Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season XIII Performance Show: Audition Song Week

American Idol

By: Rosanne Simunovic

I am back from vacation with a renewed perspective, so, hopefully, this rejuvenation will be reflected in my Vocal Masterclass articles for the Top 8 and beyond.  

In general, I thought that this was the best week of performances. A no-brainer. Because the singers came equipped with songs that they truly cherished, the energy level was ramped to the hilt. Each singer gave vastly improved performances and looked extremely comfortable on the stage.

Kudos to all the judges and, in particular, Harry Connick Jr. who impressed me with his insightful and spot – on critiques to all the performances. And he did so with encouragement and support. It doesn’t get better than this. What a great teacher and mentor he has become for these singers. He is truly invested in this show, as are Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban.

Also, another memo to the producers – please, PLEASE flash the names of the songs across the screen so the viewer knows exactly what the singer is performing? In the video intro, the singers mumble the name of the number and then Ryan Seacrest does not consistently introduce the numbers before the singers hit the stage. So frustrating!

Also, because of time, I did not review the duets. However, overall, I thought they were all great in their own way. The harmonies, for the most part, sounded very good.

And the vocalist who most surprised me was Sam Woolf who sounded exceptional at the top of his duet. And guess what? He was standing there without his guitar. Case solved. Another reason why these singers have to drop the guitars and use the stage, concentrating on their vocals in a stronger manner.

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 (last name) alphabetical order. Your comments are always welcome. To quickly access individual singers, simply click on the singer’s link below.

C.J. Harris, Jena Irene, Caleb Johnson

Jessica Meuse, Emily Piriz, Alex Preston

Dexter Roberts, Malaya Watson, Sam Woolf

C.J. Harris: “Soulshine” by The Allman Brothers

Strengths: C.J. –  although I didn’t have the opportunity to Masterclass your performance last week, let me just say that I truly loved it. It was exceptional.

So, I was anxious to see if you could even the score this week, performing your initial song audition.

Well, you did! This was a vast improvement – performance-wise – over your first audition. You were totally in the moment with this song and your voice had presence and expressiveness.

Although I wished you had moved away from the microphone stand at some point, you still managed to reach the audience, propelling your vocals into their hearts and heads. This is called projection and project you did!

Great work, CJ!

Critique:C.J. – oh dear, the intonation issues were back in the saddle again. You tend to reach for your notes, rather than sing over them. If you could visualize and grasp this concept – “singing over the notes” – you would dispel some of your issues with pitch.

You need to work on establishing a stronger center to your voice. As I have mentioned to others, as well as you in past weeks, a HORIZONTAL mouth position, tense throat and little to no diaphragmatic support are all causes for disaster.

A circular mouth position is key here, especially when you develop the technique of focusing and gluing your vocal sound to the pure vowels within your words. Do not grab every vowel in the syllable but rather the the first pure vowel. This will add uniformity to your melodic line and your voice will sound absolutely seamless and centered.

If you adopt the idea of singing like a Brit, this will help you combat half the battle. The other half is strengthening and supporting your voice via your diaphragm with absolute certainty and conviction.

Good luck C.J.

JENA IRENE: “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele

Strengths: Jena – this was such an interesting, personal arrangement to this song. I loved the a cappella beginning to this song – it added such contrast when the instruments kicked in.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU – for adding your signature to this ubiquitous number. I thought I would never want to hear this song ever again – until your version. In my opinion, it is better than the original by a long shot.

Your phrasing was so inspired, really a testament to your inherent musicality. What you accomplish on that stage is something that cannot be taught. You were born with a beautiful gift, Jena and you, thankfully, use it wisely.

Your vocal and performing skills were impeccable. You have studiously honed your craft and came perfectly equipped to tackle this competition.

I absolutely love your voice – it is technically proficient and, artistically, you are not afraid to take risks with this or any song.

Your voice had presence and was beautifully centred. And you exuded a confident and professional presence on stage. A vocal entity!

Brava! Brava! This was superb!

Critique: Jena – I refuse to clutter your life by nit-picking this marvellous performance. It was just so, so good and you deserve to be released from critiques this week.

However, you do have big shoes to fill next week. Yours! How do you top this wonderful performance? I am sure you will think of something, young lady. Just keep doing what you are doing.

Brava and Standing O!!

CALEB JOHNSON: “Chain Of Fools” by Aretha Franklin

Strengths: Caleb – I don’t think I have ever heard a guy sing this song. So, you brought a real freshness to this legendary number.

And, like Jena, you added your own flavor to this song, changing it to suit your inherent rock and soulful style and substance.

You absolutely owned the stage and you controlled the stage like an absolute pro rather than performing like a contestant for the American Idol crown. In short, you put on a show in 90 seconds!

That’s how you do it, singers. Take a page from Caleb’s performance technique 101 and own that stage as he so obviously does.

As I have said over and over again, your voice has a meaty substance – which I love for this genre of music. And you project your voice so very well. There is a strong diaphragmatic presence in your vocal delivery. Bravo!

I was happy to see that circular mouth position, the manner in which you glued your vocal sound to the purest of vowels. There is a strong technical presence in your delivery which I applaud and celebrate!

You moved with ease and energy throughout the stage and really engaged your audience.

Great, great work, Caleb! Loved it!

Critique: Caleb – I have little to critique in this performance.

My only concern is that, as Harry Connick Jr. astutely pointed out, you need to vary the dynamic level of your performances from week to week. You love songs that come loaded with high energy and passion, but we need to hear and see you lower the decibel level a bit and sing a quiet soothing ballad – or at the very least, find a song that exposes a wide range of dynamics and tempos.

It will expose another side to your artistry, which is very important as you move forward in this competition.

However, this was a great showcase, Caleb! And it was great to hear you reinforce Harry’s request re a ballad. We. Can’t. Wait!

JESSICA MEUSE: “Blue-Eyed Lie” by Jessica Meuse

Strengths: Jessica – you have become increasingly confident from week to week.

So I was happy to see that you were given the opportunity to perform one of your own compositions. This gave you the opportunity to heighten your bluesy artistry, with a full band in tow to boot. How exhilarating was that?

You were thoroughly invested in this song. Your voice sounded determined and expressive, alternating head voice with raspy nuances where applicable. You have a crisp, focused instrument – nice and bright and full of presence.

This was a vocally commanding performance and easily your best to date.

Good work, Jessica.

Critique: Jessica – watch that mouth position. It was better than in previous weeks but, with the natural brightness in your voice, you need to find a way to add depth at times to your voice.

The circular mouth position will add depth and uniformity to your voice. The correct mouth position – CIRCULAR – , coupled with stronger diaphragmatic support will assist you in this respect.

Also, move, Jessica, move! Keith was absolutely right and I was thinking the same thing during the second half of the performance. Give yourself the opportunity, space and permission to use the stage and draw closer to your audience. Share the musical love!

If you had come off the pedestal, it would have added a stronger visual dimension to your performance. And there is no need to play the guitar throughout the entire performance. Abandon it and move, girl, move like a rock star!

Good luck, Jessica

ALEX PRESTON: “Fairy Tale” by Alex Preston

Strengths: Alex – finally, one of your own numbers. And what a great number this was and is! I loved it!

You just poured yourself into this song and your vocals reinforced the angst and passion in this number.

And might I say kudos to the musicians, the arrangers and vocalists – all who came together to make this song a superstar performance.

Again, like so many others this week, the fact that you were able to sing a song with which could strongly identify clearly intensified your performance and vocal technique.

Your voice sounded nuanced and expressive and there was a prevalent richness to your tone that was missing in previous weeks.

Good work, Alex!

Critique: Alex – that nasal tone was less prevalent this week so, praise hallelujah! Once again, you proved that, when one is invested in a song, so many technical problems dissipate.

However, I would like to reiterate when I advised you a few weeks ago re advancing your vocal technique. You need to continue to technically explore the process do adding a richer timbre to your voice – and it will not be a fast and furious process.

However, from the outset, you will notice immediate results, although it will take time to become truly comfortable with the changes.

You need to maneuver your mouth from a horizontal position to a circular one. The horizontal hold creates tension in your voice, encouraging you to constrict your throat muscles and lower your soft palate. Additionally, it is also responsible for the tight nasal tone in your vocal mix.

Hold a note with a horizontal spread in the mouth – like a smile – and, while holding the note, slowly adopt a circular position in your mouth. Hear the difference? The sound is more pure, more centered and is enjoying the addition of natural head voice.

Now, the trick is to keep this new approach a constant throughout your song – and this will take time and patience.

However, you are improving in so many respects and possess a natural artistry that is a very important aspect in your future success.

All in all, it was a superb performance and your song was wonderfully composed. Good work , Alex. Congratulations!!

DEXTER ROBERTS: “One Mississippi” by Brett Eldredge

Strengths: Dexter – oh how I love your Southern charm so much. I think I was born in the South in another life.

Now, let’s talk about this performance. You totally floored me! No guitar – just alone on the stage, creating a very peaceful and inspiring presence.

This was such a meaningful and impeccably communicated showcase. Just you and the piano – kudos to the pianist by the way – creating a perfect moment and expressively delivering a beautiful message.

As I have said before, you also have a very meaty sound in your upper range, but, this time around, I heard inflection and nuance accompanied by beautifully shaped phrases that totally blew my mind!!

Standing O, Dexter! This was exceptional.

Critique: Dexter – although I always stress this with my students, I am always amazed when I hear the absence of vocal deficiencies when expressiveness rules the day.

Yes, technically, there are some “fixes” to which you need to adhere, but the expressive delivery of this song, accompanied with your perfect pitch, more than made up for the technical issues.

Just remember to keep that mouth circular when you grab your vowels – tough I know – but it will add depth to your voice. I promise. And avoid sustaining through all the vowels in those diphthongs – just sustain on the first pure vowel.

Great work, Dexter! Bravo!

MALAYA WATSON: “Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin

Strengths: Malaya – this was such a perfect song for you and one that you obviously love and cherish. You delivered this song with honest soulfulness and passion.

Your basically threw yourself into this song and lived it via your expressive voice and meaningful body and arm movements. Such presence and such a moment!

I absolutely love the timbre of your voice – that gentle vibrato is so beautiful and it distinguishes you.

Great work, Malaya! It was a singular performance. As good as it gets!

Critique: Malaya – you still need to work on lessening the chest voice in your upper register, remembering to tap into your head voice.

As I have said to you a few weeks ago, head voice adds clarity, beauty and precision to your upper range.

Overall, I felt that you had better control over this balancing act between head and chest this week, but, I want to remind you about this technical issue as you approach the final weeks of this competition – if for no other reason than to preserve your glorious voice.

And do not raise your head. Keep it level with your audience. This will establish a stronger communication with your audience, while avoiding too much tension in your neck and throat. Sing over the notes – never reach!

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the complexity of your performance this week. You are challenging yourself and I applaud this! Brava!

SAM WOOLF: “Lego House” by Ed Sheeran

Strengths: Sam – I was hoping beyond hope that you ramped your confidence level since you last performed this song for the judges a few months ago. If I recall, you were looking down and barely playing your guitar.

Well, guess what? You did. This was a huge improvement over your initial performance of this number. It gave solid perspective of how far you have come since the first time the judges laid eyes and ears on you.

Rhythmically, your voice, body and spirit were In perfect union. You adopted a very relaxed and liberated performance and, in truth, your voice never, ever sounded better.

You have a beautiful vocal instrument and, when coupled with your honest and vulnerable stage presence, makes you a marketer’s dream.

Very good performance, Sam!

Critique: Sam – you possess a beautiful vocal tone but, to my mind, it lacks a fluid and cohesive presence. This problem stems from a lack of solid technical skills – skills that would lend great presence and vitality and focus to your voice.

Presently, that beautiful tone we hear is your God-given natural gift, which is a blessing in and of itself. However, every singer knows that, in order for the voice to mature and prosper as it should, strong diaphragmatic support is integral to the singing process.

You need to breathe more deeply and adopt a more open manner of singing and expressing your words. This week you “got it” – more than in previous weeks – but the song spoke to you so you were wise in choosing this number.

However, when you rehearse over the week, make absolutely certain that you speak the words as a monologue. Separate those words from the music and try to fully understand what you are trying to communicate through the lyrics. Not only will this assist you in singing more expressively, but also you will strengthen the memory of your words.

And, to add an even and cohesive line to your phrasing skills, practice singing only the first pure vowel in each syllable of your words – keeping your mouth circular and your jaw relaxed, free and extended as you move through your upper range. It is similar to a vocalise and it will help you not only with your ability to sustain your phrases but also, once again, solidify your memory skills.

I have given you a great deal to think about over the week. It is to assist you, not overwhelm you because, in truth, your voice never sounded better than in this Top 8 performance.

I just want to make absolutely certain that your voice is skilled and refined enough to tackle any song in the Sam Woolf songbook – one that, in time, will be a thick as an encyclopedia.

Good luck as you prepare for next week’s show, Sam!

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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

12 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Article For American Idol Season XIII Performance Show: Audition Song Week”

  1. Well! I’m glad that if they were going to use the save, it was for Sam–it’s got to be a boost to his confidence that they all think enough of him to do that.

    I think what got him the save so far as Harry is concerned is that it looked to me like he was making a special effort tonight to make eye contact with audience members, just as HCJ told him to last night.


  2. Rereader – this young man needs to ditch his guitar and use the stage. He sounds and looks totally different when he does so. So happy he is back again.


  3. Very true. I’m sure it makes him feel more nervous to let go of it, but he definitely looks and sounds freer!


  4. I had a sense that they were going to use the save on Sam and I’m glad they did.


  5. i have an idea it had something to do with ‘calculation of numbers’. i saw harry showing something to jennifer he’d written on paper, going up and down on the paper. sam did sound good, and looked better, i’m glad he was saved.


  6. It’s very sad that not very many of the “regular” posters on this site are posting about this season’s Idol. I understand the reason, but I miss hearing from some of the others!!!


  7. Sorry, I meant to say ” . . . not very many of the “regular” posters WHO used to post on this site . . .


  8. Yes, Louise. It is very sad. No fans or family members or friends of contestants – nothing!!! Those were the days I guess.


  9. I hope that, even if they are not commenting, someone is directing the contestants’ attention to your critiques–this group in particular would benefit enormously!


  10. Louise, for what it is worth I think there are four elements that are critical to each contestant’s success. S/he has to pick a song that fits her/his voice. S/he has 1:45 to manipulate a song. S/he has to find the essence of the song and the emotion it embodies. S/he has to convey that essence to the audience (act!) typically as a one genre stylist when the audience is predisposed to one genre and not necessarily that of the contestant. My impression this year is that the contestants are pretty much all, with the possible exception of Caleb, really lacking in the conveyance/acting element. So if I had been a selector what I would have required was acting or stage presence of a kind as the primary criterium. Kristin, Emily, Sam, Malaya, CJ, Dexter, MJ (?) would never have made the cut because, in film terms, each one did/does not have the projection and presence that would lend itself to any kind of memorable performance. The producers were starting with a handicap. I suspect you have seen the same movie twice, or have gone to a movie with an actor/actress because of a great performance the person gave before. Until “I am with the band” week there wasn’t much that would make anyone come back. There was no hook, just a bunch of introspective or lack of life experience kids. The lack of buzz is directly related to that.


  11. This was the best week yet for Season 13. Caleb still impresses me and I hope he’ll be singing a Journey ballad this week. I am impressed with Jena and think Jessica will have a good week. I am glad they saved Sam; however, I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt them. CJ really needs to go home this week. I wish Idol had higher ratings. However, I have no solutions to their problems.


  12. So glad Sam got the save! That little tidbit of Crooning that we got from him on the duet was Amazing what a rich tone to his voice…Me thinks the boys needs to make crooning a habit!!! 😉


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