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American Idol 4 Top 4 Vocal Masterclass


BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC MAY 12TH, 2005

Welcome to the Final Four Vocal Master Class. I have to be quite honest here! After watching this week’s show, I came away extremely disappointed in the caliber of the performances from three out of the four remaining singers. It was very uninspiring, to say the very least, and I only hope that the Final Three and Final Two can bring some fundamental star quality and excellence to the American Idol Season 4 stage.

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

Vonzell Solomon Carrie Underwood

Bo Bice    “Great Day To Be Alive “ originally performed by Travis Tritt and “For The Love of Money” originally performed by O’Jays

Strengths: Bo – as always, you performed both songs in your customary rock style. Your stage skills were generally well executed and signaled your confidence and professionalism on the stage. Additionally, your communicative ability was genuine and sincere. I really love the classical rock elements in your baritone voice; it is a refreshing and soothing change from the treble laden, over wrought and higher pitched registers displayed by many rock artists, past and present.

Your vocal sound was quite resonant and, when you navigated your higher and/or the more potent melodic sections, we enjoyed a cleaner and distinct vocal presence within your showcase. For instance, in your first number, when you moved back to the stage, your vocal and physical presence was more open and expressive. You allowed your body mannerisms to compliment the lyrical element in this section of this song. It was just excellent.

Yougenerally adhered to the diaphragmatic breathing process and you maintained a round mouth and open and expressive features, particularly in your second number. In this song selection, you had a beautifully cohesive approach to your vowels, as you consistently sustained your melodic line on the pure vowels within your lyrics. This was my favorite song of the two, as your brawny and muscular voice was just the ticket for the successful performance of this number. You had additional innate energy and this increased energy level encouraged you to sing in a more technically proficient manner
Good work, once again! Bravo!

Critique: First of all, Bo, I have some issues with your song selections this week. I felt that both songs did not allow you to expand and challenge the artistry that I know you are capable of revealing. Your performances, I feel, were very predictable, from your signature “microphone in drag” gimmick to the occasionally erratic stage movements.

Now, you know I have been asking you – begging you – to perform a song similar to Time In A Bottle and this week would have been a wonderful opportunity to do so. In the “Nashville” portion of your showcase, you had an open opportunity to select a beautiful acoustic number, accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar. How splendid a showcase this would have been, Bo and I, for one, am disappointed that you permitted yourself to take the safe and familiar route once again.

Songs similar to Time In a Bottle would expand your audience and define the veritable scope of your vocal ability and artistry. By ignoring this fact, you risk alienating a large segment of the Idol audience and will, therefore, put limitations on the success of your CD sales. Your performances are still too one dimensional; you need to reveal more artistic layers within your showcase and be more innovative in your stage technique.

As I previously stated, your voice was more resonant and secure in the second song selection. You added a powerful and robust sound to your vocal timbre in this number and your voice sounded very alive and free.

However, in the Travis Tritt number, your vocal quality had a lazy, unfocused element that only improved in the last few bars of this song. For the majority of this number, you fell into the country twang syndrome and, as a result, the correct diaphragmatic breath support and bel canto technique were severely compromised. Your mouth exhibited a horizontal rather than a vertical formation and this resulted in a very tight and ineffectual vocal sound.

Additionally, your diction was very poor in both song selections and, particularly in the first number, the words were either forgotten or just lacking in the proper method of articulation. As a result, not only were the lyrics inaudible, but also there was a noticeable lack of energy in various sections of your songs because of this tentative approach to the lyrical content.

During the rehearsal process, you must work on simply reciting your words, adding the natural inflections, as you would speak them. Not only would this assist you in singing with a more expressive vocal sound, but also it would fortify your memory skills. Hope this proves to be of assistance to you Bo as you have so much to offer as an artist! It’s all good, so really work on discovering the extent of your artistry and vocal ability. Good luck!
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Anthony Fedorov     “I’m Already There” originally performed by Lonestar and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now “ originally performed by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Strengths: Anthony – both of your songs were exceptional vocal masterpieces this week. You gave careful and impeccable consideration to every vocal and performing element within these numbers, leaving nothing to chance. How I admire this level of focus and determination in an artist!

Your first selection, I’m Already There”, was a passionate and heartfelt performance. You captured the spirit of this song in a genuine and believable manner and communicated the author’s emotional intent supremely well indeed. Your voice was beautifully resonant and free, supported with technical accuracy. Your phrasing during this number was very musical and your sustaining, bel cantoability was thankfully evident throughout this showcase.

I loved the beautiful hushed intensity at the beginning of this number. What a wonderful contrast to the energetic and potent refrain! You easily displayed your ability to add a nuanced effect to your vocal delivery, thus showcasing your dynamic range and ability. You sang this song with a wonderful blend of sincerity and confidence, Anthony, and I rated this performance as one of the two showstoppers of the evening!

Then you revisited your exceptional work ethic by presenting us with another stellar showcase, If You Don’t Know Me By Now. Technically, this is a very difficult song to sustain, as the lyrical component is extremely verbose. Because of this, the singer must have a strong technical approach to the lyrics, so that the words and the melodic line remain coherent to the listener.

Anthony, you really allowed the lyrics to come alive in this song. You guaranteed that your voice remained cohesive to the pure vowels, so as to reinforce the cyclic melodic line. Additionally, you phrased these passages so beautifully and, as a result, the melodic line was musically and rhythmically coherent. Once again, your mouth maintained a circular position in this number, allowing the vocal sound to resonate freely in your vocal masque. Stylistically, you performed with ease and effortlessness and, yet, I could see that a great deal of time and effort was expended in the preparation of this song selection.

In closing, all the important vocal elements – head tone, pitch centered purity, diaphragmatic breath support, dynamic range, seamless singing throughout the vocal registers- highlighted both performances this evening. The result was an eloquent and authentic vocal showcase

Oh yes – I almost forgot! Your second number was my second pick of the two showstoppers this week! You took the Idol stage by storm this week, A-Fed, and have positioned your self to be a most memorable and unstoppable force long after the Idol experience is behind you. Congratulations! Bravo! This was an absolutely phenomenal week for you Anthony.
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Critique: I have really little to critique this week Anthony! Unlike last week, you selected both of these numbers judiciously and wisely returned to the arena that best suits your persona and distinct artistry – that of the classical pop genre. Now, remember to apply your impeccable technique to your up tempo numbers, as, in the past, these are the numbers that were problematic and challenging to you.

Here’s a little trick for you. Take one or both of the ballads that you sang this week and quicken the pace, allowing the sustaining element and diaphragmatic support to remain a constant throughout this number. By doing so, you will ensure that the up-tempo songs will be performed in a disciplined and controlled manner. You never want these songs to unravel, which is what happened last week with Poison Ivy

However, I will leave you with positive vibes and my heartiest kudos – very well deserved. Excellent work! I can see those A&R guys “biting at the bit” to snatch you up!
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Vonzell Solomon    “How Do I Live” originally performed by Trisha Yearwood/LeAnn Rimes and “Don’t Leave Me This Way” originally performed by Thelma Houston

Strengths: Vonzell, I thought both of your song selections were well suited to your personality and vocal ability. The tempo and genre contrasts were most appreciated and, additionally, spoke to your ability to challenge yourself as a vocalist and as an artist.

I loved your first song, How Can I Live; it was a passionate and heartfelt performance and your voice embraced the melodic line in radiant fashion. You managed your upper range ad-libs and melismas in this song with finesse and style and you negotiated the key change very well indeed.

However, it was your second song, Don’t Leave Me this Way, that impressed me. The buoyant and energetic melodic and lyrical elements were so entertaining and allowed you to reveal a playful and mischievous side to your personality. You handled the quick paced tempo very well and you never compromised your vocal technique. It was bel canto (pure vowel) placement all the way!

It is very difficult to discipline the diaphragmatic breath control when the tempo of a song is this busy and frantic, but you really handled the speed with expertise, Vonzell. I never sensed that you were losing precious air with your vocal production and, as a result, your vocal sound was wonderfully animated and beautifully resonant. Additionally, you manipulated those wicked key changes extremely well and your pitch was centered and pure throughout the transitions.

Great work this week Vonzell! Brava!

Critique: Vonzell – as I mentioned above, your second number was really excellent and I found little to critique in the performance of this number. However, I might caution you to refine your stage skills when performing up- tempo songs. The credo “less is more” certainly applies to any expeditious song and you would be wise to adhere to this belief. I found that your movements were excessive and didn’t have a sense of flow and ease.

Additionally, your facial demeanor, at times, conveyed a sense of anxiety and apprehension. Perhaps you were sensing the lack of fluidity in your movements? Remember to ease into you up-tempo numbers; it would be better to add more movement, if necessary, midway through the song when you are more secure and comfortable on stage. This would also add more interest to your over all stage performance. It would impart an element of surprise! Predictability is the downfall of any artist, so keep some tricks up your sleeve when refining your stagecraft.

Now, let’s talk about your first number, “How Do I Live”. As I was watching you, I was thinking: “She looks incredibly nervous!” and then I heard the catch in your throat mid way through this song and I knew that something was wrong.

Therefore, it was no surprise that, after Paula indicated your emotional distress, you conducted a tearful interview with Ryan and the judging panel. It must be incredibly difficult to maintain your level of artistic energy and technical discipline week after week and I applaud you and all the singers for their enormous efforts on the Idol stage.

However, it was a shame that you were not emotionally prepared for the performance of this number because I believe that, in a more tranquil situation, you would have knocked this song out of the ball- park. Your diaphragmatic breath support was severely compromised during this song and didn’t allow you to display a nuanced effect within your dynamic range.

For instance, your initial upper head tone notes on the word survive sounded breathy and lacked the proper focus. Your vocal sound was positioned in your throat, as opposed to resonating freely in your vocal masque with the proper breath support. Therefore the clear, bell-like ring that identifies proper head tone placement was noticeably absent.

Then, when you visited this section of the song later on in the performance and added a more powerful dynamic sound to the word survive, you carried too much chest voice into your upper register, thus creating a forced, overwrought and poorly tuned vocal sound.

You must remember, Vonzell, that head tone purity is essential throughout your singing rangeand dynamic range. It adds pitch centered clarity, purity and ring to your entire vocal register. Additionally, work on relaxing the tension in your facial features; we need to see a more expressive and welcoming facial demeanor, not only for your stage presence but also for effective and consistent vocal resonation. Good luck next week, Vonzell!
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Carrie Underwood:     “Sin Wagon” originally performed by Dixie Chicks and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” originally performed by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Strengths: Carrie –your first song was extremely entertaining and I loved watching you sing with comfort and ease in the genre that obviously speaks to your specific talents as a vocalist. You exhibited a wonderful persona on stage, looking relaxed and radiant throughout this showcase. You had enormous fun with this song; you competently internalized the jovial and buoyant emotion, thus effectively communicating this song to your audience. Your stage technique was genuine and natural, complimenting the buoyant and frenzied pace of this enjoyable song selection. Good for you!

Your second song ran into too many vocal issues that, ultimately, compromised your comfort level on stage. What a shame! Certainly you could have found a more appropriate song, one that would identify and reinforce your distinct vocal and performing skills?

However, I thoroughly enjoyed your first number and, in fact, this is the first time that I sensed that the stage performance of the song far surpassed the actual vocal performance. So it was a “couple of steps forward and then one step back” situation for you this week, Carrie. Luckily, you will have two more weeks to further refine your stage and vocal skills.

Critique: Well, unfortunately, this week proved to be your least successful showcase during the American Idol season. Let’s start with the first number! As I said above, the performance of this number was very good. However, many important vocal elements were severely neglected during this number

Your diction was extremely incoherent and, at times, almost had a rambling and garbled effect. Additionally, your mouth was very horizontal, thus encouraging you to sing in a less pure and resonant fashion. As a result, your vocal timbre didn’t enjoy the pitch-centered clarity to which you are accustomed to achieving.

This genre of music, with the Country twang manner of speaking and/or singing, encourages every singer to accentuate all the vowels in the diphthongs within their lyrics, rather than allowing the singer to sustain their vocal sound on the one pure vowel. The bel canto method truly enhances every genre of music and you would be wise, Carrie, to adhere to their principles when you perform music from the country genre. You have a wonderful role model in country diva, Martina McBride. She performs this genre of music with impeccable technique.

Additionally, you must not allow yourself to become less disciplined in your technical approach when you perform these upbeat numbers. The technique must be central to every performance in every genre. I felt that the frantic pace of the song dominated your sense of discipline in maintaining a sustained, bel canto focus in your vocal sound.

This sustaining element must be a viable and consistent presence when you perform these up-tempo numbers. Practice the song slowly and methodically, really allowing the vocal sound to resonate on the pure vowel within your vocal masque. (facial features). You will then solidify your ability to maintain control when you perform the song up to speed for the actual performance.

Now, your second song, in addition to being an uninspired song selection for you, experienced many of the same vocal problems as the first song selection. This is a very verbose and melodically fragmented song and, unless the singer really does his or her own homework, the song will fall flat as a pancake.

Your pitch was severely compromised at the beginning, as the key of the song was too low and, as in previous showcases, you had great difficulty placing and resonating your voice in your vocal masque. Therefore your tuning was off center and you never really redeemed or corrected this problem as the song progressed. You looked frightened and this ubiquitous anxiety didn’t allow you to breath deeply in an effort to access the support of those very important and extremely potent rib cage muscles.

Therefore, when you moved into the key change, your pitch was very sharp – another sign of tension – and you carried too much chest sound into your higher register, thus creating a very strained, ineffectual vocal sound.

Additionally, the cyclic verbose sections of the song should have been adequately rehearsed so that the emotion and the musicality were not compromised. You needed to add rhythmic inflection and expressiveness to the text, allowing the sustaining element to permeate and enhance these repetitive and tricky melodic segments of the song. These areas needed an innovative approach to the phrasing element. It is up to the singer to work and perfect this very essential musical element so that the voice flows easily from the performer and the lyrics are conveyed in a genuine and convincing manner.

Hope this helps Carrie. 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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