By: Rosanne Simunovic
I am presently on vacation for the month of March, so I may miss a couple of Vocal Masterclass submissions.
However, I thought I would get the ball rolling by reviewing the Top 13 performances.
In a nutshell, I was blown away by the majority of these singers. They are so gifted and it is clearly evident that there is a strong work ethic ingrained in every one of them – although some slightly more than others.
On Wednesday night, the singers performed the music of Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder. And the performances were pretty darn spectacular. Surprising in some instances!
I thought that Mary J. Blige did an excellent job guiding these singers toward performing success in their first live showcase.
Jimmy Iovine was along for the ride and, thankfully, his strong persona was downplayed in the mentoring process. He seemed less abrasive and more supportive in his role than what we saw last season. Growth is good – not only for the show but for the personnel involved with the show.
Anyway, 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.
Colton Dixon, DeAndre Brackensick, Elise Testone, Erika Van Pelt, Heejun Han, Hollie Cavanaugh, Jeremy Rosado, Jermaine Jones, Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, Shannon Magrane, Skylar Laine
Strengths: Colton – this was a beautiful number in which to highlight your expressive vocal instrument. You really envisioned a different road for this song and I loved it. And that head voice at the end was spectacular. You are a unique performer always adding dimension and breadth to each performance. Great work!
Critique: Colton – you need to work on your diaphragmatic support. Some of your lower notes were lacking punch and direction. Also, make absolutely certain that you articulate your words clearly via a circular mouth on all your vowels. All of these technical elements will assist you in your tuning – keeping it consistent and pure.
Strengths: DeAndre – I love your funky, current, reggae-influenced vibe. It was great to hear you add vocal dimension to this number, alternating with ease and freedom between your true vocals and your gorgeous head voice.
This was a rhythmically strong performance loaded with charisma and musicality. You put on quite a show up there on that stage and thank heavens that the judges brought you back as a Wild Card. This competition would be sadly lacking without you on that great big stage. Bravo Deandre. Methinks you are in this for the long run.
Critique:Deandre – what can I critique? That you move around too much? That you display depth of range and expressiveness when you sing? This was a pretty flawless performance.
But – just one thing – I would like to hear some of that glimmering head voice in your lower range. Presently, this part of your vocal range lacks depth and roundness. Always remember that head voice has to be incorporated into every area of your vocal range. And, by doing so, you will enjoy greater ease when you move from the highs to the lows and vice versa.
However, I loved this performance. Great way to begin your Top 13 journey. Bravo!
Strengths: Elise – this was actually a stronger performance than expected given the song change. This is not my favorite Whitney song but I felt that, all things considered, you performed this song extremely well.
Your rustic vocals sounded much purer than when I heard you in the Top 25. And you sang this song in a distinctive manner, not copying Whitney, but adding your own style and vision. I liked it – despite the judges’ feedback.
Critique: Elise – plain and simple, you picked the wrong song. You should have stood your ground and performed “The Greatest Love Of All”. Overall, you didn’t look convincing during the performance and so the song lacked a strong communicative element.
Sometimes, you must remember to dig deep and find a memory to conjure up the right emotion for a song. Pull something out of the bag to make you believe in the song – anything that works, as long as it works. Good effort though, Elise.
Strengths: Erika – I “heart” your mellow, contralto voice. You have such a beautiful timbre in your vocal quality. And it is enhanced through stellar vocal technique.
And your head voice at the end of this song was a glimmer of how much you have to offer in this competition. You added a variety of nuance to this song and what I appreciated is that you never – ever – pushed the vocals. You expressively communicated the words with refined taste and artistry.
This was just a beautiful performance, Erika. Thank heavens for Wild Card picks.
Critique: Erika – I have little to fault in this number. However, do remember to keep your mouth circular on those “ee” vowels in order to create a freer, more refined vocal sound. Also, by doing so, your throat will remain unconstricted – allowing your voice to float via the diaphragmatic support.
Strengths: Heejun – I love the light, lyrical quality to you voice and love even more that you stay true to your innate vocal ability. This was a heartfelt, expressive performance and the song was perfectly suited to your personality and vocal ability.
Critique: Heejun – you need to loosen up when you perform. And, by further refining your performing technique, it will release the true vocal tension that, overall, hindered this performance. Work on moving with ease and freedom on stage. This will relax your body and release the tension in your muscles.
And remember to breathe, breathe and – did I mention – breathe? Inflate those muscles surrounding the diaphragm and use the air to direct your vocal sound toward your vocal masque. Your body must take on the shape of a balloon – widening with the intake of air and then slowly decreasing in width as you flex your muscles to release the right amount of air to initiate the vocal sound you wish to create – be it high or low, loud or soft.
Good luck, Heejun.
Strengths: Hollie – you are probably the best technical singer in the competition. That being said, you are also one of the strongest performers in this competition. So, you are going to move far in this competition.
This was a breathtaking performance of the highest order. The sustained vocal line, the pure vowels, the stellar breath control, your expressive delivery – it all came together in a flawless, memorable performance. I was totally mesmerized by your showcase. Brava!
Critique: Hollie – I have nothing to critique here, Miss Hollie. Oh, one thing, don’t raise your head when you sing and sustain a powerful note – as you did in the word “man”. It will not only increase the tension in your vocal cords but also diminish eye contact with your audience. But, other than this, it was a very strong performance. I just loved it!
Strengths: Jeremy – you are a tender, vulnerable vocalist. You wear your emotions on your sleeve and I love that. You sang your heart out and the song spoke to who you are as an artist. Good work, Jeremy.
Critique: Jeremy – you need to work on maintaining a circular mouth position to ease the tension in your vocal delivery. This will increase the depth and clarity in your vocal timbre.
Presently, your vocal sound is quite spread and lacking in dimension. Remember to direct your voice to your vocal masque, thus ensuring resonating freedom and pitch-perfect clarity in your voice.
As I mentioned to Heejun, you need to anchor your vocal sound via strong diaphragmatic breath support. This is not only to ensure vocal health and longevity, but also to increase the dimension and dynamic in your vocal delivery. Presently, your vocal sound is very linear, there are no fluctuations in the vocal line, no crescendos and diminuendos.
Also, punctuating key words in your lyrics will add energy and focus to your voice and will increase the musicality of your phrasing. Good luck, Jeremy.
Strengths: Jermaine – your voice is such a golden instrument. What a gift you are to this competition – your vocal ability is truly inspiring.
You performed this song so expressively – it really touched my heart. You have a natural operatic quality to your voice that is so unique to this type of competition.
You moved quite well throughout the stage – a little hesitant, at times, but your effort was earnest and very much appreciated. Good work, Jermaine. You are one to watch!
Critique: Jermaine – relax those eyes and that forehead. It is lessening the full potential of your vocal resonance and adding some tension to your vocal quality.
And, continue working on your performing skills – just immerse yourself in the music and your voice and persona will naturally become more expressive. However, excellent work, Jermaine. You are an exceptional vocalist.
Strengths: Jessica – I loved the beginning – it was very controlled and the subtle nuances did not go unnoticed. You have nerves of steel, young lady. This song is so difficult to sing under normal circumstances and these circumstances are far from normal. You are 16-years-old on the American Idol stage singing Whitney Houston’s most powerful song in front of a live TV audience – a recipe for disaster. But not for you-you are most certainly a vocal prodigy and I have used this term only once – in relation to the great David Archuleta.
Your phrasing, your impeccable breathing skills, your musicality – all were so well executed.
Those final three notes were so gorgeous. How did you pull those quiet head-tone like notes out of the bag at the end of this powerful song? It defies logic. No one this young should be this good but you are and the competition is, basically, yours to lose.
Critique: Jessica – this was a spectacular performance. I am speechless. You are a musical and vocal wonder!
Strengths: Joshua – you are a passionate, gospel-inspired singer. And you brought this style and flavor to this wonderful Stevie Wonder song.
I loved the gritty nuance you incorporated into this song and the scat singing was a seamless and smart addition to this song. You moved with rhythmic ease throughout the stage.
This was a multi-dimensional performance, Joshua – lots of physicality and energy to highlight your expressive vocals. I just loved it.
Critique: Joshua – you must be careful not to push the sound from the throat. You presently sing with a constricted throat, therefore impeding the full support from the diaphragm.
Additionally, try to maintain a circular position with your mouth – it will add depth to your sound and further encourage you to direct your air support from the diaphragm.
Strengths: Phillip – this was a great song choice and you poured your entire body and soul into this number. I loved the additional choreography with the band – you looked so at home on that stage, jamming with the musicians like you have been playing with them forever. it speaks to your confidence as a performer.
Your rustic, expressive vocals wrapped around this melody with bluesy ease. And your entertaining presence was a joy to behold. You loaded this song with your distinctive energy and had the audience eating out of the palm of your hand. Excellent showcase!
Critique: Phillip – I have nothing to critique – not yet. I will be interested to hear you sing a slow, sustained ballad, just to make certain that you are capable of sustaining long lines in your phrases. This song was pure entertainment and fun, but now we need to see you move in the opposite direction.
However, your unique approach to each song makes you a standout in this competition and is exactly what American Idol is all about. Finding an artist of distinction.
Strengths: Shannon – this was a great song choice for your technically refined vocals. You received great advice from Mary J. Blige and, as a result, this song was evenly expressive from beginning to end.
I was cheering you on simply because you were singing it so passionately and I wanted it to work for you in a big way. And to finish with those quiet soprano-like vocals – very impressive. Good work, Shannon.
Critique: Shannon – yes, you were nervous, but at the core, the song was well-rehearsed and I could sense where you wanted to go with this number.
Always remember to remain in the moment – always, and, if something goes vocally wrong at some point in the song, never let it diminish the remainder of the performance.
It is difficult, I know, and easier for me to type than to vocally execute, but time and experience will help you gain control of your performing ability.
However, your technical skills are formidable – if not for that the outcome would have been less successful. So, believe in your technique and in your innate vocal ability. Good luck, Shannon.
Strengths: Skylar – you possess such a lovely crystal-clear timbre in your voice. This was a very good song selection, providing wonderful contrast to the upbeat songs we have seen you perform to great success.
You are such a strong, confident performer and so genuine. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect this level of depth from you. You are simply amazing.
And no – there was no nasal ( as Jennifer said) in the beginning – it was perfectly vocalized. The nuances you brought to this song were simply breathtaking. This was a beautiful performance, Skylar, and something that will remain with me for a long time. Brava!
Critique: Skylar – at this point in the competition, I have nothing to critique. You delivered in every which way. The vocal and performing elements were all lined up like nice little ducks in a row and the result was pure magic. Congratulations!