While the blind auditions are the one element that The Voice can undeniably hold over its competition, it’s not the blindness that makes them superior. It’s the fact that they spare us from that big dumb scourge of the competition show, the Bad Audition. By being up front about the fact that everyone who auditions for The Voice was scouted and prevetted means that the show never has to pretend to be an open call. Call this “fake” if you will, but the William Hungs of television were just as handpicked as the Tony Luccas. Rather than tell a story of a world filled with a lot of untalented losers and a few shining stars, The Voice shows us a lot of talented people and gets down to the business of figuring out what makes some of them more talented than others—a subjective, nitpick-y endeavor, but a much more interesting one to watch. It makes for a more grown-up-feeling show, and forces the judges to justify their decisions with far more insightful and detail-oriented observations. (Relatively speaking—it still bugs me how every time a contestant asks what kind of style the judges see them in, they insist on shouting “ALL OF THEM!” Don’t get scared, guys. It’s not a trick question.) And on an episode like tonight where so many perfectly competent vocalists couldn’t get a single chair to turn, making the cut seems that much more difficult and significant.
So, who stood out tonight? I feel like Lindsey Pavao, the Radiohead fan with the half-shaved head, may be one of the more divisive contestants this season; she enunciates weirdly and does that constricted-throat kind of singing that people seem to gobble up these days (and that The X Factor’s Drew did her bestest to run into the ground), but delivered a memorably moody rendition of Trey Songz’s “Say Aah” that earned her three out of four chairs. Adam was the one holdout, still as picky this season as he was last year, but he also coached the winner, and I’m starting to appreciate team-building savvy. (His button-pushes are less emotional than his fellow judges, too—Blake often makes a face like he’s let a disreputable woman talk him into sleeping with her, Christina smirks like a sassy tween, and Cee Lo all but shrugs, probably too busy trying to catch the eye of a PA offstage so he can get his cat back.)
Speaking of Sir Lo, his No. 1 fan Jamar Rogers was probably my favorite of the night—he’s got the same vocal smoky-smoothness of his idol and enough onstage confidence to render his triple-threat status (demeaning job, prior meth addiction, and HIV positivity) irrelevant. I didn’t feel guilted into liking his performance of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” at all, in fact, it veered dangerously close to something I might even listen to voluntarily. I also wanted to like former stealth bomber Angie Johnson more than I did, but I’m still going to root for her because, c’mon, she’s a stealth bomber. She was a bit too shout-y for my taste, and I don’t entirely trust Cee Lo’s ability to train that out of her, but hopefully it was just a case of the audition Like-Me-Like-Mes.
Jermaine Paul also stood out, but not in a particularly good way. He’s a backup singer for Alicia Keys (she sent him a video pep talk on whatever the preferred mobile device of The Voice is), and the esteemed position seems to have gone to his head. I didn’t like him grilling the judges who picked him (Cee Lo and Blake) about who not wanted, not needed, but would keep him, and (wanted to high-five Blake for telling him bluntly that would be up to him). In the end, that bit of honesty won Blake another team member, so perhaps Jermaine is more amenable to constructive criticism than he appears. I hope so—I usually like brashness like that in a contestant, but Jermaine rubbed me the wrong way. Also, I just really don’t like when grown men sing teenybopper anthems—I still have nightmares about that guy with the shaved head last season who jammed out to Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad” on acoustic guitar.
“Being a good person and being talented is totally enough,” good, talented person Hoja Lopez reflected in her intro before being sent home with nary a chair turned. This was one of those auditions where I was positive the judges would go bonkers for her, but perhaps her nerves were more audible in the VoiceDome than they were on television. The judges have done a good job this season of demonstrating that they won’t send through every overweight/quirky person (Hoja, not-paralyzed hat guy, and Daniel from the premiere), and that they will send home some very conventionally attractive people (Pamela Rose, Dez Duron), but so far the large majority of the contestants to make teams are far from eyesores. This is mostly because on a whole the talent pool seems to be very low on the gawky and eccentric this time around, which means that that both the accepted contestants and the rejects are more attractive, and there are even more times we have to put up with that icky moment when all four judges turn around, see the pretty person who just sang for them, and go “Awww!” as if to say “Your most redeeming quality is your appearance, if only I had known that sooner!”
Of course, all the rejections are only setting us up for a whole lot of redemption down the road when the judges inevitably have plowed through all the talent without filling their quotas. I will probably be forced to eat my words about how much I respect their decision to pass over so many perfectly all-right yet unremarkable singers and stick to their guns and guts, but for now I appreciate the attempt to establish some fairly high standards. There’s legitimate suspense in these audition episodes, even without establishing a lot of reasons to have personal investment in anyone yet, which is quite a feat.
- Kim Yarbrough, The Voice’s far more personable answer to Stacy Francis, really buried the lede in her intro package—I would have started off with the fact that I used to work security for the Dave Matthews Band.
- I don’t really have much to say about the judges’ Prince medley performance, except that I was a little distracted because Christina’s hat couldn’t help but remind me of this.
- “This divalicious woman picked you too, so now we’re going to fight over you like children.” Every time I have to admit that Adam Levine is kind of funny, I lose 15 seconds from my life.
- Also, I laughed out loud when Blake took a bow after Angel Taylor said she had a crush on him. And it was an affectionate LOL, like the kind you make when your friend surprises you with ice cream. What is happening to me?
- Gwen Sebastian was totally fine in my book until the second time she did her North Dakota accent. Also, “I’m voluntarily choosing to wait to have children” doesn’t count as a sob story, sorry.
- Neil Middleton, a good first step toward being a legitimate grown-up and earning your wife’s trust would be to TAKE OFF THAT GODAWFUL HAT.
- Was I imagining it, or did Dez Duron pronounce it “I vant it that vay?”
- “I don’t want to touch that. I just want to play with you and experiment.” RUN, LINDSEY. RUN.