Wow. Time is really flying this season on American Idol, isn’t it? We are already at the Top 9 level of competition.
This week our Idols celebrated country music in the company of country legend, Kenny Rogers. It was great to see Kenny again, as he coached our singers in the art of singing country music. And, yes, it is indeed an art. Every song genre has a specific style and sound that is imperative toward the success of a singer’s performance. It’s story telling, pure and simple. And there is nothing more pure and uncluttered than the genre of country music.
This week, like last, the art of song choice reared its ugly face and came back to haunt the majority of our Idols. Let’s take a look at the positive and the not so positive and see if we can find some way to fix everything for next week’s Queen showcase. Here we go!
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Ace Young “I Want To Cry
Strengths: This was another great song selection for you, Ace! As always, you exuded such a vulnerable presence on the Idol stage and your emotional delivery of this song was heartfelt and real. Ballads are definitely your forte, as they allow you to relax and pace your vocal delivery throughout your performance, allowing you to really focus on the lyrics of the music.
As a result, we, as listeners, were able to appreciate your genuine talent and feel the emotional core of your song selection. You don’t just sing a pile of words, you feel the variety of emotions within the lyrical component of this song and this translates into a successfully communicative performance.
I loved that you added your signature falsetto toward the end of this number. It was vocalized with a pitch centered pure vocal timbre – simply clean, uncluttered ringing head tone-and was the perfect element with which to end this heartfelt ballad. Excellent work this week, Ace!
Critique: Ace – once again, you had some real technical issues while singing in your natural voice. As I said above, the head tone (falsetto) quality is just wonderful; however, when you explored your natural register during the majority of this number, you didn’t support your vocal sound effectively. As a result, you were left with a vocally thin, nasal timbre that really impeded your overall performance.
As I said last week, you must make certain that you are enhancing your natural voice by accessing the correct diaphragmatic technique. Your biggest problem is your mouth position; it is positioned horizontally when you sing and, as a result, your vocal sound is thin and reedy. Additionally, that prevalent nasal quality permeated your performance this week. All of these problems, due mainly to the lack of really solid technical support, are really impeding the ringing beauty of your natural voice.
Always remember that a circular mouth position combined with the relaxation of the jaw is very important in maintaining a beautifully focused and ringing vocal timbre. It will allow you to access your diaphragmatic breathing muscles more efficiently and will encourage you to resonate your voice freely in your vocal masque. Presently, your voice is lacking a resonant and rich vocal element and we are left with a wayward and unfocused vocal sound.
Since you are so comfortable with your head tone, Ace, I would urge you to attempt singing scale or chord passages – starting from your falsetto voice and then descending into your natural voice. Make certain that the head tone stays a permanent fixture as you move into your natural range. At this point, you will have to blend the head voice with chest voice, but do so in a manner that will allow the voice to resonate in your vocal masque. Keep the throat relaxed and open. Allow your rib cage muscles to support and place your sound. And, finally, always remember to sing on the pure vowel and avoid sustaining notes through the all the vowels in a diphthong. This way you will enjoy a ringing and pitch centered vocal quality.
Ace, I said lastw eek you have a really great voice and a wonderful charisma on stage; however we are presently not hearing the inherent beauty of your vocal sound due to your lack of technical expertise. I hope that over the course of time you will be able to hook up with a vocal teacher, a technician, who will be able to set you on the correct technical path. Good luck, Ace!
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Bucky Covington “Best I Ever Had”
Strengths: Bucky – congratulations! You finally selected a ballad for your Idol showcase this week and not a minute too soon. As a song selection, this was perfect for your personal voice and style.
However what really amazed me was the purity of your vocal timbre when you performed this song. I don’t know if the listeners could appreciate the change, but I sure did. Conspicuously absent was the gravelly vocal sound that we have come to associate with your previous vocal performances. You generally sang with a pitch centered purity, embracing the pure vowels within your lyrics. It was just wonderful to hear you really work at the ever- important sustaining element in your melodic line. Your voice derived benefit from a gentler, uncluttered attribute that was absent from your quicker paced performances in the past weeks. The slower pace of the song encouraged you to focus on your vocal production, thus encouraging you to resonate your voice in your vocal masque. I could actually hear the ringing essence of head tone in your voice, Bucky, and this was indeed music to my ears.
Additionally, I loved your calm and relaxed performance approach while singing this number. You communicated the emotional core of this song impeccably and the result was a genuine and believable performance. Kudos, my man!
Critique: Bucky, last week diction was your main downfall. However, this week, there was some improvement in this technical element. However, make certain that you continue to refine this technical issue. At times, some of the words were vague because the consonants were not articulated with definition.
Consonants are usually a singer’s downfall, the reason being that it impedes the pure vowel technical element in his/her vocal delivery. Singers have to learn to articulate the consonants in a quick, crisp fashion, jumping off them and on to the pure vowel in “springboard” fashion. Additionally, you must make certain that your mouth enunciates the consonants vertically and not horizontally, so that the circular mouth position is not disturbed.
Also, Bucky, I felt that your phrasing was, at times, clipped and concise. You must strive to create a longer and more sustained phrase line through stronger diaphragmatic breath support coupled with artistic ingenuity. Don’t always breathe in predictable melodic sequences; add some creativity in your interpretive ability. Carry phrase lines longer than what is naturally dictated by the basic rhythmic element within the music. Additionally, don’t let the final words at the ends of your phrases disappear abruptly; make certain that you sustain these words for their full complement and/or carry the word into the beginning of the next phrase, thus adding variety to the artistic component of the song.
Also, to further expand on this subject, make certain that you maintain consistent diaphragmatic support throughout the entire song. I felt that, particularly at the ends of your phrases, you vocal sound lacked technical support, probably because you allowed your rib cage to collapse, thus allowing the air to escape with your vocal sound. The rib cage muscle must stay consistently expanded; if allowed to collapse, it is difficult to maintain a cohesive and seamless vocal sound throughout a performance.
However, this was such an improvement over last week’s performance, Bucky, and I congratulate you on your hard work! Bravo!
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Chris Daughtry “Making Memories of Us ”
Strengths: Chris – like Bucky, you finally bowed to the pressures of your listeners and the judges and presented us with a country ballad this week. Good for you! Although there are probably better songs out there that could have showcased your voice to greater effect, I am glad that we were given the opportunity to hear your wonderful vocals in an acoustical background environment.
As I have stated in previous weeks, you have consistently maintained a bel- canto approach to your vocal production, in that you attempted to sustain your voice through the articulation of the pure vowels within your lyrics. As a supplement to this excellent technical approach, was a fairly consistent circular mouth formation, so, technically, everything appeared to be in place for you this week Chris.
The slower pace of the song, although challenging in some respects, allowed you to really expose all the attributes of your vocal development at this stage of your performing career. It is all about the process and, for me, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Chris the vocalist perform this week. You finally proved that you do not need loud, invasive music to sell a performance. Good work, Chris!
Critique: Chris – like some of the other singers this week, I sensed that you were not enjoying this specific song selection. You voice lacked the passionate commitment that I have witnessed in your performances over the past weeks. Additionally, I felt that the key of the song was a little low for your particular singing range. I would have selected a higher key – a tone, perhaps – adding a brighter resonance to your melodic line. It was a very muted performance and, oftentimes, your voice almost vanished in the powerful background accompaniment.
Again, we have a song selection issue coupled with an obviously frustrated artist. Chris, you looked pretty dissatisfied and non- committal during this performance and clearly you felt disconnected from your artistic comfort zone. However, sometimes you have to make the best of a given situation and just bite the bullet, salvaging whatever vocal tricks you can mold from this situation.
Never give up; you must convince the audience that you are totally in control of your performing situation. Not every song you select from week to week will be cleared for every Idol show; sometimes you have to settle for second or third best. Be innovative in your approach when you study a song. Vary the breathing within your phrase lines and be creative within your original melodic line.
Additionally, do not abandon the intensity of your vocal sound when singing slower, more poignant ballads. What I always loved about your up-tempo songs was your energized and meaty vocal timbre. It resonated beautifully against the louder rock music accompaniment and the result was a nice mélange of instruments and voice.
You have to remember to maintain this level of intensity in your quieter, subdued numbers, Chris. Access your diaphragmatic muscles to enhance and focus a clean, ringing and meaty –yes-meaty – vocal substance in your masque. I felt that the slower tempo de-energized your approach to this number and, as a result, the vocal line lacked focus and musicality.
Your vocals were too subdued, almost breathy at times, lacking in the inherent beauty of the very important head tone quality. The diaphragm needs to maintain control at all times. This week, although you had a fairly consistent circular mouth position, your diaphragm lacked the control necessary to sustain a beautifully resonated vocal sound. Additionally, the forward momentum that is so important in establishing a natural musical flow to your song, was lacking and so the song sounded one dimensional and lacked the very important dynamic elements that emphasize the expressive qualities within the music and singer.
Hope this helps, Chris! Good luck in your rehearsals for next week’s showcase!
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Elliot Yamin ” If Tomorrow Never Comes”
Strengths: Elliot–this was such a great song choice for you and, as I was listening to you perform this number, it made me once again aware of the inherent beauty of your vocal timbre. You have a wonderful vibrato to your voice that distinguishes you as an artist. In another world, it would be nice to see you work on some classical repertoire because you do have classical elements in your vocal quality and in your style that warrant further exploration.
However, I digress. Throughout this number, you maintained a cohesive approach to the pure vowel within your lyrics, resulting in a seamless and even vocal quality throughout your registers. I absolutely adored the ringing head tone quality of your upper range, Elliot. It was stellar indeed and the pitch was beautifully centered.
You communicated this number from the heart and, I feel, internalized the emotional core of this song. Your interpretive skills, coupled with your good technique and natural vocal ability, elevated the performance standard of this song to a very high level indeed. Congratulations on a great showcase this week, Elliott!
Critique: Elliot – I love your vibrato; however, be very careful that you support this vibrato judiciously when you perform. For instance, a few times during the performance of this number, I felt the vibrato was wavering, thus affecting the security of your pitch within the melodic lines. If you don’t support your vibrato consistently from the diaphragm, then the vibrato transforms into a tremolo – a warble – which, of course, disrupts the even pitch centered security of your voice.
Also, make certain that you further develop the art of communicating more effectively with your audience. Your nervousness was palpable and your eyes told the whole story. Presently, your performances have been relatively successful because of your vocal substance. Now you must work hard to refine your vocal style, developing naturally induced stage movements that will compliment your genuine persona.
As I said last week, you must make certain that you judiciously practice your stage movements to the point that you are thoroughly comfortable and don’t have to think about them any more. Then the performance can evolve in a more genuine, more relaxed manner, one that will touch and move your audience, allowing them to feel what you feel.
Style and substance: these two words go hand in hand during a performance and when carefully balanced, the result is a stellar and memorable showcase. However, like vocal training, stage technique takes time and careful study and the body has to develop a naturally rhythmic flow that accentuates the meter of the song. This is where a coach can really elevate you to greater heights, Elliot, so listen to The Byrd. Let her guide you through this road to artistic discovery. Good luck!
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Katharine McPhee “You’re Bringing Out The Elvis In Me “
Strengths: Katharine – this week’s performance reminded me of your very successful performance during the Top 11 show. Back in full force was your sultry, beguiling presence and you presented your showcase this week with consummate style and substance. All the vital elements were certainly there: the beautifully produced voice, the naturally rhythmic stage choreography, and the communicative elements all artistically coincided to render a seamless and carefully rehearsed performance.
As always, 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.
You were wise in selecting this song, Katherine. It emphasized the fact that within every genre of music, any singer can find a song with which he or she can identify. There are indeed many crossover genres within the catalogue of country music and this bluesy, soulful style spoke to your unique artistry. Good for you. You did your homework and it paid off in spades.
This week your voice regained its brilliant vocal timbre, fully supported through the correct diaphragmatic process. Additionally, you expressed your stage choreography with expertise and precision – and yet it looked natural and comfortable. Yes, indeed – someone did her homework. Excellent work Katherine! Brava!
Critique: Katherine – this was a great performance and I have very little to critique this week. Just make certain that you continue on this important journey of precise song selection. This is crucial to the success of a singer’s performance, so continue to identify songs that signal your unique artistry.
Last week’s song selection was your downfall, so make certain that you stay true to your distinctive artistic mission during the remainder of this show. Let us further discover the many dimensions to your artistry. This will allow you to gain new fans each week, as you will attract your share of the consumer market through carefully designed and artistically creative showcases. Keep up the good work!
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Kellie Pickler “Fancy”
Strengths: Kellie – like Bucky, you embraced your country roots. It was visually and vocally evident that you felt absolutely and completely at home in this genre of music. You maneuvered your off stage and onstage entrances extremely well and there was a nice, relaxed flow to the entire performance.
Your voice possessed a naturally bright ringing timbre that allowed you to effortlessly centre your pitch throughout this very verbose number. You are the very lucky recipient of a naturally endowed head tone quality in your vocal timbre and this element is present within every area in your range. Lucky girl! Many singers work so hard to achieve a brighter vocal sound so you are fortunate indeed to enjoy this valuable element in your natural singing voice.
Technically I felt that you were on a more refined track this week and the sustaining bel canto element was more prevalent throughout your performance. You were really adhering your voice to the pure vowels of the melodic text and this resulted in a seamless vocal sound throughout your melodic line. All in all this was a very fine performance Kellie! Congratulations!
Critique: Kellie, you must make certain that your lyrics are clearly articulated, especially when you sing up-tempo numbers! Are you really studying the lyrics? I had no idea what the song was about. The words were not cutting through the instrumental background. I did some research, finding out this song is quite, shall we say, controversial. Perhaps this is the reason you were mumbling some of the words – that or a slight memory lapse? At any rate, you had a story to tell and there were segments of the story that were under the radar because your consonants were not clearly enunciated.
Also, I felt that the words were rushed, sort of tumbling into one another. Even though the pace was a quick one, you must slow the process down in your mind and add nuance and inflection throughout the storyline. This way the song is communicated to full effect and is more expressive. Everything sounded and looked the same to me during this performance. Never think that the song alone will sell a performance. The singer has to add her own ingenuity to the number to elevate it to a supremely artistic level.
Finally, are we ever going to hear a ballad from you? You have the vocal skills to really hit a home run with the proper song choice. It seems that we are hearing the ”same old” every week and I have to say that you are too one dimensional in your artistic approach to this competition. Hopefully there will be more creative musical efforts in your future. Good luck, Kellie!
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Mandisa: “Any Man Of Mine”
Strengths: Mandisa –your performance this week emphasized your natural exuberance and joy on stage. This song selection is a great number, isn’t it? Great lyrics and such an infectious melody! It was wonderful to hear your voice embrace the buoyant melodic line. You are so advanced in your vocal technique and have truly presented challenging showcases with great success in previous weeks. Therefore, it was nice to see you let your hair down and just have plain ole fun on that stage. Good work, Mandisa!
Critique: Mandisa- although you seemed to be having a blast on stage, I truly have to question this particular song choice. It really did not suit your particular style of singing, which to me is more refined and disciplined. This song requires a more relaxed, pop country sound that is the complete antithesis of your own unique vocal style. You would have been more successful highlighting songs from the vast catalogue of country ballads. Martina McBride’s repertoire immediately comes to mind. She is one of my favorite country artists, as she has a classical country approach in her singing style that would definitely compliment your vocal style. So, unfortunately, you were another victim of poor song choice this week.
I also felt that the key of the song was very low and encouraged you to sing with an excess of unfocused chest voice. Your diaphragm was not really assisting you this week and the result was a poorly pitched, throaty vocal sound. This is so unlike you, Mandisa that I can hardly believe I am typing these words, but there it is. This song was your downfall this week. Also, because you were not accessing the proper diaphragmatic support, you adopted a nasal tone at various points throughout this number – another indication that the technical elements were misplaced.
As well, the pace of the song was really fast – too fast actually. The accompaniment needed to relax the tempo of this song, thus allowing you time to pace yourself throughout this energized performance. Your words seemed rushed and this accentuated the problems with your vocal technique. You barely had time to breathe – a little mental and physical space would have been a welcome relief in this song performance.
However, I am a big fan of your voice. Your vocal skills are outstanding and when you utilize and showcase your dynamic range – all the fine nuances –it truly takes my breath away. Good luck Mandisa!
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Paris Bennett: “How Do I Live Without You”
Strengths: Paris –once again you were an absolutely adorable presence on this stage. Even though you were singing a poignant ballad, your youthful exuberance and energy were contagious. This was an excellent song choice by the way. The song was a perfect match for your distinct vocal and artistic skills. You knocked this song out of the ballpark and I was truly impressed with your professional delivery of this song. It was a technically controlled and passionate vocal presentation, studiously rehearsed to the finest of details.
Your vocal timbre is much darker than the vocal timbre of original artist, Lee Ann Rimes. However, I really loved your mellow and rich vocal quality; it was so soothing and your voice seamlessly embraced the melodic line in a cohesive and unified fashion.
You were a believable and comforting presence on that Idol stage; I always look forward to your performances, Paris, because they are always impeccably rehearsed and yet appear natural and genuine. You do not leave anything to chance and have an innate ability to select songs that will highlight your superior artistry.
I agree with Simon; you do remind me of a young Dionne Warwick; like you she has a rich controlled vocal substance and style that parallels your own vocal gifts. With your vocal skills, you would do well to study her impressive catalogue of music.
What more can I say? This was a stellar performance delivered by a gifted and intelligent young musician. You have one exciting career ahead of you, Paris. Congratulations on yet another fine performance. Brava!
Critique: As I said last week, I was hoping that you would add a ballad to this week’s country showcase, to balance the up tempo songs you have been performing on a more regular basis each week. And surprise, surprise! You graced us with a wonderfully performed version of this great country classic.
So, once again, Paris you emphasized your multi layered vocal artistry and are to be congratulated for taking artistic risks each week. To me, you are one of the most versatile singers in this Top 12, as you afford us a glimpse into the different attributes that highlight your artistic vision each and every week.
However, for whatever reason, you were noticeably nervous this week and this accented some minor deficiencies in your vocal performance. The main problem was the chest vs. head voice issue that seemed to permeate so many of the singers’ critiques. I just want to caution you not to carry too much chest voice into your upper register. The upper note on the word “survive” was a little unsteady because the chest voice was over powering the centered pitch perfect quality of the necessary head tone.
I sensed that you were a little anxious and that prevented you from manifesting a technically supported sound in your upper register. It was still a powerful vocal presence, but be careful that you intake your breath deeply and allow the breath to fully enhance your vocal production in your upper register. Don’t allow the rib cage to collapse and don’t overextend your vocal sound in your upper range. No pushing allowed! Keep that throat open and relaxed.
Other than that, I felt this was an overall exceptional performance and I congratulate you Paris on another outstanding showcase this week.
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Taylor Hicks: “Take Me Home Country Roads”
Strengths: Taylor –it was great to see you looking relaxed and comfortable behind the microphone. Once again we were able to focus on your gently unique vocals and this performing position also encouraged you to technically enhance your vocal sound. Your mouth was continuously circular on the pure vowels, as you worked hard to avoid the pitfalls of those nasty country diphthongs.
You added some wonderfully intuitive melodic variations in this country classic. This is so important when you sing any cover song, but never more so than in the performance of country music. The repetitive nature of its natural folk music quality demands a musical and creative approach from the singer. If not, the song begins to sound mundane and ordinary. It is all about the communication and Taylor, as always, you have a warm open presence when you perform, allowing the listener to enjoy and feel your music.
I loved hearing the fabulous mix of your pure lyrical vocals and your rustic vocal sound. These nuances added nice variation to the melodic and lyrical delivery of this number. Great work, Taylor!
Critique: Okay Taylor, who made you sing this song? Every week, I always felt that you were totally committed to the emotional essence of your song selections. However, this week, your body language was sending out different vibes. This song certainly didn’t speak to your superior level of artistry.
Is this the same Taylor who selected last week’s song, “Trouble?” I can’t believe that you went from such a soulfully intricate song like Trouble to such a one- dimensional mundane song selection as Country Roads?
There was a visual and auditory disconnect in segments of your performance this week, Taylor. Additionally, your voice lacked your customary intensity and focus. Yes, the vowels were pure and the face was open and expressive, but the diaphragmatic support was almost non-existent. Additionally, this lack of support accentuated a nasal tone in your voice that was never an issue in previous weeks.
Additionally, as much as we could appreciate your vocals this week, Taylor, you needed to move away from the microphone and work the stage. This is not a song that can be delivered while being glued to the mike. Perhaps you were frustrated as well. You use your body well when you sing and I could see that those feet were itching to do some stage traveling. (chuckle)
Also, I feel that, perhaps, the key of the song was a tone too high. The melodic line was not sitting correctly in your vocal register. Be very careful of key selection. Do not select songs that sit too high in your register, therefore not allowing you to display the depth and beauty of your mid and lower range. Your vocal quality in your high register is very light and, because the melodic line hovered continuously in this area of your voice, your overall vocal sound was very thin.
Finally, as this was an up-tempo song, you must practice your up-tempo songs slowly – like vocal yoga –making certain that the sustaining pure vowel element is being supported through proper diaphragmatic breathing technique. Generally, I felt that the overall arrangement of this song was very rushed. It was as if an ambulance was on its way to take you home via the country roads. The tempo of the background music didn’t allow you to breathe effectively and we were left with a hurried and frantic performance. I know this is a 60- minute show, but still…
So, let’s jump back on the horse, Taylor and knock some Queen out of the ballpark next week! Good luck!
P.S. I didn’t like this song either (chuckle) and I missed the dancing!
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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!