Nakia > Adam Levine > Niki Dawson's handful of notes > (Meg &) Dia Frampton > Cee Lo Green > Tori and Taylor Thompson > Cherie Oakley's earrings > Cherie Oakley's voice > Emily Wynne Hughes Valentine > Tyler Robinson > Julia Eason > Angela Wolff > Miranda Lambert's night > Casey Weston > Jared Blake > Raquel Castro > Raquel Castro's hair > Tim Mahoney > Train's night > Lily Elise > Serabee, Casey Desmond, Justin Grennan and Sara Oromchi combined, for a total of 60 seconds > Curtis Grimes > "If I Ain't Got You" > Devon Barley > Lady Gaga's night > Dramatic tension >>> Carson Daly >>>>>>>>>> that "This is The Voice!" intro
It’s only been two episodes, but The Voice is confident enough to announce at the show’s start that it “redefined the singing competition.” This is likely an overstatement, given that contestants are still singing for coach-judges in hopes of not being kicked off. But by this point, it’s at least differentiated itself enough that people can stop talking about American Idol within the same breath. (Oops.)
Last night, each coach picked up five singers to fill out their team of eight; if you’re wondering how the producers crammed eight extra contestants into the same time slot, the answer’s a whole lot of speed rounds, with a few unlucky candidates (and a slew of also-rans) getting about five seconds each. At least we got to see them, though; Idol has a habit of introducing people in Hollywood Week right before kicking them out.
Next week (airing at 10 P.M), teammates will compete against each other, encouraged by the words of their mentors and guest advisers Monica, Reba, Maroon 5 producer Adam Blackstone and Sia. This is definitely a turning point in the competition, but it’s still early on, so we’ve got a few unsolicited pointers on what’s working and what isn’t.
The show’s tone: Idol’s ugliest facet is the icky mock-alongs that make up half the audition episodes, with looks, quirks and personalities all fair game. The Voice doesn’t play mean; when a bearded gay man in his late thirties saunters in, you don’t cringe in anticipation of how the segment will play out.
The voices: “The people we’re not turning our chairs around could win American Idol,” Adam Levine wisecracks, and while that’s just wrong (Hollywood week, maybe), there’s nobody outwardly bad among the coaches’ picks. Idol has never been able to say the same.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK
Carson Daly: Dude’s a charisma vortex, sucking the life out of anything nearby, and on The Voice he’s consistently either leaden or cringingly awkward. Egging on the alliterative Tori and Taylor Thompson with “Two for the price of one, Cee Lo!”—one of the girls is 17, and the other’s not much older—was last night’s nadir.
The coyness about contestants’ pasts: Hasn’t The Voice learned anything from Idol? Somebody sings suspiciously well, an enterprising Googler reveals a record contract (gasp!) and the producers either become ludicrously secretive or quietly get rid of the offending veteran. We have nothing against semi-pros. But expecting viewers to forget that, say, Dia Frampton is part of Meg & Dia, or the Thompsons had an American Juniors stint, is just condescending.
The non-tension: Daly promises “shootouts” and intense inter-team rivalries, but the coaches are more like bantering teammates who give each other group hugs after scrimmages. We’re instructed to gasp and shudder over every fluctuation in team rosters, but come on. No one was surprised by Adam making his team quota—conveniently in the last ten minutes—or a few singers getting a second shot after Carson told us multiple times that they would.
It’s a shame, because there’s plenty of actual tension. Did that coach really like your voice, or was he just panicked about filling his team slots? What was Blake Shelton getting at when he said his final spots were “wildcards”? Who do they really, really like?
And who does Popdust really, really like? Click NEXT to find out.
Devon Barley: a pre-med student at the University of Vermont who, as Carson quipped, is “just what the doctor ordered.” (We groaned too.) His take on Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” is breathy and strained. And y’know, when you’re straining to sing a Jason Mraz song, it doesn’t bode well. Would we turn around? Probably not.
Casey Desmond: A “glam rocker”—she’s got red hair and a spangly shirt, it must be true!—notable for singing Gaga well with “Born This Way.” Compare this to the over-cocky, unpicked Joshua Scott Hand, who sang Gaga poorly with “Paparazzi.” Your comparison will be short, too, because thanks to the speed rounds, we heard about ten seconds. But if you want to hear more, Desmond’s another semi-pro, so music is out there. Would we turn around? After Hand, we’d turn around for any Gaga.
Tim Mahoney, whose rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” was okay if lacking in soul and containing an ill-advised Adam Levine shout-out. But let’s be honest: nobody’s going to remember his performance. They’re going to remember that Adam picked Tim because he sounded like a girl (which he really doesn’t). And they’ll definitely remember what he said next: “Sadly, you have a penis.” They might not remember Blake’s weird homophobia—“You guys would make a great couple,” Blake says, among other taunts—but we will. Would we turn around? Not really. We at Popdust care about the vocal goods
Casey Weston: Not to be confused with Casey Desmond. This one’s a country singer whose producer-granted second chance, a pretty good take on Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy,” will launch a thousand Taylor Swift comparisons. But we can’t help wondering whether Adam kind of wished he could have let Blake pick her. We also can’t help wondering whether she’s really going to perform at the Marco Island Marriott Music Festival, as her website says. Lack of site maintenance, or spoilers? Would we turn around? Yes. And we’d have done it earlier in the night, too.
Angela Wolff: A “Georgia peach with an edge”—don’t think too hard about that—who gets to perform twice! First she sings Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” and although it’s by far the better of the night’s two Miranda covers, Blake is not impressed. But she unsubtly assures us that “I’ll be back somehow,” and sure enough, she is! This time around, she picks Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and is credible enough for Adam—fortunately, because she’s the last one we hear. What a coincidence. Would we turn around? Sure. In fact, we’d have turned around the first time.
Sara Oromchi: She sang “Imagine.” She seems shy. She’s probably not too far off from a country singer. And that’s all the producers gave us. Would we turn around? What’s the point?
Tyler Robinson: His back story is about being gay, but the drama’s kept to a minimum, all the better to showcase a maddeningly tolerable version of Train’s “Hey Soul Sister.” He sings so well, you forget what you’re hearing! And Blake thankfully drops the gay-baiting this time; his comment about Tyler’s resembling Drew Carey—he totally doesn’t—might be iffy, but at least it’s not offensive. Would we turn around? Yes. And then hate ourselves for it.
Serabee: An artist with Universal Records ties and a decent snippet of “Son of a Preacher Man.” Again, that’s about all we know. Possibly because of the first part of this blurb. Would we turn around? Contractual obligations require us to say yes. (Not really.)
Dia Frampton of Meg & Dia. The show mentions her sisters, but not by name, and certainly not by membership in a fairly well-known group. To be fair, her take on Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” is both vocally interesting and free of the pitch problems such quirks (think Megan Joy from Idol) usually come with. No wonder Blake pushed the button within ten seconds, unless maybe he just really hearts Caillat. Or Meg & Dia. Would we turn around? Yes, and not just because we like Meg & Dia.
Jared Blake: You remember this guy, right? He sang “Good Girls Go Bad” last week, but the shock value didn’t make up for his shaky vocals. Now the benefactor of a second chance, he cleans up well with the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Would we turn around? Yep. And then we’d grill him about last week.
Click NEXT for the skinny on Team Cee Lo and Team Xtina.
TEAM CEE LO
Emily Wynne Hughes—excuse us, Emily Valentine. Season 8 of American Idol? Totally didn’t happen. (To be fair, she let fans know in advance that she’d be up to something unspecified.) Emily’s package instead made much of her supposed-to-be-surprising looks, even though she merely resembles Lady Gaga with emphasis on tattoos instead of sartorial screwery. And her melisma-drunk take on “Sober” was entertaining enough, but not as much as Adam’s quip to a peacocking Cee Lo: “Let me get that name for you—did you drop it?” Would we turn around? Sure, why not?
Niki Dawson: An unfortunate victim of the speed segments; we heard about five notes of her “Teenage Dream,” but all five were fantastic. But then, even Katy Perry—vocal virtuoso she is not—can land the one-note “You! Make! Me!” belt. Would we turn around? We’ll take Cee Lo’s word for it: yes.
Nakia: You’ve seen this guy, too; he’s the bearded man who dared to take on Cee Lo’s “’Forget’ You” in front of Lo himself. This takes “guts and balls,” as Xtina put it; fortunately, he’s got both the pipes and personality to make it his own and win over not only Cee Lo, but the increasingly crabby Blake as well. Watch this guy in the coming rounds, if only to see whether Blake’s peacock-Batman prediction comes true. Would we turn around? Hell yeah.
Curtis Grimes: A dead ringer for Josh Groban, but he’s a country boy through and through, down to his “Hillbilly Bone.” That’s a Blake Shelton song, and its lack of “cockiness and anger” left Blake unimpressed. We’d add a pace and a vocally interesting melody to what it lacked. Would we turn around? No.
Tori and Taylor Thompson: Self-described farm girls (their American Juniors time was not self-described) who, like, raise pigs! And show them at the fair! And who do an adorable, harmony-drenched rendition of Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” that would win over any conspiracy theorist. Would we turn around? How could we not?
Cherie Oakley: Big-voiced belter, former country backup vocalist version. She stepped out of the shadows—her metaphor, not ours—to the tune of “Gunpowder and Lead” by Miranda Lambert, a.k.a. Blake’s fiancée. ZOMG! (For audience members out of the loop, Carson was on hand with unsubtle exposition.) Oakley’s pretty credible, particularly on her higher notes, although the backing band drowned her out toward the middle, and she definitely lacks Lambert’s grit. Would we turn around? Sure, at the last minute.
Raquel Castro: Big-voiced belter, fresh-faced (sorta) 16-year-old version. Castro’s an admitted Christina fan, so you just know she sings along to “Fighter.” But this time, she went for X Factor winner Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love.” It’s a bold choice—especially with X Factor about to cross the pond—but Castro’s got the low register to bulk the sound out and the control to land most of the runs (we’re ignoring that last note, but Christina had said yes by then anyway.) Would we turn around? Probably.
Julia Eason: Big-voiced belter, former soccer player version. (Formerly Julia Harriman, too, for those keeping track at home.) Her take on British singer Duffy’s “Mercy” was technically good enough to give Xtina big-sisterly paroxysms (“I love, love, love, love, LOVED it,” she gushes, later saying how they’d “have so much fun together,”) but we can’t remember another thing about it. Would we turn around? Maybe if we hadn’t heard Duffy for a while. Or Adele. Or….
Justin Grennan: Big-voiced belter, dude version. He’s a window installer who sang Train (sigh)’s “Drops of Jupiter.” According to his CDBaby page, he’s “vintage Stevie Wonder with a touch of Michael Jackson and a hint of Steve Perry.” Okay, sure; we’ll take your word for it, because it’s not as if The Voice is telling us otherwise. Would we turn around? No; one Train singer is enough for our conscience.
Lily Elise (Housh): Big-voiced belter, second chance version. (She’s also Julia Eason’s bestie! Drama ahead?) She’s got a good voice, but unfortunately, she sang “If I Ain’t Got You,” overdone before The Voice was conceived. Would we turn around? If she’d have sung anything else.