This week’s showcase championed the music of legendary rock group, Queen. There has been a lot of buzz on the message boards and throughout the media about this Top 8 show. This is, for me, one of the highlights of this or any Idol season. Queen’s music is an eclectic mix of jazz, classical and rock genres and, personally, this provides me with an enhanced musical experience. Their theatrical approach to the rock music genre is legendary, a celebratory landmark in music history.
And there’s THE VOICE – the unique distinct sound of lead singer, the late Freddie Mercury. Freddie Mercury had an absolutely gorgeous, ringing, instantly identifiable classical rock voice. Can any of our Top 8 Idols duplicate the passion and brilliance of his original performances? Let us see, shall we?
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Ace Young “We Will Rock You”
PLEASE NOTE: Just before this Masterclass article was published online, I happened to find a link to this article on Queen band member Brian May’s website confirming my opinions in this evaluation of Ace’s performance and disputing the supposed brouhaha between Queen and Ace.
Strengths:Ace- this week you decided to move away from your customary balladeer repertoire to present us with this instantly recognizable Queen composition. Good call! I loved the manner in which you adapted this song to highlight your vocal and artistic style. Your voice sounded seamless and resonant throughout this song. The powerful percussive rhythm encouraged you to sing in a more aggressive manner and guess what? It allowed you to access those powerful diaphragmatic breathing muscles in a consistent fashion throughout this number. Movement is so important in a singer’s vocal delivery; it relaxes the body and, yet, at the same time, encourages the lower body muscles to assist in the technical process.
Also, Ace, the nasal quality that permeated so many of your performances in previous weeks was replaced with a meaty, energized and resonant vocal sound. Finally, you were adding head tone into your mid range and your voice sounded more authoritative and convincing throughout this great number. Additionally, you were really adhering your vocal sound to those pure vowels, maintaining a consistent circular mouth position, thus enriching your vocal timbre. This was wonderful vocal progress, Ace, in one short week. Just excellent!
I loved your stage choreography; your exaggerated strides in sync with the rhythmic pulse of the basic beat were just the ticket to create an overall entertaining and convincing showcase. Additionally, there was a musically seamless flow to the whole performance – visually and vocally. I love when a singer can sustain a forward momentum throughout the melodic phrase lines and this was an evident component in your performance, Ace. This was a well- paced, meticulously rehearsed presentation. Bravo! What a way to open this week’s show!
Critique: Ace – when I look back at the Masterclass articles from previous weeks, I was critiquing you like a crazy woman. Well, this week, take a well -deserved rest and so will I. I thought this was a great performance – the arrangement, for me (unlike the judges) really worked. I still don’t understand what all the fuss is about, so you have at least one fan in your corner and, I expect, thousand upon thousands more! I know that the original cover has a more vigorous and meaty vocal delivery, but a singer has to adapt a song to his vocal sound and, at times, reinvent the artistic wheel. Objectivity is key here when evaluating a performance; this worked for me. It’s not Queen, but it still worked!
Now, the big question! Can you sustain this energized vocal sound when you sing a ballad? Remember, the intensity and the support must always be a constant in all your song selections; it just requires a more subdued approach but, nevertheless, it must be there.
I expect you will be back to ballads next week when you highlight a song from the Great American Songbook. Therefore, remember to reinforce all the wonderful technical elements that you displayed in this week’s performance into next week’s and you will have another winner. And, if next week’s song happens to be up-tempo, then you will be more than prepared!
Congratulations, Ace! Great work!
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Bucky Covington “Fat Bottomed Girls”
Strengths: Bucky – although the melodic components of this song are quite repetitive, I have to say that, stylistically, this was a perfect fit for you. This is not the most complex song from Queen’s catalogue of music. The singer has to work hard to make the song interesting or else the song will sound inadequate and mundane. Therefore, I congratulate you, Bucky, for allowing this song to come alive through your performance.
This song really complimented your strong country rock roots and you seemed artistically comfortable while performing this number. You successfully engaged your audience in your performance, from the hand clapping at the beginning of the number to the genuine and relaxed stage choreography throughout the 90- second showcase. Additionally, you expertly established good communication with the television camera, thus including your television audience in your Queen performance.
Vocally, we were treated to the pure head tone timbre in your voice, an element that was thankfully introduced during last week’s showcase. Previously, when performing your up-tempo numbers, you were having problems implementing this vocal characteristic, but not this week. I felt that your voice thankfully exhibited less of a screaming chest tone characteristic. You seemed to be attempting to direct your vocal sound away from your throat and into the resonating cavities of your vocal masque. (face) It was wonderful to hear, Bucky, and I hope this will encourage you to stay true to the correct technique in your future performances.
You have a wonderful charisma on stage, Bucky –one that captivates your listeners. You have a natural and authentic personality that is transferred to your song performances. Never lose that. It truly is a precious attribute in securing believable performances and in acquiring the continued loyalty of your fans.
Good work once again, Bucky!
Critique: Bucky – be very careful that your access your diaphragmatic muscles consistently and rigorously when you sing these up-tempo numbers. A few times, in an attempt to move with ease around the stage, your pitch faltered because the implementation of the stage choreography overrode the correct technique for secure, pitch perfect vocal production. It is quite the trick to balance these two important components in any singer’s performance, so keep working to strike a balance between the two. Practice your up-tempo numbers slowly. This will allow you to pay close attention to the areas within a song that are challenging, thus allowing you to analyze and remedy the problem.
Also, be very careful to continue to balance your chest voice and head voice when you sing your dynamically louder melodic passages. A few times during this song, particularly in the more passionate sections, your voice reverted to your customary rasp and we were left with a technically less efficient vocal sound. Always remember that the microphone will further enhance the louder dynamics if necessary, so it is very important to sing and produce your sound technically well.
However, the rasp is what identifies you, Bucky, so do not eliminate this completely. You just have to make certain that you are supporting this nuanced effect by accessing the diaphragmatic muscles. It can be done – performers the world have perfected this technique, especially Broadway performers. It adds inflection and variety in your vocal timbre. However, remember the old cardinal rule: “less is more”. So, use this rustic vocal sound judiciously.
Another great week for you Bucky! Congratulations!
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Chris Daughtry “Innuendo ”
Strengths: Chris – this was a perfect song selection for you! It is a lesser known work, but who cares? It’s all about the performance and this week you gave us a passionate and dynamic vocal showcase. Your voice enjoyed a very strong presence this week, Chris. During your previous up-tempo rock numbers, your vocal sound exhibited a raspy and almost screaming quality. However, this week we generally heard more voice and less of a raspy quality and this is always a plus in my books. You see? There is a voice there and you are now acknowledging the fact that perhaps technical security is an imperative component to include in your energetic rock numbers. Yea for Chris!
Once again, I admired your intense vocal delivery; you have the soul of a rock artist and stay true to your musical vision. Also, I have to say that, although there were some technical issues that I will discuss later, you truly adhered to the sustaining bel- canto element when you sang. Your mouth was consistently round and the jaw relaxed, as you strived to sustain your melodic line of this song on the pure vowels. By doing so, I know for fact that your diaphragmatic muscles were assisting the vocal process. The relaxation of the mouth and, in fact, all the facial features, encourages a singer to access the correct breathing technique in a consistent and an efficient manner. Another plus for you Chris!
Also, there was little evidence of facial strain throughout this number and this plus was accompanied by your increased ability to maintain eye contact with the television camera. Do you remember my concerns during the early stages of this competition? You had a tendency to raise your head when navigating your upper range and this was causing considerable vocal tension as well as impeding a confident stage persona. Well, this problem seems to have corrected itself – not totally, but certainly better than in the initial stages of this competition.
Also, we were treated to a glimpse of your “head voice”, as you channeled a little Freddie into this vocal performance. Keep exploring this part of your range Chris. Therein lies the mystery to attaining a ringing, pitch-centered security throughout the depth of your vocal range.
Finally, you utilized the stage area extremely well. This was dramatic, theatrical performance that strived to emulate the integral characteristic performance technique that we identify with Queen, Bravo Chris! I loved it!
Critique: Chris – as I have previously stated in other Masterclass articles, you have a meaty vocal quality that, when supported through the correct technical process, is quite beautiful. This week, we heard more of this muscular substance in your vocal style and this was just super. However, you still have to be very careful to balance the head and chest tone elements when creating a dynamically louder vocal sound. This was a problem with many singers this week – too much chest voice, not enough head voice.
In your case, what unfolded, was, at first listen (early on in the song) a strong vibrato; however, as the song progressed, I realized that you were manipulating your voice from your throat and what I initially thought was vibrato was the less favorable tremolo element. In your case, the end result was more of an uncontrolled warble that detracted from the positive features of your natural voice. Although the diaphragmatic muscles were energized, your throat was very constricted, not allowing the diaphragm to sustain your vocal power to full effect. Additionally, this problem caused intermittent pitch problems, again another indication that the head tone element was not balanced properly in some of your melodic passages.
As I said in Bucky’s critique, trust your technique, Chris, and let the microphone do the rest. Do not over extend your voice or you will run the risk of vocal difficulties over the course of time. Always remember that the human voice can only create so much acoustic power; the rest has to be amplified.
I always marvel during rock numbers that the instrumentalists are power amplified, while the singer has to shout to be heard. That doesn’t seem right to me. Sort of a double standard, don’t you think? Stand your ground as a singer and make certain that the sound is balanced to favorably amplify your voice at the correct levels, thus allowing you to sing in a technically secure manner.
Hope this helps, Chris! Good work!
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Elliot Yamin ” Somebody To Love”
Strengths: Elliot–oh my! I absolutely loved this song choice for you. It was indeed a challenging number; however, your outstanding vocal abilities allowed you to overcome the technical difficulties presented in this song. You demonstrated a classical pop vocal sound that is identifiable in the performances of Queen and, in particular, Freddie Mercury. Your voice was beautifully resonant and seamless as you navigated the extensive range of the melodic line.
Honestly, as I was listening to your performance, I have to say that I felt that the song was written specifically for your unique vocal talent. Your voice effortlessly embraced the melodic and lyrical lines of this song. You made it look and sound so easy and this, coupled with your authenticity during your performance, elevated this song to a very high level indeed.
Also, whereas your vibrato, at times, felt incongruous in previous performances, this week it was just the ticket. It was a reminder of the genius that was Freddie Mercury; the vibrato is what added a distinct quality to his voice and made it memorable. Thus, the same statement applied to you Elliott and you used this important vocal element wisely throughout this outstanding showcase. And, unlike last week’s showcase, you controlled your vibrato in a technically more efficient manner.
Vocally you alternated your legato lines and melismas with dexterity and ease. Boy, what I would give to hear you sing a classical song! But I digress! You demonstrated a beautiful, consistent approach to the art of bel- canto singing and your mouth remained consistently round as your adhered your vocal sound to the pure vowels. Thus, your pitch was nicely centered through all the vocal acrobatics that permeated this difficult song performance. It was just a stellar performance, Elliott! Bravo, my man!
Critique: Elliot – you still need to work on your stage presentation. Specifically, that ubiquitous vertical bouncing made another special appearance during the performance of this number and this choreographic problem detracted from your visual stage performance. You have to remember that swaying or bouncing to the rhythm of the music is a habit many singers have to ban sooner than later. It impedes the visual presentation of and lends an overall awkward demeanor to the performance. Also, it often utilizes the energy needed to sing in a technically efficient manner.
In your case, the former problem was your weakness this week. You must learn to move in a rhythmically secure fashion when performing, but, at the same time, you cannot allow your body to conduct the accompaniment track. Yes – sometimes you want to walk to the natural pulse of the beat, but these repetitive movements should not displace the artistic choreographic elements of a good performance.
Also, be ever so careful that you maintain a level head position when you move into your upper range, Elliott. Raising the head will encourage a tense, less efficient vocal sound and also you will lose eye contact with your audience. If anything, the head position should be slightly lower when you navigate your upper range, as if you were singing over the upper notes rather than reaching for them.
Hope this helps Elliott! Congratulations on a great showcase!
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Katharine McPhee “Who Wants To Live Forever”
Strengths: Katharine – I don’t quite know what to say here. This was such an exceptional showcase – from the inspired song selection, to the exceptional vocal delivery, to the dramatic stage performance. Everything about this week’s song worked in a monumental way. Your voice and presentation style highlighted the adaptability of Queen’s music to transverse multiple genres. Your opening strains of this song exemplified the theatrical, stylistic approach of Queen’s songwriting skills.
Throughout the majority of this number, your voice exhibited a classically refined timbre that enabled you to maneuver your melismas (riffs and runs) and your legato passages with pitch-centered security. There was a wonderful even quality to your voice this week, Katherine, and your ability to sustain and shape your melodic line was absolutely stellar.
You are one of, perhaps two or three singers, who add a consistent level of nuance and inflection when they sing. In other words, you were not afraid to vocalize a soft, ringing head tone dynamic level at the beginning and ending of this beautiful song. It contrasted so wonderfully when you showcased your forte (loud) dynamic range midway through this song. Additionally it accented the inherent purity of your classically trained soprano voice.
Additionally, you internalized the emotion of this song very well and communicated the text of the storyline with conviction and passion. Your stage movements, even though confined to the microphone stand, still managed to reach and touch your audience in a manner that didn’t disrupt the vocal delivery of this song. Simplicity in stage choreography and consummate attention to the vocal presentation was the way to go this week, Katherine, and you did so, thus delivering a memorable performance indeed. Brava young lady!
Critique: Katherine – be very careful that you do not allow the chest voice to overwhelm your head voice when vocalizing the dynamically powerful upper range sections of this song. I know it is very tempting, but like so many of the other singers this week, you have to trust your technique and the sound technicians to assist you with your stronger dynamics.
You really over extended your voice, I feel, in a couple of sections of this song and we were clearly missing the brilliant ringing timbre of your natural voice. This is what happens when a singer pushes from the throat – the voice has a choked, constricted quality that is abrasive to the listener. More than ever, you needed to round that mouth and allow the diaphragm to place and resonate the sound in your vocal masque. Immediately, your voice would have enjoyed a richer, more focused vocal timbre with more carrying power.
Additionally, this accented some minor pitch problems, but for whatever reason, they were more noticeable in the videotaped rehearsal recap at the end of the show. I don’t think this was an issue during the live show, so I was surprised that the judges made mention of it. It seemed that they had prepared their comments in advance. Perhaps they received a videotape of the rehearsal prior to the live performance show? Just a thought.
Kudos once again! I just loved this performance!
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Kellie Pickler “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Strengths: Kellie – well, this was a turn around from your hoe down country chick style huh?(chuckle). So, there- you can take risks if given the opportunity and means- in this case, being confronted with a Queen song. To sing any song from Queen’s repertoire is an artistic adventure and all about venturing into un-chartered and precarious territory.
Vocally, your naturally ringing vocal timbre was a comforting presence throughout this intricate song presentation. As I said in previous Masterclass articles, pitch problems are virtually non- existent when you sing because you possess an innate “head tone” element in your natural singing voice. Therefore, your voice always enjoys a beautiful ring, a resonant presence, and your pitch is quite exact throughout your vocal presentations.
I appreciated the dramatic effects that you included in your performance this week. Finally, you were given a song that encouraged you to sing with energy and passion, something to really challenge your performing abilities. Good for you! Good work, Kellie!
Critique: Kellie, first of all, I love this song to death, but, when it is abbreviated to run for 90 seconds, it just falls flat unless the performer can really add a cohesive artistic approach to the arrangement. This was your downfall I feel and let me explain why.
The song arrangement is divided into three sections: the slow opening segment, followed by the energized and frenzied middle section and ending with the slower, poignant section. When impeccably performed by Constantine last season, he made me totally unaware of this musical divide; however, it was all too obvious during your performance. I felt that the entire presentation was fragmented and lacked a seamless, uncluttered ambiance.
Let’s take this segment-by-segment, shall we? The opening segment was great; the lighting, the costume design, (although a bit overstated), added the necessary drama to spearhead this song. You set a great mood and you had an intense and powerful look happening in the opening refrain of this song.
Then we moved into the second segment – the more hysterical, up-tempo section – and this is where, I feel, the song fell apart at the seams. My first question was: “Why leave the stage?” You were breaking the mood and therefore the continuity of the song presentation. This was not a “get the audience clapping kind of song”; this was an definitive statement, an pulse pounding segue within your Bohemian soliloquy and would have been more effective if you had utilized the stage in a theatrical manner– say moving from side to side with each vocally uttered statement.
Additionally, this would have assisted you in making a smoother and flawless transition to the third and last section. When the second section was completed, there was this awkward moment when you realized that you had to move back to the stage to finish the song. Therefore, the angst and poignancy of the lyrics were not communicated to full effect and your voice lacked the passion and torment necessary to end this song correctly.
All you have to do is listen to the passion emulating from Freddie Mercury’s voice when he sings the final four lines and you realize there is more to singing than, well, singing. You have to emote, add inflection to your singing voice, so that the expressive qualities and emotional core of the song lyrics are relayed in a convincing manner to your audience. I felt that these elements were missing from your performance. There was just not enough vocal substance throughout this song, particularly in the final refrains of this number.
It is always good to take risks, Kellie, so I applaud you for doing so; however, certainly within the extensive song catalogue composed by Queen, you should have been able to find a song that would have challenged your performing abilities without removing you too far away from your artistic comfort zone. For me, it was just too much, too soon and, in the end, the overall performance lacked a genuine and believable attribute.
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Paris Bennett: “The Show Must Go On”
Strengths: Paris –this was another jaw dropping showcase. You really came to this competition equipped with a bag full of artistic surprises, didn’t you? I absolutely applaud you for this brilliant song selection. It was ideal for your voice. This song has an extremely contagious melody, one that highlights the power and strength of a singer’s range. Therefore, your resonant and technically secure upper range was absolutely perfect for this song.
This was a meticulously rehearsed performance from start to finish. This dramatic and challenging song selection emphasized your extraordinary vocal talent and performing ability. Your voice was brilliantly exposed throughout this number and your technique was solid and consistent. When you navigated your upper range with your crystal clear vocal timbre, it was superb, breathtaking actually. And your melisma was executed with pitch perfect bel canto technique. Oh how I would love to hear you sing a classical number. It would kill, I’m sure!
You internalized the emotion of this song extremely well. I felt that you inhabited the soul, the essence of this song, establishing a powerful connection with your audience. I suppose we can nitpick and say that you were too young to understand the circumstances under which the song was composed. This song was written toward the end of Freddie Mercury’s life, so some might think that the situation surrounding this song’s history was too heavy for our little Paris. Well, that’s just plain crazy! People feel pain at any age – just read the headline news every day and I’m sure you’ll agree.
So much training and experience bundled into one little body called Paris! As a teacher, I can truly appreciate the level of expertise and experience you have been bringing to all of your performances, Paris. You are nothing if not consistent, Paris, and yet, you always maintain a level of excitement in each and every showcase. We are able to enjoy the multi-dimensional layers within your artistry; it is quite an exciting process for the listener, especially when we are reminded that you are still only seventeen years old. Amazing!
Just outstanding, Paris! Congratulations on a great showcase. Brava young lady!
Critique: This was a flawless performance. All the technical and performing elements were just outstanding. Therefore, you are critique free this week Paris.
However, you have performed two back to back ballads now Paris. Time to dig into the American Standards songbook and jazz up the stage next week with a breezy up-tempo retro showcase. Good luck with the rehearsals!
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Taylor Hicks: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Strengths: Taylor –when I first heard that you were performing this song, I had a slight misgiving about your song selection, not because it wasn’t suited to your voice; on the contrary, I think it is a really great match. What concerned me was the over-exposure this song has endured on numerous Idol shows, so I was worried that this would attract a less than enthusiastic viewer response.
However, that was before I heard this week’s Taylor-made, version of this great Queen classic. Talk about your molding a song to suit your own style! Finally, after a couple of weeks, the Idol fans were once again gifted with the authentic Taylor Hicks and not a moment too soon. I don’t blame you for kicking that microphone stand out of the way; it was an impediment to your uniquely exciting singing style. You were finally released from the mike stand confinement and what a difference it made in your performance.
At the outset of this song, I could feel the “Elvis” vibe that has created such a buzz throughout the message boards and the media. You were definitely channeling some “Elvis”, but as the song moved along, it was all about Taylor the artist. You came with one mission to accomplish – to entertain your legions of fans – and your love and passion for the art of music was exemplary. You are in this business for all the right reasons!
I loved everything about your stage choreography, from the double kick of the microphone stand, to the rhythmic up and down movement on the stage steps, to the interaction with the audience as you moved onto the secondary stage in the audience. It was an animated, buoyant and dynamic showcase that truly celebrated all that is wonderful about exciting live performances.
Vocally, your voice enjoyed a renewed sense of energy, simply because you were no longer restrained to one position on the stage. Your whiskey tenor voice beautifully embraced the melodic line and the lyrical content came alive with your soulful interpretive skills. I always have great respect for an artist who strives to bend or mold the original melodic line; it adds an element of originality and creativity to the overall performance of a song that has been covered by so many artists. Your unique, personal approach to this song performance was just outstanding, Taylor.
Also, you never pushed your voice to create a bigger sound – you allowed the vocal sound to evolve through your innate means of expression. I always tell my singers that many of the technical issues disappear if you immerse yourself into the soul and essence of the song’s emotional core. You have to live and breathe your song during a performance and no one does this better than you, Taylor.
Your profound love and respect for the art is extraordinary and you impart a professional approach to your song style each and every week. Your sense of fun and abandon on that Idol stage is contagious and your love for the art is inspiring. The joy of music! What a concept and you truly embrace and respect this concept each and every week on that Idol stage.
Bravo Taylor! This was just a gem of a performance!
Critique: I have very little to critique this week Taylor. I am just thrilled that you have been allowed to represent your distinct artistry. The stage is your home, not the microphone stand and you, as well as all the singers, must be allowed to explore this performance terrain. How else can you fully communicate an upbeat joyful song like Crazy Little thing Called Love? Not possible.
Now, what I would like to hear from you is more of that gorgeous sustained vocal sound that I enjoyed when you performed Trouble a couple of weeks ago. It would be great to discover a song that would address both sides of your artistic personality: the vocalist AND the performer. Also, it would be additionally beneficial to find a number that would highlight other areas of your vocal range, more specifically, the mid and lower range. I suspect that next week’s music will be very conducive to this.
Congratulations on a spectacular showcase this week, Taylor! Bravo!
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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!