By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week’s guest mentor, Gwen Stefani, coached our final ten singers as they continued their Idol journey toward the American Idol crown. The selected songs featured Gwen’s favorite artists, those who inspired and influenced her in her musical career
Generally speaking, the singers showed a glimmer of personality during their individual showcases, something that has been missing in this year’s group of American Idol finalists. Also, I thought that many of these singers were evolving into very fine, extremely promising young performers, surprising us with their versatility and ability to adapt to a variety of vocal styles.
However, song choice was the key issue this week-it was “make or break” situation for all of these performers. Some singers really understood the importance of the song selection process and it made all the difference in the credibility of their showcase.
Here are my evaluations and, remember, I am reviewing each singer in (first name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome.
To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.
Blake Lewis: “Love Song” by The Cure
Strengths: Blake – I loved the sustained, hushed intensity at the beginning of this song, paving the way for a slightly more resonant vocal sound later on in this number. This is what good singing is all about – providing dynamic contrast and speech like inflection. There is no other way to communicate lyrics when you sing; they have to sound convincing and the passion must be internalized. Therefore, to some extent, I think you really understood this vocal principle, Blake.
As in other weeks, you have stayed very true to the bel canto method of maintaining a circular mouth position on your vowels. This made such an impact on the clarity and ring of your voice and, additionally ensured the pitch- centered beauty of your voice throughout your light tenor range.
Once again, you stayed loyal to your artistic vision and never wavered from your personal American Idol agenda this week. You have an esoteric approach toward your music that I truly love, but be very careful with song selection in the future. You are walking a very fine line here between bringing something totally unique to the Idol stage and isolating a higher demography of fans.
Critique: Blake – I already touched on song selection in the “Strengths” portion of this evaluation. There are positives and negatives assigned to your approach and, in the future, I would be very wary of the negatives
Also, where was the beat boxing this week? Gwen Stefani referenced that you would be implementing this skillful element, but, come show time, it was not a happening thing. Have you been reading the message boards? If you have, then stay away and focus on what you feel is intuitively correct for you. In many ways, the song sounded figuratively flat – it was repetitive, lacking in a high degree of vocal dimension and inflection. If you felt the need to eliminate the beat boxing, then some melodic variation would have been the ticket for this song. Anything to recharge the momentum!
Your voice did not have the same level of energy that is customarily present when you mix in a dash of beat boxing or scat. It almost seemed that you were singing outside of your comfort zone and your eyes communicated this fact. You looked distracted, almost thinking too much as you performed. Part of me wondered if you made last minute changes to the song, as your face and your demeanor appeared distracted and anxious.
Also, be very careful to watch your head position when you sing into your upper range. You have a tendency to raise your head and, in so doing, cause considerable vocal tension and loss of eye contact with your television and live audience.
Think down when moving through your upper range. It actually is beneficial to bend the knees slightly, as this encourages the soft palate to remain elevated and the diaphragmatic breathing muscles to connect with greater ease and efficiency. Presently, you are not using those breathing muscles in a strong and disciplined manner. They have to flex and contract as you sing and, if this is not happening, then you must correct and improve on this very important technical regime.
Good luck in your future performances, Blake and I am still waiting for that a cappella beat boxing number I mentioned in last week’s vocal masterclass session.
Chris Richardson : “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.
Strengths: Chris –I really enjoyed this song selection, as it allowed you to focus and project your voice with an increased level of technical efficiency. The energetic nature of this song was successfully transferred to your vocal sound and, as a result, your vocal timbre was less nasal and more dynamic than last week’s performance.
As the buoyant tempo of this song added muscle and depth to your vocal timbre, it also encouraged you to articulate your words with precision and dexterity, thus enhancing the overall dynamic level of your voice. When consonants and vowels merge with perfect symmetry, the result is an enhanced vocal sound that has presence and intensity.
You looked relaxed and confident throughout this number and, overall, this was a concrete showcase.
Critique: Chris – many of the problems you experienced last week were not as evident this week and you can thank your wise decision in the song selection process for this level of improvement. The upbeat tempo encouraged your diaphragmatic breathing muscles to work in a more consistent manner, lending energy and focus to your overall vocal projection.
However, your mouth position still retained that inefficient horizontal formation and, as a result, your voice was still lacking the pitch-centered ring that comes from a circular mouth formation on all the vowels. Presently, we are only hearing a fraction of your natural singing voice and I hope you will continue to work on the precise placement of your voice when you sing.
We didn’t hear as much nasal tone this week and this was super. It seems that you are really trying to avoid this negative technical problem. However, nasal resonance is a good thing and comes from the added security of supporting your voice from the diaphragm, while keeping the soft palate elevated and the facial muscles free and open for the resonation process.
I believe if you continue to develop your voice through the correct technical process, your voice will attain a pleasingly bright timbre and you will expand your singing range, thus opening more doors in the song selection process. More important, you will add dimension and a wide range of color to your vocal timbre. Presently, your color is too “white” and your vocal color palette will only increase when you allow the diaphragmatic breathing process, in combination with the correct mouth and jaw placement, to take the reins while singing. Hope this helps, Chris!
CHRIS SLIGH: “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by the Police
Strengths: Chris – although you were clearly at odds with the song selection this week, what did ring true and clear was the natural beauty of your vocal talent. It seems that nothing – not even an uninspired song selection – can eliminate the strength and power of your vocal ability. You have an absolutely precious vocal gift that has obviously been augmented and refined through the correct technical process.
I thought that you moved with reasonable ease and comfort throughout this performance and your voice sounded energized and focused. You picked the right key for this song, one that highlighted the ringing timbre of your tenor voice.
Now, if it had only been the right song! Darn you, Chris!
Critique: Chris – I am confused. This song was obviously causing you to have sleepless nights and frayed nerves, so why run with it? There were so many songs from which to choose, so why select a song that, from the outset, was going to cause you rhythmic difficulties? Who made you do this, Chris? Names please! (smile)
Also, I didn’t get the whole “I wasn’t in the pocket”, since most of time you were. It was during the slower sections of the song that the rhythm seemed off. Could you hear the band? Could the band hear you?
Were the monitors working? So many unanswered questions here.
Also, when you walked across the stage, you should have done so rhythmically, similar to Melinda’s successful choreographic strut. It would have reinforced the rhythmic drive of this song and, if given the time to practice the stage movements in an efficient and unhurried manner, I believe you would have nailed this problem to the floor.
Next time, ask for the percussion track and practice the choreographic and vocal elements to the percussion track only. The percussive elements form the basis for this song – or any song –and by integrating the basic beat into your rehearsal regime, you should be able to solidify the rhythmic structure of the song composition in your mind and body.
I hope this helps, Chris. Best of luck in the future!
GINA GLOCKSEN: “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders
Strengths: Gina- this was an inspired song choice and, personally, it was one of the best performances this week. Also, I feel, as did Simon, that this was indeed your best performance to date.
All the performing and vocal elements were researched with the highest care and the result was a nearly impeccable performance. Certainly, it was extremely memorable.
First of all, this particular song provided superb contrast to your previous performances, as it allowed you to expose your vulnerability and sincerity as a performer. This fact enabled you to connect more genuinely with the live and television audience, allowing you to leave a positive and explicit impact on the fans and judges. You are in this competition for the long run and, given the excellence of this week’s performance, you truly deserve it.
Additionally, you wisely chose a superb key for this song, as your mid and lower range moved easily throughout the melodic line – except for a couple of abbreviated examples that I will discuss in the critique portion of this evaluation.
The correct singing range in the melodic line is something that some of the other singers haven’t quite realized and, thus, some are struggling unnecessarily with their vocal performances. But not Gina! No more upper range nonsense for you – it’s all about exposing and highlighting the natural beauty of your lower and mid range and this is why you have given successful performances over the past few weeks.
Your mezzo soprano voice sounded luscious and velvety and your technical support, coupled with you ability to retain a circular mouth position on the sustained vowels, added to the depth and richness of your vocal timbre throughout this number.
Bravissima, Gina! Please keep up the wonderful work!
Critique: Gina – we have spoken about the natural resilience and beauty of your mid and lower range. However, this week, you had to take an abbreviated vocal journey to the upper part of your range and the difference in the quality of your sound was quite noticeable.
You still haven’t become comfortable with the support process when singing through your upper range. The technique, actually, is still the same, but the overall sound has to retain a higher level of head voice and less chest voice in order to ensure a clear, pitch centered and ringing vocal sound. You allowed your rib cage muscles to collapse and the result was an airy, emaciated vocal quality.
Make certain that you are projecting, and therefore resonating, your voice in your vocal masque throughout every part of your range. As you move higher, the sound must vibrate in the top half of the face – thus ensuring the addition of head voice. Also, the face muscles must be relaxed– especially the eyes and forehead.
Finally, you had a bit of a crack happening later on this song. Your voice may have been tired, but also, it could have been a support/placement issue. Although you are in your comfort zone when vocalizing in your low range, make sure that the support is a consistent and cohesive process. I think you may have pushed the chest voice beyond the bounds of a freely produced vocal sound and, hence, the crack in your voice ensued.
However, despite the two very minor problems, this was still a very strong and convincing performance. Congratulations once again.
Haley Scarnato: “True Colors” by Cindy Lauper
Strengths: Haley – as always, you radiated a beautiful demeanor on stage and I appreciated the fact that you changed up the mood and tempo from last week’s presentation. I loved the acoustic guitar accompaniment; it created the right ambience for this song and the light timbre of your voice melded beautifully with the arrangement. Also, the sustained note on the word “afraid” was an excellent call. It added some level of variety to the original melody.
However, you encountered numerous mishaps during this week’s showcase and I will critique them in a way that I hope will assist you in the future.
Critique: Haley – I was thoroughly confused throughout this performance, as this was not the voice I heard during the Top 24 showcase. Where is the vibrato? Where is the clarity and ring? Somewhere along the way to the Top 10, you seemed to lose whatever level of technique you originally brought to this competition.
I thought that, generally, your voice sounded unbalanced throughout this performance. First of all, your lower range was poorly supported, lacking in intensity and focus. You must make certain that the lower notes are diaphragmatically supported in an efficient and cohesive manner, blending both the appropriate amount of head and chest voice into the vocalization process. This would ensure the appropriate resonation of your mid and upper range, creating a seamless, legato sound throughout.
Also, your lack of strong technical skills left your voice poorly centered and lacking in the essential head tone to create a pure, pitch centered vocal sound in every part of your range. Therefore, the pitch problems ensued periodically. Also, your voice was lacking in dimension and color, something that only technique can achieve with stellar results.
Additionally, I felt that the rhythmic background of the song didn’t gel with your vocals – it really went askew in some parts. Perhaps, in an effort to vary the melodic line, the original flow of the song was compromised. You would have been wise to follow Gwen Stefani’s advice and keep it simple. Although I love to hear melodic variation, I don’t like to hear it at the expense of the overall musicality of a song performance. It makes no sense. So, remember to rehearse these creative passages judiciously – leave nothing to chance. If it doesn’t work, eliminate it or else try to fix the problem.
I hope all of these suggestions help as you move forward in your performing career. It was my original impression that you brought something very special and unique to this competition and I still believe with proper technical study and studious preparation to detail, the core of your vocal talent will resurface.
JORDIN SPARKS: “Hey Baby” by No Doubt
Strengths: Jordin – this was a radical change from last week’s dramatic performance yet every bit as good. Although it wasn’t your most challenging song selection, it showcased another side to your personality –the fun loving, spirited and enthusiastic demeanor we commonly associate when we think of the adolescent years. Although the melodic line was very repetitive and cyclic, you added great dimension and depth to this song, melding the vocal and choreographic elements with great style and finesse.
As always, your voice was technically secure and your breathing skills were never compromised during this very energetic number. You obviously rehearsed your stage movements in a way that did not compromise your singing skills and this level of preparation ensured a secure, convincing performance.
I was happy that you performed this number, if only to convince the voting audience that you are a very hip, absolutely trendy performer. You can be a drama queen and a dancing queen in the time span of one week! How great is that? Brava Jordin.
Critique: Jordin –my only concern this week was the fact that I thought the key of this song was too low. When you sang within your lower range, you were really stretching the comfort level of your natural singing voice. Usually, singers do not support this part of their range as they should and this can be the reason why the lower notes are less resonant.
However, in your case, it was more a matter of selecting the wrong key. If you had transposed this song a semi-tone or even a tone higher, you still would have been able to vocalize with ease in your upper range while ensuring a more comfortable fit when vocalizing the lower melodic line of this song.
Therefore, be very careful when selecting the appropriate key for your future song selections. It can make all the difference in the overall strength of your showcase. Good work, nonetheless, Jordin!
Lakisha Jones: “Last Dance,” originally performed by Donna Summer
Strengths: Queen Lakisha – if anyone can do justice to this Donna Summer song, it is indeed you! The technical brilliance that Donna Summer utilized in all of her songs was absolutely staggering and you, Lakisha, have this same level of technical accomplishment.
All the important elements to achieve really superb singing were very evident throughout this showcase: the signature circular mouth formation, the relaxed and open facial features, the seamless control of the melodic line, the consistent and cohesive diaphragmatic breath support, expanded and elevated rib cage – should I go on? I think you’ve got the picture.
Also, you added just the right amount of choreography to accentuate and highlight the vocal energy of this very busy, highly rhythmical song selection. You were careful not to go overboard with the choreography; a twirl here, an arm movement there – all of this was perfect in its simplicity and meticulously rehearsed so as not to obliterate the vocal dynamics.
You negotiated the tempo changes within this song exceptionally well and paced this song with expert ease and effortlessness. Also, it was enjoyable to see you perform a song that accentuated the fun side to your personality, Lakisha. We all know that you can dramatically interpret a complex song presentation to stellar results; however, this week we saw that you could also make us laugh and dance and this, I am sure, heightened the expansion of your fan base.
Excellent choice of song and excellent showcase, Queen Lakisha!
Critique: Lakisha – the only thing that I noticed during the short time frame of this number was your slight discomfort during this song. It was not an audible problem, but rather a visual one. I suppose this song catapulted you away from your comfort zone and, therefore, what we were hearing and what we were seeing did not totally mesh.
Make sure that you are practicing all your songs in front of a mirror; if you don’t like what you see, then change it. Your face must tell the story – especially the twinkle in your eyes. I think this kind of song is far removed from your personal artistic vision and, therefore, I can understand the trepidation in your demeanor.
However, try to immerse yourself in the emotion of these up-tempo songs, allowing the rhythmic energy of the song to carry you. In other words, just have fun! The technique will take care of the rest!
Once again, congratulations!
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: “Heaven Knows” originally performed by Donna Summer
Strengths: Melinda – this was an absolutely stunning visual and physical performance. I was so happy to see that you had selected an exuberant, upbeat song this week. It provided timely contrast with the more dramatic numbers you have performed in previous weeks. Although the song called for a rhythmically buoyant and energetic approach, your voice enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed and open presence that I felt was missing in the past two weeks.
As you rhythmically strutted back and forth across the stage, you never appeared or sounded breathless and the energy never diminished, indicating that the vocal and choreographic elements had been meticulously rehearsed down to the finest detail. Randy Jackson was so correct when he mentioned that you truly live in the performing moment; you know how to entertain and, yet, through it all, always managed to retain the discipline necessary to solidify an outstanding vocal performance.
As always, a smile appeared on my face when you highlighted that very sexy and velvety lower range. You teased us with this beautiful element in your singing voice, never exposing too much, but just enough for us to notice the depth and dimension within your singing range. And then, just like magic, your voice moved effortlessly and seamlessly through the mid and upper registers.
Personally, this was the performance of the night, one that embraced the joy, passion and discipline that is so necessary in creating stellar and refined vocal presentations! Brava Melinda!
Critique: Melinda – I have nothing to correct in this week’s performance. Your voice sounded rested, robust and secure and your stage demeanor was convincing and authentic – a joy to behold! Congratualtions once again on a superb showcase!
Phil Stacey: “Every Breath You Take” by the Police
Strengths: Phil-you are improving by monumental leaps and bounds. This was another, superb performance, one that highlighted the increased refinement of your vocal technique and your performing ability. I loved the song choice; not only is it a great song classic, but also it was the perfect selection for you both in content and in tonality. Your voice embraced the melodic line with technical ease and efficiency, indicating that the key selection for this song was perfect for your vocal range.
If nothing else, it was a believable performance. However, it was so much more.
Throughout this song, you added a high degree of speech like inflection and nuance and, to this end, you communicated the emotional essence of this song with sincerity and conviction. Your vocal and physical expressive elements were perfectly integrated.
This song, more than any other, emphasized that you are more than capable of delivering a familiar ballad in a convincing and controlled manner. Many singers might fall apart at the seams, given the slow tempo of the song, but you managed to keep the energy a vital component in this song, thus establishing a forward momentum from the very first note.
Vocally, your voice was resonating freely and expressively in your vocal masque. You maintained a smooth, seamless vocal sound throughout your range and the bel canto technique was first rate. I loved that round, “oh so classical” mouth position as you glued your vocal sound to the pure vowels within your lyrics. Your diaphragmatic support was consistent and unified, ensuring that your phrasing had a sense of rhythmic fluidity throughout this song.
Congratulations once again, Phil. Bravo!
Critique: Phil – once again I have very little to critique this week. However, I must caution you to be very careful with that head position when you vocalize into your upper range. Like Blake, you tend to elevate you head, allowing you to lose eye contact with your television and live audience. Also, it inhibits the full effect of your vocal projection, causing you to retain some level of tension in the upper body, especially the face and neck.
Rule of thumb: Always think down when moving up and vice versa. Bend those knees and squeeze the butt! However, remember to keep your rib cage high and elevated. The downward motion when you bend will raise the soft palate, thus ensuring an unobstructed and open throat, thus allowing the vocal sound to project freely into your vocal masque (face).
Keep up the excellent work, Phil!
SANJAYA MALAKAR: “Backwater” by No Doubt.
Strengths: Sanjaya – well, at the very least, no one can say that you cannot entertain. Once again you chose a song that seemed to evolve from some alternate universe. What is there left to say, Sanjaya that has not already been said? You are having the time of your life on that stage and milking your 15 minutes of fame for all it’s worth.
I looked up the definition of performer and many words surfaced that were applicable to you – entertainer, artist, comedian and my personal favorite: player. Are you playing with us, Sanjaya? Of course you are and it seems that you are quite unstoppable for the moment.
You moved exceedingly well on stage and with startling confidence and certainty. In fact, your voice sounded more resonant and energized than the previous week, hinting that there is more vocal ability there than previously thought.
We could barely hear you in the Top 24 shows! Back then, you were a shy young performer, a quiet young singer trying to find his way on the stage. Three weeks later, thanks to the media attention and heaven knows what else, you have evolved into some sort of icon. All the more power to you!
Critique: Sanjaya –you obviously are not taking this competition seriously. First of all, you sang this song with the same comical gaze on your face, whether or not the lyrics hinted at such an expression. Although I know you are savoring the spotlight and the attention that is presently being focused on you, you must, at the very least, make some attempt to catapult yourself beyond the novelty stage act and into some level of serious and committed singing
As I said last week, part of me was wondering if you chose this less conventional route to hide your lack of technical skills. If so, it’s time to make some changes and really solidify your performances with credible, stylistic and technically secure singing. Next week, Tony Bennett takes the stage and mentors the Top 9. You will be and should be expected to sing in a way that is technically and artistically secure, as the standards will challenge you to do so.
And, we all know that you are capable of tackling the standards. Remember “Steppin Out With my Baby” during the Top 24 competitions? I preferred your singing style when you sang in this genre of music. It was more believable and genuine. Let’s hope that it works for you once again next week.
Good luck, Sanjaya!
Your comments are always welcome