If we have to have a glut of singing-competition shows on the air—and we do, apparently, a vote was taken while I was in the bathroom—thank God that one of them gets to be The Voice. The least that can be said in praise of The Voice is that it’s refreshingly non-sadistic. Not only do none of the performers seem to be proceeding through the turnstiles because someone thought their public humiliation would make for good TV, but also even the people who are seen failing to get past the audition stage don’t seem to be cherry-picked for freak appeal. Nobody is there just to be hit with a stick. Tonight, the coaches settled on their team members at the end of the seventh night of blind auditions, which, insanely enough, is not an unreasonable number of episodes for one of these shows to have under its belt before things really get started. Damned if The Voice, by concentrating on singers who are actually promising and putting the judges in the position of balancing their estimation of the talent on display against whatever grand design they have in their heads, doesn’t make it feel as if the audition process is a legitimate part of the show.
There are a fair number of triumphs spread across Monday’s jam-packed two-hour episode and Tuesday’s “just get it over with” one-hour drop in the bucket. Victory is especially sweet for young Dez Duron, who was here last year and describes being gonged by the panel as “the best 19 seconds of my life.” He improves on it when his rendition of “Sara Smile” impresses Cee Lo, Blake, and Christina enough to inspire them to punch their buttons. Actually, the sweetest moment may be when Blake’s chair turns around and he sees who’s singing; he grins and points at the guy as if they were old war buddies. It would be awesome enough that he just recognized the fellow, but he genuinely seems thrilled to see him again, and doing better than last time. That’s the other thing that’s refreshing about The Voice, compared to the other shows of its kind on the air: Not only do all the judges seem to be into it, but none of them appears to have stopped by the studio on their way to a rubber room. Sure, Cee Lo needs to return those eyeglasses to Infinite Jest, and there are moments when Blake seems to be resisting the impulse to put Adam over his knee and force him to put on a suit jacket. But for the most part, they can put aside their differences and get along for the sake of the children.
A 17-year-old named Brandon Mahone turns in a solid if not exactly reinvented “I Wish It Would Rain.” A backup singer named Amanda Brown whose performance of “Valerie” lands her on Cee Lo’s team recalls that: “Growing up, I spent most of my time in church. It was mainly gospel music I listened to. But when I heard Radiohead for the first time…” Suzanna Choffel, a 32-year-old from Austin, Texas, who does Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” is complimented by Cee Lo for being a grown woman. All these people have a becoming modesty that serves to keep the emphasis on their, well, voices. But it’s still television, so a strong personality is not a handicap. Monday night’s show closes with Terisa Griffin, a 42-year-old from Chicago who tears it up with an Adele song. But when she interrogates the judges, in a “what have you done for me lately?” tone, it becomes clear why no one could follow her. She winds up agreeing to be coached by Blake, who will either lead her to victory or have to fake his own death if he’s to sleep at night. “Now you know what I’ve had to deal with all my life,” Cee Lo says after she’s gone and everyone is still trying to process what just happened. “That’s my mama, my sister, my ex-wife…” One of his Tweets flashes onscreen, assuring the audience that Cee Lo loves the shit out of strong, assertive woman and was just funnin’.
Tuesday’s episode begins with Adam declaring that he wants to assemble a roster of “great, amazing, inspiring singers from every genre.” I don’t know who he plans to train specifically for light opera and megaphone crooning, but the last selection of applicants includes some strong contenders, including the opening act, Sylvie Yacoub, who was born in Egypt and whose family came here to the American melting pot for the specific purpose of allowing her to go on TV and sing the ever-loving shit out of a Rhianna song, and the closer, Cassadee Pope, formerly with the band Hey Monday and now attempting a solo career that would have better odds of success if she’d make it a little easier on music writers by spelling her own first name right. Her all-out performance of “Torn” is the fifth of the audition performances to compel all four judges to turn their damn chairs around. Once she got halfway through the song, I wasn’t even missing David Armand. After a certain amount of pleading by all the judges, she chose to yoke her applecart to Blake, who reacted as if this meant that he’d already won for the season.
- It’s a measure of just how much this show’s heart is in the right place that the judges are so careful and complimentary of the people who don’t make it, who range from a guy who does a misconceived version of the Cee Lo hit that, on NBC at least, goes by the title “Forget You,” to a 55-year-old laid-off cruise ship singer who no one wants because, presumably, she’s too “seasoned” an entertainer for them to teach her anything. The one reject who elicits a testy response from anyone is a dude with an incongruously high, girly voice; he laments that he works on a pig farm in North Carolina, and if he doesn’t make it onto the show, to the pig farm he must return. Good riddance, says Blake Shelton, who points out that, when the guy said “pig farm,” he automatically looked at Blake: “I’m country, I roll around in pig [bleep] all the time. Well, hell, me too!”