By: Rosanne Simunovic
I was so impressed with last week’s performances highlighting the Kelly Clarkson songbook. The Top 8 added their own unique twists to Kelly’s songs, some of which were truly exceptional.
So this week I was expecting the singers to perform as well or better than last week considering they were able to select songs from the BillBoard Top 100 songs. And I have to say, for the most part, they delivered. We’ve got us an acoustic group of singers this season – it’s all about the voice. This Group of 8 is bringing us back to the basics of great singing, which, in fact, was the original foundation for American Idol. I am in my happy place!
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.
Clark Beckham – “Make It Rain” by Ed Sheeran- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Clark – you are quite possibly the most confident vocalist in the group. I cannot think of one performance I have not enjoyed during the course of your run on American Idol Season XIV. I sense you know exactly what works or doesn’t plus you always seem to select songs that highlight your soulful artistry.
Your voice was insanely expressive and passionate – your poured every ounce of juice out of this great Ed Sheeran song. Somewhere, I suspect he was watching and smiling.
The animated and meaningful delivery of this number was furthermore enhanced by the depth of your technical foundation. This is what catapults a performance to the top of the heap – technical depth, vocal talent and artistic vision coming together to create a moment on that stage. Well, in your case, many moments.
The richness of your voice was gorgeous and consistent and the emotion was heartfelt and true. This was a beautifully paced performance, inflection and nuance coming from the depth of your soul.
Only you can stand in one place and reach every audience member – even those hanging from the rafters.
This was a phenomenal performance, Clark! Bravo!
Critique: Clark – I cannot change what doesn’t need changing. This was a sublime performance. Every week you come out to inspire and you always, always do. Bravo!
Jax – “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Jax – I loved your “swing version” of Poker Face. Once again, you created another memorable performance on that stage, one that was in remarkable contrast to your vulnerable performance of “Beautiful Disaster” last week.
You changed up the melody so well and with such a unique flair, yet, one could always hear the nucleus of the original melody. Very well done.
With this number, we gained further insight into your excellent performing ability. Using your animated face and relaxed and open body and arm movements, your body swayed to the rhythmic swing of the music with ease and confidence.
Your voice sounded expressive and free – very free in fact. I really was so happy to see and hear you sing with such ease and comfort. There was no constriction in your throat and as a result, your voice sounded relaxed and nuanced. I loved the sparkle in your eyes at the end. Very cute! You obviously loved this arrangement of this song.
You are to be congratulated for unveiling another side to your artistry this week. I loved this performance very much. Congratulations.
Critique: Jax –be careful that you do not raise your head too, too much when you sing through your upper register. We lose the clarity in your voice and the pitch becomes less accurate as well. Think over those upper notes. – no racking allowed!
Also, I do agree with Harry Connick Jr. in that it would have been more impressive of a performance if you had moved away from the mike stand and rhythmically sauntered around the stage – to give the performance more visual dimension.
However, other than that, this was a mighty fine performance!
Joey Cook – “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Joey – your are the “artiste extraordinaire” on that stage, in the sense that we have come to expect the unexpected from you every week. After last week’s excellent vision for Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent”, I was anxiously waiting to see what you had in store for us with Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”.
Well colour me surprised. You sang this song without the bells and whistles and, as it turns out, it was the unexpected.
Overall, this was a solid performance and I commend your artistry. You have a real flair on that stage and you embrace you uniqueness – which I love.
Vocally, you have a voice that is distinct and, in the music world, this means a lot! You sound like no one else except Joey Cook.
And PS – I loved your dress!
Critique: Joey – your voice sounded very pressed this week. You were vocalizing strictly from the throat, with no lower body support whatsoever.
As a result, your voice lacked precision and the nuance we have come to expect in your voice was lacking as well.
Overall, the performance seemed very stiff and confined. Why didn’t you use your space on stage, moving forward on the last refrain? If nothing else, it would have ratcheted up the visual dimension of this performance and, ideally liberated the projection of your voice.
Also, your mouth position was vacillating between a horizontal and circular position, lending an uneven sound to your voice and inhibiting the forward direction of your vocal delivery. Your voice is very bright, so that preferred circular position of your mouth, especially when sustaining the “ee” vowels, would have added depth and accuracy to your overall vocal delivery.
And. -aha – you just mentioned to Ryan Seacrest -as I was writing – that Billboard 100 is not your thing. Well, there we have it! Maybe you should have made it your thing. After all, Miss Independent worked for you last week, didn’t it? Must have been a pretty limited sing choice for you this week.
Good luck next week, Joey!
Nick Fradiani – “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Nick – you have been improving by leaps and bounds every week. Your comfort level on stage is excellent and you always seem in absolute and complete control of each performance.
This was a surprising song choice – I did not expect this at all! However, yoi established a strong connection with this song right from the onset. Your muscular vocals really punched out the lyrics, especially during the “don’t ever look back” sections. In fact, your diction was excellent – nice, clean and precise articulation.
And you used the stage exceptionally well – using the brief musical interlude to move, with your guitar, from one mike stand to another. I don’t think I have ever seen this happen before on Idol but it makes sense. Someone in production had a smart idea. And it brought you closer to your audience, energizing them to react enthusiastically to your energized performance.
I loved that relaxed bend in your knees – great for reinforcing diaphragmatic technical skills. And your little marching movement as you sang was just the ticket. It helped to accentuate the strong rhythmic components of this number.
You are, obviously, an extremely musical guy and you inhabited this song with every inch of your being.
Congratulations on an excellent performance. Your best to date in my opinion.
Critique: Nick – technically, you improved immensely this week. Your head was in a more level position as you sang – I was watching! Now you just have to work on incorporating more head voice in to your vocal mix. I need to hear more depth and clarity in your vocals. Presently, you sing with an over abundance of chest voice and we are not gaining a sense of the true colour in your vocal timbre. Plus, there were one or two pitch issues as a result.
A neat trick would be to practice this song an 8ve higher in rehearsal. This would encourage you to tap in to your falsetto while accessing your diaphragmatic support mor efficiently. It would be fun and work at the same time and I can almost guarantee that your mid and lower range would gain brilliance and shine when you performed this – or any song – back in your normal range. At any rate, yoi would feel less effort when you sing.
In closing – practicing a song higher than the original key will vastly improve your performance when you bring it back to the original key. But, keep your throat relaxed, the mouth round and your jaw relaxed. No push -except from the diaphragm.
Qaasim Middleton – “Hey Ya” by Outcast- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Qaasim – you are such a bundle of energy on that stage. The perfect song for you. Your mission is to entertain and entertain you did with this fantastic song.
From the first moments of this song, you were right in the pocket and in absolute sync with this funky, groovy number. Your voice and, of course, your body sounded animated and expressive.
You are not a shy guy, are you Qaasim? No one moves on that stage quite like you buddy! And, under such pressure to perform and sing like that? With such precision and enthusiasm? I have got to hand it to you. You have cojones my friend.
You are a unique entity on American Idol. I have said this before – there has never been anyone quite like you on that stage. You bring not only solid vocals to your performances but an ability to choreograph like no other. The complete package.
I loved how you spread your mike arm out to acknowledge your backup singers. Who thinks of this? I know. You do, that’s who. And that is why I loved you and this performance.
Excellent work Qaasim.
Critique: Qaasim – well, your pitch went awry here and there but, there was so much energy emanating for your body during this performance that, overall, it wasn’t cringe worthy to worry about – if that makes sense.
What I did notice is that your pitch issues are improving and this is what is important. So, keep working on your technique, slowing your songs down during the rehearsal process so as to fortify sustaining on the pure vowel and identifying any technical issues. This way, when you bring the song up to speed, you will feel increasingly more comfortable with your vocal and choreographic performance.
Quentin Alexander – “Latch” by Sam Smith and Disclosure- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Quentin – I never heard this song ever. So, I guess this makes me very old right?
As a performance, this was excellent as always and, certainly, you were more in your element this week than last. I loved your little strut toward your audience. It was nicely done and in perfect sync with the rhythmn.
You always come to each performance with a purpose – to entertain – and entertain you did. You bring such diversity and style to each performance and love to tell your story through your performances.
Also, it was good to see that you were attempting to maintain a circular mouth position as you sustained those notes. It makes such a difference in the timbre of your voice, adding clarity and resonance. Kudos.
Critique: Quentin – I love your voice like candy but your pitch accuracy was not there this week. I was frustrated for you because, as a performance, this was very good.
I mentioned that your mouth formation was much better so you are on the right track. However, you need to keep walking on this journey – technique takes time and patience.
You need to really work on figuring out how to support your voice from the diaphragm. At every point in your range, I could feel your voice loose its center, especially since you are such a physical performer. You love to use the stage and entertain the audience and that is all good.
However, if your voice is not guided properly through your diaphragm, you will decrease the full potential of your vocal ability – as you did this week.
It is good to remember to practice your song separate from the choreography so you can fully identify the inherent technical problems and correct them. Then, when the song is technically secure, add the choreography. This doesn’t happen overnight but, slowly over time, things will improve.
Rayvon Owen – “Set Fire To The Rain” by Adele- Download From ITunes
Strengths: Rayvon – the melodic range of this Adele song was just perfect for you. Who knew? Well, I guess you did, so good for you, Rayvon!
I will cut to the chase here – you sang this song much better than the original artist. You delivered a sense of energy and momentum to this number which, originally, sounded languid and uni-dimensional. (Sorry Adele fans).
I loved the a Capella vocal with percussion on the refrain – very nicely conceived and executed. And you gave us some brilliantly sustained moments during this number which was testament to the strndgth of your vocal technique.
You are such an earnest and generous artist and you prepare exceptionally well for each performance. No stone is left unturned. Your meticulousness and dedication is admirable and is responsible for your success thus far.
I don’t think you could have sung this song any better – especially given the circumstances. You poured your heart and soul into every word and note and gave the performance of your life!
Very good work, Rayvon!
Critique: Rayvon – vocally, you sang very well. However, as a performance, it felt and looked stiff to me. However, sitting for two hours through a show wondering if you are in the Bottom 2 cannot be easy on the nerves. I really cannot stand this format – not at all. I am sure it wreaks havoc on the singers.
So, yes, I felt that your performance was compromised in that you did not look relaxed and this tenseness and anxiety was transferred to your voice. Your were pushing too hard at times and the vocals didn’t sound liberated.
As a result, the pitch was, sometimes, obscure and unsteady. It helps to know that, when sustaining long notes, do not attack the initial entry but rather start at a mezzo – piano level and allow your voice to crescendo while you sustain the note. This will give you control over the sustaining process and will also add shape and dimension to the sustained phrase.
However, when all was said and done, this was probably your most impressive performance to date. Good work, Rayvon.
p style=”text-align:center;”>Tyanna Jones – “Stay” by Rihanna – Download From iTunes
Strengths: Tyanna – what a perfect song choice for you, providing great contrast to last week’s up beat performance. That’s what it’s all about – showing the numerous sides to your artistry is how you gain fans and advance with strength and tenacity in this competition.
You have great ability in selecting songs which fall perfectly within your range. Not too high, no too low, but just right!
I love this song – the melodic beauty and the simplicity of the composition is a singer’s dream. And you, young lady, lived that dream this week.
Once again, you were immensely comfortable on that stage, embracing the audience with the emotional fervor in your voice. The clarity of the lyrics and your nuanced approach to this song were consistently expressive – something so necessary in a song filled with such meaning and purpose in the storyline.
The tone of your voice always captivates me – you have been truly blessed with such a wonderful gift. Your timbre sparkles with inflection and passion and your pitch accuracy is generally very good indeed. And that. vibrato, as Harry pointed out, is what distinguishes you. It is a gentle vibrato and, with technical adherence, will stay that way. Never lose it, just learn to control it, is all.
Also, your pure head voice was beautifully executed. Bravo! I was looking for this!
And your hand and arm movements were tastefully done and enhanced the performance so much. You were truly living within the moment during this number. This is how it’s done, it does not get better than this! You sang this song like a prayer and it was beautiful to behold.
Congratulations Tyanna! Brava!!
Critique: Tyanna – I was watching very closely this week, making absolute certain that your pitch stayed on track. Last week, some of your vocals were a little sharp, something that, perhaps, has to do with nerves, your youth, your lack of consistent technique or a combination of some or all of these elements.
But, it appears that the slower tempo of this number allowed you to relax and embrace the song for technical issues to magically disappear. And, sometimes, that’s all it takes. Living the lyrics!