It’s not easy being a contestant on The Voice. Not only must these fledgling artists show extreme patience at getting upstaged in the midst of their critiques by chants of “I love you Adam!”/”I love you Xtina!” (possibly delivered by Adam’s and Xtina’s assistants, disguised in trench coats and sunglasses) but they also have to endure backstage interviews in the Sprint lounge conducted by a babbling ponytail attached to a stem-cell smoothie. (Sometimes that entity is referred to as a “Christina Milian.”)
This week’s semifinal show, however, proved that sometimes it’s worth putting up with a whole lot of production-related nonsense as long as you get to see a star (or two, or maybe even four) blossom right there on your television screen.
The only thing that sucks for viewers are the vagaries of The Voice‘s voting system and seasonal structure. On Tuesday night, the Season 2 Top 8 will be slashed in half — with only four singers surviving based on a combination of viewer votes and scores from their own coaches that were collected tonight by an accounting firm and won’t be revealed until the results-show telecast. And it won’t necessarily be the four best contestants who move on to next week’s finale, either. One hopeful each from Teams Adam, Blake, Cee Lo, and Xtina are guaranteed berths in the finale, resulting in dubious instances of apples vs. oranges, apples vs. bagels, and bagels vs. toothpaste.
In other words, Voice fans: If you’re sitting on your living room sofa and shouting “Why can’t I have another week of Juliet and Jamar?” then you are not alone.
Who knows, maybe a last-minute rule change will save the day, or at least the season? Or maybe Blake will sacrifice both of his team members and do a last-minute draft of Cee Lo’s eliminated contestant? Until then, let’s dive into the week’s performances!
Tony Lucca (Team Adam): The Heavy’s “How Ya Like Me Now” | As a Malibu Shores fan, it’s hard for me to admit that I’ve been mostly underwhelmed by Tony all season, but who’d have guessed that fancy footwork would turn out to be the missing ingredient in the guy’s performances? Seriously, Tony’s whole get-down-with-the-git-down sidestep/shuffle was like a spicy mustard bringing flavor to his basic-turkey-sandwich-from-the-local-deli voice. Yeah, dude was dressed like a waiter in a high-end restaurant, and no, I’m not sure we needed the slinky backup dancers pointing the way to their nether-regions, but at least we got energy and charisma, if not a particularly distinctive tone. (And the spoken-word twist on the chorus heading into the final refrain was a nifty touch, too.) Xtina, sharpening her claws against the stone wheel, took credit for Tony’s song choice (apparently she cleared it for her own contestant, Moses Stone, before his early ouster) and then lobbed one more bitchery bomb at her former Mickey Mouse Club cohort: “If this doesn’t work out, you and Adam can start a Britney cover band.” Grade: B+
Erin Willett (Team Blake): David Guetta featuring Usher’s “Without You” | I started getting all excited by the pre-performance package, with Blake going on about how this would be Erin’s big, breakthrough moment, but it was clear from the very first note that her slowed-down rendition of David Gueta’s soaring club anthem was gonna be Rated W…for Waah Waah Waaaaah. The opening verse was simply pitched too low for Erin’s comfort zone, and she delivered the song with a clumsy cadence that stripped the impact from the lyrics. And then, to make matter worse, Erin let her emotions get the best of her — not all that surprising considering that her dad recently passed away — causing her voice to close up and her grasp of pitch to slip away like a rope through a mountain climber’s hands. Indeed, the fall was tragic, and ultimately gory. Grade: C-
Chris Mann (Team Xtina): “Ave Maria” (classical) | I probably shouldn’t let myself get irrationally irritated by Chris’s whole “my voice is so amazing and powerful that the world doesn’t understand it, but now I’m just going to let it soar” shtick, but it always feels so rehearsed, so phony, that I find myself shutting down before he even sings a note. It doesn’t help that the guy can barely contain a grin of smug self-satisfaction every time he hits a big note, but I can’t say his rendition of “Ave Maria” wasn’t pretty in an “if you can’t afford Josh Groban tickets, why not try Chris Mann?” sort of way. Still, while Xtina had a point that not many of Chris’s opponents could handle the difficulty of a classical ballad, it has to be said that her prodigy hasn’t exactly proven adept at handling the challenges of modern music, either. Call me when he’s mastered James Brown, Xtina! Grade: B-
Jamar Rogers (Team Cee Lo): Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” | Speaking of irritating shtick, as much as I love Jamar as a performer, sometimes I wish he’d occasionally let up on beating the new-age spiritual-guru drum, reminding us that he’s the champion of underdogs everywhere, the living embodiment of overcoming the odds, a beacon of triumph and second chances. Okay, okay, he’s an incredibly talented dude who’s overcome drug addiction and bravely faced an HIV-positive diagnosis, but let’s not confuse him with Mother Teresa delivering meals to impoverished children in the slums of Calcutta. (That said, a nun’s habit might’ve been more flattering than Jamar’s purple tux jacket with tails, matching baseball cap, chainmail vest, and tight white pants.) And yet Jamar’s voice is truly special enough that it’s easy to put aside his sales pitch and focus on the actual product. I’m not sure the electronica-infused arrangement of “If You Don’t Know Me…” added much emotional impact, but you’ve got to give Jamar credit for pushing himself artistically and not just following in the wake of Harold Melvin and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall. Those glory notes on the chorus were flawless, and I loved how he zagged against the expected with that closing bass notes. Xtina bursting into song on her critique may have been a ridiculous reminder of “I can sing the stuffing out of a ballad, too!” but I still wouldn’t mind a duet with these two at the finale, y’know? Grade: A-
Teams Adam & Cee Lo: The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” | All four of these cats sounded great, though Katrina surprised me holding her own with Jamar and Juliet in a rockier arrangement. Grade: B+
Jermaine Paul (Team Blake): Journey’s “Open Arms” | When Jermaine started talking to Blake about wanting to present “the right me” for his semifinal performance, I got all optimistic. Did he mean the version of himself that doesn’t treat every note of every song like a serial strangler wrapping his powerful hands around a tender throat? But no, who was I kidding? This is Jerr-urr-urrr-maay-uhh-ayy-uhh-nuhh-ehh-ugggghh-ughh, the man who never met a word that couldn’t be drawn out to 15 syllables. (A moment of silence, please, for the word “cold,” which died a disfiguring death in the crushing embrace of Jermaine’s “Open Arms.”) Still, while I recognize that from a stylistic standpoint, Jermaine might not be my cup of arsenic, I also thought the performance was loaded with technical problems: Was it just me or did the dude come in late on the opening verse? And to my ears, that final set of runs devolved into a series of haggard screams that bore little resemblance to music. When Adam told Jermaine that he was no longer a background singer, I wondered if he was sneakily implying Jermaine had stumbled so badly he might have to look for a 9-to-5 office job. Grade: C
Katrina Parker (Team Adam): The Fugees’ version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” | I wish Katrina had stepped off her little platform, or at least stepped away from the mic stand — “one time!” — and grooved a little bit during her rendition of “Killing Me Softly.” After all, this was the Lauryn Hill version (and not Roberta Flack’s) that she was tackling. But that’s just a minor quibble over a performance that was hands-down Katrina’s high point in the competition. Sometimes it’s nice to hear a gorgeous melody sung in a simple, unadorned manner, and that’s really where Katrina excels. She doesn’t try to bend her songs so much that they become grotesque balloon animals; rather, she fills ’em up with helium, nudges them into the air, and lets ’em soar. I get the sense that Katrina may still have some work to do in figuring out what kind of artist she wants to be, of learning how to put her own stamp on a composition, but I’m interested in hearing how she gets there. Xtina had a point when she brutally noted that Tony is the “obvious” “predictable” choice for Adam to reward his coaches’ points to, but “take a look at Katrina Parker because she’s a star.” Grade: B+
Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina): Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” | Lindsey is nothing short of an enigma. There’s no denying the eerie-sweet tone of her voice, or the fact that she treats songs with a gentle touch of a grade-school science teacher placing a wounded baby robin in a classroom incubator. Her lovely, lilting “Skinny Love” — with a final set of notes as delicate as origami — stood out against the “more is more!” vibe of most of her competitors. And yet I sometimes get the sense that Lindsey wishes she could crawl under an amplifier, turn to pixie dust, and float back over to her local coffee house rather than be surrounded by a circle of vacant backup dancers positioned in a peculiar clap-circle formation. Even worse, I couldn’t understand a single word of the opening verse of her “Skinny Love,” which is somewhat problematic for a performer whose wheelhouse is emotion and feeling. I have no idea whether America and Xtina will end up siding with this peculiar soul or her more outgoing, outsized rival Chris Mann, but if I’m being honest, the finale would be a lot less interesting without Lindsey, no? Grade: B+
Team Blake & Team Xtina: Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” | This went up to the edge of glory, and then fell right off the cliff. Chris Mann was especially terrible, though Lindsey really struggled with pitch, too. Grade: D
Juliet Simms (Team Cee Lo): “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” | Had Juliet opened the show instead of closing it, there would’ve been a logical explanation for Xtina wearing nothing but a black frilly jacket to the proceedings, because Juliet’s vocal was so raw and gale-force, I suspect she might’ve blown the pants off of several members of the love studio audience. What was amazing about this vocal was the way Juliet got lost in the wilderness — it was almost as if something feral and wounded had taken hold of the microphone — and she never lost her command of the melody, never let her howling delivery of the chorus veer into a place that wasn’t musical. It’s hard to fathom that on Tuesday night, either Juliet or Jamar will get the boot, while either Jermaine or Erin will advance to the finale, but if this turns out to be Juliet’s final impression on The Voice audience, then let’s all offer up a collective prayer that a major-label deal won’t be far behind, eh? Grade: A
Should Advance to the Finale
Will Advance to the Finale
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