Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season 11 Top 4 Singers: California Dreamin’ and Dream Songs

American Idol

By: Rosanne Simunovic

I will keep this short and sweet! This week’s Top 4 Performance Show was excellent.

But where did the Big Band Theme disappear to? There was never a theme more entertaining and more challenging than that particular genre of music.

The phrasing elements, the lyrical and melodic content, the expressive performing style from that musical era are fundamental to a singer’s development – like building blocks for then vocal artist.

However, it was a great show and, although I didn’t critique the ensemble numbers, I thought all were great. I don’t know why the judges didn’t like Hollie and Jessica’s duo because I thought it was magical – swings and all. Oh well! To each their own.

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.
Hollie Cavanaugh. Jessica Sanchez,

Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips

HOLLIE CAVANAGH: “Faithfully” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”

Strengths: Hollie – your first song was a surprising song choice – but a superb one. I loved how you took your time with this number, just let it flow easily from your mouth and body.

You genuinely immersed yourself in this performance and felt every word. The expressive dimension in this number was heartfelt and real – a trademark in all your performances.

Your phrasing – long and fluid – was testament to your sublime diaphragmatic skills and your innate musicality. Those vowels were wonderfully pure and cohesive as you focused your voice in your vocal masque.

What more can one ask from a singer? Not much! Great work, Hollie!

Your second song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was beautifully performed. Once again, the phrasing during this number was impeccable and extremely musical.

Again – great work, Hollie! Congratulations.

Critique: Hollie – in your first song, the lower notes in the word faithfully disappeared. Make sure you support through your lower range and dig into this area of your voice. It is so important to incorporate head voice in your lower range. By doing so, your contralto voice will have presence and clarity.

And remember to use the consonants as springboards for the vowels. This fundamental is important throughout your range but particularly the lower as singers tend to ignore or forget this part of their range when applying diaphragmatic support. Articulation of consonants add celery and direction for the voice.

Also, watch that quivering jaw. That signifies tension in your facial muscles. You must trust those diaphragmatic muscles to craft your sound. They always do, so you have nothing to fear.

Finally, as much as I liked the slow tempo at first, it seemed to drag at some point in the song. This was not your fault, mind you. But, I think the tempo could have gone up a notch or two. Thank heavens you have strong vocal control to elongate those phrases.

You second song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, was an unfortunate song choice. Everything sounded just a bit one-dimensional. I didn’t hear enough inflection in your singing voice and, with this song in particular, you really need to add this element big time!

Also, why choose another ballad? You needed to change up the tempo for your second number. Part of me sensed that you were not convinced in your heart of hearts that this was the song for you. What a shame. Who told you to sing two slow numbers? I can’t believe that this was your sole decision.

Still and all, you are an exemplary singer! Kudos to you, Hollie!

JESSICA SANCHEZ: “Steal Away” and “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”

Strengths: Jessica – your first song, “Steal Away” was a strong selection for you. I loved the sultry vibe you adopted for this number. Perfect! And the vocal dimension you incorporated during this number was outstanding. A little grit, intermingled with pure head voice, some growling here and there – you sprinkled this song with loads of nuance and inflection.

And then there was your seamless performing style. You moved with ease and grace on that stage, all the while balancing the choreographic movements with the vocal delivery to perfection. This was a well-paced, flawless performance. Brava, Jessica! This was a stellar example of consummate style and substance!

Your second song, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” was a huge number in scope and substance. And this might be one of the most spectacular performances I have ever seen on this show. Your phrasing – oh my goodness – you sustained these incredible long lines, going from high to low then to high without taking a breath.

And, how did you just stand there and sing this? All this emotion pouring out of you and you never moved, just poured your big heart and soul into this number.

The determination and confidence behind this performance was extremely inspiring. Boy, when you mean business, you mean it! You communicated this song like a pro, driving the lyrics home to the listener.

This was an absolutely first class performance all the way! Brava and Standing “O” Jessica. This is one of those times where standing ovations actually mean something. Such a stellar moment on that stage!!

Critique: Jessica – both songs were brilliantly performed. I found nothing more to add to make these performances better. They were well-rehearsed, technically sound performances.

However, I would caution you to pay closer attention the formation of your mouth. Make very certain that you adopt a circular formation when sustaining every vowel. The “ay” and “ee” vowels can be tricky in this respect because it is natural to assume a horizontal spread to the mouth with these particular vowels.

But keeping the “ah” vowel central to ALL vowels is key here. By doing so, it will add a seamless quality to your vocal line and heighten the depth in your voice. Additionally, your voice will be perfectly centered.

However, all in all, no one can take away the fact that your dual showcase was nothing short of brilliant. Congratulations once again, Jessica!

JOSHUA LEDET: “You Raise Me Up” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”

Strengths: Joshua – like Hollie, I was surprised at your first song choice, “You Raise Me Up”. It is quite removed from your natural R&B style, so good for you for moving outside your comfort zone. And I was interested to see how you were going to approach this number. Excited actually!

So, I was not surprised to hear that gospel-tinged element in the musical accompaniment. The arrangement was perfect and distinctive – a testament to your singular vocal style.

Thank you for reining in the screaming this week. Kudos. I love when you bless us with your pure bell-like voice. A little gravel is all we need. It goes a long way.

However, your performance was very expressive and loaded with vocal dimension and color. This is where you do excel, Joshua. You have an inherent musical gift that wraps easily around the original melodic line, bending it a little here and there with just the correct amount of variation so as not to detract from the native score.

Your second number, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, was quite the stage production with the brass band, string orchestra and all. And, I loved the vocal nuances you added in this number. Outstanding! Even the screaming worked this time, although, between you and me, you didn’t really need it.

And where did that head voice come from? That’s the way you do it. This performance was loaded with physical and vocal charisma and left me speechless. You are quite the magician – do you have any more vocal surprises tucked into your back pocket? I guess I will have to wait and see next week.

Bravo Joshua!

Critique: Joshua – in your first song, “You Raise Me Up”, you finally got it right – vocally and emotionally. There was a near-perfect balance between the head and chest voice.

Now, mind you, if you had rounded out that mouth while sustaining those vowels, the richness and resonance of your vocal sound would have been heightened.. For me, your vocal timbre was still lacking depth and, by adopting a circular position to your mouth, you would have noticed and felt the difference immediately.

Additionally, your vocal sound would have achieved better focus. I felt that, during the early stages of this song, you lost your center. And the less defined articulation skills diminished the energy in your voice. Remember – always articulate those consonants, particularly when you sing through your lower range and/or a softer dynamic.

Now, with your second number, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, this was all about the artistry. However, technique is important and I think that once you have time – and you must make the time – to hone and refine your technical skills, you will enjoy a greater sense of security when you sing.

Because, in the end, you cannot resort to vocal screaming when you want to sing with more passion and verve. Your vocal cords will develop nodules and that would be an unfortunate end to your career.

However, the stage was yours this week and I congratulate you on two memorable performances. Bravo!

PHILLIP PHILLIPS: “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and “Volcano”

Strengths: Phillip – your first song, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, was a good choice for you. And I always appreciate seeing you perform without the guitar. It allows us to see a different side to your performing persona and it challenges you to focus on the vocal delivery.

For visual dimension, the blonde sax player was back in full force. Yay for her! Is that the same gal who performs with Rod Stewart all the time? Ha!

But, I digress! I loved the relaxed arrangement of this song, as it made it possible for you to incorporate a fluid rhythmic feel to your performing vibe.

Your second song, “Volcano” was unfamiliar territory for me so I was intrigued at what I was going to experience. And, I have to say that I loved it. It was a nice change of pace from all the power singing we were hearing this week from the others.

I loved the visual aspects in this number – with the back-up singer facing you via some nifty camera work. Very nicely done indeed!

This was a deep, dark number. And you adopted an introspective approach to this number. Very sensitive and tender. This is not an easy number – it has to be spoken through the singing voice.

You dig deep, Phillip, and, although the vocals were not perfect, sometimes, with a song like this, that was almost a good thing. It adds to the tortured nature of the song. It is one of those numbers where interpretation is key.

You were innately expressive and might I say real via this performance. I felt that I was gaining a glimpse not only into your soul but also the depth of your artistry.

Very good work, Phillip!

Critique: Phillip – in your first number, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, you encountered some pitch problems while singing through your upper range. You were reaching for the notes instead of singing over them.

And that horizontal mouth of yours is driving me cra-a-zy! Circular and relaxed is the way to go when sustaining vowels. And, coupled with strong diaphragmatic support, your voice would have soared to unimaginable heights – free as a bird.

There is so much tension in your facial muscles that the resonators located in your facial masque are obliterated, thus decreasing the full scope of what you are able to accomplish as a singer.

Also, why stay glued to the mike stand? This just increased the tension in your body. It was an upbeat song so I don’t know why you didn’t take the opportunity to move along the stage, establishing stronger communication with your audience?

Perhaps it was your ill health? If so, then it is very understandable and you did remarkably well considering your circumstances.

Your second song, “Volcano” was brilliantly performed. Again, you need to work on the technical aspects listed above for this song as well. However, I was so taken with your artistic intent during this number that I gave you a pass, albeit a temporary one.

Take care of your health and that voice, Phillip. You do have a wonderful career in your future but make sure you rest and regroup once this show is over so that you can regain your strength for the tour.

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

9 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season 11 Top 4 Singers: California Dreamin’ and Dream Songs”

  1. I do agree with your overall assessments:) Though I feel that–at least to my lightly trained ears–Joshua sounds like he is losing part of his range and I am also heaing a hoarseness–even tiredness–in his vocals.
    IOW, He seems to be having diificulty hitting those high notes he was doing earlier during the final rounds. ALso, both during the duet and quartet, his vocals seemed to almost ‘fade away’ to me.

    I would LOVE–if I ever got the chance–to tell Mr. Phillips–that he if he just relaxes his facial muscles and gets that circular position–he would SURPRISE himself with what he could do vocally:)

    Moredisturbingly, try to see streaming vids from last week: Apparently, Mr. Ledet is somewhat ‘disrepsectful’ of both his ‘instrument’ and its ‘case’. I was less-than-impressed with his responses.


  2. James – where is the link to these videos ? Could you provide them please and thank you? 🙂


  3. As always a great analysis MCL, I have no where near the expertise to disagree with anything you say here.

    I only have two questions:

    1. Isn’t there a slight possibility that Phillip had a little help? I am not going to speculate or elaborate any further on that question but I think my second question might get to the heart of what I am thinking.

    2. What kind of tools, apparatus, devices, etc. are there out there that would alter the pitch of someone’s vocal in a live performance?

    I go back to a couple of weeks ago when Steven Tyler told Skylar Laine, and I quote;

    “Skylar, that was over the top. I just gotta jump in and say, you know, for everybody up here tonight, everybody always sung dry and right out of the box, out of the car. But tonight they put a little spi…a little shine on your voice and you have such a beautiful voice and pitch anyway that it just enhanced it over the top. The energy, the passion. The way you sing, the way you hit your notes for an eighteen year old girl. Oh my God! That was fabulous.”

    Phillip was clearing something out of his mouth after singing “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and Ryan actually brought him some water to help. His eyes were watering as if he had gagged on something and in the subtext of what JLo said: “He had a tone she hadn’t heard before.” In that statement there is something to be read in between the lines.

    Then they had the pop filter on the microphone for the performance of “Volcano”. I don’t see any lyrics in that song that would be especially aspirated or a lot of deessing that needed to be addressed. I don’t see the purpose for the pop filter unless it was there to mask something else or if he had something in his mouth that would cause him to produce more than the usual amount of saliva.

    I guess I am indeed suggesting that something was fishy but these are really questions that I would like the answer to. I guess nobody can give a definitive answer unless they had some inside information but I think it deserves a little thought. His voice was certainly more melodic than it had been in previous performances and I just don’t know what to attribute that to.

    I made the prediction last week on another blog that they were saying Phillip was sick and then at the end of the competition they would all of a sudden say he was feeling better and he would start to sound better and they would say that it was because he was healthy now. I don’t buy that and I do indeed think that he probably had every asset that Jimmy Iovine described except the great melodic value of his voice. In this day and age the voice is the least of their worries. They can create the voice electronically or otherwise.

    I long for the days when people were truly gifted and the vocals were pure and unaltered. I don’t think that day will ever return but I hope there are a few artists out there who will rebel against the machine and keep it real.

    DeAndre stated in one of his interviews that he felt everything was too computerized now a days and I hope that he will be one of the artists to keep computer enhancements out of his performances.


  4. James,

    That last high pitch note Josh hit at the end of “This is a Man’s World” is the perfect example of what you are talking about I think. I don’t think, at least I hope it wasn’t the pitch he was going for on that particular note. That was not pretty at all IMO. Most of the rest of the performance was great though.


  5. Taymaro – I never noticed the pop filter but just watched the video on YouTube and lo and behold, you’re right. And, at the end of his first number, what was he doing with his mouth? Maybe he has a salivation problem?

    However, oh yes, they can do phenomenal things now with microphones. In fact, sometimes it is not all good. In the right hands, a singer can be sabotaged to sound pretty awful. And, of course vice versa.

    Hard to say what is going on with Idol. I have no proof, just speculation, but nothing would surprise me at this point.

    For to love DeAndre. He is such a purist!


  6. MCL,

    It was your article above that lead me to put more thought into that. You seem to emphasize that the shape of your mouth while singing has everything to do with the sound quality, tone and pitch.

    I am thinking they were using something to alter the shape of his mouth on the inside. Maybe push the fat of his cheeks out a little or reposition his lower jaw to relieve the facial tension that you described. I think he does all of the cringing and ugly faces out of habit. It makes no difference in forcing out the notes. So if they can use a device so that even if he is not able to break those bad habits it still wont affect his vocal.

    Unlike JLo, I have heard this sound in his voice at the beginning of one of their group numbers. I think he was quite relaxed at that time and his voice came out much more freely and it was because he opened his mouth and relieved the tension. This is the number I am talking about “Dancing In The Street” Actually at the time I was quite taken back when I heard this to the point that I remembered it when he was performing last night:

    I just thought I would bring that up to add to the conversation. LOL.


  7. I just watched the number. They all sound great. Makes me think they were lip synching. Not sure if that was the case or not. They sure sound relaxed and free, though.


  8. I know you are the master class lady. I know little of the technical aspects of voice. That being said, I do have a spouse with a masters degree in piano performance from the Univ. of Michigan and a daughter who has perfect pitch and sees the notes in her head as colors, so I have been around excellent musicians. Though I cannot read a note and sing totally by ear(not badly I am told), I still think that Jessica, in the lower notes, sounds like the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz,” or like I did as a kid, singing through a cardboard paper towel tube or into a window fan. Sorry to Jessica fans who are offended.


  9. MCL:

    It was during the results show last week: Mr. Ledet was shown to be pretty sloppy when it came to his living quarters and some of the other contestants mentioned that he was singing quite a bit. Whatever happened to ‘vocal rest;? I would recommend visiting the AI web site:)

    Maybe I am being too harsh, but it seems that some of the Top Ten need to learn to be MORE respectful and refrain from making messes. IOW, I rmember reading some comments that the AI9[think Scott MacIntyre] finalists were MUCH cleaner and MORE respectful of their living quarters.

    BTW, get his new book ‘By Faith, Not Sight’:) It is quite good.


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