American Idol Season 9 Top 5 Vocal Masterclass Article: The Music Of Frank Sinatra With Harry Connick Jr.

American Idol

Bfore I begin, I would like to say how impressive it was to see Harry Connick Jr. sharing the stage with the Top 5 singers. In addition to equipping the singers with wonderfully inspired musical arrangements, he provided superb orchestral leadership throughout all the performances this week.

And I thought he worked extremely hard during the coaching sessions with the singers, offering them great musical advice and guidance that they will carry with them forever.

Given the fact that most of these singers were very much removed from this style of singing, I thought that each performed reasonably well and that the selected songs were generally well suited  for their individual styles.

And didn’t all the singers look terrific? This style of music encourages the artist to play “dress-up” and sometimes what you wear dictates how you feel and  how well you sing.   But – not always!

And so, without further delay, here is my Top 6 Vocal Masterclass evaluations.

Here are my evaluations and, remember, I am reviewing each singer in (first name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome. To quickly access each singer, simply click on the singer’s link below.

Aaron Kelly, Casey James, Crystal Bowersox,

Lee Dewyze, Michael Lynche,

AARON KELLY 16-years-old: “Fly Me To The Moon “

Strengths: Aaron – you were blessed with one of Sinatra’s signature songs. Everytime I think of  ‘Ole Blue Eyes, I  invariably hear this song in my head.   I am so happy that you opted for an up-tempo song this week. You are the resident balladeer of the group and very good at this style of music. However, this was the week to swing and indeed you did!

You looked terrific, by the way. Your new fashion look augmented the genuine nature of your performance delivery.

I loved the slow start to this song and the gentle segue into the swing section. I was secretly hoping that this would be the master plan for this song arrangement and was glad to see and hear that the arrangement mirrored my thoughts.

I also appreciated the lovely melodic variation you implemented, especially in the last  half of the song.

Good work, Aaron!

Critique: Aaron- you were one nervous young man during this week’s performance. Everything about your physical demeanor seemed “off” to me and extremely beyond the reach of your comfort zone.

Once again, you were back to your faulty technical habits. Your  jaw was tight and your mouth cemented in a horizontal position throughout the entire performance. Not even the roundest vowels could rescue that misplaced jaw and mouth alignment.

However, you did make an effort to use the stage but, unfortunately,  looked stiff while doing so. And your left arm was moving aimlessly once again – a sure sign of  your discomfort level.  Over the past few weeks, you had corrected this problem to some degree, but this week it became a distracting force once again.

Arm movements are great if used in an expressive and meaningful way.  However, if these movements are randomly placed throughout a performance,  they not only diminish your level of confidence but also the energy needed to support your voice through the diaphragmatic breathing process.

And you fell into the diphthong trap once again.  It was very obvious when you vocalized the word “fly”, sustaining your voice through every vowel in that diphthong and not the first pure vowel, “ah“.  And sure enough all this tension and lack of  pure vowel focus resulted in a break in your voice toward the end of your song.

Additionally, the lack of technical support and bel canto practice altered the correct tuning of your voice.  The clarity and transparency was wholly lacking. And the constriction in your facial muscles, especially your eyes, diminished the full resonance of your voice.

I was so hoping to hear  the glorious sustained bel canto singing that was wonderfully evident during last week’s Shania Twain performance.   However, the quick pace of this song coupled with your stiff and tense demeanor unfortunately inhibited the freedom of your vocal and performance delivery .

You need consistent and persistent training, Aaron.  You have a wonderful voice and a passion for singing; however, equipping yourself with the correct technical skills will reinforce your natural musical talent in a monumental way and preserve the health and vitality of your vocal gift.

Good luck, Aaron!

CASEY JAMES 27 -years old: “Blue Skies”

Strengths: Casey – you looked terrific and it was wonderful to see you perform without your duet partner – the “geetar”!

Even though this is definitely not your style of music,  I am glad that you were obligated to “work the stage” this week.  It is a very important performance attribute and, over time, it will become easier and you will feel less self-conscious.

You exuded a wonderful charisma and I thought you really did  try to connect to your audience in a genuine way.

Good work, Casey!

Critique: Casey- you have a great smile, but you have to remember that the horizontal mouth position while singing is not the way to go in terms of creating a stable and seamless vocal sound.  As I mentioned last week,  you need to initiate supreme effort to maintain a circular mouth position when sustaining  the pure vowels within your lyrics.

And, speaking of pure vowel placement, you are still having trouble accessing the first pure vowel within your diphthongs. For example, in the words, “skies“, “by“, “right” and “fly”, that “eye” diphthong has three vowels “ah”,eye” and, finally, “ee”.

How much easier it would have been for you to grab the “ah” vowel with  a circular mouth position, sustaining and resonating your voice on that lovely, round vowel!   Your voice would have enjoyed more depth within its natural timbre and the accuracy of your tuning would have increased.

Also, your phrasing was extremely fragmented throughout this performance. Your were dropping your  phrase endings and not allowing the diaphramatic breath support to connect the phrases in a meaningful and expressive way.   This song sorely lacked in the all-important forward momentum!

And because you were not using the full potential of your technical support, your  wide vibrato was very evident this week.  All that constriction in your throat and faulty breathing initiated a tremolo, rather than a fully supported and aesthetically pleasing vibrato.  You were one step short of yodeling this number, Casey!

Vibrato is a natural element in every singer’s voice and if it becomes too wide or used in the wrong way, it actually detracts rather than hinders the beauty and distinctiveness of a  vocal sound.  And then it vocally downgrades to a tremolo. You must know when and how to use your natural vibrato – it shouldn’t randomly creep into your vocal sound.

Finally, I am not a 100% sure that this was best fit for you in terms of a song selection. The lyrics and the melodic line just seemed all wrong for you  – this is rather a simple song and, although the arrangement sounded blusy enough, I sensed that it didn’ t sit comfortably in your heart and mind.

There were so many other ballads from which to choose. Sinatra has performed many!  Why you chose this one will remain a deep, dark and puzzling mystery. You seem to excel when performing complex ballads with meaningful lyrics. Given your remarkable performance history with ballads, it seemed that this would have been the direction to take!

Hope this helps you as you move forward with your career!

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX 24-years-old: “Summer Wind”.

Strengths: Crystal – I am glad that you mentioned your deep connection to the lyrics  within this song. This is integral to a solid, believable performance within this genre of music.  Overall, I felt that you gave a good performance of this number. Even though your started the song quite tentatively, you did loosen up as time went by and became increasingly connected to your audience.

Also, you looked so elegant in your ball gown.  Very beautiful indeed!  I really embraced this stunning fashion makeover – it provided mark contrast to the more casual “look” generated through past performances.

Vocally, I thought the 2nd half of this song really sparkled. It was during the last section that you  added some powerful dynamics and punch to your vocal delivery. The articulation of your lyrics was more coherent, your confidence level  increased and your voice retained the familiar and natural expressive quality to the end.

And I loved the easy access of your clear, ringing head voice. It gave everyone a glimpse into the true beauty of your vocal timbre and allowed you to incorporate some of the natural ringing element into the mid to lower part of your vocal range.

Also, what really tickled me was your effort to round out your mouth on those pure vowels. No – you were not wholly consistent, but the effort was duly noted and applauded!  This technical element takes time to achieve, so, given the fact that you were making an effort to embrace the technical aspects of solid singing, I felt this deserved  enthusiastic acknowledgement on my part.

I also thought that you initiated some lovely phrasing elements within the song’s basic melodic structure and this is further testament to your innate musicality.

Very good work, Crystal. Brava!

Critique: Crystal- you must continue to work on the concise and consistent articulation of your lyrics, as it will add energy and focus to your voice and increase the resonating and expressive presence of your vocal delivery.

As I have mentioned in previous weeks, there must be intensity and purpose when vocalizing through your softer and/or lower-voiced sections of your song material. You cannot leave your diaphragmatic support and articulation skills behind when you sing softly and/or through your lower range and then rush back to retrieve them for the louder, energetic passages. It just doesn’t work that way – ever – for you or for any singer.  By doing so, the song will sound disjointed and unbalanced.

I would like to impart advice to you and some of the others as well: use your consonants as a springboard for your vowels. Articulate them crisply and quickly, allowing the jaw to move vertically – not horizontally – as this will preserve the all-important circular formation of your mouth when you sustain your vowels.

This takes practice for it is not customary for many of us to speak this way. However, in order to create a seamless, transparent and coherent vocal sound, this is the technique that works. And, you will appear more buoyant and energetic in your vocal delivery. Time will yield the results!

Finally, during the first half of your song, your breathing and, therefore, your phrasing was fragmented and the song seemed to lag, lacking in the very important forward momentum that necessitates a fluid and seamless performance.  This improved during the second half of the song, but I was needing to hear more of this at the beginning. That diaphragmatic support must be in place from the first note – high or low, loud or soft!

However, whether it was me wishing and hoping that you would sing with a stronger technical foundation, I did detect a more relaxed jaw this week and real effort to sustain your vowels. The technique is not natural to your vocal delivery yet, but, with time, it will be. I really hope that you continue on this road, Crystal, as you will discover so much potential in your voice – the range, the dynamic level, the phrasing elements – all of this will improve and you will wonder how you ever managed without it.

LEE DEWYZE: 23-years old “That’s Life”

Strengths: Lee – I loved the fact that Harry stressed the importance of the lyrics to you and all the singers. And, by George! I think you got it! You heeded Harry’s advice and punctuated the words with powerful inflection, capturing the mood of this song so very well. And, while doing so, you moved with rhythmic ease and comfort, working the stage and connecting strongly with your audience.

This was a powerful, purposeful performance. You were definitely a man on a mission and your mission was to do Harry proud! Also, I felt that you treasured all the advice given to you by Harry Connick and treated his advice like a precious commodity.

As a result, for me, this was not only the best performance of the night, but also your best personal performance to date.

However, the pièce de résistance occurred when I noticed the enormous improvement in your bel canto vocal technique. Your mouth maintained that integral circular position, thus allowing your voice to resonate fully on those all-important pure vowels. As a result, your voice sounded clear, precise, seamless, wonderfully projected and centered.  All those good things that enhance a stellar vocal performance!

Complementing this noticeable improvement in your technical approach was you ability to stay clear of the “land mine” vowels in your diphthongs.  You really strived to sustain your voice on the first pure vowel of your diphthongs and this, I am sure, increased the ease and comfort of your vocal delivery. Sustaining you voice on one vowel vs. three vowels – it’s a no-brainer!

As a result, your voice had remarkable presence and charisma and I barely detected a hint of the raspy timbre that you initially brought to this competition. That’s a wallop of an improvement in such a short time. You must have worked tremendously hard behind the scenes, Lee, so kudos for your superb work ethic.

The self-assured attitude, your sleepy, yet expressive eyes, the renewed confidence , the poise – everything was phenomenal and gelled to perfection in this showcase.

And the hug you gave to Harry after the song was completed summed up this exciting experience so very well.  It not only emphasized the strong bond formed between artist and mentor, but also captured the genuine, sensitive persona in your emotional makeup.  And, more important, respect and gratitude to the artist – Harry Connick Jr. – who gave you new wings with which to fly.

Bravo and Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady.

Critique: Lee – I guess I could get really technical here and start rattling on about this and that – but I won’t. If there was anything to critique it would be to continue working on your stage movements, making sure that you do not get too carried away. At times, I felt you were a bit over-pumped, but, hey, I would rather see this than the timid, shy performer that graced the Idol stage at the start of this competition.

And, since I could plainly see that you had indeed been refining and improving your technical skills, I can rest assured that you will continue on this road in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead of you.

Congratulations on this stellar performance, Lee! Bravo once again!

MICHAEL LYNCHE 26-years-old : ” The Way You Look Tonight”

Strengths: Michael – what a great song and what a great look! Star power times two!  You performed this song with flair and fashion and, more importantly, adopted and internalized the correct attitude for this song. Stylistically, it was a fabulous showcase and I could find very little fault with many of the excellent performance aspects you integrated into this song.

I also appreciated and applauded the fact that you did not stray too far from the microphone stand, thus refraining from moving too much as in previous performances.  This is what works for you – expressive arm movements caressing the audience and your glorious, expressive vocal instrument.

Also, as I was typing, I realized that your voice is so identifiable – without looking at the television screen, I knew it was you.  You have a distinctive sound and a distinctive style. And you have been blessed with a God-given vocal instrument that resonates with expressive ease and composure.

You communicated your words in a narrative way, adding inflection and nuance in your vocal delivery. This is what one must do when singing this style of music – tell the story! And you accomplished this performance aspect so very well Michael!

Your brilliant sense of style and fashion plus innate ability to communicate this genre of music took us back to the golden age of singing.  This was an expressive, heartwarming performance and kudos to Harry Connick Jr. for this fabulous orchestral arrangement.

Congratulations, Michael! Bravo!

Critique: Michael – what is going on with your voice?  As I said last week and in previous weeks, you came to this competition equipped with some very sound technical experience. However, over the past few weeks, the technique has flown out the window and has taken a backseat during the preparation time for these performances.

If anything, this song should have reinforced in your mind the components of great singing.  If you researched Frank Sinatra’s musical history, you would know that the crooner rigorously studied the vocal training methods of classical singers so that he could improve the placement of his voice, his breathing skills and his ability to phrase his songs in a creative, intuitive manner.  In fact, he was quite obsessive about creating the best voice possible. This is why he is legendary in his field of music. He aimed for the top and after he reached that pinnacle, he found others to climb.

Therefore, you have to start climbing your technical mountain once again, Michael, and position your voice on the track to a healthy and robust vocal delivery. As I mentioned last week, the upward tilt of your head, added to that tight jaw and horizontal mouth formation, is wreaking havoc in your vocal timbre.

As an example, when you sang the words, “thinking of you” at the beginning of this number, you raised your head during the word, “of”, and maintained that position while you sustained that note. It was painful to watch. Doesn’t that hurt? It would hurt me!

And then the madness continued as you enunciated all the vowels in some of your diphthongs via a horizontal mouth position, such as  in the word, “tonight“. How much easier – and simpler – if you had simply allowed yourself to sustain your voice on the pure “ah” vowel. Your voice would have intensified and, certainly, would have been more centered and ringing in an essential supply of head voice.  It was chest voice all the way and, because of this, your voice lacked the inherent beauty and charisma that I came to know and love in the early stages of this competition.

Adding to the technical mayhem was the obvious constriction of your throat, impeding the forward projection of your vocal sound. As long as your throat remains locked and your facial features rigid, your voice will have nowhere to go and your diaphragmatic support will remain at a standstill.

Hope this evaluation will urge you to correct and become acquainted with your technical skills once again!  Your voice is so beautiful – use it wisely!

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

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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

10 Responses to “American Idol Season 9 Top 5 Vocal Masterclass Article: The Music Of Frank Sinatra With Harry Connick Jr.”

  1. Lovely and timely. I’m running out of descriptions to describe exactly how I feel every time I see a new Vocal Masterclass article but know that I enjoy reading them very much! Thank you and brava for another week of wonderful feedback. 😀

    I actually noticed the exact same problems as you did with Mike. I really do think it must be fatigue. Seeing the horizontal mouth position and lifted head position on some of the sustained notes was very odd and worrisome!

    This competition really is a grueling one, isn’t it? I can think of several other contestants in past seasons, all very talented, with whom the vocal tiredness began showing during the last few weeks of the competition. I hope all the contestants get adequate rest before the tour!

    And I’m really proud of the progress Lee has made. He’s one of the contestants who’ve really grown me. I wasn’t too keen on him at first, but his humility, openness, and clear love for music are very charming. And I really appreciate his desire to grow and learn. He possesses the right attitude to continue improving and honing his craft. 😉


  2. I forgot to say: even with the slight technical issues, Mike sounded beautiful. I love, love the advice that Harry gave him; I really heard it come to life in the way Mike phrased the song, very sincere and lovely.

    Harry was such a classy mentor! Oh how I wish we’d have more true musicians as mentors on this show! I loved him using musical terminology with Aaron. Harry knows his stuff. 😉


  3. Grammie Kari May 6, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Thank you for a thoughful and consise evaluation of the performances, MCL! I hope the finalists will read this and follow your advice.

    I sincerely admired Crystal’s attempt to present a new image, and she did look lovely. Perhaps a different choice of song would have helped, but I didn’t find her performance as bad as the judges did.

    I do agree that Lee is attempting to grow as a performer. It is obvious TPTB want him in the finale. I wonder if they know he has recorded two albums? For me, Michael is not exceptional. Casey has room to grow and this theme revealed the weaknesses in his vocal delivery.

    Right now, I am trying to think if there has been a weaker TOP 5 on the show?

    Prior to this, Barry Manilow was in my opinion the best mentor; however, Harry Connick, Jr. stepped up to the plate and delivered. He was very fair and presented a sense of fairness. During both shows, I kept thinking of how Siobhan would have enjoyed working with him and vice versa.


  4. It looks like things are shaping up to be a Crystal/Lee finale. While I would’ve preferred Siobhan/Crystal, I’m okay with Lee/Crystal, as he was my third favorite. I think he has consistently improved every week and thus shown the most growth as an artist. I know he is far from inexperienced, so I was happy to hear his natural tone come out without being hindered by poor vocal technique. A lovely performance! I know some people don’t like his voice, but he is a good example of what proper constructive criticism can accomplish. Yes, the judges have an agenda, but he has greatly improved and the judges have recognized that.

    I agree with you, MCL, about Crystal’s performance. I’m finally starting to see her flaws regarding vocal technique, and this song did reveal them. Now that she’s gotten two bad critiques in a row from the judges, I hope she steps it up quickly. It’s hard to go from over-the-top praise all season to immediate negative critiques. They were very nice to her, as they don’t want to lose her in the top 3.


  5. Great feedback to the competitors. So many people do not know what it takes to be a great singer. It looks easy, and it most certainly is not! I honestly think that Crystal and Mike are the two best performers left on the show, in spite of the struggles we see them going through during the grueling weeks of competition. They both have excellent pitch, and stage presence. Everyone is very good, but they have it over the other competitors in my book. Some people act like American Idol is a free ride to fame for the people who make it to the top 10 or top 5. But I’d like any of them to attempt to sing all of these different genres of music life in front of millions only to possibly be scathed in the reviews of the judges only moments later. As a lifelong performer myself, my hat is off to them!


  6. I listened to Mike again and this was a moment when he just connected perfectly to the words of the song, the arrangement suited him to perfection and it all worked. Some people may not think that I believe that great artistry can trump technical skill, but that is not the case. I actually barely heard the technical issues this time, because Mike got into that special place that singers can sometimes find, where he was feeling the song and letting it all come out in his voice. I hope he can address the vocal technical issues, because that always was his strong suit, but it a strange way I think his artistry is helping him stay in the competition. This now is my very favorite performance from him.

    As for Lee, I think he’s peaking at exactly the right time. This was his most fully realized performance. I have listened to it again and it appeared that he got the right balance of technical skill and artistry. There are some tones in his voice that I don’t really like and he may have relative pitch, which would explain why my ears hear him as slightly off, but this was his best technical vocal performance. I think Harry Connick Jr. helped Lee to relax, have fun and get into the feel of the song. He showed attitude, swagger and a real commitment to the story that needed to be told.

    Someone on MJ’s blog said that they thought that now it’s about personality and not singing. I think they are right. Opinions about favorites have been pretty much formed by now. Lee is enormously likeable, appealing to women and has an “aw shucks” demeanor that is quite charming. Likeability counts for a lot in this competition. I also get why people like his voice. It’s a very commercially pleasing sound. I think Crystal needs to be careful, because Lee has some real momentum as we head into the final stretch. If she gets criticism from the judges, she should smile and nod and say “thank you” and that’s it. I think it’s unacceptable that Ellen was the only judge who finally pointed out the enunciation problem that Crystal has when she sings. A classic pop song will expose that for all to see. That’s why the early part of the song didn’t work. Ellen said she was swallowing the words. This is the one judge who admits that she doesn’t have the technical expertise, yet she at least knew that something didn’t sound right. I felt that Crystal wasn’t entirely comfortable with this song and that connection she spoke about did not come across to me. That is what was really missing in this performance. But all the judges were talking about is that it was “sleepy”, too soft, not strong enough. That’s not the point! When did singing a song softly and restrained become a bad thing? Crystal had a point about not always needing to sing big notes, but it’s better left unsaid right now. I know that Simon was just trying to ger her to up her game, because he wants her in the finale. Lee is closing in fast and Crystal needs to hold her own. But the judges didn’t really focus on what was missing in her performance.

    I filled out that questionnaire on the Idol site and it was a cathartic experience. I like being able to have the opportunity to let them know what I like and do not like. If they don’t get rid of Kara, then there is no way that I watch this show next year. Also, if they don’t make some serious revisions, then I am done. It’s time for the producers to lose the arrogance and reinvigorate the show.


  7. Mindy, I was surprised when Ellen pointed out Crystal’s poor articulation skills. It’s been a pet peeve of mine since Day One and I thought I was the only one who noticed or cared:

    I am glad you adding your suggestions over at the AI site. You and so many others here on this blog have wonderful ideas.


  8. I really enjoyed your review and was hoping that you could review Anoop Desai’s new album All Is is out noe on itunes…Please and thank you so much..btw my favorite this year is lee dewyze..



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