Posts Tagged ‘James Massone’

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Thoughts on The Voice: Season 2 Finale

May 8, 2012

Image edited from the original by Bill McIntyre via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

…And here we are. It took three months and a drawn out season to get here (hey, success will do that,) but we made it! Last night each of the contestants delivered at least one blammo rendition along with two sleepers and/or mehs. While I ranked Jermaine at the top of the heap, it wasn’t an enthusiastic pick. For last season’s results show, we got 4 performances, one montage, one results ramp-up, and then the coronation. I praised the show for its brevity. Clearly I was in the minority.

Musical Performances

1. Jermaine Paul ft. Jamar Rogers, James Massone, and Pip – “I Want You Back” James’s tenor is just a tad lower than 8 year old MJ’s alto, but he lacks the delivery of the young King of Pop. Pip sounds like a cloying lounge singer. He could take a lesson from Michael Buble in how to be chill. Jamar sings with conviction, but he still sounds WAY TOO SERIOUS. All Jermaine had to do was sing straight up. After a rough start, he delivered on his ability and threw in a few neat scat runs at the end.

2. Flo Rida and Juliet Simms – “Whistle/Wild Ones” Yeesh. That midtempo “Whistle” song sounded like a rip-off of B.O.B.’s “Nothing On You.” Luckily Flo pulled the plug on that trick real quick before starting into “Wild Ones.” Juliet sang Sia’s part on the hook and managed to sound less grating than the original. Unfortunately that was all she had to do. Flo Rida was leaping all over the stage, working the crowd and showing a general enthusiasm that covered any hint of a prerecorded vocal track. Poor Juliet was left with little to do. Couldn’t she have had a verse or an extended hook? As much as I complain, I still thought this was fun.

3. Chris Mann ft. Lindsey Pavao and Katrina Parker – “Bittersweet Symphony” Dammit, Chris! Don’t do the hand wave thing to this song. It’s tonally inappropriate and it makes you look like you’re trying too hard. The people he beat out? Lindsey did some cool vocal shifts halfway into the song that matched the emotion. It reminded me of why she was an appealing performer early on. Meanwhile Katrina was a straight-up better singer. Her naturally poised and understated singing style worked really well for the song’s mix of posh instrumentation and working class fatalism. Chris had the stage presence of a drunk, whiny college student.

4. Hall & Oates, Chris Mann, Jermaine Paul, and Tony Lucca – “Rich Girl” The three male finalists are relegated to backup singers for a song that Adam pulled away from making his team members sing. I don’t know the song, but it sounds pleasant albeit bland. Daryl Hall sang pretty well for a guy who’s been performing since the early 70s. John Oates came off the best with his solid background presence and neato guitar solos.

5. Naia Kete, Kim Yarbrough, Cheesa, and Sera Hill – “Superstition” Kim executed well enough, but I failed to see any enthusiasm. Cheesa had the power belting down pat, but she took awhile to really rock the cool. Rootsy Naia knocked out her part really well and demonstrated that she had versatility. Her coach just stuck her with a bad song. Sera came off the best in her singing and stage moves. She looked really happy to be back onstage and was really getting down! None of these contestants were in the running but the delivered the best performance of the first half of the night.

6. Juliet Simms ft. Erin Willett, RaeLynn, and Jamar Rogers – “With A Little Help From My Friends” Jamar and Erin did R&B runs like nobody’s business. With her soulfully raspy drawl, Juliet had the classic rock angle covered. That left poor RaeLynn with her aggressive twang and overenunciation on every note. She did have a moment with her growl, but Juliet quickly upstaged her. That’s what experience can do.

7. Lady Antebellum – “Wanted You More” I’m still not a fan of the band name. The song itself sounded decent enough. The dual lead singers harmonized pretty well together and played off each other like method actors overdoing it. The individual parts sounded ok as well. I bet a lot of people were digging this performance, but I wasn’t one of them. That’s not the band’s fault. It’s just not my thing.

8. Tony Lucca ft. Jordis Unga – “Go Your Own Way” Oh snap! The TV vets duet! The song started with a descent down a pair of long staircases, which must have been a lot harder for Jordis in those heels. Still, she kept up with Tony and proved to be a solid harmonizer with him. Tony had some fabulous runs in the song, and quite frankly I wish he did sing this earlier in the competition as it might have won me over to his cause. I wish Jordis got more mic time, but it’s not like Lindsey Buckingham let Stevie Nicks have a lot of mic time on the original.

9. Justin Bieber – “Boyfriend” Yeah, the Biebs has the old Justin Timberlake style down pretty well. He straddles that line between hard hip-hop swagger and teen heartthrob tenor without coming off like a total poser (even though he’s from Stratford, Ontario.) The dancer-heavy choreography was in keeping with the teen pop traditions as well. I thought the song was catchy. I mean, it’s not as though JT is around to watch the throne as he’s too busy with acting. Maybe Justin Bieber wants it more.

An Aside
I’m not normally one for network synergy, but NBC has some of the best comedy on network TV, so the Parks and Rec and SNL crossovers were actually kind of funny. First, I loved that Parks and Rec skit. I wouldn’t mind if Nick Offerman replaced Blake in the coach’s chair and mentored contestants as his Ron Swanson character. On the SNL tip, I thought Keenan Thompson’s Cee-Lo impression on the “Voice: Animals” skit was a little weak but I liked his line that Cee-Lo “looked like a villain in a James Bond movie directed by Tyler Perry.”

Much talking and stalling commences, before the show reveals its vote ranking.
4th place: Chris Mann
3rd place: Tony Lucca
2nd place: Juliet Simms
1st place: Jermaine Paul

The Winner
Yay! Jermaine Paul, the most consistently good performer this season, takes the prize! While I was tempted from time to time to dismiss him as a Javier Colon Clone, he was way the hell more intense! He had one, maybe two flubs for his entire run and he knew how to have fun. That performance acumen and sheer talent made him fun to root for, even if he was on Blake Shelton’s team. Plus those little bear growls he was doing when he was hugging his family was endearing. I’d like to think I’d be doing the same thing if I won the show. Seriously, congrats to Jermaine. I hope that he has a successful career of making fun music.

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Thoughts on The Voice Top 16: Team Adam vs. Team Cee-Lo

April 23, 2012

Image edited from the original by Scott Beale via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

The quarter finals continue tonight, Voice fans! On teams Blake and Xtina, some of the probable winners unexpectedly choked and were sent packing before the voters could save them, making the show way more interesting. Will we see similar upsets happen to the shoo-ins on Teams Adam and Cee-Lo? Let’s see….

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

1. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo) – “It’s My Life” Whoever decided to run this song in half time made a bad call. The sludgy beats alone made the song feel plodding. Even though Jamar sang pretty well and with a surprising amount of restraint (for him,) the bad arrangement made me anxious. His stage presence was solid, blue collar emotion, but the bad arrangement undercut it. So far Jamar has been at his best on songs that rock hard and never let up. This could have been one of those songs, but it came out boring. It was good and Jamar executed well, but this early on in the show I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s not his fault.

2. Katrina Parker (Team Adam) – “Jar of Hearts” This song choice seemed fairly predictable for me. Katrina went for the time-honored practice of singing against a sparse piano in order to give her voice maximum wiggle room. As a result, I kind of felt like she was going though the motions. To me she started out strong but got lukewarm about halfway into the piece. It’s not that she was coasting, for she seemed committed to beaming the song out until the end, but the end result felt flat. It was a solid effort.

3. Team Cee-Lo – “Dancing In The Street” Juliet fell flat. Cheesa oversang. Jamar held his own. James sounds good on this kind of song (though Kathy noted that he gave off quite the Mickey Mouse Club vibe.) Cee-Lo dominated the proceedings in terms of execution and mic time. Carson Daly gave a “tribute” to Dick Clark that felt more like a poor-taste parody.

4. Mathai (Team Adam) – “I’m Like A Bird” Mathai actually had a solid performance with this song. She felt mostly on key and used her vibrato to fit the quirky tone of the song. However, after a few more neat vocal runs her voice did a weird vocal shift that was both too high and too low and by the end Mathai was singing like Danny Elfman on a bad day. Also I wasn’t quite feeling her hamming it up in the stiff way she did. I saw Nelly Furtado live at the peak of that song’s popularity (summer 2001), and when she hammed it up she bounced around like an athlete. It was fun instead of awkward like Mathai’s stage presence.

5. James Massone (Team Cee-Lo) – “Just The Way You Are” I don’t know where to begin. The musical arrangement was incredibly dated and cheesy with its anemic drumming and stale keyboards. The persistent saxophone just took it over the top. Meanwhile James tried to go for the teen idol thing with his varsity jacket and singing to some girl with a chaste distance. He wasn’t just singing on the Mickey Mouse Club, he took things right back to the Annette Funicello era. Billy Joel couldn’t have sounded this ersatz.

6. Goodie Mob – “Fight To Win” OK, where did these guys get their costumes – from Madonna’s halftime show this past Super Bowl or from The Black Eyed Peas halftime show from the Super Bowl the year before? Also, it’s clear that any group dynamic this group once had has been obliterated by Cee-Lo’s individual star power. The other guys in the barely got any mic time. I expected to hear some solid Southern hip-hop that had Cee-Lo’s voice as one part of the appeal. The beatless, indulgent classic rock arrangement felt like so much wankery from the Lady Killer. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of future material these guys come out with.

7. Tony Lucca (Team Adam) – “Baby One More Time” Hey! Speaking of the Mickey Mouse Club, Adam and Tony take the audience to Metatown on this Britney cover. It had kind of a bluesy feel, almost like if it were covered by Tracy Chapman or the Black Crowes. Tony performed rather well here. He had some good wailing that was on-key and tonally appropriate. He also dialed things back for the verses and amped things up on the build to the chorus, which is evidence of great control. In my opinion, the is the best performance Tony has given since the audition.

8. Cheesa (Team Cee-Lo) – “I Have Nothing” I thought that this might happen. To be fair, Cheesa carried this song way, way better than Shannon Magrane did back in Whitney/Stevie week on Idol. She had some fabulous power belting at quite a few key moments throughout the song. This song just feels so overdone that what little emotion Cheesa showed in the performance was quickly negated by the song’s depressing arrangement and trite nature. This was so much pageantry, and just because Cheesa comes from that background doesn’t mean she should do throwbacks to that era. Zzzzzz….

9. Pip (Team Adam) – “Somewhere Only We Know” On paper this is a good song choice for Pip. The original has a sweet, lilting, emotional quality that makes me well up inside even though it’s supposedly whiny wuss rock. It’s both soft and urgent. Pip’s performance was neither. His stage presence was preening like a Glee-era high school show choir, which is not how he should have conveyed the vulnerability in the lyrics. Meanwhile his singing was ass from beginning to end. On the soft intro he went low on each of his phrases way too early, resulting in an off-key sound. He blew a lot of the big notes in the middle and end which just annihilated any speck of emotion that was standing after those stage moves. What a waste!

10. Team Adam – “Instant Karma” Mathai redeemed herself quite nicely. Katrina seemed a little lost. Tony was a bit flat. Pip phoned his performance in and still managed to be the second best singer on the stage. Adam stuck to playing the drums and didn’t sing at all, which (like Blake last week) was pretty cool since it’s his job to coach and not dominate. Take note, Cee-Lo Green.

11. Juliet Sims (Team Cee-Lo) – “Cryin’” There have been too many ballad performances tonight. That said, Juliet managed to find that balance between her powerful growl and the musicality necessary to win a show like this. For once she found the notes and it was good. She still held on to her power and desperation from past performances. For a 90s-era Aerosmith song, you need to have a little bittersweet desperation to convey the song’s intent. The big solo note about two-thirds in was super flat, but otherwise this was her best performance this season. Way to turn things around!

My Performance Ranking
1. Tony Lucca
2. Juliet Sims
3. Jamar Rogers
4. Mathai
5. Cheesa
6. Katrina Parker
7. James Massone
8. Pip

The Sudden Losers
• James Massone (Team Cee-Lo): Poor little guy! He started off so promising with his R&B pop performances. Then he tried to go the slow song route and made musical Velveeta. If he stays with music, he should stick to what he likes and what he’s good at. The ladies will come later, bro.

• Pip (Team Adam): Pip had some potential with his sense of showmanship and dynamic raw singing ability. It’s just a shame that he displayed the charisma of an annoying theater kid (and this is coming from a former annoying theater kid) and couldn’t even keep his pipes in tune. Let’s give him three cheers: Pip! Pip! See Ya!

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

April 10, 2012

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

Last night’s Voice was quite the scattershot show. One side was the steady Team Adam who delivered a range of fairly decent to below-average performances, with one contestant ending up in my bottom 3. One the other side was the all-over-the-place Team Cee-Lo, who had three contestants in my top 3 and two contestants in my bottom 3. Let’s see who moves on to the top 16.

Here is the guest musical performance:
– Jessie J – “Domino” So British Katy Perry is a coach on Voice U.K., huh? Well, at least she sings with real backup singers instead of a pre-recorded vocal track, unlike a lot of dance pop guests on shows like this. On the other hand, when Jessie J did sing solo she seemed either uncomfortable or uncommitted. Good thing she regained her composure when the chorus came on. Also, I think this song is pretty catchy. If her first radio single was this track instead of that horrendous “Price Tag” song, I might have given her a chance early on.

Now for the vetted teams….

Team Adam
1. Mathai: Her balladeering is like tissue paper. She should stick to the punchier tracks.
2. Tony Lucca: I admit this guy has a “story” and all, but yeesh, he should at least try to sing songs in his range (and try to sing fun songs,)
3. Pip: He has solid stage presence and pretty hot singing skills, but he treats every song like a middle school pageant.
4. Katrina Parker (Adam save): She gets better every time she gets onstage. With more experience she’ll improve her vocal stamina for better results. Good pick!

Team Cee-Lo
1. Juliet Sims: Now that her commitment to her performances is validated, she can focus on keeping up with the backing band and hitting her notes. Oversinging alone does not make a rock star.
2. Jamar Rogers: Once again, did anyone not see this coming? He’s the fire to Jesse Campbell’s ice. Of the probable chosen ones on this show, I’m most ok with him because he brings the rock signs every time.
3. James Massone: I’m ok with his success based only on past performances. He’s hot with contemporary R&B, but after last week I’m not sure he can get beyond that genre.
4. Cheesa (Cee-Lo save): First, she was breathing into the mic way too much during her desperation song. Second, if she goes back to ballads like she did tonight I’ll be bored to tears.

The Losers
– Kim Yarbrough: Aw man! Based on her desperation song and overall dance commander, she would have been a proper dance commander! A clunker of a song choice may have brought her down.
– Karla Davis: Karla’s performance style was a weird fusion of country and soul that seemed kind of cool, but her inability to project onstage effectively killed her run. Get thee to a studio!
– Tony Vincent: His range was like a rough Adam Lambert at best but his theatrical experience and willingness to pose himself like a supervillain made him endearing. It’s a shame to see him go (and a damn shame that Christina Aguilera forgot his name when he was right there.)
– Erin Martin: Her gnarled, raspy singing was hot for the slow songs and cold for everything else. Those vocal tics of hers may have been adorable on Idol, but not on the vocally rigorous The Voice.

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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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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!

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 3

February 18, 2012

Image from Gwen Harlow on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I apologize for the late posting. Thank heaven for Hulu. At the same time, I am itchy to start the real competition and get past this expanded audition round. It’s still less of a pain than Idol’s audition rounds, but the show would do well not to pad it out so much. Let’s lock this up!

Coaches’ Notes

-It’s interesting to see the coaches taking potshots at each other’s commercial success, track records on the show, and personal behaviors. I just like seeing these people in power come off their high horses and argue a little. It humanizes them. Props to Christina for telling Blake “fuck you.” By contrast, being an Idol judge seems like one of the cushiest in the world. All you need to succeed as a judge on that show is a catchphrase and a willingness to hit on underage contestants.

-Speaking of which, stop hitting on contestants, Cee Lo! It’s creepy when Steven Tyler does it and it’s icky when you do it as well. “You belong to me, don’t you agree?” What kind of pitch is that, Cee Lo?

Contestants’ Notes

-We open the show with no information on Sarah Golden. Her story is one of music industry conservatism – “we’ll sign you, but only if you completely change everything about yourself,” – and it’s one I can get behind (cry for The Muggs.) Unfortunately, she opens with a fairly anemic rendition of Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” She’s trying hard, but her voice is too thin and strained against the deceptively slow and rich backing track (the house band’s crummy rendition isn’t helping.) It’s a problem that can be fixed with voice coaching and better song choices, so it’s good that she gets turns from Cee Lo and Blake, who couldn’t be more different in terms of their appraoches to the show. She picks Cee Lo, who isn’t the best stylistic match for her, but is more likely to keep her past the favoritism-mined battle rounds than conservative ol’ Blake.

-Elley Duhe does well to sing Duffy’s “Mercy.” She sings kind of thinly with lots of yelping, which is actually a good match for the song. She has a good sense of the song’s space, knowing when to throw in the ad libs and when to try for vocal acrobatics. However she can’t quite execute yet, and her end product is unremarkable compared to some of the other auditioners, so she gets no turns. Eh, she’s 19. She has time to keep at it.

-“House of the Rising Sun” is one of those slow songs singers pick in order to show off vocal pyrotechnics. Mono-monikered Pip takes advantage of the sparse opener to show off a decent vibrato. His inner theater kid has the bluesy emotion in the song down pat, but it’s making him go off-key in the main part of the song. I don’t like rooting for the under-21 set, but I was impressed by his showmanship and willingness to really sell the performance (and lack of an instrument.) Too many reality competition singers are about control and technical execution. I just hope his theatrics won’t overshadow his singing a la Idol’s James Durbin. He gets four turns, and could do ok with Adam.

-There’s no argument that Erin Willett has the R&B blaster power. She does impressive runs all over “I Want You Back,” so much so that she forgets to sing some of the lyrics. However, if that’s her biggest problem, she’s going to be ok. I like the lively belters in the Frenchie Davis mold. I was surprised that she got only one turn, and from Blake no less. Also, Erin is from Gaithersburg, MD, and as a fellow Montgomery County resident I’m happy to see her represent.

-David Grace charges into red state rock territory with “Sweet Home Alabama,” which initially seems to be a good match for his swaggering twang, but is ultimately too dynamic for his held notes and ad libbed wailing. I hate to come across as too conservative, but I feel that if he dialed it back he might have earned a turn or two. It turned into one of those performances where the judges are trying to bait each other into turning their chairs, which is good for a little awkward comedy.

-Katrina Parker’s steady alto earns a turn from Adam early on, but he looks so ashamed when he does it, his head down in his arms like a high school student falling asleep in calculus class. Frankly Katrina’s performance failed to impress me. Her Joan Osborne song choice was a little interesting, but her singing style was a little too unpolished and green. She needed to turn up the fun.

-I dont like when competition show singers go to the Motown back catalog too early, but Geoff McBride is old enough that he could appreciate “Higher Ground” when it first came out. Geoff nails the song, doing what feels like a lower-key Stevie Wonder impression with holds and vibrato in all the right places. I also appreciated Geoff’s confidence – he sang with what seemed like an effortless perfection that comes with plying one’s craft. He sounded like a pro just doing his thing and having tons of fun with it. When a performance makes me want to go buy the song in Rock Band and play it myself, the singer did a damn good job! Hopefully Christina can channel his experience in the right direction.

-Erin Martin’s voice falls somewhere on the Macy Gray-Bjork spectrum of rasp. I give her points for staking out a relatively unique position among the other contestants and for trying something different. For “Hey There Delilah,” she’s fully aware of the emotion in the song and seems just enough in control to stay in key. My only problem was that she sang certain words with a weird accent or pronunciation that put me off. Ultimately her singing was engaging, but sloppy, another problem that coaching can fix. Cee Lo’s voice is kind of thin too, and he would do well to take her reedy voice to new heights. He just needs to keep things a little more professional and not view her as some prize he deserves. Not cool, dude!

-One hazard of doing more recent pop songs in shows like this is that the original versions rely on vocal processing to make their singers sound good. Drake’s “Find Your Love” is no exception. James Massone finds a way around the problem by singing so high in his tenor range he’s almost an alto. The house bands punchy rendition helps too. James starts out strongly enough to earn three turns before his emotion gets the better of him and he totally falls apart. If he’s to have a future on the show, he will have to learn to finish what he starts.

-Winter Rae sings Rihanna’s “Take A Bow,” which in my opinion is kind of a boring song to begin with. She hits all the right notes, but lacked a wow factor. I hate to say it, but in a sparse, plodding song like this she really needed to pull off the diva moves like an early-2000s Idol success. ZZZZZZZZZZZ….

-Chris Cauley kicks out a toned down bluesy rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” He sounded pleasant and I give him props for taking a belty, violent song into a more restrained territory. Chris is competent at best, but I hope that he will continue to take done-to-death songs in different directions.

-Nathan Parrett’s clip goes by fast, and maybe that’s because they 5 seconds I heard sounded like Chris Isaak-lite: deep but a little scratchy, like the awkward teen on The Simpsons. It still earns him a pick from Adam.

-The same thing happens to Brian Fuente, who seemed to have enough raw rocker power in him to earn a turn from Blake. I can’t help but feeling that if the show focused less on some of the contestants’ backstories and more on singing, these guys would have come across better. I predict that they’ll end up as cannon fodder in the battle rounds.

-I was wondering when shows like this would seriously consider rappers as contestants. Christina picks Moses Stone, who does an off-beat, out of breath rendition of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started.” She makes a good point about his delivery, though, so maybe if he calms down a little he can combine delivery with flow to attack with Busta Rhymes-like precision. I give the show points for experimenting, but couldn’t they have found a better rapper?

-Jordis Unga does “Maybe I’m Amazed” and she sounds like she’s aiming for the cheap seats. I appreciate her enthusiasm, but I wish she would learn breath control. She came up short a little, but she pounded her way through another otherwise done-to-death song. She put some effort into the deal, and while she was bleaty I can hear her potential.

Let’s summarize today’s picks, in order of selection:
-Victim of conservatism and trying too hard
-A likeable theater kid?
-Another lively belter + MoCo represent!
-Not trying hard enough
-Soul power pro
-Reedy and raspy make a comeback
-Alto beats Autotune
-Originally bland
-Bass section cannon fodder
-Rock N Roll cannon fodder
-Finally, a rapper! or This is the best rapper they could come up with?
-So much Sound and Fury

Tune in next week for thoughts on…(looks at Voice site)…more auditions? Since each coach has picked only 6 or 7 contestants, we have a ways to go….