Armchair Musician: 'The Voice,' Week Nine
I thought my experiences on The Voice couldn't get any better. Then Adam Levine happened. If you hadn't heard, he made my life on Tuesday night. This week's column, then, is a mix of objective discourse and subjective wide-eyed wonder that I'm not even going to try and apologize for.
First, let's talk about the music.
You have not truly seen this show until you've had the chance to see it in the studio. Adam and Maroon 5, with the help of Christina Aguilera, led off as they pre-taped the premiere performance of their new single "Moves Like Jagger." As a fan who hadn't yet seen Adam perform, it was a revelation to watch him do what he was so obviously born to do, owning that stage with a happiness that was infectious. He is not just a great vocalist, but also knows how to put on a show, and I was completely sucked in for those few minutes. In fact, "Moves Like Jagger" is still stuck in my head. My coach is amazing.
What happened next was not amazing. It wasn't even fun. We had to watch Adam and Cee Lo Green lose two team members. Cee Lo was fairly predictable: after America saved Vicci Martinez, he chose big man Nakia. It was Adam who surprised everyone: while Javier Colon was a no-brainer for America, he elected to give Casey Weston another chance (following the equally surprising time he chose her over Tim Mahoney in the battle rounds), and sent one-time favorite Jeff Jenkins packing. That was unexpected, but as someone who respects Adam, I also trust his judgment.
After that, it was time to whittle down eight semifinalists to the final four. Here's how they broke down, team by team.
Team Blake Shelton
Dia Frampton: "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.
Xenia: "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" by The Script
I have to give props to Dia here, because I have never liked "Losing My Religion," ever. I've always found it to grate on my musical nerves, as it were. The moment I realized what song she was doing I actually groaned. But she made me like it. Her version is now sitting in my iTunes library. (Also, it was amusing the number of people in the audience who couldn't correctly clap along with her.)
Xenia performed her second song by The Script, after using "Breakeven" in blind auditions, and once again proved that she has very unique voice. It was another soft (Adam called it 'sleepy') song for her, but she gave it her best. As much as it pains me to admit it - being that I see so much of me in her and that she comes from my hometown - I could see and hear youth catching up with her.
Come Wednesday night, Blake was visibly upset at the idea of losing either of them, and split his hundred point allotment fifty-fifty between the two young ladies, essentially leaving their fate in America's hands. America sided with Dia, even as Blake took a moment to send Xenia off with one last positive compliment.
This decision didn't surprise me; though I have a soft spot for Xenia I also had the sneaking suspicion that her youth would come back to haunt her. Very few people are ready for prime time at her age, and you can't teach the experience that another year or two can give her. I have no doubt that once she lives her life a little more, we'll be hearing from her again.
Finalist: Dia Frampton
Team Christina Aguilera
Frenchie Davis: "Like A Prayer" by Madonna
Beverly McClellan: "The Thrill Is Gone" by B.B. King
Frenchie was instructed by her coach to give the Madonna song a choir-like sound, and she obliged, complete with dancers in white robes and a set of stairs that I was glad she didn't fall down. Her powerhouse vocals have carried her far, but I always had a feeling that she wasn't going to be "The Voice."
Particularly given that she was going up against Beverly, who was another early crowd favorite, with not just talent but how she openly defies the whole "pop star" package. Bev switched gears this week and showed us a soulful, more vulnerable side that I didn't know she had. Apparently she plays quite a few instruments as well. I learn something new every week.
Christina couldn't pick between the two and split her points evenly between the pair, but America chose Beverly, which was no surprise. Either would have been a fine choice, but Bev had that extra something that the audience always seemed to buzz about.
Finalist: Beverly McClellan
Team Cee Lo Green
Nakia: "Whadaya Want From Me" by Adam Lambert
Vicci Martinez: "Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machine
Nakia proved once again that he had plenty of soul and a surprising amount of physical grace for a big man when he tackled an Adam Lambert tune. Like Adam Levine, I hadn't heard it either but it was hard not to like it when Nakia was storming about the stage, kicking over his piano bench and pulling the soul out of every last word. You can't say the dude didn't leave it all on the table.
Vicci, though, had a lot of momentum after a slow start. Her rendition of "Jolene" last week was a real surprise. I wasn't quite sold on her performance if only because, as Cee Lo pointed out when he scored things 51-49 in slight favor of Nakia, the troupe of drummers with her tended to drown out her vocals. But there's something raw and growly in Vicci that people really seemed to be responding to.
Aside from that last point, Cee Lo couldn't choose either, but America favored Vicci. As above, there really wasn't a wrong option here in my opinion. Nakia has been a delight to watch ever since he was crazy enough to do "Forget You" in blind auditions and Vicci has improved each week. Now it'll be up to her to see if she can dig deep for another level of fierce energy in order to move past her fellow finalists.
Finalist: Vicci Martinez
Team Adam Levine
Javier Colon: "Fix You" by Coldplay
Casey Weston: "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton
And now we come to the hard part: my team. My people. (Sniff.) Javier has been the favorite on this show since day one, it seems. Both fans and his colleagues alike have been talking about him all season long. And he deserves that - he's put out fantastic performances from the moment he got all four coaches to turn their chairs in auditions, not to mention he's also a wonderful guy. I don't even like Coldplay, but he got me to like that song on Tuesday night.
Casey and I have had a love-hate relationship. Ever since she knocked out Tim Mahoney, I've been feeling like I want her to prove to me that she deserves to still be standing. Not that she doesn't deserve it, but it surprised me when she moved past Tim and likewise, it surprised me that she moved past Jeff Jenkins. Her rendition of "I Will Always Love You" was surprisingly soulful, but I think it suffered from comparisons to Whitney Houston's version, as well. As Adam told her in rehearsal, nobody can be Whitney. I should know - I've tried to sing that song a few times against the Whitney track and I just can't hit those notes. As such I give her props for even attempting the song period.
A talking point Wednesday was that Adam was the only coach to truly favor an artist, with his points going 65-35 to Javier. I support that decision because I understand and agree with his reasoning: Casey, being so much younger, will have other opportunities while Javier has already seen some things slip through his hands and while he'd certainly find something if he was eliminated, has less time to make something happen than she does. He was trying to push through the artist that he could help the most, and I respect and applaud that, as well as his honesty in explaining it to Casey on the air live. Not only was he going to make that decision but he had the integrity to stand behind it, not to mention provided some very sweet parting words for her on her way off the stage. Another reason why I love this guy.
America agreed with him (if not his reasoning), pushing Javier through to the biggest win of the night. Can anybody beat this guy? But as Javier himself has said, victory is based on every night and every song. One less than stellar night and he might not be the favorite anymore.
Finalist: Javier Colon
So our final four are Dia, Beverly, Vicci and Javier. I personally wonder if anyone can stop Javier, who's seemed to be the favorite from blind auditions - and admittedly, as a Team Adam loyalist, it would make me happy to see him win. But we've also seen Bev and Vicci make strong impressions with the audience, and ever since her rendition of Kanye West's "Heartless" in the quarterfinals, Dia has been steadily improving. Javier is my pick to win it all, but I wouldn't be surprised to see any of the ladies give him a serious run for the title. There's no wrong choice here, which is one of the things I love about this show.
Now that I've talked about what happened on-stage, there was plenty this week to talk about off-stage. For me, anyway.
As I mentioned earlier, I had the honor and the privelege of meeting Adam Levine after the show on Tuesday, which is something that's been a dream of mine for a long time now. So as not to totally repeat myself, you can check out my column from yesterday if you want to know the specifics of that. I'll just say that in addition to everything that did for me emotionally and spiritually, meeting him is more evidence of what I've been saying all along: this is real. These people are not faking things for television. Adam is a genuinely great person, and the same guy off-camera that he is when they're on. He really does care about these artists and about what this show is doing for the music industry, as do his cohorts.
In fact, I had that conversation with Blake Shelton. I've become a bit of a Blake fan, if only because I have a deep appreciation for how supportive and protective he's been with his team members. I've been in Xenia's shoes at that age and I didn't have anyone like him to be in my corner - so it's really awesome to see him in hers, and have him giving her the love, respect and strength that I know is so important at that young age. I asked him about that and I could see the pride in his eyes as he talked about discovering just how much he could give to these young people. He's really invested in this as well - we've seen his emotions come out a few times now. He's not there just to get a paycheck.
And I understand it. I really do. Wednesday night is a great example of that. I understand and support Adam's decision to vote the way he did, but at the same time my emotional side totally grasps why his fellow coaches didn't. When you know someone for nine weeks, you get close to them, and it has to be terribly hard to favor one over the other, especially when you know that means ending somebody's dreams. If it had been me, I don't think I would have had the courage to do what Adam did. I got why everyone was crying because I would have been too. (I loved, though, the supportive talks the coaches gave to the eliminated artists, in particular Adam's concerted effort to encourage Casey.) Just as an audience member, I became attached to the whole of Team Adam; it's been hard for me to see seven of them exit. I get sad every time. So how hard must it be, then, for Adam to watch them leave? Or for them to do so? This is tough stuff, big stuff, and I completely understand how it's gotten emotional. Frankly, I think that's fantastic, even as it is hard. I'd rather see people that give a damn rather than ones that don't.
I know there are a lot of cynics about reality TV, and in particular competition shows like this one (I used to be one of them), but this is the real deal. There's a good heart to this show, and that's why I love it. In a TV landscape with quite a few shows that don't add anything and/or put out things that are negative, The Voice is changing lives, and that's so very worth talking about.
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