I wasn’t looking forward to tonight’s first live show on The Voice,also known as American Idol: Now With More Red! While I far prefer the weird, messy antics of The Voice’s judges to the “Hey Baby”s and “Yo yo yo”s on the former show, it wasn’t going to make up for the fact that we’ve ended up with a far-from-inspiring Top 24. And though Idol continues to be an absolute chore to sit through, it is having a very strong year vocally, and crossover viewers (which I imagine there are probably a lot of) aren’t going to be able to help but compare the two.
Nonetheless, it was nice to be back in The Voice’s looney bin in real time. Christina has apparently been taking studious notes from just about everyone with an internet connection who watches this show, and displayed nary a hint of cleavage, but was still generous with the “woooo”s, which it turns out are even more awkward on live TV. Cee Lo has traded in his cat at Gimmicks R Us for a wig and a cherry red, rhinestone encrusted Jesus Christ Superstar costume. And Carson, bless him, is showing some signs of life, perhaps shaken into consciousness by the backlash to his lame homophobic (but mostly just unfunny) gaffe earlier this week. He got in a few actually funny moments tonight; and when it came to Cee Lo’s getup, he took the words right out of my mouth: “What are you doing? Who are you?”
So after the customary introductions and hoopla, our first singer up was Jermaine from Team Blake. I still am not a fan of Jermaine and his petulant attitude, and while he turned out a capable enough “Living On A Prayer,” it failed to pop for me. Nothing about him on stage said “star,” especially the track jacket that made it look as though he had wandered in after running out to Trader Joes’ for some coconut water and trail mix. But afterward, when Carson asked him how he felt about his performance and he breathlessly said it “went really fast.” It may have been the first honest moment we’ve seen from him, and I appreciated it.
Team Christina’s first singer is Chris Mann, the opera guy who I had forgotten has a “sick mom” situation, but more importantly is almost definitely a serial killer. He sings “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and it’s of course a total snore—let’s cross our fingers and hope The Voice learns its lesson about more Broadway-suited contestants next year. Adam praises him for not singing a “typical opera tune,” but what did he expect him to do, whip out some Rossini for the kids at home?
Back on Team Blake, RaeLynn is ready to “punch America in the face with country.” Oh, RaeLynn. It’s not often you see someone so enthusiastically throw their mediocre talents out in front of millions of people. Oh, wait, that happens ALL THE TIME, except for some reason Blake and the rest of The Voice is trying to paint this mediocre talent as “the new voice of country music.” She sings “Wake Up Call” by Maroon 5, which is a pretty dumb move to begin with, but then buries it under forced growls and awkward sexy hip gyrations. Lucky for her, Adam was feeling nice tonight, and chose not to articulate what was going through his head when the camera cut back to him during the performance looking confused and somewhat mortified.
Oof. Okay. I could write a whole piece about what exactly was wrong with Moses Stone’s performance—and the judges’ reactions to it—but I’ll just say this for now: If The Voice is going to let rap artists compete, then they at least need to let them come up with their own lyrics. Nobody wants to see some non-famous person repeat a Kanye West song word for word. And Adam saying that he thought Moses was a better singer than rapper? We haven’t even seen Moses show off Moses’ rapping yet! The X Factor actually gave its two hip hop artists room to display their talent as writers; The Voice is embarrassing itself with its handling of Moses.
Naia Kete is up next, and is the first of several female vocalists tonight that I wished would just Spit. It. Out. Was Naia so intimidated at the thought of taking on an Adele song that she decided it would be safer to just whisper the whole thing? She gets in one good, strong convincing note near the end of “Turning Tables,” but the rest of the performance was just one little defeated sigh. Christina was disappointed she didn’t sing reggae; I was just disappointed she didn’t sing.
Then we had Lindsey Pavao from Team Christina. “Somebody That I Used To Know” is the “Rolling In The Deep” of 2012, but there’s a reason this is the first time someone has sung it on a reality show. It’s popular and cathartic because of how pure, clear, and memorable it’s big chorus is, and Lindsey was clinging so hard to her precious, quirky affectations that she never got around to actually belting out those big notes. She was not helped by the terrifying troupe of mimes crowding her on stage, nor the weird “dubstep trip-hop” rearrangement that was apparently her own handiwork. Even Christina, who wildly overpraised all her team members, had to mince her words for Lindsey, and she looked visibly shaken after her critique.
Thankfully, Jordis Unga followed with some actual singing, though I can’t tell if I enjoyed her performance of “Alone” mostly just for the fact that she was using her lungs. There was nothing particularly special about it—this was one of the most traditionally Idol-like performances of the night—but the fact that I was thankful for her ability to hit notes and keep control of her breath is just evidence of what kind of a night this was turning out to be. Same goes for Sera Hill, who somehow wound up being the only true “diva” singer this season. While I got a kick out of her bevy of Chippendales dancers and Mary J. Blige getup (this particular staging had Christina’s fingerprints all over it), I found myself unable to remember anything particularly inspiring about her song—but she and Jordis are both undeniably technically proficient.
It’s clear the producers decided to backload tonight’s episode with the better performances in the second hour, because Erin Willett was the evening’s first truly great singer. I appreciated her unwillingness to dwell on the tragedy she went through during the battle rounds—her attitude is great, and that’s half of what made it fun to watch her on stage. Though I could’ve done without the fake piano playing and the period-costume jazz-bar dancers, her “Living For The City” was high energy yet perfectly controlled, and she was one of the few singers who I actually believed was having a good time. Blake said it was the best technical performance of the night, and though he’s biased, he’s right.
Erin had proven herself to be a strong vocalist before tonight, but the heretofore almost terminally forgettable Ashley de la Rosa came out of nowhere, rocketing past most of the other female vocalists with her cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You.” She still seemed nervous, but she was able to connect with the audience far better this time around, and her rock ’n’ roll wail is nothing to sniff at. Adam dubbed her “most improved,” and said his opinion of her has changed drastically. I’m not holding my breath for her to make it too much further in this competition, but if this ends up being her last song, then at least she was able to make a memorable exit.
I know some of you guys told me during the blind auditions that I needed to get on the Charlotte Sometimes train, but here we are almost two months later and I just… can’t. She seems like a perfectly nice girl, she can definitely hold her own on stage, and she knows how to phrase a song like a pro, but I cannot get over her enunciation. And because that kind of affectation is way more of a choice than any kind of vocal aptitude, it almost makes it more infuriating, because I think if you took that away you’d actually have a pretty great little songstress on your hands. But actually, even that is debatable—Charlotte caps off her performance of Paramore’s “Misery Business” with one very long, very flat note. Adam catches it in his critique, but then immediately backtracks, saying “that’s hypercritical and nothing you have to listen to.” But if the judges aren’t there to tell the singers when they aren’t hitting notes, then what are they there for? (Answer: cats, tattoos, and boobs.)
And, finally, Jesse Campbell comes up to show all the little children how it’s done. I wonder if he chose to sing “What A Wonderful World” specifically for its association with interminable baby-photo slideshows and father-daughter dances, just so he could knock our socks off when our guard was down. Because that was a damn fine performance of a song I thought I’d never want to hear again on a reality talent show. Jesse is also becoming a master of the Wow Moment, as Tim Gunn would call it—first it was the “b-b-b-baby” during his battle round performance, this time it was that absolutely bonkers prolonged slide down and up the word “wonderful.” I keep thinking that it would be totally boring for Jesse to win this competition, but that’s because I keep forgetting that Jesse is a totally thrilling performer.
The judges bickered, and Jesse looked uncomfortable, and Christina basically admitted that all of the judges had been drunk the entire evening, and then I decided I liked this show again. One crazy talent and four silly lushes is plenty reason to have spent my time in Voiceland tonight.
- Oh Sprint Lounge, we hardly knew ye. I sure hope Christina Milian is not paid by hour on screen, because they certainly didn’t stick with that gimmick very long.
- Team Christina has “artists of every genre,” while Team Blake has “unique-sounding vocalists.” The copywriters are working overtime this season trying to find nice ways to say “Our judges may have been under the influence when they picked these people.”
- RaeLynn really looks eerily like Christina, which, while weird, is a much less creepy way to think about her than Blake’s vision of a young Miranda Lambert.
- “Hey, Betty White! Are you here to promote your new show?”