By: Rosanne Simunovic
Personally, this week’s show was one of the highlights of the American Idol 7th season. The opportunity to watch and learn from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interaction with the Top 6 was indeed an exciting and memorable one.
I thought Andrew Lloyd Webber was absolutely amazing and tirelessly patient with these singers. What an opportunity for these 6 young vocalists to remember and take back with them once the show completes its run in May.
I am running late this week, so let’s get to it, shall we?
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.
BROOKE WHITE: YOU MUST LOVE ME
Strengths: Brooke- once again, I fell in love with your song choice. I thought the lyrical mood and the melodic range of this song were absolutely perfect for you. Additionally, you complimented the emotional significance of the song by creating a very pensive, yet forthcoming demeanour throughout this performance.
Your collaboration with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was a palpable presence throughout this showcase. As was his goal with all the performers, he insisted that you tell your story and so you did. Your voice brimmed with speech- like inflection and you told this story in a manner that was extremely sincere and poignant.
Also, interestingly enough, the fragmentation in the phrase lines -due to your less defined breathing skills –actually worked to your advantage in the performance of this song. Whether you realized it or not, you selected your breath spots at the appropriate points in the song, making certain that the verbal emphasis was directed to key words within the lyrical line. Therefore, the ubiquitous gaps in the melodic line generally augmented the intensity and power in the words.
It was also very wise, from a performance angle, to stand up midway through this song – as the change in position visually created a powerful finale to this number, while allowing you to take advantage of the freedom in your body through movement.
I always tell singers that even a little movement is better than none at all. It will lessen the appearance of stiffness in their demeanour, thus relaxing any tension in the upper body. I employ this technique all the time while teaching my students. It is quite amazing how much better they do sing when they permit themselves to use the space around them.
Although the diaphragmatic breathing muscles were not fully engaged, as was the case with you, it still created a more assured stage performance, even when –inside –you were shaking like a leaf.
This was, for me, one of your best performances because you allowed yourself to be truly vulnerable. By focusing on the words and not the music, you actually elevated your performing ability tremendously.
Critique: Brooke – okay let’s start with the memory lapse at the beginning of this song. First of all, how can you have a memory lapse at the beginning of a song? This tells me that your mental preparatory skills before a performance need to be further developed.
Before you begin any song, establish the mood of a song in your mind and mentally say the first two lines of the song. Not only will this help you establish the proper emotional focus before you begin, but, wonder of wonders, you will fortify the opening lines of your song. It’s a very simple and sensible to technique to grasp. How else can you begin?
The rest of my focus lies in your poorly developed breathing skills, something that I explored in depth last week. Now I know that, stylistically, it did not hinder the overall performing aspects of this song – as you told your story extremely well and with utmost sincerity.
However, one can only wonder to what heights this performance would have grown had you come equipped with a solid technical foundation. Certainly the performance would have gained in stature and dimension.
Also, as I said last week, because the diaphragmatic breathing muscles were not properly accessed, you exhibited extreme tension in the throat, signifying that your vocal projection was being controlled from the muscles in your upper body rather than the stronger and more effective support from the diaphragmatic breathing system located within your rib cage and back muscles.
This hindered your throat from maintaining a relaxed and open formation, thus rendering a tense, overwrought timbre to your voice. Yes, some of this vocal color enhanced the emotional impact of the song and that was all fine and good.
But, as a singer, you must learn to heighten the nuances in your voice through the correct technical process. If not, your voice will not project with consistency or clarity and you will lose the vocal security that comes from utilizing the diaphragmatic breathing regimen.
However, you did maintain the story element in a truly theatrical manner and I applaud you for this. Now, you must work as judiciously on the technical support for your voice. Rest assured that, once you grasp the concepts attached to true bel- canto singing, you will become a more confident, more dynamic vocal artist.
Best of luck next week, Brooke!
Strengths: Carly – as much as I prefer the original male version of this song, I thought you performed this very intense and artistically ambitious song with exceptional vocal style and substance.
When you started to sing, the first thing that struck me was: “Goodness! That song is set really high for a female singer!” The key for a male singer was probably perfect, but it takes quite the female songstress to tackle this song in that key. But tackle you did and hit the finish line with strong vocal momentum and determination. Good for you!
I would also like to add that your formidable background vocalists were right there with you every step of the way, adding their treble vocals with pitch-centered assurance and artistry. There was an exceptional blend and cohesion between the solo and background vocals throughout this showcase and it was powerfully evident that a high level of co-ordination between all singers developed over the course of the week.
Additionally, you paced this song extremely well. The song, quite easily, could have run away from you, but you made certain that the tempo you established at the beginning of this song remained synchronized. By doing so, the rhythmic components during this song palpitated with resounding power and control.
Additionally, the relaxed position of your mouth and jaw just continues to improve with each passing week. You have the determination of a pit bull when it comes to honing and crafting the finer –yet important-details of correct singing.
In fact, part of me was sensing that you chose this higher key simply for the opportunity to challenge yourself in the correct expansion of your upper range. If this is so, it would not surprise me at all. You have a remarkable work ethic that just doesn’t quit and this, in and of itself, is a highly admirable trait to possess. It will continue to take you very far in this business- long after the neon lights of the Idol stage have diminished.
Brava once again on a well rehearsed performance!
Critique: Carly –vocally you followed the task set before you and ran with it!
However, I would have preferred to see you deliver the rage and frustration that formulates the basis of this song. After all, it is Judas who sings this song about and to Jesus. He has betrayed Jesus and is expressing his disillusionment and cynicism towards his belief that Jesus Christ is indeed the Saviour of the World.
Therefore, taking this into account, you looked far too happy prancing about the stage – to me it just seemed a little bizarre and, more important, emotionally inaccurate.
If you recall, Andrew Lloyd Webber stated that the story elements must rise above the musical elements and, taking in to consideration that his is the composer and not the lyricist, then his comments indeed gain in importance and credibility
Instead of championing his remarkable musical score, he is indeed emphatic that the story is imperative to the end result of a memorable theatrical performance.
Therefore, the appropriate stage demeanour was a conspicuously limited component when you performed the iconic song, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I felt that, generally, you were immersed in the musical elements and not the lyrical elements.
So, for me, this posed a problem in terms of rendering an artistically believable performance. This is not to fault the vocal excellence you displayed throughout this performance – it was impeccable. However, if you do continue to perform repertoire from the musical theatre genre, I hope that you will continue to work on solidifying the correct emotional approach to your song delivery.
Finally, as much as the music energized the dynamic approach you maintained throughout this number, I just felt that this song selection, when performed out of context from the entire musical, just did not work. Actually, I found it to be a very irreverent, religiously incorrect song selection, creating a sense of confusion and disconnect in the listener when performed apart from the entire production.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this song was the final nail in your coffin toward the alienation of your fans. Given the content of the storyline, not everyone is going to view this performance with objectivity and detachment.
However, you are a very talented songstress, Carly, and I wish you only the very best in your musical career. It has been such a pleasure to provide Vocal Masterclass reviews for you each week.
Congratulations on your wonderful showcases. I will, indeed, miss you next week! Brava!
Strengths:David A. – this was indeed a beautiful rendition of this well known song from “Phantom Of The Opera”. Someone struck gold with this arrangement, because it was truly inspired. How you managed to create and then perform this innovative approach to this song in the time span allotted was nothing short of spectacular.
You delivered your distinctly soulful approach to this song with enviable ease and artistic excellence. The fluid component within your phrase lines provided strong testament to the consistent vocal reinforcement accessed through your diaphragmatic breathing skills.
And, that falsetto run at the end of this song? A very pleasant surprise and a star-making moment if ever there was one! If this song sounded this spectacular live, I can only imagine the marvellous end result from the studio recording.
Additionally, the melodic variations you infused throughout the song’s original melodic structure were beautifully inspired and impeccably vocalized. And when you entered the key change – another Arculeta innovation -you did so with pitch perfect vocal assurance, once again creating the impression that all your lower body work was effortless yet athletically toned.
Your technical foundation was and is absolutely spectacular and will only become more developed as time goes by. However, it does seem surreal to think that you will improve with time and maturity because you are presently so advanced in your technical and artistic skills at the age of 17. Everything is in place. The only thing left is the obvious physical growth that you – and your precious vocal cords – will experience over the passage of time. Amazing!
Finally, I cannot forget your sensitive and poignant communication of the song lyrics. The forward placement of your body –another strong technical trick – allowed you to establish powerful contact with your audience. This aspect, when combined with your always sincere, always genuine demeanor, resulted in a very moving and memorable performance.
In terms of innovative artistry and vocal excellence, this was, for me, one of the best performances I have seen this year on American Idol.
Bravo and kudos times a zillion!
Critique:David – apart from the “airiness” problem that you have experienced over the past couple of weeks, I have very little to critique in this week’s performance. I suspect that the audible inhalation has more to do with your past health issues than with a fundamental problem in your technical breathing skills.
Your phrasing skills are very refined, indicating that you are using your air properly in the resonation of your voice and the elongation of your melodic line. Also, as your natural voice develops and increases in strength, you will not need as much of the air supply to support and focus your voice, as your inherent vocal power will resound with more presence and depth.
That is not to say that you do not need the diaphragmatic breath support at a later age – on the contrary. You never should abandon your supreme technical skills. However, you will find that, over the course of time, your diligent efforts in vocalizing with solid technique will naturally expand your vocal possibilities, rewarding you with even more options when selecting and interpreting your future repertoire
Also, that head tone component in your voice is an omnipresent element , one that I hope will always remain as your vocal timbre gains muscle and depth. Your voice always sounds so focused and pure and even though there was still a hint of fatigue in your voice, the placement of your vocal sound rested beautifully in your vocal masque.
Finally, let’s talk about those eyes. Is it just me, or did you have more problems with your eyes this week as a result of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s comments? I think that, generally, you are very communicative with your eyes and, yes, there are times when you get lost in the music and close them.
However, this must have been a bigger problem in this week’s preparation of your song, so I guess he felt the need to correct this technical glitch. He is correct – so much emotion is conveyed through a singer’s eyes. Also, open and expansive eyes increase the resonating dimension of a singer’s voice, adding more energy and focus to the vocal timbre.
Nevertheless, your increased awareness of this problematic element resulted in a less open, more constricted eye formation. It seemed you were trying so hard to keep your eyes open that your concerted efforts to correct this problem added more tension in that area of your face, more than I have perceived in past weeks.
My advice: there are 4 weeks left in this competition. This is not something that you can correct overnight on live television –in fact, it is extremely difficult. Given the short time frame left in this year’s American Idol season, you must approach the remainder of your songs utilizing the security of your fully ingrained performing and technical regime. Everything else will come with time and patience – both of which you possess in abundance.
Best of luck with your rehearsals next week David! Don’t change a thing!
Strengths: David C. –I applaud you for selecting one of the most difficult tenor solos from the Andrew Lloyd Webber songbook. I thought you managed this number extremely well and your simplistic approach to this number provided ample contrast to the rock- infused vocals we heard in many of your previous performances.
The first thing that struck me when you began this song was your impeccable diction. The clarity of the words and your ability to add a speech-like inflection throughout the lyrical line were strong and important components in the successful delivery of this song. All those “t” consonants were crystal clear and precise, yet seemed effortless and instinctive.
Furthermore, your vowels were wonderfully “British” – very pure and extremely centered – as you propelled them toward your vocal masque. And the expressive quality in your voice was so genuine and so very real. It made us listen and grasp the message of this poignant song. This is such an important artistic element in any singer’s performance – to capture and retain one’s audience with the musical message.
Additionally, your vocal instrument is very light David – one that could have easily been overpowered by the force of the background instrumentation. However, through the diaphragmatic breathing process, you honed and crafted your natural vocal gifts – never overextending your natural capabilities and never abandoning the important head tone element throughout your vocal range.
A properly produced vocal sound – even at a softer level – will always carry further than a poorly produced vocal sound. When the vocal cords are encouraged to vibrate freely, the sound is easily generated toward the back of the concert hall. It has wings!
Also, you established a very controlled pace throughout this performance – perhaps tentative at times, but still nicely managed and evenly measured. You looked relaxed and poised, always making certain to conserve valuable energy for the dynamically louder sections of this song.
And therein lies the rub! This song really demands a great deal of focus and stamina from the performer. At first, it appears to be a quiet, gentle ballad and then, like a chameleon, the song challenges the singer to showcase the superman strength and range of his vocal gifts.
So, taking all things into consideration and understanding the problematic performance aspects of this song, I think you approached the task set out before you with determination and grit and rendered a wonderful, intelligently rehearsed performance.
Good work, David! Congratulations!
Critique: David C. –the one thing missing from this performance – and it’s a big one – was your emotional commitment to the lyrics. Yes, the words were expressive and all, but the animation and passion to compliment the storyline were clearly absent from your facial expression and physical mannerisms.
As I said above, you did look relaxed and this rendered an overall sense of control throughout this performance. However, I believed that you possessed too tranquil a demeanour throughout this showcase, when what was truly necessary was a high degree of intensity and fervor in the overall delivery of this song.
Given the emotional content behind the storyline in this song, it would have been wonderful to see a heightened degree of drama in your body movements to compliment the passion contained in the words and music.
The Phantom is not a happy camper at this point in the musical. I was, therefore, waiting to distinguish some of the Phantom’s angst in your facial expression and edgier raw vocals. And, based on the history of your past performances, I know that you are more than capable of theatrically driving your performances to supreme heights.
Also, your upper notes were fairly well placed, but do be very careful of stretching your mouth and constricting your throat in order to obtain dynamic color in your power vocals.
I felt that, particularly during the final two notes of the song, less would have been more. Not only were you driving your vocal sound from your throat, but also that elevated head truly heightened the tension in your throat muscles- and hence your voice. And, more important, we lost eye contact with you during the final moments of this song.
However, I still very much appreciate and applaud the intelligent and sophisticated musical experience that you bring to this stage each and every week. Bravo!
Strengths: Jason–I understand your determination to perform this song. The lyrics and music, when blended together, create a heart rendering and poignant backdrop, one which could be transmitted to a variety of memorable experiences. Unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, this is a song that stands alone when performed out of context from the musical setting.
Worldwide artists, instrumentalists and choral groups – mine included- have performed this number in a variety of concert formats and styles, so, I dismissed the original version when evaluating your performance of this song this week. I truly wanted to see what you could do with these lyrics.
Emotionally, I felt that you were establishing a strong connection to the storyline, allowing the lyrics to live and breathe in a new way through your very gentle and tender delivery of this song.
It would have been interesting to see how much stronger this song would have been had you accompanied yourself on a classical guitar, although I have to say that the orchestral background was absolutely breathtaking. However, I always find that you are truly within your comfort zone when you perform with your guitar, so part of me wishes that we could have seen two versions of this number.
At any rate, I thought you delivered many poignant and meaningful moments throughout this performance and I congratulate you for challenging your artistry by selecting one of the most signature musical theatre songs of all time.
Good work, Jason!
Critique: Jason –I hope you continue to follow the technical advice given to you through these Vocal Masterclass articles and through the vocal coaches associated with American Idol.
However, it does worry me that you did not take advantage of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary experience in the world of musical theatre. You were working with the very best there is and to not take full advantage of this enormous opportunity is madness. You can only grow, develop and expand your artistry by polishing your craft with the proper mentoring utensils.
Okay – I am off my platform. Let’s dissect the problems that ensued this week. Once again, your shallow breathing pattern wreaked havoc with your vocal projection. There was a permanent airy quality in your voice because of your lack of ongoing support from the diaphragmatic breathing muscles.
Additionally, your collapsed posture throughout this number just aggravated your technical problems. Always remember to elevate and expand the rib cage muscles, creating space and freedom in this area of your body. This will not only encourage you to take full advantage of these muscles but also heighten your awareness of their existence.
Furthermore, this song presented some inherent challenges to you, especially given the less than stellar refinement of your technical support. The melodic structure in this song is quite extensive and, if a singer is not properly trained to handle this inherent challenge, then the voice starts to sound uneven and asymmetrical.
Because of this, you encountered some projection problems in the bridge of this song, where you were forced to sing through your lower range. I have always found this part of the song to be extremely tricky and for you, Jason, it was a tough ride. Your natural voice needed the reinforcement and enhancement of strong diaphragmatic support and, without it, your voice sounded emaciated and fragile.
Also, I am curious as to why you remained seated throughout this performance. In the final segment of this song, I was waiting for you to rise from your seat and move toward the audience. A change in position when you began the phrase, Touch me, would have heightened the visual dimension in this showcase, creating a powerful impact in the closing segments of this song.
And the ending: “Look – a new day, has begun”should have been underscored through a slower and more deliberate tempo – with an emphasis on “Look” – allowing your gaze to move toward a solitary point in the room, and accented by a close visual by the studio camera.
Had you done this, you would have potently concluded this song- sending a strong, lasting message to your audience. I know this for a fact, as my choir, the Timmins Youth Singers, performed this song with two original male cast members from the Canadian Production of “Cats” and this is exactly how we ended this song. There was not a dry eye in the house.
In conclusion, I have to say that it would have been more beneficial to you had you selected a song that played to your strengths – one that contained a more youthful emotion in the lyrical and melodic content. This song challenged you far beyond your inexperienced technical capabilities, especially for a live performance.
However, I am most anxious to hear the studio production of this song. From all reports, I hear you have a fabulous recording voice. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the final product, if for no other reason than to enjoy an extended version of this very beautiful, very poignant song.
See you next week Jason. And don’t forget to drop that jaw. Pretty please?
Strengths:Syesha –from the very beginning, you strongly established the playful and mischievous mood of this great song choice. I loved the whole finger snapping backward pose you maintained as the orchestra brilliantly provided the introduction to this song. It was an exciting glimmer of what was to transpire over the next 2 minutes!
And, I was not disappointed. Everything worked for you, Syesha! Both the song and key selection were perfect for you, highlighting your glorious vocal sound in the middle range of your voice. Yet, every area of your voice sounded just splendid, beautifully resonating in your vocal masque with a noticeably improved mouth formation.
Additionally, you revealed oodles of personality via your sassy and sexy choreographic style. You are definitely an excellent dancer, as your dance movements were fluid and relaxed. You moved about the stage, interacting beautifully with the orchestra, in a manner that was graceful, elegant and sinuous.
Your flowing, jazz inspired vocals wonderfully complimented your rhythmically animated stage movements. You moved with absolute ease on the stage, making ever certain that you maintained a controlled pace throughout the entire performance.
Yet, even though I sensed your artistic control during this performance, the whole performance package looked and sounded so spontaneous and so relaxed. Your hard work and determination in the preparation of this song established an air of confidence and security, one that easily catapulted this performance to a high standard of musical excellence. It was polished, sophisticated and technically sublime.
Now, what you need to do is shimmy and shake yourself over to the neon lights of Broadway and I have no doubt that you will. This was a star making moment -a revelatory performance – one that symbolized the distinctive path that will harvest your future success in the music business.
Bravissima, Syesha! A standing ovation from Masterclass Lady!
Critique: Syesha- this was as good as it gets on the stage of American Idol. Therefore, I am at a loss for words in terms of my critical evaluation of this performance.
I think, if nothing else, you have discovered the importance of selecting the proper song vehicle, one that will not only showcase your stellar vocal and choreographic ability, but also one that will uncover the dynamic personality that you possess as an artist.
Congratulations once again and I do look forward to your performances next week.