Posts Tagged ‘RaeLynn’

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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 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 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?