The Voice Recap: Back(story) to the Future!

James Irwin The Voice - Season 5I’m not a TV producer — I just criticize them on the Internet. But putting my patented brand of bitchery aside for a second, I’ll admit it’s got to be tough to strike the right balance of good singing, emotional backstory and judges’ chatter during the audition rounds of a reality competition series.

That said, Episode 4 of The Voice‘s fifth season was one of those recipes that goes sideways from the first step: Maybe somebody didn’t leave the cake out in the rain, but the finished product sure was tear-streaked and a little bit soggy.

Not that there wasn’t talent, mind you. The episode’s final singer was pretty sublime, a couple of potential country contenders emerged, and a Season 4 reject came back strong.

But I’d honestly pay $10 apiece to revoke cheesy Carson Daly introductions like, “Up next, an artist who’s ready to make a change” or “Now, a Midwestern artist with a heart of gold.” Also, just because you endured a horrific accident or had a sick relative does not mean you should be labeled “inspirational.” It just means you’re human.

I know, I know, it’s official: I’m the worst. I just feel like if three or four vocalists per episode are going to have their Blinds compressed into seconds-long clip roundups, maybe Mark Burnett & Co. could try to trim just a little fat in other spots, y’know?

Anyhow, before this recap turns into a rant, let’s cut to my ranking (from least- to most-promising) of the eight latest folks to advance to the Season 5 Battle Rounds:

8. Sam Cerniglia, “It’s a Beautiful Day” (Team Blake) | Cute guy, but without the visual, I can’t fathom why Blake turned for a vocal performance that rippled with nervousness. Oh, wait, I do, and I can sum it up in four words: Battle Rounds Cannon Fodder.

7. Will Champlin, “Not Over You” (Team Adam) | His dad was in Chicago (the band, not the city). He dresses like a less neon-obsessed Blaine Warbler. But while his vocal was mostly on point, I have a really hard time getting behind a guy who’d choose a song like Gavin De Graw’s “Not Over You” — which puts the “nah” in naptime.

6. Stephanie Anne Johnson, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ (Team Xtina) | I loved this cruise-ship singer’s energy almost as much as her blues-singing grandma’s exclamation of “Wondah-ful!” to describe Stephanie’s Voice experience. That said, I expected more risks and less coloring inside the lines from a gal who’s ripped through 1,000 performances on her acoustic guitar in the last three years.

5. R. Anthony, “Hall of Fame” (Team Cee Lo) | R’s wife takes home the runner-up spot behind Stephanie’s grandma as most energetically awesome family member. But while dude definitely has a firm grasp of pitch and a chipotle-smokey tone, I felt like he could’ve cut the runs back by half. Also, it can’t be a good sign for R’s star wattage that I spent half of his audition grimly trying to remember the name of that dude who won Kelly Clarkson’s Duets show in Summer 2012. (For the record, it was J. Rome.) (Love, M. Slezak.)

4. Olivia Henken, “Two Black Cadillacs” (Team Xtina) | On the plus side, Olivia may have actually sung this even more spotlessly than La Underwood. On the negative side, for a girl who complained about being compared to other blonde female country singers, she didn’t do a whole lot to differentiate her cover from the original, did she? Also, I’m not sure Xtina’s comparison to Barbie is gonna help this long-time veteran of the pageant-competition circuit. But there’s no denying her vocal. And this! is! the! voice! after all.

3. Justin Chain, “She’s Country” (Team Blake) | Like Olivia, Justin didn’t exactly shake up the formula of Jason Aldean’s original — OMG, I just remembered RaeLynn’s cray-cray rendition from Season 2! — but he hit every damn note square in the jaw, like a prizefighter looking for a quick TKO. I’m a little uncertain about his sculptural facial-hair situaysh, but I’m kinda looking for dude to keep the party rockin’ as the season progresses. Yeah, he’s pretty hot, too.

2. James Irwin, “Losing My Religion” (Team Adam) | Adam was spot-on that James started stronger than he finished, but I sensed some of his loss of focus was indeed related to the four-chair turn happening before his disbelieving eyes. Dude showed a lot of creativity turning REM’s classic into more of a rhythmic rock track, and took some risks with the melody that paid off like Facebook stock. The fact that he chose the one coach who seriously critiqued him makes me hopeful James is serious about improving his craft, too.

1. Ashley Dubose, “Diamonds” (Team Adam) | At the risk of starting Ashley’s paragraph the same way I began James’s, Adam was spot on that her voice cut through the air like a razor, her crisp diction and immaculate phrasing proving an absolute upgrade from Rihanna’s bleating original. It also helps that Ashley — despite making a living as a computer analyst, rather than a working singer — already has a video-ready sense of style, solid stage presence and a not-so-sobby story about working her tail off to pay the bills, raise her daughter and keep her music dreams alive. Not a hint of Gokeyism in the entire package — respeck!

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of The Voice tonight? 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!

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