I cannot tell you how excited I was to see and hear the great Andrea Bocelli interacting with the remaining six singers on American Idol. What would the classically trained Andrea think of our eclectic mix of singers, collectively representing country, rock, soul, R&B, Broadway, and mainstream pop genres? This is one of those rare instances that I wish I could have been a fly on the wall so that I could unobtrusively observe the rehearsal dynamics. It must have been quite the spectacle.
And, then, they added my all time favorite musician into the mix- the brilliant producer/songwriter David Foster. To me, this was as good as winning the lottery. How fortunate to be in the company of a producer who has exemplified the definition of class, professionalism, impeccable artistry and intellect in his quest for excellence in the music industry. This was a groundbreaking opportunity for the viewers, the Top six Idols and for the American Idol franchise, one that will ultimately catapult this controversial reality show to a musically credible and distinguishable level.
Yes, he called a spade a spade; however, we have no idea what truly transpired throughout the coaching process thanks to American Idol’s creative editing procedures. I mean, the singers worked with Foster and Bocelli longer than the 30- 45 second segments we saw prior to each performance. Therefore, until I see the whole coaching session, I would never base a decision on such a short segment of videotape.
Now, the question remains: Did our Final Six kick bel canto butt this week? Andrea is all about singing with brilliant bel canto technique and transferring it to his crossover repertoire, such as Time To Say GoodBye and Besame Mucho.. So, let’s have a look, shall we?
Also, many fans have asked for some clarification on the vocal terminology. I always aim to please, so click here and, hopefully, the technical veil will be lifted.
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Chris Daughtry “Have You ever Really Loved A Woman ”
Strengths: Chris- that was a truly inspired song choice. Regardless of theme or genre, you have a wonderful instinct for selecting songs that are absolutely perfect for your vocal style. Additionally, this song emphasized the important fact that your voice does not need to take a back seat to loud percussive rock induced accompaniment. There you were, centre stage, sandwiched between two acoustic guitar players and the performance was just as powerful as any high- energy rock number. It’s not always about how loud you sing (quantity), but how well you can emote and deliver the final vocal product. (quality). And this was a groundbreaking week for you Chris in every respect.
I just loved the segment featuring your interaction with David Foster and Andrea Bocelli. So, they made you do the old lying on the floor and singing trick, huh? Good for them and you. The horizontal resting position really encourages a singer to sing from the diaphragm because you are in a relaxed position, thus allowing the diaphragmatic muscles to channel the breathing process. Everyone naturally breathes diaphragmatically when they are sleeping or when they are resting in front of the TV watching American Idol, as long as the judges are not criticizing their favorite. (chuckle).
I loved your stage choreography throughout this number. You started the performance behind the microphone stand and then, when the melodic line became more energetic and passionate, you picked up the microphone and moved forward on stage. This is a very subtle but effective stage technique that enabled you to pace your performance effectively. Additionally it gave you opportunity to move and change position. Even a little movement can relax a performer immensely. How I wish others had been given this same opportunity this week. If this had happened, I think we would have witnessed a higher level of performance throughout the Top 6 showcase.
Once again, your voice enjoyed a meaty clarity throughout this performance, but particularly when you navigated your upper range. You have a muscular quality to your vocal timbre that I absolutely love, Chris. Earlier on in your showcases, it was barely evident; however, with each passing week, your technique seems to be working pretty effectively to properly enhance this distinct characteristic in your voice.
Additionally, you exhibited a very good understanding of the pure vowel placement when vocalizing your number. Generally, your mouth maintained a circular position on your vowels and your jaw was reasonably relaxed. Also, your eyes were open and expressive, thus allowing the voice to resonate more efficiently in the resonators located behind the eyes.
This was a passionate and sensitive performance Chris. Congratulations!
Critique: Chris –as I have repeatedly said in past Masterclass articles, you must be very careful not to raise your head during your performances. Your head was above the camera throughout the entire performance this week. It was frustrating, as not only was it impeding the full range of your technical resources, but also you were distancing yourself from your viewing audience. A singer must communicate with his eyes – so much emotion can be felt through looking into a performer’s eyes.
However, with the head in an upward tilt, we lost so much of the emotional warmth conveyed in this song through the lyrics. The full emotional impact of the song was compromised, as we could not see the depth of emotion mirrored in your eyes.
Technically, the elevated head position encouraged you to push your vocal sound from your throat, not allowing the diaphragmatic process to fully govern the production of the vocal sound. It also increased the tension in the throat and accentuated the inclusion of more chest versus head voice into the vocal timbre.
Always remember that head voice allows the singer to enjoy a ringing seamless clarity throughout his or her vocal range. I felt that, at the beginning of the song, your lower and softer range sounded vague and unfocused and I am sure it was from a lack of technical intensity. The head tone element was clearly missing in this part of your range and your vocal timbre reflected this by sounding breathy and poorly tuned. Your diaphragmatic breath control has to be a constant throughout your singing and dynamic range. And that raised head didn’t help, so find a mirror quick to correct the problem and stop the madness!
Hope this assists you in preparation for next week’s rehearsal. Good work Chris!
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Elliot Yamin ” A Song For You” originally performed by Donnie Hathaway
Strengths: Elliot–this was a very good vocal selection for you. It truly accented your soulful and genuine persona and style. Your sensitivity and sincerity when you performed this number was very palpable indeed! I loved how you poured your heart and soul into the performance of this beautiful number; it was a one of those special moments on the Idol stage, where singer and song merged as one.
Your vibrato was evident, but in a good way, because the intense, passionate nature of the song necessitated a richer, resonant tonality to the vocal production. However, I am glad to see that you are showcasing your vibrato judiciously and allowing the technical process to control the vibrations. When used without the proper technical support, the vibrato can adversely affect the pitch -centered timbre of the singing voice.
Additionally, Elliot, I loved your persistence in maintaining a circular mouth position while sustaining those pure vowels, a la bel canto style. This allowed you to navigate your impressive vocal range with ease; your voice sounded absolutely smooth and seamless from top to bottom.
Finally, I have to congratulate you on your stage technique. You have finally eliminated the repetitive up and down movements during your stage performance. They were unbelievably distracting and were consuming energy necessary for consistent technical support. Good for you Elliot. I know how very difficult it is to eradicate poor performing mannerisms; it requires a great deal of concentrated effort. So, I applaud your hard work in elevating your performance standards to an even higher level with each passing week. Bravo, Elliot!
Critique: Elliot – as I mentioned above, there were so many wonderful things about this performance. However, I felt that overall, your artistic approach to this number was not on par with your vocals. First of all, I found the arrangement of this song a little on the slow side. Therefore, I was missing the
forward momentum in your vocal delivery that was necessary to compensate for the slow, fragmented arrangement. There was a pedantic approach in your singing style and it inhibited the natural ebb and flow of the melodic line.
You needed to be more inventive with your phrasing, avoiding breath intakes at obvious breaks in the song. It would have been wonderful if you had connected two phrases at various points in the song, thus elevating your artistic approach to the song and challenging your breath control.
As beautiful as this song is to perform, you have to study this song with your intellect as well as your heart. I would have loved to hear a wider dynamic range throughout this song. Additionally, you needed to add a higher degree of vocal nuance and shading in your vocal delivery.
How would you say those words, Elliot, if you were speaking the poetry as a monologue? Have you practiced just speaking the text, adding the expressive inflections in your speaking voice? This is what you must do, for this song as well as any song that you will perform in the future. In doing so, you will easily transfer the proper inflections to your singing voice. Having done so, I think you will be very surprised by the enormous
depth of your expressive elements during your song performances.
You, as well, Elliot, must make certain that you are keeping your head level with the camera. You tend to raise your head at times, thus impeding the technical and communicative process. Make certain that you keep your head level, so we can really see the depth of emotion in your eyes. When you raise your head, it also encourages you to strain or reach for your upper notes from your throat instead of allowing the diaphragmatic muscles to support and place the vocal sound. Tension in the throat is taboo. Keep your throat relaxed and free and, with that head lowered, this will encourage this important element.
However, this was a heartwarming and genuine performance, Elliot! Bravo!
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Katharine McPhee “I Have Nothing” composed by David Foster
Strengths: Katharine – first of all, I can’t begin without saying how much I enjoyed the segment featuring you with David Foster and Andrea Bocelli. I think, given your impressive vocal background, everyone knew that this was going to be a match made in Heaven. The duet with Andrea was superb; it ended too soon.
That being said, I have to say that was another excellent performance this week, Katherine. Once again, I have to congratulate you on your innate expressive ability. As I said last week, you were extremely conscientious in your approach to the poetry of your song selections. Your voice consistently reflected the wide range of emotional variation throughout the song.
You began this number with the appropriate dynamic delivery – soft and sultry. This contrasted so beautifully with your more powerful segments, beautifully delivered with sincerity and passion. I loved the addition of your gravelly singing voice as you moved into the middle section of this song. It was super and really accentuated your ability to add inflection and nuance in your singing style. Once again, you ended this classic number with what I consider to be your signature ending – a soft, classical soprano voice.
This is more difficult to achieve than most people realize. It is always easier to move from a softer dynamic to a larger dynamic; however the reverse can be a very difficult technical element to accomplish. It is very tricky to reverse the adrenaline charged muscular process you need when singing louder. As you move away from a combination of head and chest voice in these forte sections to just the delicate head voice needed to nail the piano (softer) passages, the technique still has to maintain the intensity in the vocal sound, but without the power of the chest voice element. Only an experienced singer with great technique can perform this efficiently and, Katherine, that was and has been your forte in your vocal delivery each and every week.
Additionally, your stage technique was just excellent. Your movements in the first and final segments of this song were fluid and graceful, contrasting beautifully with the more energetic mannerisms in the powerful mid section of this number. You obviously rehearsed your stage technique in a judicious manner and I cannot emphasize enough how important this was in securing a valid and genuine performance. Your stage movements naturally complimented your vocal dynamics at every interval in this song; it was truly exceptional.
Finally, you shaped and crafted your phrases in a musically creative manner. I always felt that there was a forward momentum in your singing style, with no abrupt pauses or awkward breaks. You had a circular approach to your breathing that was imperative in successfully implementing a rhythmically secure song presentation.
Your breathing was part of the song presentation; it did not interrupt the natural flow of the song. It appeared effortless, even though it certainly was not without diligent control and impeccable technique. That’s the secret – to breathe as you would if you were speaking the song, in a relaxed and non-obtrusive manner and in a way that artistically shapes your phrase lines.
I just loved this performance, Katharine! Brava once again!
Critique: Katherine – let’s take a walk down memory lane and revisit your performance during the Top 10 showcase. During that performance, you sang a Christina Aguilera song and I cautioned you that you should run away from any song that warrants a “belting”, aggressive manner of vocal delivery. Once again, this weeks’s song choice encouraged you to implement too much chest voice in your upper register during the louder dynamic sections of this song.
For a second time, your voice sounded considerably tense and poorly tuned, because the ringing beauty of your head voice was not correctly balanced with the chest voice. Always remember that the microphone will enhance an already beautiful and powerful vocal sound – there is no need to force the issue through improper vocal production. Your head voice must be a constant throughout your vocal and dynamic range; it must never take a back seat.
I always tell my singers to ease into their upper range, making certain that the head voice is initially present. Then access your diaphragmatic muscles to increase the volume of the vocal sound. This way, you will have properly secured the centre of your pitch and pure vowel placement, allowing you to effortlessly and correctly increase the depth of your vocal sound.
Finally, regarding your pure vowels versus your diphthongs – be very careful that you maintain a consistently round mouth as you sustain your voice on the pure vowels within your lyrics. I felt that, particularly in your louder passages, your voice sounded unfocused at times and didn’t enjoy the resonating freedom necessary for clear, uncluttered vocalization.
Clearly, I would have enjoyed hearing you sing another number, Katharine. However, in fairness to you, this was far from the disaster the judges painted in their critiques to you after your performance. This was still a very solid, very artistic and musical showcase and I applaud your meticulous and musically detailed presentation!
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Kellie Pickler “Unchained Melody”
Strengths: Kellie – thank you and David Foster for bringing us a fresh and spanking new interpretation to this frequently performed song choice. I am so glad that David Foster encouraged to explore your naturally beautiful and ringing soprano range. Did you even know you had this ability, Kellie? I hope this will encourage you to be more inventive and resourceful in the way you interpret your future song selections. You have a truly beautiful upper range that needs to be challenged and longs to be heard.
That major 6th interval jump (on the words “I need”) was stellar and pitch perfect. Your voice had a wonderful ringing head tone element that allowed you to navigate your upper range with natural ease and security. So many singers have to work so hard to achieve this distinguishable timbre in their voice and along comes little Kellie with this precious gift already in her back pocket. Good for you. Now, from here you can develop your voice to achieve even greater vocal potential in your future performances. Good work, Kellie!
Critique: Kellie- from the beginning of your song, you looked so tentative and so ill at ease it made me wonder: “Is it the song choice?”. “Were your preoccupied by the new vocal elements suggested by David and Andrea in your vocal delivery?” It seemed that, like Katharine, you were reverting to all the problems you were experiencing during your Top 10 showcase, where your performed “Suds In A Bucket”.
Whatever the reason, you must remember that, during a performance, you must never sacrifice the performance for anything else that is occupying your mind. Technique is important, but the delivery and passion is just as or even more important. There are so many elements that allow a performance to transcend to superior heights, such as expressive qualities, sincere and believable communicative delivery and stage choreography. All of these essential elements were missing Kellie. Your one shining moment was that remarkable interval jump in the middle of the song.
Technical development is an ongoing process, a work in progress. You must work at your vocal technique, but come concert time, it’s all about the performance. Whatever technical security you have insulated at this point in time will come through during your showcase. Just sing your heart out and you will be surprised how the technical problems attain resolution once the expressive elements rise to the forefront. Singers are constantly reevaluating their technique and their approach changes for every song that confronts them. Each song will present its own challenging technical and artistic pitfalls, so you never stop learning – ever.
Also, I must encourage you to please carry that beautiful natural head tone element into your mid and lower range. After you maneuvered that fantastic interval in the middle of this song, I was waiting to hear you blend your apparent head voice into the lower range of your voice. Unfortunately, your chest voice overwhelmed your vocal production and, added to this problem, was the obvious fact that you were not accessing your diaphragmatic muscles in an energetic and consistent manner. The result was a spread, vocally constricted vocal timbre that suffered intermittent tuning problems throughout the showcase.
This was really too bad Kellie. I think that if you had applied a more energetic and focused delivery to this song performance, it would have energized your diaphragmatic breathing muscles to work more efficiently and consistently. I just felt you were defeated before you even began. What a shame!
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Paris Bennett: “The Way We Were”, originally performed by Barbra Streisand
Strengths: Paris –how gratifying to see that Andrea Bocelli could appreciate and applaud your enormous vocal talent. You have been such an amazing trooper on stage each and every week; I absolutely respect and admire the professionalism and artistry that you have brought to the Idol stage for each themed showcase. It is nothing short of outstanding. Absolutely brilliant!
This week you graced the stage with a great love classic. Although I suspect this was not your first song choice, you still delivered a musically mature and believable performance with this number. I am very glad that David Foster encouraged you to explore your softer dynamic range, as I feel that this has been missing in some of your previous performances. It’s all about balance and rendering the element of surprise when singing your song material.
Therefore, the softer, more sensitive opening refrain was absolutely perfect, in keeping with the poetic content in this section of the song. This is a reflective song and the singer must slowly build to a more passionate and resonant end. I just thought that your expressive elements throughout this number were just excellent, Paris. You utilized the knowledge gained from your Foster/Bocelli experience and elevated this classic song to a stellar performance level.
However what really impressed me was your excellent rhythmic interpretation of this number. I have always said that your rhythmic sense is extremely proficient and very highly developed for a performer of your age and experience. You used innovative rhythmic elements to emphasize the passionate and fervent message in this song. For example, your sustained, syncopated rhythmic bend on the words ‘so” and “we” in the passage: “So it’s the laughter, we will remember” was a stroke of brilliance. I have no idea if anyone understood or could appreciate your consummate skills in implementing this rhythmic passage, but this writer was truly impressed. You truly know how to add interest and inflection in your melodic and lyrical content and I wish more singers would adopt your artistic diligence.
In closing, Paris, this was a truly exceptional and authentic performance. Congratulations and bravissima!
Critique: Paris – as I said last week, you must be very careful not to carry too much chest voice into your upper register. Throughout this song performance you were really pushing the envelope when navigating your upper register and your voice lost its usual ringing and pitch centered vocal timbre. Added to this, your facial features looked extremely tense, thus closing off the important resonators necessary for implementing the full capacity of head tone.
It was so obvious that you were not achieving a comfort level with this song. I can only assume that this was not your original song choice. However, to your credit, the artistic delivery was phenomenal, so it was indeed a shame that the vocals didn’t match the actual performance level of this showcase.
Always remember to implement head tone throughout your vocal range. I don’t think this is anything new to your ears, but, for whatever reason, this important vocal element has evaded your vocal production over the past couple of weeks.
Also, make certain that your softer passages are supported with the full compliment of diaphragmatic breathing. I heard a lot of air escaping at the beginning of this song, as you attempted to vocalize this song with a softer dynamic level. However, soft doesn’t equal breathy, so make certain that your vocal sound is resonating freely in your vocal masque.
Do not incorporate excess air into the vocal mix; we want to hear just a beautiful ringing vocal timbre with lots of head voice. You still need a clear, focused vocal sound when singing your soft passages, so don’t allow the air to escape. Keep your rib cage expanded and your stomach muscles taut as you expel the appropriate amount of air to produce your quieter vocal sound. The softer passages still need to maintain a high degree of vocal intensity, or your voice will sound poorly tuned and less resonant.
Also, it seemed that you either expelled a large amount of air before your final note or gasped some air during the inhalation process. It happened so quickly, that I couldn’t decipher the exact problem. And, in case readers don’t realize, I never tape the show, as I want to evaluate the singers based solely on my first impressions. Therefore, I couldn’t replay the segment.
However, either way, your air management was severely compromised. During the inhalation process, you must learn to breathe deeply and quietly, maintaining an elevated and expanded rib cage at all times. Also, if indeed you expelled air before your final note, this would work against everything that is correct and vital in proper technical support. Also, it would demonstrate the fact that you allowed your rib cage to collapse.
I hope that I have given you some ideas with which to expand your enormous vocal talent, Paris. You are truly a star in so many ways, but keep challenging and expanding your vocal development. Your vocal potential is enormous, with time and with hard work. Brava young lady!
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Taylor Hicks: “Just Once” originally performed by James Ingram
Strengths: Taylor –even though this wasn’t your first song choice, I have to say that you performed this song extremely well. You had – what – less than 48 hours to learn this number? Incredible! And I suspected from the very minute that you opened your mouth to sing that this was not your song of choice. I think everyone is able to read you now, Taylor, and we know which songs turn your crank and which don’t. However, to your credit, you maintained an extremely professional demeanor throughout this performance
Actually, I like this song, as did David Foster and Andrea Bocelli. The composing elements have a soulful vibe that spoke well to your particular style of singing. I think, if given the appropriate amount of time, you would have truly knocked this song out of the ballpark. That being said, you still hit a vocal home run in so many ways. How many? Well, let us count the ways, shall we?
First of all, you approached the song in your usual inventive manner and taylorized the song to fit your uniquely soulful voice. You were not a James Ingram clone, even though I love his singing very much. You had a creative approach to your vocal delivery that enabled you to perform this or any song with a distinct and unique style, totally different than what is the norm. This is of monumental importance, as you distance your vocal style from the millions of karaoke singers in this world.
Additionally, you communicated the heart -warming essence of the song just beautifully. Your camera technique was excellent and we were left with a genuine and authentic vocal delivery. Your have innate expressive qualities, Taylor, that cannot be taught or explained. Call it charisma, call it sincerity, call it musicality and artistry, and call it anything you want. It is just there-an intangible force.
I also appreciated the melodic variations that you implemented throughout this performance, another testament to your instinctive artistry. As always, I loved your distinctive blend of pure and rustic vocals; this is how you add inflection to your singing style. A little dose of that fantastic whiskey tenor voice added the appropriate emphasis and dynamic variation to the lyrical and melodic composition. Your voice told the story. It is a heart -rending love song and we heard the angst and passion in your voice, Taylor.
Finally, your voice, particularly during your more passionate sections of the song, sounded richly focused and technically enhanced. Your mouth maintained a consistent circular formation, as you adhered your vocal sound to the pure vowels within your lyrics. This was another excellent showcase for you, Taylor! Kudos to you! And always remember, the Soul Patrol always has your back. Not to worry!
Critique: Taylor – when I first heard you were doing this song, I was very happy. As I said above, I love this number very much. However, I could not believe this was your first choice and now we know it was not. I think you and a few other singers were railroaded once again because of clearance issues aka American Idol issues. It was clearly evident that you were not a happy camper singing this song, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the reason.
And then you were glued to the mike stand once again. I thought we were finished with your love affair with the mike stand. Who made you stand there, Taylor? Give me names. Perhaps they don’t understand that Taylor Hicks behind a microphone is not what the viewers are tuning in to see. They want to see an energetic, beaming, vigorous performance that only you and you alone can give Taylor.
Actually, at one point in the song, just before the key change, I thought that you were going to surprise us once again. I envisioned you releasing the mike from the stand and moving forward on stage to deliver an impassioned and soulful end to the song. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, but it would have definitely solidified a stronger end to the song. However, your soulful and pitch perfect melisma (scale like passage) was an excellent substitute nonetheless.
Additionally, Taylor, make certain that you access your diaphragmatic support when you sing your quieter passages. Like some of the other singers this week, you allowed your voice to be less resonant and vibrant when singing the quieter sections of the song, indicating that the diaphragmatic muscles were not enabling the correct resonation of the vocal sound.
You have to maintain a whispered intensity when you sing softly and, additionally, not allow your enunciation to falter. In fact, practice whispering your softer passages, drawing your attention to the crispness of your consonants, while at the same time sustaining your speaking voice on the pure vowels. Actors have to solidify this technique so that their voices can carry at every level of intensity. The same is true for singers.
In closing, I hope the judges will keep a lid on their hypocrisy throughout the short remainder of this competition. First they wanted you to make your vocals shine and avoid excessive dancing. Then when you followed through on this, they thought the performance was boring. It seems they don’t know what they want, so next week, show them what you – and your audience –wants and bring it!
See you next week Taylor. Continue to keep it real! Bravo once again
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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!