Welcome to the inaugural recap of the latest singing competition show, The Voice. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never seen an episode of American Idol, America’s Got Talent, or any other of the myriad of singing shows. But always up for a challenge, and the chance to make fun of Maroon 5 or Matchbox 20 (whiney dude singers blend into one another for me), has piqued my interest in NBC’s foray into Fox territory.
Let’s get the ground rules for this competition out of the way first. Carson Daly, the ever-so-earnest host (and the proto-Seacrest) explains the set-up. There are no judges, only coaches--Cee Lo Green of the spectacularly hipster sunglasses, Blake Shelton of the country scene and oddly bad-boy cute, Adam Levine of the aforementioned whiney dude singer ilk, and Christina Aguilera of the maybe drunken but I can’t hate on her because she’s representing the buxom set. They will each pick eight singers to be on their teams and coach the singers throughout the competition. The first round is a blind audition; the coaches can’t see who is performing and, if they like the voice, they hit a buzzer and spin around to see the performer. If only one coach picks the singer, then s/he is on the coach’s team. If more than one coach picks the same singer, then the coaches argue their case for the singer to pick the coach. Let me warn you ahead of time—their arguments are very weak and silly, but this is a fun show, so let’s roll with it.
Diabetic Coma Induced
With that bit of business out of the way, we’re first treated to an abbreviated version of the Gnarls Barkley song “Crazy”, which could bode ill tidings for us viewing. This is Cee Lo’s song (along with Danger Mouse, natch) and he’s the only one who sounds remotely right on it. Then it is on to auditions, wherein a bunch of yet undiscovered talents sing a lot songs I’ve never heard. First up is Tarralyn Ramsey singing “Breath”. She’s wearing a really cool paisley dress and a curious bow belt and she sounds pretty good. Christina picks her first then Cee Lo; Adam didn’t pick her because she’s a better singer than he is (and so are the cicadas outside my house) and Blake realized her soul style won’t really match up with his country stylings. Tarralyn is a blubbery mess, but ultimately decides to be on Christina’s team.
Next up is Patrick Thomas, a lad of 20 sporting a big cowboy hat. By his own admission, he is a nerd who was picked on in high school, not terribly athletic, and would do anything to sing professionally. He sings “Live Like You Were Dying” and sounds very, very top 40 country, but at least his voice is clean and not too twangy. Adam and Cee Lo both pick him, then Blake does too. Christina does not and waits for the song to be over with an impatient look; however, when she turns around at the end, she admires his baby face cute boy looks. The coaches make their cases, but Patrick can’t turn down a chance to work with country crooner Blake.
Father of six, Jared Blake, auditions next. He’s got a sad sack story of fighting drugs and alcohol, only to wise up when he realized his daughters could end up with a guy like him. Alas, the sad back-story crap of reality shows takes root. I’ve seen too much reality television; the sad back-story makes me get all hater-aid on such contestants. He takes the stage with an acoustic guitar singing some song about good girls going bad in a rocker style. No one chooses him; Adam says that he started strong but lost it at the chorus. Blake thinks he’s using his voice in the wrong style. Backstage, Carson offers a few words of consolation, and he’s on his way. Be gone with you, you sad sack! The editing makes me wistful for the evil of the Magical Elves.
Bring on the stories of distress. Vicci Martinez, a girl who struggled coming out to her religious family, is up next. Her face is darkened out in the interview so that the viewers can play along at home to see if they’d chose her. She also has a downer story of losing her father a few years back, but she was on good terms with him and follows her dreams because of him. She comes out singing “Rolling in the Deep”. I really like her style, as does Cee Lo and Christina. Christina loves the rasp in her voice and Cee Lo’s heart was touched. The crowd and Adam want her to pick Cee Lo, and she does. It’s not that I don’t like Vicci—it’s that I hate exploitation by the producers. Good luck to her, and may the producers’ dogs pee on their rugs.
Then there’s Sonia Rao, who wants to prove to her Indian immigrant parents that singing is a viable career. She sings “If I Ain’t Got You” and is kind of all over the notes; no coach pushes a button. She lacked intensity Christina requires; Cee Lo thinks she’s beautiful, but didn’t pick her. I think that she spends too much money on hair care products and should have focused on education, not a pipe dream. At least she’s not living in a basement or a car. (I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Katy Perry is a musical non-genius.
The first duo to audition, Josh and Nicole Johnson (who perform under the name Elenowen) hail from Nashville and look like cleaned up hippies. They’ve been married three years and live in Nicole’s parents’ basement. They sing “Falling Slowly” as a duet, much to the bewilderment of the coaches. Blake is so confused, he has to push the button. Then Cee Lo does too. Nicole has a good voice, but Josh has an odd way of harmonizing off key. They describe themselves as a folk/pop duo. Cee Lo would want to showcase them in a broader way than Blake’s country train. Blake says he can help them navigate the stresses that will come on then as couple. Nicole leaves it up to Josh to pick; he goes with Blake. Josh can’t even provide his own parents’ basement, so I’m not so sure this is a good choice.
American Idol cast-off Frenchie Davis auditions next; she’s not letting her disqualification from AI stop her—she wants to be remembered for her talent not her porn past. She performs “I Kissed a Girl” and eventually Christina presses her button. She might have been a bit shocked at Frenchie’s bald visage, but Frenchie is now on Christina’s team. I do not understand this “I Kissed a Girl” song at all. For better than a year I thought it was a cover of Jill Sobule’s song until I actually listened to the crap that it is.
Pretty girl Kelsey Ray is featured next; she’s apparently some kind of Internet star with European men. She wishes the coaches could see her because she relies on her looks, or at least that’s what I took away from her statement. She performs “American Boy” like it was 1978 and disco reigned supreme. Cee Lo and Adam both turn around first because they wish they were at Studio 54 and knew Andy Warhol, and at the very end Christina does as well. She tries to persuade Kelsey to get on her team to avoid getting hit on by Adam and Cee Lo. Though she grew up listening to Christina and loves Maroon 5, Kelsey picks Cee Lo’s team. He needs someone to eliminate early, right?
Another young lad, Jeff Jenkins, has come from Texas to audition; his mother passed away a mere ten months prior and he’s fighting for her. Oh, NBC, I see you’ve jumped on The Bachelor(ette) train to exploit a parental death. Totally not cool! He performs “Bless the Broken Road” which is some kind of country ditty. Adam and Cee Lo immediately press their buttons and turn around. Christina follows suit a few moments later. Blake holds on until the very end but finally turns around. Adam could offer a slightly different approach than the country song road; Blake says Jeff could sing any kind of style. Christina and Cee Lo also want to work with him, but he goes with Adam. Finally someone picks poor little Adam. He’s so tiny, he could fit into my pocket.
Rebecca Loebe is a homeless musician who lives out of a Camry station wagon, traveling the country getting gigs where she can. It’s a toss-up whether car dwelling or parental basement crashing is more pathetic, but in either event, The Voice is really milking these sob stories. Perhaps perfectly well-adjusted people with jobs don’t audition on televised singing contests. Rebecca sings “Come As You Are”, the Nirvana song, as some sort of torch song. She’s got an interesting voice and Christina buys it, as does Adam. He’s impressed with her re-working of the song and Christina is a bit jealous that she didn’t think of doing a twist on the song like Rebecca did. Rebecca chooses to work with Adam based on his career trajectory. Apparently she aspires to be a whiney boy voice.
Joann Rizzo, a 56-year-old New Jersey mother, sports a thick New Joesey accent and comes out with an accent-free “Say A Little Prayer”. Unfortunately, no one presses the button for Joann. The coaches agree that she’s got a good voice, but not a “wow” voice. I’m impressed she can loose her accent in singing. Props for that, Joann.
The sincerity of all this is making me queasy.
Quiet, shy, 16-year-old Xenia Martinez enters the blind auditions next. She’s so shy, she didn’t even tell her best friend that she liked to sing. She sings “Break Even” with a raspy voice beyond her years. Cee Lo turns his chair first then Blake. Christina writes notes, or a grocery list, who knows. Blake finds her voice very cool and he really wants her to pick him. Cee Lo likes the raspy twang to her voice. She’s torn between the two, but picks Blake. He gets up to hug her and either she’s really short or he’s really tall—he’s twice her height, or so it seemed from the camera angle.
In another “guess what the judges will do” moment, we’re introduced to Tje Austin, who is a Mormon from Austin, Texas with an affinity for sci fi, which is not unlike one of the main characters in The Book of Mormon on Broadway (awesome show, BTW). He sings “Just The Way You Are”; he has a R&B sound, which Adam and Cee Lo like. After he’s done, Christina is pissed at herself for not picking him. Tje picks Cee Lo much to Adam’s disappointment. Now, I’m not going to say the producers picked this guy for the blind intro to the viewing audience because he’s African American and his parents are stereotypical looking white Texans, buuuut….draw your own conclusions on this Trump-friendly network.
Javier Colon, a father of two girls, hails from Stratford, Connecticut and looks like he should be rocking a posh country club membership. He performs, to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment, “Time After Time”. He’s got a good voice, but he’s a bit all over the notes with silly runs or whatever that thing is people do when they can’t sustain a note properly. It vexes me, as I’ve been singing along to “She’s So Unusual” for, what, 30 freakin’ years, and my limited vocal range can hold those notes. Get back to me when you can do both parts of “When You Were Mine”, ‘kay? Cee Lo and Adam press their buttons almost at the same time. Christina follows shortly afterward, with Blake hanging back until the very last second. Adam wants to win, so he wants Javier to pick him. Christina has people who will help him, Blake is buying what he’s selling, and Cee Lo offers creative freedom. Javier opts to be on Adam’s team. Meanwhile, Adam finds his first cast-off. Just sayin’.
The final performer tonight is Beverly McClellan, a 41-year-old rocker with neck tats and a shaved head, totally by choice. She comes out blazing with “Piece of my Heart”; she’s pretty much channeling Janice after two bottles of SoCo (her preferred drink). Adam and Christina turn their chairs around while Cee Lo and Blake remains stoic. Christina says she rocked the song and wants her on the team. Adam likes that she was really enjoying herself on the stage. Christina warns Beverly that Adam is a wheeler and dealer, which I could see. Beverly takes the advice and picks Christina’s team. I’d put her on Jackie Jormp-Jomp’s team, but I’m not in charge.
So, after two hours, each of the coaches have three of their eight spots filled. Next week the auditions wrap up and then it’s on to the real competition. Thus far, everything has been squeaky-clean, nicey-nice. There were a few people not chosen, but no one sang so badly I wanted to stab my ears with an ice pick. Win? Not so much when House Hunters has more edge than this show.