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American Idol 4 Top 8 Vocal Masterclass: The Year They Were Born


BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC APRIL 14TH, 2005

The Top 8 American Idol finalists had a great time this week performing songs that made their musical debut in the same year that coincided with their birth year! This was a very neat idea and stayed true to American Idol’s objective this year in allowing the singers to perform songs that reflected their personal vision as an artist.

This week’s performances were very revealing and the competition is finally heating up. 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 Vonzell Solomon

Nadia Turner Carrie Underwood

Bo Bice    “Free Bird” originally performed by Lynard Skynard

Strengths: Bo, you are a rocker at heart, aren’t you? You love to work the stage and are totally comfortable in the performing environment. This week, as in previous weeks, you involved your audience in your song performance and communicated the song extremely well.

I loved your more energized sound about 30 – 45 seconds into this song. It was at this point that the true resonance and depth of your voice rang true. You have a classical tonality to your voice; the timbre is very rich and resonant and, when you sing into your upper range and/or sing with a louder dynamic, this attractive vocal quality becomes more evident.

I respect your passion and commitment to this genre of music, Bo! Keep up the wonderful work!

Critique: Bo –first of all, let’s talk about the stage movements. As much as I love to see performers utilize the stage, I just felt that, in your case, the movements seemed overdone and excessive.

Even worse, I never had a real sense that you had a sense of purpose to your stage technique. You seemed almost hesitant and uncertain about which direction to travel. Truthfully, the excessive and seemingly improvised stage movements were more of an artistic distraction than a performing strength.

Please remember to studiously rehearse your stage movements so that they compliment your vocals; the two must work hand in hand for a successful performance.

Vocally, although your sound was more energized in the upper range, still, you were not singing with the proper technique. I felt that your upper range vocal sound was produced with very poor technical support. Your mouth was very tight and spread in formation when you moved into you’re the higher melodic line and, therefore, the diaphragmatic breath support was severely compromised.

Additionally, your lower range suffered the same problem and, as a result, your baritone sound became muddy and lacked intensity. You have such a beautiful voice and you must use the bel canto technique to enhance and strengthen your natural vocal abilities. Sustain those pure vowels, feel the ribcage muscles flexing to control the airflow necessary to resonate your sound in your vocal masque.

Finally, the musical phrasing of your song was negatively affected by the lack of stage and vocal technical skills. Your song seemed fragmented; it didn’t seem to flow. Part of it was, perhaps, the song selection and another part rested on all the technical issues mentioned above. Additionally, your enunciation of the consonants, which was so impeccable weeks ago, was poorly articulated this week. You must feel the consonants spinning out of your mouth, as you sustain the melodic line of the song on the pure vowels.

Simon is correct when he stated that you should be selecting songs that are more familiar or mainstream and then simply infuse your rock style into these numbers. You were on the right track a few weeks ago with “Spinning Wheel’ and “Time In A Bottle”. Let’s hope that we will see more of this in the coming weeks. Good luck Bo!
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Anthony Fedorov     “Every Time You Go Away ” originally performed by Paul Young

Strengths: Anthony – it was nice to see you using more of the of the stage in this week’s performance. In some ways, you have grown so much as a performer on the Idol stage and, for me, this is one of the thrills of seeing young singers perform live each week. I love to see the growth and the development of an artist’s vocal and artistic skills and Anthony, you are a wonderful example of this.

This was a pretty good song choice for you; yet, I felt that there were better options available for your particular style and voice. However, you sang and emoted this song very well. Your voice is a naturally resonant instrument, Anthony, and, when anchored and produced through the correct technical process, can sound magnificent.

Additionally, you utilized the stage very well, without going overboard in the process. Therefore, we were drawn to your interpretive vocal abilities, as you never allowed your voice to take a back seat to your performance this week. This is very important; the performance should have a well- rehearsed blend of vocal technique and stage technique. If not, the performance falls apart at both ends. You did a very fine job this week, Anthony! Congratulations.

Critique: Anthony- I felt that this song choice experienced a few artistic pitfalls. There were a few dead spots in this number that necessitated the use of back-up singers and/or audience participation, especially in the repetitive line “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you”. The a cappella nature of the song at this point should involve the audience, perhaps hand clapping to the repetitious rhythmic pattern. Therefore, performance wise, I felt that this song fell flat at this point in the number. The overall energy and vitality necessary for the song at this point just didn’t seem to permeate the performance as well as possible.

Additionally, there was a considerable problem with the audio feed, especially at the beginning of this number. I could hardly hear you Anthony and this never really improved as the song progressed. If this was a problem with the American Idol engineers, then they owe you a huge apology. Perhaps, this is why the vocal sound lacked the intensity; it is hard to sing and project any pop song if the microphone is not working properly.

Vocally, your sound was extremely tight in your upper range and the performance tension probably contributed to this problem. Your throat was constricted, your facial muscles were extremely tense and, therefore, it is no wonder that your voice could not resonate with pitch-centered clarity and ring in some sections of this song. It wasn’t an ongoing problem, but it was still evident nonetheless. You must consistently allow the diaphragmatic muscles to manufacture and support your naturally resonant tenor voice.

Also, Anthony, I feel that, somewhere over the past couple of weeks, you have lost a sense of who you are as an artist. I think this began during the Top 12 show, when you were unjustifiably criticized for your song selection and performance. Each week, I watched your artistic spirit and passion slowly diminish from your eyes and from your soul, as you became more tentative and uncertain on the Idol stage.

Can I offer a suggestion? Stay true to your original artistic roots. Be real. If the judges cannot appreciate your music, you have millions of fans that will! Always remember that! Good luck!
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Constantine Maroulis    “Bohemian Rhapsody” originally performed by Freddie Mercury and Queen

Strengths: I have been waiting a very long time to hear this classic rock song by on the Idol stage. I love this song very much and actually rehearsed a choral version of this number with my choir many years ago! So, thank you, Constantine, for taking such an enormous risk in showcasing this number, as this is an extremely difficult song to perform. It is a complex number, with layers upon layers of difficult harmonic and melodic components throughout the composition. The tempo changes alone are enough to challenge any artist.

Constantine, you truly gave what was probably one of the most memorable performances in Idol history. Your spectacular presentation of this song was absolutely stellar. You managed to negotiate those wicked tempo changes without allowing your voice to lose it’s pitch centered security. You moved with ease and technical security from slow to fast and then back to the slow and final sections of this abbreviated performance of this number. Your pitch and vocal resonance never wavered. The bel canto technique was thankfully in place. This is what great singing is all about, folks!

The unique timbre of your voice in combination with the passionate artistry conveyed the depth of the emotion in this number. You used the stage in a well-rehearsed yet believable manner. All the theatrics are integral to the successful performance of this song. Your dramatic presentation was absolutely perfect. It doesn’t get much better than this. Congratulations on a superlative performance. You know who you are as an artist, Constantine, and I look forward to purchasing your CD regardless of the outcome with this year’s competition.

Critique: Last week, I cautioned you about the exaggerated theatrics during your performance of “My Funny Valentine” However, the reason I am referencing it again this week is that I want people to realize that the intensity and concentration necessary to perform in the theatre are essential to successful performances.

Sometimes, this level of intensity doesn’t translate too well to the television camera; however, after this week’s performance, perhaps people will understand and appreciate the depth and power of your talent and experience. The camera work was fabulous this week and the facial expressions were great! Pure theatre and consummate artistry!

However, this is hardly a critique and so, I would like to simply say thank you, Constantine! You are critique-free this week and I defy anyone to say that this song performance was anything less than stellar. Bravo!
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Anwar Robinson    ” I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again” originally performed by Dionne Warwick

Strengths: Anwar –this was an exceptional performance, one that exemplified the strength and security of your technical resources. You managed those wicked octave intervals just beautifully. (I Know, I’ll Never…etc). The pitch and clarity of your voice were seamless during this section of the song and, in fact, throughout the entire number. The interval jumps are so difficult in this song and the singer must have the vocal gift and the technical resources to negotiate these intervals successfully. You have all of this and more, “the more” being the sense to choose songs that identify who you are as an artist.

Artistically, you have learned from your near death Top 11 experience, that it is integral to the singer’s success on the American Idol show to choose songs that reflect the artist’s true soul and musical identity. Risk-taking is important – yes – but, this week, I felt that there was enough of a risk element in choosing this very difficult Dionne Warwick number. Yet, you were up to the challenge because the song was within your comfort zone.

Not too many other singers, if any, would have been able to sing this song as well as you, Anwar, so I was very impressed with your performance this week. You allow your song selections to speak to the considerable strengths of your vocal ability and artistry.

Vocally, the sound was pure and even and you handled the change in registers with some lovely bel canto singing. You injected a lovely head tone quality into your bottom range that added a brilliant timbre to this part of your range and, additionally, a ringing quality to the upper range. It was wonderful to hear such a lovely baritone quality emanating from you this week. It was always there; you just needed to apply the diaphragmatic technique in the proper fashion and allow the sound to resonate in the proper area of your vocal masque

You secured the key transition extremely well and your melismas toward the end of this song were tastefully and seamlessly produced. And the final note! Now, that’s how you sustain a glory note – clear and resonant and on the pure vowel. Excellent work, Anwar!

Critique: As I said last week, it is wonderful to see that you are taking the advice of the judges and selecting songs that are key and style appropriate for your voice. I felt that everything came together for you this week Anwar and this is wonderful to see at this stage of the competition.

However, I would like to add one word of caution regarding your head position when you sing into your upper range. You have a tendency to raise you head and this is a “no no” in singing.

First of all, when you raise your head, you lose eye contact with the audience and the television camera. Therefore, for this reason, the communicative elements are somewhat compromised during the performance. A singer must connect with his eyes and, when the eyes are looking up to the ceiling, you have, inadvertently, detached yourself from your audience. It also speaks to a less confident stage persona.

Secondly, when you strain you neck, as you did when you sang your final note, you are adding some tension and strain to the vocals, even though all the other technical elements might be in place. The vocal sound does not project forward because the head is raised.

Always remember to move the body subtly forward when you sustain into your upper register. Your knees should be relaxed and the weight of your body toward the balls of your feet. And access those back muscles as well. Feel all the muscles in your rib cage working together to assist you, but never allow your upper body or your head to move away from your audience. Bravo once again, Anwar!
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Scott Savol    “She’s Gone” originally performed by Hall and Oates

Strengths: Scott –you really challenged yourself this week by performing this wonderful Hall and Oates number with the original artists in the audience. I thought that this was your best performance in the last three weeks. Your artistry and vocal gifts were noticeably improved this week. The last couple of weeks I did feel that you were sounding more fatigued and that your performing style was lacking in passion and intensity. However, like your buddy, Anwar, you moved from your baritone range to your tenor range with ease and clarity. It was pretty seamless, actually.

Your passion and enthusiasm were back in full force and you delivered an emotive interpretation of this great number. You proved that you don’t have to move all over the stage to render a passionate and communicative performance. Good work, Scott!

<bCritique: Scott – as I said a couple of weeks ago, you must make a concerted effort to examine your posture when you perform on stage. You raise your head when you sing into the upper range and, as a result, experience pitch and vocal projection issues. Additionally, your facial features are considerably tense and, as a result, your voice has problems resonating clearly and efficiently in your vocal masque.

As I pointed out last week, you must remember to keep the throat open and relaxed, the mouth round throughout all the pure vowel formations and the jaw visibly relaxed. If not, you will continue to have problems with the pitch centered security of your voice. You must practice your riffs and runs like you would if you were singing classical runs – each note must be supported from the diaphragm; it can’t be a hit and miss procedure or you will continue to run into the same vocal problems from performance to performance.

You have tremendous a vocal gift, Scott, but please use your voice wisely and never underestimate the value of proper and efficient technique. Good luck!
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Vonzell Solomon    “Let’s Hear It For The Boys” originally performed by Deniece Williams

Strengths: Vonzell – you presented this song very well and, as always, seemed totally comfortable involving your audience with this song. You are quite fortunate to possess a voice that seems to work with ease and transparency, regardless of the song selection. You exuded a wonderful charisma on stage and your smile is pure magic. There is nothing better than watching a performer doing what she loves best and it is crystal clear that you love every aspect of the art of performance. Good work, once again, Vonzell!

Critique: Vonzell, how I miss the good ole days of the Top 12 performances. In that performance, I felt that you were delving into your artistic soul and really allowing your artistry and vocal depth to surface and shine for all the world to see.

However, this week, as in last, I simply felt that you were going through the motions. Gone was the magic and conspicuously absent was the artistry. Additionally, as much as I love to see a performer move beyond the boundaries of the stage, I felt that this week you took far too many liberties in this respect and, as a result, the actual vocal performance of the song suffered.

You were just too busy walking up and down steps and platforms and I never really felt that you did so with any sense of purpose or logic. I have repeatedly said that these stage movements must be rehearsed and must compliment the vocals, not subtract. How I wish you had a chosen a better song selection.

This is a cute song and your performed it well, I suppose, but, you are more than capable of showcasing a song with more interesting melodic and harmonic layers. This song was too one dimensional for your innate talent, Vonzell.

Additionally, all the exercise you maintained during this number exhausted your ability to technically support your vocal sound efficiently. You experienced some pitch and resonance problems along the way because of the lack of attention to the correct technical support. Your voice took on an almost breathy quality, at times, and it was because of your natural vocal gifts that you were able to veer your vocal projection back on track.

However, this is not a good road to take in the long run, as your luck will run out. You must always remember to practice your up tempo songs at a snail’s pace, as it will assist you in identifying the areas of tension in your vocal production. Good luck, Vonzell.
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Nadia Turner    “When I Dream” by Mac Davis and originally performed by Crystal Gale

Strengths: Nadia, this was another spectacular performance. Sure – the song tempo was slow and the mood was melancholy, but you proved, once again, that you are able to change your singing style to compliment your song selection. The melodic line of this song is very simple and uncluttered and can only be changed and manipulated so much before it becomes tedious and excessive.

As a musician, I thought that you made some wonderful artistic decisions that were central to your unique vision as an artist. The emotion is always a principal element in your performances, Nadia, and you are one of the few singers who feel comfortable revealing their soul each and every week on the Idol stage.

This week I heard some evidence of natural head tone; it was very free and pitch centered and, additionally, your voice sounded less dark than in previous weeks, I heard evidence of some nasal resonance – not nasal tone, which is a negative element. Nasal resonance brings a magnificent brilliance and shine to the entire vocal range and really allows the voice to efficiently permeate the background orchestration.

You looked and performed like a star, Nadia and don’t let anyone ever convince you that you have a limited voice range. It is refreshing and encouraging hearing a female singer who has such a resonant bottom range.

Remember Karen Carpenter of “The Carpenters”? She was turned down by recording company after recording company until her brother Richard advised her to record her next demo showcasing her alto range. Guess what? They loved her and Karen Carpenter went on create numerous number one hits! Your voice is silky smooth, Nadia, and it is this unique texture in combination with your artistry that sets you apart from the rest of the pack! Excellent work once again, Nadia!

Critique: Nadia, last week, I cautioned you about your inability to sustain the “ee” vowel through a round and relaxed mouth and jaw. You have to discard the natural tendency to spread the mouth when you sustain this vowel. This week, in the word “dream”, you ran into a similar problem and this technical flaw rendered a little instability to your vocal production.

Refer to < last week’s comments to assist you in correcting this problem. When this troublesome vowel is not produced properly, the pitch and the timbre of the vocal sound are compromised. Hence, the intermittent pitch problems this week.

Additionally, how I wished you had performed one of your fabulous up-tempo numbers that never fail to impress your audience. At this stage of the competition, it would have been a wiser choice; however, that being said, I still disagree with the judges who gave you such a curt dismissal after such a splendid performance of this song. Like it or not, you commanded the stage as always and sang the song with consummate passion and artistry. Brava Nadia.
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Carrie Underwood:     “Love Is A Battlefield ” originally performed by Pat Benatar

Strengths: Carrie –first of all, congratulations for attempting to move outside your comfort zone with this very ambitious Pat Benatar number. I was not as familiar with this song, but have tremendous respect for Pat Benatar, as she is a superbly trained vocalist and one that thousands of young female singers should emulate when they perform in the pop or rock genre. This was a very suitable song for your vocal range and timbre and I thought that, on another night, this would have been a superb performance.

You moved off the stage and made impact with your audience and this is a gigantic step for you Carrie. Good for you! You conveyed the appropriate energy for this song; it was great passionate singing and I loved the raspy quality you added to your vocal performance. It gave the song the necessary rock edge and, additionally, highlighted your expressive vocal qualities. Good work, Carrie! Congratulations!

Critique: Okay, where do I begin? First of all, it is wonderful to take risks, Carrie, and I still heartily applaud you for this. However, this song went too far beyond your comfort zone. It is such a demanding song vocally and your performance would have been better served if you had concentrated on the vocals and minimized the stage movements.

I know you have been criticized for not reaching your audience, but, to do so, it does not mean you have to jump off the stage and sing to them up close and personal. Remember Fantasia’s performance of “Summertime” last season? She simply sat on the stage and sang from her heart and gave a very memorable and highly acclaimed performance. No shouting and no screaming! She sang totally from the heart. And, technically, your voice is a far superior voice. So, therein lies the problem – your inability to internalize the soul of the song.

Your performance just became too complicated and, as a result, you forgot your lyrics and lost all sense of your technical ability. What a shame! You must never compromise your artistry to appease the public or the judges. You were slowly making some inroads with your stage performance, but this week’s song selection proved too cumbersome for you and you were trying to juggle too many danger zones: song selection, lyrics, vocal production, stage technique. A simpler, yet heartfelt approach would have been the way to go Carrie. Think about this for next week and good luck!
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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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