By: Rosanne SimunovicAnd so, another season begins! Welcome back everyone! This is the first time I have analyzed the Top 24 contenders for American Idol, therefore the format will be quite different than the one used for the Top 12 Finalists. Due to time constraints, the “strengths” and “critique” portions of the individual masterclass assessment of the Top 24 singers will be combined in one abbreviated evaluation. The longer, more familiar, format will be in place for the Top 12 Finalists.
So, without further delay, let us move on and see what worked and what didn’t during this week’s initial performances. Singers are critiqued in performance order.
Rudy – I thought that you exuded great energy during your 90- second showcase. Additionally, it never is easy to be the first competitor of the new season of Idol, so I give you kudos for starting off the initial Top 24 show with professionalism and confidence.
However, you vocal timbre in your upper register has great potential, Rudy, but it sounded very compressed, lacking the freedom that comes from consistent diaphragmatic support. You did, however, glue your vocal sound to the pure vowels in your lyrics and that was a definite plus. However, in doing so, you abandoned the necessary articulation of the consonants and therefore the clarity of the lyrics was sacrificed. Consonants must be articulated quickly and in a vertical movement, as a springboard for placing the vowels properly in the vocal masque.
Brandon – the opening strains of your number were mesmerizing to visualize and hear. Your charisma and vocal presence were outstanding and there was a haunting quality to your performance that made me listen with great anticipation of what was to follow. You exuded a confident and relaxed charisma, which complimented your natural stage technique. It was quite evident that you are very comfortable on the stage and you were one of the few performers that used the television camera successfully to communicate efficiently with your viewing audience.
I do agree with the judges, however, that you must work on creating a stronger vocal presence with your voice. You are accustomed to singing back up and, in doing so, have developed a soft, sultry quality to your voice that is necessary for this type of singing.
However, we need to hear Brandon the soloist now. You must work on creating a seamless melodic line, allowing your voice to sustain properly on the pure vowels, fortified by energetic and consistent diaphragmatic support. By doing so, you will develop a more resonant and distinct vocal timbre.
Sundance – you have a significantly resonant voice, but I have a feeling that your confidence level is not as established. You appear to be a nice, genuine person and that is always a plus in the music world. It allows you to develop a natural and sincere rapport with your audience and that is absolutely imperative to succeed as a performer.
Now, you must find a way to raise your confidence level and, in doing so, many of your technical problems will disappear. I felt you were over pumped for this performance – pushing your vocal sound beyond the bounds of what was aesthetically pleasing to the ear. In doing so, you encountered innumerable pitch problems and your lack of a solid technical support created a non- seamless quality throughout your vocal range. Your lower range lacked focus and intensity, while your upper range had intermittent problems with placement and focus.
Also, be very careful, Sundance, that you completely sustain your lyrics on the vowels, not the consonants. Many times, you were hastily closing your vocal sound on the vowel and attempting to sustain your voice on the consonants within your lyrics. This detracted from the forward momentum of your vocal line and the consistent level of diaphragmatic support.
Paul – like Sundance, you have a very genuine demeanor and a tangible and innate sensitivity as an artist. However, your stage demeanor was very stiff. You need to really work at refining your choreographic elements so that they compliment and energize your vocal performance. Additionally, that right arm was working overtime, conducting your performance. Be very careful to avoid miscellaneous movements that interfere with the natural flow of your stage movements.
You, as well, need to work at refining your vocal technique. Presently, your voice has a very light, unfocused quality that lacks presence and resonation. You need to work on establishing the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, coupled with relaxed facial features, circular mouth on all the vowels – the whole nine yards. In doing so you will increase the quality and dynamic range in your voice.
Chris –you had great energy on the stage this week. However, like Paul, the repetitive stage movements – in your case, the bopping up and down – must disappear sooner than later. This technical flaw is not easy to erase, but erase you must, as it is distracting and consumes energy that needs to be used for the correct technical support.
You have great potential as an artist; it is clearly evident. You love to perform and you love your audience. However, you vocal technique needs to be deeply refined, as presently, your vocal timbre is very spread and lacks focus and resonance.
Try to sing with a circular mouth on all the vowels and allow the diaphragmatic rib cage muscles to control and focus your vocal sound in your vocal masque (facial features). I know that you will be very pleased with the results, but it does take practice and commitment, so persevere and take small, gradual steps in establishing a more pleasing and resonant vocal sound.
Nick – you are this year’s whiskey tenor, similar to Taylor Hick’s vocal timbre. Additionally, you are a naturally communicative performer and I appreciated your efforts to establish rapport with the television and viewing audience. Good on you.
The opening of your number was excellent and then, it seemed that you lost adrenaline as time went on. Like so many of the other performers, you didn’t properly pace yourself throughout the 90 second showcase and therefore, encountered technical problems at the 45 second mark or so. Your pitch became problematic, indicating that you were not accessing the strength of your diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
You must make certain that, given the naturally veiled quality of your smoky voice, you support your voice in the correct technical manner, so that the true resonant quality of your natural vocal timbre can shine. Also, in doing so, your voice will be more centered and consistent. Keep your mouth circular on all the vowels and sustain on one pure vowel within each of your words. This will add depth and brilliance to your vocal sound.
Blake – I felt that you exuded great confidence and professionalism throughout your song performance. You are an individual and the only contestant, thus far, that looks thoroughly ready to secure a place in the Top 12 Finale.
Your voice presented itself with pitch perfect clarity and you were securing your beautiful vocal timbre with good technical support. You are an individual and have a distinct style that is both refreshing and exciting to hear and watch. You worked all the camera angles exceedingly well and your stage persona was relaxed and communicative. It was just a wonderful first performance, Blake, and I loved the song choice very much.
Just one thought: be careful not to raise your head as you sing into your upper range. It is a technical flaw that inhibits the full compliment of your vocal sound and causes unnecessary tension in the upper body; additionally, you lose eye contact with your audience.
Sanjaya –you are the baby of the group. You are a sweet and accommodating performer and that smile of yours is killer. I absolutely loved your vocal tone during this initial performance and, with time, your voice will become more resonant and richer. For a 17 year- old singer, you have a beautifully developed voice; further depth and resonance comes with age, experience and hard work.
You had a natural ease and charisma when you performed which will continue to be important as you advance in your singing career. However, what you need to work on is a more energetic and consistent technical support for your vocal sound. Additionally, your stage movements need refinement and sophistication, all of which, if you apply yourself, will come with practice and experience.
Never underestimate the value of vocal technique. When you adhere to the elements that are part of the bel canto vocal regime, your confidence level will increase, your dynamic and vocal range will expand and you will open up more possibilities in which to expand your vocal repertoire.
Chris – you have a wonderful vocal gift that has obviously been honed and crafted through classical voice training. Your technical control and stage choreography were spot on and you looked confident and self-assured throughout your performance.
At times, however, I felt that your vocal timbre sounded strained in your upper register and, that coupled with some nasal tone, addressed a level of tension in your vocal production. Always allow the diaphragmatic muscles to support and focus your vocal sound and don’t ever push your vocal sound from the throat muscles. Allow the throat to remain free and open – thoroughly unobstructed.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed those beautifully sustained pure vowels and this added to the ringing presence of your vocal sound.
Finally, watch the off stage post-performance banter, Chris. It detracted from what was a very professional performance and, in my mind, obliterated the fine work you did while on stage.
Jared- you struck me as a very intelligent performer, both on and off stage. I venture to think that you are one of Idol’s best-kept secret, along with your female counterpart, Leslie Hunt. You exuded a beautiful vocal timbre, especially in your lower range.
However, be ever so careful to correctly support your upper range, as it sounded quite strained throughout your showcase this week. Yet, the falsetto section of this song was absolutely brilliant, very clear and actually quite resonant, which indicated that there was some level of correct support and vocal placement at this section of the song. This is what you need to do when you navigate your normal tenor range.
You exhibited a confident stage demeanor and I see a high level of potential as your move forward in this competition.
A.J.- this was a performance loaded with high energy and you have excellent communicative skills as a performer. I particularly loved your choreographic stage skills; they seemed effortless and meticulously rehearsed.
Your voice, however, needs to be nurtured with the proper technique. I felt that your vocal timbre lacked a resonant and ringing timbre, which diminished its distinctiveness. You must learn sooner than later that vocal technique is imperative if you wish to expand your vocal capabilities.
You have a beautiful voice; there is no doubt about this. But you have to continue to work on your diaphragmatic breath support, allowing your vocal sound to be placed freely in your vocal masque. Aim your sound forward, toward your facial features and make certain that you keep your mouth circular as you sustain your melodic line on the pure vowels in your lyrics.
Phil- you have a solid voice and, additionally, your exuded a strong presence on stage this week. You had a confident demeanor in voice and body and exhibited a high degree of professionalism throughout your performance.
You emoted your lyrics in a sensitive and sincere manner, Phil. The communicative aspects of your song were so well done. You are a genuine artist and this characteristic will carry you far in the music world.
Vocally, be certain that you support your lower range with the same level of technique that you so obviously use when singing into your upper range. Just glue your voice to those vowels and feel the sound vibrating in the front of your mouth.
That’s it – longer than I thought everybody. Now, on to the Top 12 ladies.