THE VOICE: Yet Another Blind Audition Round!

Welcome to Week 2 of The Voice recap, b-rollers! We’ve got another blind audition episode before us, and good golly, it’s another two-hour episode. I suppose this is great practice for my six-hour Oscar live blog – my own personal Iron Man endurance test – but I’m finding it difficult to find the upside, and…oh, hello, Adam Levine. Nice to see you again. (Never mind, we’re good).

We open with a flash of a city skyline (LA, I’m guessing for obvious reasons) and a close-up of a gigantic statue of the logo (a hand forming a peace sign). Hang on a sec, there are GIANT SILVER STATUES OF HANDS in the studio and no one finds this creepy, or even noteworthy? Wow. We meet the judges again and get another breakdown of the process (listen, turn, yadda), as well as close-ups of the judges pushing the button (they leave out the moment last week when Cee Lo tried to hit his button and missed, unfortunately); then, in the first “total duh” moment of the evening, we hear contestants remarking on how awesome this will be for them. “These coaches will definitely help me improve, just because of the success they’ve had,” says one contestant earnestly – yes, methinks that Grammy-winning superstars may have some useful tips –  followed by the requisite “this could change my life” exclamations (really, primetime TV exposure and a record deal? You don’t say!). Note to reality singing competitions: You can leave off these montages from now on. The contestants are counting on this to change their lives, we know. We’re cool.

We begin with 26-year-old Ducky, who sports a jauntily-cocked fedora and old-timey waxed mustache, and apparently saw Pip last week and thought, “You know what, I see your quirky AND RAISE YOU.” Carson Daly, clearly searching for new material as he nears the end of a looong audition round, asks Ducky and his girlfriend, “How can music help you as a couple?” This is positively Seacrestian, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. In preparation for his audition, Ducky curls his mustache like a Bond villain then takes the stage to sing “Tighten Up.”  He has a cool, funky voice and good stage presence, but no one turns, and I, for one, am surprised; God knows they’ve chosen less talented. Fare thee well, Ducky.

Our next auditioner is a small child! Wait, that can’t be right. Nope, it’s her father (maybe some better camera work next time, guys). Anyway, Jonathas (not a typo, that’s an “s”) shares the story of his family’s escape from poverty in Brazil, explaining that he learned English through pop music, and I immediately become concerned about his grammar and spelling. Sure enough, he sings “U Got It Bad,” and just to reiterate, “u” is a letter and not a word. Fight for our language, people. Jonathas has a very nice R&B tone with good control, and after much hesitation, Cee Lo turns and the crowd goes WILD (they love this guy), and Christina joins him at the end of the song. More importantly, I notice that Christina is wearing a four-finger, bling-filled ring that says “Xtina,” which is both subtle and classy. Forced to choose, Jonathas selects Christina, who he’s apparently admired since “Genie in a Bottle” came out when he was in fifth grade. Xtina chuckles, and I start drinking heavily. Fifth grade?! Lord almighty.

Random thought, by the way: Xtina keeps saying that she’s been singing professionally since she was four years old. Now, as the proud aunt of a four year old, I can’t imagine a child that age doing anything but playing and watching Winnie the Pooh. Is a four year old seriously capable of performing in public? Anyone else think this sounds off, somehow?

Moving on, though! Next up is Monique Benabou – and finally, a contestant with a last name! Monique tells us about taking her mother to chemo as she battled breast cancer, and dear God, can’t anyone on this show have a happy, healthy life story? She takes the stage to sing “Mr. Know It All,” and I really like her voice – muscular, controlled, on pitch, Clarkson-esque. Blake convinces Christina to turn around, and I’m still not clear if they’re trying to help each other – like, they know each others’ strengths, and respect them – or if there’s some subtle sabotage going on. Better hope it’s the former, Xtina, because Monique is yours.

Next up, Carson drives his Kia to the pier in Santa Monica to meet a street musician named Naia Kete. Carson crashes her street performance mid-song, then cheers loudly as she reads her audition invite aloud, so I think he may have had too many Starbucks lattes before embarking on this particular road trip. Naia, who comes from a family of dreadlocked bohemians, takes the stage to sing “The Lazy Song” (which is my own personal theme music). Blake pushes his button after four bars, then tries to threaten the others to abstain; however, he is thwarted by Cee Lo, who is clearly trying to measure her attractiveness from the crowd’s reaction, and as he turns Blake stands to call him a jackass. “I pushed my button for you,” Cee Lo says, with a distinct undercurrent of crazy, but Blake lobbies hard and wins Naia’s folky little heart.

Another observation: Does Cee Lo have the smallest hands in the world, or is the camera angle off? His hands are positively doll-like. Meanwhile, the white Dr. Evil cat looks like it’s plotting the demise of the cameraman. I think I’m going to enjoy these cut-aways.

We return from the ad break to Charlotte Sometimes, who overcame a disease that I couldn’t begin to spell correctly, but the gist is that her jaw was disintegrating and she needed surgery. Okay, a few words before we get to her singing: First of all, I’ve never in my life met someone with a name like “Sometimes” or “Pip” or “Ducky” or “Winter Rae”; how does The Voice find these people?! (Besides via Kia road trip.) Secondly, her jaw disintegrated? Holy crap, you guys. There is nothing about that phrase that doesn’t disturb me.

But just as I’m knee deep in contemplating a disintegrating jaw, we cut away to Erick Macek. (When this happens, it usually means that the person is a stop-gap who won’t get picked by anyone. Don’t get too attached to Erick.) He’s singing “Free Fallin'” in a way that is a bit too standard-issue folk-rock for my personal taste (with pitch problems), and the judges contemplate but pass. CALLED IT.

Back to Charlotte – and I am so badly trying not to write a pun on her last name, Sometimes – and we hear about her jaw disease again, which horrifies me no less on the 82nd mention. She sings “Apologize” which starts lower than seems right for her range. It gets better as she gets to the chorus, but it’s still a little wild, and I don’t find it fantastic. Blake and Adam turn around simultaneously, though, and Christina and Cee Lo follow suit; Carson awkwardly fist-bumps her dad, and not to be a hater, but it’s my favorite part of the performance (there were some real pitch issues there, correct?). “I want you all the time,” Christina says, intentionally – damn you, Christina, I was holding out! The judges all make their pitches, and Charlotte chooses Blake, for no apparent reason that I can tell. But hey, sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. DAMMIT.

Next up is “Broadway star” Tony Vincent, who was in Rent and, most recently, the Green Day show American Idiot. But his heart belongs to pop/rock, which is nothing at all like Rent or Green Day’s music. He sings “We Are the Champions,” which is appropriate since he was in a Queen show in London (also, not at all pop/rock-y). I know I’m a Broadway geek, but someone, pick him – he’s got a Freddie Mercury-meets-Broadway voice and I love it. Thankfully, Cee Lo snags him, so the bald dudes stick together. Tony seems rather cocky (and slightly pissed that no one else turned around for him), but he hugs his ecstatic pregnant wife and all is forgiven.

Next is Anthony Evans, the son of a pastor. He seems delightfully nervous and sweet, and I really hope he does well. He states that in the next few minutes, he “will sing in front of more people than in the last 10 years put together.” I hope he’s including the home audience, since otherwise, he’s been performing for people one-by-one for the last decade; folks, the studio is not THAT big. He sings “What’s Going On” (well, that’s gutsy), and it’s pretty good, but his voice doesn’t seem that deep or nuanced. Cee Lo almost pushes his button, and while hesitating, Christina jumps in and steals him, just as the song ends. I’m glad that we kept our sweet Anthony a bit longer, but I don’t envision him staying the course.

Next, Carson invites us to visit a small sandwich shop in Chicago called Potbelly’s. I need to call bull on Carson, here, as there are roughly 859 Potbellys in the greater DC area, so it’s not really a “small sandwich shop.” But we meet Jamie Lono, a sandwich-maker/musician, whose coworkers surprise him with his invite because Carson can’t be bothered to drive his Kia to Chicago. Jamie shares that he lost half a lung to pneumonia as a toddler – just try and stop him from sharing that information – so tragic history, check! He sings a spare, slowed-down “Folsom Prison Blues” with a folk-y, raspy sound that makes Adam turn around immediately. Cee Lo turns too, at the line “just to watch him die,” though Jamie looks way too hipster-meets-Willy Wonka to ever shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Jamie can’t believe his luck: “I make sandwiches!” he exclaims, referencing the “SANDWICH GUY” label slapped on all of his footage in The Voice production offices. “We should hook up, because I eat sandwiches!” Cee Lo pitches, and even Adam has to give him credit for a hand well played. Jamie is convinced, and Cee Lo is so excited that he promptly pulls out his BlackBerry to check his messages.

Next, we see a truly disturbing “coming up” tease, in which a “vocal coach’s son” (uh oh, almost certainly maladjusted) paces nervously, trying to buck himself up with, “Dreams don’t chase themselves, Dylan,” while looking like he may pass out in the darkly-lit holding area. This will end really, really well.

We return to meet the petrified boy. Dylan Chambers is 19, looks 14, and has been preparing for this his entire life. “I knew Dylan was going to go onto great things the moment he went onstage,” his mother says. Oh boy. He is a complete bundle of nerves, and before singing, stands onstage catatonically holding the mic. Lord, I hope this goes better than I think it will, because right now I’m worried about him vomiting on Cee Lo’s cat. He sings “Valerie” while doing “The Carlton” dance, so his stage presence isn’t awesome, and nerves are clearly taking over as his pitch is a bit all over the place. No one picks him, but he’s very gracious, and he appears infinitely more relaxed the moment he’s done singing, so I must say – I’m proud of our little Dylan. He’s acquitted himself well.

Next, we see a montage of others in the almost-but-not-quite club: Nathan Anderson, singing “Walking in Memphis” (serviceable but not sensational); Luna Searles with a soulful “Come to my Window” (I like her, what the heck, judges?); and Adam Lasher growling “How You Remind Me” (he’s clearly more interested in being badass than on-key).

Justin Hopkins was in Carson Daly’s house band, which seems like a slight conflict of interest, no? He tells us that he wants to work with Cee Lo, which is either refreshingly honest or a total jinx. Singing “Babylon,” Justin sounds like very much like David Gray, although not quite as good; he picks up momentum as he gets going, and Cee Lo turns at the last possible moment. Josh can’t hide his delight, and you have to wonder if a producer was screaming in Cee Lo’s ear, “For God’s sake, complete the narrative and push the damn button!” But even Cee Lo seems to acknowledge that it wasn’t great: “I want people to bear witness to growth,” he says, showering Josh with the faintest possible praise.

Next is Nicolle Galyon, who says that in Nashville, they don’t like piano players because they’re “not country.” Why, because the piano has more than a couple of chords? And you can write complex, deeply-layered songs on one? I don’t mean to be snippy, but that’s such crap, Nashville. Anyway, Nicolle also has the cutest little brother ever; his name is Cooper, and he says it’s “her time to shine.” She sits at the piano to sing “You Save Me” and she’s not wrong; vocally, her lane is country, and she’s got a pretty, twangy voice. Adam turns right around, and her mother shrieks in the green room; clearly, she’s got a crush on Adam, too. Meanwhile, we’re all waiting on Blake to turn, but in a shocking turn of events, he never does. But in brighter news, Cooper’s crying with joy and I’m deeply hoping the producers feature him for the entire season. And the country piano girl makes it through! Take THAT, Nashville.

Then we get ANOTHER montage, but this one features contestants who were chosen but apparently not worth knowing that well: Ashley De La Rosa sings “Shark in the Water,” and gets picked by Christina; country boy Jordan Rager performs something called “Chicken Fried” – seriously, Nashville, you want to be snobby about pianos? – and gets selected by Blake (hey, now!); folk-y Karla Davis sings “If I Die Young” and is taken by Adam; and ALyX (no, that’s seriously the choice that she has made, before God and NBC’s viewership) does “Just Like a Pill” and is chosen by Blake.

We’re getting close to the end, guys! Next up is 18-year-old Mathai (why all the no-last-name contestants? You can’t all be Madonna, people). Mathai dropped out of college to be a singer, and her parents are supportive but a little flummoxed. It’s very reminiscent of when I majored in Electronic Media in college. “What does that mean?” people would ask my parents, who would reply, “We don’t really know.” But they paid my tuition, God bless them.

Before we get to Mathai, however – who is gorgeous and will be hit on by Cee Lo in no time – we’re introduced to the “6 foot, 300-pound white guy who sings old school soul music,” Eric Tipton. I’m wildly intrigued. He’s there with his dad, who he fought with when he was younger but now has a good relationship with, and clearly our well of interesting backstories is nearly dry. Eric performs “You Make My Dreams” – and who else is seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt dance down the street with animated birds right now? – and it’s soulful and on pitch, but not terribly unique or memorable. No one picks him, which is predictable since he’s clearly here as a warm-up to Mathai, who the judges will almost certainly pick since she is featured in the last segment of the show. Check it out, two episodes in and I’ve already broken the formula – boo yeah! And we’ve already seen teasers of the judges calling her brilliant and standing. Okay, maybe I’m not a genius. Whatever.

Anyway, Mathai has officially been given the “music-over-med school” label by the show’s producers, and I’d like to remind everyone that she’s 18; it’s not like she was going into surgery tomorrow or anything. She’s singing “Rumour Has It,” which is risky as hell, but Adam turns right around and Blake immediately follows, as does Cee Lo. And frankly, I’m rather surprised; there’s some really good raw talent there, but she gets a little shouty and wild at the chorus. The judges are crazy for her, and they all beg her to choose them, but she selects Adam. Meanwhile, Mathai’s parents are utterly delighted and now fully in support of her life choices. So that’s nice.

So, merely 2700 words later, that’s a wrap! And next week we have…oh dear God, ANOTHER blind audition? It’s the last, right? Someone get me a latte. Anyway, check back next week for another Voice recap. In the meantime, Oscars 2012! Looking forward to your movie thoughts, b-rollers.

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