The swivel chairs have been junked, the boxing metaphors have gone the way of Mickey Rourke, the previews have been pinched off, and to my infinite relief, The Voice is a gimmick-free, no-nonsense singing competition!
Oh, of course there was filler. Start with that opening medley where Cee-Lo Green the Soul Machine got short-circuited by Queen, Blake Shelton outsang him on probably the only song where that's possible, Christina Aguilera spontaneously developed an alto register and Adam Levine wasn't Freddie Mercury. Fast-forward through the Alison Haislip Twitter-shill sessions that'd turn Clay Shirky into Nicholas Carr. Then get through the group performances, one decent ("Lady Marmalade," probably because the Xtina remake was already a four-person showcase) and one not ("This Love," probably because it wasn't. But I saw what you did there on that "keep her coming" line, Jared Blake!) Watch the producers try to bake drama into the sushi and barbecue pep rallies. Disagree with eight rounds' worth of nu-Idol non-judging and uncomfortable moments like Blake practically bro-fisting Adam after the snarkier dude told Christina to shut up. Go ahead, do it all. Because it's really not so much filler after all, and underneath is a surprisingly solid core of a singing competition.
Here's how elimination will work for now (all the rules of The Voice are only for now). Two teams face off per night, in your standard singoff followed by America's votes. A 10-vote limit per artist and/or method is in place to thwart those stan-and-deliver frenzies of speed dialing you got on Idol. There's also online voting, and conveniently for the crew's salaries, buying the performances online also counts as a "vote." All this multiplatform voting benefits one singer, the top vote-getter who'll advance. Then one coach pick per team will advance, and the other two teammates will exit TV until they find their way onto the next major singing competition.
Tonight we saw Team Xtina's divas duke it out against Team Blake's surprisingly un-country grab-bag. Click NEXT to see our take on Team Xtina.
4. Raquel Castro: "Blow" by Ke$ha
Oh, modern music. Oh no. "Blow" isn't as terrible a choice for a singing show as you'd think, being light on irreproducible autotune tweaks and goof-raps and rangier than you probably remember. And it's still refreshing that The Voice has either the guts or the performance rights to include songs after 2005. But Christina's "she can dance to it" is possibly the worst reasoning for a song choice ever, especially since Castro's choreography was mostly relegated to the NKOTBSB Repertory Dancers (not their real name) behind her.
And the singing wasn't horrible, but Ke$ha's wordless chorus, live, translates into a summer-camp singalong over which poor Raquel could only shout portions of "this place about to blow" every few seconds and--more damningly--yelp a bit short of the high notes. It does not bode well to be outsung by Ke$ha, or when the spangles on your dress, Xtina's Robyn-like fist pumps and that weird "no wardrobe malfunctions" comment (SHE'S 16.) are more exciting than the song.
3. Lily Elise: "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie
Lily's performance anxiety made up most of her package, but her singing was at least as fine as Fergie's, although it's iffy whether that sudden pianissimo on her last note was spontaneous or acting. The real issue was those NKOTBSB Repertory Dancers again, pelvic thrusting and writhing their way over every moment Lily could've had. Even the coaches called them out--just about the only thing they called out.
2. Beverly McClellan: "I'm The Only One" by Melissa Etheridge
Beverly played it as safe last night as she possibly could, tiptoeing away from rock only to tiptoe back just as far toward alternative. She was still badass, naturally, but it's starting to peter out. I can see things getting to the point where Beverly's quirks (that shimmy! that red-and-purple kilted getup!) start to overshadow her undeniable vocal talent. Arguably, that point's already here.
1. Frenchie Davis: "When Love Takes Over" by David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland
The producers were kind to Frenchie, not only giving her the pimp spot but stuffing the distracting dance crew onto a few dimly lit pedestals and giving Frenchie plenty of loving closeups--not to mention a David Guetta song. I'm not sure "When Love Takes Over" was the best choice for Frenchie--it's more suited to a more anonymous vocalist more apt to lose herself in the bombast--but she nevertheless sung the bejesus out of it, and "not being anonymous enough" is the lightest criticism you can sprinkle over someone without being a coach on The Voice
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: The NKOTBSB Repertory Dancers. If we eliminate two a week, they'll all be gone by the finale!
WHO WILL GO HOME: Frenchie's nigh-guaranteed to go through by the combined powers of Guetta, the Pimp Spot and her Idol robbery. Beverly could be at risk, since Melissa Etheridge's an entirely different, less familiar demographic than Fergie, Ke$ha or Guetta that's less likely to galvanize fans. And one of Raquel or Lily is definitely out. Thanks to our dancing friends, it's probably Lily. Damn you!
For our take on Team Blake, click NEXT.
4. Xenia: "Price Tag" by Jessie J
Poor, poor Xenia. As if making her sing on the same night as Xtina's powerhouses wasn't bad enough, The Voice sticks her with a Jessie J song. To the degree that "Price Tag" works at all as a song, it's because Jessie only half-restrains her voice and attitude (both quite big) so they jab through the song constantly. Xenia, who doesn't have much of either, came off sweet but very, very small. The pageanty "everybody look to the left (POINT!), everybody look to the right (POINT!)" choreography also did her few favors. It's probably telling that for once, the coaches' praise felt faint: consider, for instance, Xtina's "You're young, your chops are still developing... you're smiling!"
3. Patrick Thomas: "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack
"I Hope You Dance" is not a very dynamic song. A performance of "I Hope You Dance" is not a very dynamic performance, no matter how much backstory you thread through it and how big a cowboy hat you wear. I'm way too bored to write anything else about this performance.
2. Jared Blake: "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon
Like Beverly, Jared played it as safe as possible, his bandit bandana and neckwear the only surprising part of what was basically a decent Kings of Leon performance with a few hooty high notes. Or put another way, it was a mediocre Chris Daughtry performance--as big of a deal as Blake Shelton thinks his country/rock straddling is, that's an entire genre and, possibly to Jared's detriment, one well-trafficked. But Jared did pull out his secret weapon at the end. No, not the almost-kiss: the Blinky Jared Stare! Stretched out for seconds as Carson Daly told the world how to reward it! The dude's like a walking GIF.
1. Dia Frampton: "Heartless" by Kanye West
For once, the elephant in the room isn't Meg & Dia (NEVER. FORGET.) No, this time it's Kris Allen, who got two performances and a victory's worth of mileage out of his own acoustic "Heartless" but nary a namedrop from anyone involved in the show. Instead, they praised her originality and brilliant ideas. OK then.
Let's be fair, though; Dia's version was only the same as Kris's if you think all acoustic songs are alike. Kris's version was shot through with almost as much vitriol as Kanye's. Dia has none of that, making "Heartless" simply plaintive, not plaintive-but-kinda-douchey. And yeah, that was a surprise, and unlike Xenia's performance, one good enough that I didn't even think of Dia's decibel level.
WHO SHOULD GO HOME: Xenia and Patrick Thomas.
WHO WILL GO HOME: Xenia and Patrick Thomas, although I also wouldn't be surprised if Jared Blake's second chances ran out tonight.
Got any objections to our rundown? Confused about Xtina's costume choices? Never want to hear the word "Twitter" uttered again on this show? Comment away!