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Thoughts on The Voice Top 24: Team Adam vs. Team Cee-Lo

April 9, 2012


Image by stacyjclinton via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Last week when Blake and Christina’s teams squared off, I ended up disappointed in a lot of contestants I was originally rooting for. Coming into this week I was rooting for fewer contestants on Adam and Cee-Lo’s teams, so I was expecting some better results. Let’s see how the teams performed.

For this week, contestants from Team Adam and Team Cee-Lo will square off. Here is the second group of contestants in order of their appearance on the show.

1. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Tonight, Tonight” I wondered how Billy “King of the Nasal” Corgan’s singing would translate into a competition like this. At the start Katrina’s vocal sounds buried, kind of like a lot of contestants last week. But when the first chorus hit, her voice took off like a rocket. She was hitting those soaring “toniiiiiight” notes with comfort and poise. She kind of fizzled for the second buildup and chorus so the song ended anticlimactically in my opinion. I’ll concede that last note she hit was good, but I wished she did it during one of the big musical moments instead of waiting for things to fade out before striking out. The performance was a good start to the show, but not Katrina’s best work. Bonus from Carson Daly: “Christina, some tharts on Katrina.”

2. Cheesa (Team Cee-Lo) – “Don’t Leave Me This Way” Aw shit, I love this track! This arrangement wisely plays to Cheesa’s diva inclinations by opening with a sparse intro that allows her to do a few solid note holds before the dancefloor fire kicks in. Cheesa’s voice suffers a little during her walk down the stairs (and those dorky “second string at Disney World” backup dancers don’t held either) but she quickly commands the stage like a disco queen of old. Her belting was both raw and on point (even when her voice was starting to give out, she still sang in key.) Bonus points for the little disco dance at the end. I only wish she dialed back some of her ad-libbed belting in the middle of verses (it relied too much on the backup singers for cushioning) and tried to do more dancing onstage. Nice one!

3. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “In Your Eyes” This performance was rough for me. Tony was alternating between oversinging and running out for breath for most of the first verse and the main part of the chorus. He had a decent go in the buildup, where his power belting really matched the emotional crescendo of the piece, but he couldn’t quite sustain it. I give him points for trying to connect with the crowd. He was mad dashing all over the stage trying to hit seemingly every area of the front row, but when he came prancing back to the center he looked like a clown.

4. Kim Yarbrough (Team Adam) – “Rolling In The Deep” Kim has guts, because any reality show contestant knows that taking on a current artist as overcovered as Adele will bring them jeers of fury from all around unless they nail the piece. Kim also displays good knowledge of her abilities, because I was not disappointed with this. She wisely stuck to the center of the stage and emoted from there. She matched the Adele original pretty closely and conveyed the disappointment and dry anger in the song quite well. However, I think she should have taken more risks with the piece. I never thought I’d say this about a contestant, but Kim almost seems beyond this sort of song, and I don’t mean in terms of era. She seems to be one of the few modern singers I know of who could top rival Adele in her genre, so this feels almost safe.

5. James Massone (Team Cee-Lo) – “Don’t Know Why” This was a tough sell for me. On paper I see why Cee-Lo picked the song for James. In previous rounds he excelled at midtempo R&B bangers because of his youthful charisma and respect with which seems to approach the material, so he should try out a more mature-sounding ballad to widen his range. Vocally he was hit and miss. All too often I felt like he was backing away from notes that he should be sustaining. Plus his singing was just a little too shrill for me. At times it felt like he was whining instead of crooning. He also needs to drop that “judo chop” thing he was doing with his non-microphone hand. I gesticulate when I talk, but I know my hands do different things to emphasize my points. The chop was just one thing. I’ll concede that he did a good job hamming it up to work the crowd, but it just may have cost him his pipes.

6. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “Roxanne” I appreciate the risks that Juliet and Cee-Lo took with this arrangement. It played with space and tempo in a different way than the Police original and Juliet’s scenery-chewing growl reminded me of “El Tango de Roxanne” in Moulin Rouge. During the minimal opening and big musical crescendos, Juliet sounded really good…when she was on key and when she was keeping pace with the band. Sometimes she got to her lines faster than the house band and she got lost. Other times I was hearing more flubs than her competitors. Juliet gets tons of points for emotionally investing herself in the material and crumbling into herself at points in the song. She should work on hitting her notes.

7. Mathai (Team Adam) – “Ordinary People” I’ll admit my bias, I will tear up whenever I hear this song. To do it right, Mathai had to sing with headstrong optimism cut with world-weary dread of both her own frailties and of those around her. If you think that sounds tough, this is why John Legend has a career. Mathai sang quite in her range and nailed the optimism part, but didn’t sell the heft a song like this carries. She was more like Jesse Campbell last week, only this was tonally inappropriate. It made her come across as immature.

8. Tony Vincent (Team Cee-Lo) – “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” I normally think of Tears For Fears songs as so bassy, that it was a breath of fresh air when Tony stuck to this in his higher range. He also rose above the lower key nature of the original and added a few more vocal flourishes that stopped just short of oversinging. While I liked the dictator speech stage gimmick, I feel that the limiting space of the podium may have undercut his stage presence for 25% of the song. When Tony did finally come down for the joyous bridge he may have stalked around a little too much, but he stayed pretty engaging throughout the performance. Props for sustained vocal goodness (even on the staircase descent.)

9. Karla Davis (Team Adam) – “Airplanes” If Karla can do both the Hayley Williams and B.o.B. parts, then she could steal the show. To her credit, Karla displayed a surprisingly good flow for the verses and didn’t rely too much on the chorus. She also tried to inject some melody into the rapping parts, but it came at a great cost. She wasn’t off key and she didn’t lack for stage presence. I just couldn’t hear her, and in an aspirational song like this, where the performer is casting his or her hopes and dreams into the sky, she needed to PROJECT! Cheers for originality, jeers for execution.

10. Erin Martin (Team Cee-Lo) – “Walk Like An Egyptian” For such an uptempo rocker like this, Erin sure is taking things relaxed. This was a time where she needed to dork it up and really ping around the stage. Her theatrical costume and the performances spectacle with backup dancers (which she did get into at the end) downright demanded more vocal and physical abandon than Erin provided. I suspect she may have been afraid to belt because of the unique color of her voice, but that hasn’t stopped Nelly Furtado or Bjork and it shouldn’t have stopped Erin. She sounded anemic at best and coasting at work. This was a missed opportunity.

11. Pip (Team Adam) – “When You Were Young” This was quite an improvement for Pip. He really got into the material emotionally (check the facial expressions) and didn’t compromise his vocal abilities. He pulled out a few small vocal runs in the first verse and in the bridge that were subtle enough that I wasn’t as annoyed with him as I was with other oversingers. Still, it totally undercut the vocal fireworks at the end since there was less of a buildup. I think Pip was as least as engaging as Tony V., but this felt like less of a risk to me, so Tony rates better.

12. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “Are You Gonna Go My Way” This reminded me of that captivating audition round that got me into Jamar in the first place, only with just….more. Jamar had a solid rock/soul foundation from which to work with, only he gave so much more energy, control, and (for lack of a better word) stuff to entertain the audience. It’s like the jump from Rock Band to Rock Band 2. He stayed on key and at the right volume the whole damn time. His “whoa whoa whoa” ad-libs with the music break downs somehow came across as appropriate. His ability to hold notes while engaging the crowd took James and Tony L. to school. Kudos aside, he needs to dial things back from time to time to earn those power runs and do some material with more emotional risk. He’s clearly a chosen one and I feel like a tool for rooting for him, but he actually has the talent to match the accolades.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Jamar Rogers
2. Cheesa
3. Tony Vincent

My Bottom 3 Performers (Remember, #3 is worst)
1. James Massone
2. Tony Lucca
3. Erin Martin

This was quite the improvement from last week’s performance show. Most of the performances I didn’t care for were for what I perceived to be missed opportunities instead of simply bad singing or poor song choices. Meanwhile the top tier performances were true kickass numbers, especially for Cheesa and Jamar.

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