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Thoughts On The Voice: Top 16 – Team Blake vs. Team Xtina

June 7, 2011

Now we’re into the real meat of any competition show – the live performances. The auditions had interesting gimmicks, the battle rounds had controversy, but the true nature of a show comes out when the contestants perform live and the audience gets to vote. Tonight we’ll see performances from Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton’s teams.

Coaches Performance – “Bohemian Rhapsody / We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions”

“Mama, just killed a man….” This is the lyric that opens things up. I like it! Adam sings well, but it doesn’t build to anything. Cee Lo and Blake have a decent back and forth during “We Will Rock You,” particularly when Cee Lo belts the intro with his signature bleary intensity (and Adam plays Brian May’s solo.) When Christina comes out to sing “We Are The Champions,” her outfit is louder than her voice: leopard print top, ill fitting hot pants, and silver leather jacket. It’s a bad combination of pieces, which could also be said of the big group singoff. None of the judges sounded like they had practiced beforehand or were listening to each other during the performance. They should have stuck with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This does not bode well….

The one interesting thing to be revealed tonight is that iTunes sales, which is probably the best way to predict an artists success, factors into the results. TV presence is nice, but fan spending matters more. Also, Carson Daly needs to purchase some stage presence. Come on, Carson, you have more than ten years of TV presenting experience. No wonder Ryan Seacrest usurped your title as heir to Dick Clark.

Raquel Castro – “Blow”

Right off the bat we get performances with backup dancer support. All we got on Idol were gospel choirs, so it’s nice to see an honest effort to recognize dance pop’s place in mainstream music right now. Raquel even gets in some of the Usher-lite dancing herself. While Raquel displayed lots of energy and effort, her performance suffered from two glaring flaws. One problem is that no one seemed to remember that part of this song’s appeal is the extensive vocal processing. The chorus’s catchiness is partially the result of post-production pitchshifting. Raquel did her best under the circumstances, but she was swept away. The other problem is that Raquel couldn’t belt her way out of a paper bag. The backup singers carried that song. When I heard Christina casually sing the chorus in her signature style, I recognize that with some better technique and power Raquel could have pulled this off.

Jared Blake – “Use Somebody”

Dude does not look good with that bandanna. Little Steven you are not. Jared is taking on Kings of Leon’s modern southern rock, so this grunge/twang wail should be right up his alley. Unfortunately Jared’s singing is more off-key than it should be. He seemed just slightly off the notes. The guitar toss was kind of neat, as was his getting into the crowd for the ending, but the rocker theatrics could not save this mediocre performance. Once again there were some neat gimmicks and a solid effort, but the end result was underwhelming. And good gracious coaches, knock off the “you’re not country, you’re a rocker” bullshit, coaches. I hate that genre-shelving garbage!

Beverly McClellan – “I’m The Only One”

Now we’re in business! This song hasBeverlyplaying to her strengths. Her power growl and vocal control really conveyed the bluesy emotion in the song. Her best-foot-forward stage presence has the swagger to match the song’s intensity. Silly chicken steps aside,Beverlyhad great stage presence (and that kilt + military jacket ensemble was like Axl Rose – she should do more power lunges.) This will likely be one of the night’s best performances.

Dia Frampton – “Heartless”

I seem to recall that Kris Allen used this mellow cover to help clinch his Idol victory. To Dia’s credit, she really explores the space in the song and breaks from the robotic each-syllable-on-beat delivery of the original to make the performance more her own. At the start it was kind of hard to follow and at times it sounded like she was singing on the wrong notes, but by the end there was more of a coherent flow to everything and some of the emotional push came forward. Dia’s also a decent singer, and I feel that any apparent vocal flaws in this performance had more to do with the arrangement than her vocal abilities. This might sound better in the longer 3-minute pop song format where she has time to build up the song as opposed to the truncated live format where things feel like they are over before they begin.

Team Xtina – “Lady Marmalade”

While I should criticize Aguilera for taking up too much of the song, really each singer got to do at least a few vocal runs and no one had to do the Lil Kim rap bridge. There was good sharing among the contestants, though at the end everyone was getting in each other’s way in a “Quien es mas diva?” (as Judge Marilyn Milian might say) kind of way. It was a delightful mess!

Xenia – “Price Tag”

I don’t like this song, but I respect Jessie J for having a commanding vocal performance and a willingness to dance onstage. Xenia’s performance felt like middle school karaoke. There was no belting to match the brassy arrangement and there was next to no movement. Her nerves froze her to the point where I was yelling “Do something!” at the TV like a frustrated Dallas Mavericks fan. What a disappointment!

Lily Elise – “Big Girls Don’t Cry”

I have never seen Fergie perform this song live, but what gave the producers the notion that backup dancers were a good idea? They felt like a distraction. Lilly acted out some of the vulnerability in the song, but she continued to be vocally uneven. She had some good vocal moments at the start, but by the last chorus she was cracking like Bill Hader doing his Stefon character on SNL. Unlike Stefon, Lily was unintentionally funny.

Team Blake – “This Love”

Xenia gave the only bad performance of everyone onstage. Patrick and Jared belted in their comfort zones, Dia put a little firepower in her singing, and Blake gave a class in how to sing while descending a flight of stairs (pay attention, future Idol contestants.) The group arrangement was cleaner than Team Xtina’s, but talent-wise the team was really uneven!

Patrick Thomas – “I Hope You Dance”

Damn I don’t like this song and I don’t care if Patrick is dedicating it to his supportive sister (who thankfully isn’t suffering from any misfortunes that we know of.) Patrick sings in mostly tenor so this should be in his range, but fuck the guy can’t hold a note to save his life! How the hell did you move forward, dude? Don’t do old-time ballads if you can’t sustain the notes (and don’t sexually harass the contestants, coaches!)

Frenchie Davis – “When Love Takes Over”

For a simple hard-dance song, this is pretty challenging. Not just anyone can take on Kelly Rowland and survive. Frenchie leans on her Broadway experience to blast her way through the song (especially at the end), but she also had some great moments of vocal mastery. She even nailed one of the up-and-down ah-ah runs on the bridge, and that’s no easy task. Frenchie was on key, on point, and on full blast. She was right to close out the night.

After the solid performances of the audition and battle rounds, I was disappointed in tonight’s show. I liked the more current mix of music and incorporation of theatrics into the performances. However most of the contestants seemed lost in the songs and it quickly became clear that the more inexperienced contestants have a long way to go. The coaches could also stand to be a little meaner in their criticisms. Their teams are supposed to grow and develop, so they should give feedback accordingly. In conclusion, this show was put together with good intentions, but the execution was all over the place. I hope next week’s Team Adam vs. Team Cee Lo show will be more consistent.

Top 3

  1. Frenchie Davis
  2. Beverly McClellan
  3. Dia Frampton

Bottom 3

  1. Xenia
  2. Patrick Thomas
  3. Lily Elise
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