BY: ROSANNE SIMUNOVIC MAY 19TH, 2005
Last week, I stated that I sincerely hoped that our Final Three could bring a higher level of star quality and musical standard to the Idol stage, as I felt that the competition had waned since the premature elimination of some of the previous competitors of this year’s Top 12.
This week, we finally had ourselves a competition and, in one particular instance, a true star materialized before our disbelieving eyes. Although the other two singers desperately tried to raise their bar, neither could reach the level attained by one sole artist – Mr. Bo Bice! So, without further delay, here is the second last Vocal Master Class article of the American Idol 4 season.
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 “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” originally performed by Elton John; “In A Dream” originally performed by Badlands and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction“ originally performed by The Rolling Stones
Strengths: Bo – what a week! You finally displayed the true depth and range of your vocal and performing talent by presenting us with a virtually flawless interpretation of three distinct song styles. In my previous Master Class articles, I have been pestering you to challenge and confront the bona fide extent of your artistic and vocal abilities. Thankfully, all of this was beautifully evident and clear this week and I congratulate you on three outstanding and stellar performances.
Your first song, selected by Clive Davis, was a great medium for your specific voice and artistic passion. I know many people were surprised to hear you sing this song so well, but not this writer. Elton John is a versatile and all round performer, capable of writing and performing songs in every genre – including the rock genre. Those of you who were fortunate to see Canadian Idol Season One finalist Billy Klippert perform a very rocking and memorable version of Elton’s Levon would agree with this summation.
So, it was wonderful to hear you sing Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me with the appropriate angst and longing conveyed through the poetry in the song text. It is meant to be sung with outstanding vocal nuances and, Bo, you allowed this important expressive element to permeate the entire song selection. Your voice embraced the melodic lines with raw and fiery emotion and your natural rock influence added energy and passion to this poignant number.
Additionally, in the abbreviated reprise of this song, you delivered a wonderfully intuitive melodic variation that was pitch centered and technically secure. In fact, the whole song was performed with extremely good technique. Elton John is a great role model. Being British, he has an innate classical approach to his song selections. The British naturally speak on the pure vowels and, so, they have successfully garnered one area of technical excellence because of their heritage. Therefore, Bo, this song addressed the classical elements in your deep and resonant baritone voice.
And then we came to the second song – or should I say vocal masterpiece! Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor! What a daring and audacious performance! This was an inspired showcase and will be one of –if not – the most memorable, if only for its uniqueness and exclusivity.
However, it was more than that! It was about the performance! And Bo, you gave an immaculate and seamless performance of In A Dream. I was drawn to the genuine emotion in your voice and in your eyes as they stared back at me from the television screen. Such intensity! A singer communicates so much emotion through his eyes and, during this performance, every emotional aspect of the song was clearly evident in your powerful and commanding persona.
Additionally, your voice sounded classically pure and resonant. This is the bel -canto technique applied to the pop/rock style of singing, dear readers! Bo, you accurately enhanced and sustained your voice through the diaphragmatic breathing process, allowing the vocal sound to resonate with pitch- centered security throughout this number.
Also, your melisma(classical run) at the end of this song was perfectly executed. You nailed all the notes within this run, staying absolutely tuned to the correct tonality of the song key. The bel canto sustaining element was clearly present here, as all the vowels were focused and sustained in your vocal masque. Your expressive and relaxed facial muscles accentuated this process and, additionally, allowed you to display outstanding emotion. This was a confident, heartfelt and unprecedented performance, Bo, full of vocal nuance and sensitivity! Just extraordinary!
And then we ended the evening with the Rolling Stones classic, Satisfaction. I loved the entry – the running from the back of the stage, carrying your beloved mike stand! You actually used it as a conductor’s baton at one point in the song, or so it appeared! It made me laugh and, by this point of the evening, I felt that you could do no wrong!
Although this song has great entertainment value, it is a little tricky to sing, particularly when the singer has to navigate the repetitive melodic element in the verses. There is a risk that the phrasing and sustaining capability of the voice could fall flat and/or result in a less than musical performance.
However, this was not the case with Mr. Bo Bice! You cohesively approached the pure vowels in the cyclic melody within the verses and then alternated your vocal sound with a rock-edged approach in the memorable refrain!
Also, I was very impressed that, although you expended a great deal of energy on stage – from the short distance run at the beginning of the song to the energized movements throughout this number – there was nary a breathy sound throughout this performance. Your diaphragmatic rib cage muscles certainly ruled the day and allowed the air supply to be used only for the correct production of the pure vocal sound.
Three distinct performances all performed by one distinct, extraordinary and BOnafide star! Mr. Bo Bice! BRAVO!(I have to shout my heartiest congratulations!)
Critique: First of all, Bo and readers, you can rest assured that the critique will be noticeably shorter than the strengths portion of this evaluation. So here we go!
First of all, Bo, I would like to draw your attention to the problematic vocal element known as a diphthong. Generally, all your songs were beautifully sustained on one pure vowel within all your song lyrics. However in Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, I noticed that you were vocally addressing all the vowels (ah –eye-ee) within the “eye” diphthong in words such as “blinded by the light”. Your mouth formation was more horizontal than vertical and, instead of sustaining your vocal sound on the initial vowel “ah” in this diphthong, you allowed all the vowels to come into play here.
It certainly was a minor problem in an otherwise stellar performance. However, I am trying to steer you away from this problem over the long term, as your voice loses quite a bit of brilliance and depth when you don’t approach this – or any diphthong – in a pure and uncluttered manner. Try it – you’ll see, hear and feel the difference immediately. Your voice will sound more intense and resonant.
Also, once again in the Elton John number, I would have preferred you performing this number either standing behind the microphone stand and/or carrying just the microphone. I found your signature “mike stand haulage” actually distracting and inappropriate to the emotional intent of the song. This song requires fewer stage antics and more refinement.
If Sir Elton can deliver a stellar performance while sitting at a piano, so can you by standing quietly on stage! However, midway through this song, you eventually positioned yourself on stage and maintained a quieter and less distracting demeanor! Then, the performance really became alive and I felt that we were able to actually “listen” to you sing and communicate the emotional lyrics, as opposed to “watching” you move!
And so, weeks after my constant and insistent rants and raves about adding dimension and style and individuality to your showcases, you finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and gave us a three performance showcases that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. Superb, extraordinary work, Bo!
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Vonzell Solomon “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again” originally performed by Dionne Warwick; “Chain Of Fools” originally performed by Aretha Franklin and “On The Radio” originally performed by Donna Summers
Strengths: Vonzell, I have to say that I loved all of your song selections this week. You most certainly have the vocal power and ability to successfully tackle the repertoire of Dionne Warwick and Donna Summer. And, although your voice is not reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, you were still able to perform her song with absolute passion and conviction, adding your own distinct artistry to this great R&B number.
Your first number, I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again should be on every singer’s rehearsal repertoire list, if only to develop one’s ability to sing those nasty octave intervals with finesse and a pitch perfect, seamless vocal sound. You generally handled these octave jumps very well, Vonzell, accessing those strong diaphragmatic rib cage muscles to assist you in placing and centering your vocal tone and pitch.
I thought this song addressed the dynamic and expressive range of your voice and allowed you to once again expose the absolute beauty of your vocal timbre throughout your vocal registers. Additionally, I loved the wonderful riffs you added to this song selection. They were superb and generally flawless.
Your second number, Chain Of Fools, was my favorite of the three song selections. This song really came alive and evolved into a more vibrant pop song approach, as opposed to a laid back, jazzy style of singing that identifies the performance of this number by the original artist. Clive Davis may have had a minor problem with this, but I quite enjoyed it. It was unique and it was Vonzell and I applaud you for adding your exclusive and distinct twist on a classic R&B number!
Since this was your personal song selection, you were totally within your performance element. There were no overt challenges to your artistic comfort zone. You looked radiant and relaxed through the duration of this number and performed with confidence, sass and self-assurance. Because of this, your vocal technique was easily accessed and audibly apparent throughout this song.
It is amazing to see how wonderful a singer can actually perform when the worry and stress of showcasing a song unsuitable to one’s artistry and vocal ability is totally eliminated. This is what was apparent during the performance of this number, Vonzell. You felt thoroughly comfortable with this number and therefore, your voice was exquisitely resonant and focused.
Additionally, there was a wonderful forward momentum to the melodic line that never relented! You paced yourself well and never allowed the sustaining element in this mid tempo number to waver. For all the energy that you expended on stage, you managed to eliminate any evidence of a breathy or hesitant vocal sound, beautifully balancing the vocal technique with the stage technique. The voice and the artistry formed a true partnership in this number! Brava!
Which brings us to the third number! As much as I loved this song, I really felt that the limitations within the repetitive melodic and lyrical line didn’t really address or highlight your innate vocal ability. That being said, you added a wonderfully spirited interpretation of this song and, thankfully, brought a refreshing shimmer and sparker to the monotonous melody line. This was my least favorite of your song selections and it wasn’t your fault. There is only so much you can do with this mundane song. Too bad the judges didn’t select Donna Summer’s Last Dance. You would have brought down the house with that number!
However, you had a great week, Vonzell, and your splendid voice is a true gift from God! Congratulations! Brava!
Critique: Vonzell – as I mentioned last week, you must be very careful not to carry too much chest voice into your upper vocal register. This became a recurring problem in all of your numbers, but never more so than in your first number, I Know I’ll Never Love this Way Again. You voice was perfectly focused and centered in the original key of the song; however, when you moved into the higher key change, you carried too much chest voice throughout those octave jumps. The result: a strained, poorly focused and less resonant vocal sound.
Additionally, the pitch lacked security because you did not balance the head tone element throughout your vocal registers. You must constantly remind yourself to consistentlynavigate those intervals through the bel canto method, sustaining your voice in your vocal masque on all the pure vowels within your song lyrics. And never, ever forget to implement the clear, pitch -centered beauty of head tone throughout your vocal range
Additionally, your posture was not perfectly elevated and, as a result, your rib cage muscles appeared collapsed, thus inhibiting you from accessing the highest degree of diaphragmatic breath support. You must breath in an expansive way when you sing, Vonzell, allowing the muscles to grow during the intake of air and then flex for the proper release of air in the production of the desired vocal sound.
Furthermore, remember to never raise your head when you sing into your upper range. You did so many times during this number and this mannerism signaled a lack of technical and artistic confidence. Not only does this impede the correct production of your vocal sound, but also, you lose the communicative element with your audience.
Also, I do agree with Clive Davis that the emotion conveyed through your facial expressions did not compliment the emotional nature of the song. You looked too happy and this song needed a more sensitive and heartfelt facial demeanor. I suspect you were nervous and, sometimes, singers over compensate for the nervous phase by smiling a little too obviously. Never the less, this is part of performing technique and, hopefully, you can work on internalizing the emotion of the song so that, visually, your performance is artistically convincing.
Your Chain Of Fools number was excellent and I have no issues with this number. However, I would caution you to watch that your movements do not become gratuitous and excessive. At times, I felt that the song was on the verge of losing control; however your comfort level compensated greatly and avoided any evidence that this was going to be a problem.
This problem was more evident in the third song, On The Radio; during this song, your stage movements were manic and frenzied and, at times, almost seemed out of synch with the basic rhythmic flow. In a way, I almost overlooked this problem, as I know the song gave you very little melodic and lyrical substance with which to work.
Therefore, as I said in the Strengths portion of this evaluation, I applaud you for trying to bring some vitality and spirit to this number. Yet, I would also caution you to consistently work to further refine and develop your stage skills, so that they become effortless and natural during your performances.
And rein in the level of your chest voice and implement more head tone throughout your expansive vocal range. At times, you produced a screaming element in your voice that is totally unnecessary given the natural strength and power of your vocal gift! Use you technique to produce a louder dynamic sound; never force the issue from your throat for you may develop nodule problems in the long term. Not good! Good luck, Vonzell! Back to Top
Carrie Underwood: “Crying” originally performed by Roy Orbison; “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” originally performed by Air Supply and “Man, I Feel Like A Woman” originally performed by Shania Twain
Strengths: Carrie –your first song, Crying was a great selection for you and you wisely chose a key that emphasized your more resonant mid range register. The beginning of this number was absolutely beautiful and your voice sounded spectacular. The “head tone” ring was thankfully present and allowed you to produce a ringing, clear and pitch centered vocal timbre throughout the melodic line of this number.
I felt that you adopted a classical approach in the preparation and performance of this song, as all the correct vocal elements were in place for the majority of this song. You properly sustained your vocal sound on the pure vowels within your lyrics and maintained an open and relaxed facial demeanor – all vital elements when applying the bel canto technique.
Your second song selection, Making Love Out Of Nothing At All, was presented with ease and conviction. You had a wonderful expressive approach to this song that permeated your vocal delivery and enhanced your communicative abilities. It was wonderful to hear the variety of inflections in your singing voice, knowing that you were internalizing the emotional intent of the song lyrics! Good for you! Your voice sounded beautifully resonant and classically pure when you navigated your stellar mid and upper range
This was certainly your most compelling song of the three selected this week and I applaud you for your judicious decision to perform this number. It was a refreshing change from the country style Carrie that we have been hearing in the past few weeks and, truthfully, I like it! You have a classically beautiful voice that you need to challenge, as it will only further develop and enhance your growth as an artist. Great performance, Carrie!
And finally, your third number, by the country pop diva Shania Twain. I am glad that Shania and Mutt are allowing clearance for some of their songs; the music and lyrics offer the listeners great entertainment value, but then again they allow the listeners to make great comparisons, as no one – except Shania – has performed these numbers on a high profile television show. You had a great time performing this number and looked animated and vivacious throughout the song! It was great way to end the Top 3 showcase! Congratulations Carrie!
Critique: Carrie – you encountered some very significant vocal problems in all three of your numbers. Beginning with your first selection, “Crying”, I felt that most of your technical issues started and remained in the latter portion of the song. At this point in the song selection, your upper register adopted a strained and anxious vocal timbre, as you unfortunately carried too much chest sound into your delicate upper range. This area of your range needed the beauty and purity and ring that can only come from the implementation of “head voice” You needed to carefully blend both vocal elements – head and chest voice – to achieve a powerful yet ringing vocal timbre.
Additionally, the performance tempo of this song needed to be more flexible, with more rubato or robbed time. The tempo had a steady “tick tock” effect throughout and, as a result, you were not able to impart the emotional and vocal freedom necessary for the successful performance of this number. The song needed to have more space between the phrase lines, so that you could properly emote the poignant lyrics or soar through the glorious melodic line. I was waiting for a high point or climax in this song and nothing ever happened. What a shame!
Those lyrics needed to be rehearsed as a poem, allowing your self to be totally immersed in the soul and spirit of the emotional core. If you had done this, you would have understood how important spoken inflection is in the art of successful communication and, subsequently, would have transferred this important skill to this – and all – of your song performances this week.
Your second song selection was more successful in this respect! You had a more genuine and secure level of expression throughout this number! This was great! However, you experienced some additional vocal problems at the beginning of this song. Your low range – and this has been a problem in weeks passed – sounded poorly focused and tentative. You must remember, Carrie, to really allow the diaphragmatic muscles to support and enhance every part of your vocal range.
Additionally, if the key of the song is too low, then raise it a tone or semi-tone; this simple modification is very successful in securing the singer’s comfort level when performing a number. I am constantly altering keys for my singers and it makes a world of difference in their performances.
Finally, your Shania Twain number. As much as I wanted this song to work for you Carrie, it just didn’t. I think a more generic Shania song would have been more successful. But this song requires a strong and sultry persona and you are just not there yet as a performer. This song performance was adequate but did not come close to Shania’s innate personality and sexy bravado when she performs this number.
This is what I meant when I said in the Strengths portion of this evaluation that another performer’s interpretation will draw comparisons to Shania. Also, when you delivered the shout out: “Man, I feel like a woman!” it did not sound convincing or persuasive. Rather it was more like a cheerleading chant! I know this sounds pretty blatant, but none of this advice is unpleasant or contrary if it allows you to grow as an artist and as a musician.
In the future, try finding songs that really identify who you are an artist, so that you can sing in a credible and realistic fashion. I understand that the judges chose the song, and that is unfortunate. However, I feel that you could have rehearsed this song in a more diligent fashion, so that the final performance was a decent rendition of a great number. It may not have come close to Shania’s interpretation, but attention to the little details in this song would have made all the difference in the world.
Additionally, the frivolous and fun nature of the song style encouraged you to further neglect your vocal technique. Your voice was all over the place during this number and the technique would have exerted a high level of control over the vocal performance, if not the artistic performance. Never forsake your technique in any song genre. It can mean the difference between an overwhelming successful performance and a disastrous one! Good luck, Carrie!
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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!