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American Idol 4 Top 10 Vocal Masterclass: The Nineties


BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC March 30th, 2005

We finally have our Top 10 American Idol 4 Finalists. I was actually surprised by some performances and dismayed by others this week; however, all the singers came out fighting, I feel, and, really worked tremendously hard on the stage to present the best performance possible. Personally, it is going to be heartbreaking to see any of them leave the Idol stage as the weeks go by. They are all extremely talented and I can only imagine wonderful opportunities awaiting each and every one of them in the future.

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

Constantine Maroulis Anwar Robinson

Scott Savol Jessica Sierra

Vonzell Solomon Nikko Smith

Nadia Turner Carrie Underwood

Bo Bice “Remedy” by Black Crowes

Strengths: Last week we saw the sensitive Bo and, this week, our rockin’ Bo was back in full force. Although I can’t say that I was totally in love with your song selection, Bo, I do have enormous respect for the wonderful sense of style you bring to this genre of music. This defines who you are as an artist and it is important that you always remain true to this vision, regardless of the outcome of this competition.

Performance wise, you owned the stage Bo and I loved your on and off stage antics very much; it made for pure unadulterated entertainment. You are a very relaxed and superbly confident performer and you work very hard to communicate and engage your audience during your performances.

Also, I enjoyed that warm and genuine smile when Ryan was recapping your voting number at the end of the judging process. Let’s see more of that in the weeks to come. It was a Kodak moment, for sure. Congratulations on another fine effort on the American Idol stage.

Critique Bo – you must remember that you need to support and anchor your vocal sound with the correct technique when you sing in the rock genre. I know – you think you will lose your edge and your voice will sound too refined.

However, this statement is not a fact if you allow the voice to present itself with a practiced blend of vocal style and substance. You want that rock style, but the vocal substance has to be secured with the correct diaphragmatic approach.

Vocally, your sound was extremely tight and constrained and, if you continue to sing this way in this genre of music, you may do irreparable harm to your vocal cords. And we don’t want that! You are far too gifted a performer and we want to see you perform for years and years.

This week, your mouth was very tight and the roundness and relaxation in the mouth formation was noticeably absent. As a result, the resonance and beauty of your voice was highly compromised and, additionally, the pitch centered focus of your voice traveled through dangerous waters throughout the performance.

Also, the orchestration was very loud – as is customary for rock music- and your words and the clarity of your diction were lost to us. In short, everything that worked so well for you last week, Bo, worked against you this week.

So, I came up with an idea. Try singing “Time In a Bottle” with a rock style – but don’t change any of the essential vocal elements that originated with slower version. Concentrate on the pure vowels and vocal clarity that were so prevalent during last week’s performance and apply them to an improvised rock version of this song.

Then reverse the procedure and sing Remedy as a slow, sustained ballad and you will notice the obvious areas of tension and/or faulty technical support. The slow process will allow you to correct and improve the problem areas. It doesn’t hurt – trust me – and you will notice a marked improvement in your vocal quality when you perform your rock repertoire at the appropriate speed. Good luck Bo!

Anthony Fedorov ” Something About The Way You Look Tonight ” by Elton John

Strengths: Anthony – I loved this song choice for your vocal range and style! Great call! As always, you sang with a beautiful sense of style and technical ability and you have obviously worked tremendously hard to develop and expand your vocal ability through solid technical training. You have a basically good instrument that reacts and responds to the support you maintain from your diaphragm.

As a result, this week, as in previous weeks, you sang brilliantly long and controlled phrase lines and adhered to the bel canto practice of sustaining on the pure vowels within your lyrics. Your voice sounded very free and lyrical throughout your vocal range and I never felt that I had to strain to hear certain sections of your song, as was the case with some of the other singers this week.

You worked tremendously hard on that stage, Anthony, and really attempted to showcase the best performance possible. Your focus and determination has always been exemplary and, if nothing else, you are an extremely consistent and reliable performer who constantly strives to exceed and grow as an artist and as a musician. Good work, once again! Congratulations!

Critique: Okay – who persuaded you to remove your glasses? The same stylist that worked with your peer, Constantine? No – it doesn’t work, “hon,” as your face looked naked without the glasses. Some people actually look better with glasses and you are one of them! So –invest in a funky new frame and let’s see the old Anthony return to the stage next week.

Now, back to the performance! First of all, this is the first time I really sensed that you were nervous and almost “out of sorts” on the stage this week. It just appeared that your movements and stage technique were tentative and a little more awkward than in previous weeks. And this was confirmed in your facial expression and demeanor after Simon admonished you. My heart went out to you, as your overall singing performance was distantly removed from being as horrid as Mr. Cowell would like to believe.

However, the entertainment business is full of Simon Cowells and we must deal with the pressures in a calm and controlled manner and find ways of achieving personal success and satisfaction. That being said, you have to further develop your artistic growth. You are a fine, solid singer, Anthony, but the artistry and the natural emotion are still not as communicative as it could be.

You have to expressively read your lyrics as a poem, internalize the emotion and then transfer those feelings to the melody in the song. By doing so, the phrasing and the emotional intent of the song will flow naturally through the melodic line. You will sing more expressively and, more important, increase your dynamic range throughout your vocal performance.

Finally, the personal tension affected your pitch in certain sections of your song and it almost sounded as if you were suffering from vocal fatigue. You must remember to pace yourself when you perform. You really expend a great deal of vocal energy on that stage and it might be wise to vary the nuances when you sing your selections. Too much loud – even with good technique – can tire the vocal cords.

You have an admirable work ethic Anthony! Congratulations once again and best of luck!

Constantine Maroulis ” I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt

Strengths: Constantine – everything about this performance was absolutely stellar. Your approach was based on your extensive theatrical experience, which was just the ticket for this song. The theatre is a wonderful foundation in which to learn the intricacies of singing and performing with genuine emotion and respect for the lyrics. Your artistic focus was exemplary and because of this, the voice was in fine technical from this week.

Vocally, you sang with perfect bel canto style – even and seamless throughout your range and with vowels sustained with clarity and purity. Your mouth and facial features were relaxed and you allowed the diaphragm to work to manufacture and control the airflow as you sustained the melodic line throughout this number. In a nutshell, you truly sold this song to your audience and, this week, everyone, including the judges, was buying.

Your voice has a very distinctive timbre and, although your vibrato can cause you pitch problems from time to time, this week you managed to control this negative element. You utilized your vibrato judiciously and wisely and allowed this element to augment and increase your expressive and dynamic range.

Your diction was crystal clear and the consonants distinctly articulated, without sounding excessive for this style of music – again another technique that is grounded in your theatrical experience. You communicate your lyrics as you would speak them and, as a result, the communication and delivery of this song was outstanding.

You bring a very special dimension to the American Idol stage, Constantine, and are one of the few performers, I feel, that can change his or her modus operandi from performance to performance. Good for you! Bravo and congratulations on a poignant performance.

Critique: I have very little to critique in this week’s performance. However, I am at odds to figure out the reason behind your physical makeover. I feel that it truly detracts from your overall stage presence. In my estimation, the unkempt hair and day old facial hair presented a more disheveled than rugged appearance.

I can’t believe that you and your stylist looked in a mirror before this week’s show and said: “Perfect! Let’s rock!” If you are in fact trying to look more masculine and brawny, then it’s not working – not in the least. You don’t need to travel that road – trust me! The length of hair is fine and the camera loves your face, so why are you hiding it beneath Mother Nature? Let’s modify your physical appearance for next week, so your natural charisma and magnetism can really shine and be noticed. Till next time, this is your Master Class stylist moving on to the next singer! Ha!

Anwar Robinson “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly

Strengths: Anwar –as always, I was very impressed by the enormous beauty and strength of your upper range voice. My goodness, what a magnificent, God-given instrument you possess. This was such a great song choice for you, Anwar, and, additionally, you added your signature song style to this inspiring number.

I didn’t believe this song could sound more beautiful than the original, but, in some ways, you really surpassed the original take on this song. You always strive to find new and innovative ways to make an already beautiful song exciting and memorable.

The overall performance of this song gained in strength as you moved and grooved into your higher range. You seamlessly maneuvered the key change extremely well and the song became more potent and compelling from that point onward in the number.

You sang with genuine passion and you effortlessly communicated the emotional lyrics to your audience. You are a caring artist, Anwar, and this is reflected in your performances on a weekly basis! Congratulations on another memorable showcase.

Critique: I mentioned last week that you were having some problems with your lower register and Idol judge Randy Jackson echoed this sentiment after this week’s performance. You must remember that the lower and mid range voice needs to be supported and enhanced by the proper diaphragmatic technique or else the performance will sound uneven and disjointed.

Even worse, listeners who do not understand the technicalities of really good singing will become confused by the discrepancies in your performance and may tend to evaluate you in a less than positive light.

You have just as much depth and resonance in your lower and mid range, Anwar, but, it has been the victim of neglect I’m afraid! You tend to conserve your energy and momentum for the upper range, but, if the lower range is not technically enhanced, then your voice will sound uneven and incoherent.

Additionally, your mouth was not round and relaxed when you performed and it is this formation that assists a singer with a clean, pitch centered vocal sound. Are you breathing deeply enough, Anwar and truly accessing the support and strength of the diaphragmatic muscles while allowing the throat to remain open and unrestricted? If the answer is no, then you have some homework ahead of you.

However, I was moved by this week’s performance – the artistry was just exceptional. Now let’s get the technique and artistry working hand in hand!

Scott Savol “One Last Cry ” by Brian McKnight

Strengths: Scott –you have a naturally pure vocal instrument and this week you selected a song that not only complimented your natural vocal gift but also spoke to who you are as a person. This was another sensitive and inspiring performance, Scott. You have a genuine enthusiasm and ever developing artistry when you perform, Scott and this song was a wonderful showcase for your vocal ability and passion

I love how you implemented the pure head tone quality throughout your performance this week. It seemed effortless on your part and because you used this element so generously in your performance, the head tone element added a special beauty and clarity to your light tenor voice.

Additionally, I absolutely adored watching you acclimatize yourself to the American Idol stage. I seems that you are becoming more comfortable with each passing week and your artistry and performance skills have developed a hundred fold since we first had the pleasure of meeting you, Scott! Bravo!

Critique: Scott – as I said last week, 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. By accessing and developing the correct posture, you become more aware of these important muscles when you sing and are creating more space for air expansion.

Also, those nasty interval leaps at the beginning and throughout your song selection, needed to be maneuvered and navigated through the strength and security you would have experienced by using the correct diaphragmatic support system. Your pitch experienced shaky moments this week, and, you really needed to access those muscles to assist in resonating your vocal sound correctly. Your mouth was very spread and tight and, therefore, by deduction, your throat remained constricted as well. Hence the pitch problems!

Also, watch that head position when you sing. This has become a habitual problem with your Scott and you are creating more tension in your face and neck muscles that 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. Keep your head level with your audience. You need to use your face and particularly your eyes to communicate the emotion of the song to your audience.

Hope this assists you Scott! Best of luck in your future performances.

Jessica Sierra “On The Side Of Angels” LeAnn Rimes

Strengths: Jessica – once again, your voice resonated a remarkably beautiful and rich timbre throughout your song performance this week. You have an absolutely exquisite vocal instrument, Jessica; your vocal range is seamless from top to bottom. Your phrasing was musical and you have worked very hard to achieve a sustained legato flow within your phrase lines.

Your mouth was nicely round and your facial features were relaxed throughout this number and, as a result, your pitch was perfectly centered. You have nicely mastered the art of bel canto technique when you sing, as you adhere to the “pure vowel” principle that rests at the heart of the bel canto philosophy. You avoid those ugly, pitch-hungry diphthongs and sing and sustain your vocal sound on one distinct vowel at a time throughout your melodic line. Good for you! For example, when you sustained the word “sight”, you sustained the first vowel (ah) of the “eye” diphthong and, in doing so, noticeably enhanced your naturally rich vocal quality.

This was a great song selection for you Jessica. Your voice has the same ringing quality exhibited by LeAnn Rimes and, therefore, the key and melodic composition were perfect for your voice and performing style.

Great work, once again, Jessica.

Critique: Jessica – last week, I mentioned that you must be very careful with your posture when you sing. Your rib cage was very collapsed when you performed this week and, as a result, your technical resources were not utilized to its full capacity. You have a tendency to compress your shoulders when you sing and this really impedes the full complement of your technical resources.

Additionally, it constricts your airway, – not a good thing for the diaphragmatic breathing process. The shoulders must remain relaxed and loose. Furthermore, this problem significantly detracts from your stage presence and charisma, as it signals a less confident and less accommodating persona when you perform.

Also, you must really work hard to develop a unique sense of style on stage, Jessica – one that defines who you are as an artist. I feel that you are improving somewhat in this respect, but this artistic element needs to be significantly addressed and remedied sooner than later.

Examine and then develop a more distinct approach to your songs, one that will elevate them past the karaoke level of singing. You need to sit down and analyze and collaborate with an innovative arranger who can add a special performing element or “hook” to your song arrangements and, ultimately, your song style and methodology. A simple key change or a tempo change, a variety in your expressive range –these are all elements that, hopefully, will formulate a unique and improved style that you can bring to your next performance.

Good luck, Jessica.

Nikko Smith “ Can We Talk ” by Tevin Campbell

Strengths: Nikko – this week was yet another excellent performance from you. As I was watching you perform, it was my husband who finally hit the nail on the head and mentioned that you sounded like a young Stevie Wonder. I have to agree.

You have such an interesting and lyrical tenor voice and your range moves easily and freely into the rare and enviable counter-tenor vocal class. I wonder if the audience really understands what an enormous vocal gift you possess? It is fabulous and, this week, it was almost breathtaking. When you moved and negotiated those upper range melismas (riffs and runs) with pitch perfect clarity, it was absolutely stellar

Because your voice has a naturally light texture, you incorporated a great deal of technically secure head tone throughout you range and this, of course, added beauty, depth and a bell like ring to your voice throughout this week’s song. I will just bet that if I handed you a Handel tenor aria, you would have very little trouble adapting to the classical style of singing, as you have a solid bel canto approach to your vocal technique.

Performance wise, this was very good and you are certainly increasing the boundaries of your comfort zone on the American Idol stage. You moved effortlessly and smoothly and you had a naturally rhythmic feel for the musical pulse of your song. You delivered this song with consummate artistry and musicality. Great work, Nikko! Keep it coming!

Critique: Nikko – similar to last week, you had some initial problems supporting and controlling your voice at the onset of your number. As with so many of the other singers, you have to take care that your lower voice in the opening refrain is secure and technically supported. Don’t allow the rib cage muscles to collapse or become sluggish. Really trust your breathing skills to project and center your vocal sound and keep the throat relaxed and open. Always remember that the consistent round mouth formation will only add to and enhance the natural beauty of your voice.

Also, be very careful of your hand and arm movements – more specifically where you place you right hand! Keep it away from the middle of your body and attempt to break this unfortunate habit. I feel that it was better this week, so I suspect you are working to eliminate this problem.

Hold the microphone with your right hand – that might do the trick, although, it may make you feel more awkward, especially if you feel more comfortable with the microphone in your left hand. It will take some time to break the habit, but be patient! You’re almost there!

Vonzell Solomon ” I Have Nothing ” by Whitney Houston

Strengths: My or my, Vonzell –you looked absolutely spectacular this week and you successfully tackled a phenomenal Whitney song. This potent combination made for a fantastic vocal performance. You sang this song with artistic passion and artistry. Yes – you sort of copied the original and many may feel that you didn’t take an artistic risk – but this is not an easy song to sing. Just singing the song is enough of a risk, I feel.

Your voice sounded glorious this week and it was clearly evident that your technical resources were in high gear throughout this number. You have such a magnificent vocal instrument, but it was still a relief to see that you were allowing the voice to be sustained through the bel canto process.

The diaphragmatic breath support allowed you to express a variety of nuances throughout this number but I have a personal favorite, Vonzell! At the end of this song, you sustained a beautiful piano (soft) note; it was very gratifying to hear a powerhouse singer end her number with an extremely controlled vocal sound at the piano (soft) dynamic level.

You had the technical resources and the natural vocal ability to sustain one big long glory note – but you went for the soft sensitive ending and I heartily applaud and congratulate you for this sublime effort. It was risky (try singing softly at the end of this powerful song – it’s not easy) and it was extremely sensitive in showcasing your immense artistry. Brava, Vonzell! This was a stellar performance.

Critique: I have very little to critique in your performance this week, Vonzell. However, be ever so careful that you are centering your pitch at a consistent level. There were a couple of areas where the vocal sound was not pitch centered. You have a large vibrato throughout your vocal range and you have to allow the breathing muscles to control this element and make it behave; if not, the pitch will sound off center.

However, this was not a persistent problem this week, as you were really working hard to ensure that the technique grounded your performance throughout the song. Kudos once again!

Nadia Turner “I’m The Only One” by Melissa Etheridge

Strengths: Watch out everyone! Nadia is back! This was a great performance this week, Nadia and all the elements of the song selection –the key, the mood and the genre- were absolutely perfect for your vocal quality and style.

You exhibited a sultry and confident presence on stage that never faltered throughout your showcase this week. I love how you eased into your vocal number with that slow, sexy walk at the beginning of your song; you know how to pace yourself during your performances, last week exempted, and this pacing conserves your energy level and keeps the adrenaline pumping at just the right level. You don’t want to release the adrenaline too soon during a performance, as this will allow a song to lose control. Additionally, this careful pacing technique enhanced your style and artistry during the delivery of this song.

Your voice sounded technically more secure and controlled and the resonance and depth of your voice was projected with increased technical authority this week. Your voice exhibited a seamless quality throughout your range and the mouth was roundly shaped and in control of the pure vowel sustaining element that is essential to the pitch centered beauty of your vocal tone

Additionally, the repetitive notes in this song can be a tricky element to vocalize, as the singer can fall into the trap of not allowing the ebb and flow of the rhythmic pulse within the phrase lines to shine and compliment the emotional content of the lyrics. This was very nicely done and you performed with musical authority and star quality. Excellent work this week, Nadia! Brava!

Critique: All the problems you experienced last week were a distant memory for you this week, Nadia. You selected your vocal number judiciously, even though Simon thought that this song was pedantic and forgettable. It would have been if not for your brilliant technical control and artistry.

So, I can find very little to critique in this week’s performance. However, I want to caution you to consistently sing with your vocal technique in place, as we heard a brighter, more resonant vocal quality from you this week. It was absolutely beautiful.

Your voice is very dark, Nadia. I love it – this is what makes it so distinct. However, always remember to implement the essential head tone quality throughout your vocal range so that the quality can brightly resonate in your vocal masque. Don’t swallow the sound like last week and select the key of your songs carefully in the weeks to follow.

Congratulations!

Carrie Underwood: ” Independence Day ” by Martina McBride.

Strengths: Carrie –this was another fine performance this week and the song selection was a great one. Any song by the phenomenal Martina is A-okay in my books. Throughout the majority of this song, you sang with fantastic technique and I could see that you were really trying to resonate your vocal sound in your vocal masque(face).

Your eyes were open and expressive, your mouth was round and there was absolutely no tension in your upper body. You have received some wonderful technical advice and you are allowing the technique to rule your performances. Good for you! I felt that your vocal range sounded more seamless and uncluttered this week and you really attempted to create an even legato sound in your melodic line.

Additionally, your performing skills improved this week, as you attempted to communicate more efficiently with your audience. This was a nice surprise and this performing element will only improve in the coming weeks as you accommodate and adjust to the Idol stage. However, you exude a naturally beautiful charisma on stage – very genuine and very sincere.

You are a well- rehearsed and disciplined performer, Carrie, and I feel that you leave nothing to chance. I admire these skills in an artist, so I applaud and celebrate your diligence and perseverance. Congratulations once again!

Critique: Carrie –last week I cautioned you about your lack of support in your lower range. This problem was greatly improved this week, but you were still having some problems in the early stage of your song selection. It wasn’t as evident this week, because the majority of the song rested in your more powerful and resonant upper range, but it was still there, nonetheless.

However, if you feel that some notes in this song – or any song- are almost impossible to produce, then try changing the structure of the melodic line to suit your range. They need only be minor changes, but the result can add welcome relief to the singer’s over all performance of the song. This is perfectly acceptable and a common practice in pop music, so enjoy the freedom to experiment with a few troublesome notes.

And speaking of experimentation, you need to develop a more unique and distinct artistic vision when you perform. It seems to me that all your songs are developing a similarity in performance quality.

Additionally, your dynamic range is extremely limited – either inaudible, as in the lower range or extremely loud, as in the upper range. There is no middle road and, therefore, the performance lacks a very important element – expression and feeling. You must work hard, Carrie, to develop your expressive and dynamic range. It would be wonderful to hear you sing softly, with beautiful head tone. Put limits on the amount of belting you are going to achieve during a performance and I can assure you that your performance will rise to a new and improved level.

It does take control and it does take practice, but, with your natural vocal gifts and discipline, this vocal problem should be remedied in no time at all! Good Luck!

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!

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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

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