While recapping The X Factor for The A.V. Club last fall, I frequently found myself relishing the return of Simon Cowell’s blunt honesty, despite my better judgement. At the time, every deadpan insult felt like a breath of cool, crisp air, and after the flabby, maudlin mess that was American Idol’s 10th season, I had a renewed appreciation for any judge’s willingness to call bullshit if they saw it. But at the same time, I knew that I was merely swapping one variety of junk for another; jelly donuts for eclairs. The quality of these shows isn’t just dependent on how unsparing the judges are in their critiques; on the contrary, a healthy amount of respect goes a long way: the judges’ respect for the performers, the performers’ respect for the judges, and the producers’ respect for the audience.
While watching tonight’s episode and skimming Twitter, a fan retweet from the official Voice account caught my eye: “What I like about [The Voice] is that the coaches inspire those people with good feedback, even when they don’t turn their chairs around.” Well, thank you, @MsKFox—that’s the first time it ever really occurred to me that there is a near-total lack of negativity on The Voice (barring the bitchier Adam vs. XTina moments,) and yet, the show still manages somehow to never feel like a schlocky lovefest. The judges are dealing with a much smaller, higher caliber talent pool than Idol or X Factor, and they’re way pickier in these blind auditions than the other shows are in their equivalent stages, so the difference in how the show approaches rejection is just a matter of showing vs. telling. The judges on The Voice reject tons of perfectly fine singers; they don’t need to prove they have high standards by rubbing it in with gratuitous insults. And ultimately, it makes for a much more watchable two hours of television, even for those of us who delight in the mean from time to time.
Tonight was heavy on the ladies, with equal helpings of charming and obnoxious female hopefuls making their way to the stage, an endless parade of bold lip-color choices and chunky metal jewelry. Erin Willett had both of those elements going for her, plus a confident, strong-but-not-showy set of pipes, and she was scooped up by Team Blake. Sarah Golden was our “play along at home” audition (which are always fun whenever they trot them out), a butch lady guitarist who gave a folky, confident rendition of Lady Gaga’s “You And I.” I liked Sarah, but I’m a little nervous about her inevitable glamorization—I don’t have enough faith in the producers to let her go out on stage again without at least a little mascara, but I’d love to be proven wrong. Bringing me a different kind of joy was office assistant Katrina Parker, whose entire audition package was the most flawlessly ridiculous 10 minutes tonight, from Carson Daly’s Kia-sponsored trip to her workplace, to her pantomimed typing as he sneaks up on her in her cubicle, to her impressively innovative sob story (she was sick for two years from a poisonous mold in her apartment and couldn’t sing—yes, that’s right, a POISONOUS MOLD). And then she went and had the nerve to sing Joan Osborne’s “One Of Us” in her audition, and at that moment I felt like I had no choice but to root for Katrina Parker until the bitter end. Consider this my endorsement.
I was less impressed with the guys tonight; they were heavy on affect and low on the kind of reliability that makes a real star—from 19-year-old Pip’s oh-so-precious bowtie and suspenders (“I could focus on the fact that you’re a guy,” Blake said somewhat bafflingly in his bid to lure him to his team) to Geoff McBride’s technically sound but predictable Stevie Wonder impression. We also spent what felt like a disproportionate amount of time with Bostonian James Massone, whose shaky, Bieber-lite (and that’s saying something) performance of Drake’s “Find Your Love” was the only one tonight to leave me scratching my head at the judges’ reactions. Did they feel as though there was a void in their lineup where the teen heartthrob ought to be? Because this kid’s dreamboat appeal probably starts and stops with his eyebrows. (Seriously, they are nice eyebrows.)
It was also very nice of The Voice to let Nicole Scherzinger audition,after what has been such a devastating month for her… whoops, my mistake, that Egyptian-warrior-goddess that got three out of four chairs to turn for her wasn’t The Sherz but model Erin Martin. I guess I was just confused by the blind rage I went into while trying to process her audition, which managed to combine the Plain White T’s, some kind of Lykke Li or Björk schtick, and the black, oily tire tracks on a failed model’s portfolio dropped by accident in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard by some kind of con artist/casting agent. Still, if it was her plan to appeal to Blake and Cee Lo’s more prurient inclinations by stepping out onto the stage in audible high heels, then she is a genius and should probably just win this whole competition.
Next week: the last of the blind auditions? The judges’ teams are nearly full, that is, if their still doing teams of eight like they had last season. I need a scorecard, goddammit, this show is too complicated for me.
- I really, really like when the kids who dropped out of high school to pursue their “music careers” don’t make the cut on these things, as was the case with Elley Duhe tonight. The least The Voice can do is not actively encourage those sorts of idiotic life decisions.
- “Ohhh, he is precious Pip!” Is it too late to give Christina Milian’s job to Pip’s mother?
- Audition confessionals out of context: “As horrible as this situation may be, it’s wonderful to have The Voice as a distraction.”
- The hosts have been teasing the MC Moses Stone in the press, so I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see his full audition. I’m interested to see if hip-hop works any better on this show than it did on The X Factor, the first major American talent show to feature rap artists.
- How great was it that they dragged Perez Hilton all the way to the Voiceatorium to watch his Lucky Strike waitress friend audition (because of COURSE Perez Hilton hangs out with Lucky Strike waitresses) only to have her fail to get a single chair turn?