It’s been a big week for The Voice.Not only did its ratings handily beat the premiere of the revamped X Factor (Mea culpa: Fox and I both learned the hard way that people clogging every single one of my social media feeds with Britney Spears gifs does not equal ratings success), but NBC finally announced what the Voice judging panel will look like in the spring. In true TV demographics fashion, they’re swapping out a Blonde and a Black Guy for a Blonde and a Black Guy: Christina and CeeLo are out, and Shakira and Usher are in.
Of course, only time will tell if this move will work, but changing only half the panel versus a whole new one as previously reported makes it very hard to believe this is not a targeted move. CeeLo and Christina are generally less well-liked than Adam and Blake, if only because are thousands of viewers who tune in explicitly to watch Adam and Blake flirt. Factor in Christina’s allegedly heftier paycheck with last week’s montage of CeeLo failing to connect to any singer but Domo, and the writing on the wall suddenly seems all too clear. Still, Usher and Shakira certainly have Voices worth considering, so it will be interesting to see how they gel with Adam and Blake come spring.
We start the week with the usual tally of amassed singers: Adam has five, Christina’s bagged seven, Blake’s at five, and CeeLo’s managed four. If this were first season, we would be an episode from the battle rounds. Since this is season three, however, we’re only about halfway there. Just so we’re all on the same, extremely long page.
The beginning of Monday’s episode seems to indicate that if we don’t start with a group performance, we are instead in for a montage of “natural” moments as the judges enter the studio lot. Blake has apparently won a Drawling Vocalist of the Millennium Award (or something to that majestic effect, given Blake’s constant reminders), while CeeLo is keeping his discarded mascot Purrfect in the back of his town car. Like you do.
Monday also makes us consider not one, but two YouTube sensations on a slightly bigger screen than usual. JR Aquino’s channel of covers and original songs has over five million views, and his slightly shaky but impressive falsetto on Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are” lands him on Team CeeLo. Cupid of the “Cupid Shuffle” spends his entire pre-audition interview talking about how he wants to show people that he is capable of more than just the “Cupid Shuffle”…and then he sings the “Cupid Shuffle.” It’s a colossally confusing, silly move. Cupid has a great voice, but the “Cupid Shuffle” is less a vocal showcase than a bar mitzvah necessity. No one turns around, and it’s more depressing than when they had to send Dreamstreet away.
Melanie Martinez looks like Hello Kitty come to life and enjoys something she calls “conceptual portraiture.” Both these things would be strikes against her were she not a) seventeen and b) completely awesome in her audition. I can’t count how many covers I’ve heard of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” but Melanie’s jazzy, freewheeling one is the first I paid for. In what will become a pattern this week, everyone but Christina turns around to fight it out. Melanie, being an offbeat acoustic artist, chooses Adam.
Of course, there are always the belters. Married couple Beat Frequency shouts their way through Katy Perry’s “E.T”, and while the other judges are clearly and hilariously horrified, Christina apparently heard a different performance and snatches them up. Single mom Trevanne takes on Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” on Tuesday and earns the judges’ respect, but not a spot on the show. But it is Agina Alvarez’s “Turn the Beat Around” that managed to startle me so badly I actually dropped my computer on my foot; if “Turn the Beat Around” had a face, Agina beat the shit out of it. No one turns. My foot is still throbbing.
Lorraine is the first middle-aged contestant we’ve had this season, which makes her choice of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” all the more fantastic. She doesn’t get a coach, but is as close to a Voice fanatic as I’ve seen on this show and is a great sport about the whole thing. Benji is dimunitive in both name and stature but breaks out a yowling “Knockin’ on Heavens’ Door” that immediately makes Adam’s falsetto senses tingle (I know, I know — phrasing!).
Collin McLoughlin breaks out Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” much to the delight of all three male judges. It’s a perfectly fine performance (not to mention that it gets all the guys to bob their heads perfectly in sync), but I can’t help but feel like The Voice just got its Phillip Phillips. Plus, Collin’s plinky piano montage is about the heroism of dropping of grad school. Team Adam should treat him well, but the look on his parents’ faces backstage may as well be captioned, “I Sent My Son to Grad School and All I Got Was Carson Daly Asking Me Personal Questions and A Giant Freaking Receipt.”
Finally, sixteen year-old Avery Wilson closed out Monday’s episode with a performance of “Without You” that might as well have included a firework display as he held out the last note, such was The Voice’s enthusiasm for this kid. And while the show’s dogged determination to convey that Avery is a star, dammit was distracting, Avery’s performance spoke for itself. His operatic, improvisational runs and joyous stage presence were just fun. It didn’t matter that some of his chorus notes were a half-step flat; he was having the time of his life, he has raw talent coming out of and both the judges and audience knew it before the first verse was even over. Four chair turns and impassioned pleas later, Avery joined Team CeeLo. I never thought I’d say this: CeeLo just might have a shot at winning this thing.
If this were a review of just Monday’s episode, it would be in the A range. Bookending with Melanie and Avery’s performances exemplified the best that The Voice can offer. Any one of the singing competition shows on now can boast talented singers, but The Voice has by far the most creative ones. If I’m going to devote three hours a week to watching a parade of performances, I’d rather they not be karaoke ones.
- As this review covered both Monday and Tuesday (as opposed to last week’s triple blitzkrieg), it was essentially a highlights reel. I didn't even get to Nicholas David being "Santino Rice joins a bluegrass bad"...until now. Thanks, stray observations!
- Blake didn't get a single singer on Tuesday, and only two entrants on Monday. Also, his team is almost entirely country singers. Might be time to start complimenting singing instead of vests, Shelton.
- A supercut of Carson Daly indulging people backstage may not be in high demand, but I need it. "Ooh, a real artist over here!" “You’ve got yourself a handful!” “….okay.” Etc.
- "You were okay, but not good enough for me to fight for against three guys who seem to actually care." - Christina re: half the contestants