Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NBC's The Voice -- Episode 3: Let the Battle Begin!

We're back with the third episode in the latest entry in the crowded field of vocal competition reality TV shows.  Are there really that many great, undiscovered singers out there?  Well, apparently, because of the 32 contestants vying for 16 spots in the voting rounds, there are quite a few good voices out there.  If Randy Jackson were judging this show, he'd utter nary a "pitchy."  Which makes tonight's show particularly difficult.

This is the first round of battles, where two of the coach's picks have to go head-to-head, singing the same song on the same stage, with the coach picking the one who will go on.  Christina Aguilera is up first and she puts her two ample divas up against each other -- Terralyn Ramsey and Frenchie Davis.  They take on Beyonce's call to action,  "Single Ladies," and in rehearsal both sound amazing.

Christina is aided by Sia, who gives Frenchie a newsflash -- she has a tendency to go sharp.  First Frenchie heard of this, and, frankly, first for me too.  But she's taking the advice knowing that this is her last second chance...unless it's not too late to try out for the X Factor.  Meanwhile, Terralyn is trying to play mind games by holding back during rehearsal -- as if Frenchie couldn't tell that the powerhouse was not putting out her A-game. 

Well, maybe Terralyn shouldn't have held back, because when she lets it all out its a bit of a screechy mess.  Frenchie shows command of the stage and her vocal and she's the first to move on.

Blake Shelton is up next and he puts country boy Patrick Thomas against pop singer Tyler Robinson, giving them the Elvis song "Burning Love" to compete with.  Blake brings out the heavy guns, no less than Reba McIntire, to help him prepare his singers.  Blake gives Tyler some great advice:  just because you can do a lot of runs doesn't mean you should.  He also gives some a more questionable suggestion -- telling the very young, very innocent Patrick that one of the two needs to convince Blake that they are in fact a hunk, a hunk, a, burnin' love.  Patrick can barely reach a simmer, so I'm worried for him.

But Patrick has a really sweet, clear voice and takes immediate control of the song.  Tyler looks more like Elvis Costello than Presley. He takes the advice and doesn't oversing, but does a really nice thing with some of the notes.  Blake applauds him for his vocal restraint and seems genuinely struggling with the decision.  I would have given the round to Tyler, but, perhaps not surprisingly, the country boy is the choice.

The third battle of the night pits two of Adam Levine's team, Tim Mahoney and Casey Weston, singing the Don Henley/Stevie Nicks duet "Leather and Lace."  Casey sounds like she's been sucking helium since birth when she talks, but all that goes away when she sings.  Tim may not have the best voice for this song as his natural voice is a little high to provide the masculine contrast, the leather, to Casey's lace.  He makes Don Henley sound butch. 

One wonders whether this battle round is really a thinly disguised "face" round.  The premise of the show was that it didn't matter what a singer looked like, it was all about "the voice."  But with the judges facing the stage, knowing that in just a few weeks the future of their contestants will rest on the shoulders of a visually impacted, somewhat shallow America, how much does stage presence and look now factor into the decision?  In other words, without a dynamite vocal, Tim would appear to be on shaky ground.

Casey does an almost perfect Stevie Nicks' impersonation, complete with the raspy, purry vibrato.  Tim's voice is really good, but not blow-my-mind memorable.  And he did a lot of teeth baring that was not real attractive, while Casey just standing there was too adorable.  I think this was the easiest choice and Adam selected Casey.

Last up were Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson from Cee Lo Green's team singing Pink's "F**kin' Perfect." I'd like to ask that they agree on one spelling of "icki" and stick with it.  This is really confusing!  Vicci had killed it in the audition round, Niki's was not shown so we don't really know what to expect from her.  Niki says, modestly, it should be a great battle since we're both such great singers.  Cee Lo's helper Monica notices Niki's, um, confidence.  So the question is, can she back it up?

Well, yes.  They both do.  Adam did not hyperbolize when he said this was the best duet of the night.  Vicci has a really unique sound, all rough edges, and she is quite the dynamo on stage.  Niki has the most beautiful, sparkling voice.  Crystal clear and powerful.  They sing like their lives, and not just a shot on a TV show, are on the line and one wonders if Cee Lo is regretting his decision to put them up against one another. 

I think it's ultimately the power of her physical presence that has him pick Vicci over Niki.  Niki -- next time you audition, do something about those bangs.  Your voice was an A+, but the hair was tragic and despite the name of this show, there's more to a successful singing career than just having a great voice.

1 comment:

  1. "If Randy Jackson were judging this show, he'd utter nary a 'pitchy'." Well, I heard plenty of slightly-but-not-horrifically off notes, including some sharp ones by Frenchie. But these singers have much more age (read: gravitas) on them than Idol singers do (except for Casey J, natch). And that's why I believe the stage presence of Voice contestants is sufficiently distracting to cover up any minor vocal imperfections. Listen back without watching the video and you might hear a few errors.

    "Tim may not have the best voice for this song as his natural voice is a little high to provide the masculine contrast, the leather to Casey's lace." His voice was no worse than hers, and he didn't miss any notes, whereas she missed a few. Her tone was really velvety, but his was easier to listen to, and upon repeat listening, I found myself really enjoying the subtleties of his style. Her freestyle note choices were better, but he has the kind of appeal that Van Morrison has, so he just needs to come across as more fearless and his quirkiness will become a charming asset instead of merely background noise. Therein, I liked him way more as a person, but she's of course hot and he's not so thanks a lot that's all I got and that's life. At least, that's what they say.

    "They sing like their lives, and not just a shot on a TV show, are on the line." I wasn't personally taken with either voice, but their performance demonstrated how they were sincerely grateful to have gotten that far. They seemed like friends who were forced to fight each other and ended up revealing actual talent in their friendship's darkest hour, as paralleled in Play It To The Bone (a subtle character-driven comedy about boxing). Similar to the actors in that film, these two women prominently displayed unexpected maturity and grace while in the ring. So, I don't know about a "voice", but it easily was a "moment".