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Thoughts on The Voice: Final Four

May 7, 2012

Image edited from the original by Stuck In Customs via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Good evening, Voice fans! Tonight is the final performance night! For me, it’s been a roller coaster of a show. My favorites have been changing with every episode. At this point, I’m rooting for two of them. Will either deliver, or will their opponents surprise me once again?

Team Adam: Tony Lucca
Team Blake: Jermaine Paul
Team Cee-Lo: Juliet Simms
Team Xtina: Chris Mann

Each contestant performs three times: one solo, one with their coach, and one coach tribute.

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

1. Jermaine Paul – “I Believe I Can Fly” Damn. Of all the R. Kelly songs he could have picked from…. Before he sings a note it’s so much inspiration bait. Anyways, Jermaine kicked out run after run like they were so many motivational talking points, but he overdid it by the end. His vibrato/hold bit at the end was almost comedic. To his credit, he really tapped into the emotional potential of the song about a third of the way in. This could have been a pose-and-belt, but for the most part it wasn’t. He had a solid, humble presence and he almost sold me on the song. If he didn’t indulge himself in the runs quite so much and worked a little harder to connect with the audience, then he might have won me over. Oh well, two performances left.

2. Juliet Simms – “Crazy” Juliet wasn’t crazy enough. She stayed in her range, no complaints there, but there was no risk. She didn’t throw herself into the performance vocally or with her stage presence. She was stiff in her measured pacing around the stage when she could have jumped around the stage or stayed in one spot and gradually built up in menacing intensity. She showed out none of the power growls that have powered her recent success. She displayed no connection to the defiantly solo lyrics. All in all I found the performance underwhelming.

3. Chris Mann with Christina Aguilera – “A Prayer” Chris has to play Andrea Bocelli and Xtina has to play Celine Dion. I’ll say one thing, these two harmonize really well together. Chris’s lower range provides a solid foundation for Christina’s vocal acrobatics. However, poor Chris didn’t get nearly enough opportunities to shine on his own and it’s his ass on the line. Plus I think he was buried in the mix a little bit. Also, I was worried that poor Ms. Aguilera would have a bit of a dress malfunction as the song wore on. I think Chris should have worn a bow tie and a mankini to spread the risk.

4. Tony Lucca – “99 Problems” Tony smartly sang a set of lyrics which if they weren’t his own were at least more relatable to his onstage persona than Jay-Z’s trifecta of hatred for being famous, racial profiling, and revenge violence. If he played it straight he would have come off as insensitive at the very least. And I totally got why he censored himself on the chorus – his family is right there in the audience! I also get why Christina might have called him out on the song choice itself, since anyone familiar with the song knows what goes in that vocal rest. Still, while I found the instrumentation to be solid, I thought that Tony’s vocal performance was underwhelming and short of breath.

5. Chris Mann – “The Voice Within” I figure that Chris picked this song to match Jermaine’s inspiration bait choice, but calculated or not this fell flat for me. Chris’s singing just sounded off-key and ugly against the orchestral backdrop. His onstage persona seemed tonally appropriate, if a bit bland. Towards the bridge things got a bit rocking and Chris cut loose, but before he could take off he went right back to so-so hook. “Not Myself Tonight” would have been a more fun tribute.

6. Juliet Simms and Cee-Lo Green – “Born To Be Wild” Why isn’t Juliet belting? Every good vocal performance I have heard of this song features some vocal effort in the verses and she has shown she has that kind of vocal staying power. She just needs to try! Meanwhile Cee-Lo just kind walked around and stayed in key. When they tried to harmonize with each other, they did runs on different syllables so they ended up with messy results. Juliet and Cee-Lo can wear all the leather and spikes they want, they still sounded complacent. I was really hoping they would kick ass like how Cee-Lo and Vicci Martinez kicked ass on “Love Is A Battlefield” last season.

7. Tony Lucca and Adam Levine – “Yesterday” I think this was a choice for Tony and his “faded idol” back story. Both he and Adam had the matter-of-fact sadness emotional content down pretty well. Vocally they were better together than they were solo (both Tony and Adam flubbed a tad on their solos) but I was actually kind of happy with this performance. It was a good tonal fit with minimal overindulgence and a good balance of emotion and execution.

8. Jermaine Paul – “God Gave Me You” Another inspiration bait coach tribute? Yeesh. I know next to nothing about Blake’s catalog, but given his onstage persona he has to have some songs with more jamming power. Instead this felt plodding even with Jermaine hitting some cool falsetto notes at the end. Personally I think he did the best he could with that song.

9. Chris Mann – “You Raise Me Up” Don’t get me wrong, Josh Groban seems like a good guy. I’m just not a fan of this kind of music, though I’ll concede that a lot of people are. Also, I thought he totally nailed this performance with a level of execution and conviction that rose above mere bait. It looked like he believed in what he was singing. I also like the little teary bit towards the end. Dare I say it, that was one of the night’s better performances. Nice job, dude. Kathy says he has a future in Disney movies and I agree. If Zachary Levi didn’t already do his own singing, Chris could totally be his singing voice.

10. Jermaine Paul and Blake Shelton – “Soul Man” Jermaine and Blake sounded a little light in the mix, but otherwise this was a fun performance. Blake looked a little bit stiff onstage, but really it’s not his ass on the line. If he can make Jermaine look and sound good, then he has done his job. And he did do his job. Jermaine looked confident, cool, and in his element. He got to do some crazy R&B runs, some crowd vamping, and a little call and response with the band. I’d totally watch more of that.

11. Tony Lucca – “Harder To Breathe” Tony has Adam’s high-end vocals down early on, but he fizzles out earlier than I would have liked. He also forgets the lyrics at several points in the second verse, a sin that would have gotten him the boot on another show. When it comes to stage presence I think he was solid, but I wish he would have brought the house band to the forefront so he could have fed off their energy. I think it would have improved his rocker charisma.

12. Juliet Simms – “Freebird” This is what I was waiting to hear all damn night! Juliet was holding back for her first two performances. It turns out that she was saving her sawed-off shotgun of a voice for the song. She had a solid build during the verses, holding back a little but still sounding fuller than her other two numbers. When the big chorus with the monster guitar solo came in, she stepped up and fulfilled her potential. When she nails her lower range runs she can bring me to the verge of tears. I wish she had a more consistent body of performances, but within the boundaries of this song this was well-played.

My Performance Rankings (Based on all three performances. Everything counts, Carson Daly.)
1. Jermaine Paul (#2 in tribute, #1 in duet, #3 in solo)
2. Tony Lucca (#1 in tribute, #2 in duet, #4 in solo)
3. Juliet Simms (#3 in tribute, #4 in duet, #1 in solo)
4. Chris Mann (#4 in tribute, #3 in duet, #2 in solo)

I understand with a final round that I should expect to see a lot more saccharine garbage. Still, it doesn’t change that I’m not into it. Compared to the past few weeks of performances this felt like a bit of a letdown. I thought every contestant brought at least one top-shelf performance, but if they want to be successful artists then they will need to be able to sustain star power for more than three minutes. See you tomorrow for the results show!

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