It’s good to be The Voice right now.
While its direct competitor The X Factor flops around like a fish on a dock, and grand dame American Idol searches for a bucket to bail out the gallons of water left by Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj’s tiresome infighting, NBC’s reality singing competition is gliding through the water like a brainier Ryan Lochte (minus the “JEAH!”-ing and the water-logged docuseries).
There’s the record 15.3 million viewers for its June 2013 finale. There’s Sunday night’s Emmy win as Best Reality-Competition Series. And best of all, there’s tonight’s Season 5 premiere, so laden with genuine talent that Adam Levine found himself declaring “I felt like we were at the end of the season!” — after only the third audition.
Heck, things are so good right now in the House That Willed Cassadee Pope to Victory that even when things go awry — as in the case of solid but unspectacular Texas teen Jake Worthington — rejection is met with an open smile and an “I’m just so happy to be here!”
Sure, sure, I’m probably over-enthusiastic thanks to the fact that one of tonight’s most exciting prospects — 54-year-old Donna Allen — is a happy inhabitant of my iPod with her saucy 1987 R&B hit “Serious” (current playcount: 31; terrifying video embedded below). But even without that personal rooting interest, it’d be hard not to catch the same kind of good vibrations from Season 5 that Xtina herself attempted to hijack from three-time champ Blake Shelton in the middle of tonight’s festivities.
Yeah, The Voice might seem more absolutely-positively-must-see if all the investment and time and voting led to a winner who actually ended up at the top of the charts, but not every party needs to lead to some Higher Purpose. Sometimes you’ve got to just relax, sip your sauv blanc and enjoy what’s unfolding in front of your eyes.
And to that end, let me give my personal ranking (from least- to most-promising) of the eight newest contenders for Danielle Bradbery’s crown and sash:
8. Josh Logan, “Too Close” (Team Xtina) | Not quite sure how this rocker dude got three chairs to turn, given that he followed Alex Clare’s original like it was a Martha Stewart pie-crust recipe — and hit more than a few bum notes in the process. Maybe they all wanted Battle Rounds fodder?
7. Shelbie Z, “Here for the Party” (Team Blake) | Former pageant contestant turned hairdresser/pageant coach showed off a sweet personality in her interview package, but her Gretchen Wilson cover, while mostly in tune, was as ordinary as dryer lint at a laundromat.
6. Caroline Pennell, “Anything Could Happen” (Team Cee Lo) | Yeah, I was charmed by the wide-eyed teenager’s giggle after she made eye contact with Cee Lo after his chair turned, and he was right that her voice “sounds like sunshine.” Still, there were some affectations in her phrasing he’ll need to quash if she’s going to be a true contender.
5. Nic Hawk, “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” (Team Adam) | Admittedly, Nic’s voice isn’t the most powerful or unique of the eight Episode 1 contenders, but his brazen flirtation with Adam (“I don’t know if I’ll be able to focus ’cause you’re so good looking!”) and fantastic stage presence mean he’ll probably stick in the average viewer’s memory longer than most. His ability to catch a groove like a labrador to a frisbee — labradors do catch frisbees, yes? — won’t hurt him, either.
4. Matthew Schuler, “Cough Syrup” (Team Xtina) | Was it just me or did all four coaches hitting their buttons on the first line of Matthew’s song seem slightly fishy, like they’d gotten a heads-up that a Chosen One was in the house? (Sorry, that sentence was brought to you by the word “cynicism.”) Nevertheless, with Matthew’s warm tone and skill at breathing life into a lyric — as well as his inarguable pop-star looks — it’s kind of understandable why he might be a producer fave.
3. James Wolpert, “Love Interruption” (Team Adam) | I may be exaggerating slightly, but I think I suggested this Jack White tune 147 times in my weekly “What Should the Idols Sing?” articles earlier this year. And yet while James’ fine musical taste made me predisposed to liking him, his explosive pop of gravel and passion on the second verse were the tools that sent all four coaches into a bidding war for the bespectacled college dropout. (Bonus points for showing off a fab vocab in his pre-performance interview, too.)
2. Kat Robichaud, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” (Team Cee Lo) | Dang, Kat’s voice is so gruff and gin-soaked, I wanted to pair it with a couple of olives and a whisper of vermouth, shake it with some ice and pour it into a martini glass. Admittedly, there were a couple of scream-type stumbles toward the end of the tune, but I liked how “Raspy McRasperson” (as Adam called her) executed a ferocious high-kick mid-chorus without ever pausing from her primary vocal task. Or to put it another way: She’s fierce, yo!
1. Donna Allen, “You Are So Beautiful” (Team Adam) | I understood Xtina’s Gospel hand and Adam’s delighted writhing, given all the life experience and world-weariness this 54-year-old former background vocalist for Miami Sound Machine put into her performance. Moreso than any other singer tonight, Donna’s mixture of restraint and attack, nuance and bombast, managed to make it seem like she was tackling a tune that had been written expressly for her. Contestants of a Certain Age haven’t fared too well in making it past Battles/Knockouts the last couple seasons, but if Adam can get past Donna’s lack of bro-ishness, he might discover she could be a magic bullet in his effort to stop Team Blake’s win streak at three.
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of The Voice‘s Season 5 premiere? Who were your favorite wannabes? Did you disagree with any of the coaches’ or contestants’ decisions? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!
And for all my reality TV-related news, interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!