Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season 10 Top 7 Singers: Music From The 21st Century

American Idol

By: Rosanne Simunovic

What a fantastic Top 7 show! Everyone performed exceptionally well and so my critiques of the singers are less verbose than in other weeks.

And while watching Jimmy Iovine interact with the singers, I was very impressed with his methodology, how relentless he was in accessing the very best attributes in all the singers. The improvement in all of them is nothing short of astounding.

It was great to see and hear our Season 10 eliminated finalists. Weren’t they outstanding? It’s going to be a great tour!

Let us move forward to my Vocal Masterclass evaluations and I welcome your commentary and suggestions after the read!

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.

Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart, Jacob Lusk, James Durbin,

Lauren Alaina, Scott McCreery, Stefano Langone

CASEY ABRAMS: “Harder To Breathe” by Maroon 5

Strengths: Casey – I love Maroon 5 and was really tickled that you chose one of their songs. This was a multi-dimensional performance, visually and vocally strong. You delivered this song with passion and established strong connection with your audience and, oh yes, the judges.

However, let’s focus on your vocal performance. In short, it was just outstanding. Everything came together for you in this showcase.  Your voice sounded strong and clear and, yet, very expressive and dynamic.  There were many vocal and performance plateaus in this song and you reached every one of them.

What greatly impressed me were your noticeably strong articulation skills. I understood every word but, more important, your crisp articulation projected the voice forward in your vocal masque and, as a result, your voice had resonating presence.  Strong articulation skills really add energy and focus to every singer’s voice and encourage the singer to use the diaphragmatic breathing process with increased efficiency.

And thank you, thank you,  Thank. You. for leaving your string bass behind and hauling out the guitar instead. And I am even more grateful for the fact that you didn’t adopt a stationary position behind the mike stand, but rather moved seamlessly yet energetically across the stage.  You worked that stage like a pro Casey.  Marvelous!

It was wonderful to hear you incorporate your liberated scat singing into this number. It just reinforced in all of us how tremendously talented you are and how much dimension and scope you have as an artist.

This was an excellent performance Casey. Standing “O” and all that jazz! Kudos!

Critique: Casey – that horizontal mouth is still worrisome for, in the long run, you will find that a more circular formation in your mouth will increase the depth, ease and freedom of your voice. It will also allow your throat to remain open and free.

However, because you were so emotionally invested in this song and had rehearsed this number so very well, your voice sounded energized and focused. Also, as I said above, your articulation skills were consistent and strong, helping to focus and resonate your voice. You told your story and we listened and that’s all that matters now!

congratulations on a very fine performance, Casey. Loved it!

HALEY REINHART “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele”

Strengths: Hayley – I loved the cafe-style ambience you created at the beginning of this song performance.  In fact, this was one of many dimensional aspects that I loved about this outstanding showcase.  Finally, you are selecting songs that highlight the authenticity of your personal style.  This week, as in last, you were zoning in to the core of your vocal style and substance and laying it bare on the stage for all to see and appreciate.  Brava!

This week you explored every musical possibility in your voice- from the clear muscular sound, to the clairvoyant head voice, to that raspy, bluesy quality that we have come to associate with your singing style. The expressive quality in your singing style was just perfect and added so many layers to the final product.  The vocal nuance in this performance was beautifully realized and very sensitive.

Your stage movements were wonderful and seamlessly realized. The music dictated your movements, allowing you to rhythmically feel the music in a physical way that was comfortable for the viewer to watch and enjoy. Gone were all the overdone hand motions – now the physicality of your performance made sense.

Your voice is really a gorgeous instrument – full of surprises for the listener. You never push the sound, even when singing through your louder dynamics.  I have always appreciated this about you, Hayley, as you have proven time and time again that a singer does not have to scream to get her message across to her listeners.

This was an exceptional performance, Hayley! Standing “O” here from the Masterclass Lady!

Critique: Hayley – I loved this performance and, quite honestly, could find little wrong with it. Technically, you have a strong grasp of how to project your voice in a liberated manner.

And, emotionally, the song resonated with the listener very well. In other performances, you have experienced difficulty connecting to the emotional core of your songs, but, this week, it was all there.

Continue to work on the shape of your mouth position. It is still too horizontal for me – I prefer a more vertical approach. Circular. You will be astounded at the depth you will achieve in your vocal delivery by making this one adjustment to your mouth position.

Everything else is in place – your facial features are relaxed and free and your diaphragm seems to be guiding your voice to the front. Now we need just a bit more resonance in the overall quality of your singing voice and, by George, I think we’ve got it!

JACOB LUSK: “To Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross

Strengths: Jacob – this was such a poignant performance. And I know this was difficult to deliver because the song had such a special meaning.

But, from heartache and sadness, came this absolutely stellar performance. The vocal delivery was impeccable, the dynamic level so varied and spectacular, your phrasing deliciously musical and elongated. 

You demonstrated the depth and power of your diaphragmatic breathing skills, especially as you effortlessly climbed through your upper range with your perfect round mouth and relaxed jaw. This is how it’s done, everyone!  Drop the jaw, harness the diaphragmatic supply and let the vocal magic begin. 

Additionally, you consistently sustained your voice on those pure. bel canto vowels and this contributed to the flawless vocal performance you gave this week.

I also appreciated the fact that you delivered this emotionally charged performance in a very relaxed manner – seated on your stool for the entire performance –  and, yet, through your expressive energy, managed to touch and communicate the poignancy of this song to the audience with passion and sensitivity. 

Ordinarily, I would encourage singers to stand up midway through a ballad – for added visual impact – but, in your case, the stationary, seated position helped to calm your physical demeanor and, the result was a clean, memorable and emotionally charged performance.

I cannot say enough about this performance – it was beyond exceptional. The vocal energy and the passionate commitment to the message in this song elevated this number to great heights. It was truly beautiful and extremely memorable.

Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady. Bravo Jacob.

Critique: Jacob – I still heard some of the vocal wobble in your lower range. You have a very strong vibrato in your voice that works to your advantage when you sing through your upper range using a strong dynamic level.  And, that’s all fine and good!

However, as I said last week, you must remember to support your lower range as efficiently as you do when you sing through your upper range. Your voice needs direction and focus at every level of your vocal and dynamic range or your voice will continue to sound less than seamless and very uneven.

Fortunately for you this week, this wasn’t as noticeable. The majority of the song rested in your mid to upper range and this problem was not as noticeable. 

However, the beginning of a number is very important. It sets the tone of the song and allows a singer to initiate energy from the diaphragm. And, if the beginning of a number happens to sit low in your register, you must create energy to deliver your lower notes with potent diaphragmatic support. The rib cage muscles have to “kick in” as soon as a sound is emitted from your mouth. 

Clarity is important at every level.  Vibrato adds character to the voice, but, when not properly supported, the wobble effect takes over and thickens the sound, making the pitch less true and accurate. And, remember to articulate crisply in your lower range, Jacob. This will help to focus your sound more efficiently.

However, this was your best performance to date! Really heart wrenching and so beautiful.  Congratulations.

JAMES DURBIN: “Uprising” 

Strengths: James – you are full of surprises, aren’t you? Again this was another artistically creative and vocally strong performance.  Your visionary approach to this and all your songs is absolutely extraordinary, dare I say, almost genius?  Yes, I do! You possess brilliance in your vocal approach and it comes from a very raw, unbridled place that I just love. 

I loved the marching drummers;   their inclusion in this number was a stroke of genius and catapulted this song to a theatrical level the likes of which we haven’s seen since Adam Lambert hit the stage a couple of years ago.

However, this is not to draw comparisons.  It is merely to point out that this kind of performance doesn’t happen too often on the American Idol stage because it is risky and requires a strong, confident performer to pull it off with flair and credibility. And, James, you fit all the criteria and then some!   The dramatic and  imaginative manner in which you told your story was unique and entertaining.  No one could take your eyes off you.  We  just hopped on the “James Train” and enjoyed the ride!

And when you sang an octave higher in the refrain of this song, it really took my breath away. That’s when I threw my IPad aside and said to myself, “This guy is not for real“.  Your voice comes from deep within your soul and you are not afraid to bare every nuance, every level of your vocal range to your listener because you are so in tune with the emotional core of the music.

This was such a dramatic performance, so intrinsically driven and realized. You are truly a remarkable artist.

And, somehow, someway, you have equipped yourself with some wicked technical skills to propel your vocals to stellar heights. The circular mouth, the strong diaphragmatic support, the cohesive approach to your vowels, your strong articulation skills, your God-given musicality – all of these elements are responsible for your strong musical presence this week and every week.

Bravo and Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady! Kudos!

Critique: James – I noticed a problem last week and failed to mention it because it was short-lived during your performance. But, it crept up again and so I must address it.

At the beginning of this song, your lower voice would have benefited from stronger diaphragmatic support and clearer articulation. This week, as in last week, you began each song in your lower voice.  Your voice was barely audible, almost breathy. Maybe you were going for a quieter dynamic, but even the softer passages would have benefited from a more  intense and focused sound.

Therefore, because so much air was escaping with your vocal sound,  your voice lacked presence and clarity. Now, if you had adopted a cleaner approach to your articulation skills, the lyrics would have been more transparent and the crisp enunciation would have created energy and focus to your vocal delivery.

Never short change your lower voice and/or softer dynamic in terms of the correct diaphragmatic approach. And spit out those words – don’t let them fall aimlessly from your mouth when you sing through your lower range.  If you correct this problem, then your voice will have even more dimension and, more important, have consistency and purity through every level of your vocal range.

However, congratulations again, James. This was outstanding!  Really something special!

LAUREN ALAINA: “Born To Fly” by Sara Evans

Strengths: Lauren – this was a very good song selection and it suited your voice so well. Emotionally and vocally, this was your strongest performance to date.

Everything worked!  Your voice was clear and consistent with no evidence of fatigue, but brimming with head voice in the vocal mix.  As a result, your voice was ringing throughout your vocal register.  Gone was the harsh chest voice sound and, in its place, we were treated to a crystal-clear vocal timbre.

Added to this was the expressive quality in  your singing style.  For the first time I felt that you were capturing the words with sensitivity, adding inflection and shading to mirror the emotion in the lyrical line.

I particularly loved the softer dynamic you implemented during the repeat of the verse.  This signaled to me that you had thoroughly researched the song, making certain that the singing dynamic complimented the emotional value at different points in the number.

I also applaud the round formation of your mouth, allowing you to apply a cohesive approach to your vowels throughout the melodic line of the song.  This improvement in your technical skills, when added to the expressive color in your vocal delivery, created a very superb and sensitive  performance indeed.

Visually, you appeared confident and professional and glowing with your newly discovered self-assurance and poise. This is what I’ve been waiting for – I think everyone has.

Brava Lauren and a standing “O” from Masterclass Lady. Extremely good work this week.

Critique: Lauren – perfect song and perfect performance.  I could not find anything wrong with this fabulous performance this week, so kudos to you! Your hard work and perseverance paid off and, now, we can sit back and watch the magic happen in the weeks ahead.   But, keep your nose to the grindstone;  you are on the correct path so do not be tempted to veer away from it.

 Congratulations once again. 

SCOTT McCREERY: “Swingin'” by Lee Ann Rimes

Strengths: Scotty – the nature of this song was very low-key and, yet, it allowed you to add a sophisticated twist to your performing ability.  I found that, throughout this song, you were not only having fun, but also were moving on and off the stage like a pro, brimming with confidence and composure.

Therefore, visually, it made for great entertainment and a truly enjoyable way to begin this week’s show. The song may not have challenged you vocally as did last week’s selection, but performance-wise, this was a huge improvement 

I loved how you sang down the octave at the beginning of the second verse. I don’t think you were given enough credit for this and it showed that you have extensive breadth in your vocal range. And kudos to you for choosing  the perfect key selection to demonstrate the expansion of your singing range.   

However, in the end, the visual dimension to this performance is what impressed me. You moved with youthful ease and abandon about the stage. 

And, although the microphone was tilting back and forth once again, it added a little visual aid in the story-telling process.  I guess this is your signature, Scotty, but I still would prefer that you adopt a purely vertical alignment  in your posture.

Vocally, you were demonstrating some of the “bel canto” spark and style this week – not as much as last because the song was more laid back in nature, but definitely there.

All in all a very entertaining and musical performance. Standing “O” from Masterclass Lady.

Critique: Scotty – because you were busy moving out and about the stage, I felt that your technical skills took a few steps backwards this week.    Your mouth was back to the horizontal position and so your voice didn’t quite have the presence and charisma I so enjoyed hearing last week.   Even though the nature of the song was relaxed and carefree, you still needed to apply a more cohesive approach to your vowels.

Therefore, the vocal line never moved forward;  it lost momentum.  I think the relaxed nature of this song really didn’t challenge you to build on the technical skills that you adopted during last week’s performance.  The song, although very entertaining, was melodically repetitive and this is always a danger zone for every singer. You need to keep the song vocally interesting, adding nuance and inflection.

The lower octave vocalizing was an excellent idea and it did help, but, you must remember not to allow your vocal sound to get lost in the lower end of your range.  You have to remember to support and articulate your lyrics so that the melodic and lyrical line  maintain clarity and momentum . 

I think your diaphragmatic muscles basically collapsed and you were using just your natural voice, which, for me wasn’t quite enough.  The diaphragm and the strong articulation skills would have added energy and momentum to your vocal cause, increasing the vocal spirit and essence of the song.

Always remember Low doesn’t mean Lazy when you sing.  Those lower notes have to cut through the instrumental background and reach the audience with strength and purpose.

Good luck next week, Scotty!


Strengths: Stefano – what an improvement in your stage persona. You looked strong and confident and, I thought, paced the song extremely well. You moved with  ease and purpose and, for me, the first half of the song demonstrated massive improvement in your performance skills.

It was blatantly clear to all who watched that you invested a great deal of time and effort to refine your stage technique and, in the end, it all paid off.   We all took notice.  I love  the very fact that you, as well as the other singers, just ran with the advice given you by your vocal coaches, along with Jimmy Iovine. You have emerged as a stronger performer because of their mentoring.

I also enjoyed the liberated approach in your vocal style.  Your vocal ability runs so deep and you have so much technical ability that, each week, you can turn many switches on in your vocal apparatus during your performances

This week was no exception.   I particularly enjoyed the implementation of your  head voice  and the relaxed. comfortable manner with which you vocalized throughout your range.  Your musicality just oozes from your body and  your phrasing is instinctive and very expressive.

This was a very exceptional performance, Stefano.  Congratulations for your hard work and perseverance toward your craft.

Critique: Stefano – I think I figured out why it looks like you are working so hard. You are a small guy, very wiry, but sometimes your energy overwhelms your stature. You are also very muscular and, because of  this, you have the energy to exert, but you must be careful not to exceed the boundaries of your physique. 

That being said, I felt that the  first part of this song was sleeker and smoother.  You captured and utilized the energy correctly. But, when you began to move and groove, you were pumping that body far too hard.

And then, the head went up as you sang through your higher range. Not only does the raised head work against the correct technical method, but it presents a disconnect in your stage presence. The head, moving away from the body, seems to “cut you in half” (for want of a better phrase) and so your stage persona is somewhat diminished.

But the good news here is this: you are improving by leaps and bounds and not all the technical elements can be cured or corrected in one week, one month or, sometimes, a year.  All of this takes time; bad habits are hard to kick.  However, because of your strong work ethic and discipline, I know you will, eventually, have all your technical ducks lined up in a row.

Congratualtions on an exceptional performance, Stefano!

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

3 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season 10 Top 7 Singers: Music From The 21st Century”

  1. Rosanne, thanks for the wonderful read! I’m working on my article as we speak, and I hope it serves as a nice complement to yours because I make some different points in mine. (I was so scared of being redundant, but your article banished my fears!) 😉 I don’t think you were verbose at all, but I worry that I’ll be. We will see, won’t we? =P

    I hope you’re getting in some rest during this busy week! 🙂 I’m amazed by how you do it all! Are you preparing any musical pieces for your church services? My church choir is singing two pieces for the Good Friday service and Resurrection Sunday, so I could imagine the hecticness of your schedule if you were!


  2. Hey J – I am so glad you are finalizing your article. It will have a different perspective and that is super. I am sure the readers will delve into it like a delicious meal and savor the knowledge. 🙂

    I am fortunate to be working with some talented singers (all former students of mine) who will be assisting me on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We will be singing tons of music, including Webber’s Pie Jesu.

    You sound busy as well, so pace yourself wisely.


  3. Hi MCL,

    So glad to read your critques again this season and also to find that you are appreciating James D! I’ll have to go back and read some of the earlier weeks to see what you thought of Pia’s singing.

    I read on Wiki that James D had been the lead in some plays in high school. I think he had more depth and breadth than he is given credit for on the show.

    I’m hoping to see James in the finale!



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