The Voice: “Live Quarterfinal Performances, Week 1”
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The Voice: “Live Quarterfinal Performances, Week 1”

B+

The Voice

“Live Quarterfinal Performances, Week 1”

Season 2, Episode 14

Does any vote-based reality competition give its judges as much power as The Voice? This week we headed into the quarterfinals, with a cruel twist thrown in: The coaches will be instantly eliminating one team member at the end of the performance episode. (The other will be eliminated tomorrow night the old-fashioned way.) The reason American Idol felt revolutionary when it first premièred was how purely democratic it was—the judges offered their opinions and perhaps tried to steer the outcome, but in the end only the votes would decide who won. The Voice, as evidenced by its open-door policy to Broadway professionals and formerly signed artists,doesn’t place quite as much blind faith in non-pros—be they on stage or judging from their couches at home. And now we don’t even have complete say over who makes it to the semifinals. I’m not saying one way is better or worse, but anything The Voice can do to instill a sense of ownership and partnership between its viewers and its contestants is still a good thing.

On the other hand, it’s the voters who put RaeLynn through for another week on Team Blake, so maybe I don’t mind being benched for a round. She starts off the show, and though I was encouraged by Blake telling her to be less growly in the intro clips, she still stomped on stage doing the same over-the-top stage antics overcompensating for her near-nonexistent vocal range. She sings Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country,” because Blake wants to make sure people know she’s a country artist? She lives on a farm, y’all!

Jesse Campbell is up next with “Halo,” and the stage managers must love this guy, because he literally performed in front of a bunch of giant photos of his daughter. You know, the one who lived with him in his car when he was homeless on singing on the street. By all means, don’t let this affect your judgement of him, though! (Not that it ended up mattering…) This was probably my least favorite Jesse performance so far, and the gasping and sobbing near the end was a bit much, but the judges all seemed unanimously disenchanted, all offering variations of “Yup. You’re super good. Still.”

Next up: the perpetually troubled Jordis Unga. Seriously, why is this girl such a bummer? If there’s one thing Idol has taught us, it’s that America hates a sadsack. (Apparently Blake isn’t too fond of them either.) I didn’t know the song she sang, “Little Bit Stronger,” but by the end I was practically pinching myself in order to stay awake. Despite her supposed emotional connection to the tune, it was too wordy and wandering, and highlighted a lot of Jordis’ breath-control issues. “You’re almost in tears. That’s what people want to see,” said Adam unconvincingly.

Intermission #1! Time for Team Christina to grab some Frappucinos and stop by Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles, a magical place full of happy children perpetually clad in brightly colored choir robes. The choir flips out when Christina walks in to their practice room—either that, or they’re just really big Chris Mann fans. The kids then join Team Christina on stage for a huffing, puffing performance of “Fighter.” At one point a solo voice shone through the cacophony and I thought, “Oh, are they letting one of the children have a solo?” only to realize that that sad tiny warble belonged to none other than Lindsey Pavao. There are also cowboy strippers for Blake, because this performance clearly needed more stuff.

Ashley has the difficult task of following that, with a “rock” version of Jewel’s “Foolish Games.” This was not as bad as it sounds on paper, and Ashley does a lot better with voice and breath control in the lower range than some of her peers. My only problem was with the arrangement; there was a lot of build, then suddenly one huge long note (which was not unimpressive, still) and then it was over. Ashley still continues to be an interesting dark horse on this show. Blake calls Christina saving her “the best decision made so far on season two of The Voice.

Adam and Maroon 5 perform their new song “Payphone” next, which was a strange moment because I’ve gotten to like Adam so much as a judge that I almost forgot how boring his music is. Also, naming your song “Payphone” is just willfully regressive in a post-“Video Phone” world.

Erin Willett’s next, with another goddamn Adele song, because surely all the people who’ve tanked with Adele so far this season were just not doing it right… right? Listen to me right now, everybody on The Voice: stop doing Adele. We hate to see you hurt yourself like that. Erin has such a rich tone to her voice, and I don’t even think this was a bad performance, but it’s almost impossible to make the judges really happy with an Adele song. Still, we got to see Adam’s inner Jewish grandma fret over the pyrotechnics, so it wasn’t all for naught.

Up next, the amazing disappearing Lindsey Pavao. It seems the more interpretive dance and razorblade gloves the production team piles on her, the more she seems to fade away. While she’s the last woman standing from the initial horde of lady quirksters, her lack of conviction makes me long for Charlotte Sometimes—if I’m going to have to watch someone reinvent the pronunciation of every word in the English language, I’d at least like to see them look emotionally invested in it. Lindsey is basically the Kristen Stewart of reality-singing competitions, which is as bad a thing to be as it sounds like.

Intermission #3! Time for Blake Shelton to take the stage with his team, which ends up just being Blake halfheartedly lip syncing while his singers take over the song. In principle I much prefer Blake’s approach to the perform-with-your-team number to Christina’s—you get the sense that he really doesn’t want to make it about him—but it also doesn’t make for as much of an entertaining train wreck. The exception of course is RaeLynn, who appeared to be having some kind of late-period Judy Garland meltdown, as she tried to go bigger and bigger with every line she sang.

Jermaine is next, doing “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. I haven’t been wild about any of his song choices so far, and this is no exception. It looks like he was getting a head start on filling the space that would soon be vacated by Jesse Campbell, which is, quite honestly, a very boring space to live in if you’re anyone but Jesse Campbell. Everyone is wild for him though, which the exception of Adam, who thinks he may have over-embellished his runs a touch. Over-embellishment? On a reality show? Never!

Last up is Chris Mann with Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which prompted a similar reaction to the one Pip’s Killers performance elicited last week. For a contestant I didn’t care much for, I didn’t think it was bad at all—more importantly, it reminded us that Chris knows how to do a pop performance, and he’s just doing the opera posturing out of some misguided sense of integrity. So I was a little surprised—especially with all the excessive onstage pomp he’s given—that the judges were so lukewarm on it. Christina drops her 16th “you stepped out of your comfort zone” of the night, and it finally occurs to me that Christina is kind of awesomely icy and withholding of praise, something you rarely see on reality shows, where the female judge is expected to be weepy and maternal at all times.

Even her long, long preamble to her absolutely insane elimination was strangely chilly, which made me wonder what Jesse Campbell did to prompt her to get rid of her strongest vocalist. Was it really just his lack of viability as a massive recording star? If so, then she’s way more savvy and heartless than I would have thought. Blake, too, showed his ultimate lack of sentiment, unceremoniously letting go of Jordis due to the fact that she had been already voted to the bottom once before. It was a super-logical move, but nonetheless surprising.

So, even before the proper elimination episode, my bracket is all kinds of messed up—but it certainly made for an interesting night. I’ve still got my bets on RaeLynn to make it to the semifinals, but failing that, I also can’t wait to see what kind of machete headdress they put on Lindsey if she makes it through to another performance.

Stray observations:

  • In one of the intro packages, Blake tells one of his team members he has “chill bumps.” They’re called GOOSIES, Blake. Goosies.
  • Unlike his daughter, Jordis’ dad was very cute and cheery, with his unidentifiable accent and impromptu “I Got You (I Feel Good)” moment in the #SprintLounge. I guess he hasn’t spent the last 10 years toiling away at a failing music career, though.
  • Justin Bieber’s video for “Boyfriend” will debut on this week’s elimination episode, and while I’m no Bieber freak, I kind of wanted to smack Carson for his sarcastic “Oh, I can’t wait for that,” comment. We get it, Carson. You’re extremely heterosexual and much too cool to give a shit about some multiplatinum 18-year-old recording artist.