Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the quarterfinals for The Voice! We're down to sixteen artists and now it's all in the hands of us, the audience (gulp).
One quick note before I begin: I wrote last week that I'd be bringing dish to you live from the Los Angeles studio. That was the plan, except for a technical snafu (not on my end) that caused my tickets to tonight's show to disappear into the ether. So my apologies, dear readers - and forgive me if I whine a little about how I wasn't a few feet from Adam Levine. (What can I say? This girl has her favorite.)
With the show down to sixteen singers, The Voice underwent an overhaul for the live shows. For the first time, we were treated to choreography in addition to the vocal performances, with mixed results. There were even more flashing lights. Carson and Blake dressed up. (Adam and Cee Lo didn't bother. I know Adam owns a suit, I just think he owns about a thousand more T-shirts.) And of course, America took over control of the contest. But despite the facelift, The Voice didn't just turn into American Idol. It kept its own distinct identity, with a coaches' medley and a pair of team performances, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Things kicked off with a bang as Adam, Blake, Cee Lo and Christina delivered a medley of three of Queen's biggest hits that left me with so much to talk about. I knew from the moment the songs were announced that Adam was going to be doing the "Bohemian Rhapsody" part, and he did it justice and then some. He stayed true to the song while respectfully contributing his own sound to it. On top of that, he had a wicked guitar solo during "We Will Rock You." He says he flubbed a note, and I believe him, but I've heard it three times and still don't know or care which one.
Cee Lo and Blake - an unlikely pair if there ever was one - had the vocals for that song, and it actually worked. Cee Lo has some thundering pipes on him when he wants to use them that way. I was also trying to get over the shock of seeing him without his trademark sunglasses and with a mustache. I was happily surprised at how Blake's voice matched with his. Then in came Christina belting out "We Are The Champions." This is the part I was a little bummed with; when the other coaches joined her, Blake and Adam weren't always singing into their microphones (Adam wasn't even near one at first), so the only real harmony that I heard was between Christina and Cee Lo. I would've liked to hear all four coaches together. And wow, did someone have a little too much fun with the lights; when Carson introduced Adam at the end of the medley, I could hardly see where Adam was. Other than that, though, I was having a rolling good time before the first commercial break.
This first live show focused strictly on Team Christina and Team Blake, alternating singers from each team in individual performances, with the teams to be cut in half by next week, decided by viewers' votes as well as a save by each of the coaches. Simple enough.
Leading off the show was Team Christina's Raquel Castro, and she was a prime example of how much things had changed. It was hard to believe the Raquel who was last seen muddling through Beyonce in battle rounds was parading on stage in a glitzy dress with huge earrings and high heels, joined by a whole squad of backup dancers. My first thought was that she'd become a mini-Christina. While there's nothing wrong with that, the huge production was more of a distraction to me than anything else. All I was interested in were Raquel's vocals, and she didn't really impress me. With all the pop-rock divas out there (including Christina), I'm a little weary of the type, and would rather seek out something different.
Thankfully, Team Blake's Jared Blake throttled things back with a frills-less rendition of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," which I thought was a perfect match for his voice - the existing vocals weren't too far removed from Jared's own sound. Not only was Jared at ease vocally, but he seemed much more comfortable moving about the stage than he did during battle rounds.
Following Jared was Team Blake's Beverly McClellan, and likewise, the Melissa Etheridge song she performed seemed right in her wheelhouse. I've never been Bev's biggest fan, but I have to hand it to her tonight: if it hadn't been said that she was out there with a cold, I never would have known - her performance didn't suffer for it at all. What did make me raise an eyebrow was her interesting wardrobe: a military-style jacket, boots and a kilt. Huh.
I quickly forgot about Bev's wardrobe, though, when Team Blake's Dia Frampton took the stage, armed with Kanye West's "Heartless," a sparkly outfit, and a piano. I'm not a Kanye fan, and I didn't even really care for Dia during her battle round, but I have to say that this was impressive. I got totally sucked into the song. I also have to give her props for playing the piano, because multitasking while performing is not easy. With a great rendition, Dia won back my goodwill. The only downer is that her performance was the first but not the last time someone in production felt the need to pull out a fog machine. No. Just no. It's not Halloween.
We took a break from the individual performances to learn a little more about Christina and her team, after which they all got together to sing "Lady Marmalade." Where have I seen this before? Oh, right, Christina already did it for Moulin Rouge. It was a standard performance that underscored what I can't help but feel about Christina's team: they're not very musically diverse. Sometimes I look at them and wonder if Christina stayed too much in her comfort zone. Then there was the matter of Raquel's outfit, which made her look like she skipped out on marching band practice. If you didn't already notice, the wardrobe choices on this show can be a bit strange sometimes.
Team Blake's Xenia was the next to go, and I have to admit, between her and the way Blake interacted with her, I melted. I went "awww" as we saw rehearsal footage where he told the nervous teenager that he was her biggest fan, and couldn't help but smile as cameras caught him singing along with the first few lines of her live performance. The doubters of these coaches (I'm looking at you, Ken Tucker) should hopefully be silenced by how supportive Blake was of Xenia. I wish I'd had someone like him at that point in my life. As for Xenia herself, she's not totally out of her shell, but as Adam said (another reason I like Adam Levine - he keeps saying what I'm thinking!) we got to see her blossom. Win or lose, having been where she's at, it's great to see someone so young have that kind of support and that opportunity to grow, and I wish her all the best.
After Xenia came Team Christina's Lily Elise, who won my award for most questionable wardrobe of the evening with her studded black dress and matching strangely-patterned jacket. I wanted to walk by her with a magnet just to see what would happen. Now, I said last week that Lily should have been sent packing, and after hearing her rendition of Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," I'm still not convinced she belongs on the Voice stage. I will admit, though, that I was also distracted by her backup dancers. Blake Shelton said it best when he turned to Christina and asked, "Was it your idea to have the four mimes?"
Since we had the Team Christina moment, we were also due a Team Blake moment. Since this is Blake Shelton we're talking about, you knew this was going to be good, and it ended up being my favorite part of the entire show. Blake was a sneaky bastard and chose an Adam Levine song for his team to perform - the Maroon 5 hit "This Love." My jaw hit the floor and Adam's reaction was priceless. I was with him in loving the rendition. (And pleased that certain lyrics were not censored for broadcast.) Blake clearly enjoyed his part of the whole thing, whether it was looking right at Adam while he was singing, or bantering with the Maroon 5 front man afterward. When Adam told him that he looked so much bigger than everyone else, the reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year quickly snuck in a "That's what she said." Rimshot! I was not surprised but still disappointed that neither this nor the coaches' medley was available for download on iTunes, because I kept playing both back on my DVR.
Going back to individual performances, we heard from one of my early favorites, Team Blake's Patrick Thomas. Patrick was performing one of my favorite songs, Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," and he dedicated it to his sister, whom he fawned over at length. As much as I love the song itself, I had high hopes and Patrick didn't disappoint, wringing all the emotion out of it as he sang to his sister, who was in the audience. Unfortunately, Christina had to ruin the moment by asking him to take his pants off again. It was weird the first time and it was weirder the second time, since Patrick's mom was also in the room. The critique of Patrick's performance pretty much dissolved into an argument between the coaches about who wanted to sleep with who. The coaches' banter all night was funny - with Adam telling Christina to shut up (and Blake adding an emphatic "Yes!" in the background), Christina referencing Blake and Adam's epic "bromance," and Adam getting bleeped for the third time - but that particular part was a little inappropriate and vastly off-point. I feel bad for Patrick, because I hope that people remember his performance, and don't just recall the bickering.
Closing out the night was Frenchie Davis from Team Christina, sporting earrings so long I thought they were part of her dress. Frenchie was also saddled with mimes (on tables this time), but her vocals were strong enough to hold my attention regardless. She has a powerful voice and she knows how to move on stage - that's what Broadway experience will do for you, folks - but I'm torn when it comes to Frenchie. There's just something in me that says she's not The Voice.
At the end of the day, my votes are going to the whole of Team Blake. If I had to pick one artist, I'd give the edge to Patrick over Dia, if only because Patrick made me get teary-eyed a little bit. No one on the show gave a bad performance, however, and it's another testament to how strong the talent pool for The Voice is; there are some so-so artists but even going back to blind auditions, there's not a one that I felt was horrible. Live shows also proved something else to me: no amount of production glitz, backup dancers, or fog machines is going to change that my focus is always on the vocal performance...which is exactly what this show is about. Well done, show.
I'll see you next week - hopefully live for real this time - for more Voice dish. But you've still got work to do: now that you're done reading, get on the phone or get online and vote!