About a week ago we saw how Meatloaf praised Adam on UK television. He said that Adam, along with Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, is one of the few people who can do ‘overdrive’. I got curious about what this overdrive actually means, I googled it and ended up on this very interesting site www.singwise.com by vocal technique instructor Karyn O’Connor.
I noticed that Karyn had previously commented on Demi Lovato’s vocal technique so I decided to ask if she’d be willing to comment on Adam’s also. I emailed her three of Adam’s performances, Brigadoon, Is Anybody Listening and Feeling Good.
And guess what, she replied! I was expecting short comments at the most but instead she gave this very extensive and totally awesome analysis. Enjoy!
True ‘overdrive’ singing is a very aggressive technique. I’ve never heard either Whitney or Aretha sing in what is truly ‘overdrive’. They belted, certainly, and had ‘bigger’ and more ‘powerful’ voices at times, but overdrive singing is a step beyond belting in terms of aggression. (I’m not so sure that Meatloaf could be considered an expert on vocal
technique, much like the judges on American Idol, who have no clue,
limited vocal abilities, and keep mixing up vocal terminology.) Adam
Lambert, certainly, sings with overdrive at times. There are many singers of harder rock who sing with overdrive. It is not so common amongst other genres because it simply would not suit those genres.
In Come To Me, Bend To Me, Adam sings in more of a classical style,
although you can hear that his tone is yet a little bit bright and doesn’t quite have the warm balance of bel canto singing. His singing is nonetheless beautiful, though. (It is also musical theatre, not an opera, so the bel canto aesthetic is not expected.) He demonstrates some nice agility at times (e.g., portamentos/slides, etc.). It’s a challenging song to sing, and since he keeps his voice light and soft, he is able to move it more readily and more rapidly. I have questions about the vibrato rate and the degree of pitch deviation in the vibrato. It seems a little less than ‘natural’ (e.g., achieved through balanced tone, open throat and relaxation).
In Is Anybody Listening? my only real critiques are that he tends to add ‘h’s before intervallic leaps and his terrible wagging jaw on sustained high notes, especially the one at the end. (I suspect that this is what he was doing in the other song, too.) This is usually a sign of poor vocal agility, (which we know is not the case with Adam now - but I do wonder if this recording was made earlier in his singing career), too much breath pressure against the vocal folds, a stylistic choice or poor vocal role modeling from someone whom he admires or learned from.
A wagging jaw is, pretty much across the board, considered to be a sign of vocal tension and bad habit. In this particular song, his tone is
certainly more ‘contemporary’ in style, and his high notes are a little
more rock than classical aria. You can hear the brightness in tone and
the slight separation of the vocal folds - a very subtle falsetto - coming into his voice production on these high notes, instead of full legitimate head voice (in which the vocal folds remain completely approximated). This glottal opening generally happens when a voice is being pushed a bit too much. More air gets pushed through the glottis, and thus more subglottic pressure acts on the vocal folds, and they then struggle to stay together. (This is why many male singers of contemporary genres are unable to sing in full, legitimate head voice, and all their upper range singing is done only in falsetto.)
Even though Adam has a higher voice type (probably a lyric or even higher tenor) and executes his high notes well, when he gets into ‘rock mode’, he loses some of that clean, focused tone because he pushes a bit. This is appropriate for rock and some musical theatre. And we can hear in the Brigadoon song that he can also sing in legitimate head voice (if he keeps his singing softer and lighter or at medium volume). Also, he is able to sing quietly without adding breathiness, as many men do.
That being said, however, I, too, think that he is a brilliant singer -
and a skilled vocal technician. He can do some amazing things vocally,
and has a great deal of versatility. I hear and see very little in his
singing that makes me concerned about the longevity of his career. (The wagging jaw and likely sometimes ‘created/fabricated’ vibrato is my main concern. If it isn’t caused by tension, it creates it, and I’ve worked with several students with wagging jaws that use the wagging to create the oscillatory sound, and then run into all sorts of vocal health problems. The habit can worsen over time, affecting vocal agility, pitch, etc..)
He certainly has an impressive and nicely developed upper range. It helps that he is of a higher voice type, because his voice is naturally suited to sing in those higher tessituras.
Also, he handles the singing of consonants in the upper range very well. Many people get tripped up on them, sitting on them for too long or overaccentuating/overennunciating them instead of the open vowels, and this leads to singing with constriction. Adam sings them lightly and quickly, passing through them on his way to his vowels, which is exactly how it should be done.
Adam Lambert certainly has the look, the charisma and the stage presence, too.
I hope that this ‘analysis’ helps.
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