American Idol Season 9 Top 2 Vocal Masterclass Article: The Finale With Crystal and Lee

American Idol

Well, this is it for another year. No more Vocal Masterclass articles until next season – unless I decide to critique the Glee and/or  America’s Got Talent performances. We`ll see – it`s getting pretty warm outside and it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay glued to a computer.

Overall, Crystal and Lee sang very well, but one singer really managed to capture the energy and force of this important night and incorporate these elements into the songs.

Read on to see!

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.

Crystal Bowersox, and  Lee Dewyze,

CRYSTAL BOWERSOX 24-years-old: “Me And Bobby McGee”, “Black Velvet” and “Up To The Mountain”.

Strengths: Crystal – this week, you came out of the gate fighting for this crown. Your energy and momentum for all three performances was palpable, even through  the television airwaves. You were in the moment for the entire night and showcased many sides to your artistic style, thus highlighting the multifaceted dimension to your performing ability.

Your trio of performances this week was programmed in a very intelligent, very creative manner. It gave the viewers a strong concept of what to expect from you during a full-length performance. You are one clever, insightful young woman and the outcome of this competition is irrelevant. The important thing is this: you have strong sense of your artistic identity and will be able to bring your new and refreshing approach to the very tired, disenchanted music industry.

Your personal song selection, “Me And Bobby McGee” was  a reprise from Billboard #1 Week and it was wonderful to hear it once again.  Because it highlighted your bluesy performing style, your voice embraced the melodic line with ease.

The song started a little on the apprehensive side, possible from nerves;  however, once you reached the refrain, you really kicked this song into high gear. It was at this point in the song that your vocals sounded liberated and fluid.  The distinct artistry you bring to this song is impeccable – something that cannot be taught. It just is!

You are an extremely expressive singer, especially when the song is just right and, boy, was this the perfect song for you or what?  However, although this number was a great first choice, it was only a teaser of what was about to come!

Your second song, chosen by Simon Fuller, was “Black Velvet”. Am I the only one left on the planet that loves this song?  It’s a neat song with a great rhythmic foundation and a soulful melodic line. So, taking this into consideration, I thought this was a superb choice for you, Crystal, and, thankfully, you relinquished your guitar for this performance.  You are one smart chickadee!  Show them every side Crystal, show. them. every. side!  MamaSox doesn’t need her guitar time she performs!

I loved the red ambience /the black dress combo – it perfectly established the fiery mood for this song.You were a vision of sultry elegance on the stage;  you looked so confident and energized and, at one point in the song, I developed goosebumps that did not go into remission until the commercial break.

I also appreciated the new arrangement you brought to this song.  It was a relaxed yet intense interpretation and your soulful artistry sent a significant message to the listeners through your novel approach.

Technically, your excellent bel canto approach was more obvious in this song than in your first number. Your mouth stayed consistently round on the majority of the vowels. This important element was most noticeable on that sustained “oh” midway through the song. Perfection!

Your final number, Patti Griffin’s “Up To The Mountain”, was extremely well done and the absolute perfect song choice for you. Cradling your guitar and backed by the gospel choir, you gave us a chilling, poignant performance.  Your face was so expressive and your voice never sounded so radiant.  That full voice, followed by that head voice toward the end of this song, was exceptional.

And, echoing Kara DioGuardi’s comments, I too felt that your personal walls came down while singing this song, your emotions bubbling up to the surface and moving forward toward the audience.

I also appreciated and applauded your decision to programme a meaningful song with an acoustic arrangement as your final number. If nothing else, you proved that all the smoke and mirrors in the world cannot replace a meaningful, tender performance, one where the vocals are front and center.

Your talent is the real deal and is here to stay. You are not a manufactured commodity for fast bucks and a quick turnaround. You are a genuine, unique and a classy, talented young woman.

Brava Crystal!  This was an exceptional showcase!

Critique: Crystal- I have so little to critique in these performances this week, Once again, this was all about the artistry and less about the technical glitches. With time and practice, these problems will disappear. Artistry however will reign supreme!

However, I just want to add a few comments here before I send you on  your way!   Be careful that you continue to work on the crisp, precise articulation of your consonants, especially when singing through your lower range.  During “Me and Bobby McGee”, your words were  incoherent during the first half of the song, therefore, throwing off the focus of your voice in your vocal masque.

I have a feeling that you have performed this song numerous times pre-Idol and, as a result, muscle memory superseded the correct technical process. It’s hard to make technical changes to a song that you have performed many times – your muscles react in a familiar way and the manner in which you hear and deliver the song becomes a well-ingrained habit.

Therefore, your voice, although animated and expressive, lacked clarity. The complete resonance of your voice remianed locked in your extremely constricted throat muscles. And, when this happened, your pitch lost its core and focus.

Hopefully, once the competition is over, you can address these technical problems in your vocal delivery and correct them. That all-important circular mouth formation on the pure vowels, the relaxed, free jaw and strong diaphragmatic support are key to developing and taking your voice to the next level.

“Black Velvet” was brilliant, so I have no critique for this song, apart from the occasional areas of tension in your voice. However, this was not a huge factor in this song, so I am going to leave it at that!  It was visually and aurally breathtaking!

And, “Up To The Mountain” was a work of vocal art!  Just a memorable, meaningful and emotionally charged performance!

Brava, Crystal Bowersox!  Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady! It has been a pleasure writing these Vocal Masterclass evaluations for  you.

LEE DEWYZE: 23-years old “The Boxer”, “Everybody Hurts” And “Beautiful Day”

Strengths: Lee – your personal song selection, “The Boxer”, was a reprise of your selection from Inspiration Week.  This was not my favorite song from past performances, but it was a great warm-up song, did relax you and ground you for the last two numbers.
Some lovely head voice came through in your vocal mix toward the end of this song – during  the “la la”section. It was just beautiful and it confirmed that you do indeed have some level of technical control for accessing this all-important vocal element.
You were wise to choose this song because it did not have large, out-of reach intervals in the melodic line. This technical element has caused you problems in the past, so good for you to selecting a  great warm-up song that settled perfectly in your comfort zone.
Also, you were making a concerted effort to grab and sustain your voice on those pure vowels. And your mouth position was more correct, the jaw noticeably more relaxed than in the earlier performance of this number.
During Simon Fuller’s selection, “Everybody Hurts“, I applauded the fact that the song’s tempo was more relaxed, thus providing great contrast with your first number.  During this number, I felt that your voice sounded increasingly  pure and focused .  However, that being said, I loved the rough edge you incorporated into your vocal mix, as it added the necessary inflection to the tortured emotional core of this song.
I also loved the addition of the gospel choir  – it amplified the wonderful visual and aural dimension in this number while not subtracting the focus from your vocal delivery. This was a well-balanced arrangement, passionately performed!
Your final song selection, U2’s “Beautiful Day” was a good song selection, although I could think of a 100 better songs that would have been better suited to your natural singing range. However, all in all, as in your second number,  I heard some lovely pure singing and you sang this song with passion and conviction.
Unfortunately,  the sound technicians needed a wake-up call, as the balance between your vocals and the back-up arrangement was insane!  Did they even turn on your mike?  Crazy!  If they had amplified you properly and balanced the orchestration with your pure vocals, I think the outcome would have been far superior.
Great work, Lee and congratulations on your success throughout this competition!
Critique: Lee – during all three numbers, that “heads-up” position, while singing louder or higher, was an unnecessary evil. As I have said repeatedly throughout the competition, the elevation of the head causes tension in the throat muscles, diminishing true support from the diaphragmatic breathing muscles.  Also, it subtracts the communicative impact with your audience while, at the same time, the forward momentum and projection of your voice.
You need to continue to work on accessing the powerful support in your diaphragmatic breathing muscles, allowing the lower half of your body to become fully buoyant in assisting the supportive process. Relaxed knees, tight derrière, strong back and stomach/abdominal muscles need to replace all the tension in your upper body.
Also, although I did appreciate the fact that the “The Boxer” felt comfortable for you, I wish you would have chosen a song that  highlighted the full extent of your artistry. Perhaps, “The Letter” from Billboard #1 week would have been a better choice and, also, would have encouraged you to move around the stage sans guitar.
During your second number, “Everybody Hurts” your voice  fell prey to some of the larger intervals in the melodic line during the earlier stage of the song. As a result, you experienced some pitch problems, albeit not as bad as I have heard in previous performances.
Always remember to connect the two notes in these intervals with strong diaphragmatic support.  The support and the control  must be grounded in the lower note of the interval;  otherwise the upper note will fall off the radar. Also the throat has to stay out of the  picture and you have to make sure that you grab the pure vowels within the lyrics, centering your voice in these vowels.
You also became a little sloppy with your diction and that surprised me. This has never been a permeating problem for you  in the past. I wonder if the arrangement was just too, too much. I felt that your personal space and your vocal presence was compromised because the arrangement, although beautiful, overwhelmed you.
As I said above, I thought the balance was wonderful but it seemed to me that you started to experience more technical problems with the addition of the choir halfway through this song.
“Beautiful Day’s” pseudonym should have been “Beautiful Disaster“.  The music  was far and away too loud – I could barely hear you! And that melodic line – could it get more repetitious?  The arrangement was just crazy – so loud and so busy. Also, the key selection for this song sat a semitone too high for your natural singing range. This problem, when added to the recurrent melody line , put considerable strain on your voice.
You are better than this song, Lee, – it just didn’t sit comfortably for you, causing your upper voice to sound thin and overextended. And I could sense your discomfort while watching your random movements on stage, trying to shake away the nerves or perhaps trying to run away from the noise behind you. (sigh) This was a real shame.  Fire the sound man!
However, I have enjoyed reviewing your performances each week. I feel that you have worked tremendously hard to grasp some of the important technical aspects of singing, all while under the scrutiny of millions of viewers each week.   You are a genuine and talented artist, Lee, and I wish you the very best in your future musical endeavors. Bravo!

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

11 Responses to “American Idol Season 9 Top 2 Vocal Masterclass Article: The Finale With Crystal and Lee”

  1. Excellent, thank you MCL!!!
    hey, I liked “Black Velvet” too and it was the second best of the night for me behind “Up to the Mountain”. Some people are calling it “Paint it Black Velvet” because of the identical (I think) stage backdrop, the stairs, and the not-so-pleasant notes in the end, all in good fun:)
    I loved “Bobby MgGee”, but it was so good the first time that it was ever-so-slightly worse for me the second. As I said, “Come to the Mountain” was beautiful and I though highlighted the best part of her voice that was so great in “Long as I Can See the Light” and “People Get Ready”. Fantastic!!!

    I thought “The Boxer” was as good as the first time with much more energy, good job Lee!!! Unfortunately, the other two numbers weren’t good at all. I thought the last one started so off it was nearly unlistenable, oh well.


  2. Last week Lee out sang Crystal – but this week Crystal had the fire in her belly. I loved Up to the Mountain – I’ve not heard it before and will make a great single – if she wins.

    I’ve never seen much in Lee, he’s OK but that’s all, I could never get why people thought he was good. I disliked the Boxer first and second time – the original was so much better. The last choice for him was not good – but reading the critique above – maybe because the sound balance was bad – I shall have to listen to the studio recording to see. However he did finally show some spark while singing this song.


  3. @Barbara Wasn’t “Beautiful Day” the one where Lee was complimented for taking in the crowd with his eyes? I was flabbergasted when I heard that. That was one of the things that ticked me off most about this performance. It was as though he was physically in the audience. Where he should have been, was inside his song. I haven’t followed Idol this season, save for watching the final episode, but my impression from Lee is that he’s not, deep down inside, a musician/artist/singer. From my viewing last night, it’s almost as though he just sings the notes he’s supposed to sing, but there’s no emotion, meaning, or depth and range conveyed. I may be overly harsh in saying that, but that’s the impression I got.

    Crystal, on the other hand, is a singer. The last song exemplified that as she really drew you in to the song & story that she was conveying with her voice and music. She was almost in tears singing the song (contrast that with Lee looking around at the crowd, almost as though he was telling himself, “I’m on American Idol. I’m on American Idol. I’m on American Idol!”). Also, the strength of her voice is amazing, and I was concerned that she was a “max volume” only singer from the first two songs, but her third and final song really showed that she has control over her voice and the insight to sing it softly, too.

    I don’t know why I get so angry over critiquing singers, sometimes, lol 😛 Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m either insane, or people are just plain wrong in their opinions (I’m sure it’s a bit of both)!


  4. MCL, I haven’t yet been able to read the full post, but I caught the words in Shuki’s post that you liked Crystal singing “Black Velvet”, so I went to that portion of your post. Elsewhere in the web, it does seem like everyone else hates the song in general. It isn’t Heart or Melissa Etheridge, but I never thought it was that bad, either. I’m glad to know that you and Shuki don’t think I’m crasy!


  5. I’m sure you know that I meant “crazy”, not “crasy”. I don’t usually correct typos, but “crasy” just looked too weird!


  6. Jeanne – I was quite dismayed that people didn’t enjoy Black Velvet. Sometimes people make up their minds that they won’t enjoy a song before they actully hear it and, then, lose objectivity during the performance. I thought Crystal added a new and exciting dimension to this song. Loved it!


  7. Question, MCL: When you speak of Lee’s choice of The Boxer as being good for him because of the short jump in intervals, and Everybody Hurts has having larger interval jumps, are you saying that it is easier to go off pitch with larger intervals, or is there something else involved as well? And even if it is the former, I would love if you can elaborate on this a little.


  8. Jeanne – it is difficult to connect the wider intervals if you don’t have solid technical training. When a singer is moving from a lower note to a higher one, the diaphragm has to support the process or else the higher notes will be less centered.

    Also, when one sings in the lower range, there is naturally more chest voice in the vocal mix; however, if you carry too much chest voice into the higher range (where head voice reigns supreme), then a singer’s pitch will be poorly tuned, less rinigng.

    So it comes down to consistent diaphragmatic support combined with a proper amount of head voice in every area of a singer’s range. Head voice adds a pure, uncluttered vocal element to a singer’s timbre and ensures a clean, well-tuned vocal delivery.

    Hope I made myself clear. 🙂


  9. You did, and it makes perfect sense. But one question more: If a mixture of both chest and head voice — different percentages, depending on the area of the range you are singing in — is ideal, and head voice “adds a pure, uncluttered vocal element to a singer’s timbre and ensures a clean, well-tuned vocal delivery,” what does chest voice add?


  10. Jeanne – chest voice additional resonance to the vocal mix – a richness and fullness to the sound. Also, as one sings louder, you need to add more chest voice to create the louder dynamic – while never sacrficing the core element – head voice.

    Head voice is similar to what you would hear when one listens to a young male or female treble – that pure sound that, overtime, develops more body and dimension.

    This is why I love working with children; for the most part, they sing with a light. clear vocal timbre and I can slowly develop and expand their voice through the correct technical regime. Because they are so young, they already come equipped with natural head voice.


  11. Thank you. This is really interesting, and I feel like I’ve made enough progress in my understanding of vocal technique (small though it is!) to go back and review some of your previous critiques and better understand what you’ve said on the level I am now at.

    I’m a first alto, and when I was younger, I thought that meant that my best sound was in the lower part of my range, but as time has gone on, I’ve realized that I am most comfortable in the middle to high section — from A to E flat, say — and like the tone up there the most. I used to have trouble bridging the two voices seamlessly, and while I still struggle with it some, much of the problem has gone away — I’ve accidentally started doing things in a more technically correct manner than I used to, I think. But I was always trying to repair the bridge from top to bottom before, which I guess meant I was trying to bring too much chest voice into my upper range, when I should actually have been doing the opposite — trying to add head voice to my chest voice!

    Thank you so much for giving people like me access to a better understanding of what good singing involves. That I can apply it in some respects to myself is icing on the cake, because I sing strictly for personal pleasure, but I really enjoy learning about why and how the people I listen to create the sound they do.


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