Okay, time to get serious, Voice-sters. After an extremely rough first live show last week, the one consolation for those of us who have been faithfully following NBC’s Little Singing Contest That Could was that next week would be better. Not only in terms of talent—the strongest singers are (in)arguably on Team Adam, and we still hadn’t seen what they could do when backed by 15 smoke machines and 25 gyrating mimes—but also in terms of satisfying narrative. Who wasn’t tuning in tonight to see the smug, awful “model” Erin Martin eat it on live television? While tonight was a definite improvement over last week, it still left a lot to be desired—and while a few former bottom-dwellers stepped it up, there were also some mild disappointments from heretofore fan favorites.
But we certainly get off to an encouraging start: Katrina Parker, who admittedly has a lot of Adele pigeonholing to work her way out of (not helped at all by her styling tonight,) did a solid, rendition of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins. Sure, there were a couple of flat notes in there, but in a competition like this, we’re listening so much more closely to technicalities than normal, and if someone can suffer a few minor flubs without making you want to write her off, then there’s something to be said for that. I don’t feel scared for Katrina, and I feel scared for a lot of the singers up there. Now we just have to get her out of the JC Penney prom department next time and she’ll be aces.
We switch over to Team Cee Lo for a little Cheesa action, and though it was tempting to just type her name in all caps and leave it at that, I must admit she did far better tonight than I would have expected. Her performance of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was very Cee Lo and distractingly trussed up, but let’s also get this out of the way: Despite whatever preconceived notions I could conjure up about a kid whose parents would move across an ocean to support her “singing career,” she seems perfectly nice and root-for-able. So there. I am not willing to file her alongside Ashley de la Rosa in the “singers I don’t love but feel no urge to eyeroll over at this juncture” section.
Back on Team Adam, it’s Tony Lucca time. The two Tonys suffered a similar problem tonight: taking on a dated, familiar song, and not one that gives the singer a lot of room to reinvent it. I’ll get to Vincent in a bit (and how), but Tony Lucca’s inability to break out wasn’t for lack of trying. It’s just that “In Your Eyes” is so insurmountably retro, even when filtered through Tony’s more folksy sensibility. “Hi Tonyyyy,” purred Christina in a way that made me want to take six showers. She goes on to call him “one dimensional” while not forgetting to remind him that his “Mouseketeer buddies” have his back, “Justin in particular.” Eh, couldn’t hurt to just stay in the shower for the rest of the night.
Next up is Kim Yarbrough, who announces she wants to do “Rolling In The Deep.” Now, I have no idea if Peter Gabriel was Tony’s idea, but for the love of God, can’t these judges save the artists from their own terrible ideas? It’s not even that Kim couldn’t do the song justice, but “Rolling In The Deep” is like static to us singing-competition devotees at this point, and I would find it extremely hard to imagine a rendition of it that was new without being gimmicky. Kim’s is neither new nor gimmicky, just capable, and comes off as flashy elevator music. At least Adam cared enough to point this out to her, albeit way after such insight would be useful; so far he’s the only judge who seems willing to give critical advice to his own team members.
Back to Team Cee Lo, and the continuing rise of James Massone, Headband-Wearing Ladies’ Man. Of all the males in this competition to pimp as your heartthrob, Voice, you choose this guy? There is nothing sexual at all about James, and I’m not even going to look up his age to see if that’s an appropriate criticism to make about him. (Okay, he’s 23. Which means he should know better than to play along with this nonsense.) He leans on the falsetto like he believes it’s going to be what sets him apart in the competition, when it’s the weakest trick he’s got—I honestly didn’t mind the verses of “Don’t Know Why,” but the choruses were DOA. I suspect James’ parents are threatening some kind of eternally damning class-action lawsuit on NBC; there’s no other reason that the judges would unanimously fall all over a performance that flimsy.
On to Juliet Simms, who fell out of a lot of peoples’ favor for her snide attitude leading up to her battle-round performance, but who made a huge impression tonight. “Roxanne” was a great song choice for her voice, even if it was a little scream-y and came out of the gate too aggressively. She says in the intro that she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into classic rock, but it’s a whole lot better than being pigeonholed as an Adele impersonator, and pigeonholes are a fact of life on a singing show. Pigeonholes. Plus, as Juliet was exiting the stage, she made a big nervous pukeface at the audience, and that was pretty endearing.
Juliet was a tough act to follow, and my erstwhile favorite Mathai made it even tougher by picking a slow, “loungey” (as Christina called it) John Legend song for her live debut. It’s interesting how our limited exposure to these contestants leads us to draw conclusions about them that are easily proven wrong; while I’ve been singing Mathai’s praises since her live auditions, I was suddenly wondering if she was a bit of a one-trick pony. (Contrasted with someone like Cheesa, who I was more than willing to completely write off before tonight.) It makes it hard to really pick a favorite, and in the end is kind of a blow against this show’s potential addictiveness.
The exception, of course, are the contestants who are truly memorable, for better or worse, and Tony Vincent definitely qualifies as such. I am not a Tony Vincent fan; easily mockable Voldemort-like appearance aside, I just don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, singing or otherwise. So how does Cee Lo decide to stage his performance of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”? In a big scary dictator pulpit with Kraftwerk-like goosestepping dancers, of course! Blake doesn’t mince words about the weirdness of the setup, and Cee Lo defends it with some gibberish about the performance signifying the defeat of evil and how Tony is actually a “lover,” but maybe Cee Lo should keep the supervillain posturing to himself.
Then there’s poor Karla Davis, possibly the most unmemorable from the two teams going into tonight; who wasn’t able to make much of an impression even with an outside-the-box choice like B.O.B’s “Airplanes.” There was much talk of summoning “Bertha,” Karla’s “big sassy voice” alter ego, but apparently Bertha was held up by security backstage, because the performance was a mere husk, suffering from the same strange whispering malady that plagued Naia Kete last week. Karla is not too long for the Voice stage, but she seemed so breathless and happy and clueless as the judges laid into her that I couldn’t even feel that bad for her.
I kept checking my watch, wondering if Erin Martin’s flameout would be so grand that they had saved it for last, but finally our sweet Cleopatra took the stage. For some reason, Cee Lo decided she should sing “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a song that has many associations in my mind, the most recent one being Jason Sudeikis’ character overdosing on cocaine on a recent episode of Eastbound and Down. Y’know, I truly wonder if Cee Lo is aware of how bad Erin is, or if he is really that blinded by her model looks and “look at me!” hairstyles. Her performance was terrible in all the ways we’ve come to expect (nonexistent singing, unprovoked “woo!”s, general reek of desperation), and Christina and Blake call her out on a fair amount of it. But Cee Lo congratulates her for remembering the lyrics and looking pretty—which, let’s be honest guys, is actually super hard!
Our penultimate performer tonight is Pip, a singer I should be a lot more annoyed by than I am. I also should be a lot more annoyed by someone covering The Killers on a singing show, but I realized something during Pip’s performance: I like karaoke covers of Killers songs way more than the real thing. So perhaps my unexpected enjoyment of Pip’s performance was a bit skewed, but I didn’t think it deserved the shade Christina and even Adam threw at it. In response to Adam’s comment, I’m not sure that Pip does dangerous, and if he did, I don’t think it would come off very gracefully. What Pip will give you is a very capable Glee cover of a rock song, and that is what we got tonight.
Finally we have Jamar, Official Comeback Representative of The Voice. I like Jamar, and his story is amazing, but I’d really like to hear him talk about something other than overcoming the odds at one point. He sings Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and I could just see all of The Voice’s age-50-and-older viewers scowling and covering their ears. I’m not sure if I’d count myself among them, but it was a lot of light and noise. The closeups of Jamar in front of the big light panel/staircase were just overwhelming—he was drowned out by the flashes, and the guitars threatened to drown out his voice. When his vocals did peek through the rocking and rolling, he was perfectly strong and convincing, but I feel like I was squinting through the whole performance, trying to make heads or tails of it. Oh, and, there were guitarists on stilts, because This Is The Voice! [guitar wail] and, duh, obviously.
Tomorrow! Results! Emotions! Anyone want to bet Erin Martin squeaks through? After RaeLynn’s placing last week, we know the Voice viewers are hardly a predictable (or wise) bunch, which at least makes that aspect of the show more interesting than its competitors.
- I’m not one of those girls who has an irrational hatred for the word “panties,” but I did squirm when Blake said it—twice!—after James’ performance. That said, I think “pitch my panties” has some potential as a slang term.
- “I was in a body shop, and now I’m trending on Twitter!”
- “Even ol’ crapjacket there liked you.”
- Pip totally gestured to himself and grinned during the “beautiful boy” line in “When You Were Young”—don’t think I didn’t notice.