Sunday, May 06, 2012

Too Much of the Voice pt. 1

I have become entirely wrapped up in the reality television show, The Voice. I watch the show. I watch the extra videos. I read online blog posts and episode recaps. I look at the photos. I rewatch performances. I read contestant tweets. I read contestant blog entries. I watch non-Voice youtube videos by the contestants. I listen to the original versions of the songs covered. I suspect the energy I am directing towards this show reflects a longing, a deep desire for something. Not sure what perhaps - for meaning, for direction, for insight, for inspiration. The show is enjoyable but as could be predicted, however much I investigate the online media and content surrounding this show, I am left wanting more. Because the inarticulable thing that I seek is not there.  It does not contain the secrets of the universe or the answer to the question of the meaning of life.

The show is down to the final four contestants. Tony Lucca, Jermaine Paul, Chris Mann and Juliet Simms. By next Tuesday, they will have declared who is the Voice for 2012. Interestingly, these four have not competed against each other until now. So it's anyone's guess as to who has the most popular support. The show is structured to put contestants onto Teams. Although to clarify these are not teams where the singers collaborate, rather that they are in the same competitive division.  They compete for the privilege of representing their coach in the final show down.  The word Team is misused here in the same way that the word "Friend" is misused in social media. Teams are under the guidance of a coach, who is their coach, guide, producer, confessor, cheerleader, judge, jury and hangman in the early phases.  America does get to vote but only very late in the game and only in some instances.

I have wanted to gab about this show obsessively and incessantly but have spared you until now.

The Final Four

Tony Lucca is a handsome guy with famous friends and perhaps lots of fans. He is very comfortable on stage. But he needs serious back up singers to do the heavy lifting for him vocally. Standing behind a mic stand is not the right gig for him. He's best either behind a guitar or working the stage reaching out to the crowd. He cleans up cheesy, like an evangelical megachurch preacher. Keep that hat on his head, beard on his face and maybe the vest too. His best performances have been: "How You Like Me Know", "Hit Me Baby One More Time", and "In Your Eyes".

Jermaine Paul is even handsomer, perhaps the best looking man on the show.  He has amazing vocal control and command. He has mostly given soulful renditions of rocks songs and power ballads. Besides his staggering vocal ability, there is an immense amount of heart and emotion in his performances. He can carry a song on his capable shoulders and sell it like nobody's business. His version of "Living On A Prayer" gave me chills. It blew the original to bits. His version of "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" also blew the original away. But really, he's been strong all the way through: "Against All Odds", "Open Arms". His blind audition song, "Complicated" was his weakest cut. Which is not saying much because it was also pretty damn great.

Opera singer, Chris Mann, has staggering chops. But the challenge is to find him the perfect song and the perfect genre. I am not sure that he has had a break out pop performance on the show. In part due to his application of an operatic singing style to popular songs.  The notes and those open vowels have considerable firepower and oh so much vibrato, but the words sound affected and formal. Although I did like the OperaMann version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water". He sounds very mannered and formal to me.  I'd like to hear him do a Queen song. I think bigness and bombast with a mild dash of raciness could work for him.  The precise articulation and vibrato would be well placed in that context.

Juliet Simms brings a compelling urgency to the stage. You feel like singing is the only thing that keeps her from being lowered into a tank of starving piranhas. She has consistently had some of the best stagecraft.   In her blind audition when she fell to her knees during "Oh Darlin" it was electric. With her curious voice the whole is definitely greater than sum the parts.  She's nasal.  She's husky.  She has little girl precious vocals.  She sometimes does this nanny goat thing.  She's has broad dynamics and control. And she brings the legit rock gravel and growl. She has been so strong all the way through. I am not sure how she will top her performance of "It's a Man's World." I thought the same when she sang "Cryin'" and minced her way back and forth across the stage in those wings and high heels. And I thought the same after she tore the roof off of "Roxanne." There is a lot of talk about the artistry and interpretive skills of Lindsay Pavao but Juliet's rendition of Roxanne is transformative. This girl is no joke. I did not think that she could beat Jamar. But she did (breaking my heart) and would have even without Cee Lo's support.  I cannot wait to hear her next song.

Upsetting Eliminations

There is something so winning, so endearing about Jamar Rogers.  His rock soul kungfu has been impressive: "Seven Nation Army", "Are You Gonna Go My Way", the slow jam version of "It's My Life".  He blew "I Want to Know What Love Is", out of the water and poor Jamie Lono along with it.  Cee Lo Green was critical of his version of "If You Don't Know Me By Now".  But I find it to be really lovely.  It kills me that we could not have Juliet and Jamar in the final four.

Katrina Parker really blossomed in this competition and has had some really great performances.  I like her version of "Jar of Hearts" better than the original.  "Perfect", ""Killing Me Softly", "Don't Speak" - she's done really beautiful work on the show, in particular, on "Don't Speak".  Unlike everyone else who covered Adele and mostly could not live up to the task, she evokes that quality and tone without ever doing an Adele song.  Her voice has a beautiful texture.  She has grown to the point where a coach like Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green would help her take the next step.  I am sad that she has been eliminated but I will credit Adam for taking her as far has he did.  It shows great integrity in his judging despite his smarmy onscreen demeanor.  But I would love to hear her sing again.

Other extremely distressing Eliminations from the live performances

Jesse Campbell - His blind audition "A Song For You", his epic "If I Ain't Got You" battle with Anthony Evans, "What a Wonderful World".  I grant you that "Halo" was not a good song for him and perhaps he was not progressing or evolving in the same way that some of the other contestants were but I really wanted to see him sing again and again on the show.  He's so damn good.  He was already starting from a very high level.

Ashley De La Rosa - She really developed on the show.  When she started to rock out - it all fell into place for her: "Right Through You" and then "Paris, Oo La La".  It's a pity that "Paris, Oo La La" was a last chance song.  She was on fire.  It was one of my favorite moments.  I would buy it on iTunes.  If she had gotten to do the song "Fighter" as a solo live performance, she would have crushed it to a fine powder.  I don't think that "Foolish Games" or "You and I" were particularly good choices for her.  The uptempo stuff is really her sweet spot, although with time she would certainly season into the sweeter, slower stuff.  If only, Rock Diva was a well established popular music category.  I do not know if rock diva is a frequently vacant category  because it is so hard to sustain or because divas have a desperate need to sing high sustained notes and then melisma their brains out - a need best met by singing ballads.  But I would love to see Ashley De La Rosa blow the roof off of the rock world.

Jordis Unga - After singing "Maybe I'm Amazed" for her blind audition things never really seemed to click for Jordis.  I am not sure why and it's a shame.  Frankly, covering a Heart song is insanity.  Her last chance song, "Wild Horses" was lovely.  Impressive because that song is endless and prone to being sooooo boring.    It was a breakthrough for her but I think her subsequent song was a misstep.  "Wild Horses" was a confidence building performance that put her on her feet and in a position to tear the roof off the house.  I got weepy when she was eliminated.  Her performances on Rock Star INXS show were mind-blowing.

I almost stopped watching when Jesse and Ashley were eliminated.  It's hard to want to keep watching now that Jamar is gone.

Outstanding Live Performances

Erin Willett did the most amazing version of "Livin' For the City".  It hit right in her sweet spot.  Her video of "I Love Rock n Roll" with the Shields Brothers is so great.  I am not sure the Voice was the best venue for America to see just how wonderful she is.  She needs her own talk show.

I was not a Charlotte Sometimes fan, until her performance of "Misery Business".  When she glances to her right with the slightest shrug of her shoulder, she expresses the superior sass and flirtation of the song.  Youtube recommended that I listen to her track "How I Could Just Kill a Man."  It fits her like a glove.

People were very critical of Naia Kete, (haters!) but I thought that her version of "Turning Tables" was beautifully vulnerable, tender, and real.  Even what was flawed in the performance played into the emotional tenor and expression of the song perfectly.  I actually liked her last chance version of "If I Were a Boy" too.  I hope that she is getting booked into venues and has not gone completely back to busking on the streets.

RaeLynn version of "She's Country" was the first time that the song didn't get away from her.  She's adorable and enjoyable in raw form too but this performance was her polished gem.  Her vocals were perfectly under control.  She stage swagger was spot on.  She knocked it out of the park.

I did not understand the fuss about Karla Davis until her last chance song "I Can't Make You Love Me."  She's skilled, soulful and has melisma chops to spare.  She makes smart and very musical vocal choices.  As Adam points out, she can stay solidly in the pocket which is a credit to her musicianship.  On her youtube version of "Airplane" she even raps.  It's great.  On the show, the tempo was a touch too slow for her.  If the tempo has sped up a notch, had she been less nervous, had she not been standing on an airplane wing, had she been allowed to rap - well, she would have clobbered it.  There really is something pure and beautiful and perfect about her voice.

I liked Cheesa's cover of Don't Leave Me This Way.  I did not like her eye makeup and her clothes.  I wish they had put her in a miniskirt or tuxedo hot pants with some boots.  But vocally it was great.  You could see that she was working on her stagecraft, with time that would get better.  But her real breakthrough came with I Have Nothing.  It's a brave and impossible choice.  We have all tried to sing this song at karaoke.  When I try, I break into a massive sweat and end up collapsed on the floor reaching for the remnants of my splattered lungs.  She tore it up.  It was fantastic match up between a big song and a big voice.  On this show it might have been the best one for any of the power altos.

This is only half the story.  Here we close the live performance section and step further back in time to the Battle Rounds and the Blind Auditions.

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