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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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