Posts Tagged ‘Platinum Hit’

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Thoughts on The Voice: Battle Rounds Part 1

March 6, 2012

Image edited from the original by me’nthedogs at Flickr

I apologize for the delay in this post. Things have been a little rough at my job and when I get home I’m not always in the mood to recap. Accordingly, I DVRed yesterday’s episode and am recapping it today. So the auditions are finally done. Let’s have a battle!

Guest Mentors:
Team Adam: Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke (Canadians in the house!)
Team Blake: Kelly Clarkson (American Idol? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Miranda Lambert (Awww and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!)
Teem Cee Lo: Babyface and Ne-Yo
Team Xtina: Jewel (Platinum Hit and Nashville Star? REALITY SHOW DEFECTAH!) and Lionel Richie

Note: I’m happy to see that the boxing ring set is back. I also like the WWE walk-ons. If only the contestants got to do poorly written banter beforehand. [“Do ya smell what the RaeLynn’s cookin’?!’]

Team Adam: Tony Lucca vs. Chris Cauley – “Beautiful Day”
From a pure story perspective, Tony will likely win this battle because of his ex-Mickey Mouse Club story. This U2 smash could be a challenge because of the understated quality of the verses and the big sustained, yet muted belting in the chorus. Who will be more messianic?
These two guys start out eerily alike until Tony compacts into itself like he’s desperately trying to stifle a yawn at church and Chris starts to foolishly emote like he’s singing alone in the car. You have to be open and cathartic with a song like this. I can relate to that. It turns out he can hit his notes a lot better than Tony. Tony flubbed his opening notes and belted quite abrasively, erasing what goodwill I had for him going into this episode.
Winner: Tony (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Blake: Adley Stump vs. RaeLynn – “Free Fallin’”
Based on past choices, I predict Blake will pick RaeLynn because of her upbeat personality and overall green quality (basically a twangy Xenia.) To me this Tom Petty classic seems to be more about evoking imagery in the singing than pure vocal prowess. Hopefully these contestants won’t overdo it on the chorus.
RaeLynn comes out the gate way too hard and ends up sounding off-key and forcibly twangy. By contrast, Adley does a quiet-loud thing that reminds me of Melissa Ethridge. Her approach sounds more like some saloon torch ballad, which works for me. I give both contestants props for not overdoing it on the chorus, but they harmonize like ass.
Winner: RaeLynn (Boo! Also: Called it!)

Team Xtina: Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou – “The Power of Love”
I wish these contestants were singing Huey Lewis and the News, but nope, it’s Celine Dion. This has “recital” written all over it. Brace yourself for a lot of vocal pyrotechnics. This could be close. Supertechnical Chris could court the lite pop Josh Groban demographic whereas Monique has the better “a raw beginner can be a winner” story, which might be more palatable to a TV producer. The montage had them on equal talent footing.
I think Monique sounded a little buried in the mix. That or her naturally softer voice fit better into the backing music. Chris’s tenor cut more into the mix, which got my attention but felt somewhat annoying. Technically both singers were spot on and did a really good job harmonizing with one another. My only criticism outside of not liking the song was that for a song about the power and passion one feels with a lover, both singers seemed to be more about selling the song than conveying true heart-bursting emotion. Eh, if you’re gonna oversing, oversing to Celine.
Winner: Chris (Yay! Monique was good too. She would have gotten a yay as well.)

Team Cee Lo: Cheesa vs. Angie Johnson – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Cheesa and Angie each have the raw power, but Angie has the devil-may-care sense of fun that might better endear her to Cee Lo. While this song is also a schlockly ballad mess, it has the built-in theatricality that can win over curmudgeons like me (Kathy and I have this song in Rock Band.) It’s also written as a duet, so these contestants will really have to play their parts.
In the slow build into, Cheesa has the clear advantage with the lower key, but as the song builds in its intensity Angie gradually comes into her element. This was another even match as neither contestant seemed to really waver, be it on the harmonizing, the power belting, and the emotional low intro. It’s a fight to the end.
Winner: Cheesa (OK! Cheesa really brought her A-Game to the song and deserved to win, but honestly I was rooting for Angie.)

Team Blake: Jordis Unga vs. Brian Fuente – “Ironic”
So we’re seeing a lot of slower, quiet-loud songs today. “Ironic” is a good song, but come on, can’t we do some INXS? Oh wait, then Jordis might be a little too familiar with the material. Seriously, I would like to see something more uptempo in the battle rounds. At least this Alanis hit has a great singalong quality. Nail those lyrics, kids!
Jordis kicks things off faithfully, then one line in gets bored and starts doing vocal runs just to get in Brian’s head. When his verse comes up, he tries to match Jordis’s power belting, but his range is too limited. On the chorus, Jordis sings herself into a corner, but it’s an energetic corner of goodness. Brian has a little more contour in his singing, but he can only do so well. This was another song that called for domination and Jordis conquered!
Winner: Jordis (Yay! Brian got maybe 5 seconds in the audition episodes. He was cannon fodder from the start. Also, Jordis tried a lot harder.)

Team Xtina: Anthony Evans vs. Jesse Campbell – “If I Ain’t Got You”
I’m tired of this song, and that’s entirely because of its overexposure back in ’03 and for its status as Idol audition staple. This song is slow and has lots of emotional belty parts over sparse accompaniment. I predict a lot of hard charging. I predict a Jesse win because he got 4 turns in 4 seconds back in the audition rounds. It would be hard to turn that kind of in-demand singer down. Who will make the dogs howl?
How do they differentiate? Anthony goes for the playful approach, with lots of cute hand motions and understated singing. Jesse goes for the professional power approach, with effortless belting that slashes through the music like a katana. Vocally Jesse was tops, as his voice was naturally more commanding. However, you had a sense that Anthony was trying a lot harder. When he came forward on the second chorus, holding onto that note like it was a life preserver, I could feel the conviction and that really resonated with me.
Winner: Jesse (Boo! I mean, yeah, he sang better, but it was singing with natural effort. Anthony sang well too and he tried way, way harder.)

So this wasn’t the best start for this round of the show. There were too many ballads and I was ok with maybe half of the winners. Still, with 36 contestants still up in the air a lot can happen.

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 1

February 6, 2012

Image from yi on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

When The Voice premiered last April, I did not expect it to become a sensation since:
-It was on NBC, which has been a 4th place network for awhile and
-It was a music competition show when multiple other music competition shows were on, including America’s Got Talent, Platinum Hit, and the 800 lb gorilla that is American Idol (which I will be covering once it announces its top 24.)

However, The Voice quickly differentiated itself. It had gimmicks that were interesting or weird including the blind auditions with Bond-villain rotating chairs and duet elimination rounds in a boxing ring. It focused on current music trends more than its competition, to the point where Top 16 contestant Raquel Castro was singing Ke$ha’s “Blow,” complete with backup dancers. It had judges who were somewhat active in making pop music.

Ultimately a competition show is only as good as its contestants, and The Voice delivered. Its top tier contestants were both diverse and competent. Three of its top four singers (Beverly McClellan, Vicci Martinez, and Dia Frampton) were women and the one guy (Javier Colon) was a person of color. Of course he took the whole thing with his somewhat boring acoustic balladeering, but unlike American Idol’s last 4 winners, he seemed at least competent at performing.

Seven months later we’re at the start of a new season. All four coaches are back as is the host. What remains to be seen is whether the show can remain entertaining if the gimmicks are no longer new and whether the contestant slate can remain diverse and interesting or if it will fall into a bland mix of archetypes.

The last point is especially concerning since each coach must pick a team. It’s perfectly logical that since a high-voiced guy with an acoustic guitar won season one, a whole bunch would come out of the woodwork and each coach would want to have one on his or her roster.

Let’s get to it….

-With success comes a longer show run, so each coach gets 12 contestants instead of 8. Uh oh. I hope I don’t get tired of the show like I get with Idol. On the plus side, maybe the good contestants will get more time to really benefit from the coaches’ guidance.

-We’re off to an ominous start with RaeLynn, an aw shucks farm girl Lauren Alaina clone. She’s also singing a song by the spouse of a coach. As far as song choice goes, “Hell On Heels” is way more fun than “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.” It’s a pity that Rae never learned to sing from her gut. She’s burned her throat out crashing that song and still got 2 chair turns. At least Blake Shelton had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make RaeLynn this season’s Xenia – an underachieving teen who gets by on misguided patronage.

-Jesse Campbell does some high-voice plinky plinky piano ballad thing and within 3 notes he gets 3 chair turns. For once I agree with Blake in taking things slowly. Vocal-wise this contestant was soaring, but, eh, I was underwhelmed with his music choice. Hopefully Christina Aguilera can turn him into someone fun.

-During the weaker auditions, the entertainment becomes watching the coaches squirm and grimace like they have to go to the bathroom. Hold it in, Adam!

-Juliet Sims bleated like a sheep, but it was enough to turn two chairs. Adam called her voice gruff. She has some potential, but it may take some guidance to bring it out. Christina kept on interrupting Adam’s pitch by calling him a used car salesman with little feet. It was pretty funny. When Juliet went with Cee Lo Green, Adam gave her a look that said “I’ll have you killed.” It was pretty funny.

-Chris Mann’s audition was very impressive, going with the deeper operatic style, but I wonder how it will translate to the pop-oriented Voice. Once again I agreed with Blake’s hesitance. This is not a good sign. However, when Christina turned her chair it made sense. She totally sang that kind of heavy slow song in the late 90s – the kind that ended up in the credits to Disney animated movies. Too bad they make those anymore, Chris. Also, there can be only one Josh Groban.

-Tony Lucca: OK story, but I take one look at him and…bleh. I was tired of acoustic guitar guys like this on Idol. But sound wise he’s like Javier, and the arms race is on…. Oh well, at least by not mentioning their past, Christina may have tipped us off that the coaches aren’t fed contestant story info ahead of time, so they aren’t influenced by sob stories or other non-musical factors. It’s still cool that someone fed her the info afterward so they got to have a little moment afterward.

So to summarize the first round of contestants:
-Lauren Alaina MK II
-The first move in the Javier Colon clone wars (Co-lone Wars?)
-Bleaty bleat bleat
-You’re not Josh Groban
-Another acoustic guitar-playing white guy or a Mickey Mouse Club alum out for blood?

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Thoughts On The Voice: Final Part 2 – Coronation!

June 29, 2011

Opening Remarks

“Best performances ever seen on television!” Really,CarsonDaly? And don’t pretend that these four weren’t “full-fledged artists” at the start of the competition. They had more combined musical experience than Idol’s top 13, that’s for damn sure.

 

Tonight Show Montage

Note how no one is actually excited to see Jay Leno. How many of the top 4 are Team CoCo?

 

Vicci Martinez and Pat Monahan – “Drops Of Jupiter”

Holy shit Pat Monahan looks like Nick Nolte’s iconic mug shot. Was he doing meth before he came to the show? Is this part of a community service deal to look like a “this is you on drugs” PSA? His voice is strung out like a bad Bob Dylan impersonator. Other than some slick dance moves, the only purpose the guy from Train served was to make Vicci look professional and sound good. Oh and also elicit more of that Classic Carson Contempt: “Thanks to our friend PAT from TRAIN!” “Train are going to… be… on… [looks Pat up and down in a ‘what the fuck’ way as he walks away]… tour… withAdamandtheguysfromMaroon5.”

 

Javier Colon and Stevie Nicks – “Landslide”

Next to Stevie Javier sure looks stiff and unsure. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands since he’s been stripped of his guitar. He definitely sings the high harmony, that’s for sure. Still it was an even matching of opposites: Stevie all flowy, raspy, and heartbroken; Javier all stiff, sonorous, and optimistic.  The end result was good and not in a freakshow sense like poor Vicci had to deal with.

 

Beverly McClellan and Ryan Tedder – “Good Life”

Whoa! The Onerepublic guy was just on Platinum Hit (just like Rodney Jerkins. Synergy!) Speaking of Platinum Hit, Ryan Tedder should stick to songwriting because his singing was so pitchy that Randy “Status Quo” Jackson would have an aneurysm. Beverly tried her best to match Ryan’s clowning around with her own awkward stage moves. She also sang pretty well, not that you could hear her over the bleating. She knows that she’s not likely to win so she’s dorking it up, dammit!

 

Dia Frampton and Miranda Lambert – “House That Built Me”

This was probably the most traditional performance of all: sparse arrangement, singers front and center, lots of quiet-loud-quiet singing, inspirational themes, and a great showcase of harmonizing. The only non-traditional aspects of the performance were Dia’s ratty tank top worn under her dress, and Miranda Lambert’s pink microphone that looked like a cyborg novelty vibrator.

 

An Aside

Not counting the recap montages, this show really burned through the results. They are not bloating this and I love it! The running time of this finale is indicative of one of the things that The Voice more pleasant than its competition – its brevity. This is the 12th Voice recap I have written, whereas I did 30 posts on Idol and I didn’t really get into it until the Top 24. By the time that show’s finale hit I was tired of the show and writing mainly for closure. By contrast, The Voice never really wore out its welcome for me.

 

Top 2 who were within 2% of each other on the votes (Interesting….)

  1. Javier Colon (#2 on iTunes)
  2. Dia Frampton (#1 on iTunes)

 

And The Winner Is….

Javier Colon! He was the only guy in the Top 4 and he played acoustic guitar, so given the old Idol patterns it kind of made sense that he took the prize.  He had a family man backstory, non-threatening good looks, and a singing style that was high and straightforward, albeit a bit boring.

Still, I can’t necessarily say that America got it wrong with its vote: objectively Javier is very talented. I think Dia, Beverly, and Vicci were more engaging and entertaining, but Javier’s brand of adult contemporary sells, so I’m not raging.

 

That about does it for the music competition reality show recapping for awhile. After a few months of these posts, I would like to get back into straight-up music writing again. However, I would like to thank the awesome Kathy from Sanguine Style for co-writing and/or editing a good chunk of these recaps. You are the best writing partner!

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Thoughts On The Voice: Final Part 1 – Competition!

June 28, 2011

Voice Coaches – “Under Pressure”

That was the laziest Queen cover ever. Adam Levine chickened out on the high notes, Cee Lo was melodically talking, Christina did the same old cannon moves, and Blake seemed like the only one who was trying, so….not a good sign. If Freddie Mercury wasn’t cremated, he would be rolling over in his grave so fast he could provide power to all ofLondonfor the rest of the year.

 

After laying out the agenda of the show, Carson Daly proceeds to ask the contestants the most obvious and inane questions. “How will you perform an original song, Dia?” Not that Seacrest wouldn’t have done the same thing in that position, but Seacrest isn’t equal parts oak and contempt. The highlight of the opening Q&A round was Daly’s little dig at his TRL past.

 

An Aside

Oh v-correspondent Alison Haislip, I should question your role on the show, but in this economy everyone needs a job. Let’s get five v-correspondents next season, NBC! It’s not like the current administration is going to bring back the Works Progress Administration

 

Javier Colon – “Stitch By Stitch”

Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins is the producer for Javier’s original song. Dude has been all over the TV lately from Idol to Platinum Hit to The Voice. This track is yawn-inducing acoustic guitar-pop rock that wouldn’t sound out of place in the mid-to-late 2000s from Josh Kelly, Daniel Powter, and/or Ryan Cabrera. As for the singing Javier is competent, but his belting is bleary, unfocused, and maybe a little drunken. Javier seems like a decent singer and all-around dude, but the kind of music he makes does not interest me.

 

Dia Frampton and Blake Shelton – “I Won’t Back Down”

It’s pretty cool that both Dia and Blake are wearing matching suits and sunglasses. It’s a little dorky, but it’s cute. Musically I thought the performance was decent. The Tom Petty original is pretty catchy, the house band executed well, and both Dia and Blake sang competently, if maybe a little melodramatic. Then again, melodrama fits the song’s theme of defiance, so it’s all good.

 

Vicci Martinez – “Afraid To Sleep”

Butch Walker of Marvelous 3 is on the boards for Vicci’s original. Also it’s weird to see Cee Lo without sunglasses. Kathy says he has pretty eyes. For the performance Vicci goes full on Bonnie Tyler with the smoky floor and lilting piano intro. When the rock guitars, string section and backup singers kick in for the big chorus, I feel like Jon Bon Jovi could have sung this song in 1986. The power ballad format suits Vicci well though. The quiet-loud contour of the song gives Vicci great solo moments and allows her tiny spaces of subtlety before she unleashes her power yell. Again, it’s not my jam, but Vicci was true and fabulous. Respect.

 

Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Give Me Everything”

I think I saw these guys perform this song on Dancing With The Stars, and they had sound problems then. This time both guys are at the right volume level, but I couldn’t hear the hot dance backing track. At least neither Pitbull nor Ne-Yo was lip-synching. I reiterate that Pitbull was born to rap hip-house, while Ne-Yo is the consummate cool professional right down to the hat.

 

Beverly McClellan and Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful”

So Linda Perry, who wrote what is arguably the most important Xtina song, is in the studio for the practice round and onstage for the performance. That has to be really cool for Beverly, to perform with both Perry and Aguilera on national TV. She rises to the occasionally, singing a few runs while remaining understated, knocking a good wail, and harmonizing beautifully with Christina. Ms. Aguilera in turn shares the spotlight graciously and backsBeverlyup surprisingly well, though she does get the last run. It is her song.

 

Dia Frampton – “Inventing Shadows”

For the original song practice montage, Dia makes a slight allusion to her Meg and Dia past, but then quickly moves away from it. Dia’s soft alto is solid and warm. She sings with moderate power and great passion, so I’m good with her. Musically I’m not surprised that the writer had written for Adele and Keane, as the music has piano-driven crescendos and Coldplay-esque smash drumming – hallmarks of ultra-successful British adult contemporary pop. Props to Dia, Blake and their support team for going with what will sell.

 

Javier Colon and Adam Levine – “Man In The Mirror”

I am so sick of this song. You guys couldn’t have done “Beat It?” Javier makes Adam pay for poor song choice by showing him up on the performance. This song is so heavy on the high twinkly keyboards that it swallows Adam’s falsetto on the verses. Javier goes for a lower key and actually sounds good. For the chorus the two guys sound pretty good together. Quite frankly the performance could have gone a lot worse and that speaks to the caliber of this show’s performers compared to their Idol counterparts (remember, this was performed twice on the other show.)

 

Brad Paisley – “Don’t Drink The Water”

Brad Paisley delivers a travel warning wrapped up in a cute, silly blues-country package. Blake Shelton suddenly gets up from his coach chair to sing the second verse. He even dorks it up by playing air guitar while Paisley kicks out a neat guitar solo. It’s a nice moment in an otherwise merely solid song.

 

Beverly McClellan – “Love Sick”

It’s probably best thatBeverlyis the last to perform her original, because she knocks out the catchiest of the four performances. The verses are Kiss/Van Halen stomp rock, the chorus is soaring Fountains Of Wayne power pop, and the piano bridge is more of that hot soul, complete with more Little Richard WOOOOOOOOOO!s It’s very clear why Beverly jived with Christina, because she does tons of vocal runs and power belts, and she just commands the stage without being cloying. In other words, this was pop singing as virtuosity. This was the best of the night.

 

Vicci Martinez and Cee Lo Green – “Love Is A Battlefield”

Of course Cee Lo closes things dressed like a WWE wrestler. Vicci sees Cee Lo’s WWE and raises him a “Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” ensemble. It was pretty fun performance. Both Vicci and Cee Lo have great and unique singing styles and they really get into the music. The childrens breaker ensemble was a nice homage to the video of the Pat Benatar original. It was a great way to end the night.

 

Tonight was very entertaining. Compared to the Idol final, tonight’s show left me feeling much less impatient about the proceedings. I attribute this feeling to several factors:

  • A diverse slate of contestants who all deserve props for their talents
  • A set of judges willing to put some skin in the game (and on the stage)
  • More fun song choices (at least for the covers)

I won’t be heading to the newly announced Voice tour (especially since the coaches won’t be on the bill), but I’m still pleased with how this show has turned out. It has been more engaging than annoying, which is as good a compliment as I can pay a music competition show.

 

Ranking

  1. Beverly McClellan
  2. Vicci Martinez
  3. Dia Frampton
  4. Javier Colon