The Voice: “Live Semifinal Performances”
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The Voice: “Live Semifinal Performances”

B+

The Voice

“Live Semifinal Performances”

Season 2, Episode 18

In many ways tonight’s Voice performance show was a return to where we started. Remember how talented everyone seemed, and how funny all the judges were, and how much promise was on the air on that fateful night in February? (Okay, it was Super Bowl Sunday, so perhaps our faculties were a bit impaired.) In addition to many of our Elite Eight performers going back to their stylistic beginnings, it was also a reminder that, hey, there are a lot of skilled singers on this show. We just had to weed through the James Massones and the Erin Martins to get here, and while not all of the remaining artists may be your cup of tea, at least six of them really deserve to be where they are right now. Also, after weeks of progressively toning down her look, Christina is back with a perm, a bejeweled red fan, and a motherfucking tiara. All’s right in the world.

Tony Lucca starts things off tonight with “How Do You Like Me Now,” which would have been a strong, energetic all-around pleasant viewing experience had it not been for those bizarre gyrating ladies behind him. Way to throw the wrench in Tony’s “family man” narrative, producers! This was probably the most on-pitch and slickly executed performance of Tony’s so far, and once he was able to wrench himself free of the ladies of the night he was actually a pretty confident and natural dancer. Dude knows how to sling a mic stand.

Erin Willett did a country-ballad rendition of David Guetta’s “Without You,” which basically meant she made it sound like any generic pop ballad that you’d be hard-pressed to remember a year from now. While I’m impressed that nobody dropped the “dead dad” word in neither the intro package or the judges’ critiques, it might have given her the boost she needed from an emotional, but otherwise sleepy and frequently flat performance. I was frankly a little shocked at how icily Christina appraised the tearful, devastated Erin (“Oh, you want me to talk first?”) until I realized that she had probably forgotten about Erin’s loss altogether in the last month or so.

Chris Mann gives us an exclusive sneak peek of his act at the Mirage next summer, with “Ave Maria” and ten thousand LED candles in the wind. Ugh. Seriously? Are you really going to win The Voice with fucking “Ave Maria,” guy? From the sound of his intro he may be throwing in the towel, talking tearfully about this being his “last song” and all, but does he realize how much of a non-threat Lindsey Pavao is to his (granted, rather inglorious) Team Christina crown?

I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a singer slow it down as I was about Jamar and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Even before we learned that he’d be putting a current spin on it, I knew it would be good; the song is a bit of a singing show standard at this point, but it’s one I haven’t tired of yet. It was encouraging to see him take a bit of creative control in the studio, and I was a genuine fan of his stripped down, synth-informed version of the song—it was slow without being indulgent, soulful while staying restrained and intelligent. Jamar is a real find for this show (that smile!) and that he’s got such a crazy backstory is the extra edge—as Cee Lo says, people want to know about Jamar, which isn’t something that you can earn with elaborate runs and mascara stains.

We are then treated to a group performance of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” with Team Adam and Cee Lo. It was fine enough, but all I could think about while it was happening was how even though it was touch-and-go for a bit there, we at least ended up with two definitely striking talents, in Team Cee Lo’s Jamar and Juliet. It’s a bit unfortunate that they both can’t move on to the finals, because I think if this were any other show, they’d easily make the final four, if not the last two. However, the night was young, and there was still plenty of time for the remaining performers to prove themselves.

I read a fair amount of other recaps and reviews of this show, which is why when Blake told Jermaine “You know, we hear you do all these runs… and I wanna hear more of that!” I almost choked. I had though that the general consensus had been that the less Jermaine tries to be Jesse Campbell Jr., the more favors he does himself; but that strategy was not in place for his typically histrionic rendition of Journey’s “Open Arms.” I imagine the inside of a reality show is a funny place where one’s concept of what constitutes pedestrian is greatly skewed, because despite how bombastic the performance was, the “emotion” just swept right past me.

I honestly didn’t know who I wanted to see make the Final Four on Team Adam before tonight; both performers seemed alright and likeable yet ultimately unconvincing. Tonight, after weeks of appreciating and never actually disliking Katrina Parker, I officially got on board with her (and, full disclosure, cast my first vote of Season 2.) “Killing Me Softly” was the perfect song for her tonight, and even if the arrangement was almost note-for-note Fugees, her vocal interpretation of it was all her own. (big ups to Cee Lo for giving credit to Roberta Flack, by the way.) I also know that the “you look gorgeous” line is usually a cop out on these shows, but Katrina looked fantastic, and that can be important in convincing voters at home that you’re a bankable talent.

Lindsey had a decent comeback tonight with Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” which was right in her wheelhouse. She basically made it sound like a Feist song, which was pleasant enough, but made me hope for her sake that if she makes it to the finale (which is actually quite likely) they don’t have her sing “1 2 3 4” or something of the sort. It would kind of kill any delusions Christina or anyone else has about her being this special unique talent, a la Mathai and Nelly Furtado (though I’m guessing far more Voice fans are familiar with Furtado’s oevre.)

Team Blake and Christina come out with a more or less forgettable group performance of “The Edge of Glory,” whose only real purpose in the ongoing saga of Season Two of The Voice is to remind us that Lindsey is terribly outclassed on this show. Jermaine may be dull, and Chris may be irrelevant, but at least they can sing their faces off when asked to. Still, as the night wears on and I think about it more, I’m pretty sure she’s headed for the finals – this show prizes “originality” and Lindsey is certainly “original,” in the way that requires heavy scarequotes

Landing in the pimp spot is Juliet, who the producers really seem to be pushing as The Voice’s Great White Hope against another Great White Male Victory on a singing show. Someone behind the scenes is smart enough to know that the ultimate outcome is really going to matter as far as the perceptions of this show being a true alternative to American Idol. Juliet’s song choice is brilliant in this regard; although it’s a terrible cliché, nothing better sums up the state of the American singing show (and of course, may other more important sociopolitical issues) in 2012 than “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Juliet really reined in the screaming this time around, too, while still turning out a scorching, yearning performance.

There are a couple of tough decisions to be made tomorrow, as well as a couple of easy ones, but at least every performer tonight can say that they went out on a good note if they are eliminated tomorrow. I appreciated being genuinely excited by this show again; it’s been too long. Hopefully the result is a genuinely exciting night of television tomorrow.

Stray observations:

  • Wow, Christina was really going for broke in the obnoxiousness department tonight, wasn’t she? I especially love how her favorite way to express how much she likes something is to just start singing in her Christina Aguilera voice so that nobody forgets who this show is really about.
  • At least we got Christina’s critique of Tony, which has become the most reliably uncomfortable part of the show, out of the way early.
  • “I think people have been dying to hear you sing something operatic in another language again.”
  • “Great looking families!”
  • “That was the most fun I’ve had in under two minutes in a long time.” I’m going to assume Tony Lucca isn’t trying to make a filthy (and self-deprecating) joke since his child was in his lap when he said it.
  • Blake had his first solo performance of the season, which was nice, seeing as I have zero exposure to his music outside of this show. It’s important for me to remember that he does other things besides sit in a red chair and talk about how drunk he is.
  • “I don’t know about Skinny Love. I’m more into Big Love.”

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