There's a lot to talk about surrounding NBC's The Voice this week, and it's a credit to the show that this is the first time I've had more to discuss about what's off screen than what's on stage. It's a refreshing change of pace from the American Idol hype or the debacle regarding the not-yet-even-aired X Factor.
In the ring, we were treated to the best overall set of battle rounds since the first ones; I'm still always going to be partial to the magic that was Tim Mahoney and Casey Weston, but Jeff Jenkins and Casey Desmond delivered a fantastic rendition of one of my favorite karaoke songs, Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." I've screwed that song up more than once, so even I was learning something from the pointers coach Adam Levine was dishing out, and being that I'm partial to the track I was also looking for a great battle. As Jeff was one of only two artists to get all four judges' attention at blind auditions, he was expected to do well, but I was pleasantly surprised by how Casey held her own with him. It was no shock that she lost the battle, but she certainly garnered my respect, and I'm sure this won't be the last we hear from her.
For those of you who haven't been exposed to my Voice commentaries on CliqueClack, I should make the disclosure now that I'm a Team Adam supporter - because I am a huge fan of Adam and Maroon 5, but also because I prefer that group of singers over any other. Going into the live shows, I believe that with Casey, show darling Javier Colon, Devon Barley and Jeff, Team Adam has the strongest lineup; at least, I personally enjoy all four. Once America votes, anything is possible, but it's looking like Adam's being particularly discerning during blind auditions is paying off for him now.
Team Blake's "shy girls" Xenia and Sara Oromchi duked it out to the tune of "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders. I felt the same way about their duet that I did about Julia Eason and Raquel Castro last week - both of them sounded fairly similar to my ear, and neither shone. Both had a tough time taming their perfectly understandable nerves (heck, Xenia even cried on the Coaches' Couch), and those nerves showed in a shaky performance. So uneven was the battle round that Adam sort of called out Blake when he said that he didn't think the song was the right choice. Cue a piqued look from Blake, who retorted that the music business is tough and it was about rising to the challenge. He eventually picked Xenia to move on; I would have taken Sara, myself, but anything is better than Serabee's straining vocals from last week.
After that, Lily Elise battled Cherie Oakley for the last spot on Team Christina, using the Kelly Clarkson tune "Since U Been Gone." This was an example of how some songs just don't break down into duets very well; it seemed less like a duet and more like alternating solos. Cherie had more confidence than Lily (all that backup-singer experience, no doubt) and that was clear in both her vocals and how she moved about the stage; Lily wasn't bad per se, but she didn't do anything to stand out amongst the crowd of young, attractive female vocalists (unless you count her curious choice to wear a hood on stage, indoors). Color me mildly confused, then, when Christina selected Lily for the final spot on her team.
Things got particularly interesting when Curtis Grimes and Emily Valentine matched up for Team Cee Lo. Emily's crush on Curtis had been hyped all week, and again throughout their portion of the hour, and it got to be pretty tiresome. (Though I don't know how much of that I blame on the producers considering that Emily was so willing to talk about it.) Their rendition of Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" ended up throwing a spotlight on why I didn't like Emily from blind auditions; she's always seemed too showy, whether it's trying to hit a high note, a vocal run, or her movement. This was even more obvious when she was singing alongside the naturally restrained Curtis. (Also, I have nothing against her numerous tattoos, but adding in the bleached-blonde hair and the bright red lipstick just made her look creepily like a walking doll to me.) I was glad when Cee Lo sent her packing.
Now, back to the non-singing stuff. I gather we're supposed to be all a-twitter at Curtis and Emily smooching at the end of their duet, but I'm not. I've never been into showmances, and frankly, after all the buzz I was pretty much expecting that something was going to happen between the two. It felt like one of those 'only on TV' moments to me. It wasn't completely useless, though; the liplock did give everyone else something to riff on, whether it was Adam's "what just happened" expression, Blake's insistence that Cee Lo had told them to "duet, not do it," or host Carson Daly quipping that "one of you is going home...not alone, I guess."
The best line of the night, too, came from Adam telling Curtis that he was jealous of the other man's baritone, since "I sound like a girl a little bit when I sing." You've got three Grammy Awards, Adam - I don't think anyone's complaining. Least of all me, because I still can't hit that high note in "She Will Be Loved."
With the lineups for each team now set, it's time to head into the live shows, and it really is anyone's game because the audience vote is so unpredictable. Anyone who's been involved in grade-school elections knows that such things are often less about quality and more of a popularity contest - and it's only further muddled by the fact that the overall talent pool for The Voice is so strong. I think Team Adam has the strongest singers, but I've also enjoyed Patrick Thomas from Team Blake. Not only is Patrick a great artist, but his good looks and charm remind me of an issue raised by some of the female contestants on American Idol this year - if young girls with a crush on an attractive singer are tipping the vote in that person's favor. That wouldn't surprise me at all. I hope that The Voice continues to be about talent, and not about superficial things, but there's only one way to find out.
There was also plenty else to talk about this week. For one, I took a gander at Bravo's Platinum Hit, which is bound to be compared to The Voice even though they target two separate groups in the music business (the former is aimed at songwriters, not strictly performers). Within fifteen minutes, I found myself turned off by the contestants, who are much more egotistical and less compelling than those on The Voice, whether it's the guy who compared himself to Michael Jackson, the cocky woman whose performance of her hook sounded like screaming, or the contestant who decided to nap through most of the first challenge. I've had the chance to meet many of the singers from The Voice, and they're a lot more humble and their personalities more interesting. And while Jewel and Kara DioGuardi are just fine, they don't have the banter and crackle of the Voice coaches.
More upsetting, though, was Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker bashing...I mean, reviewing The Voice in this week's issue. I say "bashing" because it's one of the most negative pieces I've ever read, and obviously so. He has plenty of bad things to say about the show, the props, and the coaches, including a conspiracy theory about "collusion" between them and the producers. It's a pet peeve of mine when critics won't come into something with an open mind. Tucker's entitled to dislike the show, of course, but the article reads as if he prejudged it, and that's neither fair nor professional in my opinion.
Furthermore, it rankled me that he insinuated the coaches were "downsized titans" on the show for their own gain (with references to Christina Aguilera trying to "rehab her image" and whether or not Cee Lo Green thinks it will "enhance his cred"). I've talked with several of the artists and they've all spoken about how involved the coaches have been, and how much they appreciate the guidance. Since my cynical little heart knows there are probably some big-name musicians who would just phone it in, I hate to see these four who aren't being talked about so poorly. (And downsized? I'm only really familiar with Adam, but I'm not sure what's "downsized" about a career with three Grammy wins and a handful more nominations.)
Rant aside, I'm glad to put the battle rounds behind us and move on to the live shows. The battles were a unique concept, but they've run their course. I'm ready to start bringing back some of the fantastic artists we've heard. And I'm almost more excited by the promise of another live performance by the judges; is anyone else bummed that we can't get their version of "Crazy" on iTunes?
That's all the Voice chat I have for this week; I'll see you next time, when I'll be in Los Angeles for the live shows, reporting...well, live. Let's get ready to rumble!