By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, our Final 8 interpreted the Latin genre of music through the guidance of guest artist, Jennifer Lopez. This style of music emphasizes the rhythmic elements, which are always very contagious and infectious, encouraging the artist to develop a choreographic approach to his or her performing style.
That being said, I hope they never adopt this theme in the near future. Personally I have had the experience to work with a Latin artist and another singer (not of Spanish descent) who thoroughly understood and internalized the genre.
It made me realize that the passion, flow and musical execution of this specialized form of music are not acquired talents. You either get it or you don’t and I don’t think that many of these singers really did justice to the passionate and evocative flavor of the music.
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: “I Need To Know”
Strengths: Blake – I felt that this was the strongest performance of the night and your relaxed, almost understated demeanor was absolutely perfect for this song. You communicated the lyrics clearly; there was a story happening while you performed and you made certain that the narrative was clear, concise and appropriately emoted.
Once again, your choreographic skills were superb throughout this number. You internalized the rhythm and then effortlessly moved to the pulse of the music with your distinctive style. And, was that you vocalizing the hushed rhythmic percussive sound at the beginning of this song? If so, I loved it. It added to the sultry and passionate nature of this song.
Also, your circular mouth formation while you sustained your melodic line served to enhance your light tenor voice to full effect. This signaled that you were really attempting to solidify your vocal projection through the correct technical process, utilizing the diaphragm to focus and resonate your voice.
This was a superb song choice, Blake and an overall great performance.
Critique: Blake – this week, the head position issue became problematic once again. I thought it went away after last week’s performance but it was baaaaack! Yikes. I wanted to grab your chin and yank it down when you moved into the higher range.
This technical problem was very evident when you sang the last note of your phrase lines. When you tried to vocalize the upper note that ended each phrase, you moved the head up, thus losing eye contact with your audience and hindering the aesthetic quality of your vocal sound. Your tenor voice sounded squeezed, almost pinched and this was due to the tension and the poorly placed head position during these segments of the song.
I was confused at the events that set this backpedaling technical glitch in motion, as last week you did not experience this upper body problem. The only thing that I could think of was that, perhaps, you were not confident in the technical approach needed to navigate the final notes at the end of your phrases.
Again, it came down to – well – thinking downward as you moved up in range. In other words, instead of reaching for the upper notes, you needed to sing over them, while at the same time, allowing your knees to bend slightly. Also, a little “tush squeezing” wouldn’t have hurt either. Ha! Try it! It works.
Some sections of this song rested solely in your upper register and had a cyclic melodic component that encouraged you to push the sound out from the throat rather than utilize the diaphragmatic breathing muscles in the vocalization process.
Repetitive passages can be the downfall of many singers, as they are monotonous and, therefore, ignored in the musical delivery. However, these passages must be musically phrased and controlled as efficiently as a non-repetitive phrase line – in fact even more so.
In conclusion, I really did feel that this song could have been sung a semitone or tone lower than what was originally performed. I think your overall vocal sound would have sounded more comfortable and free. Therefore, be very careful of the key selection of your songs when you research your music in the coming weeks.
Chris Richardson : “Smooth”
Strengths: Chris –as always, you created a strong visual impression during the performance of this great number. I truly have come to appreciate your ability to internalize the rhythmic components of this and all of your song selections. Throughout this number, you immersed yourself in the emotional core of this song and, as a result, you conveyed a sense of joy and total abandonment on stage this week.
I really loved how you embraced your audience, Chris. It was good to see you abandon the microphone stand and move toward the front of the stage during the middle of this number. It emphasized your relaxed performing ability during this number and your desire to involve the listeners with your performance.
Critique: Chris – although your physical energy was superb, it detracted from the full execution of your vocal energy. You know you have problems when your voice cannot be heard when amplified by a microphone. Of course, this is based on the assumption that sound engineer knows what he/she is doing as well.
However, the only way you can turn up the acoustic volume of the human singing voice is through accessing the powerful support from the diaphragmatic breathing muscles. What a shame that the vocal technique that was so evident over the past couple of weeks was thoroughly abandoned throughout this number. You rhythmic movements, although welcomed and appreciated, threw your vocal regime off balance and, as a result, your voice lacked a strong presence throughout this showcase.
Additionally, because of the technical deficiencies, there were numerous pitch problems throughout this song. The voice was not centered properly and the lack of the ringing head tone element throughout your vocal range contributed to the lack of a pitch centered quality in your voice.
I appreciate the fact that you do indeed feel the music when you sing, Chris, but, even so, the voice always has to stay front and center throughout your performances. There has to be a balance of style and substance throughout every showcase and this was all about style with very little substance.
Also, I thought the key was too low and perhaps you didn’t follow Jennifer Lopez’s advice of raising it a half step because it was stretching your ability to sing with confidence in your upper range. However, your entire range was problematic throughout this number. All the technical deficiencies were back in full force – the spread mouth, the tense facial and throat muscles, the poorly resonating vocal sound, the lack of strong diaphragmatic breath support – all of these issues created a less efficient and muscular vocal sound in every part of your range.
Let’s hope you get back to vocal technique 101 this week, as you prepare for the Top 7 showcase. Your light tenor voice really needs to be produced through the correct diaphragmatic breathing process. Only then will you be able to give strong, credible vocal performances.
Good luck, Chris!
Haley Scarnato: “Turn the Beat Around”
Strengths: Haley – I loved the strong confident entrance you negotiated at the beginning of this song. It created a self-assured and secure demeanor that never relented as the song progressed. The verbose nature of the lyrical structure is a tricky element in this composition and I thought that, generally, you did quite well in communicating the text.
You were very brave to move into the audience while singing this very busy song selection, but, I thought you did very well and had a great deal of fun connecting with your American Idol fans. This song is all about entertaining the listener and, in this regard, you accomplished this artistic mission.
Critique: Haley –although there was an energized component to your physical presence throughout this song, I thought that, generally, your voice took a back seat to your choreography. In an effort to go on a traveling expedition throughout the audience, the busy vocals suffered from a lack of clarity, brought on through a neglected diaphragmatic support system.
Your energy was transferred to your stage movements and, like Chris, you had no energy left over for the proper use of your technical support. As a result, your vocal sound was at times, inaudible, and, additionally, the words lacked clarity and precision. I felt that you incorporated too much movement into this song at the expense of turning out a solid vocal performance.
Unlike Lakisha, for example, who also sang a very verbose song to great success, you did not balance the choreographic and vocal elements in a judicious manner and, as a result, the song lost direction from a poorly paced and formulated performance pattern.
As I said to you last week, “communicative movement on stage is absolutely necessary in order to achieve performing success; however, the vocals must never be sacrificed. You must make certain that the stage and vocal skills are rehearsed judiciously, so that one compliments and strengthens the other.”
Good luck in the future!
JORDIN SPARKS: “The Rythmn Is Gonna Get You”
Strengths: Jordin – you rendered an effortless and relaxed performance this week. As always, I admired the high level of confidence and professionalism in this performance. It is an artistic component that I have come to expect and admire in all of your showcases
I felt that you integrated the rhythmic elements extremely well in your choreographic technique, while allowing the vocal projection to remain generally consistent throughout this number.
I also appreciated the fact that you attempted to add some variation to the very repetitive melodic and lyrical lines in this song. There were some wonderfully exciting vocal ad-lib sections toward the end of the song that highlighted the depth of your vocal power and artistic finesse.
Although you have a reliable and concrete technical foundation, you have a naturally resonant vocal gift that enabled you to maintain a relaxed demeanor on stage, even when negotiating some rhythmic movement into your showcase. Good work!
Critique: Jordin –last week I cautioned you on the intermittent use of a horizontal mouth formation on your “ee” vowel. By doing so, you were encouraging the chest voice element to dominate your vocal timbre, thus creating a more constricted, less resonant and pure vocal presence.
Well, this week, the same problem continued, but in an extensive and, sometimes, disquieting manner. You voice sounded less pure in some parts of this song and I felt that the repetitive lyrical and melodic elements added to the problem. One has to really be careful when singing these cyclic passages, as there is a tendency to let down your technical guard and create a poorly centered vocal sound.
Also, posture was a huge issue this week. Your rib cage was less expanded – in fact, your entire upper body looked extremely constricted. Your shoulders were tense and clustered, thus diminishing the proper posture necessary for executing superb technical singing skills. This being the case, your voice did not enjoy the same level of consistent vocal support that was evident in previous weeks.
Additionally, this physical deportment created a less appealing demeanor, as it magnified the added level of tension you were feeling this week. The communicative aspects of the song appeared less real and more deliberate, lacking in the spontaneity necessary to solidify the performance of this style of music.
You needed to expand your sense of space and dimension on the stage. It’s all about giving yourself permission to take a risk, while at the same time ensuring that the vocal technique is absolutely front and center to these upbeat performances. Slow practice allows you to do this. Also, working in front of a mirror would assist you in refining your stage skills, while making certain that your posture and mouth formation are fully accurate.
Just watch your video from last week’s performance, Jordin (On A Clear Day). You embraced your audience with authenticity and, even though there were some intermittent vocal problems, the passion and the soul of this song were fully communicated through your beautiful voice and radiant demeanor. You reached out and touched us.
Therefore, if anything, I was missing this level of emotional commitment from you this week. Be very careful with the song choice issue in the coming weeks.
Lakisha Jones: “Conga”
Strengths: Queen Lakisha –you really moved beyond your comfort zone by selecting this very demanding song for this week’s showcase. Not only was this a tricky vocal selection, but also it required great energy and movement from you during your performance. There was truly no place to hide in this song – it was all or nothing – so I congratulate you on being so studious and meticulous in the preparation of this number.
I thought your level of choreography was skillfully implemented and you did so with nary a breathy element in your vocal sound. This signals that you worked extremely hard in achieving a perfect balance between the vocal and choreographic elements in this performance. Your voice sounded as energized and as radiant as ever and the verbose text was clear and concise. Not only do you understand how to sustain the melodic line on the pure vowels, but also you can articulate clean, crisp consonants without disturbing the sustained flow of the melodic line.
Also, there was a forward momentum in this performance that never relented and, yet, the performance was well paced and unhurried. This was a very professional performance, secure in every aspect.
Good work, Lakisha!
Critique: Lakisha – as much as I enjoyed this song selection this week, I felt that, perhaps, you moved too far from the centre of your comfort zone. It is wonderful that you wanted to challenge and expand your artistic ability, but, honestly, sometimes it is just not worth the effort.
In this genre of music, I was aching to hear you sing a romantic Spanish ballad, as you would have knocked the song out of the ballpark. With your naturally passionate and theatrical ability, I think this type of song selection would have left a more positive impact than the “Conga” selection.
Vocally, you sounded as secure as always, but your eyes conveyed a different perspective. You didn’t appear at ease and rightfully so. This song is brutal at best and, unless you are quite relaxed and proficient in the Latino style of moving, this is going to be a difficult song to pull off with ease and authenticity.
It is more important to select songs that suit every component of your vocal constitution and style – the physical, the technical, the artistic, the emotional and so on. This is what creates believable and genuine and memorable performances. Given your prodigious vocal abilities, Lakisha, you have so many songs from which to choose. Don’t settle for second best or for what you think everyone wants to hear. People want to hear what makes you, as a performer, happy and, more important, real. This is how you connect with your audience.
Congratulations on being such a dedicated and professional vocalist in this competition.
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: “Sway”
Strengths: Melinda – first of all, I have to say that I loved your physical transformation this week. You looked extremely glamorous from head to toe – just lovely! I loved the soft, sultry approach you initiated in this song and you maintained this level of expression throughout the showcase. This is, indeed, a very sexy suggestive number – very Latino in style and content – and you worked hard to create this expressive sensation throughout this number.
You emphasized a wonderful technical element that I love- the bending of the knees as you vocalized into your higher range. What a difference this makes in the production of upper range vocal sound and, more important, this lower body movement relaxes the entire body, especially the facial muscles.
Vocally your voice sounded as radiant as ever and I thought that the key selection of this song was superb. It highlighted the most beautiful part of your vocal range – the lower and mid sections. Also, the lower key also strengthened the passionate nature of this song. That velvety quality in your lower voice was just the ticket for reinforcing the sexy emotion conveyed through the song lyrics.
Good work, Melinda!
Critique: Melinda – like Lakisha, I had issues with your song selection. First of all, why choose a song that was so far removed from your customary persona and vibe? By choosing a song that was isolated from your comfort zone, it didn’t allow you to sing with the dynamic freedom that we have come to enjoy from all your performances in this competition.
Although you worked very hard to communicate the sultry expressive qualities in this song, I felt disconnected from you throughout this performance. You appeared ill at ease and not entirely convincing in this number, something that was so foreign to me from your past performances.
Additionally, this problem was transferred to your interpretive ability during this song. Generally, I found your vocal delivery very one dimensional and figuratively flat, as I was waiting for you to add some of your signature vocal creativity to this number. Some rhythmic and melodic variation would have been very welcomed and would have added a more exciting multi dimensional level to this performance.
Simon really summed up the artistic problem correctly in a succinct manner when he stated: “this song is all about personality”. I felt that you struggled with the artistic execution of the mood and the atmosphere of the song and, unfortunately, this inhibited the strong and unique vocal delivery of this number.
Be very careful in your song selections, Melinda. You are a wonderful and intelligent performer, but stay true to your personal artistic vision to avoid this misstep in future performances.
Phil Stacey: “Maria, Maria”
Strengths: I loved this song choice for you and the fact that you so genuinely craved to communicate the emotional core of this song so convincingly to your audience was not lost to me. You worked very hard during this number, Phil. It is not an easy number to sing and on another day, when your nerves are under better control, I would love to hear you sing this song once again.
Critique: Phil – I will be quite honest, there were artistic and vocal problems throughout this performance and, although I thought the song was a beautiful choice for you, for whatever reason, the sense of flow and vocal excellence that we have come to hear and enjoy over the last couple of weeks was not a viable presence throughout this performance.
I believe you were quite anxious throughout this number – your eyes conveyed this fact and your voice really suffered some huge technical issues throughout this performance. Your throat was extremely constricted during this number and, as a result, the diaphragmatic support was severely compromised. You were singing with so much chest voice throughout your range that it came as no surprise that you had a couple of audible “cracks” in your vocal armor throughout this performance. It’s all about incorporating head tone in every part of your vocal range; only then will your voice have a ringing, aesthetically correct vocal timbre.
You were not vocalizing in a free, technically supported manner and, this being the case, your voice lacked purity and a resonating presence. Also, your pitch was compromised throughout this song; generally, you were singing the melodic line a little under the true tonality of the notes and the sound was noticeably irregular and flat.
Also, watch that head position. It is imperative that you keep the head position level with your audience. Raising your head, especially when you maneuvered your upper range, signaled a less confident demeanor, while creating additional tension in your upper body. And do not forget to keep the mouth circular and the jaw relaxed and extended as you move throughout your range. Loosening the jaw will allow the breathing muscles to work more efficiently and, as a result, your vocal sound will be reinforced through the correct technical process. Good luck next week, Phil.
SANJAYA MALAKAR: “Besame Mucho”
Strengths: Sanjaya – thank heavens someone finally had the insight to select “Besame Mucho”. As this week’s showcase progressed, I was wondering why nobody thought to choose this song and, voila, you selected what was for me the loveliest song choice of the week and your strongest to date.
How smart you were in choosing this song. In last week’s Vocal Masterclass article, I had mentioned that it would be wonderful to hear you sing a beautiful ballad, so I feel that the timely selection of this song was so inspired. Latin music is not only very rhythmic; it is also very passionate and romantic – almost evocative at times. You really created a perfect ambience while singing this song, seated comfortably on stage and, yet, managing to create an intimate connection with your audience.
Your performance was sincere, genuine and extremely gentle and your quiet physical and vocal demeanor encouraged the audience to really listen to the communicative message in this song. And how wonderful it was to hear the Spanish language interspersed with the English. You moved through both languages flawlessly and made me wish that others had taken the same road. By doing so, there was an authentic stamp on your song that was missing from some of the other performances.
Your voice, though young, was quite pure and pitch centered and, although I wished for a more technical approach to your singing style, I had to admire the manner in which you were able to weave your young vocal sound through the melodic line with relative ease and comfort. The rest will come with time and practice. Just don’t delay the “practice” part for too long. Technique definitely has its place, as you will see below.
Critique: Sanjaya – although your breathing skills were more correct during this number, you must still continue to work on refining this very important foundation to really good singing. Although I loved the gentle sound of your voice throughout this number, I was hoping for a little more ingenuity and flexibility in the vocal line, something that proper breathing would have allowed you to do.
You still need to broaden the depth of your vocal range, so that you can further experiment and be inventive with the melodic line of this or any song. Although there was some level of vocal creativity in this number, I have heard many versions of this song to know that there was still some level of melodic variation missing from this number. However, I do admire the fact that you sang within your vocal comfort zone. That old motto: less is more does apply here and you followed this rule very well.
Also, you need to work on maintaining a circular mouth position on your vowels, if for no other reason than to add depth and muscle to your vocal sound. It has improved from weeks past, but it still needs your constant attention for further refinement. By maintaining this mouth position, you will be further encouraged to support your voice by accessing your very strong diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
However, given the technical deficiencies in this performance, I still think you picked the perfect song vehicle to display your vocal talent at this point in you career. However, my personal dream would be to hear you sing this song about 5 years down the road, after equipping yourself with the technical reinforcement necessary to catapult this song to stellar heights.
Your comments are always welcome