Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Golden’

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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 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….