Network: NBC, airs Tuesday nights
Original Telecast: May 31, 2011
When THE VOICE premiered last month, it quickly proved to be one of NBC’s surprise breakout hits. It’s a reality music competition in the vein of AMERICAN IDOL, but the twist is, the “coaches” picked their favorites with the backs turned to the contestants. They were judging them on talent, not by how they looked.
It was a great idea, and with strong coaches like Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), it lended some fresh voices and some current pop validity to the proceedings.
Then the show started the Battles rounds, and well, things have been hit and miss since.
Here’s the problem, “Battles, Part 4” is the fourth week we’ve had the contestants slowly widdled down to the final 16. Each coach picks 4 contestants apiece and in order to get there, they have to pit artists in a musical Tunderdome where two contestants sing off each other with only one leaving the victor.
Of course, only the coach picks the winners, but the stakes are strangely anti-climactic, as this episode found Shelton, Levine and Green picking the obvious winners, while Christina made a huge mistake and went for the wrong person for her last pick.
It’s great to learn more about the performers and to see how they handle certain pressure, but like IDOL, some of the song choices for these duels proved to be uneven at best and often times the wrong match for the vocalists.
In Shelton’s case, he chose “I’ll Stand By You” for two of his more insecure, youngest and uniquely vocaled performers – Xenia and Sara Oromchi. Sara has a more traditional sounding pop voice, while Xenia’s vocals are much rattier, edgy and wholly unique. “I’ll Stand By You” is a diva song, and sorry, neither are much divas. Still, in terms of vocal tone alone, Xenia rose to the challenge despite her pretentious one-word stage name.
For Levine, he had baby-faced power vocalist Jeff Jenkins squaring off of power pop singer Casey Desmond. This one was a no-brainer. All the judges wanted Jeff, and he was the clear victor. Levine nabbing him as his secret weapon was very obvious.
Cee Lo Green also had it easy. He had smooth country singer Curtis Grimes squaring off of edgy popster Emily Valentine. Throughout their pre-taped confessionals, it was revealed that there was clearly an attraction between the two, and after practically duetting on the Lady Antebellum track “Need You Now,” Grimes planted a passionate wet one on Valentine at the very end (geez, I thought this kind of cheese only happened on GLEE). It was one of the more surprising moments, but it was also something that NBC kept touting in the promos, so the surprise was expected and took away from the “oh crap” moment when it actually happened. Green, incidentally picked Grimes (likely for his moxie).
Clearly, the only big surprise was the team-up of background singer/songwriter Cherie Oakley and the spunky Lily Elise who sang Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Elise’s vocals were all over the place (pitchy, out-of-tune), while Oakley really made the song her own and showed her own individuality. Aguilera liked spectacle and high notes, which Elise got even though Oakley was the clear winner. For Aguilera she wanted Elise. Frankly, Aguilera has shown such contempt for people she perceives “below her” that this choice was expected. For her, Elise stands out because she’s “new,” while Oakley is a songwriter/back-up singer – someone who she probably feels needs to stay a back-up singer so she won’t be her competition. She made a big mistake on this one.
Next week begins the live performances where the audience gets to choose who stays and who goes.
As THE VOICE, starts to find its voice, Season 2 will have to learn from the mistakes of the Battle rounds. First of all, four weeks of this is too long. Momentum has been lost (I skipped two weeks out of the four). If they did the Battle round in a two-week time span, I can buy. Still, the format of the battle rounds is awkward and somewhat annoying. Like IDOL proves when they do the group sings, if the right song isn’t chosen, two people can sound absolutely ridiculous when paired together or with the wrong song. There’s also an unevenness in the amount of time each person gets to sing in the Battle rounds too.
I also miss the idea of people performing and the judges not seeing their faces during the performances. It was great for the early rounds, it wold be cool if they retained some portion of this during the competition.
On the plus side, the judges are great. Yes, they are nice at times, but their criticisms are constructive and they actually seem to know what they’re talking about. On IDOL Steven Tyler looks bored most of the time and clearly doesn’t want to say anything negative because he’s afraid the audience will boo him (and he won’t have that). Jennifer Lopez is a Paul Abdul retread and Randy is Randy. They’re frustrating in how timid they are to criticize. No such trouble here.
On THE VOICE, Blake Shelton has great constructive criticism and is not afraid to piss off the audience. Levine is blunt, Green is funny yet honest and Aguilera’s true coaching voice is still to be determined (let’s see if she finally gets mean).
That said, I think THE VOICE has potential to be alternative to AMERICAN IDOlL. It skews a little older, it takes a few more chances and it’s fresh and new. Of course, NBC could screw all of this up, but so far so good. And if they manage to learn from their mistakes, Season 2 could be pretty damn incredible. Now let’s get on to the live shows already!
Click on Link: AX’s THE VOICE Season 1 review of LIVE SHOW, QUARTER-FINALS 1
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