Posts Tagged ‘Mary J. Blige’

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 2

March 12, 2012

Image edited from original by KellBailey via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Last week’s battle rounds had too many ballads and not enough excitement. Let’s see if this show can produce some real carnage!

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 Xtina: Geoff McBride vs. Sera Hill – “Chain of Fools”
While I’m a little disappointed that this show is going to the more old school soul that is Idol’s stock and trade, at least it’s upbeat and has a good brassy quality to it. It might lend itself to a more fun battle. Both competitors have the vocal power moves, so this match could go either way. This show feels like it’s trending towards more of a conventional reality show mix, so I predict a win from the younger, more charismatic Sera (plus she got a duet with Aguilera.) Then Geoff will take off his sunglasses and blow a hole through the ceiling. Scott Summers isn’t the only guy with that superpower, Lionel Richie.
The battle turns out to be quite the event. The opening harmony hook is spot on! Geoff and Sera go so well together. They both bring the acting chops as well. Sera goes at Geoff like she has no time to suffer a fool like him (check the head turns and hand raises) while Geoff bears down on Sera like he has taken down punks like her for decades (check the lunges and the removal of the glasses.) Despite their different ranges, damn they play off each other well! Both demonstrated fabulous vocal runs, though Sera fell apart a little at the end. Still, what a great start!
Winner: Sera (Fair! She gave a great performance, though I was rooting for Geoff. Also: Called it!)

Team Blake: Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land – “Pumped Up Kicks”
This song will be a challenge both for its controversy-baiting school shooting lyrics and annoyingly flat and whiny vocals in the original song. It’s your basic indie shit. Who will make this bad song sound good? I predict a Charlotte win, because she got four turns in her audition and Blake will want another vote-puller on his team, whereas Lex is more of an underachieving underdog. That said, Charlotte came across as a bit of a passive-aggressive tool on TV (though I appreciate her sense of spectacle) and Lex has Miranda Lambert as her mentor along with the Kia endorsement.
Charlotte came out low and flat. To her credit she developed a bit of a range to go with her attitude. Lex came out low and mumbly. To her credit she tried to do a few runs on top of the whispering and kind of succeeded. Really the problem is that this is the wrong song for both singers. Charlotte has the punchy, deep vocals that might be better suited to Fiona Apple’s music, whereas Lex can rock the sparse and quirky, like maybe a Yael Naim tune.
Winner: Charlotte (Fair! Though I don’t care for her schtick, I can understand how her singing style will better win over a voting audience. Called it!)

Team Cee Lo: Sarah Golden vs. Juliet Sims – “Stay With Me”
Who can best convey the drunken pathos that is Rod Stewart? I predict a Juliet win, because her attitude and off-key vocal styles will jive better with Cee Lo, based on his past pick history. That said, I think Sarah is just overall a better singer so maybe she can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Her down to earth singing style reminds me a little of Paul McDonald, who was like Rod Stewart part 2 last season on Idol.
This battle is a hot mess. Sarah is off-key and quickly overwhelmed. She also melts in the wake of Juliet’s more aggressive stage presence. Juliet in turn sounds like one of the shaggier tertiary Jim Henson creations, maybe one of Jareth’s goblins singing “Magic Dance.” At least she projected better against the music, so it was like listening to garbage in high definition audio.
Winner: Juliet (Fair! Nobody won that battle, so either pick would have been wrong for Cee Lo. Called It!)

Team Adam: Whitney Myer vs. Kim Yarbrough – “No More Drama”
This could be good. Mary J.’s music is quite vocally challenging, though I haven’t been able to sit through this particular song (Blige’s “Family Affair” is so much catchier.) I feel like both contestants displayed a lot of vocal chops, though their song choices undercut my appreciation. This should be more of the same, but an even fight! I can’t make a prediction.
Throughout the song, I feel like Kim is more in control of her performance. Her steady notes and understated stage presence force Whitney to pull out her crazy moves and unearned attitude. Whitney’s no slouch, and she gets by with quite a few cool vocal tricks. She also had more energy. When Kim finally does pull out the power vibrato 80% into the song, it turns the tide like a Critical Edge in Soul Calibur V. My initial reaction was “aw shit, now she’s pulling ahead!”
Winner: Kim (Yay! Her understated blaster strategy carried the day.)

Team Xtina: Lee Koch vs. Lindsey Pavao – “Heart-Shapred Box”
Ooh! We have a battle of the quirky set to some depressing-ass In Utero-era Nirvana. I predict a Lindsey win. She seems to have more investment in the material and might better be able to pull of the emoting necessary to convey this alternative classic. Meanwhile Lee’s twang sounds more like Kurt Cobain, especially when Cobain sang acoustic. Also, who in ‘94 could have predicted that Lionel Richie would be teaching a competitive singing contestant how to sing Nirvana?
To Lee’s credit, he did a great job of playing the understated, put-upon, and decaying everyman in his emoting and his sonorous singing. In turn, Lindsey’s quiet-loud vocal dynamics and purposeful off-kilter stage presence reminded me of the great Tori Amos, who annihilated Nirvana’s material back in the 90s. Also, check that slow-burning piano + drums backing track and unrelenting blue+green lighting. You aren’t gonna see shit like that on Idol!
Winner: Lindsey (Yay! Both singers nailed the notes and emotions, so either pick would have been right for Xtina. That said, I expect way more fun material from Lindsay in the live shows. Called it!)

Team Cee Lo: Jamar Rogers vs. Jamie Lono – “I Want To Know What Love Is”
Here we have another case of two great singers with impressive auditions having to sing a ballad I don’t care for, partially because it seems to go on and on and on (was “Cold As Ice” taken?) Who can cut through the histrionics with genuine emotion? I predict Jamar. His story likely jives better with the producers and quite frankly I think he can strike the balance between fun and empathy. Jamie’s another low-key guy with an acoustic guitar. He’ll have a tough mountain to climb.
Jamie seems to get 75% of the lead vocal parts, and he chokes like someone who bit off more than he could chew. Just by looking at his facial expression you can see how scared he looks and hear how off-key he sounds. Jamar plays the hand he’s dealt and kicks those held notes’ asses! What a power wail! What a stage presence! What a blowout!
Winner: Jamar (Yay! That was no contest. Called it!)

Overall I think this week’s battle rounds were a huge improvement over last week’s. The songs were overall more upbeat or just more engaging and I either supported or respected all of the picks. This was quite the turnaround.

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Thoughts On American Idol: Top 13

March 7, 2012

Image edited from original by Mil on Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Theme: The men sing the songs of Stevie Wonder. The women sing the songs of Whitney Houston. We got gender policing and a death cash-in, baby! Bottom vote getter in each gender is up for elimination, which the judges decide. It kind of reminds of the elimination system on So You Think You Can Dance.

Mentors: The punchable Jimmy Iovine, and Mary J. Blige, who’s all right.

Here are the Top 13 performers in order of appearance on the show

1. Josh Ledet – “I Wish” Wikki wiki Wild Wild West! Gospel boy has to do something upbeat? This could be interesting. To his credit, he really gets into the material and his consistent belting matches the bombastic backing track nicely. And other people might ding him for this, but I appreciated his spastic dancing around the stage, particularly near the horn section. Also props for the James Brown/Axl Rose on-key screech finish. I wish Jacob Lusk was this upbeat last season. Nice start, dude!

2. Elise Testone – “I’m Your Baby Tonight” Alright, another upbeat song! This is actually one of my favorite Whitney songs and its brassy, sexy tone is a good fit for Elise. She flubs the lyrics early on, but quickly finds her footing. Her voice was smoky and gravelly, but her singing was on key and on point. I also give Elise points for really getting into the emotion of the song. The judges did have a point that she could have taken things down a notch, but I didn’t hate this performance.

3. Jermaine Jones – “Knocks Me Off My Feet” Vocally Jermaine is killing it up there. He stays in his range and manages to pull off a few nice runs and holds without overdoing things. What I think he could do better on is really connecting with the emotional vulnerability in the song. I want to feel the lovesickness in the piece and I wasn’t feeling it. Despite the slower tempo of the song, Jermaine also kept things upbeat like a really good (albeit showy) karaoke performance.

4. Erika Van Pelt – “I Believe In You and Me” DJ EVP turns the Whitney showcase song into a power ballad. She does well to bring the song into something she would do otherwise. Still, Erika takes a few risks by doing the traditional diva vocal progression of starting really quiet and singing almost contralto and gradually building to a series of vocal acrobatics. She nailed all of them too. I love that flawless execution! Despite the rock flourishes, I still wasn’t feeling the song choice that much. I also (shudder) agree with the judges in that she could have maybe gone a little bigger and taken some more risks. She has the talent to take these kids to school.

5. Colton Dixon – “Lately” Sigh, another slow song. And what the hell is up with the tone of Colton’s voice? He’s so slurred! He wants to be going for Rufus Wainwright but he could be any lite-grunge singer from around 2002 (I’m thinking the guy from Lifehouse), plus that falsetto was total ass. I can pick up maybe one word out of every 10 off-key, whiney sounds this clown admits. Heaven help us all if he gets to peddle this shit on the radio. What a fucking mess!

6. Shannon Magrane – “I Have Nothing” Shannon sounds thin and buried in this performance, even with the anemic 1991 backing music. Her articulation is only slightly better than Colton’s and emotionally she’s only slightly more engaged than a preteen beauty pageant contestant. Even with those strikes against her she could have nailed the big notes. She did not nail the big notes. Nerves or not, that performance was underwhelming and sloppy. She can go back to her mansion.

7. DeAndre Brackensick – “Master Blaster” Mr. Falsetto kicks things into full on reggae territory that makes me remember how much Naima Adedapo got robbed last season. Nice choice, man. DeAndre kept things fun and bouncy. He was casual but committed in his animated dancing. He also used a slightly wider range of his voice and didn’t cower in the high notes like last week. He was still a little flat, but damn that was fun to watch!

8. Skylar Laine – “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” What, she’s not singing “I Will Always Love You” (since Dolly Parton did it first?) Wow, I’m surprised. Anyways, Skylar still does a predictably country rendition of the song and while it’s not my favorite I commend her for injecting just enough twang to be genuine. She also did all the big vocal tricks, was on key, and used enough of the stage to convey just a smidge of emotion. The escalating notes at the end felt forced, but Skylar was poised and professional, which not every teen contestant can say.

9. Heejun Han – “All Is Fair In Love” Another slow, plaintive song from Heejun? Wow, I’m not surprised. Poor Heejun just couldn’t project, even against the fairly sparse arrangement. He was so quiet that I couldn’t understand what he was trying to convey. The performance felt so stiff and awkward. I expect that in a shoegaze show, but not in what I assume is a fairly faithful Stevie Wonder cover. Dude needs to get some distortion effects pedals and meet the guys from Sigur Ros, stat!

10. Hollie Cavanagh – “All The Man That I Need” This performance was an improvement for Hollie. She stayed in control of her voice through the performance and had way better diction than last week. Still, a supersize hold, impressive at it is, doesn’t quite cut it for me. I still can’t buy someone Hollie’s age singing the kinds of themes that were in this song. If she messed with the song like Skylar did, I might be tempted to cut her more slack. This performance was technically awesome but lacking in originality.

11. Jeremy Rosado – “Ribbon In The Sky” Jeremy’s singing was kind of messy tonight. I’d like to think that he was trying to get into the meaning of the song, but I don’t know what this is about. It can’t literally be about ribbons in the sky, right? In terms of song choice this was a bit of a snoozer, just like Heejun’s. At least Jermaine put a little upbeat fun with his tenderness. The performance sounded ok, but I would steer clear of it otherwise. This felt boring.

12. Jessica Sanchez – “I Will Always Love You” Ah shit! We all knew this song was coming, but it still hurts when it arrives. All Jessica can hope to do is perform well within the boundaries of the piece. She hits all the notes with the flair of a performer thrice her age, though she has vibrato so pronounced it might as well be coming from a helicopter. I feel conflicted, because fuck this was predictable, but also fuck this gave me chills. You know what sold it for me? When she gave a slight smile about 2/3rds into the song in the middle of a note run. That’s when all the pretense and cash-ins and claptrap faded away. She was happy. She was in sync with all the cathartic emotion in the song. She was GENUINE, and that’s such a rare thing on a show like this. Dammit, I’m tearing up as I’m typing this and I’m embarrassed.

13. Phillip Phillips – “Superstition” This song is fun to do, just because its bassline is so fucking hot and upbeat nature courses through it. Phil turned it into some snarled grungy bag of crap. His singing was off-note and forced, his emotion was totally inappropriate, and his music arrangement was tonally clashing like an amateur mashup. Just shave your head already!

And what would I have sung? Since I’m a guy, I have to sing Stevie, so I would have gone to one of my two favorite songs by him: “Higher Ground” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” Both tunes are pretty upbeat and fun, but I have to consider my extremely limited range. I suppose “Higher Ground” has a more gradual build in the verses and the chorus sounds good without a lot of strain. As for the arrangement I’m thinking of a sleek, distorted electronic background (think Goldfrapp circa 2002) with punchy blues shuffle drumming (like The Black Keys.) If I actually wanted to stay on the show, I would play it safe and do the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version.

My Top 3 Performers
1. Jessica Sanchez
2. Josh Ledet
3. DeAndre Brackensick

My Bottom 3 Performers
1. Colton Dixon
2. Shannon Magraine
3. Phillip Phillips

So tonight we had by my count five clunkers, three mehs, four solids, and one huge fucking surprise (still dealing with a few residual tears here.) Honestly this was a pretty decent show. I just hope the judges don’t let the new elimination decision power go to their heads and take out one of my favorites.