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Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Adam vs. Team Cee-Lo

April 23, 2012

Image edited from the original by Scott Beale via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

The quarter finals continue tonight, Voice fans! On teams Blake and Xtina, some of the probable winners unexpectedly choked and were sent packing before the voters could save them, making the show way more interesting. Will we see similar upsets happen to the shoo-ins on Teams Adam and Cee-Lo? Let’s see….

Here are the contestants in order of their appearance on the show.

1. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “It’s My Life” Whoever decided to run this song in half time made a bad call. The sludgy beats alone made the song feel plodding. Even though Jamar sang pretty well and with a surprising amount of restraint (for him,) the bad arrangement made me anxious. His stage presence was solid, blue collar emotion, but the bad arrangement undercut it. So far Jamar has been at his best on songs that rock hard and never let up. This could have been one of those songs, but it came out boring. It was good and Jamar executed well, but this early on in the show I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s not his fault.

2. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Jar of Hearts” This song choice seemed fairly predictable for me. Katrina went for the time-honored practice of singing against a sparse piano in order to give her voice maximum wiggle room. As a result, I kind of felt like she was going though the motions. To me she started out strong but got lukewarm about halfway into the piece. It’s not that she was coasting, for she seemed committed to beaming the song out until the end, but the end result felt flat. It was a solid effort.

3. Team Cee-Lo – “Dancing In The Street” Juliet fell flat. Cheesa oversang. Jamar held his own. James sounds good on this kind of song (though Kathy noted that he gave off quite the Mickey Mouse Club vibe.) Cee-Lo dominated the proceedings in terms of execution and mic time. Carson Daly gave a “tribute” to Dick Clark that felt more like a poor-taste parody.

4. Mathai (Team Adam) – “I’m Like A Bird” Mathai actually had a solid performance with this song. She felt mostly on key and used her vibrato to fit the quirky tone of the song. However, after a few more neat vocal runs her voice did a weird vocal shift that was both too high and too low and by the end Mathai was singing like Danny Elfman on a bad day. Also I wasn’t quite feeling her hamming it up in the stiff way she did. I saw Nelly Furtado live at the peak of that song’s popularity (summer 2001), and when she hammed it up she bounced around like an athlete. It was fun instead of awkward like Mathai’s stage presence.

5. James Massone (Team Cee-Lo) – “Just The Way You Are” I don’t know where to begin. The musical arrangement was incredibly dated and cheesy with its anemic drumming and stale keyboards. The persistent saxophone just took it over the top. Meanwhile James tried to go for the teen idol thing with his varsity jacket and singing to some girl with a chaste distance. He wasn’t just singing on the Mickey Mouse Club, he took things right back to the Annette Funicello era. Billy Joel couldn’t have sounded this ersatz.

6. Goodie Mob – “Fight To Win” OK, where did these guys get their costumes – from Madonna’s halftime show this past Super Bowl or from The Black Eyed Peas halftime show from the Super Bowl the year before? Also, it’s clear that any group dynamic this group once had has been obliterated by Cee-Lo’s individual star power. The other guys in the barely got any mic time. I expected to hear some solid Southern hip-hop that had Cee-Lo’s voice as one part of the appeal. The beatless, indulgent classic rock arrangement felt like so much wankery from the Lady Killer. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of future material these guys come out with.

7. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “Baby One More Time” Hey! Speaking of the Mickey Mouse Club, Adam and Tony take the audience to Metatown on this Britney cover. It had kind of a bluesy feel, almost like if it were covered by Tracy Chapman or the Black Crowes. Tony performed rather well here. He had some good wailing that was on-key and tonally appropriate. He also dialed things back for the verses and amped things up on the build to the chorus, which is evidence of great control. In my opinion, the is the best performance Tony has given since the audition.

8. Cheesa (Team Cee-Lo) – “I Have Nothing” I thought that this might happen. To be fair, Cheesa carried this song way, way better than Shannon Magrane did back in Whitney/Stevie week on Idol. She had some fabulous power belting at quite a few key moments throughout the song. This song just feels so overdone that what little emotion Cheesa showed in the performance was quickly negated by the song’s depressing arrangement and trite nature. This was so much pageantry, and just because Cheesa comes from that background doesn’t mean she should do throwbacks to that era. Zzzzzz….

9. Pip (Team Adam) – “Somewhere Only We Know” On paper this is a good song choice for Pip. The original has a sweet, lilting, emotional quality that makes me well up inside even though it’s supposedly whiny wuss rock. It’s both soft and urgent. Pip’s performance was neither. His stage presence was preening like a Glee-era high school show choir, which is not how he should have conveyed the vulnerability in the lyrics. Meanwhile his singing was ass from beginning to end. On the soft intro he went low on each of his phrases way too early, resulting in an off-key sound. He blew a lot of the big notes in the middle and end which just annihilated any speck of emotion that was standing after those stage moves. What a waste!

10. Team Adam – “Instant Karma” Mathai redeemed herself quite nicely. Katrina seemed a little lost. Tony was a bit flat. Pip phoned his performance in and still managed to be the second best singer on the stage. Adam stuck to playing the drums and didn’t sing at all, which (like Blake last week) was pretty cool since it’s his job to coach and not dominate. Take note, Cee-Lo Green.

11. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “Cryin’” There have been too many ballad performances tonight. That said, Juliet managed to find that balance between her powerful growl and the musicality necessary to win a show like this. For once she found the notes and it was good. She still held on to her power and desperation from past performances. For a 90s-era Aerosmith song, you need to have a little bittersweet desperation to convey the song’s intent. The big solo note about two-thirds in was super flat, but otherwise this was her best performance this season. Way to turn things around!

My Performance Ranking
1. Tony Lucca
2. Juliet Sims
3. Jamar Rogers
4. Mathai
5. Cheesa
6. Katrina Parker
7. James Massone
8. Pip

The Sudden Losers
• James Massone (Team Cee-Lo): Poor little guy! He started off so promising with his R&B pop performances. Then he tried to go the slow song route and made musical Velveeta. If he stays with music, he should stick to what he likes and what he’s good at. The ladies will come later, bro.

• Pip (Team Adam): Pip had some potential with his sense of showmanship and dynamic raw singing ability. It’s just a shame that he displayed the charisma of an annoying theater kid (and this is coming from a former annoying theater kid) and couldn’t even keep his pipes in tune. Let’s give him three cheers: Pip! Pip! See Ya!

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