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Thoughts on The Voice Top 24: Team Blake vs. Team Xtina

April 2, 2012

Image by hugovk via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

The gimmicks are done, the Top 24 contestants have been chosen, and at still feels like we’re quite a ways away from picking a winner. Now that we’re on the voting rounds, it’s time to see if The Voice can truly shine on a full season run or will it try my patience like its prime competitor does week after week. It all comes down to the performances.

For this week, contestants from Team Blake and Team Xtina will square off. Here is the first group of contestants in order of their appearance on the show.

1. Jermaine Paul (Team Blake) – “Living on a Prayer” Dual hi-rise percussionists, crazy light shows, and Jermaine coming up from a hole in the floor? Way to throw down the spectacle gauntlet, The Voice! That said, I wish the performance matched the spectacle. It’s not Jermaine’s fault. He tried his best under the circumstances and he stayed on key with the power belting and full use of the stage. His voice just wasn’t a fit for the big, full power rock anthem. “Living on a Prayer” works in part because it’s sung as a call-and-response song with lots of backup singers. It’s meant to be shouted as part of a crowd. Jermaine needed something uptempo but was just sparse enough to give his talent a chance to shine. I agree with Christina’s comment that this was just not the best song choice for Jermaine.

2. Chris Mann (Team Xtina) – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” If you thought that the last song was full of so much empty sound and fury, this should be right up your alley: super sparse piano and string arrangement, lots of vocal runs and vibrato, and slow as molasses. Chris sung ok though towards the end his vibrato had some choppy voop voop voop going on. He also had a little menace in his look, which was tonally inappropriate but probably the most engaging part of the performance. Overall Chris had a fair-to-good execution but the song didn’t go anywhere for me. Zzzzzz…….

3. RaeLynn (Team Blake) – “Wake Up Call” Now here’s a song that calls for some menace! Lauren Alaina Part II exuded the right amount of attitude that a violent, jilted lover should exhibit and she had the power stances down right! And then she started to sing. Oh no. RaeLynn’s voice was alternately anemic, off-key, and gravelly in all the wrong places. It didn’t help that she’s singing a song at least partially known for Adam Levine’s R&B/Rock chops. Skylar Laine could sing circles around this pretender.

4. Moses Stone (Team Xtina) – “Stronger” This was a bad situation to go into. “Stronger” works largely because of two things, of which this performance has neither: the blatant Daft Punk sample and the established brand of Kanye West. The song works because of who is sampled and who is rapping. It’s not that difficult a song to rap and the lyrical cadence is fairly plodding. Moses tried his best to inject some melody and volume into his rapping, but to me it felt overblown. His singing was a little off as well at the start, but at least he was taking a bit of a risk. He gets points for having a really energetic and emotive stage presence, though that may have put him out of breath shouting the words. As I said during the audition rounds, the rapping talent Moses has displayed is mediocre, but he’s a decent singer. If he could find a song where he could both sing well and sprinkle in rapping to set himself apart, he could clean up.

5. Naia Kete (Team Blake) – “Turning Tables” Naia’s mistake was doing what sounded like a fairly straightforward Adele cover. It makes the comparison between the original and performance that much more direct and going head to head with Adele is a dangerous game. Naia’s rendition was pretty good, though with every slight crack in her voice the lack of a good fit was clear. If she did put a more reggae spin on it like she alluded to in her preshow montage or even just went up onstage with her guitar she would have come across so much better! As such, I blame this performance’s failures on Blake. His decision to steer Naia away from her reggae hot zone shows his discomfort with musical diversity. As Kathy said during the performance, “It’s as if he thinks anything that isn’t mainstream pop, rock, or country is something less than, something to be boxed out, and that performers who specialize in a genre that isn’t one of those three is less of a performer and needs to be forcefully pushed outside their genre of choice.” Notice how he didn’t make RaeLynn do “Wake Up Call” in the style of Maroon 5? His limited music view is disappointing and infuriating.

6. Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina) – “Somebody That I Used To Know” I really wanted this song to work. I really did. Lindsey’s musical outlook, while hardly unique, is still refreshing in competitive singing. Plus I kind of like this song and was looking forward to hearing the house band try to do dubstep (it wasn’t a total failure.) So I was disappointed when Lindsey failed to deliver the goods. Her voice was thin, cracking, and failed to rise above the punchy arrangement. Generally in dubstep the vocal styles that tend to work are “serious beacon of light who cuts through the ambience” (like Florence Welch or Elly Jackson of La Roux) or “swaggering asskicker who matches the violent drums” (like Robyn or Dev.) Lindsey’s singing was neither. Meanwhile there are all these Alice In Wonderland backup dancers writhing around like something big is going on. Frankly the whole thing reminded me of the time Katy Perry performed “E.T.” on Idol last season where she just walked around and crazy stuff happened around her. Too bad, so sad.

7. Jordis Unga (Team Blake) – “Alone” The Rock Star alumna does fairly well. She stayed in control through the quiet parts and turned on the power through the big chorus. She even tossed out a crazy super growl at the end and it felt mostly earned. The only things that worked against the performance were how low her vocal were in the mix and her super-trite “seemingly every classic rock-oriented female contestant sings this” song choice. Were “Barracuda” and “Magic Man” both taken?

8. Sera Hill (Team Xtina) – “Find Your Love” This song is a little dangerous since James made good work of it during his audition. Sera has no problem with it. She has a lot of great vocal moments, especially after the second verse and at the end, but like Jordis she knows when to back off and take it easy. She had a super charismatic stage presence, withstood the silly “Men In Black”-esque backup dancers, and seemed totally comfortable in her role. I love a confident professional.

9. Erin Willett (Team Blake) – “Living For The City” That was one of the best performances of the night! Even with a super punchy arrangement and a stage packed with people, Erin commanded that stage with her variety of vocal moves and killer projection abilities. So many of tonight’s contestants have sounded buried in the mix. Not Erin! She also really got into the music. From her expressions and slight gestures you could tell she was having a lot of fun. She really engaged me and I am happier for having seen her go to town on her opposition. You go, player!

10. Ashley De La Rosa (Team Xtina) – “Right Through You” Ashley gets off to a rough start, as she goes into the song with a bit of mush mouth, but she quickly finds her footing for the big, loud chorus. She displays attitude to rival that of RaeLynn, but also has the dreaded cannon. While she had lots of earned power in her performance, she did well to hold off the blast attack until the end. The abrupt jump from the lyrics to the belting felt a little forced, but otherwise hot damn she sounded good!

11. Charlotte Sometimes (Team Blake) – “Misery Business” Right. For me the appeal of Paramore’s “Misery Business” is that when it’s firing on all cylinders it feels like it’s about to go off the rails and careen into the stratosphere. It crackles with energy! Then Charlotte had to go and turn it into a bland old chump ballad. BO-RING! She also had to sing below her range, ending up like Lana Del Rey on SNL. Even when Charlotte didn’t sound bad, her performance felt forced and aggressively bland. Between this and “Apologize” I have no problem rooting against this contestant.

12. Jesse Campbell (Team Xtina) – “What A Wonderful World” Compared to many of the audition-fodder arrangements I hear of this song, this was actually pretty decent. I wouldn’t vote for this because it feels so damn safe, but I’ll concede Jesse did pretty well. Vocally he reminds me of a louder John Legend. His vocal build was quite steady and showed great control. The main thing to distract me from these qualities was his weird facial tics and hand gestures. The implicit message was “Can you believe I am up on this stage singing these words?” Again, it wasn’t bad. It was just weird.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Erin Willett
2. Sera Hill
3. Ashley De La Rosa

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. RaeLynn
2. Chris Mann
3. Charlotte Sometimes

I’m not gonna lie, Voice fans, this was a pretty disappointing night. A lot of contestants whom I was rooting for failed to perform to their potential (Jermaine, Moses, Lindsey.) Others just failed to sing (RaeLynn), failed to engage (Chris), or both (Charlotte.) The audio engineers weren’t helping much, either. Bottom line: it was very hard to pick a Top 3. See you for the results show!

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