THE VOICE Recap: Get on the Good Foot

Good day, b-rollers! Welcome to the live shows! I was going to do a live blog (makes sense, right?) but I totally lied; I’m doing a recap instead. I cannot plan to be sharp and witty on a Monday, it just won’t happen. You’re cool with that, right? Awesome.

We begin with Carson Daly reminding us that it was only eight weeks ago that this whole thing started. (For real???) And yet, each judge has only changed his or her clothes once. Consider. Anyway, the judges have “painstakingly” (debatable) picked their teams, and “agonized” (ditto) over who to advance from the battle rounds. But tonight: Blake and Christina’s contestants perform and it is “UP TO AMERICA,” which is perfect since AMERICA has never made an unfortunate choice in one of these televised singing competitions.

And finally, at long last, we’re live! Carson Daly is wearing a suit! Adam is sporting a buzz cut! Cee Lo is wait a second what in the holy hell is Cee Lo wearing?!? Oh, you guys. I cannot. But I must, right? That’s the deal we made? Okay. Cee Lo is dressed like James Brown, complete with a shiny red, low cut (no really, it’s happening) spandex jumpsuit, and a hairpiece that he keeps flipping like Farrah Fawcett. Just when you think that Christina’s sartorial choices can’t be topped, Cee Lo goes and ups the crazy. And it’s on.

Let’s talk about the singing, shall we? Excellent.

Jermaine Paul – who I am openly rooting for, I think he’s awesome – is up first. We get another video recap of his reasons for singing/living/wanting to be famous, and pardon me for a second, folks – ahem, producers? We can skip this.  I could write most of these contestants’ Wikipedia bios from memory at this point. He will sing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” which is a terrible song choice for him unless he decides to switch up the arrangement. Alas, he uses Bon Jovi’s exact arrangement, right down to the key change, with the addition of some tribal drummers and fog. (I don’t know either.) Anyway, the judges – minus his mentor Blake, who gives Jermaine an inexplicable standing ovation (this theme will recur, folks) – mirror my “whazzup with the song choice?” critique, in the gentlest possible way. As they flash the 18 different ways you can vote for him – I didn’t catch them all, but I think you can call, email, text, download the song on iTunes, order a tall skim latte at Starbucks, purchase a purple Kia or skywrite – Jermaine stares furiously into the camera, obviously ticked that he didn’t get a mountain of praise for his above-average karaoke. He may be on the chopping block, folks. Damn.

Next, we see Christina Milian, who is mingling in the “Sprint social media lounge” (oh, dear God) as the contestants tweet and text with fans, which seems like a horrendous use of their pre-performance warm-up time. But such is the world in which we live.

Moving on to Christina Aguilera’s first artist: the opera tenor Chris Mann, who reminds us repeatedly that his mother has (had? it’s unclear) cancer, and he’s doing this for her. In case you missed the subtlety, he will be singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (for his mom, who has cancer), and he sings it perfectly fine, although a few things: 1) Hasn’t this song already been wildly overdone on these shows? 2) Chris has a hell of a voice, but “pop” is just not his lane, because no matter what pop song he sings, it just sounds like a poor man’s version of those Andrea Bocelli albums where he covers the “hits,” and 3) He brings no emotion to it, so that even when the camera zooms in for its inevitable close-up on Chris’ mom (she has cancer, by the way), we can see that she is proud yet not moved to tears, as someone would be if this was at all memorable. And yet, the judges say that he owned it and it was brilliant. We have reverted to the “everyone is a superstar, now let’s go eat ice cream together in the meadow” model of live-show judging copyrighted by American Idol, and I, for one, am profoundly disappointed. I wanted more, Voice.

A country singer should snap me right out of this funk, right?! (Sorry, I’m cranky.) Well, RaeLynn is up next; she will be doing a countrified version of a Maroon 5 song – which is seriously gutsy, points for that – called “Wake Up Call,” and given RaeLynn’s previous pitch issues we may see Adam Levine seize before this thing is over. But she sings it pretty damn well; it’s an inventive arrangement, and her pitch is good. My one caveat would be that her vocals feel very affected, in a so-twangy-I-can’t-understand-the-words kind of way. Also, she’s shimmying in a way that is a little advanced for a 17-year-old, and Christina will later question the appropriateness of this in perhaps the most egregious pot-kettle incident of our times. Anyway, the judges love it, which will shock you, and Blake says that he’s already hearing excitement about her at the Academy of Country Music Awards, which he hosted this past weekend and which I would not have watched unless being prodded by Taylor Swift with a hot poker.

Moving on! Moses Stone is up next, and we are thankfully now classifying him as a “hip hop artist” rather than the vague and distracting “MC” (I still don’t know.) Moses is going to take on a mashup of “Power” and “Stronger” by Kanye West, and his performance is a template for “trying to do everything and not quite succeeding at anything.” He’s got one hell of a stage presence, but the singing is slightly under pitch, the falsetto is rough, and the rapping seems adequate but not other-worldly (not that I’m a rap aficionado or anything). He is, however, the first performer with a cadre of backup dancers, which I applaud for giving me a reason not to focus on the rapping. The judges talk and…love it! Cee Lo says a lot of nice things but who the hell is listening, we’re still staring in disbelief at the outfit (thankfully, nothing he says is terribly insightful anyway). Adam thought it was vocally underwhelming, and wished he would really sing since he can, and wait, are we about to get some actual judging here? Nope. He undercuts by saying, “But what do I know?” Well, a lot. That’s kind of the point. They pay you a lot of money to know when to say “maybe skip the rapping and sing on key.” Hell, I’m saying it for free, and I certainly don’t have Adam Levine’s credentials.

After the commercial break, we see Betty White in the audience! Where’s she been, anyway? “Are you here to promote your show?” Carson asks (no, Carson, she heard the word on the street and has been aching for a really good Kanye mashup), then follows up with, “Needless to say, we’ll be watching!” It feels needful to say that I will not be watching.

ANYWAY. Up next is Naia Kete, who will be singing an Adele song as required by law (“Turning Tables”). She wants to make it reggae and is convinced by Blake (and the rehearsal pianist, who throws a “what the what” look over) to sing it straight. She starts out by sounding breathy and ethereal, but it then becomes clear that she can’t do any more than that. She has no strength or breath support (she tries to pass off her dropped notes and phrases as emotion, but, uh, no), and though she hits some big notes at the end, it was really rough overall. Christina leads the critiques with a completely half-hearted, “Um…it was cool…” like she’d rather be visiting the Mad Hatter to choose next week’s headpiece. Blake thinks it was awesome, though (who’s surprised?). And Carson wraps up the segment with the speed of an auctioneer and virtually shoves Naia offstage, so we’re clearly starting to run overtime.

Christina’s next contestant is Lindsey Pavao, who has chosen “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye, and references the term “dubstep,” which I know now thanks to friends who are infinitely cooler than I am. She’s the first performer tonight to take her cue from Lady GaGa; not sartorially, thankfully, but in terms of theatricality, since she’s surrounded by masked clown backup dancers. She has a very distinctive voice that Christina praises to the heavens, but there are a few wonky notes in there, and the song stops abruptly. When Adam has the gall to (again, gently) criticize the performance, Lindsey stares daggers at him, and I do believe that these contestants need to take lessons on how to receive criticism. Both Lindsey and Jermaine looked like they wanted to go kick puppies, and this will not endear you to voters, guys.

Moving on to Jordis Unga, who hopefully has control of her nerves this time. She will sing “Alone” by Heart, a song I deeply love but one that has been over-performed on these shows and should only be attempted in cases of extreme competence. She sings it fairly well but changes the damn words, which should never be done to those of us who have memorized the great power ballads of the ’80s, and the famous sing/scream note in the song is too primal and un-musical to really wow. Do the judges mention this? Of course not. They love her guts and singing voice and I need some Cadbury MiniEggs to survive the rest of this critique, be right back.

Sera Hill is up next – remember her, the R&B powerhouse? She will sing a Drake song! Wait, what? Anyway, it’s “Find Your Love,” and she takes the stage with half-naked men hanging all over her, a killer white pantsuit and a diamond-loaded necklace that cannot be real, though it is impressive. Well played all around, Sera. She seems just above the pitch a lot, but she sings the hell out of a song that doesn’t give her a lot to work with anyway. When it comes time for a judges’ critique, Christina and Blake banter about the shirtless dancers (Blake calls them “strippers”) without mentioning the actual, you know, singing, and Carson finally has to follow up with, “Anything else on that? Want to critique the performance?” That pretty much sums up the judging this evening, folks.

Our next contestant will be Erin Willet, who lost her father and will perform in his memory (I feel for her, I really do, but we know). She’ll take on Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” The whole performance has a very Broadway vibe – the stage and backup dancers are styled like a ’60s honky tonk – but she sounds strong, funky, and really good. I was not expecting such a great performance from Erin, who had been good but not amazing thus far. She doesn’t quite have the stage presence of some of the other performers, but Blake is correct (!) when he says that her vocal is the best of the night. (Christina clearly tries to jump in and object on behalf of her team members, but Carson cuts her off, as he is wont to do. I adore him.)

Up next is Ashley De La Rosa, whose two passions are “music and charity.” (Sorry, I just choked on a Cadbury MiniEgg. She also advocates world peace, just FYI.) Ashley takes on Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You” and does so pretty well; I thought her lane was R&B, but she’s more of a rocker than I gave her credit for (or Christina, who saddled her with a pop/R&B song in the battle rounds). Just like RaeLynn, though, she gets a little too comfortable onstage for a 17-year-old, and when Adam begins his critique with “How old are you???” I wonder in what spirit this question is asked. On the upside, though, no one tonight has looked like they were having as much fun as Ashley onstage, and since Christina’s team isn’t exactly bringin’ it tonight, she gets extra credit for that.

Charlotte Sometimes – who you will recall was really kinda obnoxious in the battle round – is our next contestant, and she’ll be performing Paramore’s “Misery Business” and wants to “soften it up” (probably because she’s now seen her battle footage). She again confuses “jazzy phrasing” with “incomprehensible slurring” at times, but she sings the song really well, and I am surprised to admit that I may have to change my mind about her. Adam hears some pitch issues (maybe, but way less egregious than others tonight), but says that he’s being “hypercritical and nothing that you have to listen to.” Adam, honey, again: You’re making a lot of money here, and the judge sitting next to you is dressed like a bad Vegas impersonator. Go ahead and be the grown up.

Up to the final contestant of the night, folks! Jesse Campbell – whose epic battle footage we’ve now seen more frequently than Betty White – reminds us that he and his daughter were homeless for a while, which explains how he got the pimp slot. He’ll take on “What a Wonderful World,” a classic song…that he does absolutely nothing with. He starts too fast, makes very odd phrasing choices, and brings a very elevator-y arrangement to it. It’s perfectly well-sung pitch-wise, but boring as all heck. But you know what? The judges adore it, and there has never been a better performance in the history of the known universe. Then Cee Lo spends about six of our last eight minutes shaking that damn James Brown wig, Christina questions the sobriety of the other judges, and Carson looks like he’d like to start whomping people on the head with his microphone, which I would fully support. This hasn’t been our judging panel’s finest hour.

So, we’re out! Tonight (Tuesday) we’ll lose six of these people, three per team, since we can only “save” three of Blake’s singers and three of Christina’s. (I like the use of the word “save,” like we’re pulling them back from a jagged cliff.) My choices to save: Charlotte, RaeLynn and Erin from Blake’s team (no one is more surprised than me), and Sera, Jesse and Ashley from Christina’s (based more on potential than performance); this means that we would lose Jermaine (ugh, my heart), Chris, Moses, Naia, Jordis and Lindsey. I guess. Wouldn’t shock me if Jordis or Jermaine snuck through, though. Join me tomorrow for a recap of our first live results show. ‘Til then!


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