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Thoughts on The Voice Top 8

April 30, 2012

Image edited from the original by Andrew Senay via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

All right, Voice fans! We have reached the semi finals! It’s been nearly three months, but the home stretch is in sight. We have a fairly decent Top 8 for the show, but it remains to be seen if they can deliver. Let’s do it!

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

1. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “How You Like Me Now?” This was a slow starter.
Tony was flat as a pancake during the stair descent (“but he had to balance those models hanging off of his shoulders!”) Then he found his inner dance dork and cut loose. He was a bit bleaty from time to time and his dancing was silly, but he managed to project over the big brassy sound and showed great vocal control. I appreciated his big buildup and sense of fun. Dare I say it, this guy is growing on me.

2. Erin Willett (Team Blake) – “Without You” She’s doing that thing where she purposely sings way off the beat. I think it was meant to show emotion, but it came off as messy. I should give her points for doing something different with a popular song, but she went the wrong way. I’ve liked Erin the best when she brings the uptempo power show. Instead she sang only the boring parts from this David Guetta hit. When this song comes on the radio, I’m willing to deal with the beatless Usher verses that sound like a crummy photocopy of “With Or Without You” for the sake of Guetta’s visceral Fuck Me I’m Famous beats. There was no payoff to this performance – not even her vocal runs, solid as they were.

3. Chris Mann (Team Xtina) – “Ave Maria” My knowledge of opera is limited to when I interned in the marketing department of an opera company in college, but this sounded ok. Straight-up worship/performance songs like this don’t lend themselves to the performance rubric beyond technical execution (as opposed to songs or arias that relate to the actual plot of an opera, where the emotion is key.) I think Chris sounded decent within the conventions of performing stuff like this, but those conventions made it kind of boring. And that piano was way too high in the mix. Its countermelodic playing was jarring.

4. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” Does Cee-Lo wish he was a judge on Idol (or Jimmy Iovine?) Why is he picking such stodgy songs? Jamar’s retouched arrangement isn’t as radical as he thinks it is, but he sure can sing. He managed to stay grounded in his spot on the stage, but still made use of the space with the strength and variety of his vocal moves. The way he projected was intense without oversinging, and that crazy downshift at the end was pretty hot. To cap it off, he managed to have the emotion of last week’s performance with the solid singing of his early performances. Props for making the best out of a difficult situation.

5. Team Adam and Team Cee-Lo – “All These Things That I’ve Done” They have to pad this show out somehow. Juliet continues to sing on-key. Katrina was a crackly hot mess early on but righted herself quickly. Jamar tries to steal the show and succeeds for 15% of his mic time. Tony’s Bruce Springsteen impression was a tad anemic.

6. Jermaine Paul (Team Blake) – “Open Arms” Jermaine’s execution is flawless – seriously he missed not one note. I was a little nervous about this performance since this song in the wrong hands has the potential to be way too plodding and saccharine, and for the first verse it was. Then the rock parts kicked in and Jermaine found his emotional levels. His emotion matched the power of his belting. I felt passion. I felt commitment. I felt strength. I was almost at the crying level. Well played!

7. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Killing Me Softly” I kind of wish Katrina would get into the performance a little and bop to the beat (the backup singers were getting into it more,) but we’ve established that swagger just isn’t her performance style. She prefers to stay grounded. That said, this is The Voice and that performance was really fun to listen to! It was crazy catchy and Katrina nailed the torchy sensuality that a proper vocal performance of this song demands. She was on key and unwavering, and her commitment as she hit note after note was quite charming. Way to bring the A-game!

8. Blake Shelton – “Over” Blake sounded buried in the mix, which really detracted from any vocal performance he brought. Not that his singing was that hot to begin with. It was bleary, off-key, and just a bit hunger-dunger-dang. Look at how the other coaches were reacting. Christina was doing that robotic head nod thing combined with a stare that looked like she wanted to set Blake on fire with heat vision. Meanwhile Cee-Lo looked confused and disconnected, the way I probably look upon seeing the controls to a Madden game or when someone tries to explain the concept of a “standard deviation” to me. Why is this guy a coach?

9. Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina) – “Skinny Love” I should have seen this coming – the indie singer does the song from the whiny indie band. “Say Aah” this is not. At least she’s singing more coherently than Justin Vernon and his band of Civil War reenactors when they were on SNL. To her credit, Lindsey sang with a delicateness that was pleasant to hear and moderately engrossing. She managed to be dialed back and restrained and still execute with some coy emotion. She was a bit mushy on the mic, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

10. Team Blake and Team Xtina – “Edge of Glory” Jermaine sang too high. Lindsey sang too low. Erin sang too quietly. Chris oversang. There you have it, four ways to get to the same result: Wrong.

11. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” Even with all the negativity I’ve written about Juliet on this site, any doubts I had about her abilities were gone after that performance. Her snarly emoting gave Jamar a run for his money. In the past three weeks she developed the sheer stamina to sustain those growl holds, which seem difficult to nail in the first place. She also stayed on key despite all the soul power poses and vocal swan dives that would have turned a lesser performer (which was her in the Top 32 and earlier) into a scratchy trainwreck. She wins because she went for difficult material, avoided overindulgence, and came off as charismatic and entertaining. Way to stick her in the end, producers!

My Performance Ranking
1. Juliet Sims
2. Jermaine Paul
3. Jamar Rogers
4. Katrina Parker
5. Tony Lucca
6. Lindsey Pavao
7. Chris Mann
8. Erin Willett

Tonight was a pretty good night. There were maybe two performances that I didn’t care for. Otherwise we had a solid mix of standout performances. I kind of feel bad for having to rank Tony and Lindsey as low as I did, but it’s all relative. Here’s hoping for a smashing final four. See you for the results show!

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