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“The Voice” Live Round: Genius in a Bottle?

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Have you noticed yourself fast-forwarding through Adam Levine‘s critiques on The Voice and waiting patiently for Christina Aguilera to speak? Have you noticed that’s an absolutely insane scenario? Because I’m doing it too. And I’m scared.

Christina Aguilera has become the show’s least sympathetic and/or sentimental panelist. She’s thoroughly genuine, and even if she doesn’t reach the caliber of my favorite 10 reality judges, she’s exactly what The Voice needs: unflinching truth-telling. I hope she keeps it up in the weeks to come. Not just because it’s entertaining (How about when she smacked DOWN her former Mousketeer buddy Tony Lucca?), but because it heightens the show’s stakes. Fear this dirrty, caterwauling diva, contestants.

The Voice‘s second week of live rounds proved to be a mixed bag ranging from towering renditions of rock classics to meek attempts at dated pop songs. Let’s invade and grade ’em all. 

Katrina Parker, “Tonight, Tonight”: B-

I want to be diplomatic and award Katrina kudos for approaching a cool, heretofore unattempted artist, but ugh. Her Smashing Pumpkins cover was not melancholy, infinitely sad, or Siamese-dreamy enough. (Those are all Smashing Pumpkins album references — I haven’t gone insane, I swear.) As Cee-Lo noted, “Tonight, Tonight” is commanding because of the gritty, cathartic vocal. Katrina’s Adele-esque wail is just too wrong and pleasing for it. I detected some warmth in her performance, but no fire. She’d have been better off performing a more reflective mid-to-late ’90s jam like Alanis Morissette‘s “You Learn” or Natalie Imbruglia‘s “Torn.”

Cheesa, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”: B+

Sass happened one time last night, and here it was. Sashay left! Shuffle right! Power pout FORWARD. I’m digging Cheesa as an underdog candidate on The Voice, since she has an unassuming offstage presence and a saucy onstage one. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is an eternal disco diamond, and the kicky, Kylie-style arrangement buttressed Cheesa’s high-flying vocal. When girlfriend busted out the drag choreography near the performance’s end, I almost neck-thrusted alongside her. One of the best of the night.

Tony Lucca, “In Your Eyes”: C-

Christina Aguilera has really come into her own as a cold, dismissive arbiter of vocal justice, hasn’t she? Her criticisms are barbed and succinct, and I have to say, usually correct. Or at the very least, honest. And I can’t ever say that about Adam Levine, whose pat responses usually end with some version of “For the most part, though, it was fantastic!” Sick. Christina correctly identified Tony Lucca, her onetime Mouseketeering colleague, as a one-note, forgettable performer who sank beneath “In Your Eyes” on the big stage. While that’s true, my main problem was the song choice itself: “In Your Eyes” is a song drenched in sonic layers and indigo undertones. The last thing it’s about is a triumphant vocal. In fact, a triumphant vocal would sound weird here. And anyway, titillate me with a cover of “Shock the Monkey” or “Big Time,” not this overplayed heterosexual jam. 

Kim Yarbrough, “Rolling in the Deep”: B

Now, I embrace that Kim Yarbrough looks like a mascara-doused, papier-mache replica of Chaka Khan. I really do. I love that she nailed the verses of Adele’s biggest belter, even if it is — perhaps officially? — the most heard piece of music since “Macarena” or the Jeopardy! theme. But the choice to perform “Rolling in the Deep” suggests Kim is a singer too willing to pander, even if it’s a match for her throaty voltage. And those choruses? Not blistering. Though she threw down the heaviest vocal of the night, I’m worried her admirable performance is a bit too obvious to resonate with voters. 

James Massone, “Don’t Know Why”: B+

Obligatory cattiness: James is so damn weird-looking. He’s cute, but he’s so… Ally Sheedy-meets-Ruth Buzzi-meets-Katarina Witt-meets-fruit bat? That’s all. I admit I hate this song choice since it’s so oppressively monotone and adult-safe, but James’ shy, confessional tones are a match for it. And he has a much better voice than Norah Jones, whose vocals are and always will be too Elmer Fudd-y. I dismiss his pitch issues and say Mr. Sheedy Buzzy Witt Bat compensated with preciousness and the most sincere rendition of the evening. Always nice when sincerity makes a cameo on The Voice.

Juliet Simms, “Roxanne”: A-

I’ve long been a fan of this bangsy beanpole, even if something always seems a little calculated and presentational about her “alternative”-ness. There’s a Central Casting aspect to her rocker persona. But come on. Machinations aside (and there were a few self-conscious moments of “emoting” in this performance, particularly in the weirdly overlong intro), Juliet destroyed her competition with this crunched-up, throwdown version of The Police‘s hardest-rocking single. Loved the strutting and sudden speed-up phrasing too. And screw Blake Shelton for saying, “This is THE FIRST TIME I’ve heard ya SING!” Oh, please. Go pick another rasp-voiced pixy in a headband, dude.

Mathai, “Ordinary People”: B-

On the one hand, Mathai’s carefree vibe and Tatyana Ali-isms indicate that she’s unpretentious, but the amount of cutesy affect in her voice still grates. “Ordinary People” is a decent-enough rollicker and Mathai trilled with it precise pitch, but I’m missing an obvious X-factor in this girl. I’m seeing easygoing stage presence and hearing a competent voice, but absolutely nothing else is going on. Disney princess styling doesn’t count.

Tony Vincent, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”: B

You know Tony Vincent is my main man in this torture pageant. Unlike any of his competitors, he fully owns an original persona, one that combines elements of QueenR.E.M., Broadway, plummy-eyed skeletons in science classrooms, and crash test dummies. Fire, y’all. He’s a Gaga-era cyber-balladeer with bolts for feelings, and I approve of that. Unfortunately, Tony’s song choice of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” seemed gnarly in the abstract, but in execution it lacked the bald humanoid’s signature attribute: angst. And it was restrictive, as Christina and Cee-Lo noted. Plus the warlord choreography was too early-’90s-VMAs. Though it was also kinda Kraftwerk, which is forever hot. Anyway: Decent vocal on a droopy melody, but lacking the android freakiness I needed.

Karla Davis, “Airplanes”: D

Do human beings think “Airplanes” is a good song? To me it’s the definitive earsore, a cluster of meaningless lyrics, nagging melody, and all-around stupidity. It’s especially lame coming from the mouth of Karla Davis, a real singer who seems smarter than a line like, “What if airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?” (THEY ARE LIKE SHOOTING STARS. THAT’S WHAT A SIMILE ACCOMPLISHES.) Karla sounded out of breath, whispery, and nervous throughout this rendition, and I can say with some authority that she gave the worst performance of the evening. I think she literally stumbled, too? I picture her trembling in place. Or maybe that was just me.

Erin Martin, “Walk Like An Egyptian”: D+

Ugh. Erin Martin has to be the most grating competitor on a singing show since Danny Gokey leglocked Idolin ’09. First she arrives with a modeling portfolio filled with photos by, like, Jean-Baptiste Mondino and claims she “wants her voice to be taken seriously instead of her physical appearance,” and then she spends all of her mentoring sessions and performances winking and flirt-smirking. I don’t know whose decision it was, ultimately, to pair her with The Bangles‘ frothiest jam and the corniest Egyptian-themed choreography since Michael Jackson‘s “Remember the Time” video, but the deed is done: No energy, no flair, no professional-grade chops. Just serviceable vocals and the wrong song.

Pip, “When You Were Young”: C-

Pip never seems like he knows quite what’s going on. Is he confused by the competition? Is he confused that the judges aren’t praising him? Whatever the issue, he tried amplifying his meek persona with a “rock” anthem from The Killers, and he came up sounding like Brandon Flowers‘ uppity nephew. If he survives over Tony Vincent or Juliet Simms, I’m going to pip out at some random passersby.

Jamar Rogers, “Are You Gonna Go My Way”: B+

Jamar Rogers’ emboldened, eye-popping version of Lenny Kravitz‘s best tune (by far) had almost everything: gall, power, stamina, the works. It only needed a stronger sense of identity, since what I heard was a well-sung rendition that you might hear on a Karaoke Revolution backing track. He killed, but in only the safest, inside-the-lines way. Juliet is the night’s winner with her stormy bleat, but Jamar’s bankable rock chops are fine enough to warrant the runner-up spot.

What did you think of last night’s show? Did Juliet rouse you too? Did Tony Vincent underwhelm you? Did Pip get all pippy with you? Voice it below.

Source: After Elton

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