American Idol Season 7 Top 6 Vocal Masterclass: The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber

American IdolBy: 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, Carly Smithson,
David Archuleta, David Cook
Jason Castro, Syesha Mercado

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.

Congratulations, Brooke!

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.

For all the latest American Idol News, visit SirLinksalot: American Idol or the American Idol Official Site


About Masterclass Lady

Rosanne (Giallonardo) Simunovic began her musical career in Timmins, Ontario. She studied piano with Anne Pizzale and later, at an advanced level, with Soeur Anita Vaugeois (Sister Cecile of Les Soeurs De L’Assomption in Timmins). Her vocal and accompaniment skills were nurtured by her aunt, the late Dorothea Mascioli. When Rosanne graduated from O’Gorman High School, she moved on to the University of Toronto where she continued her piano and vocal studies while attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She was hired as a piano accompanist for several musical companies, most notably, the National Ballet Of Canada. She presently holds an A.R.C.T. Teacher’s Diploma in Voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Rosanne has studied choral conducting with numerous well known Canadian Conductors, including Wayne Riddell of Montreal, Quebec and the internationally renowned Dr. Elmer Iseler. She has been a founding member of numerous community-based arts organizations: the Timmins Arts Council, later known as Arts & Culture Timmins, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra, and, the Timmins Youth Singers…as well as the TYS Alumnus choir, the Timmins Concert Singers. In 1987, she was also selected to be the conductor of the Timmins Board Of Education Choir, comprised of talented students from Grades 5 to 8. In 1988, she was elected to the Board Of Directors of the Ontario Choral Federation (now known as Choirs Ontario), where she served as Chair of the Festivals Committee for six consecutive seasons. In 1996, in honour of the Ontario Choral Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Rosanne was selected as one of 25 recipients of the OCF’s Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contribution to the choral art. The ceremony was presided by Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman. In November 1997, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Rotary Club Of Timmins to receive the prestigious Paul Harris Award for her years of dedication to the artistic development of young musical talent in Timmins. In August of 2002, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Board Of Directors of Choirs Ontario to serve as Conductor of both the Provincial Junior and Teen Choir Camps, now renamed in honour of the Camp Benefactors, Don and Lillian Wright. In November 2002, Rosanne was the one of the recipients of the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, honouring her work in the development of the arts in Timmins. Under Rosanne Simunovic’s direction, the Timmins Youth Singers and the Timmins Concert Singers have been featured in numerous choral festivals and performing opportunities outside of Timmins. In 1985, they were selected to partici

32 Responses to “American Idol Season 7 Top 6 Vocal Masterclass: The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber”

  1. Roseanne,
    I love your blog. As a David Archuleta fan who visits the various fan sites, I must say that you spoke for a lot of people when you mentioned ALWs advice (and David’s response) about the eyes. The general consensus has been that we don’t mind when he closes his eyes because we can see that he’s into the music. Some have e-mailed his vocal coach and a family friend to ask him, please, to do as he has done — this is almost insanely important to us! LOL.

    I hope he takes YOUR advice to wait until after the show before he tries to address this issue. As for the rest of your article, including the advice to other contestants, you have my applause. You manage to instruct without tearing down. I’m not a musician and only know what I respond to, but I feel as if I’m getting a bit of a musical education this year because of my interest in David.

    Thanks again,


  2. Thank you MCL. You have such a supportive energy in your critique and a clear focus of what the contestants should be concentrating on. Our idols are lucky to have you. Thank you too, for you comments regarding David’s eyes. I’m no ALW but I think it’s OK to get lost in a song. Expressing himself on stage has never been problem, in fact it’s one of his strengths. I agree with you, don’t change a thing!


  3. Hi, MCL! Thanks so much for posting this, especially when you aren’t feeling well!

    I was especially pleased to read your critiques of Carly and David C.; I was watching the show with my mother, and we thought both singers sounded so good, but weren’t exactly right, somehow–it was very confusing. I think you were put your finger right on the problem with both–the emotions they were conveying didn’t match the meaning of the lyrics. Music of the Night is such a desperate, creepy song, and David C. sounded excellent–really showing he can just SING–but the overall emotion was not creepy-seductive. And I enjoyed watching Carly have so much fun–but you’re exactly right, that song is not fun at all. (Although I would cut her some slack on the song choice–Andrew Lloyd Webber pretty much ordered her to sing it, after all. Not the best advice, under the circumstances!)

    I’m a little puzzled by one comment in the Jason critique. I recall that on Tuesday’s show they showed a little clip of Sir Andrew (or is it Sir Lloyd Webber? I’m not up on how to address British nobility!) saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if Jason ignored all his advice (and did better thereby), but nothing on Wednesday that I remember about Jason not actually having followed his advice–unless ALW told him to choose another song, and they didn’t show us that part, entirely possible. Did I miss something? I don’t have TIVO, so that would be easy to do! (I’m really not meaning to be snarky, and I hope I’m not coming across that way, I’m just curious.)

    Hope you’re feeling better–and thanks again!


  4. I love your reviews…and find it fascinating how you gently pave the way to the nitty-gritty, under the heading ‘Critique’.

    I’m grateful that DavidA got away with his memory lapse, right after the key change, where he went blank on the words following “Imagine me…”. According to your review, even you didn’t notice it, and he’s getting raves from all quarters. I think it was the combination of the key change, which is always a heightened moment, and Webber’s admonition to keep his eyes open, which is obvious for any performer, distracted him from his accustomed inward focus. I agree with you…Don’t change a thing!…for now.

    I was surprised by your rather positive review of Carly. I was appalled at her screaming rendition of JCSuperstar, and astonished that a singer would not know what key suits her voice. As David Foster pointed out…she couldn’t even reach the modest top note of the melody. You were right again…it was the final nail.


  5. Actually, I meant to address Carly’s key issue in the critique. It totally escaped me at some point because I was trying so hard to get this article online before the weekend.

    But, yes, she should have performed this number a tone lower. The fact that the background vocals had to carry the melody was crazy. However, I do think she used her voice correctly. It sounded shrill because a soprano was singing it instead of a tenor.

    It just doesn’t work – no matter how technically sound a female singer’s voice is! Plus Carly’s vocal timbre is very bright – if she possessed a mellow quality in her voice, then it would have sounded more aesthetically correct.

    Oh yes – i did notice David’s memory lapse, but, in the grand scheme of things, it did not in any way hinder his superlative performance. It actually slipped my mind when I was writing his evaluation – so that’s a good thing.

    I can’t tell you how painful it was to write this week’s analysis with this stupid flu bug.

    Plus my teaching schedule on top of everything. I am drained and very happy it is Friday.


  6. MCL…WE ARE ALL greatful and appreciate you toughing it out to write yet another superb analysis!!

    For some reason, I still loved Carly performance this week…although after reading your review, it has somewhat changed my mind, but not by much…ha! I think I can finally see why she left AI this week.

    I agree that maybe if Jason would have got up from his seat near the end of his performance, it would have been a little more effective.

    Looking forward to Neil Diamond night!


  7. Thanks bizzee. I love writing these articles, so it was frustrating to have to slow down the pace. But, I guess I will have to tough it out with the flu for a couple of more days. It’s a doozy, I tell you.


  8. I really enjoy your critiques. However, I think if you had known how sick Jason was reported to be (103 fever) you wouldn’t have been so hard on him. I would encourage you to listen to the itunes studio version of Memory. I think it’s lovely, even though he was probably sick when he made the recording.


  9. I was just going to post about Jason being sick, too, Mommydog. I don’t think Jason could have gotten out of his seat…he may have fainted.

    I wish Ryan would have mentioned it Tuesday or Wednesday. Maybe he wouldn’t have been trashed by the judges or the media so badly. Everyone else who’s been sick this season has had it mentioned. I guess Jason didn’t want it to be an excuse.


  10. MCL, I hope you are starting to get just a little bit better on your road to recovery.

    I know Jason should have picked a better song, maybe something with an uptempo beat. However, I did appreciate his performance. I am wondering who is working with him to suggest the breathing techniques? I actually liked all of the performances and was happy with the end result.


  11. I apologize for not drawing attention to Jason’s illness.

    I have been ill myself and so I was barely on the computer, except to complete the Vocal Masterclass article.

    If he feels like I do, then I commend him for even getting on stage to sing.


  12. Thank you MCL! Your reviews are entirely fascinating and amazing! I learn so much and really get a sense how tough AND caring and SMART you are!

    I so enjoyed this ALW show and now I am going to watch it again with your rev in my head. I had thought Jason would be in the bottom but don’t disagree with Carly going off. It’s so hard at this stage in the competition.

    My hub only listened and didn’t watch the performances and really thought Carly had blown the melody and it was awful. But watching (and knowing the song), I was intrigued by what she had done. You are right that it looked like she was having TOO much fun for the lyrics…

    I really gained an appreciation for how challenging ALW songs are!

    Thanks again for your awesome blog and I hope you feel better soon.


  13. To be honest, even if Jason was sick, his performance was no different than it has been in other weeks, at least for me. “Memory” is a beautiful song but Jason would have better served to choose a more uptempo song as breathing issues are not always as apparent (as opposed to a ballad). I also wish Carly would have sung “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Possibly a more tender side would have emerged- ah well.

    Jason should have more luck with song selection with Neil Diamond. As should all the other singers. (Shame on you, Jason, for not taking full advantage of the masterclass opportunity with Lloyd Webber! end rant…)

    At this point, I have no idea who’s going to win. I am still waiting for the late-round “moment” that it seems like the winner needs to have at some point. Alas, I think it’s possibly too late for Syesha who still keeps hitting the bottom 2, despite good vocal performances. My advice for “Neil Diamond week”:

    Brooke, Jason: Stay in your note comfort range. Brooke, lighten up! Your “human” side is making me increasingly uncomfortable as I don’t want to witness a breakdown onstage!

    David A: There are lots of fun songs in the Diamond repertoire. Sing “I’m a Believer”!

    David C: I’m still waiting for you to connect with a tender lyric. Maybe sing “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”? And mean it! (Was I the only one a little skeeved out that ALW told him to imagine a SEVENTEEN year old? Yikes, milord, at least make the pretend female of legal age!)

    Syesha: Keep you chin up (I don’t mean literally!) and don’t let the bottom 2 thing get to you!


  14. Your reviews made me chuckle, because it was quite obvious that my knowledge was lacking when it came to Carly’s performance. While I commented on your previous post that I did not enjoy David Cook’s performance because I didn’t see the Phantom’s pain, I had absolutely no clue what Carly’s performance should have sounded like, so I enjoyed it. 🙂


  15. Thank you again for another week of insight into the Idol contestant’s songs and advice on how to improve technically for each of them. I look forward to your reviews each week. It really makes me wish I had taken voice lessons when I was young, I used to sing in a bel canto choir back in high school (ages ago LOL) and can carry a tune, but never ever learned a thing about technique, which would have been good to know.

    Neil Diamond songs should offer everyone a wide variety of songs that suit their own styles and will be interesting to see what they choose. I hope David Archuleta picks something upbeat, would love to see him rock out a little bit! Actually after several weeks of ballads it’s time for some uptempo selections for them all.

    We’ll see!


  16. Yes, I want all of them to “lighten up” this week.

    The overabundance of ballads is probably the cause of my sluggish immune system. (I am now in week 2 of this ghastly flu/cold combo.)


  17. Hey guys read this it gives insight to what actually happened on Results night. Apparently Paula had to console Brooke White…

    Shock, grief, anger, betrayal. These were the feelings that swept through the Idoldome after the stunning dismissal of Carly Smithson, the contestant this column has called the most electrifying in “Idol” history. But the tidal wave of horrified feelings was entirely in the audience. On stage, Carly Smithson herself, always the most spirited and nurturing of this year’s contestants, stayed upbeat and even cheery as she said her good-byes and took a last look around from the “Idol” stage, knowing perhaps that for a talent such as hers, now that it has been loosed to the world, the journey is only beginning.

    It is a funny thing about mortality –- we never ever have enough time. Although there is only a month left in this marathon, and although the spots on the Nokia stage are in all likelihood locked up by David Cook and David Archuleta, meaning that all the others will meet their ends very soon, Carly’s departure brings floods of anger and sadness. While there was still a hope, while there were still lesser candidates in the field, it seems impossible to let go of every moment we might have spent with Carly on the “Idol” stage. After the show, the crowd shook with resentment toward perceived undeserving survivors, akin the impotent frustration of people on the losing end of a stolen election. But such is why “American Idol” remains so compelling in its seventh season — this ability to summon such emotion from its various partisans, even when they are miserable, only fuels its strength.

    From the beginning, there was an odd, jittery feeling in the Idoldome, presaging strange things to come. This deep into the season, the stakes for each elimination are all the higher, driving the collective nerves to new heights. Before the top of the show each week, the judges play a game with how late they can come in before airtime, striding in generally with only a minute or two to spare. Wednesday night, two of the judges (Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell) missed the cold open entirely, and had to sneak in while the opening credits sequence rolled, causing stage manager Debbie Williams, for whom getting the judges in their seats is the bane of her existence, to warn the crowd not to cheer for them as they slipped across the room.

    Simon’s high jinks continued during the group number. As they sang, one of the vocal coaches came into the audience and stood next to the judges’ desk so that he might conduct the contestants through the number. However, ever the mischief maker, Simon grabbed a makeshift baton and offered his own rival conducting along a different beat. At the next break, Debbie admonished “Simon was a bad boy. He conducted the children wrong.”

    The high jinks however, took a more dramatic turn after Brooke White and Syesha Mercado took their turns on the stage. Once Angel of Death Ryan Seacrest gave Brooke the all-clear, she rushed to collapse on the couch, lying face down once the show went to commercial and openly weeping, a spectacle that summoned Paula to the stage to comfort her and raised many an eyebrow about her seeming bottomless well of neediness. Meanwhile, across the stage, Syesha, alone on her death stool, turned her back to the audience to let her tears flow, clearly thinking, I gave it my greatest performance and I’m still here on this damn stool. What more can I do for you people?

    Throughout the season, Carly has very much played the den mother on elimination night, being the first to comfort the eliminated or the merely rattled, joking around, keeping the atmosphere light even as Angel of Death Seacrest flapped his wings nearby. So when her turn at last came, had she demanded her share of comforting, especially considering the outpouring of affection for her, she would have been within her rights. But all class to the end, she stayed smiling, cheery and grateful in her last minutes, seeming to comfort Syesha and Brooke rather than receiving reassurance herself.

    So what are we to take away from this? Right now, in the hours after Angel Seacrest wrapped Carly in his icy embrace, it still seems much too soon to say good-bye, and the reality that she will not be with us for Neil Diamond week seems too harsh to accept. It will take years for historians to have the time and perspective to sort through the meaning of what happened tonight, but in an attempt to write a first draft of history, let us consider that the winds, for all her talent, were blowing against Carly from the start:

    • The Youth Vote. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times in this column, the children cannot be ignored. One 11-year-old supporter is worth literally several hundred grown-up supporters given that is how many times the child will call. Carly’s was the maturest of talents in this group; she and Michael Johns both offered in their singing and personas very grown-up styles and appeal. We can hope this will serve the both of them well in their post-“Idol” careers.

    • Pastel tones. The finalists on “American Idol” are almost without exception those whose auras radiate in bright, soft, warm colors. Jordin Sparks was pure pink. Blake Lewis shone in azure. Taylor Hicks was green teal. Katharine McPhee — a light red. Carly’s aura is a deep, complex magenta (when she performs at least, unlike her chatty aura, which is very sunny).

    • Female rockers. Seven seasons in, we can affirmatively say, they don’t seem to fare well on “Idol.” From Nikki McKibben to Gina Glocksen to Amanda Overmyer to Carly (who was only half-rocker) it’s a tough road.

    • Definition. Without a clear, easily describable in two words or less outline of what kind of singer you are, it makes it hard to gather a consistent reliable demographic group and a singer is forced to ride the waves of fortune week to week.

    • The judges. This season, Simon in particular seems to have an outsized effect on the results, writing the story of how every performance is seen. He was, ironically, favorable on Carly’s final performance night, but that came after weeks of very grudging compliments at best.

    We will be debating what happened for ages to come, but whatever the reason for her elimination, let us rejoice in the hours we spent together. Critics threw stones at the fact that Carly had a recording career prior to “Idol,” but it always seemed to me, that as a result of her past, she brought to the stage a richer, more complex and fascinating history then any other contestant.

    The narrative I constructed for myself of Carly’s story, based on her comments and what we know of her history, went something like this: Carly stepped foot on the stage professionally very, very young, touring with Les Miz as early as age 8. After devoting much of her youth to music and performing, she finally, at the end of her teens, lands the big one –- a record deal with a major label. She moves all the way to Hollywood from Ireland thinking she is on the cusp of her dreams coming true. However, for whatever reason –- poor marketing, youth, etc. –- the record does not take off. In the wreckage after the deal falls apart, Carly flees Los Angeles for San Diego, where she waitresses at a bar through what must have been very dark times, wondering after a life spent wanting to break into music, and no doubt feeling cast aside by the industry, what does she do next? The only hint of her dreams, the weekly show she performs at her bar.

    Years pass. Taking a crazy chance, she tries out for “American Idol,” and is picked from the auditions to move forward. But because of problems with her immigration status, she is unable to be on the show. It must have seemed that fate was irredeemably against her.

    More time passes. She marries. She keeps singing in her bar. And finally she auditions again. And makes it through.

    Every night she went up on the “Idol” stage, Carly projected both the sure hand of someone who had spent her life working for this moment, and the gratitude of one who has learned that life doesn’t owe her anything. Hers was the joy, not of a dream that she felt the world had an obligation to fulfill, but of a dream that had been forced to hide away until its flame was so tiny, it was this close to being blown out. And finally, when it seemed just about to disappear forever, to be allowed to shine once again! No other contestant’s story could match depth and poignancy to Carly’s euphoria at being given this chance once again, to paraphrase her countryman, W.B. Yeats, a lonely impulse of delight drove her to this tumult among the clouds, which is why I called her the most electrifying performer ever to take the “Idol” stage.

    No one could match that intensity, but we take comfort in knowing that that flame now burning so, so brightly can no longer be extinguished, and like many before her who came to this stage, even if they did not make it to the final rung of this competition, her career will undoubtedly continue and we will see its fire again and again in the years ahead.

    And so I close tonight with the words of the poet C.P. Cavafy. His poem, “The God Abandons Antony,” reminds us, difficult as it may be, to not be filled with recrimination for what now passes, not to second-guess the way things have gone, but to draw on the strength that brought us to these heights to get us through and cherish the sublime moment we have known. And in Carly’s case, we can close this chapter knowing this ending will be the beginning of a new journey greater than anything that has come before it.

    When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
    an invisible procession going by
    with exquisite music, voices,
    don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
    work gone wrong, your plans
    all proving deceptive — don’t mourn them uselessly.
    As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
    say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
    Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
    it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
    don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
    As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
    as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
    go firmly to the window
    And listen with deep emotion, but not
    with whining, the pleas of a coward;
    listen — your final delectation — to the voices,
    to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
    and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

    — Richard Rushfield


  18. Hey you guys read this apparently Paula had to comfort Brooke White on Results Night…

    What do you all think?


  19. I like your list, katherinesmom, I would love to hear Jason sing “Forever in Blue Jeans.”

    MCL, I have recommended your blog again on the AI Forum in Jason Castro’s threads. The title is, “Is everyone here opposed to vocal training?” I was surprised some people actual oppose vocal training because Jason’s voice is so beautiful. “We” know better, thanks to you!

    Get well soon!


  20. dadmonson, here’s another description of Brooke falling apart. I’m truly starting to be concerned for her … she’s lost SO much weight (that she didn’t have to lose!) and her emotional health is batting zero.

    From Entertainment Weekly:

    “Syesha and Brooke are hauled out next to deliver Shocker #1: Brooke ain’t going home. Even though Syesha, like, got to, like, play someone, like, different for a change, she’s sent to the space stools; meanwhile, Brooke heads to the couch where she proceeds to completely break down. First her head is in her hands. Then she puts her head between her knees while D.Cook rubs her back. I take a second to check in on Syesha, who has wandered offstage, and suddenly Rushfield is nudging me to look at the couch again, where Brooke is full-on lying down. I am not sure that America’s decision to keep Ms. White around is doing much for that poor girl’s psychological condition. She’s been in a steady decline for weeks, and tonight she practically went fetal in public. But god bless that “mosh pit”! Soon, the screaming girls have Brooke up and laughing. And as Corey (the warm-up entertainer) enters my section to hand out swag — OMG, he’s in my ROW! eek! — Syesha is being totally ignored. She emerges from the wings, clutching a Kleenex and looking visibly distraught, then starts swiveling around on her stool to collect herself while facing the back of the stage, hyperventilating with her hand on her chest, and clutching the other stool for balance. At one point, she goes to blow her nose, and a woman behind me gasps, “She’s gonna be sick!” She was not. But she was a little melodramatic. Broadway, baby. Broadway.”–3.html



  21. I know Neil Diamond is disapointed that Kristy Lee was eliminated before being able to perform “They’re Coming To America” … I was seeing her in red/white/blue sequins =)


  22. Dadmonsoon – thanks for sending along this article. Poor Brooke, she is truly a mess.

    But the Carly eulogy made me laugh. You have to read the comments after this article. They are so funny, but this guy said it the best:


    Is this a joke? ‘Historians’? ‘Angel of Death’? ‘We will be debating what happened for ages to come, but whatever the reason for her elimination, let us rejoice in the hours we spent together.’ !?

    This is a Gong show, man. You need to go lie down, or, better yet, go grab a beer. I’m truly glad we live in a society where all people have to worry about is TV shows, but, really, if you need this much drama in your life, join the Army or something. 🙂

    You made me laugh, anyway. You seem to be saying she’s got the talent to just go from here on her own, yet there’s all this poetry and other nonsense. Good heavens.

    Enjoy your day.


    Posted by: Frank McLean | April 24, 2008 at 06:23 AM


  23. Wadaoot – this is an revelatory link as well. Syesha looked very upset when told she was in the bottom, but we never saw to what extent she was truly hurting. The poor thing.

    And Brooke? That’s enough now. Send her home. She is obviously in distress and needs to be released from her Idol obligations. Plus, she has to sing 2 songs this week? Good Lord help her and us.


  24. Kariann – thanks for trying to persuade the Jason fans to read my articles, but, why am I not surprised that they don’t like them? 🙂


  25. thanks for trying to persuade the Jason fans to read my articles, but, why am I not surprised that they don’t like them?

    I guess it depends where they are posted–on the TWOP site (in the Jason thread), you’ve been quoted at least once, and most of the reaction I saw was quite positive. I think the posters there skew a bit older than on the AI forums, and know that vocal training won’t “destroy” his sound, but will help him not only sound better, but preserve his voice–which, logically, fans should want.

    Hope you are feeling better!


  26. I should’ve posted this a week ago, but here is Debra Byrd’s comments about Kristy on ALW week:

    “THEN Debra said the most disappointing thing about this week is that (shocker)

    Kristy wasn’t here to perform. Rickey agreed!! Debra said had Kristy got to sing her song . (She picked “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”) She would have Blown everyone away and it would have been the “moment” of the season. Rickey argues saying that he agrees it would have been the moment, but he thinks David A already had one with Imagine and David C with Billie Jean, Debra responded with “Kristy this week would have outdone both of those performances, I believe, it was one of the best things I’ve heard throughout the 7 seasons working on Idol” and Rickey said “I can’t argue with you there, this was shaping up to be Kristy’s week it was devastating to see her go after how excited she was for this week. You don’t know how good Kristy is until you hear this, it might have put her into front runner status” Debra agreed saying it would have definitely thrown a huge wrench into the competition.”

    After listening to this version of it (, I agree that we were robbed. That song is a perfect fit for Kristy’s range, and wow at Byrd’s comments! MCL, you have met her, correct? This isn’t an exaggeration?

    Regardless if it is or isn’t, I hope she sings it on the tour.

    I hope you’re getting better, and thanks for the great critiques this week! 🙂


  27. WOW that’s cool thetomboy…

    Where is the link to that article?


  28. Tomboy – I am not surprised by Debra’s comments re Kristy. I said this in my Top 7 Vocal Masterclass article about Kristy and it bears repeating.

    Kristy excelled at performing songs that had an “anthem” feel in the harmonic and lyrical structure. In other words, songs with strong statements and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”is another strong example of this.

    She was getting stronger and stronger each week, so maybe TPTB were getting nervous. Who knows?

    I haven’t met Debvra Byrd – except over the telephone. I interviewed her a few years back when she was working with the Canadian Idol contestants. She is a lovely, genuine and talented lady.

    Feeling better with each passing day.


  29. Here’s the link where the discussion originated:

    Apparently this was a radio show with Debra and Ricky Minor, dadmonson. I wish I could find it on YouTube.


  30. Hi, MCL–glad to hear that you are feeling better (hope that changes to “well” fast!).

    I was listening to some of Jason’s studio recordings, and it seems to me that in those versions, at least, his technique is improving, certainly more than in the live performances. When you do get to listen to some of them, I’d be very interested to know if you think that that is in fact the case (rather than some sort of recording manipulation). Thanks!


  31. “Kariann – thanks for trying to persuade the Jason fans to read my articles, but, why am I not surprised that they don’t like them? ”

    Oh no, no MCL, I didn’t have to persuade anyone to read your articles. And I bet they WILL like them! Some just did not understand how much vocal training will help Jason. I even mentioned his posture. This was regarding his singing while sitting. Oh, please understand, your articles/reviews are really a clear focus of what the contestants should be concentrating on (as Janey says.)

    I like rereader’s question about Jason’s studio versions.


  32. I have to make time to listen to all of the singers’ studio recordings. Thanks for jogging my brain rereader.

    And, thanks Kariann for being my goodwill vocal ambassador over on Jason’s forum.

    Maybe he has the time to sing correctly when in the studio, without the pressure of a live peformance.

    I cannot wait for the show tonight. I love Neil Diamond.


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