Hello again all you Masterclass Maniacs. Hope the weather is behaving in your part of the world because it is absolutely beautiful up here in Northern Ontario. You have to have a reason to fall out of bed in the morning and warm weather always does it for me.
This week, Idol decided to become “au courant” and our Top 10 singers strutted their stuff performing music from the 21st Century. . It was, should we say, an interesting mélange of songs, as our singers were inexplicably attracted to the more challenging and/or obscure songs from the 21st century. Whereas last week, the majority of singers were spot on with their song choices, this week the reverse was true and it really showed in the general performance level of the singers.
So, here is my take on what happened on the Idol stage this week.
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Ace Young “Drops Of Jupiter” originally performed by Train
Strengths: Ace –oh how I love this great modern rock song. Classical rock, actually! You internalized the emotion of this song very well and your stage technique was quite relaxed and communicative. As I have said in previous weeks, you are a vulnerable and charismatic presence on that stage and this is a natural performing gift, so be thankful for this.
Vocally, the key of the song was very good for your voice and generally speaking, the natural beauty of your voice was a viable presence during the performance of this song. Good work, Ace!
Critique: Ace – like a broken record, I continue to caution you about the technical problems when you sing in your natural vocal register. How I wish you would incorporate that open, ringing head tone quality that we hear with pitch perfect clarity when you sing in your falsetto register. I find it almost unbelievable that you can navigate your falsetto register with such technical ease and security and then, when it comes to vocalizing in your natural voice, you abandon this very important element.
This was so evident this week, Ace, for the melodic line of this song totally rested within your natural voice. Unfortunately, your throat was extremely tense and your mouth formation abandoned that ever- important circular position that is so conducive to resonant vocalization on the pure vowel.
Additionally, your vocal timbre adopted a nasal timbre during the performance of this song, indicating that you had considerable tension in your nasal muscles. It also emphasized the fact that your diaphragmatic muscles were not fully supporting your vocal sound and, subsequently, the voice was unable to resonate freely in your vocal masque.
This song has a mixture of classical and rock elements and you needed to incorporate a classical vocal sound into the melodic delivery of this song. I am so accustomed to hearing the lead singer of Train perform this song with such vocal perfection, blending the classical sound with the rock, that the absence of this musical characteristic was very conspicuous in this week’s performance.
You have a really great voice Ace but we are presently not hearing the inherent beauty of your vocal sound due to your lack of technical expertise. I always tell my singers to pretend that they are British when they sing and that encourages them to sing with a circular mouth position while they fully sustain their pure vowels throughout the melodic line. It may feel and sound foreign to you at first, but, when you hear the result utilizing the bel – canto technique, you will never go back. You will have a richer vocal sound, with pitch perfect clarity and precision.
Finally, be very careful of your song selections as the weeks unfold. Drops Of Jupiter was not an ideal fit for your vocal timbre, at least not now. It demands a richer, more resonant voice. I can understand your desire to present us with a different genre approach to this week’s performance; in fact I applaud you for the ability to take a risk and move outside your comfort zone. However, there are many other songs that perhaps would have highlighted your vocal strengths to greater effect. Don’t rush the process Ace. Find a song that will balance the risk factors and the comfort level factors in equal measure.
Good luck Ace and never give up. You have a wonderful natural talent that will carry you far in the singing profession.
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Bucky Covington “Real Good Man ” originally performed by Tim McGraw
Strengths: Bucky – once again, you sang in your customary buck –y –roo style. You are a veritable country artist at heart and this week you accentuated your country roots with a country fashion look punctuated by a black cowboy hat. It doesn’t get more country than this, huh? You were a believable presence on the stage this week, as you were vocally charting familiar territory.
I loved the Rod Stewart rasp to your vocal timbre and I am praying that this is a natural component of your vocal sound and not due to faulty technique or, even worse, a smoking habit. At any rate, the sound was perfect for this style of music and for communicating the lyrical significance of your song. Good work, Bucky!
Critique: Bucky, I have to say that I’m with Simon and Paula’s feel about the diction. I couldn’t understand a word you were saying and, in fact, I actually thought you suffered a memory lapse at the beginning of this song. Even if you didn’t forget your lyrics, it still emphasized the fact you’re your diction wasn’t crystal clear during the showcase. Country music is all about the storyline and your failure to really nuance and shade the lyrical content resulted in a flat and expressionless performance.
Diction requires attention to the smallest detail in music and, although it may seem tedious and, perhaps, the least of a singer’s worries, it can make all the difference in a successful performance. I have seen and heard singers captivate his or her audiences based solely on their ability to sell their song. They feel the music, internalize the emotion and, in doing so, the words come alive through their vocal delivery. The voices may not be the strongest, but their commitment to the lyrics overrides their vocal deficiencies.
Try reciting your words, Bucky, without the melody; however, recite them expressively. This will then assist you to add inflection in your singing voice when you perform your songs. Also, this is a great way to memorize song lyrics.
You had a stronger visual than vocal performance this week, Bucky, but your vocal style did not make up for the lack of vocal substance in your vocal production. Last week, I felt both elements –style and substance- were achieving a more cohesive balance, but this week, your vocals lost some ground. Now we are back to square one.
As I said last week, you need to truly work on slow and sustained melodic songs that allow you to really access your diaphragmatic breathing muscles in a consistent and secure manner. Additionally, you must make certain that your voice is resonating in your vocal masque (your face), on the pure vowel. This will allow you to relax any tension in your throat that is presently inhibiting your vocal cords from vibrating naturally and freely.
Finally, we are at that point in the competition where your performances have reached a plateau. They are becoming too one-dimensional and we are not seeing enough variety in your vocal showcases from week to week. As previously stated, you need to deliver a heart warming, sustained melodic ballad to contrast with your weekly up-tempo numbers. Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to do so in the coming weeks. Good luck Bucky!
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Chris Daughtry “What If” originally performed by Creed
Strengths: Chris – once more you advocated your undying commitment to your rock and roll roots. You are a genuine rock singer and you perform this music from the depths of your soul. In fact the metamorphosis between your off stage demeanor and performing demeanor is like a Jekyll and Hyde transformation.
And is it just me or are you manifesting a harder edge and darker approach to your rock song selections with each passing week? Last week, I spoke of your alternative rock performance of I Walk The Line as a cool but dark number. This week, your song selection was even more sinister and eerie. Oh well, suffice it to say I am not a die hard rock fan, but I can appreciate a good performance when I see it. You had some very clever stage moves when you sang this number and the repetitive “what ifs”, while looking into the camera, came across in a powerful and significant manner. Consequently, the clarity of diction was generally not a problem with you, Chris!
As always, I so appreciated the fact that you were sustaining your rock styled vocal sound with a solid technical approach. You had a circular mouth position, as you quite consistently grabbed and sustained your vocal sound on the pure vowel. Good for you. Never abandon this approach, Chris, especially if you plan on maintaining a long career in rock music. Every genre of singer needs to be aware of what proper technique can generate in a vocal performance. Most important, however, it encourages you to make a strong commitment to protecting the longevity of your great vocal talent.
Great performance this week, Chris! Bravo!
Critique: Chris – I am still waiting for a nice acoustic performance from you. It would surprise the heck out of everyone and you have a solid voice that would truly embrace an acoustically performed ballad. I mean- you have seriously excellent vocal chops Chris. You possess a muscular and powerfully rich vocal timbre that, when drowned out by all the heavy rock music, raises my frustration level up a few thousand notches.
I felt that the accompaniment this week was extremely loud and your vocals, as a result, floundered somewhere within the powerful background music. In fairness to the musicians, this is what constitutes a legitimate rock performance, I suppose, but, to me, it encouraged you to scream the melodic line as opposed to singing it with a really good technically produced sound. This was an intermittent problem, but it negatively affected the outcome of the overall performance, given the short time frame
The problem? There was too much chest voice in your vocal sound and not enough head tone and, because of this, you were skirting the upper levels of the melodic line with a less than perfectly centered pitch. Chest voice is a good thing – it adds depth to the vocal timbre; however, without head tone, your vocal sound will become flat and dull and lack a pitch centered security.
Hopefully, you will be able deliver a vocally innovative song in the coming weeks – something along the lines of I Walk The Line. I thought that was a ground breaking performance and more in line with what is conducive to garnering additional Idol fans with each passing week However, you were still one of the strongest performers of the evening and I congratulate you on a job well done.
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Elliot Yamin ” I Don’t Want To Be” originally performed by Gavin Degraw
Strengths: Elliot–vocally this was a very solid performance and it exposed different elements in your vocal sound. First of all, it is a rock song and, by the very nature of this genre of music, it encourages a singer to sing in a dynamically more powerful manner. Therefore, in this sense, I was able to enjoy a different side of Elliot this week.
As I said last week Elliott, you have a concrete approach to the technical process when you sing your repertoire. All the important fundamentals, from the diaphragmatic breathing to the circular and relaxed mouth position, are extremely well utilized. Vocally, this number benefited from your studious approach and thankfully so, because it is not, by any stretch of imagination, an easy song to perform. Good work Elliott!
Critique: Elliot –vocally the song rocked but visually this song was a rhythmic disaster. Now, let me explain. You maintained a relentless crouching movement that, quite honestly, was totally out of synch with the natural flow of the melodic rhythm in the song. This was a visual presence at the outset of the song and, unfortunately, never left your performance.
Personally, I feel that you were juggling too many performance issues. Numero uno: you selected a song that, in my opinion, was far removed from your comfort zone. Numero duo: you were trying to improve and concentrate on a stronger visual performance; Numero tre: perhaps you were trying to emulate and duplicate the strong performance given by Bo Bice last season. At any rate, you appeared ill at ease on stage and your stage movements lacked a naturally induced rock and roll flow.
One thing you must remember Elliott is this: never relentlessly move your body in time to the music; it adds a distracting characteristic to the performance and, additionally, impedes the energy necessary to access your diaphragmatic technical skills. The crouching and/or bending of the knees are great techniques for solidifying the lower body support, but it must be utilized with discretion. Repetitive body movement also looks less professional and conveys a less confident stage demeanor.
Therefore, Elliott, make certain that you use wise discretion when choosing your future song selections. Let the songs identify your unique artistic gifts and choose melodies and lyrics that both challenge and comfort you on stage. Hope this helps Elliott! You have a beautiful voice – now let’s get all the performing elements in place. Keep it simple-for now !
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Katharine McPhee “The Voice Within “ originally performed by Christina Aguilera
Katharine –I must say you exuded an absolutely beautiful presence on stage this week. You used the stage judiciously and wonderfully communicated the emotional nature of the song to your audience.
Once again, I must congratulate you on that wonderful singer’s posture. You stood with a nicely expanded rib cage with your shoulders and arms relaxed. It emphasized that you were accessing the correct diaphragmatic technique and additionally showcased a confident and professional demeanor. Good for you!
Vocally, your voice shone like a beacon in the dark when you sang the dynamically quieter passages at the beginning and ending bars of your song. During these segments, we could truly appreciate the inherent beauty of you pure soprano vocal quality – resplendent in glorious head tone. How I wish I heard more of this throughout this performance! However, overall you gave a wonderful performance this week, Katharine. Congratulations.
Critique: Katharine – two weeks ago, I cautioned you to be ever so careful that you do not carry your chest voice in large quantities into your upper “head tone” range. Last week’s phenomenal performance emphasized a movement away from this technical problem; however, this week, we were back to square one.
The solution? Your song selection. You don’t have Christina’s belting vocal quality; in fact, I will make you feel 100 times better and say that I actually prefer your voice to Christina’s. Your vocal style and sound are more refined and I absolutely love it, especially when used correctly. Your voice possesses a classical pop substance and you exhibit the same qualities in your vocal style – similar to Barbra Streisand, Linda Eder etc. When the two came together – style and substance – like last week, you hit the performance jackpot. This week, we had neither. I was frustrated for you and I could even tell by your performance demeanor that you felt that this genre fit was not a good one.
You had considerable tension in your throat and I felt that you were pushing the sound out rather than allowing the sound to flow from your vocal cords and vibrate feely in your vocal masque. Therefore, the natural radiance of your vocal timbre was impeded and your voice lacked a pitch centered ringing quality in the louder dynamic sections of this song. However, I know, from last week, that you are quite capable of blending head and chest voice in your forte sections.
Like so many of the other singers this week, make certain that you choose you songs wisely – songs that will showcase the depth and range of your vocal and artistic talent. See you next week!
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Kellie Pickler “Suds In The Bucket” originally performed by Sara Evans
Strengths: Kellie – like Bucky you embraced your country roots and I was quite enjoying this funky number. It actually complimented your “down home” and traditional personality. For that you should be commended. It was a fun, entertaining number and your voice wrapped around the melodic line just beautifully.
Critique: I tried to find a more positive spin on your number this week, Kellie, and for the life of me, I just couldn’t find the words. Watching your performance, I can’t remember seeing a less happy performer on the Idol stage. You looked positively devastated and distracted throughout the entire number. If your actions could talk they would say “Someone release me from this show pleaseeease?”
It seemed like you were sleep walking through the entire performance. Something was clearly wrong and I hope you were not battling personal issues or allowing the non Kellie fans to disengage your fighting spirit. It’s not worth it. You have a career happening and you have to keep up the fight, not throw in the towel.
Also, you should have been motivated, at this stage of the competition, to find a more challenging song selection. There are so many wonderful country pop ballads performed by Martina McBride, Faith Hill and more; certainly any of these songs would have suited the range of your vocal abilities and would have allowed you to display the range of your vocal abilities.
For a song that emanated a frolicking and jovial spirit, you exhibited no animation whatsoever. Even your leg kick – the only movement we saw – looked like someone pushed a lever and out popped your leg. Additionally, your lack of energy and commitment when you performed this number affected the timbre of your vocal sound. Your voice lacked focus and presence because your performance lacked purpose.
I suppose I could go on indefinitely but I won’t. This was obviously a very off night for you and you should now put it behind you and regroup. Find a ballad, pour your heart and soul into the lyrics and the melody and strut your stuff once more on the Idol stage. You have the ability, the talent and the personality. Start adding some more dimension and artistry to your performances. Be inventive with your phrasing and feel those lyrics – whether happy or sad. Hope this helps, Kellie.!
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Lisa Tucker: “Because Of You ” originally performed by Kelly Clarkson
Strengths: Lisa –you looked absolutely beautiful this week. I loved the new-sophisticated look. Our little spitfire was a diva this week! (chuckle). As always you voice exhibited a natural ringing element throughout the majority of this really difficult number. I loved how you attempted to paint and mold this song with a variety of artistic nuances.
Your interval jump into the higher register at the beginning of this song was carefully planned and your voice enjoyed a seamless even sound from top to bottom. The key change was handled effectively and once you moved on to the dynamically louder section of the song, your pitch was more accurate and your voice clearly more resonant. You had a renewed sense of energy and technical control in the passionate portions of this extremely difficult song and, as a result, you delivered these sections of the song with conviction and intensity.
Good work once again Lisa!
Critique: Call in the paramedics! We have another victim of poor song selection. Oh my, this week’s performance show is a real puzzler. There were so many songs from which to choose and so many horrible choices. Lisa – this song was too ambitious for your present vocal abilities. I think that perhaps in a few years, when your voice has developed a naturally rich timbre from top to bottom, this song will be a perfect fit.
However, as much as I admired your attempt at adding expressive nuances and a variety of vocal shadings to this number, unfortunately your technique could not handle the softer passages at the beginning and the end of this song. During the piano (soft) passages, your voice had a breathy quality and your pitch was adversely affected as a result. Your diaphragmatic breathing muscles were not utilized properly and as a result a mixture of air and vocal sound was the end result.
Singing softly must be one of the most difficult elements a singer has to grasp and yet is one of the most effective elements to introduce into a performance because it contrasts so beautifully with the louder dynamics in a song. Even though the softer passages are, of course, quieter, there still has to be intensity in the manner in which the sound is produced. If the rib cage collapses in an effort to sing softer, then we are left with a wayward, unfocused sound that is inaudible.
I suspect that you were having difficulties moving from pure head tone in your softer passages to an appropriate blend of head and chest voice in your stronger sections. You carried too much chest voice, I feel, into your dynamically louder upper range. As a result not only was your centered pitch walking a very fine line but also you were not able to isolate the pure head voice when it came time to sing the softer section at the end of the song. Thus, the cracking sound in your voice at the end of this number became apparent. Head voice is a constant – it cannot be turned off or your voice will sound throaty, tense, anxious, poorly tuned and so on.
Therefore, Lisa, please remember to choose your songs wisely for future performances. It is imperative that you understand and appreciate which songs can best highlight your vocal abilities while complimenting your youthful and effervescent personality. Good luck Lisa!
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Mandisa: “Wanna Praise You” originally performed by Mary Mary
Strengths: Mandisa –this was another solid performance this week. You were totally in to some very serious singing and your voice was a force to be reckoned with. Once again you exhibited a seamlessly rich vocal timbre throughout your registers. Your high level of training is a beacon that guides you through all your performances and one that other singers should strive to emulate.
However, so much of your success, Mandisa, is due to your natural God given vocal ability. If you were a piano, your voice would equal the quality of a Yamaha or Steinway grand piano– the very best on the market.
You rehearsed this number very diligently and gave your audience a very energetic and committed performance. You exude a confident and professional radiance on the stage each and every week and this week was no different. This was a passionate and superb showcase. Brava Mandisa!
Critique: Mandisa- you could have perhaps selected a better song to showcase your vocal strengths. I didn’t dislike the song; I just think it wasn’t the correct vehicle to send you straight to the top of the pack this week. Gone were the beautiful and refined nuances that I so enjoyed last week and that truly set you apart from the rest of the pack. I know that this was a song of praise and of course a dynamically loud, jubilant sound was expected; however, I felt that, even within the louder dynamics, there could have been more dimension to your vocal sound.
Additionally, because you opened with a quick and frenzied pace that never relented throughout the number, I felt you were a bit over pumped at the outset and the song lost some control. You managed to rein it in later on in the number, due, in fact, to your skillful technical and stage skills, but nevertheless it was there. Always remember to ease into a quick number. It is so imperative to keep the adrenaline flowing evenly throughout an up-tempo number. Slow everything down in your mind and only focus on the present.
However, all in all it was a very good performance. Kudos Mandisa
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Paris Bennett: “Work It Out” originally performed by Beyonce
Strengths: Paris – I loved everything about this performance. Your song selection was absolutely perfect; it was just the ticket to compliment your exuberant and engaging personality. You had a great look this week and I absolutely loved the ponytail hairstyle, a fashion element that accentuated your youthful and playful persona. You were an absolutely adorable presence on this stage from beginning to end. It was perfect!
You took total control of this song from the very beginning and never misplaced your musical course and purpose in the delivery of this very challenging hip hop number. From your very funky and precise rhythmic entrance, to your inventive and well- rehearsed stage choreography, this was a very professional and meticulous showcase, Paris. Every artistic element was thoroughly rehearsed, right down to the finest of details.
And now the voice! Oh how I love to hear you sing, Paris. As I said last week, you possess superior technical skills that allow you to embrace your melodic line with pitch perfect clarity and cohesion. Once again, your voice radiated a smooth and seamless vocal timbre throughout your range. Even though this hip hop style of music is more visual than vocal, you still stayed true to your technique and never allowed your voice to take a back seat to the choreographic movements on stage. The dancing and the vocal delivery were carefully balanced elements.
Then, you surprised everyone at the end with an a cappella melisma that was beautifully sustained and implemented through proper diaphragmatic support and vocal masque resonation. This is how melismas should be vocalized – each note must be sustained through appropriate support from the diaphragm and the mouth has to be relaxed and circular
This was a gem of a performance where all the stars aligned perfectly. Congratulations Paris. Brava times 3!
Critique: I have nothing to critique this week, Paris, because you were judiciously and artistically astute in the selection, rehearsal and performance of this song. I love when Idol singers make my writing job so easy. (chuckle)
However, that being said, I am ready to hear you sing an age appropriate ballad so that we can further enjoy the depth and beauty of your vocal and dynamic range. Perhaps next week? You would knock a Martina country ballad out of the ball- park. It’s time to add another level of dimension to your future performances Paris and you certainly have the vocal capabilities to do so. See you next week, tiger!! Kudos once again.
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Taylor Hicks: “Trouble ” originally performed by Ray LaMontagne
Strengths: Taylor –I know I am in the presence of a great artist when I can thoroughly enjoy a song that is totally unfamiliar to me. It was all about the singing and. Taylor, this week we heard the power of your soulful vocals. Finally, you gifted us with a slow and passionate ballad that accentuated your superior vocal gifts.
Additionally, you communicated this song with superb respect for the emotional core of the lyrics. My first impression was that, like Paula, I was totally enjoying the fact that you were glued to the microphone stand, encouraging you to touch and move us with your inherent vocal artistry and creativity as opposed to the “ tayloresque” dance moves that we have been enjoying from week to week. It was all about the vocals and indeed you delivered as promised.
The slower pace of the song encouraged you to sustain your pure vowels in a very consistent manner, as evidenced when you vocalized the word “Trouble”. Because of this, your voice enjoyed a rich, more radiating presence throughout this song, allowing the melodic line to be highlighted through the cohesive pure vowel placement in your vocal masque
Additionally, your phrasing was wonderfully musical and your sustained a forward momentum that is so important in really musical and technically secure singing. Yet, every once in a while, your distinct whisky tenor voice was a welcome introduction in this song, emphasizing the tormented and angst nature of this song selection. It was a wonderful blend of rustic and classical vocals that really identified you as a unique artist, Taylor.
As always, you were committed to your audience and this commitment resulted in a stellar and meaningful performance that touched and moved your listeners. Your soul was totally exposed when you sang, Taylor, and the music flowed from your heart. This is not something that can be taught; this is an inherent characteristic that identifies a great performer. And, yes, Taylor, you fall into this unique category. You are taking us on some wild ride and we are all the better for it! Kudos and bravo my man!
Critique: Taylor – like Paris, I found nothing to improve on your performance. You finally gifted us with a soulful, vocally resonant ballad and this vocal suggestion was saturating my critique of you from week to week. However, after this week’s showcase, you showed us that you are indeed a very fine vocalist and I am very certain that, as long as you maintain the ever important pure vowel sustaining element in your up-tempo songs, we will continue to be excited by your distinctive and soothing vocal presence. Congratulations Taylor. This was one of the top performances of the week.
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Rosanne Simunovic is the Voice Instructor and Conductor for the. 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!