The Voice Recap: Send in the...Clowns?

lindsey pavaoMenacing mimes. Male strippers. Cee Lo Green in a slinky red jumpsuit with deep-plunging, lace-up neckline and a delicate ladywig. Carson Daly turning superlatives into bowls of lukewarm mush. And enough bum notes to recreate an authentic Ashlee Simpson recording-studio session. Those were just a few of the disconcerting distractions on the menu for the first live-performance round of The Voice‘s second season.

Maybe my expectations were too high going in. And to that end, maybe it’s not fair to make any long-lasting judgments about the season when there are a whopping 24 singers still alive and well and fighting for Javier Colon’s Season 1 title. But by the time the six members of Team Xtina and the six members of Team Blake wrapped the two-hour telecast, the overwhelming urge was not to visit iTunes to download the fruits of their collective labor, but rather to fantasize about a sensory-deprivation tank where I could turn down the noise and the flashing lights and the milquetoast excuses for feedback that created a reality singing-competition judging curve whereby Randy Jackson’s Idol ramblings have been upgraded from an unquestionable F to a comparably impressive C-.

Ugh. I hate myself for typing that.

Let’s instead focus on the good, the bad, and the bizarrely choregraphed performances, with an eye on figuring out which three singers from Team Xtina and Team Blake will advance to the quarterfinals based on the public’s vote, and which vocalists will get saved by their respective judges to round out the pack of eight vocalists who’ll still be standing at the end of Tuesday’s results-show telecast.

Mortal Locks
Charlotte Sometimes: There’s no way Charlotte’s going to have to resort to asking “Is Denny’s hiring?” after an ultra-dramatic take on Paramore’s “Misery Business.” As Christina noted, Charlotte is a woman who knows when to go big, but also knows when a song calls for calm and quiet. I’m not sure where or how Adam heard pitch problems, but maybe the botched notes of the 10 vocalists who came before her messed with the Maroon 5 singer’s inner tuning?

Erin Willett: “That was technically and passionately the best vocal performance of the night: That is fact,” declared Blake (correctly), following Erin’s big, brassy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” Which means that even if voters got distracted by the “random dancers convening at a speakeasy” staging or by the fact that Erin began the performance playing a piano that looked like it was made of cardboard, she should be able to count on her coach to carry her to the next round.

The Weakest Link
Jermaine Paul: If scientists ever figure out a way for men to have babies, we already know what labor will sound like, thanks to Jermaine’s extraordinarly strained cover of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Dude was pushing and pushing and pushing for what felt like 12 hours, and it wreaked havoc on any sense of musicality in the performance. My scribbled notesinclude this description: “His voice turns into a squiggle.” And in a weird way, that’s what happened. It was almost as if the long-time backup singer’s throat started to close up from exhaustion, and by the time he hit the octave change, his rocker shriek had turned into something strange and cartoon-like. If Blake turns out to be right with his prediction that Jermaine’s Bon Jovi cover is headed for the Top 10 of iTunes, I’ll eat Xtina’s bedazzled vegetable steamer hat. But if I’m correct in predicting Jermaine’s early exit, that leaves us with three women fighting for the last two slots on Team Blake…

The Question Marks
There were moments during RaeLynn‘s countrified version of “Wakeup Call” where the tone of her voice sounded like she’d just chugged a liter of Pepsi and was about to let out the mother of all burps. What’s more, she’d completely run out of breath by the time she’d reached the final chorus. But I can’t lie: I didn’t not enjoy RaeLynn’s performance. Maybe it was residual good will from the fact that I really like Maroon 5’s original track. Or maybe it was the fact that the song really works with an injection of twang. Or maybe I was just impressed by the audacity of this kid flipping a well-known pop hit into something that could easily find its way to CMT. But even if you think I’m crazy for finding something of value at the bottom of the reality singing competition bargain bin, you don’t think there’s any way Blake is going to the next stage of the live shows without a country artist on his team, do you?

The way I see it, that means an early exit from either Naia Kete or Jordis Unga, and I can’t say I’ll be brokenhearted in either event. As a surprisingly astute Xtina noted of Naia’s cover of “Turning Tables,” “It was cool?” but not without “moments that weren’t great.” To translate that into brutal honesty, there’s something undeniably enchanting about Naia’s feathery light tone, but only on the 40-50% of notes she hits correctly. And what’s the point of covering a power vocalist like Adele if you’re going to bring pitch problems to the party? Jordis, meanwhile, arguably had the stronger performance with her take on Heart’s “Alone,” but while Blake applauded her for doing the “opposite of playing it safe,” I felt like the former Rock Star: INXS contestant was so busy trying to put on a display of vocal firepower that she kind of missed the point of the song. This isn’t a truck-lifting competition, after all. Plus, her sleepy cadence on the verses left me wondering for a moment if she’d missed some of the lyrics.

Mortal Locks
It takes a strong performer to not get upstaged by dancers in terrifying clown regalia, and so cheers to Lindsey Pavao for triumphing over the creepy during her moody cover of “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Lindsey’s smart enough to understand that in 2012, you’re not going to win a reality singing competition on pretty vocals alone, but even more importantly, her synthed-out, almost ’80s-ized take on Gotye’s current smash proved she knows how to rearrange with a purpose, put her own twist on a melody without taking a sledgehammer to its foundation. One week in, and it’s pretty clear she’ll be the last member standing on Team Xtina.

Jesse Campbell: Cee Lo and Adam both declared Jesse as the contestant to beat this season, and that lavish praise — combined with Jesse’s end-of-show pimp slot — is a pretty good indicator that he’ll live to sing another week. Still, if I’m being honest, I’ve got to admit I found Jesse’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World” pretty excruciating. Oh sure, the guy has big, powerful pipes, and he hits his notes the way I eat a box of Tagalongs: Not one gets missed. But what good is pitch perfection when your delivery is so thuddingly affected? Every choice Jesse made in terms of melody and cadence felt like an exercise in “look what I can do!” vocal showboating, rather than a genuine attempt to bring feeling and emotion to his classic ballad. Maybe Jesse is simply my broccoli rabe — a fancy shmancy vegetable that’s always popping up on gourmet menus but leaves me with a case of the voms — but I can’t believe I’m the only Voice watcher whose world would be a little more wonderful without an encore from Mr. Campbell.

The Weakest Link
It was pretty much all downhill for Moses Stone‘s mashup of Kanye West’s “Stronger” and “Power” once the crazy acrobat dude handspringed his way off the stage at the top of the perfomance. I could say Moses’ vocal was flimsier than bargain-brand toiler paper, that you could see livelier dancing from the aged-aunties contingent at any family wedding, that his silver asymetrical half-kilt had bumped Fashion Star from its reigning position as the saddest marriage of clothing and reality TV on the NBC lineup, but why pile on when the guy is about to walk the Voice plank by the end of Tuesday’s results show?

The Question Marks
Of Team Xtina’s three remaining vocalists, I entered the week most excited about Sera Hill, which is why her self-immolating rendition of Drake’s “Find Your Love” was so disappointing. Sure, Sera brought her usual sassy presence (and a cool chandelier-y necklace) to the stage, but by the time she hit the final verse, she was veering off pitch like a three-wheeled grocery cart careening toward an endcap of tomato cans, and the results were predictably disastrous. I’d like to believe that Xtina’s decision to surround Sera with writhing, shirtless hunks threw the contestant off her game — “I was waiting for Christina to start stuffing some $1 bills,” declared Blake with his usual quick wit — but I can’t quibble with voters if they decide Sera doesn’t deserve a second chance to prove her live-show merits.

The judges seemed more enamored of Chris “Pale Ben Stiller” Mann‘s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — it was “so so so beautiful,” cooed his coach — but to my ears, the verses were peppered with pitch problems, and Chris’ vocal contained so much vibrato he might as well have been performing atop a washing machine in the midst of its spin cycle. Much like his teammate Jesse, Chris represents a triumph of technique over feeling, and the result was a Bridge on the River Kwaitype situation. Boom!

I’d prefer to see Sera or Chris get booted to make way for Ashley de la Rosa, whose cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You” wasn’t perfect, but was at the very least interesting. Had the Voice house band not been cranked up to 11, the bubbly teen’s vocal might’ve had even more impact, but as Adam correctly noted, Ashley definitely won the award for most improved. All in all, a pretty solid result for a kid who’s gotten the cannon-fodder edit for most of the season.

Erin Willett: A-
Charlotte Sometimes: A-
Lindesy Pavao: A-
Jesse Campbell: B
Ashley de la Rosa: B-
RaeLynn: B-
Jordis Unga: B-
Naia Kete: C+
Sera Hill: C+
Chris Mann C+
Jermaine Paul: C-
Moses Stone: D

What did you think of the first week of Voice live rounds? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV news, interviews, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. jazzy says:

    Maybe they’re looking for high drama by building up Jesse and then entertaining the masses as they watch him crash. (Although I do like him) Last night was B-L-A-N-D.

  2. jazzy says:

    “Three wheel grocery cart careening toward an endcap of tomato cans”

    Slezak, there needs to be a book with your quotes, nobody does metaphors better than you!!! You can metaphor the phone book.

  3. PiperPaul says:

    You have to look at these people and see who is marketable as a solo artist.

    Erin Willett: D
    Charlotte Sometimes: D
    Lindesy Pavao: A
    Jesse Campbell: C
    Ashley de la Rosa: C
    RaeLynn: A
    Jordis Unga: C
    Naia Kete: C
    Sera Hill: D
    Chris Mann C
    Jermaine Paul: D
    Moses Stone: C

    The shocker coming out of this season will be Lindsey and RaeLynn are actively touring.

  4. Rachel says:

    What I find most interesting is how we all agree that it was an underwhelming show, but we all think that for different reasons and pulled out different favorites.

    I thought Lindsey was good, but I was mostly creeped out by the whole thing.

  5. MK says:

    I’m watching a little more and so I don’t forget who’s who….

    Jermaine Paul: Maybe he should stick with being a background singer. Sorry, but I thought he was pitchy.

    Raelyn: She’s the country singer that sang a Maroon 5 song with a big ego. She can go.

    Chris Mann: sang BOTW. Not bad. Better than everyone before him, but seriously no one sings it like Art Garfunkle, although Clay Aiken did an amazing version of way back in 2003 during Season 2 of American Idol.

    Naia Kete put me to sleep.

    Lindsay Pavao…also bored me to tears.

    Sera Hill…way off key. Jermaine…stick with back up singing. Jordiss…2nd time was better than the first time I listened, but I think what I’m hearing is a rock singer confused with pop songs. I wish she’d go back to rock.

    Erin Willett: was fabulous and I do agree though with whoever said Broadway is her best bet. She’s very powerful and I can’t see her as a pop or rock artist, but perhaps that’s not what The Voice is all about.

    Moses Stone: I guess he’s okay for a Rapper, unfortunately it’s just not my cuppa. Sorry.

    Jordiss Unga: Like I said earlier, I loved her on Rockstar INXS when she was a rocker. Now it feels like she’s a rocker lost in a pop star body. I like pop and rock. I would love her to stay because I really want to see what else she has to offer.

    Ashley Del Rosa: I keep getting her name confused with Ashley Del Grossa who was a pro dancer on Dancing With The Stars. Quite frankly, I was about as enamoured with her as I was with Jordiss, but I still like Jordiss better.

    Charlotte Sometimes: Sorry, I didn’t get it. I don’t like her voice and I didn’t like the song at all.

    Jesse Campbell: I liked his soft bluesy jazzy version of Wonderful World. I thought he over enunciated on some words, but other than that he was one of the best IMO.

    There seems to be a lot of singers that sound like Dia from last year whom I absolutely loathed and some other gal who I believe was on Blake’s team. Maybe that’s why I prefer Jordiss…other than Erin and Raelynn…all the other females sounded the same to me.

    So for me Team Blake Stays would be Jordiss and Erin and on Christina’s Chris and Jesse. Everyone else…who cares?

    It was so hard to look at CeLo. Looked like a bad Elvis imitator.

    • flutiefan says:

      OMG Xenia! that’s who the “singers” on Voice and Idol are trying to sound like! i couldn’t put my finger on it! although i usually liked Xenia’s choice of songs to fit her odd voice… these folks are trying to Xenia-fy pop music. ugh. it just doesn’t lend to that.

      p.s. i also noticed a lot of people trying to be like Haley Reinhart this year over the various shows. just stop, people.

  6. flutiefan says:

    nearly every “singer” this year is affected. what is up with that? and the affectations are nearly the same! strange little girl voice with odd trills.

    i love country music, btw,and RaeLynn is terrible as dirt, to flip a Blake Shelton phrase.

  7. MJ says:

    SUPER excited for Jamar next week. He’s fantastic. Interested to see James as well. Unforch we still have to sit through other Erin in order to do so.

  8. L says:

    Overall, an underwhelming show. No one was outstanding. I was really looking forward to hearing Jordis based on her work on Rock Star INXS, but I too found her not fabulous. My favorite of the night was Ashley de la Rosa, who I had no recollection of seeing prior to last night. I also liked Erin Willet. I hope Adam’s team does better, because I don’t really like anyone on Cee Lo’s team except for the guy who was on Idol with Danny Gokey.

  9. Christian says:

    I’m not afraid to say it: I hate Jesse Campbell. I think that other man should have won during the Battle Rounds performance.

    Chris Mann also needs to drop the opera act. I realized that I bought a cover of him singing “Heartless” from iTunes a while back. He’s great. The “I need to stay true to my opera training” BS is getting old fast, and his songs are so boring to me.

  10. Davey says:

    RaeLynn was a disaster with a capital D. And Charlotte Sometimes has zero personality, I don’t care how well she sings. I will not spend one more minute listening to her and will gladly leave the room when she appears again on the show.

    I was let down by the Voice last night but we already had an inkling of this when we saw a few of the more promising vocalists eliminated in the silly battle rounds.

    At least in this group it’s not hard to make a decision about who to like or not like.

    Jesse may have been the one of the best last night but it’s in part because there were so many train wrecks last night.

    Erin sounded fine but the song and the setting didn’t do her any favors.

    Not one of these people has the likability of Javier or Dia this year. Maybe next week will be better?

  11. Ruby says:

    There was actually one point during RaeLynn’s performance where I turned to my family and said, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV.” I can’t believe anyone actually liked that. I was fixing to hang myself from my ceiling fan at the end of it. And I’m pretty sure Adam Levine ACTUALLY felt the same way, though he was way more gracious than he should have been. This is how the Sanjayas of the world get to stick around for so long, Slezak. Stop it.

  12. blurghpwomp says:

    “If Blake turns out to be right with his prediction that Jermaine’s Bon Jovi cover is headed for the Top 10 of iTunes, I’ll eat Xtina’s bedazzled vegetable steamer hat.”

    I love you. I love you very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.

  13. donie says:

    I love broccoli rabe.

  14. LauraHolt says:

    I LOVE watching The Voice.

    I’d say 80% of that is the judges interplay and 20% is from the contestants.

    Blake is charming and funny. Adam is genuine and nice. Cee-lo is a delightful perv who has a genuine love and knowledge of music from all genres. Christina, although a little nutty, usually keeps it real regarding people’s vocals.

    I have enjoyed every episode that I’ve watched although that enjoyment is rarely derived from the performances.

    I RARELY enjoy American Idol. I think I watch AI because it’s habit. I grew up with it. . But I don’t usually enjoy it. I certainly never watch it as it airs and I often fast forward.
    I get frustrated that talented singers keep making bad song choices and are often too young/inexperienced to connect with the lyrics that they are singing. The judges fail to properly/honestly critique vocals; and Seacrest often makes uncomfortable comments (he’d call them jokes) and inappropriately touches contestants causing them embarrassment. (I’m still grossed out by his mopping sweat off a contestants brow with his bare hand or when he used his spit to clean and contestant)

  15. LauraHolt says:

    Jesse personality bugs me. He’s been wedding/cruise ship/karaoke singing way too long and it’s effected his ability to preform naturally and be present in a genuine authentic way. His vocals are always spot on but I don’t enjoy watching him perform.

    It comes as no surprise then that the duet from the battle round was his strongest performance. he had to share the stage and worry about beating whatever his opponent was doing. His duet of If I ain’t got you with the preacher’s son who got booted was FANTASTIC. I’ve watched it repeatedly.

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