This week’s showcase highlighted my favorite genre of music: the big band era. Chart topper Rod Stewart escalated a huge comeback when he envisioned the success of his Great American Songbook CDs. Although his voice does not possess a vast dynamic range, his soothing vocal style suits this music quite well and the arrangements are extremely good.
The remaining Top 7 singers had an artistic field day with these great songs. There were so many great song classics up for the selection process it was, to my mind, a walk in the park. The melodies and lyrics synchronize and blend effortlessly and encouraged the singers to internalize the expressive nuances within the song composition. It is all about feeling the music and less about the acrobatic vocal tricks that are permeate other styles of music.
It was a very memorable evening of music that ended all too soon. So, let’s take a Masterclass walk through memory lane as we review the retro performances by this year’s Magnificent Seven.
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Ace Young “That’s All”
Strengths:Ace – I loved the new sophisticated, urban look for your big band performance this week. It was just the ticket and it heightened the believability factor in this week’s showcase. Not that you needed it! From your opening refrain, this was a superlative performance. And your song choice was inspired. It highlighted your sincere and sensitive persona. You looked extremely comfortable as you moved about the stage and your relaxed demeanor complimented your vocal performance.
You vocal sound emanated a classical quality that was not evident in past showcases, although last week’s performance came very close. I believe that there has been a steady progression in your technical development over the last few weeks and, this week, it just seemed to come together so beautifully. You resonated a seamless vocal sound throughout your vocal registers, so wonderfully even and smooth. You effortlessly vocalized the melodic line of this song with a consistent bel canto approach, making certain that you applied a cohesive approach to the pure vowels of your lyrical content. You diction was impeccable and you internalized and then communicated the gentle emotion of the song with impeccable style and sensitivity.
And we cannot forget the introduction of your signature falsetto also known as head tone into this week’s showcase. Once again, you resonated this ringing vocal sound in your vocal masque and your pitch was centered and pure. This head tone was a ubiquitous element throughout your vocal range this week, Ace, and this added that extra special classical dimension to your voice that I spoke of earlier. Your vocal timbre had a beautiful crystal clear ring throughout this song.
As in last week’s performance, you maintained a forward momentum when you performed this number, thus adding to the musical ebb and flow of this song performance. You exhibited a natural ability to shape and phrase the melodic line; it is no wonder that Rod Stewart was so impressed with your interpretation. It speaks to your supreme artistry, Ace.
As Rod Stewart said, this was a brilliant interpretative rendition of this song. Bravo and congratulations on this outstanding performance, Ace!
Critique: Ace – I predicted last week that you would be back to ballads. Thanks heavens for a clean and shiny crystal ball! Additionally, I indicated to transfer the wonderful technical elements you employed in your energetic Queen number to your slower ballads and you did just that! I was very impressed. The vocal intensity, the forward momentum, the steadily improving breath support – it was all there this week, Ace.
The only thing left to conquer is that prevalent nasal quality that seemed to creep in every once in a while. It is not a permanent fixture in your vocal timbre, but it is evident nonetheless. It merely indicates that there are some areas of tension in your vocal masque or inside your mouth cavity. Is the tip of your tongue relaxed behind your lower teeth? If not, then that will cause a nasal quality to interfere with your natural vocal timbre.
I speak from experience, as I had the same problem. I corrected the problem by rehearsing my technical exercises and/ or songs while holding my tongue outside the mouth. This exaggerated position then eventually allowed the tongue to relax easily behind my lower teeth and I finally eliminated the nasal tone.
Finally – and I didn’t know if I should include this in the Strengths or Critique portion of this evaluation – but I thought it would be a great way to end this review. At the very end of your song, your final note sounded hesitant, almost like your voice cracked because of improper placement. I thought: “Oh no”! However, it was a short- lived worry, as you quickly accessed your diaphragmatic breathing muscles to push the sound into your vocal masque; then, like magic, your sound resonated freely and clearly. This was just super, Ace. This is why technique is so darn important. It allows you to instantaneously correct vocal placement; it gives a singer more options during a performance.
This was a great week for you Ace. Kudos and high fives for a superb performance!
Post Note: How unfortunate that you will not have the opportunity to work with the great Andrea Bocelli. He would have easily identified with the classical elements in your voice, bringing an even more pronounced improvement in your vocal development. Hopefully your paths will cross one day.
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Chris Daughtry “What A Wonderful World ”
Strengths: Chris, you made me melt. Finally, you were coerced into singing a song that would highlight the strength of your pure vocal talent. When performing your rock numbers, we perceived one dimension and, basically, one nuance to your voice – loud. The energy necessary to perform up- tempo rock music did not encourage you to emphasize the strength of your dynamic range and I always felt that this was missing from your performances.
However, with this week’s song selection, you moved away from your normal frame of musical reference and I think that this allowed you to realize the potential of your vocal talent. I loved how you embraced the softer nuances in your voice and, as a result, we heard even more evidence of the pure head tone quality that permeated your performance last week.. Good for you. I am sure that your diaphragmatic muscles were working overtime to maintain the vocal intensity necessary to sustain the melodic line on those pure, uncluttered vowels, utilizing a softer and gentler dynamic. The arrangement really exposed your voice and in a good way, Chris. Your vocal sound enjoyed a viable presence on the stage this week because it wasn’t lost in the louder dynamics of the background music from previous performances.
Additionally, this song encouraged you to communicate the sensitive message within the song lyrics. This is such a beautiful song; I never tire of it. The poetry sends such a heartrending message to the listener and encourages a singer to fully emote the significance of the song’s message. I felt that, as the messenger, you really connected with this song on stage Chris and your relaxed stage movements throughout the performance emphasized this.
Additionally, you added some superb melodic variations. I always love when any singer becomes creatively involved with the song, adding his own interpretive skills to the original melody. It reinforces the singer’s connectivity factor with the song and emphasizes the creative strengths of the vocalist. So, I applaud your ingenuity in your song presentation this week. It was an excellent performance and one worth waiting for! Bravo!
Critique: Chris –I have always commended your adherence to the basic principles of applying bel canto technique to your rock flavored vocals. You really do try to adhere to the circular mouth position on the vowels, thus encouraging your diaphragmatic muscles to really augment and place your vocal sound in your vocal masque. (face). So, this is very impressive indeed and I congratulate you on your ability to stay true to the technical aspects of vocal performance.
However, this week, there was noticeable tension in your jaw and mouth, especially when you were sustaining the trickier vowels like “Ay” or “Ee”. When confronted with these vowels, you tended to form your mouth into a horizontal shape, thus inhibiting the richer, more focused vocal sound that comes from the more circular and relaxed mouth formation. You have to make certain that the circular formation remains a constant throughout your song performances, as it not only encourages uniformity of the vocal timbre throughout the melody, but also reinforces a ringing pitch centered vocal sound.
Also, you must eliminate any sources of tension that may appear in your throat and your jaw; by doing so, you will be allowing the diaphragm to fully sustain your voice in your vocal masque. When there is tension in these areas, then the overall, vocal sound is a manufactured vs. a natural entity and, additionally, you are putting undue stress on your vocal cords.
Also, your breathing throughout this number could have been more inventive; by this I mean, that you tended to breath in two bar segments and so the performance, at times, lacked a sense of flow and musicality. You must experiment with your breathing points; try not to breathe in obvious places, Chris. By doing so, you will add variance to the performance of the song and be encouraged to use your diaphragmatic breathing muscles in a more aggressive and consistent fashion.
Finally, I have to encourage you to work in front of a mirror, so that you can further develop your performance skills. Your face needs to appear more animated and your eyes must be more expressive when you sing this or any song. At times, I felt disengaged from your performance. Allow the emotion of the song to be fully internalized; live the melody and lyrics, don’t just sing them. You have a naturally vibrant charisma when being interviewed that is lost to us in your performances. Try to slowly introduce your true persona into your showcases, so as to further elevate your performing style.
However, when all is said and done, I loved this song Chris and I hope that it will encourage you to allow your voice to shine rather than to become lost in the background accompaniment of future performances. You have a solid, meaty instrument, one that you can dig your teeth into. Always remember that! It shouldn’t take a back seat to any thing or anyone! Bravo!
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Elliot Yamin ” It Had To Be You”
Strengths: Elliot–this was another splendid performance this week. You certainly have the voice to perform any number of songs from the American Standards catalogue. This was a great song choice and I loved the fact that you added a high level of dynamic dimension to this song performance. The beginning of this song was interpreted with a gentler dynamic, but as the song progressed you effortlessly developed a more energized and vibrant dynamic. The result was an exciting and certainly not anticipated close to this song performance. It was just great! This was a meticulously rehearsed song performance, one that allowed you to reveal the depth of your artistry.
Additionally, you maintained a consistent circular mouth formation on your vowels, especially your “oo” vowels. The “oo” vowel is very prevalent throughout this song, given the song title and, although many people think that this is an easy vowel to articulate, it really isn’t. It is a very dark vowel and the singer must incorporate head tone into this vowel to avoid a dark, “swallowed” vocal timbre. Generally, I thought you avoided the “oo” pitfalls very well Elliott and you have your natural vibrato to thank for this. It allows your voice to consistently resonate with comfort and ease throughout your vocal range.
You just poured your heart and soul into this performance and your genuine personality radiated beautifully on the stage this week. Additionally, your stage movements were less intrusive and repetitive than in previous weeks, so it was clearly evident that you had been working to improve on this performing element. Your movements appeared more natural and complimented the flow and energy of this vocal performance.
You, as well, possessed a wonderful forward momentum to your singing style: there was continuity in your approach to the melodic line – no abrupt stops and starts that can sometimes hinder a performance. You have a musical and soulful way of phrasing that accent your inherent artistry, Elliot. This was a great week for you! Congratulations on a superb showcase.
Critique: Elliot – last week, I hounded you about your stage presentation; however, as I said above, I feel that this week, your stage technique had vastly improved and, as a result, your rhythmic body language enjoyed a more relaxed demeanor. Bravo!
However, be very careful that you apply a consistent level of technique throughout your vocal range. Usually, this is never an issue; however, this week, a couple of the lower notes at the beginning of the verses were not correctly placed in your vocal masque; as a result, the pitch was off centre and the vocal sound was thin.
You must remember to enhance every level of your vocal range with solid technique. Allow those low notes to resonate in your vocal masque and do not forget to add some level of head tone into this chest tone area of your vocal register. By doing so, you will make certain that your lower range is enjoying the same level of vibrancy as you mid and higher vocal range.
Also, there has to be some space in the mouth so that the lower notes can resonate in the lower half of your vocal masque, thus allowing the sound to project more efficiently. And don’t collapse your rib cage when you sing into your lower register; keep the support consistent in this part of your range so as to further develop increased depth and beauty in this part of your vocal register.
However, this was wonderful performance, Elliot and I heartily congratulate you! Bravo!
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Katharine McPhee “Someone To Watch Over Me”
Strengths: Katharine – given the style of music performed this week, I was expecting huge things from you and you did NOT disappoint. This was a classy, meticulously rehearsed and technically secure performance. You selected one of my all time favorite George Gershwin songs and communicated the beautiful poetry with ease and conviction.
Your particular voice was perfect for this song, as the bridge, in my experience, can cause technical difficulties if the singer does not have a good combination of technical control and inherent musicality. For whatever reason, the natural flow of the musical line at the beginning and ending of this particular song is abruptly interrupted with a verbose, straighter rhythmic line in the bridge (Although he may not be the man some girls think of etc.) and the singer has to work very hard to maintain a forward momentum and cohesive approach to the phrase line.
However, Katharine, with your vocal experience and natural feel for the song, this was not a problem for you. You added a lovely free interpretive bend during this part of the number and your voice floated over the stilted melody line as you musically shaped the phrases. Good for you! This is the result I always watch for and when a singer nails this section of the song, then I know that I am listening to a superbly talented vocalist.
Additionally, as I stated last week, you are so conscientious to add a variety of nuances in your vocal renditions each week. This week, I truly enjoyed the appearance of your crystal clear soprano voice and the softer, controlled passages were monumentally successful. Additionally, you emphasized your level of control and technical ability by implementing an impeccably sustained final note; it was head tone all the way! Whereas in previous weeks, I cautioned you about adding too much of your chest register, this week your voice had a wonderful balance of chest and head tone, allowing for an vocal increase in your dynamic potential.
Also, I loved the vocal sound you produced when navigating your lower register; the lower melodic line was beautifully tuned and supported, allowing the vocal sound to maintain a rich, resonant, sultry quality
Finally, you melismas(riffs and runs) were impeccable. You vocalized them with pitch perfect clarity, allowing your diaphragmatic muscles to support every note in the run. This is what is so necessary, otherwise the melisma tends to lose control and/or becomes poorly tuned. Your melodic variations were very much appreciated, again another testament to your artistry.
I think I just about covered everything, Katharine. Kudos and Brava on a brilliant and elegant showcase!
Critique: Katherine – I appreciate when a singer does everything right! It gives me a bit of a break! (chuckle). However, I want to caution you to sing with the same level of technical brilliance in your remaining performances. This week, the chest voice was FINALLY not overpowering your natural singing voice and we need to see and hear this every week, particularly in your faster paced numbers. Pace them well and rehearse them slowly; you have the technical and artistic skills, so don’t be encouraged to abandon them when you sing your energetic and/or up-tempo numbers!
Excellent work, Katharine. You are a rising star and I know I will be paying big bucks to see you on Broadway someday!
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Kellie Pickler “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”
Strengths: Kellie – first of all I loved the song choice for your voice. The first half of the song really rang true to my ears: your pitch was crystal clear and you appeared to be internalizing the emotional content of the song lyrics. This is really a remarkable song composition and you are fortunate to have selected this song. I felt that your performance was very genuine and that, in the beginning, you were establishing good communication with your audience.
It is really a shame when technical and artistic situations present themselves in a live performance. I would have enjoyed hearing you perform this song on another night and in another ambiance. However, you were very gracious in defeat and this has to count for something. One gains insight into a person’s character when faced with blockades and you probably gained a higher degree of respect from your listeners because of your apologetic and agreeable nature. Brava!
Critique: Kellie, first of all, always remember that a singer must instantly establish the mood when he/she walks onto the stage and face his/her audience. Additionally, it doesn’t end until the final note is played or sung. Further to this principle, I felt that you looked extremely tentative and nervous as you walked toward the microphone. Therefore, you were defeated before you opened your mouth to sing. It makes me wonder whether or not you were having rhythmic problems with the song in rehearsal, thus allowing your artistic mood to be interrupted with troublesome thoughts throughout the performance.
So, I am taking a guess and saying “yes”, you were aware of your habit to move ahead of the musical accompaniment prior to the live performance. What should you have done, you might ask? Well, it all comes down to the rehearsal. As a performer, you have to have an ear for encompassing and internally feeling the flow of the musical accompaniment. If your rhythm was secure at the beginning, it should have been secure at the end, as the melody repeats itself.
I think what happened is that you lost your sense of musical flow when you sang through the bridge of this song. Like Katharine’s song, the bridge of this song has a square feel in the melodic line and the singer has to have a high degree of rhythmnic development in order to shape the melodic line musically. You needed to study and listen to the harmonics in the musical accompaniment and allow the accompaniment to move your voice in the correct direction. It should be the other way around, but, when you have an orchestra accompanying you, a singer’s ear must really be developed and on alert to make certain that the timing is just perfect. There are too many musicians to coordinate; if it was only a piano accompaniment, the outcome might have been different.
Additionally, this song encompasses those tricky triplet rhythms that can be found, as an example, in the line “A simpering, whimpering child again”. These rhythms must be approached in a relaxed and laidback fashion. I think this rhythmic component added to your technical problems, as you rushed those triplets, rather than allowing them to float effortlessly over the orchestral accompaniment, thus finding yourself a bar or so ahead of the orchestra in the final section of this number.
To your credit, I think you realized that something was wrong, but couldn’t find your way back to the correct point in the song. Additionally, your pitch was adversely affected and I am not surprised. You normally do not have any problems with your pitch, Kellie, so indeed it was your nerves that were affecting the positive outcome of this song.
You know I always tell my students: never leave anything to chance. Problems don’t just go away. They have to be met head on, understood and rehearsed until a singer is comfortable in the knowledge that the problem has been rectified. Hope this helps Kellie!
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Paris Bennett: “These Foolish Things”
Strengths: Paris –this was another stellar performance this week. You possess an unparalleled rhythmic security that permeates each and every performance. If I had to select one feature that I admire in your performances – and there are many, believe me – I would have to say it is your inherent ability to interpret and utilize rhythmic components within your songs to enhance the overall artistic interpretation of your numbers. It really is a marvel to watch and, as a result, you generally always exude such a confident demeanor.
Once again, your voice wrapped effortlessly around the melodic line. I particularly was impressed with the depth and beauty of your lower range; it was absolutely stellar and the vocal technique was right on the money. Your voice enjoyed a rich resonant vocal timbre that was perfectly enhanced through the correct diaphragmatic technical process.
The melodic and rhythmic variation you added to this number accented your phenomenal artistry. You are an extremely conscientious and gifted vocalist, one who never takes her music for granted. You are intelligent, yet musical in your methodology and I applaud your meticulous preparation of the finest detail in your song presentations.
Added to all the praise, I loved how you seamlessly shaped your phrases. Your breathing was well formulated and you were creative in your approach to the emotional content of the poetry. This was just an exceptional performance, Paris and once again, you have proven to be a supremely diverse and consistently excellent artist throughout this competition! Brava once again, young lady! No one wonder they named a city after you! (smile)
Critique: Paris – be very careful that you are not carrying too much chest voice into your upper register. This hasn’t been a problem in recent weeks, but this week the customary ringing timbre in your upper range lacked the necessary purity and frontal focus. I found that, at times, you upper range sounded tense and overwrought.
While observing you during these sections of the song, I noticed considerable tension in your facial features; you didn’t exhibit your customary relaxed and open demeanor. Consequently, the resonators located behind your facial features were not able to fully resonate the full compliment of head tone because there was so much constriction in your facial features. Augmenting this situation was a noticeable push from your throat as you moved into your top range, thus impeding the natural flow of the vocal sound through the reinforcement of the diaphragmatic muscles. The throat must always remain open and free; any constriction will impede the complete diaphragmatic process.
Although the overall performance was a great one, Paris, I was confused regarding the cause of your nervous demeanor. Then I remember reading via the Message Board that your original song choices may have been compromised several times over the course of the week due to clearance issues. If this were the case, then of course you would bring undue stress to this performance.
However, to your credit, many performers would have succumbed to a lower level of performance, given the time constraints to learn this number, but not our little Paris. You handled the pressure and song limitations like a pro and still managed to pull off one of the best performances of the evening. Brava and kudos to a marvelous showcase! You are indeed a little spitfire, progressing beautifully toward superstardom.
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Taylor Hicks: “You Send Me”
Strengths: Taylor –you are the bomb. You are like a musical magician, pulling all sorts of vocal surprises out of your magic hat, or in this case, your magic vocal cords. You started this inspired song selection with perfect style. You captured your audience – and in particular the Soul Patrol – in the palm of your hand as you casually glided across the stage romancing your listeners with your bluesy, soulful lyrics. You were quite the charismatic spectacle, Taylor, and I can’t remember seeing such a phenomenal look of joy on your face during a performance.
Or was it a mischievous look, a teaser of what was yet to come at the finale of this song? It didn’t matter, because the whole ambiance of your performance was a first rate, entertaining, tour de force. You exuded a confident and truly authentic demeanor throughout this song and you truly embraced your audience with the repetitive lyrics.
When confronted with repetition in the lyrical content, a singer has to really make certain that he or she is using this cyclic element as a means of vocal emphasis, otherwise the words will begin to sound mundane and senseless. Well you, Taylor, took the bull by the horns and used this opportunity to vocally address different areas of your live audience and, in a couple of instances your television audience. Smart guy! It also afforded you time to pace yourself and conserve your energy for the vibrant, Taylorized finale.
And what a finale that was. You know what your fans want and you gave them all that and more.
Also, Taylor, I have to say a resounding thank you! In last week’s evaluation, I encouraged you to find a song that would highlight the strength and beauty of your entire vocal range, while at the same time allowing you to be a free spirit on the stage, incorporating your distinct stage choreography with stellar vocals. The style and substance thing I keep harping on about! Well, this week you made it happen, Taylor, and now I am a happy camper here at my computer. Your vocals were beautifully sustained, wonderfully resonant and energized through the usage of the correct technical channels. You were really applying a cohesive approach to those pure vowels and your vocal timbre had a richer, robust quality than in previous weeks. Additionally, I loved the intermittent inclusion of your rustic vocals into this soulful number; it contrasted beautifully with the purer vocal timbre and highlighted your ability to add nuance and inflection in your singing voice.
In closing, I would like to add that you are one of the most generous musicians I have ever encountered in a live performance. The only other singer that I think of when I see you perform is retro superstar Michael Buble. Both of you have such an appreciation, respect and passion for the music – and for your fans. It is what separates you from the rest of the pack and will ensure continued success in the music industry.
Bravo Taylor and Whoo Hoo to you and the Soul Patrollers!
Critique: Taylor – just make certain that you are incorporating the correct technique when you sing in your more energized sections of your songs. I feel that you are, however, I do worry that some of the important technical elements may have been forgotten as you shimmied and vibrated towards the grand finale of this number. I don’t think there was a huge misplacement of technique, but, naturally, with all the energy you exerted, it is difficult to balance all the performing elements with the technical elements.
In rehearsal, make certain that you are practicing your vocals separate from your dancing, thus ensuring that your full attention is on the singing aspect of the performance. This way you will ensure that all the technical essentials (the sustaining element, proper diaphragmatic breathing, and proper vocal placement) are in place.
Also, it seemed that you exceeded your estimation of the final refrain of the musical accompaniment and your concluding ad lib vocals didn’t match what was happening in the orchestration. Make certain that you judiciously practice the rhythmic components of your ad lib sections, so these spontaneous Taylorized vocalizations are seamless and match what is happening in the background accompaniment.
However, this was such a monumentally successful performance, Taylor. I cannot wait until Andrea Bocelli weaves his magic on you. You, along with your Top 6 colleagues, are going to kick some serious bel canto butt next week. It’s going to be a long seven days for me!
Congratulations once again, 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!