Archive for February, 2012

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 12 Women

February 29, 2012

Image edited from original by Brandon Heyer on Flickr, used under Creative Commons.

The voting kickoff continues with the Top 12 women contestants taking the stage. How come there got to be one more guy? I don’t know. Seacrest even highlights the fact that a woman hasn’t won the show since Jordin Sparks won season 6. You can hear the sadness in his voice. I know it’s shitty, dude. This is American Idol!

Notes: Man, Steven Tyler loves those long shirts and hats. He looks like such a tool! Also, note all the white, blonde contestants standing up there. There looks to be one, maybe two women of color onstage. Yay for diversity?

Theme: Contestants can pick any song. Same as last night.

Here are the Top 12 female performers in order of appearance on the show.

1. Chelsea Sorrell – “Cowboy Casanova” I don’t know this song, but it sounds really upbeat and rich. It was a good choice to start off the night. However, I can’t say the same for the live mix of the music or for Chelsea’s slightly delayed singing and nasal belting style. She was really awkward on the staccato parts of the buildup to the chorus. I also wish she emoted more. I failed to feel the hot, casual lust that was in the lyrics. It wasn’t a shitshow, but she could do a lot better. Also, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Tim Riggins-lookalike fiddle player this season.

2. Erika Van Pelt – “What about Love?” For a big ballad like this Heart original, there’s the temptation to oversing like crazy, but Erika keeps things dialed back and lets her volume build and build until the big held note climax at the end. She has a lot of control in her delivery, and her deep melodic singing style reminds me of Cher (that’s a good thing in this case.) She exuded defiant confidence, and I really got into that. Kids, EVP isn’t fucking around. As Lil Wayne would say, “Go DJ! That’s my DJ!

3. Jen Hirsh – “One and Only” Another Adele song? Jen finds her groove late into the song, and while she’s belting like a pro, her performance feels cold and plodding. I felt like she was mugging way too much onstage, especially for a song like this. It failed to pique my interest….ZZZZZZZZZZZZ………….

4. Brielle Von Hugel – “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” So she’s the one with the pushy stage parent? Well, maybe she would have coached her not to sing below her range. Jeez, the first verse sounded like a dryer cycle. Halfway into the song, Brielle found some energy and caught my attention. Her big gospel ending felt cloying and tonally inappropriate, but technically she was ok. She’s the middle of the pack.

5. Hallie Day – “Feeling Good” Jazz standards like this are done to death, but you could make the case that the “new dawn, new day, new life” lyrics work with Hallie’s backstory. Vocally Hallie was noticeably off-key, but she had a good sense of timing and command of the stage. And that big note at the end was totally earned and gave me chills! When Hallie is on she’s on, but otherwise she can be a hot mess. [Sidenote: Stop talking about Adele, judges! She’s good, but she’s one singer! And no, Lana Del Rey doesn’t count. Do you have any other cultural touchpoints?]

6. Skylar Laine – “Stay With Me” Dressed like a Mardis Gras float, Skylar lays into a song I haven’t heard of. I give her points for delivering one of the more energetic performances of the night. Her delivery was a little unintelligible, but she hit every note but the last big one (which…ouch….) Her bopping stage moves were awkward and klutzy, but maybe that will come off as endearing. I give her points for trying to be fun and not completely choking onstage.

7. Baylie Brown – “Amazed” Another country performer? And this overdone wedding staple? Baylie needs to deliver a flawless victory. How did she do? OK, remember Denise Richards’s Becky Leeman character from Drop Dead Gorgeous? Entitled, overconfident, smug, and underwhelming? Well, this is what Becky Leeman sounds like singing “Amazed.” Her performance was off-key, bleating, messy, and harsh (and her ill-fitting “don’t vote me off” dress is just icing on the cheesecake.) I hope I don’t have to listen to her failures for much longer.

8. Hollie Cavanagh – “Reflection” Are all these contestants blondes from Texas? It’s like the cabinet of the George W. Bush administration up in here! The ersatz, schmaltzy music arrangement that accompanies Hollie screams “pageant” to me. Did you notice that Hollie wasn’t really articulating the lyrics outside of “MY RE-FLE-EC-TION?” I’ll concede that for her big notes Hollie did a decent Xtina impression, but outside of that her pitch and delivery combined to form a slurry of immature singing.

9. Haley Johnsen – “Sweet Dreams” Haley comes across as likeably quirky and I really want to root for her, especially for bringing a new wave song to the Idol stage. Sadly, she had the same problem as some of her competitors – singing below her range. Haley and the house band were so divergent key-wise I thought they were performing two different songs. The big belt-off at the end was cool, but so were those from a lot of the other contestants. Let’s go back to Haley’s montage that showed her doing gymnastics. If her performance was a floor routine, she would have scooted her ass around the floor for 5 minutes but she would have totally stuck the landing!

10. Shannon Magrane – “Light Your World” I don’t know this song either! I feel so out of touch! This feels like another one those shitty inspiration-bait songs. I blasted Creighton for this shit last night and I’m blasting Shannon for it now. The empty charity lyrics and tacky arrangement seemed like bedding for cheap vocal fireworks. And that pageanty sound-off didn’t help either. Chant it with me now: One percent! One percent! Jennifer Lopez, Shannon may have good passion for a 16 year old, but if a 28 year old went on stage and did that same shit would you be giving the same kudos? This stupid panel!

11. Jessica Sanchez – “Love You I Do” Project, dammit! When Jessica isn’t belting she’s like a shy Joss Stone. But I think she’s one of the better singers among the women in that she can hit the notes, whip out the vocal firepower, emote like someone who understands her song, and command the stage. I feel weird rooting for a teen contestant, but Jessica came across like an experienced professional. You go, player!

12. Elise Testone – “One and Only” Didn’t Jen just do this earlier in the show. Well, that’s points off for not finding another damn singer (or at least another damn Adele song) to perform from. Elise’s performance was competent enough, but for fuck’s sake I couldn’t feel this one. Hey Adele, can your label temporarily forbid contestants on this show from performing your music?

In conclusion, I think the judges did a horrific job picking female contestants. While last night’s performances were overall decent with two clear clunkers, tonight I saw mostly trainwrecks with two clear winners. It was so hard to pick a third “top” from this group. Seriously, these were the twelve best female singers of the audition pool? There had to have been a better bunch of contestants out of thousands of applicants. And so many of these contestants look the same! This cannot be reflective of America! Tonight felt like some craptacular pageant. I really hope that some of these contestants can wake the fuck up and convince me to root for them. I want to root for them, especially since guys have won the past four years, but I can’t abide such bad performances.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Erika Van Pelt
2. Jessica Sanchez
3. Skylar Laine

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Baylie Brown
2. Shannon Magraine
3. Elise Testone + Jen Hirsh [Tie, because they sang the same song]

Some housekeeping: Kathy will be busy recapping Project Runway on Plastic Runway on Thursday night, so expect a quick post from me tomorrow or Friday about this week’s results.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 13 Men

February 28, 2012

Image edited from original by Maks Karochkin on Flickr, used under Creative Commons

It’s time to get venomous and vindictive on a show I love to hate. This is American Idol!

Notes: We’re off to a good start – the judges aren’t dressed like shit! I have nothing mean to say about any of their looks.

Theme: Contestants can pick any song.

Here are the Top 13 male performers in order of appearance on the show.

1. Reed Grimm – “Moves Like Jagger” Reed opens with some generous eye fucking of the camera on this gratuitous lounge lizard rendition of a song made famous by the coaches on that other show. Reed’s performance had tons of cheese, scatting, bad dancing, and a drum solo on a stand-up kit like he’s in The Stray Cats. However, it was still kind of fun. His singing was totally in his range and he gave the performance a full commitment. Seriously there was zero irony there. Props for kicking things off with something different and sounding good, dude!

2. Adam Brock – “Think” OK, nobody can be Aretha, but Adam had a good run on this song. For the most part he stuck to his range and didn’t oversing too much. He stuck the big notes and seemed to really show a solid mix of self-assurance and empowerment, which you need for a song like this. It was a somewhat rough start for him, but I could see myself rooting for this guy in spite of his Steelers fandom. Please don’t be Danny Gokey Part 2.

3. Deandre Brackensick – “Reasons” …Aaaaannnnddd things grind to a halt on this EWF ballad. This actually could have been cool if Deandre had used his full range instead of staying flat in his falsetto. The high notes only work if there is successful mid and low-range singing. He sounded clunky for most of the song, and gained his composure for the big finish. If he stays after this week, he needs to work his vocal control, lest he blow his voice out on a Bee Gees song.

4. Colton Dixon – “Decode” This spot belonged to your sister, you freeloading chotch! It’s tearing your family apart. See if she gives you a kidney when you need it. Now to the song. Colton tries to go for the high power singing over the nu metal power chords, but he’s out of his league. There was no genuine emotion. Whether it was on the belting or the piano mount, he couldn’t touch a lesser alum like James Durbin, let alone a killer like Adam Lambert. That was painful to watch. And that haircut looks like shit. It makes the mullet look classy. Fuck off, you skunky charlatan!

5. Jeremy Rosado – “Gravity” This guy seemed like a nonentity in Hollywood and Las Vegas. Jeremy goes for restrained and understated, which is admirable on an intimate song like this. The orchestral arrangement kind of buried him in the mix, which is a shame since he seemed like he had a grasp of the emotional component of the material. Of course he had to have the big cathartic finish, which felt messy, but it’s one meh spot on an otherwise decent performance. Frankly I was a little bored with the song choice, but I respect what he did. Just don’t do it too much.

6. Aaron Marcellus – “Never Can Say Goodbye” Once again I’m not so ok with jumping to the Motown catalog so early in the show, but that aside this was pretty good. Aaron showed good vocal control throughout the performance and he was just upbeat enough to convey coolness without overdoing it. I love that cool professionalism, especially when there’s some boppin’ within. And that super high ending? I think Aaron just took Deandre to school.

7. Chase Likens – “Storm Warning” Unlike last year’s country boy who shall not be named, Chase displays his solid tenor with ease. Like Aaron, he showed good command of a stage and some personal investment in the song. Way to use those theater chops, dude! When he was smiling it conveyed fun, not playing around. He blew a lot of the big notes at the end, but he might tighten up if he sticks around. I don’t listen to country music much, but I’m not sad by this performance.

8. Creighton Fraker – “True Colors” It’s tough for me to root for this guy because I don’t like his face. He makes things worse by singing “True Colors.” Look dude, if the Glee cast couldn’t make this sappy claptrap interesting, you shouldn’t try. That performance felt empty and forced like so much inspiration bait. His singing was halfway decent, but it was quickly overshadowed by the rest of the bleaty shitshow. Get off my TV.

9. Phillip Phillips – “In The Air Tonight” A low-key white guy with an acoustic guitar? Ladies and gentleman, your season 11 American Idol winner! Demographic predictability aside, this was a good song for Phil to do. I give him props for doing an alternative take and he did a good job singing, but the arrangement just sucked. It was grungy and hoary, and the song is supposed to be quiet and resigned. The matter-of-fact dread and self-hatred in the piece comes from the emotion and the minimal instrumentation. There was a little too much naked anger and bad sax playing. Show me “haunting,” you demographic bait!

10. Eben Franckewitz – “Set Fire To The Rain” I should be down on this Lil’ Justin Bieber, but he seems too nice and self-deprecating for me to root against him on principle. However, I will root against him for this underwhelming karaoke car wreck of a performance. The song choice did him in. He’s singing notes he can’t yet hit for emotions he hasn’t felt yet. He’s a small child and there’s a good chance he’ll develop both vocally and emotionally. One day Eben’s power might rival Adele’s, but it is not this day. Sidenote: notice the judges trying their best not to sound critical of this probable chosen one. Remember when people made fun of Paula Abdul for being too nice to the bad contestants? Now it’s like that for all three judges most of the time. But I digress.

11. Heejun Han – “Angels” I’m disappointed that Heejun picked another slow ballad, since they seem like such a departure from his offstage persona. I’m not familiar with the Robbie Williams original, but Kathy says that Heejun’s version just wasn’t as good. He just couldn’t make those big vocal moments count. Ballads like this tend fraught with emotion and vocal acrobatics. I felt some of the emotion and conviction in Heejun’s delivery, but his vocals just didn’t match. Kathy played the original for me, and yeah, it’s better. Robbie Williams’s soaring highs on the chorus were damn impressive, so I can understand her disappointment with Heejun for failing to deliver the same.

12. Josh Ledet – “You Pulled Me Through” Josh is taking on Jennifer Hudson and he’s throwing everything but the kitchen sink at this song. It’s a good demonstration of his raw vocal power, but there were a lot of times where the big oversingy moments felt unearned at best and screechy at worst. He can’t handle the power yet. This plodding yet overindulgent performance style can lead me to only one conclusion: Josh Ledet is Jacob Lusk without the sibilant “s.” ZZZZZZZZZ………..

HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!

13. Jermaine Jones – “Dance With My Father” Wow! They brought the talented bass singer back! I did not see that coming. I thought he came off as pretty good in the Las Vegas round. The producers actually made a good decision! This sentimental grinder made famous by Luther Vandross isn’t my favorite song, but Jermaine sure makes good work of it though! He had great conviction in his singing and in how he came across onstage. There was tender emotion and some fabulous low note holds. Way to do us low-voiced guys proud, Jermaine!

And what would I have sung? I’ll admit that I’m not a very good singer overall. My voice tends to be in the lower range and I love to perform slightly alternative, uptempo songs in karaoke and Rock Band. The focus in this fairly open round is to make a good impression on the audience, many of whom are turning in for the first time. I suppose I would kick things off with one of my karaoke staples – “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie. It’s one of his better-known songs and when I’m warmed up I can stay in my vocal comfort zone and still pull off some the song’s builds and held notes. If was lucky I’d come across like Taylor Hicks.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Aaron Marcellus
2. Jermaine Jones
3. Reed Grimm

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Colton Dixon
2. Creighton Fraker
3. Eben Franckewitz

Tune in tomorrow when the women take the stage!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 5

February 27, 2012

Image from &y at Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Alright people, I think the coaches have fewer than 10 picks to make, so hopefully they can wrap this up and we can get to the much more fun and very probably rigged battle rounds.

Contestants’ Notes

-Whitney Myer is giving off that Nikka Costa vibe, and it’s not because of just her curly red hair. It’s also that light, uptempo, janky R&B. She’s doing “No One,” which I think was originally by Alicia Keyes, and I quite light this bouncy rendition. She earns turns from all four coaches. Whitney goes with Adam, whose experience fusing pop-rock and R&B might help develop her overall brand with minimal genre clash. What a good start to the show!

-David Boreanaz lookalike David Dunn goes the lite-rock route on “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.” When I heard the first few notes of this song, I thought this was going to be another jerk with an acoustic guitar, but I saw him with just a mic, which was a relief. David tried to make the bleh song lively with some walking around the stage, but he just didn’t have the emotion or charisma in his voice (and he just blew that falsetto section.) No turns for you!

-The Shields Brothers seem like some kind of rock n roll Coreys. At least their dual-tenor duet of “Dancing With Myself” is different than the usual schtick duo acts pull. Nonetheless, they have the same problem most of the duos on this show have – neither one of them is a very good singer individually. They skate by on their uptempo style and their harmonizing. They end up on Team Cee Lo.

-I must compliment Cheesa for taking on Beyonce, especially on the midtempo clunker “If I Were A Boy.” She starts off sounding way, way, way too low for her range at the start, but she pulls out the stops for the big, soaring chorus and knocks out most of the notes. I didn’t care for the performance because it felt like so much oversinging. Still, I respect her vocal prowess and she definitely has the charisma worthy of a Beyonce song. She gets a turn from Cee Lo.

-I think Preston Shannon could have used a sparser arrangement for “In The Midnight Hour.” singing was rough and solid, but it couldn’t quite stand out against the big, clean arrangement of the house band. While Preston seems to come from a blues background, he kept the soloing to the beginning and end. He was good on the axe, but it’s called The Voice, not The Guitarist. It’s too bad, and I hope this guy finds a good avenue for his art.

-OK, so the alliterative Lex Land lands two turns (Adam and Cee Lo) within the first 8 notes of the song, but damn she is undersinging the hell out “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” I heard serious mush mouth problems in her singing and the dulcet, plinky music didn’t help al all. Maybe if she did something with more menace and smokiness (Portishead, Goldfrapp, early-2000s Moby, etc.) she would have come across better. Then again I just want trip-hop to make a comeback. Eh, maybe Blake can help bring out her inner torch singer.

-Cameron Novack starts out strong, doing a weird Savage Garden-esque soft sell of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” Then he gets bogged down in the flow of the build up to the chorus (back off the freestyling, dude.) He then shifts to oversinging the chorus. Overall Cameron’s performance wasn’t too bad, but his abrupt shift in delivery style for each part of the song might have been too jarring. If he stuck to the restrained pop style or even charged in with aggressive oversinging I feel like he could have done better. Also, letting the coaches “cheat” and pick him after the turn would have set the worst precedent for the show, because then every hot contestant who walked up onstage would have a second shot, and that would be shitteous!

-At the start, Orlando Napier comes across as a low-key guy with a piano (which is still better than an acoustic guitar.) He got away from that once he got up from the piano, but he failed to win me over. The John Mayer song choice and Randy Newman singing style was a bad combination. Also…ENUNCIATE! Adam picks him has his final team member.

-Lee Koch has guts for taking on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which karaoke connoisseur Brian Rafferty called one of the worst songs to sing since the verses are so rambling and weird against the familiar chorus. Lee is trying his best with the material and doesn’t flub any of the lines, but he just could not hit those “how does it FEEL” lines in the chorus. He earned a turn from Christina through his harmonica playing, which in my opinion is a bad sign. I don’t like when competitive singers use instruments as crutches. It feels like cheating. I predict that he’ll get eaten alive in the battle rounds.

-WADE (is the all-capitalization really necessary?) tries something kind of cool with a warm Stax-ed out soul rendition of “Rehab.” Vocally WADE (and that’s the last time I’m all-caps-ing that) has bursts of greatness, especially in the verses, though he hit some rough spots in the other parts. He just needs a little practice. Otherwise he’s a good combination of traditionalism and risk-taking. Cee Lo should be able to work his voice out, as Wade becomes his concluding pick.

-Adley Stump takes on Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” (uh-oh) and it’s a bit of a wreck. She wasn’t bad, just mediocre. You could walk into any karaoke bar, and someone singing that song would sound just as good. Frankly the performance felt like so much mediocre singing except for those few belts (which I concede gave me chills.) She really couldn’t sustain her run and stick the landing. Predictably, she heads for Team Blake, and I think he’ll have more faith in her. Maybe he’ll coach her on fashion as well (go-go boots, star bandana, and Victoria Jackson hair?) She is the last pick of Team Blake.

We get a brief montage of failed singers (the Beta lady who sang Jason DeRulo sounded kind of interesting to me.) Also, Danny Devito sings “Three Times A Lady” during a Lorax crossover commercial skit. I was just wishing he’d sing “Troll Toll” from The Nightman Cometh. Then….

-Sera Hill pulls out every trick in the traditional R&B singer book – up and down runs, extended holds, power belting – and she kills every one. I thought her song choice was super slow and boring (and way too Idol) but damn she was good! She was a pro doing her thing, and that’s just wonderful. She becomes the final pick of the show as the last contestant to join team Xtina.

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Mark Ronson should pay attention
-“I can’t tell Corey Feldman from Corey Haim.
-Charisma without the power
-Will Beth Gibbons come on as a mentor?
-Bad meets icky
-Karaoke cannon fodder
-Tradition meets risk
-A lot of people could do that
-She could have a good run on Idol

And there we have it! We have our Top (shudder) 48! Tune in next week for the theatrical battle rounds and tune in tomorrow for the start of my recapping of American Idol’s Live Top 25 rounds. SO MUCH SINGING!!!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 4

February 20, 2012

Image from Mil on Flickr, used under Creative Commons

25 contestants picked, 23 to go! Will this be the last of the blind audition rounds.

Contestants’ Notes

-I wondered when I would hear a Black Keys song on a show like this. Ducky has the right kind of blues-rock swagger in his rendition of “Tighten Up.” He had a few vocal dips and dives in there as well. It’s too bad that he gets no turns (and the Sweeney Todd look isn’t helping either.) Keep at it, dude!

-Jonathas (wow, 2 one-named performers in a row!) does a pretty good Usher impression on “U Got It Bad.” His voice sounds just like him and he can do the power belting with no problem! He even does a few Ursh-inspired dance moves, which turned out to be a winning play. The coaches can’t see him, but the crowd can, and that burst of applause on his floor slides was just the right thing to get turns from Cee Lo and Christina. Both could be good fits for Jonathas, since they have treaded in R&B and dance pop, but ultimately Xtina is smoother and a better fit for that kind of style.

-I don’t go for midtempo rockers like “Mr. Know It All,” which is what Monique Benabou sings. She throws out lots vocal moves, especially the up and down runs, but for me it’s all show and little go. It’s enough to score a turn from Christina, but I won’t be rooting for her unless she does something more uptempo.

-When I first heard “The Lazy Song,” Bruno Mars was performing it on Idol. I recall that it sounded pleasant. Naia Kete kicks it out for audition and does a pretty good job of capturing its casual exuberance, in spite of her straining voice. Her hippie tip isn’t my bag, but she’ll fit well on Blake’s team. That folksy singer-songwriter thing reminds me of Dia Frampton at best or a more competent Xenia at worst. She ends up picking Blake and I predict that she’ll make it past the battle rounds.

-I give Erick Macek points for taking “Free Fallin’” in a slightly different direction, melody-wise. Unfortunately it feels way blander than the Tom Petty original. This is something your youth pastor busts out at a church retreat without being aware of the slightly druggy undertone in the song. To summarize, he brought no edge! See ya!

-When Charlotte Sometimes first hits the stage, she sounds so bland and mumbly she pulls a convincing Lana Del Rey impression. Eventually she picks herself up, but replaces the bluh-bluh-bluh mumbles with pitchy, snarly signing. I suppose you could tell that she was trying hard and I give her props for doing dynamic in that crummy song “Apologize,” (stupid Ryan Tedder) but I was shocked that she got four turns. Blake compared her to Xenia, which he meant as a compliment, but it’s more of an ominous sign to me. Will history repeat itself in a Naia vs. Charlotte rivalry on Team Blake?

-OK, Tony Vincent is off to a great start simply because he sang a Queen song and it wasn’t “Somebody To Love,” one of the most done-to-death audition pieces I have ever heard. Instead, he went the stadium route with “We Are The Champions.” His only problem was that his vocal reach exceeded his grasp and he couldn’t quite hit those Mercury highs. I hope that he will overcome his twitchiness and nerves and bring the pain on Team Cee Lo.

-Stop singing from your throat and start singing from your gut, Anthony Evans! Unless you’re singing The Bee Gees or Curtis Mayfield I need to hear at least a little low register from you. But if you’re doing “What’s Going On,” you have to fill the whole song, not just the high parts! It’s like Andy Samberg’s Shy Ronnie on the mic. Anthony did get a turn from Xtina, so maybe he’ll pick up a few tricks from her.

-Jamie Lono is a low-key, high-voiced guy with an acoustic guitar. Shit. Four notes into “Folsom Prison Blues,” he gets a turn from Adam, who probably needs a few more Javier Colon Clones on his team. However, Cee Lo wins him over. To his credit, Jamie kicks out more snarl and menace than last year’s winner ever did. He’s likable enough, but he’ll have to work really hard to avoid being just another chotch with a guitar.

-Dylan Chambers had some good opportunities to wow the coaches on the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse version of “Valerie,” but he was just too bleary and messy to really make an impression.

-Nathan Anderson sounded like he was mixed way too low. Project, dude!

-Luna Searles does Ethridge, which means immediate Beverly McClellan comparison. She’s no Beverly McClellan, so…adios!

-Adam Lasher lazily growls his way through Nickelback. How does he fare? As Jay-Z once rapped “So Poof! / Vamoose, sonofabitch!

-David Gray’s “Babylon” is a pretty neat song with its quiet-loud dynamic and shoutalong chorus. Justin Hopkins could have gone note-for-note, but he throws in a few little belting runs that might have come across as self-indulgent on a lesser performer. Justin’s moves make the piece feel more energetic in the live setting. Way to score the Cee Lo turn, dude!

-Nicolle Gaylon could stand to maybe tighten up her singing on “You Save Me,” but she still did pretty well. While I didn’t know the song, her performance reminded me of when someone does a slow-burning karaoke song really well. The end result is, for lack of a better word, human connection. If your nerves can fuck you up and you still come off as relatable, you are a good performer.

-Ashley De La Rosa got only a five-second clip, but she sang “Shark In The Water,” when it feels like maybe 500 people in America know who V. V.  Brown is. That takes guts! The few seconds the show featured sounded good, too. Christina gives a turn, so good for Ashley! I hope she doesn’t end up as cannon fodder during the battle rounds

-5-second clip victim Jordan Rager sounded like Scotty McCreery with the bass turned down. He had energy but he’ll be a human shield on Team Blake during the battle rounds.

-Karla Davis did “If I Die Young.” It sounded like your garden variety acoustic jam. She seemed ok, but she’ll be a human shield on Team Adam during the battle rounds.

-Alyx didn’t even get 5 seconds of show time for “Just Like A Pill” and Blake picked her. This show needs to work on its pacing.

-Eric Tipton kicks out “You Make My Dreams” and he sounds solid. His range isn’t as dynamic as some of the other contestants, nor is he packing the raw power that the other contestants have. He fails to earn any turns, and the coaches attribute it to sounding too close to the Hall and Oates original. I get where they are coming from.

-OK, we have another Adele performance, this time from Mathai. She takes on one of the livelier numbers from 21 – “Rumour Has It,” and she scores turns from Adam, Blake and Cee Lo. Adam gave it up 8 seconds in, before she turned on the power. To Mathai’s credit, she really conveyed both the righteous defiance and the playful vengeance in the song and nailed most of the runs too! You go, player!

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Silky smooth R&B karaoke
-Lots of power, crummy music
-Hippie Dia Frampton
-Xenia Mk II, Now With More Lana Del Rey
-Rock Opera Man
-All Treble Gospel
-A Guitar Guy I Don’t Want To Yell At?
-Engaging Adult Contemporary
-Tell Me More About Piano Country….
-R&B Cannon Fodder With Good Music Taste
-Country Cannon Fodder
-Acoustic Cannon Fodder
-Pop Rock Cannon Fodder
-Fun Adele Impersonation!

And we have one more audition round to see 9 more picks! I can’t wait for this round to be over!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 3

February 18, 2012

Image from Gwen Harlow on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I apologize for the late posting. Thank heaven for Hulu. At the same time, I am itchy to start the real competition and get past this expanded audition round. It’s still less of a pain than Idol’s audition rounds, but the show would do well not to pad it out so much. Let’s lock this up!

Coaches’ Notes

-It’s interesting to see the coaches taking potshots at each other’s commercial success, track records on the show, and personal behaviors. I just like seeing these people in power come off their high horses and argue a little. It humanizes them. Props to Christina for telling Blake “fuck you.” By contrast, being an Idol judge seems like one of the cushiest in the world. All you need to succeed as a judge on that show is a catchphrase and a willingness to hit on underage contestants.

-Speaking of which, stop hitting on contestants, Cee Lo! It’s creepy when Steven Tyler does it and it’s icky when you do it as well. “You belong to me, don’t you agree?” What kind of pitch is that, Cee Lo?

Contestants’ Notes

-We open the show with no information on Sarah Golden. Her story is one of music industry conservatism – “we’ll sign you, but only if you completely change everything about yourself,” – and it’s one I can get behind (cry for The Muggs.) Unfortunately, she opens with a fairly anemic rendition of Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” She’s trying hard, but her voice is too thin and strained against the deceptively slow and rich backing track (the house band’s crummy rendition isn’t helping.) It’s a problem that can be fixed with voice coaching and better song choices, so it’s good that she gets turns from Cee Lo and Blake, who couldn’t be more different in terms of their appraoches to the show. She picks Cee Lo, who isn’t the best stylistic match for her, but is more likely to keep her past the favoritism-mined battle rounds than conservative ol’ Blake.

-Elley Duhe does well to sing Duffy’s “Mercy.” She sings kind of thinly with lots of yelping, which is actually a good match for the song. She has a good sense of the song’s space, knowing when to throw in the ad libs and when to try for vocal acrobatics. However she can’t quite execute yet, and her end product is unremarkable compared to some of the other auditioners, so she gets no turns. Eh, she’s 19. She has time to keep at it.

-”House of the Rising Sun” is one of those slow songs singers pick in order to show off vocal pyrotechnics. Mono-monikered Pip takes advantage of the sparse opener to show off a decent vibrato. His inner theater kid has the bluesy emotion in the song down pat, but it’s making him go off-key in the main part of the song. I don’t like rooting for the under-21 set, but I was impressed by his showmanship and willingness to really sell the performance (and lack of an instrument.) Too many reality competition singers are about control and technical execution. I just hope his theatrics won’t overshadow his singing a la Idol’s James Durbin. He gets four turns, and could do ok with Adam.

-There’s no argument that Erin Willett has the R&B blaster power. She does impressive runs all over “I Want You Back,” so much so that she forgets to sing some of the lyrics. However, if that’s her biggest problem, she’s going to be ok. I like the lively belters in the Frenchie Davis mold. I was surprised that she got only one turn, and from Blake no less. Also, Erin is from Gaithersburg, MD, and as a fellow Montgomery County resident I’m happy to see her represent.

-David Grace charges into red state rock territory with “Sweet Home Alabama,” which initially seems to be a good match for his swaggering twang, but is ultimately too dynamic for his held notes and ad libbed wailing. I hate to come across as too conservative, but I feel that if he dialed it back he might have earned a turn or two. It turned into one of those performances where the judges are trying to bait each other into turning their chairs, which is good for a little awkward comedy.

-Katrina Parker’s steady alto earns a turn from Adam early on, but he looks so ashamed when he does it, his head down in his arms like a high school student falling asleep in calculus class. Frankly Katrina’s performance failed to impress me. Her Joan Osborne song choice was a little interesting, but her singing style was a little too unpolished and green. She needed to turn up the fun.

-I dont like when competition show singers go to the Motown back catalog too early, but Geoff McBride is old enough that he could appreciate “Higher Ground” when it first came out. Geoff nails the song, doing what feels like a lower-key Stevie Wonder impression with holds and vibrato in all the right places. I also appreciated Geoff’s confidence – he sang with what seemed like an effortless perfection that comes with plying one’s craft. He sounded like a pro just doing his thing and having tons of fun with it. When a performance makes me want to go buy the song in Rock Band and play it myself, the singer did a damn good job! Hopefully Christina can channel his experience in the right direction.

-Erin Martin’s voice falls somewhere on the Macy Gray-Bjork spectrum of rasp. I give her points for staking out a relatively unique position among the other contestants and for trying something different. For “Hey There Delilah,” she’s fully aware of the emotion in the song and seems just enough in control to stay in key. My only problem was that she sang certain words with a weird accent or pronunciation that put me off. Ultimately her singing was engaging, but sloppy, another problem that coaching can fix. Cee Lo’s voice is kind of thin too, and he would do well to take her reedy voice to new heights. He just needs to keep things a little more professional and not view her as some prize he deserves. Not cool, dude!

-One hazard of doing more recent pop songs in shows like this is that the original versions rely on vocal processing to make their singers sound good. Drake’s “Find Your Love” is no exception. James Massone finds a way around the problem by singing so high in his tenor range he’s almost an alto. The house bands punchy rendition helps too. James starts out strongly enough to earn three turns before his emotion gets the better of him and he totally falls apart. If he’s to have a future on the show, he will have to learn to finish what he starts.

-Winter Rae sings Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” which in my opinion is kind of a boring song to begin with. She hits all the right notes, but lacked a wow factor. I hate to say it, but in a sparse, plodding song like this she really needed to pull off the diva moves like an early-2000s Idol success. ZZZZZZZZZZZ….

-Chris Cauley kicks out a toned down bluesy rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” He sounded pleasant and I give him props for taking a belty, violent song into a more restrained territory. Chris is competent at best, but I hope that he will continue to take done-to-death songs in different directions.

-Nathan Parrett’s clip goes by fast, and maybe that’s because they 5 seconds I heard sounded like Chris Isaak-lite: deep but a little scratchy, like the awkward teen on The Simpsons. It still earns him a pick from Adam.

-The same thing happens to Brian Fuente, who seemed to have enough raw rocker power in him to earn a turn from Blake. I can’t help but feeling that if the show focused less on some of the contestants’ backstories and more on singing, these guys would have come across better. I predict that they’ll end up as cannon fodder in the battle rounds.

-I was wondering when shows like this would seriously consider rappers as contestants. Christina picks Moses Stone, who does an off-beat, out of breath rendition of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started.” She makes a good point about his delivery, though, so maybe if he calms down a little he can combine delivery with flow to attack with Busta Rhymes-like precision. I give the show points for experimenting, but couldn’t they have found a better rapper?

-Jordis Unga does “Maybe I’m Amazed” and she sounds like she’s aiming for the cheap seats. I appreciate her enthusiasm, but I wish she would learn breath control. She came up short a little, but she pounded her way through another otherwise done-to-death song. She put some effort into the deal, and while she was bleaty I can hear her potential.

Let’s summarize today’s picks, in order of selection:
-Victim of conservatism and trying too hard
-A likeable theater kid?
-Another lively belter + MoCo represent!
-Not trying hard enough
-Soul power pro
-Reedy and raspy make a comeback
-Alto beats Autotune
-Originally bland
-Bass section cannon fodder
-Rock N Roll cannon fodder
-Finally, a rapper! or This is the best rapper they could come up with?
-So much Sound and Fury

Tune in next week for thoughts on…(looks at Voice site)…more auditions? Since each coach has picked only 6 or 7 contestants, we have a ways to go….

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Late Posting This Week

February 13, 2012

My posts on this week’s The Voice and American Idol will be late. I will be taking some time off this week for a death in the family.

I’ll be back in a few days!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 2

February 6, 2012

Image from technotheory at Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Voice Coaches – “Prince Medley”
Well, Blake’s credibility as a voice coach is suspect – he mumbled his way through “1999.” Cee Lo lacked the energy he usually provides to his live performances on “Little Red Corvette.” Adam nails the Prince falsetto but fails the diction. Christina gets the last note and shows why she’s the most powerful singer on that stage. As the show starts up, I feel like I’m getting psyched up for a game of NBA 2K12. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

-Dammit Blake Shelton, don’t accuse Christina Aguilera of luring contestants with “flash and boobs,” lest you remind America that you were the asshole judge last season.

-I wonder how long Carson Daly’s enthusiasm will last. By the second voting episode last season, his professional courtesy gave way to subliminal contempt for the contestants, the guest performers, and the whole show in general.

-Oh goody, another vocal duo. At least The Line’s relationship is less lovey-dovey and more like that of The White Stripes – an ex-couple who kept on working together professionally. I still feel like using the duo dynamic to harmonize for a fuller sound is cheating. If either one of those singers went up alone, they would have been passed on like the Atlas Shrugged movie. To their credit, they seem more genuine than last year’s Elenowen or Tori and Taylor Thompson.

-Speaking of The White Stripes….Jamar Rodgers is the first contestant to successfully perform a song I like, injecting it with enough Cee Lo-esque wooooooaaaaahhhhs to make it unique. I’m not a fan of sob stories, but he quickly shot to the top of my list. Also props for namedropping Cee Lo’s Dungeon Family past with Goodie Mob. Nice run, dude!

-At first, Neal Middleton looks like another long-haired Bo Bice lookalike, but check out his top hat – it has gears! Does this guy do steampunk? He certainly does CCR, nailing their version of “Heard It Though The Grapevine” with growl and control. He wasn’t pitchy. He kept his vocal strength up. He was like a male Beverly McClellan, or at least a baby Nakia. Yet no chairs turn for him? Bad call, coaches!

-Gwen Sebastian goes the sparse route. Her voice is shaky as hell, but she pulls it together to get a few chair turns. She seems quite skilled at working the contour of her voice, but I just don’t care for the sound of it. If she goes far I hope she learns to enrich her delivery. I also hope that piano that played during her speech was added in after the fact. Cee Lo’s reaction to Gwen’s choice of Blake was pure “Well played, Mr. Bond, but let’s how confident you are when you meet my associate Mr. Jaws. Seize him, men!”

-Pamela Rose needs to enunciate. And sing in the right key. And pick a more fun song. Based on Adam and Cee Lo’s comments, photogenic contestants like her are the reason why we have the blind auditions. I’m happy sure she’s “Already Gone.” (Ba-dum-bish!)

-I wonder what kind of singing Kim Yarbrough did back in the day. Disco? Gospel? Genre aside, she’s talented enough to overcome a choking house band and some finicky coaches to show her potential as a blaster, which is right in Christina’s zone. So it’s a pity that she goes with Adam, since she would have made The Line look like a couple of tools in the battle rounds.

-The third fun song of the night comes from Air Force vet Angie Johnson. Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” is one of Kathy and my favorite songs to play in Rock Band, and Angie destroyed it. Cee Lo’s pick was a lock, especially after his and Vicci Martinez’s Mad Max rendition of “Love Is A Battlefield” last season. This could be a good match. I’m getting excited.

-Dez Duron takes it back to the boy band era with his slick looks and performance of “I Want It That Way.” Too bad if he were to join the Backstreet Boys, he’d be second string for Howie at best. Was he sucking helium to take the edge off before he went onstage? You’re too damn nasal, bro! Another posterchild for the blind auditions!

-Lindsey Pavao seems to be going for the soft Dia Frampton tip, but she cannot sing quietly without devolving into Mush Mouth Syndrome. It’s a good thing she can belt. Props for doing a Trey Songz track in a way that I couldn’t immediately recognize.

-Poor Hoja Lopez. Her delivery just wasn’t there. She also picked “Teenage Dream,” which being from the house that Max Martin and Dr. Luke built, uses vocal processing to enhance otherwise mediocre vocals. Maybe if she picked a more natural-sounding song? It got really sad when it became clear that no one was going to turn and she started to pull away. Here’s hoping she gets more confidence to come back next season.

-I want Jermaine Paul to keep things bouncy and upbeat. Having come up under the wing of Alicia Keys, he certainly has the chops to bring down the house twice a week. One cool thing he did during the coach negotiations was ask who would keep him through the battle rounds. It was an empty gesture, but it still showed that he was thinking. Until he went with conservative ol’ Blake. I predict a battle round elimination.

-Cue the waterworks! Angel Taylor’s singing “Someone Like You.” While it’s not my favorite Adele song, Angel nails the tune note for note, which is pretty damn hard to do. If she picks more interesting or fun songs, she’ll go way up in my book.

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Duos are cheating!
-Alternative soul do-gooder
-Shaky shaky country histrionics
-Master blaster
-Rock N Roll special ops
-Her knowledge exceeds her pipes
-Great execution, bad priorities
-Otherwise nondescript damn good Adele impersonator

My condolences to Steampunk Bo Bice. Here’s hoping the coaches are as picky as they were last season and he gets another shot.

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 1

February 6, 2012

Image from yi on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

When The Voice premiered last April, I did not expect it to become a sensation since:
-It was on NBC, which has been a 4th place network for awhile and
-It was a music competition show when multiple other music competition shows were on, including America’s Got Talent, Platinum Hit, and the 800 lb gorilla that is American Idol (which I will be covering once it announces its top 24.)

However, The Voice quickly differentiated itself. It had gimmicks that were interesting or weird including the blind auditions with Bond-villain rotating chairs and duet elimination rounds in a boxing ring. It focused on current music trends more than its competition, to the point where Top 16 contestant Raquel Castro was singing Ke$ha’s “Blow,” complete with backup dancers. It had judges who were somewhat active in making pop music.

Ultimately a competition show is only as good as its contestants, and The Voice delivered. Its top tier contestants were both diverse and competent. Three of its top four singers (Beverly McClellan, Vicci Martinez, and Dia Frampton) were women and the one guy (Javier Colon) was a person of color. Of course he took the whole thing with his somewhat boring acoustic balladeering, but unlike American Idol’s last 4 winners, he seemed at least competent at performing.

Seven months later we’re at the start of a new season. All four coaches are back as is the host. What remains to be seen is whether the show can remain entertaining if the gimmicks are no longer new and whether the contestant slate can remain diverse and interesting or if it will fall into a bland mix of archetypes.

The last point is especially concerning since each coach must pick a team. It’s perfectly logical that since a high-voiced guy with an acoustic guitar won season one, a whole bunch would come out of the woodwork and each coach would want to have one on his or her roster.

Let’s get to it….

-With success comes a longer show run, so each coach gets 12 contestants instead of 8. Uh oh. I hope I don’t get tired of the show like I get with Idol. On the plus side, maybe the good contestants will get more time to really benefit from the coaches’ guidance.

-We’re off to an ominous start with RaeLynn, an aw shucks farm girl Lauren Alaina clone. She’s also singing a song by the spouse of a coach. As far as song choice goes, “Hell On Heels” is way more fun than “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.” It’s a pity that Rae never learned to sing from her gut. She’s burned her throat out crashing that song and still got 2 chair turns. At least Blake Shelton had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make RaeLynn this season’s Xenia – an underachieving teen who gets by on misguided patronage.

-Jesse Campbell does some high-voice plinky plinky piano ballad thing and within 3 notes he gets 3 chair turns. For once I agree with Blake in taking things slowly. Vocal-wise this contestant was soaring, but, eh, I was underwhelmed with his music choice. Hopefully Christina Aguilera can turn him into someone fun.

-During the weaker auditions, the entertainment becomes watching the coaches squirm and grimace like they have to go to the bathroom. Hold it in, Adam!

-Juliet Sims bleated like a sheep, but it was enough to turn two chairs. Adam called her voice gruff. She has some potential, but it may take some guidance to bring it out. Christina kept on interrupting Adam’s pitch by calling him a used car salesman with little feet. It was pretty funny. When Juliet went with Cee Lo Green, Adam gave her a look that said “I’ll have you killed.” It was pretty funny.

-Chris Mann’s audition was very impressive, going with the deeper operatic style, but I wonder how it will translate to the pop-oriented Voice. Once again I agreed with Blake’s hesitance. This is not a good sign. However, when Christina turned her chair it made sense. She totally sang that kind of heavy slow song in the late 90s – the kind that ended up in the credits to Disney animated movies. Too bad they make those anymore, Chris. Also, there can be only one Josh Groban.

-Tony Lucca: OK story, but I take one look at him and…bleh. I was tired of acoustic guitar guys like this on Idol. But sound wise he’s like Javier, and the arms race is on…. Oh well, at least by not mentioning their past, Christina may have tipped us off that the coaches aren’t fed contestant story info ahead of time, so they aren’t influenced by sob stories or other non-musical factors. It’s still cool that someone fed her the info afterward so they got to have a little moment afterward.

So to summarize the first round of contestants:
-Lauren Alaina MK II
-The first move in the Javier Colon clone wars (Co-lone Wars?)
-Bleaty bleat bleat
-You’re not Josh Groban
-Another acoustic guitar-playing white guy or a Mickey Mouse Club alum out for blood?

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Madonna at Super Bowl XLVI

February 5, 2012

Image from Yahoo

I was looking forward to this performance. Some might see this halftime show as a step backward since Madonna is an established artist with three decades of albums under her belt. However, just as The Black Eyed Peas broke a six-year streak of boomer-friendly rock artists, Madonna is be the first woman since Janet Jackson to truly headline the show. More so than The Peas, Madge is an expert at identifying trends in dance music and adapting her performance style to stay relevant. I expected a propulsive good time.

“Vogue”
If there was a theme to the show, it was a campy subversion of the notion of sports culture. The costuming of the backup dancers in the opening number called back to the Olympics of ancient Greece and the chariot races of ancient Rome – the original mass culture sports. However, those classical forms were covered in glitter and juxtaposed with a mass of Jumbotrons displaying the logo of Vogue magazine. It was weird and refreshing. It also was a neat callback to the early 90s when she was performing “Vogue” at the VMAs dressed like Marie Antoinette – spectacular and Broadway-esque without venturing into taboo transgression like her mid-2000s performances.

“Music / Party Rock Anthem / Sexy and I Know It” (with LMFAO)
The “sports meets glam” theme continued when Madonna began doing runs up rows of bleachers in boots with 4-inch heels. She stumbled at the top, but she gracefully recovered at which point she was greeted by four b-boys in black and white tracksuits. Just when I was expecting a fairly straight forward pop-and-clock routine to classic French house, a highwire performer dressed like a seraph descended and joined the b-boys. As the tracksuits met the togas, the keyboard line of “Party Rock Anthem” wormed its way into the music and Madonna found a fur coat-clad LMFAO onstage. Once they launched into the full on Music/Party Rock mashup, they skipped over to center stage like they were in The Wiz. Musically it was pretty kickass since the blend was so damn good, but the choreography was so silly I couldn’t help but giggle. Also, props to Madonna keeping up with the much younger LMFAO during the shuffling and flexing without coming across as trying too hard.

“Give Me All Your Luvin’” (with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.)
This portion of the performance featured a group of dancers dressed as cheerleaders. It was pretty much a replication of the “Give Me All Your Luvin’” music video, which was ok since its new enough that not a lot of mainstream America would have seen it. The song’s cool dance-rock melody was catchy and uptempo enough that I’m interested in what else in on the forthcoming MDNA. It also featured guest spots from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. For the most part both women were content to play backup singers, but they showed their chops during their solo raps on the bridge. M.I.A. in particular has me hopeful for a return to her early-2000s form and away from the abrasive and weird material that was on MAYA. She also showed that she hasn’t lost her edge – she seemed to have flipped the bird at the end of her rap. It cut out during the broadcast I saw, but Yahoo confirms it.

“Open Your Heart / Express Yourself / Like A Prayer” (with Cee Lo Green)
The transition into the final fourth of the performance was seamless. A drumline rolled in to back up the cheerleaders, followed by Cee Lo who was dressed as the marching band’s drum major. Madonna and Cee Lo performed a medley of Open your Heart and Express Yourself for what seemed like 30 seconds before everything went dark and it looked like the football field got sucked into a collapsing supernova. That supernova then turned into gospel choir to close out the show old school. Unlike the rest of the show, “Like A Prayer” was quite understated. Madonna and Cee Lo were dressed like sequined Supreme Court justices, but their gospel choir looked quite understated in black and white. Coming off of the peppy drumline section, “Like A Prayer” felt a bit anticlimactic. It was so much slower than what had come before. At least Madonna stayed committed to the end before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Overall I commend Madonna and the producers of this show for pulling off such a campy performance with commitment, excellence, and a sense of fun about everything. It’s cool to see such sparkle in the face of the rah-rah conservatism normally associated with the NFL. I had a great time watching this performance. It was more entertaining than the football game to which it was attached, that’s for sure (up until the end, anyway.) Go Giants and go Madonna!

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