American Idol Season Six: Vocal Masterclass For The Top 8 Male Performances
By: Rosanne Simunovic
For two of these young singers, this will be the end of their performing experience on American Idol. However, I am certain that this level of experience and audience exposure will fortify their future success, as they pursue other avenues on which to build their musical dreams and aspirations.
This week, the nervous energy emanating from the television screen was palpable. Collectively, the singers were not on top of their game, making unwise song selections, exposing faulty technical performances and lacking in artistic confidence and poise. Some fared better than others, but suffice it to say that I did not leave the hour long show with a sense of the “wow factor. Some came close, but, as the saying goes, no cigar!
Here are my evaluations and, remember, I am reviewing each singer in performance order. Your comments are always welcome.
BLAKE LEWIS: ALL MIXED UP
Blake – your performances never disappoint me and this week was no exception. I have never heard this song, yet I loved it. It was perfect for you and I was thoroughly entertained throughout this all too brief performance. The performance was fluid and relaxed and you conveyed a confident and energetic demeanor throughout this infectious song.
As you indicated in your lyrics, there was a little reggae, hip hop and beat boxing mixed in with some wonderfully sustained melodic singing. All of these stylistic elements emphasized the depth and scope of your musical intelligence. Stylistically, you rendered an absolutely believable performance that was rhythmically secure and meticulously well paced. You exuded a strong sense of control in this performance, both in voice and in movement.
You have a very current sound yet there is a strong technical approach that forms the basis of this modern style. How I wish there was more of this approach in the vocal renderings of some of our biggest modern singing artists! Perhaps you will start a new trend. (chuckle)
Your vocal timbre has a shimmering timbre that hints at a touch of vibrato. This vibrato element is important in adding a distinctive quality to any singer’s voice, as long as it is controlled through the correct technical process. You seem to understand this Blake and I would love to see you perform songs that will further highlight this element of your voice, as you did in your Top 12 performance. What I have come to love from your performances is the entertainment aspect that is at the core of each showcase.
Keep varying the song selection process and I foresee great success for you as you move ahead into the coveted Top 12 singers of American Idol Season Six.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE
Sanjaya –once again you exuded a genuine and calm demeanor throughout this performance. You have a beautifully developed voice for your young age, but there is still so much more there that needs to be refined and polished.
As I mentioned over the last two weeks, you must continue to work on a more cohesive and consistent technical support for your vocal sound. I felt that your voice sounded so one -dimensional this week and your lack of energy and commitment to the entire performance was indicative of your young age and your lack of experience.
You must make a sound commitment toward developing your vocal technique. This is the only way to expand on your current vocal ability and to discover the true dynamic range in your voice.
Presently, your mouth is in a horizontal position when you sing and this encourages a weak, poorly focused vocal sound that lacks brilliance and pitch centered purity. And, that being said, you did indeed encounter many pitch problems throughout this song, particularly during the last 15 seconds of this number. Make certain that your mouth maintains a circular position on all the vowels. This will allow your diaphragmatic muscles to work efficiently in an effort to place and resonate your voice freely in your vocal masque.
Once you grasp the benefits of vocal technique, then your performance technique will also improve. This week, you appeared very tentative throughout this number and all of this can be eliminated, Sanjaya, if you place yourself in the hands of a really good voice technician and voice coach.
I hope this advice assists you, as you have great potential. Now you have to further develop the skills to realize this potential. Good luck!
SUNDANCE HEAD: JEREMY
Sundance – I feel that you are becoming increasingly confident on the Idol stage. You have a prominent voice that, when secured with correct technical support, is fluently resonant and rich.
However, this week, you were really pushing the rustic vocals to the point that the melodic line of the song was audibly eradicated. Additionally, there was so much chest sound invading your entire vocal range, that the inherent beauty of your natural voice lacked clarity and presence. You needed to add more head tone (falsetto element) in the vocalization process, thus allowing your voice to sound more alive, less constricted and pitch perfect. Your pitch did indeed sound problematic throughout, showcasing the fact that the diaphragmatic breathing process was not accessed in a consistent manner.
I would advise you to practice these up- tempo songs at a very slow pace, in order to solidify the vocalization process. By doing so, the technical pitfalls will become blatantly evident and then you can work to correct them at this leisurely pace. Then, when you slowly bring the song back to the correct tempo, your muscles will be accustomed to supporting your voice in the correct manner, as you have already isolated the problematic areas of this song through careful and methodical attention.
Additionally the slower paced rehearsal methods will be beneficial to the refinement of your stage technique. Remember – slow is good and it will assist you in creating well – paced, technically solid and artistically convincing performances.
CHRIS RICHARDSON: TONIGHT I WANNA CRY
Chris –this song selection was a huge surprise for me. Yet, I won’t complain. I loved it. This was an excellent song choice at this stage of the competition. You wanted to showcase to your audience that you were not a one trick pony and you have many different components to your unique artistry. Bravo. Just brilliant!
The slower paced ballad allowed me to appreciate the lovely timbre of your voice. You have it happening Chris! Now what you must do is really work on some technical fundamentals to assist you in developing and honing a wider dynamic scope in your vocal production.
Therefore, make certain that you are accessing the diaphragmatic breathing muscles when you sing. Allow those very powerful, very strong muscles to place and focus your vocal sound in your vocal masque (facial features). Breathe deeply and freely and then flex those rib cage muscles to release the appropriate amount of air needed to create a beautifully resonant vocal sound, whether loud or soft.
Also, watch that spread, horizontal mouth position. Your mouth should adopt a circular position when you sustain your vowels, even and especially when sustaining the “ee” and “eh” vowels. Additionally, your jaw must be relaxed and ready to drop as you move into your upper range. You will notice a huge difference in the quality of your voice – it will sound exceedingly rich, more resonant and your pitch will be centered and true.
Finally, articulate those consonants in a clear and precise manner. Allow the consonants to act as a springboard to the vowels. By doing so you will infuse more communicative energy into your song performance while ensuring that the technique is still front and center.
JARED COTTER: IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME
Jared- this is a very difficult song and I applaud you for selecting it. The variation in the tempos throughout this song really allowed you to showcase the extent of your vocal ability. I thought you handled the tempo changes very well and, whoever worked with you on this abbreviated arrangement, did a superb job of compacting so much variety in such a short time period.
As always, you treated us with a delightfully energetic performance and, despite all the negative comments from the judging panel, I thought your vocals, overall, were solid and smooth.
However, along the way, you did encounter some important technical issues that you need to address sooner than later. Similar to last week’s performance, your voice sounded intermittently strained and constricted. You have to be very careful that your mouth maintains a circular position when you sustain your vowels, because, presently, you still are adopting a spread, horizontal position when you sing. This stretched formation does not enhance the resonant beauty of your vocal sound and, also, it impedes the efficiency of the diaphragmatic breathing process.
Also, make sure you work on expanding the development of your dynamic range, i.e.: the ability to sing expressively, alternating soft and loud vocals. Both dynamic levels of singing must be produced with technical intensity, balancing the head and chest voice in a judicious and consistent manner throughout your vocal range.
However, I thought you were much better this week when phrasing your melodic line. There was a forward momentum to your showcase that I felt was lacking in last week’s showcase, so I hope this improvement is indicative of more to come in the growth of your technical proficiency.
BRANDON ROGERS: I JUST WANT TO CELEBRATE
Brandon – you have excellent choreographic skills. This week, you moved easily and smoothly on the Idol stage, highlighting your confidence and experience as an excellent performer. Your stage demeanor was very believable and you exuded a self-assured and poised deportment throughout this performance. This has never been a problematic area for you, Brandon. You are a rhythmically secure singer and you have innate communicative abilities.
Now, you have to work on solidifying those vocals. That covered quality in your vocal timbre really worries me, Brandon. I can understand that, perhaps, this was born of necessity in order to achieve a smooth consistency when you were singing back up vocals. However, you are now a front man and your have to establish a greater vocal identity when you perform.
You have to work on developing a very disciplined approach to the art of singing. Make certain that you are allowing the diaphragm to fully support your vocal sound. Breathe deeply, expanding the muscles below your waist and then, when you begin to sing, allow these same muscles – back and front – to contract in an effort to release the appropriate amount of air needed to produce a clear, perfectly centered vocal sound.
Furthermore, make certain that your mouth behaves and maintains a circular position on all the vowels, thus ensuring a rich, ringing vocal timbre. Also, the head voice component must be factored into the vocal mix. Too much chest voice does not make for a beautiful singing experience; there must be a balance of both.
Finally, I felt that this particular song did not challenge your vocal ability. The melodic line was extremely limited and, thus, did not allow you to impress the “wow” factor on the viewing audience. Choose your songs wisely, Brandon, and, in doing so, make certain to work extremely hard to distinguish your new role as a lead vocalist.
PHIL STACEY: I NEED YOU
Phil- your voice, when utilized correctly, is very solid and concrete. There is a beautiful timbre to your voice, particularly when you allow the head tone component to resonate with technical freedom. That being said, this was the best part of this week’s performance – your wonderful falsetto entry in the middle of this song. It was accurate and smooth and the pitch was secured with technical confidence.
However, the rest of the song was, unfortunately, neglected. First of all, this is a technically difficult song to perform. Those wicked interval jumps can be a singer’s downfall if the singer is not able to navigate them with technical assurance.
You encountered this and many other problems during the course of this song, Phil. You needed to further utilize the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to resonate your vocal sound in an even and smooth manner, particularly in these melodically busy sections of this song. When you moved into your upper range, you raised your head and your throat was very constricted, thus closing off the head tone component in your voice. The upper body has to remain relaxed and free; it’s the lower body that should be working to solidify strong and formidable vocals.
Also, you must make certain to maintain circular uniformity in your mouth position, particularly the more unpleasant vowels such as “ay” and “ee”. Your mouth adopted a smiling position when you vocalized the word “rain”, thus allowing the messy diphthong in this word to emaciate your vocal sound. Remember to sustain on the pure vowel within your lyrics; the “ay” diphthong” should be sustained on the “eh” vowel. This simplifies and beautifies the singing process, as it fortifies the pitch -centered clarity of your voice.
Choose your songs wisely, Phil. Don’t select songs that are, presently, beyond the scope of your technical abilities. Technique takes time and patience to develop, so select songs that allow you to sing with ease and freedom, while at the same time showcasing flawless technical preparation.
CHRIS SLIGH: I WANNA BE LOVED
Chris – once again, you selected a song that highlighted the inherent muscular timbre of your vocal quality. You have also been very astute in selecting the appropriate key for your song, as your voice has sounded extremely comfortable throughout the scope of the melodic line in each of your song selections. You possess very serious vocal skills Chris that I expect to be increasingly evident as this competition unfolds.
I loved the bluesy nature of this song – so appropriate for your distinctive singing style. Additionally, this week, your mouth was behaving and maintained a circular formation on those sustained pure vowels. This not only afforded a smooth and seamless vocal texture to your voice, but also emphasized the full extent of your dynamic range. Your vocal sound always maintained a rich, airless quality through the dynamic level of this song.
However, I felt that you were lacking some communicative elements within this performance. Your voice is beautiful, but you must work very hard to internalize the emotional sentiment of this and future song selections. I expect that you were very nervous, given the nature of this competition. Hopefully, given time and opportunity, you will set aside your nervous feelings and just allow yourself to enter the poetic depth of your song selections. Then I am sure that your vocal performances will take on a renewed sense of energy and direction, thus elevating the performances to the superior level.
We need and crave memorable presentations not only from you, Chris, but also from all the male singers.