Posts Tagged ‘Christina Aguilera’

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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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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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Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Blake vs. Team Xtina Voting Results

April 17, 2012

Image edited from original by Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

We had quite the shocker on Monday’s Voice. Now that wholesome, safe Jesse Campbell’s out of the game, it feels like anyone can take home the prize. Oh and by anyone I mean it’ll probably be Jamar winning the finals. That’s not who I’m necessarily rooting for, it’s just my prediction. Let’s get to the results….

Here are the guest musical performance and video….
– The Wanted – “Chasing The Sun” Boy bands are back! At least they’re performing a different song from their time on Idol. It’s a catchy tune, though Kathy correctly noted that something was a little offbeat in their phrasing, like an O-Zone song. “Mai Ya hee,” and such. The end appearance by Team Blake was a non-factor.

– Justin Bieber – “Boyfriend (Premiere of the Clip)” This little 20-second video clip was a little bit Timbaland, a little bit the Ying Yang Twins (it was actually a Mike Posner production.) Seriously, I thought the Biebs was going to open with “Hey how ya doin’ lil’ mama let me whisper in ya ear…,” which would have been quite the turn for the guy.

Now for the vetted teams….

Team Xtina
1. Chris Mann: Mr. Mann finally started to engage the audience and was rightly rewarded for it. Remember that opera is both acting and singing, so keep on acting, bro.

2. Lindsey Pavao (Xtina save): Her voice is barely louder than Karla Davis’s. I hate to say this, but based on her desperation song she should stick to the sparse material so as not to let her delicate flower of a voice get crushed by the sound. However, if she plays to her strengths she might be boring as hell.

Team Blake
1. Jermaine Paul: He took an overdone dirge and turned it into a fairly star-worthy performance. Once again solid effort is rewarded by the voting audience!

2. Erin Willett (Blake save): Her desperation song was an improvement from last night, but she may have been too casual and couldn’t keep up with the backing track. Find that balance between casual confidence and serious professionalism, Erin! Also, I’m happy we don’t have a repeat of Blake’s misguided teen patronage of last season.

The Losers
– Ashley De La Rosa: Ashley shows proper talent but she took forever to get going in her performances. It kind of shows up her relative inexperience. Still, I like what she brought to the show and feel like she can do some good stuff in the future.

– RaeLynn: Well Rae was finally starting to take shit seriously this week, so the Xenia comparisons might not be as apt as they were before, but her desperation song was purely pageant and that’s just no good. See ya!

Interesting how the two youngest contestants on Blake and Xtina’s teams got the boot tonight, no? Do you see a difference from last season, Voice fans?

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Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Blake vs. Team Xtina

April 16, 2012

Image edited from the original by Obie Fernandez via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

We are to the top 16 or “quarter finals” as it were. After weeks of blind auditions and battle rounds, it feels good to get to this point. Last week quite a few contestants I was rooting for either disappointed in the performances or got robbed in the voting results. One twist to tonight’s show is that one artist on each team will go home right at the end, which could maybe remove one of the weaker performers before the voters mess things up. Let’s see who will keep their hot streaks going, who will redeem themselves, and who will crash and burn.

Here are the contestants and team performances in order of their appearance on the show:

1. RaeLynn (Team Blake) – “She’s Country” Remember early on Idol last season when Scotty McCreery seemed to only perform songs with the word “country” in the title? RaeLynn is bringing back those unpleasant memories. At least this song with its big crescendo sound is a much better fit for RaeLynn’s growly twang. She also demonstrates decent breath control and has far fewer vocal flubs. That doesn’t mean the performance is free of mistakes. I wish she would have played it cooler in the verses so her shouty, stompy bits at the chorus would have been more earned. Nonetheless, despite all the boos I have thrown her way this season, this was actually pretty good.

2. Jesse Campbell (Team Xtina) – “Halo” Props for gender flipping, but gahhh I think this song is boring (and guess who wrote and produced the original.) This performance was off key for the whole first verse and the first part of the chorus. Jesse eventually found his voice and unleashed a cathartic burst which I think was meant to be an expression of love for his family. That’s not a problem, but it’s a pity his runs came off as bleary and self-indulgent. The one bright spot was when he changed keys a little towards the end. At that moment he was super genuine and into things. JC is professional, low key, and executes well, but I wish he would be more exciting.

3. Jordis Unga (Team Blake) – “Little Bit Stronger” And here comes the forced country-boxing. Did you expect any less from Chez Shelton? Jordis doesn’t blow a note for most of the performance (she shouldn’t, her hand was on her stomach to control her projection for most of the song.) She also dials it back and doesn’t oversing the song. This was a big change for her. I think she was supposed to be vulnerable, but this song was way too bland for a veteran power player like Jordis. The song didn’t go anywhere and failed to captivate me. What a bad song choice, Blake! Props for trying to make the best of a bad situation, Jordis.

4. Team Xtina ft. Crenshaw High School Choir – “Fighter” Ashley sounded tough. Jesse sounded whiny. Lindsey sounded anemic. Chris sounded competent. Christina sounded a little worse for the wear but she’s been banging this song out for more than ten years so I can imagine she’s a little tired of it, no matter how much it rocks.

5. Ashley De La Rosa (Team Xtina) – “Foolish Games” This was a miss for me. Ashley has a subtle build to her singing, right up to where the vaguely nu-metal backing track kicked in. Her stage presence was grounded and into the tone of the song. She also busted out a killer super-long wail right before the end. On the downside, as soon as the backing track kicked in, she sounded thin to the point of being unintelligible. The arrangement sucked too, but the blame lies on Christina there. Ashley might as well have performed a melodic rendition of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle).” Come to think of it, that would have been more entertaining.

6. Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa – “Pay Phone” This sounded like a tarted-up Five For Fighting song. The band appears to be going through the motions. I fail to hear anything passionate, catchy, or engaging in this track. The one redeeming spot was Wiz Khalifa’s verse. WK shows great, fast, and consistent flow during his time onstage. It’s a pity that verse was wasted on such bland beats. I’ll be skipping this when it comes on the radio.

7. Erin Willett (Team Blake) – “Set Fire To The Rain” Did we learn nothing from Kim Yarbrough’s downfall last week? Stop doing Adele songs, or at least do some deep cuts! Erin gives a good effort, though. She tries to really make use of the stage, sings on key and passionately, and forms a solid emotional connection with the song as seen through her facial expressions. That bittersweet smile at the end was a nice endpoint to the song. The problem was that the arrangement was too damn close to the original (a trance or dubstep mix might have been better), so Erin came off as an Adele simulacrum at best.

8. Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina) – “Part Of Me” I’m all for risk taking, but I feel like Lindsey and Christina took a very punchy and fun Katy Perry song and turned it into a sludgy, grungy mess. They took a risk the wrong way. I think they should have done it more minimally to make it more emotional, or gone for an arrangement with churn for a more triumphant tone. Lindsey’s singing was uneven and frequently buried in the mix, especially as it started to get louder and faster. I wish she would belt more. She’s not commanding the stage like she used to. Vocally she’s doing the quirky yelp thing that contributed to Erin Martin getting sent home. I’m becoming less of a backer every time she gets onstage,

9. Team Blake – “Heartache Tonight” Jordis redeemed herself like whoa. RaeLynn’s stock fell like a college QB after a bad draft combine workout. Erin looked like she was actually having fun. Jermaine stole the show. Blake hung in the chorus like a backup singer, which is ok by me since he’s supposed to teach, not outshine.

10. Jermaine Paul (Team Blake) – “Against All Odds” Jermaine really turned around from last week, and on an otherwise nearly boring ballad. His singing was understated and deliberate, like he really got the desperation and fatalism in the song’s lyrics. He also knew when to turn on the soul wailing as the song built to its climax. Even the few flubs just made sense amongst all the emotion in the performance. His stage presence was solid and smoldering – a slow burn. Against all odds, (ba dum bum) Jermaine pulled out a winner with this one!

11. Chris Mann (Team Xtina) – “Viva La Vida” Props to Chris for picking more uptempo material. His projection was a little weak on the low notes in the chorus, but he really belted on the high notes and took off in the chorus. By the time the performance got to his final third, Chris was emoting with power and bitterness. He seemed to have an idea about how the build in the song undercuts the lyrics of failure. The performance was engaging enough that I was bopping along by the end, and I cannot say that about the Coldplay original. Nice turnaround, dude.

My Performance Ranking
1. Jermaine Paul
2. Chris Mann
3. RaeLynn
4. Erin Willett
5. Ashley De La Rosa
6. Jordis Unga
7. Jesse Campbell
8. Lindsey Pavao

The Sudden Losers
-Jesse Campbell (Team Xtina): Wow, the show just got way the hell more interesting! Jesse gave his best and was by no means a dick during his time on the show. It’s just that his low key sincerity was a better fit for Idol than the more urgent Voice, that’s all. The former producer’s chosen one will be fine.

-Jordis Unga (Team Blake): She gave the weakest performance of Team Blake, but I feel that it wasn’t her fault. She got robbed in the voting and got dealt a boring song and arrangement by her coach.

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

April 3, 2012

Image edited from original by Mike Licht, Notionscapital.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Last night’s Voice was underwhelming, so I’m interested to see who makes it through. Who deserves to be on the stage and who makes it through in spite of themselves?

Here is the guest musical performance:
– Gym Class Heroes ft. Neon Hitch – “Ass Back Home” This is pretty good. Travie McCoy and Neon Hitch carried their parts off fairly well (even if the song had a little pre-recorded vocal backing.) Otherwise the jam was lively and had a cool, solid quiet-loud dynamic.

Now for the vetted teams….

Team Blake
1. Erin Willett: First one in and first place from last night! Keep up the good work!

2. Jermaine Paul: Underwhelming turn on stage and can do so much better! I’m glad he gets another shot.

3. RaeLynn: What is the rest of this show’s audience hearing? She seems cloying and full of hot air.

4. Jordis Unga (Blake save): If Jordis has honed anything beyond her singing since her last reality show gig, it’s her politics. Way to play to Blake’s sensibilities (and thank you for knocking out Charlotte!)

Team Xtina
1. Jesse Campbell: Did anyone not see this coming? He’s a bit of a Javier Colon clone, but I can’t disrespect his success.

2. Lindsey Pavao: I applaud her risk taking, but she needs to execute better. Get up on that singing!

3. Chris Mann: Unless he makes livelier song choices, I guess I’ll get to take a 2-minute nap every Monday.

4. Ashley De La Rosa (Xtina save): This was a bit of a shocker for me. Ashley’s a little green, but if she can overcome her initial nerves she could kick proper ass.

The Losers
– Naia Kete: I wish she leaned on the roots reggae action earlier. Then her nerves wouldn’t have held her back vocally and sent her home.

– Charlotte Sometimes: She can’t be trying to mess with me every song choice she makes, can she? I’m not that special, but I’m happy I won’t have to find out.

– Moses Stone: The guy can’t quite balance his singing and rapping inclinations. I liked Moses’s run more as an idea than in actuality, since hopefully he’ll inspire more rappers to compete on this show.

– Sera Hill: Her talent was fairly conventional, but just because it’s trite doesn’t mean it isn’t true. She took most of the competition to school, so it’s a bit of a shame that she didn’t make it forward. Hopefully the show got her some good contacts.

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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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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 4

March 27, 2012

Image edited from original by Mr. Fink’s Finest Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

OK Voice fans, we are at part four and the hopeful conclusion of this round of battles. Once the show is done with this round it will have 24 contestants, which will still take a lot of time to get through. Will more battles follow or will another oddly effective gimmick take its place? Will the show make good on its promise of live shows next week? Sometimes I suspect this show keeps throwing in crazy gimmick rounds because it knows that as soon as the public voting starts, it’s basically Idol with a trimmed staff and more diverse contestant base. Anyways, let’s get this party started!

Extra Mentors:
Team Adam: Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke
Team Blake: Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert
Team Cee Lo: Babyface and Ne-Yo
Team Xtina: Jewel and Lionel Richie

Team Cee Lo: James Massone vs. Wade – “True Colors”
Dammit Cee Lo, stop trying to do these gimmick battles. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” sucked last week because neither contestant could really touch it. Poppy James and Stax-y Wade are both way too fun for this inspiration-bait song. Creighton Fraker crashed and burned when he did this on Idol and I don’t have high hopes for these two guys. They’re both so good otherwise. Wade sounds a little better in his practice session while James sounds a little too shrill, so I predict a Wade win. Nonetheless, if James wins he could go pretty far with his very current R&B sensibilities.
The little vamping is kind of off. Throughout the performance James sounds like he’s about to teeter off the cliff. Wade just can’t those high belty notes when this should totally be his thing. I think the big problem is that this song doesn’t really go anywhere. Neither singer can really build to something so they’re left running in place. Wade especially wants to build to something so bad and he ends up in a crazy mess. James didn’t take as many risks, so he comes off better.
Winner: James (Yay! While I was rooting for Wade, I respect where James is coming from and expect good things from him. Also, the UN needs to haul Cee Lo Green’s ass to The Hague, because once again he’s been committing war crimes in a battle.)

Team Adam: Nicolle Galyon vs. Mathai – “Love Song”
Ooh! Shouting song! I associate this song with a bunch of drunken spontaneous singalongs from my second year of grad school. That may not translate well to on-pitch performances. Nicolle can really work the human connection thing, while Mathai can punch through the tension with her belting. The winner will be upbeat to the point of just shy of obnoxiousness. The song has a very deep, warm quality too it and the sound of Nicole’s voice might fit better, so I predict a Nicolle win.
Mathai’s having better luck with her runs but as predicted Nicole sounds better when she’s straight up singing. I wish Nicolle brought out more power, especially at the end. I wish Mathai would pace herself so that her big sing-off was more earned. The whole thing hits the skids when they try to harmonize, for it’s about as welcome as Rick Santorum at a Scissor Sisters concert. Wow that was horrendous! It wasn’t enough to kill the performance on its own, but that endeavor as a whole was fair to disappointing.
Winner: Mathai (Meh! She rocked in her audition round but the more I hear her singing the more I fear her voice will combine with Erin Martin’s to break all the glass in the world. If she dials her intensity back she’ll be great!)

Team Xtina: Moses Stone vs. The Line – “Satisfaction”
Oh snap! It’s the battle of the leftovers. If Christina really wanted to do something to challenge both country and hip hop artists, she could have picked something by Big and Rich, Cowboy Troy, or even Everlast. I’m nervous about both artists, since The Line is a duo and gets an unfair advantage, while Moses is novel for a show like this but sounded sloppy in his audition. I’m rooting for Moses, but I predict a Line win since their built-in harmonies will fill out the big loud show that is this song.
You know it’s a good sign of a performance when I can’t bring myself to type anything until the song is done. This has the potential to be one of the best performances this episode. The song was arranged in such a way that both sides got to vamp a little and play to their strengths: The Line got to harmonize a bunch while Moses got a reworked verse and drum break that was conducive to some moderate speed rapping. To their credit, both sides took a few risks and succeeded. Moses actually sang pretty damn well and took Christina’s belting lessons to heart. Both Line members struck out to sing on their own and showed that as they deserve to be here as individual talents, not just as a duo. I was nervous about this one, but props to all performers and Christina Aguilera for a fabulous show!
Winner: Moses (Yay! Again, both sides were great but I’ll take the individual act over the duo anytime. I also want Moses to be the gateway act that gets other rappers interested in competing in reality competitions.)

Team Adam: Karla Davis vs. Orlando Napier – “Easy”
Adam did kind of a cool thing in the practice rounds by acknowledging that his original pick “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates didn’t work for either singer. Rather than letting the performance go on and subjecting us all to a possible shitshow, Adam changed the song to this Commodores number. Neither singer really impressed me in the auditions. Orlando had slurred delivery while Karla got so little time she seemed like cannon fodder. Based on producer screen time allotment, I predict an Orlando win.
At the start of the performance Orlando dominates the track for better or worse. His singing is about as good as Nicole’s this round. The performance gets interesting when Karla gets her moment. Her singing tone is soft and idiosyncratic without being annoying. At her best I want her to cut a few soul singles with Jamie Lidell. Then she tries to hit the high notes and all hopes are dashed. Orlando is worse at straight-up singing, but his belts aren’t cringe-inducing. I hate to come off like Randy Jackson, but I think that if Karla took fewer vocal risks she would have come across better.
Winner: Karla (Yay! She had lower lows, but she shows way more promise than conventional ol’ Orlando. She needs to get a better feel for her range if she wants to make it out of the top 24.)

Team Blake: Jordan Rager vs. Naia Kete – “I’m Yours”
“I’m Yours” is probably one of my least favorite Jason Mraz songs. It’s so damn mellow. Nonetheless, the syncopated singing built into the song might make for a good round. As the practice clips imply, this battle is Naia’s to lose. The hippie vibe in the Mraz original fits perfectly with Naia’s acoustic guitar street performer aesthetic. Jordan could make the song if he could put in a little menace and twang on it, kind of like RaeLynn only earned. Alternately, he could go supertenor, channel his inner “jerk with an acoustic guitar,” and surprise everyone. Nonetheless, I predict a Naia win. She’s like Dia Frampton Part II, and Dia was the top vote getter on Blake’s team last season.
First, props to both Naia and Jordan for some really effective harmonizing! The singers really knew when to push forward and when to support each other. Jordan had a more commanding vocal performance in the verses, as his singing style is richer overall. Still, Naia’s no slouch and where she slips a little on the vocal tip she makes up for on the scatting bridge. When it comes to the reggae folk action, she’s a pro doing her thing.
Winner: Naia (Yay! I was rooting for her, but I concede that Jordan totally got robbed. He tried his best under the circumstances, but based on his 5-second audition package he was probably cannon fodder. Poor guy.)

Team Cee Lo: Tony Vincent vs. Justin Hopkins – “Faithfully”
This could be a great battle. Both Tony and Justin are great belters, and Journey is a great band to belt to, whether it’s a ballad like this or a chugging rocker. Justin has a warmer quality to his singing, so he might be better at connecting with the audience. Tony has stronger pipes can project like whoa, so he’ll win by wowing the crowd and putting them in awe. Justin has fewer obstacles to victory, as it will be easier to Tony to go off the rails into the imaginary chasm of shrillness, so I predict Justin will be the last contestant to make it into the Top 24.
This was the other performance that was so good I couldn’t type anything until both contestants were done. Tony delivered on his potential by wowing the crowd with his passionate singing right before the big arrangement kicked in. What’s more, he made an emotional connection. You see that pained look in his face? That’s love so hard it hurts. I was welling up. Then Justin came on and kicked it like a pro. You could feel the warmth and earnestness in his movements and his belting. He looked so happy to be there singing this song. Fuck…they’re both so damn good! Not since Jessica Sanchez annihilated my expectations covering Whitney Houston on Idol have I been reduced to tears like this.
Winner: Tony (Yay! Hot damn I can’t wait to see what this theater supervillain can do! I really hope Justin goes on to some great things because he needs to keep at it and share his talents! You just may have redeemed yourself for earlier tonight, Cee Lo.)

While this episode wasn’t as good overall as last week’s, it had two superb performances that really engrossed me. As far as team mixes go, here is my ranking, along with whom I’m rooting for on each team.
1. Team Xtina: Ashley, Chris, Lindsey, Moses
2. Team Blake: Erin, Jermaine, Jordis, Naia
3. Team Adam: Katrina, Kim, Pip, Karla
4. Team Cee Lo: Jamar, James, Tony

The battles are over! The voting rounds begin! I’m sure excited, if only because the solo performances might bring with them the Unintentionally Funny Backup Dancer Group. See you next week!