By: Rosanne Simunovic
This week, our Top 4 celebrated the music of Barry Gibb and the Bee Gees. As much I love and respect the music of these legendary performers, I just found this to be a strange thematic selection for everyone. This music is very difficult to perform as a soloist and, by the nature of their composition, present vocal and performing challenges that are difficult to overcome.
Blake, Jordin, Lakisha and Melinda really tried to add their unique and distinctive artistic spin on this periodic music and, throughout the evening, about 50% of the performances rang true and held my interest.
All in all, it was not an exciting evening of Top 4 performances. The genre was just not adaptable to the style of the individual singers.
I just wish that, at this stage of the competition, the performers could be allowed to select and perform their preferred genre of music. Personally, I am becoming tired of specific genres being shoved down the singers’ throats. Who does this in the real world, anyway? Some may be capable to sing in two or three different genres, but, in reality, a singer is marketed to a specific brand of music- be it pop, country, classical, jazz, hip hop, rock or Broadway.
Somehow I think the performance outcome would have been a different one if the singers were encouraged to showcase songs that highlighted their specific brand of music. Also, I am almost certain that the variety of song choice would have been appreciated and embraced by the viewers
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: “You Should Be Dancing” and “This Is Where I Came In”
Strengths: Blake – I loved the beat boxing format of both numbers this week. However, if I had to pick a favorite, your first number, “You Should Be Dancing” was absolutely the star of the show here. I just placed my pen on my lap during this number and watched the vocal magic unfold. What was there not to like or appreciate? Obviously the judges were on some other wavelength because I thought this was a brilliant and meticulous performance.
From the opening pitch centered falsetto singing- a signature element in all of the Bee Gees musical arrangements- to the additional scat and beat boxing components intermingled throughout this number, this was a very entertaining, thoroughly unique performance. My favorite vocal element was the staccato beat boxing effect in this number. It was rhythmically secure and solid. Your musicality was so palpable during this number, giving testament to the fact that you are an extremely talented and gifted artist.
As always, you moved with rhythmic ease and security during both selections, nicely balancing the vocals with the stage choreography. Vocally, however, your technique was more solid and better formulated during the first number. I found that your head position remained consistently level with the camera angle and your mouth was circular and your jaw relaxed during the sustained singing segments of this number.
Your second number, “This Is Where I Came In”, although not as successful as the first, had some special characteristics that were not as evident in the first number. For instance, the melodic line in the opening bars of this number highlighted your beautifully resonant lower range. As I said in your Top 6 performance during the Idol Gives Back showcase, you really should travel this vocal journey more often, Blake, as your baritone range is really gorgeous and begs to be developed and showcased in a more consistent manner.
And although I noticed the “head raising” issue a couple of times in the second number, I also noticed you quickly pulling your head down back into position, It was actually quite cute and made me realize that you are really trying to correct and improve on your vocal technique with each passing week.
Also, your classical approach to diction was so appreciated, particularly in the second number. It was oh so British and correct – pure vowels and classical “r” and “l” consonants all the way! Excellent work Blake. Kudos!
Critique: Blake – as previously stated, I really loved your first number, “You Should Be Dancing” and found it entertaining, creative and downright flawless. I sat with my mouth open when the judges basically trashed it. I thought they would be “into contemporary music and innovative interpretation”, but I guess I was wrong.
However, that being said, I am going to be so daring as to suggest that their comments affected the perfect ten performance of your second number, “This Is Where I Came In”. In the first number, you came out fighting; the second number, you looked defeated. Hmm – I wonder why? Additionally, your eyes lost its spark and you looked anxious, almost second guessing everything throughout your performance.
As a result, although that beautiful lower range was produced through stellar technical support, your upper range sounded very tense and constricted – certainly less open and pure than I have heard in the past.
You must always remember to keep the throat open and relaxed, allowing the powerful diaphragmatic breathing muscles to place and resonate your voice in your vocal masque. However, sometimes, all of this techno mumbo jumbo is easier said than done when you are “under the judging gun”.
However, what you must never do, Blake, is second- guess your talent and the superb skills that are so unique to your specific brand of talent. Stay positive and focused on your personal artistic mission, as I believe that you are an exclusive entity in the music business. In case anyone disagrees, when in the past six seasons of Idol, have we ever seen a performer remotely similar to Blake? I rest my case.
JORDIN SPARKS: “To Love Somebody” and “Woman In Love”
Strengths: Jordin – of the two songs performed by you this week, your first number, “To Love Somebody”, was far superior. During this song, your confident and radiant vocal timbre was a viable presence throughout this performance. You displayed the depth and variety of your vocal and dynamic range, expressively communicating the words with authenticity and conviction.
You did have some level of diaphragmatic support when you performed this number, Jordin, and managed to project your voice quite well, allowing it to resonate with a certain level of freedom in your vocal masque. Additionally you exuded a wonderful charisma on stage, moving on stage with a relaxed and composed demeanor.
Also, I enjoyed your ability to creatively mold and sculpt your phrases, subtly varying the melodic line in a way that reflected your emotional commitment to the story line. You added a distinctively new interpretative sound to this song and this highlighted the sophistication and maturity of your musical talent.
Your second number, “Woman In Love” was a great song choice, actually a better choice than the first. I did love the beautiful “piano” (soft) beginning of this song; it allowed me to enjoy and appreciate the lovely head voice that is presently buried far too often in many of your performances. That being said, you did indeed run into many technical and performing issues with this song, which I will discuss below.
Critique: Jordin – let’s focus on the problems you encountered during your “Woman In Love” performance. First of all, as I have mentioned before, your posture needed to be realigned. You must remember to elevate the rib cage so as to allow the diaphragmatic muscles room to fully expand and contract with efficiency during the inhalation and exhalation process. Your body language appeared very closed and withdrawn; you needed to open and suspend your lower body when you vocalized and provide more buoyancy in the supportive process.
As a result, your shallow breathing was, once again, a ubiquitous presence throughout both numbers actually, as you tended to intake your air by raising the chest cavity – an absolute “no-no” in vocal technique.
Also, this tension in your upper body was transferred to your face; throughout this song, your mouth was so spread – so horizontal – that it encouraged you to sing with far too much chest voice throughout your vocal register. I could truly feel the tension in your throat when you navigated the powerful upper level singing.
That beautiful head voice component that was so evident at the beginning of this song was left in the dust when you entered the forte (loud) section of this song. As a result, your pitch was really compromised, as the pure ringing quality that is essential to creating an aesthetically correct vocal sound was absent. Your power dynamics had no centre – it was “push” all the way. As in previous weeks, your overall vocal timbre was less resonant and had little ring or transparency.
Also, I think the key selection for this song was problematic – perhaps a tone lower would have been the way to go, Jordin, so as not to over tax your upper range. However, in the long run, it was mainly a technical issue of chest vs. head voice, as I believe you have quite an admirable vocal range. It just needs to be crafted and produced through the correct technical process.
Your first number, “To Love Somebody”, showed evidence of the same problems you encountered in “Woman In Love”, but to a lesser degree. It was obvious that, of the two songs, you were more relaxed and confident with the first number. Therefore, the technical deficiencies were not as problematic, given the less anxious approach to this number.
In closing, I was wondering why you didn’t choose an upbeat number to contrast with one of your ballads? I think that you needed to do this, if for no other reason, than to provide balance and variety to your Top 4 showcase. However, two power ballads in one night added immense pressure to your still developing breathing skills and, unfortunately, drew far too much attention to your problematic areas in vocal development.
Good luck with next week’s performances, Jordin! And stand tall, young lady! No more slouching!
Lakisha Jones: “Stayin’ Alive”, and “Run To Me”
Strengths: Lakisha – I thought that, overall, you rendered two solid performances, although, if I had to pick a personal favorite, your “Stayin’ Alive” number was The One. What was not to like in this number? You added so many creative twists and turns during the performance of this great song classic and the result was an absolutely entertaining, thoroughly engaging performance.
Personally, I loved the relaxed tempo of this number and it was very wise to go this route, as it allowed you to balance the choreographic and vocal elements in a cohesive fashion. The song never sounded rushed – it was a brilliantly well-paced performance. Any faster, and you would have encountered some vocal and/or choreographic problems.
Also, the slower tempo gave the listener time to enjoy and appreciate the additional rhythmic creativity of this number. My favorite part? The echo effect between you and the background vocalists during the “ah, ah ah ah stayin’ alive” portion of this number. I loved this. So much fun to see and hear. It added to the entertainment aspect of this song performance and certainly made the song more interesting to the listener.
Your vocals were excellent during this number and they did “stay alive” and animated throughout this excellent performance. I though that, generally, your maintained a wonderful mix of head and chest voice throughout your range. Certainly your pitch was pitch centered and true, attesting to the fact that, through that circular mouth position, you were implementing the ringing head tone quality that is so imperative to superb singing.
Your second number, “Run To Me”, was a beautiful and inspired song choice. I felt that, through your naturally theatrical personality, the song truly soared and, despite, some technical issues toward the end of the song, I thought the emotional delivery of the song was very good indeed.
I have always loved how you “stay in the moment”, Lakisha. You truly immerse yourself in the storyline of each song, delivering the message of the song to your audience in a believable and memorable fashion. You have the ability to move and stimulate your audience and this is a gift in and of itself.
Also, I have noticed that you are highlighting that beautiful lower range and so you should. Your contralto range has a smooth, creamy texture that warms the ear of the listener. However, what is more important, it allows you to alleviate some tension and stress from your upper range, providing balance and dimension in your vocal showcases.
Excellent work, once again Lakisha!
Critique: Lakisha –I was so confused with the technical issues in your second song choice, “Run To Me”. Your voice sounded very hoarse and just, generally, “out of sorts” and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was happening. Perhaps, you were ill – a cold? Congestion? And what was even weirder was the fact that, during the performance clip at the end of the show – which is taped at the rehearsal on the same day – your voice sounded radiant and focused during this song.
So, obviously, something happened in a matter of a few hours to cause this change in your usually superb vocal timbre.
One thing I did notice was a discernible level of tension in your second number, “Run To Me”, particularly in the more powerful portions of this number. Even though it appeared that all the technical elements in the face were in place, I felt and almost heard a push from the throat. Now, whether you didn’t have the energy to access the diaphragmatic breath support in the correct manner or just misinterpreted the chest vs. head voice blend, something clearly was not in perfect symmetry for you during this number.
Vocal fatigue happens to the best, most seasoned classical artist, so it can happen to pop artists as well. This is why rest and meticulous preparation are of the essence on the day of a performance and, somehow, I can’t imagine this to be a viable option on Idol performance days.
I suspect that the stress and hectic pace of this competition finally caught up with you, Lakisha. However, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during the rehearsal performance, as it sounded like you “hit this song out of the ballpark.” A vocal home run!
At any rate, I absolutely loved watching you every week on this show and you must take comfort in the fact that you gave absolutely spine tingling, vocally superb performances each and every week. You shall be missed, Queen Lakisha!
“Love You Inside and Out” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”
Strengths:Melinda –generally, I thought both song selections were performed with artistic professionalism and vocal dexterity. You added a distinctive touch to both of these contrasting songs and your meticulous attention to detail was so appreciated and welcomed by this writer.
However, your second song, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was the most successful performance of both your selections this week. In this number, you allowed the depth of your dynamic range to shine in a continuous way, highlighting the multi-layered expressive quality in your voice. The contrast between the softer dynamic in the first half of this number and the more powerful resonant dynamic in the latter half was seamlessly and brilliantly executed.
When you moved into the key change and added some muscle to your voice, the song really soared, once again emphasizing the fact that pacing the level of vocal sound throughout a performance adds a more interesting component to the overall showcase.
Additionally, your vocal technique was splendid in this number and all the technical elements were beautifully implemented. Your vocal timbre was clean, pure, pitch centered and resonant, highlighting the fact that those powerful diaphragmatic muscles were part of the vocal process.
Your first song selection, “Love You Inside and Out”, was well formulated and I loved the unique flavor you brought to this song classic. I suspect that your experience as a background vocalist has really allowed you to understand the intricacies of the rhythmic and harmonic components necessary to a successful song arrangement, allowing you to blend some of these elements into a solo performance.
At times, I think we all take for granted what is happening in the background vocals and instrumentation. It really makes all the difference in the successful rendition of a solo performance. However, your knowledge and expertise in this field allowed you to easily work within the complexities of this difficult theme and render two solid vocal performances this week.
Critique: Melinda – I really had no issues with your second song this week, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”. I thought that this was an expressive and brilliant vocal performance, one of many that we have enjoyed from you during this year’s American Idol season.
However, I do feel that you ran into some technical issues this week in your first number, “Love You Inside and Out”. First off, you seemed very apprehensive in the opening strains of this number, as your voice just didn’t have the “kick” that I usually hear when you perform. If so, then I suspect that the diaphragmatic breathing process was not working as it should, thus discouraging you from projecting your voice in your vocal masque. Your voice seemed to resonate in the back of your mouth rather than in the forward position. It didn’t penetrate the background orchestration.
Also, your mouth formation was extremely spread and very horizontal in formation. Sometimes, a singer can “get away” with this in pop music; however, in the long run, the sound becomes strident and poorly centered. I just found that your voice lacked the ringing, bell like quality that is so essential in really good singing. There was too much chest voice and not enough head voice.
Also, this mouth formation wrongly encouraged you to sustain your vocal sound through every vowel in the diphthongs contained in some of your words. This was most noticeable in the “eye” diphthong when you vocalized the word “inside” and other words that were similar in sound. In true bel canto singing, singers learn to sustain their vocal sound on one pure vowel in the diphthong – the first – which, in this case is the “ah” vowel”. Also, by sustaining on the pure vowel, you will ensure that the head tone element is central to the overall vocal dynamic, thus ensuring a ringing, aesthetically pleasing vocal timbre throughout your vocal range.
However, all in all, both showcases were obviously well prepared and well rehearsed. You are a joy to watch every week and I congratulate you on your great success during this year’s competition.
Your comments are always welcome