This week’s show determined which of the remaining Top Three singers would enter the prestigious Top Two competition. As always, this season could not close out without a shocker and, with Chris Daughtry’s surprise elimination last week, we the viewers have come to believe that anything is possible over the next nine days.
Our Top 3 singers showcased three songs this week that reflected their personal choice plus Clive Davis’ and the judges’ selections. Generally, the song selections were the some of the best I have seen on this show in any season and the singers’ performances mirrored this observation. Elliot, Katharine and Taylor came out fighting and now the real competition rests in the hands of the voters.
However, let’s get down to the business of singing and, more important, of performing. Who managed to create a triple home run this week?
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.
To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below and, voila, with the touch of a click, you will be forwarded to your favorite singer’s link! Enjoy and please let me know what you think!
Or come and visit my page (a work in progress) on MySpace.Com.
Elliot Yamin “Open Arms” (Journey) and “What you Won’t So For Love” and “I Believe To My Soul”
Strengths: Elliot– all three songs were appropriately selected for you during this very important performance week. I felt that you performed each of these songs with your signature passion and artistic commitment.
If I had to choose a favorite song performance, it would have to beOpen Arms. I thought that your voice wrapped around the melody so beautifully and you incorporated wonderful expressive qualities throughout this number. Although this was a very understated performance, your simplified and straightforward approach actually assisted the control of the vibrato element in your voice. It allowed you to maintain excellent technical control on your voice throughout this song and the softer, gentler dynamics complimented the emotional content of the lyrics. Your technical components were very good and you maintained an even seamless vocal quality throughout your vocal register.
Your second number, What You Won’t Do For Love provided a nice mid-tempo contrast to Open Arms. During this number, your stage movements were effortlessly executed and you had a consistent forward momentum, a vital component in any singer’s performing technique. Your movements have become increasingly refined with each passing week, Elliot, and your more awkward stage movements from your earlier performances were a distant memory.
Your third number, I Believe To My Soul, was your own personal and most challenging song selection. I was so impressed with this song choice, Elliot. It is not a very familiar song, nor is it an easy song. The melodic and rhythmical components were very sophisticated and, while watching you interpret this number, I was moved by the depth of your artistry. I felt that you vocally translated this song in a genuine and authentic manner and your soulful commitment to your music was beautifully revealed. It was an absolutely heartfelt and sincere performance – something we have always come to expect of you, Elliot!
Bravo to you Elliot. This was a wonderful showcase this week!
Critique: Elliot –first of all, let’s talk about the very identifiable vibrato component in your vocal timbre. Over the weeks, I have alternately applauded and then critiqued you on the implementation of this vocal element. Previously, I said that you must have an intermittent approach toward the inclusion of the vibrato element. If not used judiciously and/or secured through the correct diaphragmatic breathing skills, then the vibrations lose control and start to affect the aesthetic quality and the pitch centered security of your vocal performance.
This is why I so enjoyed your first number. You had, perhaps, a more reserved approach to this number in comparison to the other two numbers; however, I felt that, vocally, you sounded more secure and you added just the correct amount of the vibrato component to energize and resonate your natural vocal sound. Additionally, your pitch was excellent and well maintained throughout this performance.
However, in the next two numbers, I felt that the additional stage energy depleted your technical support and, therefore, the vibrato became unfocused, ultimately affecting the pitch- centered security in both numbers. I think the generally louder dynamic of both numbers encouraged you to sing with a less efficient technical approach and, therefore, the vibrato was converted to a tremolo or wobble. Further to this, the enormous amount of energy you exerted on stage caused you to abandon the appropriate amount of control necessary to sustain your technical resources.
You must remember to rehearse your stage movements slowly and methodically, making certain that they are complimenting rather than detracting from your overall vocal performance. It very difficult for all performers to achieve this balance and only time and patience will assist you in correcting this problem, Elliot. However, I still congratulate you on achieving considerable progress in your stage demeanor over the past few weeks. You’re almost there, Elliot, so don’t give up!
Also, although I loved your first number, Open Arms, I think that it would have been a more successful showcase if you had experimented with the melodic line, adding some variation at different points in the song. I felt that your phrasing coupled with your breathing spots were too square and almost predictable. I would have loved to hear you sustain the melodic line in a more inventive and challenging manner. This characteristic would have given the song a forward momentum and a more musical ebb and flow during the performance.
Additionally, always remember to create more space and tempo variation when you perform this or any song Elliot. Let the words dictate where you should breath, how loud or soft you should sing or how fast or slow.
This statement is especially important in the execution of your melismas (riffs and runs). During I Believe To My Soul, I felt that your melismas were not technically controlled and, as a result, the pitch and the clarity of all the notes in the runs were negatively affected. Practice these runs slowly, Elliot, as you would if they were classical runs. Never leave anything to chance. You have, undoubtedly, a natural ability implementing this vocal element, however, the natural ability must be reinforced through the correct diaphragmatic breath support.
Also, be very careful that you maintain relaxed and open facial features when you sing. You already have a consistent level of bel canto approach when sustaining those pure vowels within your lyrics; however, make certain that your facial muscles are continuously relaxed.
A few times during the last two numbers, I noticed tension in your forehead and eyes and this truly inhibits the full complement of your vocal resonation. Your vocal resonators are located in every area of your vocal masque (face) and you must make certain these resonators remain open and free.
Work in front of a mirror Elliot in order to correct this intermittent problem. Most important, watch that upper range – this is where this problem became more apparent. And keep a lookout for your head position as well. Maintain eye contact with your audience and try to abandon your tendency to raise your head as you navigate your upper range. This problematic feature creates tension in the neck area and, additionally, the full complement of your communicative approach is diminished.
However, you have been such a remarkable performer over the course of this competition and it is obvious, in the minds of the viewers, judges and producers alike, that you and your enormously soulful talent, are admired and respected – and justifiably so! Bravo and kudos Elliot for your hard work and distinctive artistry.
Back to Top
Katharine McPhee “I Believe I Can Fly” (R. Kelly),
“Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (Harold Arlen) and “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues”
Strengths: Katharine –this week you highlighted your vocal artistry by showcasing three divergent song compositions. This is what I have come to appreciate and value in your performances each week on American Idol. You have proven, without a doubt, why proper vocal training and appreciation for all genres of music, including the classical genre, are so imperative to a singer’s success. So many of our superstars have reached success as a result of their vocal and/or instrumental training experience, including Elton John, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel and our first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson. So, Katharine, you are skillfully heading in the correct direction, following in the footsteps of many of our greatest musical artists.
Your first number, I Believe I Can Fly was an extremely judicious song choice for you, Katharine, thanks to Clive Davis’ wisdom. It was refreshing to hear a female interpretation of this wonderful song and you had some many wonderful communicative moments throughout this performance. At times, your face radiated the emotional core of the lyrics in an effortless and authentic manner and your charisma was absolutely breathtaking. You maneuvered your trademark melismas (riffs and runs/scale like passages) with wonderful technical control and your pitch, during these sections of the song, was absolute and true.
However, it was your second number, Somewhere Over the Rainbow that stole your portion of this week’s show. Simon Cowell surprisingly and wisely chose an absolute stellar song for your distinctive artistry and vocal talent. I have said repeatedly over the course of this season that you have classical elements within your vocal ability that needed to be challenged and acknowledged. It is because of your classical training that you have been able to separate yourself (in a stylistic manner) from some of the other singers, allowing you to explore repertoire that others would find difficult or foreign to them.
This is one of the most beautiful arrangements of Somewhere Over the Rainbow I have ever heard. Your vocal interpretation, along with your melodic variations, the superb a cappella opening and your exceptional and inspiring communicative delivery, were truly memorable. This arrangement should definitely be recorded and David Foster or Clive Davis need to be involved in the production of said recording.
This phenomenal song performance highlighted the depth and resonance of every area of your vocal range. Your lower, contralto voice sounded rich and robust, with just the correct amount of head tone added to achieve a brighter and radiant vocal sound. I think this was the first time I have been able to enjoy the beauty of your lower voice, Katharine, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Additionally, the interval jumps into your upper classical soprano range were expertly executed. This song performance accentuated a perfect balance between your vocal technique and vocal artistry. It was just a gem of a performance.
Then you ended your showcase with another smart song selection, I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues. I thought this was a wonderful contrast to the other song selections this week and I enjoyed seeing the fun, funky side to your personality. Once again, you exhibited some wonderful stage charisma and your sultry and spunky personality was just the ticket in communicating this great number. You showed great character and personality! Also, I appreciated that, once again, you meticulously rehearsed your stage elements, allowing you to effortlessly move about the stage while still maintaining the correct technical skills to produce your vocal sound. And that upper soprano head voice ending was spectacular and solid.
What an excellent week for you, Katharine! Bravissima!
Critique: Katherine – all of my critique will focus on the specific problems you encountered during your first performance, I Believe I Can Fly. The song started beautifully and I thought to myself: “This is really a beautiful rendition of this soulful number.” Then, when the refrain kicked in, the song, unfortunately, unraveled at the seams, allowing your voice to produce an over abundance of chest sound when you navigated your upper register. Something affected your nerves; it seemed to me that you were having an uncomfortable moment at the beginning of the refrain, ”I believe I can fly…..”. I don’t know whether you forgot your words or lost your train of thought, but whatever the reason, you looked uncomfortable and that discomfort translated to an aggressive and over pumped vocal sound throughout the remainder of the song.
Regardless of the reason, the song lacked the correct emotional definition and, I feel, disrupted what started out to be a soulfully sincere and vocally correct performance. However, what was more important this week, as opposed to last week, is that you did NOT let this less successful performance negatively affect the remaining two performances of the evening and for this you are to be applauded. So, good for you for jumping back on the horse and rendering two brilliant performances later on in the show.
Your other two songs were just fantastic and, even though a couple of the judges didn’t find your last song correct for your vocal style, nevertheless you performed this bluesy number extremely well. Although I still prefer your sensitivity and artistry when performing in the classical pop genre, you did prove that you have the depth and talent to translate your classical pop sound to other genres of music.
Congratulations and kudos once again, Katharine!
Back to Top
Taylor Hicks: “Dancing In The Dark”(Bruce Springsteen), “You Are So Beautiful” (Joe Cocker> and “Try A Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding)
Strengths: Taylor –this week, you executed the triple home run of this competition. All your song selections were distinctly diverse – in tempo and in style – and you proved that you are more than just a song and dance man. You are first and foremost an artist in touch with his feelings and the soul of his music.
Your first selection, a Bruce Springsteen classic, was expertly chosen by the legendary Clive Davis and approved for your performance by the man himself, Bruce Springsteen. What an exciting opportunity for you and, as usual, you took full advantage of this golden opportunity and expertly weaved your vocal magic and charisma in your personal interpretation of this song. Your voice sounded beautifully energized by the powerful rhythmic components of this song and I loved the numerous communicative aspects you employed throughout this number.
You have such a raw intensity when you perform, Taylor and your ability to internalize every emotional aspect of every song has not gone unnoticed. It seems that each song you perform is a different scene in your performing act and, therefore, your approach is always different and totally unpredictable. We never know what to expect and that’s what makes you so very special as a performer.
Therefore, your astounding rendition of “You Are So Beautiful” was quite possibly one of the highlights of this entire competition. The simplicity of the lyrical and melodic content actually challenged you as a singer to communicate with your heart and soul. Songs such as this Joe Cocker classic are deceptively difficult, as the singer must bare his essence – his soul –to translate the song effectively and meaningfully to his audience.
No one does this better than you, Taylor, and this song catapulted you to a level that is reserved for only the very best and inspiring artists. What you did with this song, how you emoted, how you added inflection and nuance in all the right places is something that even the best teachers in the world cannot teach. This is a simple and true fact. Yes, you could benefit with some solid technical lessons, but all singers need this. However no one should ever tamper with your ability to interpret your song material. You w ere born with the correct artistic instincts. It is a gift, Treasure it always.
Vocally, your voice never sounded better than during the performance of this number and your whiskey tenor voice enjoyed a purer and more resonant vocal quality than was heard in your opening number. And that head tone segment in this song was absolutely stellar. Never abandon this head tone element in other areas of your vocal register, Taylor, as it will continue to add a brighter and more radiant vocal quality to your voice. It’s all about bel canto technique, baby, so use it judiciously and you will never look back.
You ended your showcase this week with the much anticipated version of Try A Little Tenderness. I loved the arrangement of this song, Taylor. You started off with a slow, straightforward vocal statement and then, 30 seconds into the song, put your vocal gears in reverse and kicked the song up a few 100 notches or so. This song melded the best of both of your worlds – Taylor the poignant and sensitive artist and Taylor the energetic and charismatic entertainer. You gave us everything you had, Taylor, leaving no stone unturned. Believe me, there were no regrets or cards left on the table after this performance. This was a brilliant arrangement and a brilliant performance and well worth the wait.
You have earned your place in the Finale, Taylor. Bravissimo and thank you for rocking our world!
Critique: Taylor –you are an instinctive and creative performer and no one can ever nor should they ever undermine your unique artistic gifts. However, over the course of your illustrious career you must make certain that you treasure and protect your wonderful vocal gift to the music world.
Referencing your first song selection this week, Dancing In the Dark, I felt that there were intermittent technical problems because you were exerting so much energy on stage. Generally, your voice sounded wonderful, but, toward the end of this number, between running up and down from the stage, dancing with Paula and then returning to the stage, I could hear the breathless quality in your vocal sound. This was expected and I fully appreciated the entertainment value of what you accomplished throughout this number.
However, you must make absolutely certain that the technical foundation for your voice is intact, so that there is never any evidence of strain or tension in the production of your vocal sound. Additionally, you want to make certain that you can control the quality of your voice when you exhibit your energetic stage movements. Try to strike a balance between your choreographic elements and your vocal elements and never leave anything to chance.
The same problem occurred, but to a lesser extent, in your final number, Try A Little Tenderness. I think toward the end of this song, you became a little over pumped and your ending wasn’t as solid as expected. The final notes on the word tenderness were just a bit overdone I thought, but it made me laugh nonetheless because you are such a passionate and enthusiastic performer. I think this is where your genuine personality works in your favor; your fans root for you because you treasure them so much and this will take you a very long way in your performing career. In the end, vocal perfection will take a back seat to a sincere and genuine personality any day, but never lose contact with the correct technical approach to your vocal production.
Also, you should explore the lower range of your vocal register. I feel that you have a rich and resonant timbre in your baritone range, similar to what we heard from Elvis in his later years. His earliest recordings highlighted his tenor range and this is what we are hearing from you as well Taylor. However, take a listen to his later recordings and you will see that the key signature of his songs were significantly lower and continued on this path with the passage of time.
If you follow this path, you will open up a whole new avenue of song repertoire possibilities and will expand the depth and potential of your stellar vocal talent. Additionally, you will avoid the danger of over stating and exerting the upper range during your performances.
However your hard work coupled with your musical gifts ensured your place in this year’s Finale – plus the Soul Patrol delivered as promised. Bravo to you and to them. See you next week, Taylor and, once again, congratulations on such a stellar showcase this week.
Back to Top
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!