimes it overrides a technically brilliant performance.

Your audience truly loves you, Anwar, and the technical issues – well, they never go away. Therefore, you, like everyone else, have to work to solidify your technique and then balance these elements with your artistry and genuine personality. Great work, once again!

Critique: I mentioned last week that you were having some problems with your lower register and, once again, this was your downfall. Please refer to last week’s critique so that you can correct and eliminate this problem. You want to develop the ability to sing evenly and uniformly throughout your range.

Also, you seemed pre-occupied towards the end of your song, Anwar (memory lapse?) and I felt that you moved “out of the moment”. Your face lacked intensity and passion and, as a result, you appeared tentative and cautious during this part of your performance.

Try to keep your facial expressions “in the moment”, even if, in fact, your internal feelings are churning. I understand that this is not an easy stage technique to master, but it comes with the performing territory. I have seen performers just stand there and basically emote and sway and then, when they were able to remember their words or had pulled their emotions together, quite simply continued with the song, as if this was all part of the plan. What seems like an eternity on stage is, in reality, a bar or two of music – if that!

Scott Savol “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. #1 the weeks of April 21 and 28, and May 5, 1984

Strengths: Scott – of all the singers in the Top 12, you are the singular performer who is constantly improving and evolving on the Idol stage each and every week. The metamorphosis is simply amazing; yes – the fashion consultants are having a blast, but your increased confidence level and vocal style are wonderfully apparent as well.

You have a naturally resonant pitch perfect voice and utilize your instrument judiciously. You don’t have a large voice, Scott, yet, you never over extend or sing beyond your vocal capabilities. I mean this in a positive way, as so many singers attempt to force the vocal issue and never allow the natural voice to present itself in a technically efficient manner. You simply and beautifully allow the passion of the lyrics to dictate the expressive qualities of your voice throughout your song and the result is a genuine and deeply communicative showcase.

This was a moving and very inspiring performance this week. You have confirmed that you don’t need fancy gimmicks or devices to present a memorable and moving performance. Congratulations Scott!

Critique: Scott – be ever so careful to examine your posture when you perform on stage. You have to remember to keep the rib cage nicely expanded and elevated, so that the diaphragm can work efficiently. Practice standing with your arms out to the side and you will immediately notice the change in your rib cage and over all posture.

However, do not allow the shoulders to become tense or elevated –they should stay relaxed and unconstrained. By accessing this correct posture, you become more aware of these important muscles when you sing and are creating more space for air expansion.

Also, make certain that you do not raise your head when you sing. This was an habitual problem with you Scott, both this week and last; in doing so, you create more tension in your face and neck muscles and this is detrimental to the proper technical process.

Additionally, we lose contact with the expressive qualities in your face and your voice loses additional resonating qualities as well. Remember to practice in front of a mirror, assessing your posture and making certain that your reflection is staring back at you. Let your reflection become your audience and, when you lose eye contact, you will know that you have elevated your head too high at this point in your song.

Singers learn to communicate with their eyes and allow the eyes to remain relaxed and open so that the vocal sound, especially in the upper range, can resonate in the cavities situated behind the eyes. Good work, once again Scott!

Jessica Sierra “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler. #1 the weeks of October 1, 8, 15, and 22, 1983

Strengths: Jessica – with every passing week, I am becoming more impressed with your vocal ability. You are one of the very few singers that possess an even and seamless vocal timbre throughout your extensive vocal range. It was superb to hear this legato and beautifully resonant vocal sound during this number; you navigated your vocal range with great technical ability and outstanding diaphragmatic breath control.

Additionally, you sang this song with enormous passion and conviction and worked very hard to communicate your emotional content to your audience. You appear to be a very confident and gifted performer, one that has even more to offer as the weeks unfold during this season’s competition. Great work, Jessica!

Critique: Jessica – like Scott, you must be very careful with your posture when you sing. Your rib cage is very collapsed when you perform and, as a result, your technical resources are not utilized to its full capacity. You understand what you must do technically, so make certain that you elevate your posture and really allow your ribcage to expand to its full capacity. In doing so, you will be able to breathe with greater depth and effectively elongate and shape your phrases.

Your voice works naturally well Jessica, but never – ever- take this for granted. You need to elevate your technical skills to a new level, so that we can hear innovative nuances and expressive qualities throughout your vocal range. I suspect that, hidden inside your large voice, is a beautiful soprano head tone quality just waiting to be accessed with the correct technique.

I hope that, in the next week or two, we can hear you sing a soft, sensitive ballad, because you have the vocal ability to showcase this expressive quality in your performances. I will keep my fingers crossed – but, in the meantime, work in front of the mirror and let’s get this posture back on track!

Nikko Smith “Incomplete” by Sisqo. #1 the week of August 12 and 19, 2000

Strengths: Nikko – you gave a splendid performance this week and justified your success at being chosen as a Top 12 finalist. Stylistically, this was a first class performance and vocally, I noticed that your tone was more resonant and pure than was evidenced in the Top 24 showcase.

The key selection for both song selections over these past two weeks have been more appropriate, I feel, and really highlighted the splendid head tone quality of your voice. You have a light voice, but, like Scott, you utilize your vocal instrument very well and never allow the vocal quality to move outside the comfort zone! Good for you!

You really have mastered the bel -canto sustaining element that is so important to clean, vocally pure singing. As a result, you are able to beautifully phrase and shape your melodic line very well indeed. Your voice is seamless and even throughout your range. You exhibited some wonderful “glory note” moments in this song that were breathtaking.

There is a distinct clarity to your vocal sound when you sing, Nikko, and, even though you were singing a mid-tempo song, you maintained good technical control over your voice without sacrificing the essential performing elements.

This is why this performance was such a great success and I was in agreement with the judges when they said that the true Nikko was back in full force. You found your niche, Nikko, and I hope that you will continue to rehearse and prepare your future song selections with similar intent.

Critique: Nikko – be ever so careful to support your voice consistently when you perform. You were not the only singer who suffered from some minor pitch problems at the beginning of their song selections and, obviously, nerves will affect the breathing that is so essential to the stabilization of the vocal sound and timbre. When the diaphragmatic muscles don’t co-operate, pitch problems, breathiness and poor resonance surface and hinder a performance.

Also, you have a very bright vocal timbre. This is not a bad thing, but you have to make certain that your mouth stays consistently round when you sing, as this will add more depth and beauty to your voice and allow you to increase the expressive range as well.

Additionally, work on fine tuning the art of articulating your consonants; without clean crisp consonants, we, of course, lose the meaning of the text and, as well, the sound lacks additional focus and energy. However, articulate the consonants in a vertical movement, so as not to disturb the round position of the mouth.

However, that being said, you managed to pull yourself together and sort out the technical problems very well as the performance moved along and, I congratulate you for your fine efforts once again Nikko!

Vonzell Solomon “Best of My Love” by The Emotions. #1 the week of August 20, 1977

Strengths: Vonzell – once again you gave a very outstanding performance, although personally, I felt that last week’s performance was a real gem and truly memorable. However, this week you changed up the tempo and style and demonstrated your marvelous versatility as a vocal artist.

You exhibited a dazzling charisma on stage and communicated effortlessly and engagingly to your studio and television audience. I really enjoyed your ability to engage the judges in a little vocal tête a tête and they seemed to appreciate your performing efforts as well. This performance was pure fun and simply good entertainment.

Vocally, you possess a powerful instrument and you use it wisely and effectively. Your voice is so naturally rich and resonant that it is difficult, at times, to assess whether you are employing the correct technique in your vocal production, However, you sing with confidence and artistry and make vocalizing look all too easy! Good work, Vonzell.

Critique: As mentioned above, you must be very careful that you are producing your voice in a technically correct manner. You have a powerful instrument, Vonzell, and, having taught many students with voices similar to yours, I know how easy it is to basically belt out the vocal line with minimum technical support. This is all fine – in the short term – but, in the long term, it spells disaster, as your vocal cords are taking an awful beating each time your perform. I am not saying that this is always the case with you, Vonzell. I simply am cautioning you to make certain that all the technical elements are in place when you sing the power- house songs!

Also, really clarify your diction. It need not be overdone, as in classical music, but the words need to be understood and communicated in the proper manner. The British have this down to a “t”. They naturally sustain on the pure vowel and articulate their words with crisp, clean consonants. This was a crazy week for poor diction, I felt, and you, along with many of your peers, could really work to improve on this important technical element.

Good performance, nonetheless, Vonzell! Keep up the great work!

Nadia Turner “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. #1 the weeks of June 9 & 16, 1984

Strengths: Now we come to Nadia! I guess I cannot begin without commenting on that wild and crazy hairdo! It certainly grabbed everyone’s attention and, thankfully, you have beautiful facial features to pull this off! Your charisma on stage just screams star power and this element, coupled with your genuine and sincere persona, always creates a memorable musical experience.

Vocally, your upper voice permeated the instrumental background beautifully and you used your technical training very well when you navigated this part of your range. You have a very dark, almost sultry quality to your voice that is quite unique. I am glad to see that you don’t avoid the upper range in your singing style, as the head voice aspect associated with your upper voice can really add a brighter dimension to your lower, darker sound when needed.

Stylistically, this was a great performance, Nadia, and it has become obvious to all that you are immensely comfortable on stage and totally at ease with your audience. You are a communicative and disciplined artist and I feel that you take nothing for granted when you rehearse your songs. Good for you! Brava on another great showcase!

Critique: You experienced some vocal problems this week Nadia that need to be addressed. First of all, the key of this song was not suitable to your voice. I would have preferred you sing this song a semi-tone or tone higher, as the majority of the song sat in your low and mid range and, as a result, couldn’t compete with the powerful orchestral background. Some of your lower register notes faded away, as you couldn’t resonate them efficiently in order that they could be heard above the orchestra.

Secondly, your lower and mid-range experienced some veritable pitch issues. I don’t know whether you were staging a fight to be heard above the orchestra or whether your diaphragmatic support failed you, but, whatever the reason, the pitch and beauty of your natural vocal timbre were detrimentally affected.

Always remember that you need “head tone” in this area of your voice. Head tone, when produced properly, adds brilliance and sheen and clarity to your lower vocal sound and, additionally, assists you in maintaining a truly centered pitch throughout your melodic line.

This up-tempo song may have given you problems in your ability to sustain and focus your vocal sound in the correct bel canto manner. As I have said to previous performers, you must rehearse your up-tempo songs at a snail’s pace so as to discipline your diaphragmatic muscles to co-operate when you sing the song up to speed. Although this is time consuming, this technique really works and equips you with the correct skills when you perform a highly energetic song selection.

Great work, nonetheless, Nadia! Kudos!

Carrie Underwood: “Alone” by Heart. #1 the week of July 11, 1987

Strengths: Carrie – you looked absolutely radiant this week– the best makeover yet! You gave a very powerful and convincing performance of this pop classic by Heart and I was very impressed with the overall performance. I was particularly glad that you allowed yourself to take an artistic risk, as, with this Group of 11 singers, the bar must constantly be raised each and every week. Well, this week, you did just that and I congratulate you on such an energized performance!

Your upper voice is a powerhouse and you are extremely comfortable in this part of your range. You sing with a rounded mouth and relaxed jaw and this is always good to see, as you are allowing the diaphragmatic muscles to assist you in producing the correct vocal sound. Your voice is naturally strong, however, but you still make certain that all the technical elements are in place when accessing that upper register. Good on you!

You performed with a great sense of style and conviction and I congratulate you on showcasing such a difficult song to the American Idol audience. Brava!

Critique: Carrie – another singer having problems with her lower range at the beginning of a song! This must be some sort of “lower range disease” this week! (chuckle). Like all the others, Carrie, you must allow your diaphragmatic muscles to support and anchor your vocal sound in the lower part of your range.

You have to dig into this part of your range and allow the sound to vibrate and resonate in the lower half of your vocal masque. (face). Make sure you carry your technically supported upper range voice down to your lower range and allow the head tone to seep into this part of your range and blend with the chest voice.

The beginning of your song was shaky and almost inaudible because the technical elements were not in place. Your pitch was compromised as well. Nerves could have exaggerated this situation, but, if you haven’t worked on developing your lower voice through the bel -canto process, then you will continue to have problems in this area of your range.

Additionally, you still haven’t established a connection with your audience when you performed this week and in weeks past. Yes- you are a gifted singer, but we need to see you really reach and communicate with your audience. It’s not easy – that’s a given – and some singers are more comfortable doing this than others, but, it still needs to be addressed and rectified. You are quite tentative on the stage and have no reason to be so! You are immensely talented, Carrie – now share your gift with us!

Rosanne Simunovic is the Voice Instructor and Conductor for the Timmins Youth Singers. If you have any further questions our comments, please at e-mail her. If you want to hear how she applies her technical methods to a variety of musical styles music, have a listen to one of her double disc CDs, Scenes from a Dream, a live compilation featuring outstanding performances between 1984-2000 with the Timmins Youth Singers and renowned classical, Broadway, and pop artists. Enjoy!


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

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