Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recapping Survivor San Juan Del Sur Episode 6: Let's Make a Deal

Where's Monty Hall when you need him?  Everyone was wheeling and dealing on Survivor San Juan Del Sur this week.  Reed, on behalf of the Hunahpu tribe, tried to make a deal for some more rice while Dale, on Coyopa, tried to make a deal with Jon for his vote.  Neither negotiation went particularly well, but they both at least gave some life to an otherwise pretty dull episode.

Jeff Probst schooled Reed on the keys to good negotiating - come from a position of strength.  Jeff had what they wanted - a bag bursting with rice - they had nothing that Jeff wanted.  Remember, his life is fine.  So in the end, Jeff was able to completely gut the Hunahpu tribe, taking almost everything  they had - their hammock, their tarp, their blankets, everything that kept them dry and comfortable (which sounds like a Pampers commercial) - in return for continued survival.  As if the producers wouldn't have discretely snuck some food in for them had they just kept their mouths shut!

The Hero Arena challenge was a race with a twist, the racers are blindfolded and have to run through a maze, study a mask, grab puzzle pieces, run them to another station and reassemble the mask from memory.  Reed volunteers for Hunahpu and Baylor volunteers for Coyopa.  Kudos to the two for putting themselves on the line, bigger kudos to Reed for pulling out the win. The challenge designers got what they wanted when the both racers continued to bash their heads as they ran through the maze and the cameramen made sure we didn't miss one painful headshot.  Reed and Baylor had different strategies - he studied the mask on each pass, Baylor ran through the maze then studied the mask once at the end.  Reed's strategy was the more successful as he made only one small misstep as he put his puzzle together, but fixed it quickly and gave Hunahpu its 300th win this season.

Remember in the confessional when Jeremy said Reed was being premature panicking about the lack of rice?  That he should "suck it up" because they might get a food reward challenge?  So you knew what Jeff was going to show in answer to the "wanna know what you're playing for?"  It would have been funnier to see a gigantic bag of rice, identical to the one Hunahpu just traded everything worth living for, but instead it was huge skewers of meat and veggies.  Enough food to make one forget all about any member of the grain family.  And you knew that Hunahpu would be the ones to win it.

But not everyone from Hunahpu will get to share in the feast.  Reed gets a chance to make an enemy for life by sending someone from his tribe to Exile Island.  He settles quickly on Julie, giving some BS reason about how this will help her show her boyfriend John how strong she is, but then Natalie volunteers.  Great move and great timing.  Reed has still made an enemy as Julie will not soon forget that he picked her to miss out on all that succulent meat and Natalie has now made a friend in Julie and also has a chance to connect on Exile Island with Missy's daughter Baylor.  A very good strategy, unless someone realizes just how smart Natalie is and what a strategic game she's playing.  It's a fine line and one she has to be very careful skating on. 

Earlier in the day, Dale showed Jon the little medallion that he'd found the first day and tried to convince him that it was a hidden immunity idol.  Jon seemed to believe him - yet his instinct is to immediately run and tell Missy and not use the information for his own benefit.  I guess when God gives you good looks, he figures you don't need anything more than that to get through life.  But in Jon's case being so dumb that you believe that little trinket is an idol AND still don't use that knowledge to switch your allegiance ends up being the right move.  And that's where we get the phrase dumb luck. 

Jeremy is noticing that Josh and Reed are committing the cardinal sin of Blood v. Water - rubbing your tribemates' collective noses in the fact that your loved one is still there and theirs isn't.  The guys are hugging and kissing and "walking around like they own the place" when everyone else on their tribe has either seen their loved one go home, or is at least separated from them by a beach.  He correctly notes that their togetherness is a threat.  But since Hunahpu never loses a challenge, they needn't worry.

Remember in the confessional when Julie said this was not a great trade because they were losing their tarp and what would happen if it rained?  So you knew that the skies soon would open up and pour down on the hapless Hunahpu tribe so they could freeze and shiver and regret their decision long into the cold cold night.  Julie is wet and cold and miserable and it looked like we will be having the first quit of the season, which is worrying Jeremy to no end as he knows Surivor is a numbers game and right now she's a number for him.  He needs her to stick around, at least until the merge, at least before his torch is snuffed.  He gets his wish as the sun comes up and Julie is still there.

We don't see anything from Exile Island but I imagine that Natalie and Baylor did a better job coping by themselves with nothing to protect them against the elements than Julie did elevated off the ground and surrounded by tribemates, the heat from the barbecue, and her stylish hoodie.

The immunity challenge was a combined physical/mental challenge and Coyopa was in the lead, first to the puzzle component, thanks to some excellent bag-swinging rhythm by Jon.  Jeremy could not get the timing down on how to unlock the bags of puzzle pieces and Wes had to sub in.  Halfway through putting the puzzle together, Jon let being in the lead go to his head, shouting, "Who's Big Jon now?"  Well, the Survivor Karma gods had one quick answer, not you!  Suddenly, Josh and Reed, aka the dynamic puzzle duo, fly through their part of the challenge and quickly retake the lead as Coyopa reverts to the norm and falls apart.

Hunahpu wins!  If that was the drinking game phrase, you'd never have to worry about being sober during Survivor.  The tribe that never loses* go off to celebrate and Coyopa has to decide which of the remaining old guys will be voted off.  Dale tries to plead his case, saying how tonight's vote will be hard because they're voting out someone's loved one - a clever ploy to refocus attention away from him, the only one who does not have a loved one still in the game.  Will it work?

Not so much.  Dale tries to make a deal with Jon - if he votes to keep Dale, Dale will give him the immunity idol.  Considering Jon believes Dale to have a real, genuine, 100% certified, Jeff Probst approved immunity idol, it seems like a no brainer.  Even Jon seems to recognize it's an easy choice. Vote out Missy, get the idol, and go into the merge stronger.  But he also thinks that he'll be best positioned after the merge if he is in a strong four person alliance. Jon's head is hurting trying to sort out his two options, but he sums up how he handles the decision-making process thusly: "You can't get ung up on small details."

So after much discussion at Tribal Council, with even the howler monkeys weighing in, two things became clear.  Jon is closely allied with Missy and he will do whatever she wants.  Missy wants Dale gone; so Dale is gone.  The only interesting thing to come from Tribal Council is the fact that Keith was smart enough not to play his real immunity idol and that Jon and Jaclyn split their votes, leaving all the power in Missy and her daughter Baylor's hands. 

If the merge happens next week, there will be four pairs remaining - Josh/Reed, Missy/Baylor, Keith/Wes and Jon/Jaclyn - and four singles - Jeremy, Natalie, Julie, Alec.  It takes 7 votes to win next week, so the pairs could take out the singles one by one.  But maybe Keith and Wes will partner up with Jeremy (Firemen R Us), Jeremy will bring in Natalie, Julie and Alec. Unfortunately for Jeremy, that's only six.  They'll have to get one of the remaining pairs (Alec will want Josh/Reed, Natalie will want Missy/Jon) to join them to vote out one of the remaining pairs.

Dale (not envisioning a 3-way vote): "I'm not dead til I see my name written four times."

Jeff (aka Captain Obvious):  "There has never been a tribe in the history of Survivor that has needed as much help as you guys have and only fourteen days in.”

Alec (sounding like Hannibal Lecter): "I'm a meat collector."

Dale (trying to plant a subliminal message): "What happens tonight hurts more than this. I mean, we have all suffered losses at different times, but this is a loss with somebody’s loved one is going home”

Missy (showing basic understanding of Survivor): "Better Keith than me.  And Baylor."

Dale (4)
Jon (3)
Jeremy (5)
Julie (2)
Missy (3)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Voice Season 7, Knockout Rounds, Pt. 1& 2: Some surprising choices, great moments

Two nights of knockout battles and too many good singers.  Couldn't some of these contestants try out for American Idol instead; this is getting to be a really crowded field of top notch talent.  Rather than a recap of all the battles, let's focus on some of the front runners going into the live rounds.

But first.  How effing awesome is Taylor Swift as a guest mentor?  What are the chances we can get her to come back as a full time coach?  Her advice is spot on, her suggestions are impeccable, her instincts are unerring, and her knowledge of what works and how to make something good even better is preternatural.  If she gives up mentoring, she could have a really solid career in music.  

This also begs the question, how can you be so good at everything and yet not so great at picking boyfriends?  One of the mysteries of life.  On to the contestants. 

The best female singer on the show has got to be DaNica Shirey.  She may look like Red from "Orange is the New Black," but she sings like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey had a fifty year old love child.  I don't know if coach Pharrell Williams can do anything to update her look, but vocally she is solid gold.  She easily won her knockout round showing both power and control as she (apologies to Randy Jackson) made Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love for You" her own.

Fans of indie/folk/rock male singer-songwriters (also known in American Idol circles as "White Guys With Guitars" - i.e., winners David Cook, Phil Phillips, Lee DeWyze) have too many good choices.  Two Taylors, Phelan and John Williams, Matt McAndrew (who will be in next's week's knockout), Luke Wade, James David Carter would all be front runners in any previous American Idol season yet threaten to split the votes when it gets to the live rounds.  Which is too bad, because they are some of the strongest competitors this year.

Luke Wade won the battle against Taylor Phelan, yet both will continue on in hopes of becoming America's Next Top...wait, I watch too many reality shows.  Luke is a bluesy soul singer who looks more like a substitute teacher than a musician. He chose Hall & Oates "Rich Girl" and now I've had that horrific song stuck in my head since Monday.  He did a great job considering he has lousy taste in songs and picked one of the most annoying songs in the history of music.  But he was up against Taylor Phelan, whose version of "Sweater Weather" was the best blind audition of this or any year.

Phelan sang "Rather Be" and he assaulted the song, commanding the stage like he's been doing this for forty years.  While his vocal was not as strong as either his blind audition or the battle round, he is still a front runner for his stage presence, comfort, ease and unique vocal styling.  Having seen all their performances, it was clear who Pharrell would pick, until he said Luke Wade and the other judges realized that their winning The Voice ship had just come in.  They all hit their buttons to take the diminutive singer over to their teams, but it was Adam who begged and pleaded and ultimately claimed the prize he's wanted since the blind auditions.

The winner for the oddest pairing of songs has to go to Team Gwen's Troy Ritchie taking on the fun, silly "Hey Ya," by Outkast against indie artist Taylor John Williams singing the hauntingly beautiful "Mad World."  This is not apples and oranges, it's the Three Stooges versus Shakespeare.  Blake Shelton put it best when he said that Troy performed with the "enthusiasm of Richard Simmons" and the "seriousness of Napoleon Dynamite." In any other setting, under other circumstances, that would be the most talked-about performance.

But Troy was followed by Taylor John Williams who gave one of the most mesmerizing performances in the show's history.  Take an exquisite song, give it to a real performer who connects with it deeply, and you have an unbeatable combo.  Taylor three names felt the song, changed it up just enough not to be a copy cat, and left everyone with chills.  As Gwen said, for her it was like watching a peer.

Blake Shelton called James David Carter's blind audition, the best country audition he'd ever heard, and he had the edge against the pop singer, Griffin, who Blake had taken during the battle rounds.  Carter took on the mellow, sleepy "You've Got a Friend" and was sitting down, plucking away, as if he were in an intimate club playing to twenty people and not on national TV. It looked like he might get overshadowed in his knockout battle against Griffin, who chose the more energetic Justin Bieber's "As Long As You Love Me,"  But Carter's voice was impossible to ignore and he won on the power of sheer vocal ability alone.  Griffin did everything asked of him and gave a great performance, and I lahlahlahlahloved him, but sadly this was the end of the line.

I was disappointed to see Toia Jones not stick around and thought she did a great job with "Crazy in Love," but coach Adam Levine went for Damien, who did a serviceable, but not memorable, version of  "How Do I Live."  Coach Gwen Stefani had a really difficult choice between two strong singers who gave equally strong performances, Bryana Salaz taking on - and almost outdoing - Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack," and Sugar Joans singing "Love on Top."  But coach Pharrell tipped his hand that if Sugar were available, he'd be hitting his steal button faster than I hit an all you can eat buffet, so in the end each judge, and probably each contestant, got what they wanted. 

Another super-close match was Alessandra Castronovo versus Mia Pfirrman.  Alessandra sang "Next to Me," by Emeli Sandé while Mia took on "Human," by Christina Perri.  Alessandra has a crystal clear voice that she controls well, but she lacked that intangible star quality.  When Mia Pfirrman sang, her voice has such a beautiful tone, it gave me chills (aka JLo's "goosies").  She trusted her lower register, and softer tones, letting the song build effortlessly to the big, powerhouse moments.  Coach Gwen made the right choice going with Mia.

The shocker of the night came when Pharrell chose Elyjuh René, who did yeoman's work with Chris Brown's "With You," over smoldering Ricky Manning who crushed, pulverized, demolished and otherwise wreh-eh-ehcked both Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" and the audience.

Elyjuh is an adorable, immensely likeable kid with a strong voice and bright future.  But no one can say he out-sang Ricky (not even Pharrell).  As with his inexplicable choice of Luke Wade over Taylor Phelan, it seemed that Pharrell was abandoning the one who gave the best performance over who he thought he could do more with, who could most benefit from  his tutelage. But fear not, as Gwen swooped in to steal reh-eh-ehscue Ricky from a life on New York's streets playing for quarters and slices of pizza.  Now on Team Gwen, Ricky is the dark horse in this competition, getting better with every performance.  If he continues on this trajectory, he will peak at just the right time to give the new girl coach their first victory. 

Next week we finish with the knockouts and then the final 20 will convene for the live rounds where we can stop sitting by and bitching at other people's decisions and get in on the action.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Recapping Survivor San Juan Del Sur Blood v. Water 2 Episode 5: A learning experience

Coming back from their first tribal council, one of Hunahpu called it a learning experience.  The lesson that should have been learned years ago is don't go to tribal if you don't have to.  Drew decided last week that there was some dead weight to jettison and throwing the immunity challenge, and going to tribal, was the way to do it.  What he learned too late was that going to tribal council is dangerous and if you can avoid it, you should.  Instead, he basically orchestrated his own defeat, going from "badass" to "don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out."

Jon is worried about his place on the tribe now that Drew is gone, but he needn't have worried because Jeff Probst has a surprise for everyone.  It's "drop your buffs" time, which on Survivor Don Juan Del Sexo means something completely different, but here means it's time for a team swap.  We should not have been surprised because right after one contestant, here Jeremy, tells the camera, I'm in a great position, nothing could possibly go wrong, as long as nothing changes I'm guaranteed an easy path to the final two, you know something will happen to make him eat those words.

Kelley Wentworth voices what many of the pairs must be feeling at the prospect of a new tribal alliance - those with loved ones might become a bigger target than those who are playing solo.  And she will only have to wait a day for her to be able to say, "I told you so" on her way out.  Immediately upon the new alignment, Kelley might have felt she was in a good spot after all.  She and her father, Dale, were on the new Coyopa, along with two other pairs - Missy and Baylor, Jon and Jaclyn - and one solo, Keith.  The new Hunahpu had one pair, Josh and Reed, and the rest singles - Julie, Natalie, Jeremy, Wes and Alec. 

When the tribes got back to their new camps, the Hunahpu tribe was shocked to find there was barely enough rice left to feed them for a day.  Apparently, one of the reasons Hunahpu had been so dominating in challenges was that they weren't rationing food at all.  Josh and Reed are happily reunited, but still saving themselves for marriage so no hanky or panky now that they're back together.  Less happy with the new tribe is Jeremy who realizes how quickly his luck has changed and he's no longer sitting pretty, but has a real good chance of joining his wife Val at the loser train.

Over at Coyopa, there was an abundance of rice - and Dale wanted to keep it that way.  When Missy decided to prepare what on her old tribe would be a normal portion (i.e., enough to feed the lazy but ravenous Drew) Dale became apoplectic.  Forgetting one of the basic rules of Survivor (don't sweat the small things, and everything is a small thing if it can cause you to get on someone's radar) he had a fight with Missy about her portioning.  Now we had Mama Bear reeling back on her hind legs and ready to attack Drew for everything- telling her how to cook, writing Baylor's name down in previous tribals, her three failed marriages,  you name it.

Jon is thrilled to be switched to a tribe that still has plenty of rice, but he's more ravenous for his girlfriend.  Despite having the bare minimum of toiletries and personal cleaning products, newly reunited Jon and Jaclyn were all over each other, making out in the camp and making everyone else on their tribe a little uncomfortable.  Baylor is particular admitted to being a bit jealous of them, considering she's out there with her mom - not exactly a romantic fantasy.  The tribe swap gave Jon new life, new food, new human contact and took him from the bottom of the totem poll, to a good position carrying the decisive votes.

I'm loving Jeremy and Natalie and pulling for them as final two.  Jeremy is playing Alec beautifully, playing to his younger sibling insecurities.  And Natalie is allying with a strong, good player, in Jeremy and helping him create a strategy. Contrast that to the squabbling between Missy and Dale over rice and you can see who has watched the show and who is clueless about the dynamics of the game.  Dale is self-aware enough for this quote: "My weakness would be the social game. I didn’t come here to make friends." But still doesn't realize that without that part of the game, he won't make it to the second part of his quote: "I came here to make money.”

The immunity challenge doubled as a mud pack and everyone left exfoliated, but in the end it was Hunahpu showing that nothing really changes - regardless of who is on that team, unless they throw the challenge, they'll come out on top.  The most pathetic part of Coyopa's pathetic performance, was their weak swaying of the tree they were supposed to shake the bags loose from.  I've seen kittens swat at fuzzballs with more ferocity.  So Hunahpu won their fourth immunity challenge and Jeremy did not have to face the recent change in his fortune because of the swap.  Instead, the focus is on Coyopa with its three sets of loved ones and lone wolf, the idol-holding Keith. 

But before that, Reed has a proposition for Jeff.  They're pretty much out of food, and it's day 12.  That leave 27 days with no food and, none of them being supermodels, that isn't feasible.  What can they trade/barter/offer Jeff to get an eensy bit of rice out of craft services?  Jeff says he'll ponder their request and get back to them, which means he'll reach into his bag of humiliating/disappointing responses to request and present them with something that's going to hurt.  If he doesn't, future survivors will gorge on rice to their stomach's content knowing that Jeff will just refill them whenever they need it.  That's a dangerous precedent.

The scrambling on Coyopa does not involve "odd man out" Keith at all, and instead Jon and Jaclyn find them in the middle of a daddy/daughter v. mommy/daughter duel.  Despite fist bumping Dale, Jon goes off to talk to Missy and Baylor and seems pulled over to their side (his bond with Missy being stronger than his bond with Kelley - who his former ally Drew had identified as a threat). 

There are two overriding issues when deciding which team to ally with.  First, whoever's loved one is voted out, they are an enemy for life and will never forgive you, trolling you on Twitter for the rest of your natural life.  If they get any power while still on the island, they will target you with the fury of a thousand fire ants.  So you don't want someone whose Liam Neeson in every Taken-like vengeance can hurt you.  Second, whoever you team up with, you hope they will stay loyal and stay in the game (be physically and mentally fit for the long haul) long enough to be an asset.  Basically, you don't want to back the wrong horse.  As between Dale/Kelley and Missy/Baylor, it's a close call and I'm not sure there was a better choice for Jon and Jaclyn than the one they ultimately made.

They took out the most formidable of the four - the most physically and mentally strong player, Kelley.  Dale is left behind and while he will be gunning for Jon and Jaclyn, it's unlikely that he has much in the way of ammunition.  If they go to tribal again, it would take some work to get Missy and Baylor not to finish what they started and take out Dale.  Jon and Jaclyn probably made the right choice, but if I were Dale, I'd try to pull Keith over, and get him to work on Missy and Baylor to blindside the younger, fitter J/J.

Check out Kelley's exit interview here.  Then check out the next episode where we find out exactly just how hard a bargain Jeff will drive, also known as "what will you do for some rice?" 

Jeremy:  "Jon is on his apology tour"

Kelley:  “We all came out here wanting to play with our loved ones, but I think the people that don’t have loved ones now almost feel a little bit free, and the people with loved ones are almost looked at as targets”

Jaclyn: "Thank god, I can sleep with you."

Alec: "For the first time in my life I can say I beat Drew."

Jeremy:  "Surround it and drown it."

Wes: "The juice isn't worth the squeeze."

Jon (3)
Jeremy (3)
Josh (3)
Alec (2)
Jaclyn (2)
Dale (2)
Kelley (2)
Reed (2)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Voice Season 7 Final Battle Rounds: Some surprises, some predictability

After tonight's episode we can say goodbye to the steal, the inaccurately named second chance button that gives contestants another shot at making it to the live rounds.  Going in, Gwen Stefani was the last judge who could hit her button and give one of the losing contestants another shot.  For all the judges, that meant that when they picked a winner, in all likelihood, that was the end of the line for the other contestant.  So, not much at stake.  Just the hopes and dreams of the remaining contestants who all believe that this show is their big chance to have a career in the music business, not realizing that the seventh place finisher of Nashville Star is doing better than any of the Voice winners.

Team Pharrell: Ricky Manning v. Brittany Butler
The first battle of the night was Joaquin Phoenix lookalike Ricky Manning and "weirdo" Brittany Butler.  Brittany had grabbed Pharrell Williams' attention during the blind auditions with both her strange song choice, the kitschy "Girl from Ipanema," as well as her oddball, retro jazzy style.  When he turned his chair, he must have been pleased to discover that the possessor of such unusual musical instincts was quite the looker.  Ricky Manning had a more current, relevant song choice and did an okay job with "Love Me Again," benefiting more from a good song than soaring vocals.  When the judges turned around, they might have been a little surprised to see Commodus from Gladiator standing there. 

Pharrell put the jazzy scary singer against the R&B scary singer and gave them a song that split the difference between the two, "On Broadway."  The George Benson version of this song is beboppy and scatty and can be a good showcase for improv.  If you're not familiar with that version, maybe you remember the instrumental version that was in American Beauty.  Ricky sounds good in the rehearsal, right on pitch, solid in the lower register.  But he's less comfortable improvising. Brittany has a more idiosyncratic sound and punches up the song with her own melodic choices.  She shines when given the chance to go off page.  Pharrell gives her permission to jazz it up even more and now I'm worried.

Ricky sounds great as he opens the song, and even earns a "Damn" from Blake Shelton.  Then Brittany comes in with her deep voice and attitude and mops the floor with him.  They are completely different, and every time it seems like Ricky will take this, Brittany just comes in and wrecks it.  Both Adam Levine and Blake seem to agree with me that Ricky was far better this time around and really showed something special tonight.  He took chances and changed up the song in what seemed like an effortless, spontaneous moment.  It's going to be so sad to see him go....and then Pharrell picks Ricky!  Okay, I'm surprised.  I thought he'd go for the cool, unique, jazzy girl with the rich deep tones but he went for "most improved" which clearly was Ricky.  Nice choice!  That Pharrell guy may have a future in music.

Team Blake: Kensington Moore v. Reagan James
The next pairing was between Kensington Moore, a high school senior who we'd only seen in a brief montage during the blind auditions, and fifteen-year-old Reagan James who shined in an impassioned performance of Ed Sheeran's "Give Me Love."  Kensington is a fresh-faced guitar playing country girl, Reagan is a preternaturally self-possessed indie singer who hails from the same small town as Kelly Clarkson. Blake gave them Lorde's "Team" to tackle and if we know anything about how Reality TV show editing works, Kensington will be back to school in time for midterms.

Kensington was tickled pink to meet her idols, Little Big Town and I was happy for them that someone recognized them and were happy to meet them.  Reagan was a lot more excited about the song choice and she immediately took to the Lorde hit.  She has the same sound as Lorde, which can be both a blessing and a curse and she's expected to nail this performance.  Kensington has lowered expectations and could sneak in with a stellar vocal.  Reagan sounded great during rehearsals, though Blake warned her about pitch problems.  Kensington was concerned that the high notes were slightly beyond her reach and her new BFFs LBT told her to go up to the falsetto and once she did it sounded amazing.

For the final rehearsal, Kensington was a no show.  She was laid up with a bout of kidney stones and so a last minute sub (the poodle haired Kimberly from LBT) stepped in to take over her part during Reagan's rehearsal.  But they did have one final chance to work together and get Blake's last minute coaching (Reagan, enunciate!).  When they started, Reagan forgot about that piece of advice.  But Kensington seemed to forget the melody. I felt for Reagan, bravely trying to get the song back on track as Kensington kept trying to slow it down. But by the end, they sounded beautiful together.  Blake wisely took Reagan who has a much cooler sound while the Jewel lookalike Kensington was good but not particularly special.

We saw a montage of battles with Blake picking Alison Bray over Fernanda Bosch and Gwen choosing Anita Antoinette over Mayra Alvarez as well as Bryanna Salaz over Gianna Salvato.

Team Adam: Beth Spangler v. Mia Pfirrman
This is a battle of the four-chair turn arounds with Beth Spangler going up against Mia Pfirrman.  Being two of the strongest vocalists, Adam gave them quite the challenge - Christina Aguilera's "I Turn to You."  Beth had impressed during the auditions with a powerful performance of "Best Thing I Never Had." Mia showed great range and control with her take on "Unconditionally." The two have the potential for nailing the big moments and giving them a Xtina song is risky as they can easily fall into  oversinging.

During rehearsals, exercising restraint and building to the big moments, is the focus.  What Adam and his guest mentor Stevie Nicks doesn't want the girls doing is getting into a scream fest of who can sing the loudest or hit the highest notes and I hope they take that advice or my thumb will be hitting the skip button.  Both girls sing well and mostly keep the histrionics out of the song, but Beth is a bit blander to me, a bit more calculated.  I'd pick Mia who seems more natural.  Blake agrees with me, Pharrell chooses Beth which causes me to question myself, and then Gwen picks Mia and I stop worrying knowing that there's still a steal save and Gwen has it.  So if Adam picks Beth, Mia should be okay.

But Adam picks Mia and it looks like Beth is on her way out of the competition except, we know there's a steal lifeline left, there's only a few minutes left in the show, and the producers would of course save the steal rescue to the end.  So as Beth goes in for her goodbye hug from Gwen, Gwen hits her button and keeps her in the competition. Shocker!

Next week the knockout rounds begin but there's a twist.  The steal is still in play??  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Voice Battle Rounds Part 3: Powerhouse Divas and Cool Guys with Guitars

Part three of The Voice Battle Rounds brought six more pairings, four cuts, two steals saves and one god-awful performance that had me running for the original mid-song.  It also spotlighted a third WGWG ("white guy with guitar" for those of you who haven't watched American Idol) who may be the one to beat.

Team Adam: Damien v. Kelli Douglas
Adam Levine went first with the clash of the soul singers.  One one side you had former TSA worker Damien, who decided he'd had enough with the job after a crazed armed man starting shooting up TSA workers in LA.  Parenthetically, that may be the best reason I've heard for quitting your job.  Damien had a memorable audition that turned four chairs and got Adam begging to be picked as his mentor.  Damien was battling Kelli Douglas, who claims to have a young child despite having the best figure on any team this year.  Kelli won kudos from me, and a three-chair turnaround, with her surprising chioce of the Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song." 

During rehearsals, Kelli immediately lost points for telling rock legend Stevie Nicks that her dad would be excited that she met her.  To further hammer home how young she is, Kelli had never heard the song Adam had picked for their duel, the Soul classic "Knock on Wood."  Kelli struggled during rehearsals with the syncopated rhythms and soulful grooves of the former Otis Redding hit while Damien was challenged not by the vocals, but by bringing the performance on stage. 

He needn't have worried.  Damien nailed both, letting loose on stage and improvising more with his vocals  The less studied he is, as Adam put it "the more lost in it" he was, the better he sounded.  Kelli held her own, but was clearly outmatched and the only question was whether she'd be picked up by one of the other judges after Damien was crowned the winner.  Sadly, she wasn't.  But she always has a career as a personal trainer for new moms.

Team Gwen: Jessie Pitts v. Ryan Sill
Next up was Gwen Stefani teammates Jessie Pitts versus Ryan Sill.  Jessie is one of the show's requisite quirky singer with an unusual, breathy voice.  She had done a solid job with a song in her coffee house, indie chick wheelhouse, "The Story."  Ryan is a lantern-jawed pop singer picked from an Up With People poster who did a good if not memorable turn on One Republic's "Secrets" during his blind audition.

Gwen, accompanied by her hot husband, Gavin Rossdale from Bush, picked a relatively current pop song, Ellie Goulding's "I Need Your Love" for the squeaky clean duo.  At rehearsal the question was how the two, with such different styles, could meld in one song.  The two unsuccessfully played around with the melody and took too many liberties trying to create harmony.  Their other struggles were Jessie worrying about her soft voice wouldn't be buried by Ryan and Ryan trying not to fall back on his boy band instincts.

This duo had mixed success with their performance.  Within seconds of starting the song, Ryan was 'NSync with his pop roots and had his hand on his chest in boy band salute.  But whatever mannerisms he needs to overcome, there is nothing bad to say about his voice.  What it lacks gravitas and maturity it more than makes up for in pitch and accuracy.  His a cappella experience has served him well as Ryan is a very precise singer.  Jessie's enunciation and phrasing are a little off-putting, too cute by half.  She has a nice tone when she's not forcing herself to be eccentric and different.  Gwen was more tortured with her choice than I thought she should be, but in the end she correctly chose Ryan.  After bidding a fond adieu to Jessie, Blake Shelton realized that he likes quirky singers with odd voices and he hit his button to steal rescue Jessie from oblivion. 

Team Pharrell: Blessing Offor v. Katriz Trinidad
The third battle of the night was from Team Pharrell Williams. Blessing Offor, a blind R&B singer, sang "Just the Two of Us" during the, um, blind auditions.  Okay, that's awkward.  His voice was nothing too special and he sounded like a lounge singer in a piano bar.  The judges must have agreed as he almost didn't make the cut until Gwen and Pharrell hit their buttons with just seconds left in the song.  Fifteen year old Katriz Trinidad had a much better audition, getting three chairs to turn around for her surprisingly passionate version of Etta James' "At Last." .

While it seemed like an obvious choice, Blessing told us he usually tries to steer clear of Stevie Wonder songs and be seen as his own artists.  But he was helped by his familiarity with Pharrell's song choce of "Do I Do."  He sounded very at ease with the song and even had a bit of a sound-alike quality going.  Katriz had more difficulty at first as she had to learn an unfamiliar song while competing against someone who seemed so perfectly suited for the song.  Despite this, I thought she nailed it.  She was very comfortable on stage both physically and with the scatting/improvising on the song.  I demand to see her birth certificate, no one is this poised and confident at 15.

When Pharrell chose Katriz the winner, it seemed like an upset. But it was another example of why Pharrell is a genius and the rest of us are mere mortals.  She's young, cute and can handle both Etta James and Stevie Wonder.  She's a force to be reckoned with.  Before Carson Daly began saying goodbye to Blessing, Adam had already hit his steal I'd like to take you now that you're free button and was going on about how his Namibian wife's name means blessing so this is meant to be, when Gwen interrupts the lovefest with her own smack of the button.  In the end, Blessing goes with super hot Victoria's  Secret model Behati Prinsloo's husband.

Team Adam: Ethan Butler v. Matt McAndrew
The fourth battle was my favorite of the night.  Team Adam sent two cute, young guitar players up against each other.  Ethan Butler had wowed the two seasoned judges during his blind audition of "Beneath Your Beautiful," and had a cool, jazzy Jason Mraz vibe.  He was battling bespectacled, tattooed, tousle-haired indie crooner Matt McAndrew who had killed it with "A Thousand Years" during the audition rounds (though inexplicably Gwen failed to turn).  It was Gary Clark versus Ben Gibbard.

Gwen saddled them with gave them my least favorite Coldplay song, "Yellow."  Both of the guys claim to love the song and they're either lying to make Adam feel good about his song choice or I must weep for this generation.  The slow, dirge-like song with the creepy lyrics is best known for showcasing Chris Martin's falsetto, but Ethan was having trouble in rehearsals nailing those notes.  He decided to switch it up a bit and play to his strengths, which apparently is not sounding like he was hit in the crotch.  While Ethan hit those notes full voice, Matt embraced the falsetto.  They worked on creating a beautiful wall of sound, layering their voices and making me not hate what I heard.

Ethan got off to a shaky start, but when Matt joined in the magic started.  He has an effortless way around the notes that makes you want to follow him wherever he takes you, never worrying he'll miss a step.  Once he shook of his nerves, Ethan's choices started paying off and his melodic digressions were on point.  But as strong as he sounded, Matt was unstoppable.  He had complete control while losing himself in the song - a rare combination.  He not only has a great voice, he's watchable. It was no surprise to me that Adam picked Matt, but I was sad to see Ethan go as I thought he was worthy of steal please give me another chance, I'm really good.

Team Blake: Bree Fondacaro v. Taylor Brashears
I love when teams serve up a nice fat one across the plate.  Two singers butchered the song "You're No Good" giving me a headache and the opportunity to say how I love when a song writes its own description.  Neither Bree Fondacaro nor Taylor Brahears should be forgiven for what they did to the Linda Ronstadt hit.  I know it's not their fault that she had one of the best voices in the world and sang the song like her life depended on it.  But the racoons in my backyard make more pleasant sounds when they're fighting off the coyotes.   Listen/watch for yourself if you must:

I had loved Bree, and her family, during the blind auditions and thought she had a certain charm in her oddball take on "It Ain't Me Babe."  Blake, who has a fondness for the strange of voice, was a natural choice for her.  Taylor yodeled and twanged her way into Blake's heart with her retro take on "You Aint' Woman Enough."  But what they did to "You're No Good" should be a crime.  Calling it a train wreck would be damning it with faint praise.  It was a disaster.  Bree was the main culprit, purring and squeaking her way through a tortured reworking of the melody.  Taylor at least sang the song and gave a performance that would have won the high school talent show.  But Bree committed a sin against nature and should be banned from singing any song in public for at least three years.

Fortunately, we won't have to hear Bree any more on 5the show as Taylor joins the other two Taylors onto the next round. Rather than think about this "performance" any longer, I'm going to listen to Linda Ronstadt's version again

Team Pharrell: Toia Jones v. DaNica Shirey
It's a cliche but it was also true, they saved the best for last.  Two dynamic. powerhouse singers completely destroying - this time in a good way - their battle song.  Toia had nailed "One and Only" during the blinds and the only thing surprising was that only two chairs turned.  DaNica had an even stronger audition, "Big White Room" and it was only mildly distracting wondering how Red from Orange is the New Black could sing so good and without her Russian accent.

Pharrell gave them Beyonce's "Halo" and they had no trouble with the tough, rangy song.  They each had so much power when they reached down for low notes and then soared on the high ones.  I'm not much for big diva songs like this, but I LOVED their performance.  I could listen to Toia nailing the note at 1:27 all day and as soon as you thought she had the battle won, DaNica showed surgical precision in how she attacked and held on to notes. More "belters" need to watch them and learn how to modulate, show restraint, while still singing the hell out of a song. 

The only mystery at the end of the performance was who would Pharrell take and how fast would the other judges hit their steal button.  Yep, this one is a steal, because they are getting something Pharrell could not have possibly wanted to part with.  Congrats to him for keeping DaNica and for Adam for his quick move to sidle up to her family while she was conttemplating what judge to grace with her immense talents.

So the standouts tonight were, for quiet artistry and ease around a melody, Matt.  And for pure power and techical ability, a tie between DaNica and Toia.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Survivor San Juan Del Sur Blood V. Water 2, Episode 4: Who's the dumbest of them all?

I have watched every episode of Survivor since Richard Hatch sat on a tree branch and proclaimed Season 1, Episode 1 that they should make out the million dollar check to him right then.  That season we saw the birth of Survivor strategy with the creation of voting alliances, the use of deceit and misdirection, and the manipulation of people based on personality traits and interpersonal relationships.  It's what made the show so delicious to watch.  Last night, we saw some of the worst Survivor play in the history of the show.  And, still, the episode served up another tasty treat and by the end, when Drew Christy got his karmic comeuppance for his multitude of mistakes, I cheered.

The episode began with the Coyopa tribe celebrating the end of the John Rocker era.  Baylor Wilson, who had once again had votes cast against her at tribal but lived to see another day, was the most relieved and quickly pegged Dale Wentworth as the new low man on the totem pole.  Dale, who was the only one not to know about the plan to blindside John, realized that he took being in a dominant all-guy alliance for granted and better work on his social game.  This is the theme for tonight folks, on Survivor do not take anything for granted.

Back on the winner's beach, all is good.  They have the new flint and, looky here, there's the old flint.  Well, gosh darn, they didn't lose it after all (Jon Misch points out, that means he didn't lose it after all)!  But it also means that they gave up fishing great for nothing.  That's so funny!  Okay, maybe not to them.  And certainly not to Drew who is the greatest angler the world has ever seen and would have fished the area dry by now if only he had a snorkel.  But Drew has a masterplan, one of many.  He will charm Jeff Probst into exchanging the extra flint for the fishing gear and also get him to throw in a grill, some paella and a nice Merlot to go with it.

"That's what a good leader does," "without me these people would be nothing."   So says Drew the Delusional as he makes sure to let us know that he's running the successful Hunahpu tribe and he doesn't have to listen to the little people, he'll let them know what's what.  Boy, life with Drew as your older brother must have been a blast, right Alec?

At Heroes Arena Julie McGee and the Hunahpu tribe see that Coyopa took their (primarily Natalie Anderson's) advice and voted off Julie's boyfriend John.  Hunahpu keeps it classy by clapping and celebrating while Julie tries not to show any emotion.  You almost feel sorry for her, and then you reember she chose to date John Rocker and you get over it.  Then Drew interrupts Jeff to try and barter a new, never-struck flint for some of the long gone fishing gear and Jeff strings him along for shits and giggles before letting him know the answer is not no but never. 

The actual loved-ones duel pits Jon against Jaclyn Schultz and it's close, but Jon gets the win and the honot of sending his girlfriend to Exile Island.  He also gets to pick someone from his tribe to go with her and wanting to protect his grilfriend and make sure she's safe and comfoted of course he sneds...DREW???  "I trust Drew, he pulls his weight (unless he's napping)," says Jon to explain his choice and I can think of seven other people who would have made a better choice.  Even Jon must realize how dumb that was as he later quips that, knowing Drew, he bets Jaclyn is doing most of the work!

Meanwhile, Alec Christy asks, after his team's 87th straight loss, "Are we going to be the worst tribe in survivor history?"  Well, maybe, but your brother has a different idea!  But first, Drew, the ladies' man, is out to strategize and manipulate minds on his way to be the greatest Survivor player ever.  His first brilliant plan is to throw the next challenge, to get rid of the "snakes" on his team.  And, he's goig to tell someone on the other tribe his plan. 

.Back on Hunahpu, Keith Nale is looking for the immunity idol.  When he doens't find it, he decides that Jeremy Collins probably aflreay found it as he also had the clue to the idol's location.  So what does he do, thinking his Firefighters R Us alliance member Jeremy has the idol?  Does he go to him and ask him?  Does he keep the knowledge to himself?  Or does he BLAB TO EVERYONE ELSE ON THE TRIBE?  Pick the dumbest answer and you'll be right.

Reed tells Jeremy that his buddy Keith just dropped a dime on him and now Jeremy is out for blood and making sure everyone knows that Keith cannot be trusted.  Keith is so dumb, I'd sit and marvel at his stupidity but there's no time, because now Jeremy wants to take the title of dumbest player by telling his fellow tribemates how disappointed he is at Keith BECAUSE HE HAD HIS BACK.  You know, your fellow tribemates (especially the girls who thought you were in an alliance with them) do not need to know you had a secret two person alliance with Ketih.  Keith redeems himself by going back to check again for the immunity idol, which he finds when it literally jumps up at him, and by not blabbing about having it.

Baylor and Alec have a tense relationship.  He feels bossed around by his brother Drew, so the last thing he wants is to feel inferior to Baylor.  But she manages to push all the same buttons and where, in past seasons, their bickering would look like a precursor to some showmance, this looks like it'll need a visit by Dr. Phil very soon. 

The immunity challenge involves running, swimming, fetching, retrieving and tossing and the Hunahpu tribe sits out three of its stronger players.  Despite this, Hunahpu is still in it when it's time for the tossers to land five rings on their pegs.  That's where Operation Throw the Challenge comes into play as Drew makes sure he's the only one throwing rings for his team and he throws as well as Ray Charles plays darts.  Coyopa "wins" their first immunity challenge and they believe that hard work, positive thinking, the absence of a negative influence like John and god's love all meshed to give them their first victory.  Jaclyn knows the real reason, but she's not letting on as her tribemates go off feeling good for the first time all season.

The kingpin of his tribe Drew is happy that things are going just the way he planned.  Jon, the other alpha male on the tribe, has Julie in his sights.  She's not in the guys' alliance, she doesn't have a loved one still in the game (like Keith, Jon, and Drew) and she's a threat.  She should be the next to g... Hold that thought, says Drew "Kanye" Christy.  Imma let you finish...actually I'm not.  Drew has a better idea and it can't wait.  Kelley Wentworth, that's their next target.  He does not want to hear what Jon has to say, Drew knows who's next and that should be the end of the discussion.

Jeremy, the third alpha male on the tribe, is gunning for Keith.  He is furious with Keith for turning his back on their alliance, for being shady and untrustworthy.  He should be the next to g... Now it's Drew's turn to interrupt Jeremy.  Drew has a better idea...Kelley.  She's the biggest threat, she should be their next target, blah blah blah. You have to hand it to Drew, when he gets something in his head, he does not let it go.

Natalie, who is playing a great game without her twinnie around, goes to tell Missy about Drew's plan.  It somehow never occurred to Drew that if Kelley is the head of this deadly all-girls alliance, that maybe he shouldn't be talking smack about her in front of the other girls!  Natalie realizes that the guys are splintered and that Drew would have nothing to fear from the girls if he had basic math skills.  If the guys agree on a common target, their five votes are enough to carry the vote.  But if the guys do not work together, then a four-strong girl alliance might be enough.  So she and Missy focus on which of the guys is the biggest physical threat after merge and decide to target him.

Drew is so convinced that things will go his way that he talks about his plan to get rid of Kelley IN FRONT OF KELLEY.  "Let's get Kelley out tonight and then all these bitches will come to us," Mr. Sensitive says, loudly, at camp.  He obviously thinks the girls post-show will be swarming the guy who calls women bitches and this is just the tip of his delusional iceberg.  He also thinks that telling someone they are the target will not lead them to do anything, that saying you are the head honcho makes it true, and that hubris makes you bullet proof.  

Natalie goes to Jeremy with the plan to get rid of Drew.  Jeremy is not adverse to the idea of getting rid of the "moron," (query, if we all agree with the insult, even if not PC, do I still have to put it in quotes?) although it does make him nervous. .But with every utterance from Drew it makes keeping him around more of a liability.  Even his friend Jon calls him a jackass. 

At tribal council, we quickly learn that this is a highly-splintered group.  Jon and Drew are tight, but it's not good when your friendship has you pegged early as a strong alliance.  The tribe has "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" and half the tribe is lazy as hell.  As Jeff continues with his questions, the tribe keeps their answers pretty vague until Jeremy decides to lay his cards out.  He tells Jeff - and his fellow tribemates - that he felt betrayed by Keith WHO HE WAS IN AN ALLIANCE WITH.  Now, this may have surprised the girls who Jeremy had formed alliances with on Day One and also surprised the other guys who thought they were all on equal footing.  But mostly it surprised all of us who  knew Jeremy is a super fan who's been trying to get on the show forever.  How did he not know to keep his mouth shut about this alliance?

Somehow, though, Jeremy comes out of this mess in pretty good shape as Natalie comes to his defense against Keith and Jeff, while rolling his eyes, does not call Jeremy out on his strategic blunder.  Keith, shows himself to be a neophyte at the game, not realize that sub-alliances are a thing on a show that is in its 29th season.  Drew says that he's heard a lot of names being tossed around at camp including Keith and Julie, but he has his eyes on another "bad energy" in the tribe.  Coincidentally, so does Kelley, only she points out that not everyone is agreed on who might that bad seed be.  Natalie the Captain Obvious for tonight's show tells Jeff that the tribe is "scatterbrained" and that a few stray votes can change everything.  And with that hammer of foreshadowing still echoing in our ears, it's time for a vote. 

"We're a hot mess," says Natalie.  Jeff chimes in that it's about to get a lot messier, and it does in for the first time in I don't know how long, there are four separate players - Julie, Kelley, Keith and Drew - each getting at least one vote.  With the girls, plus Jeremy, joining forces it's Drew who is the fourth person kicked out of Survivor San Juan Del Sur Blood Versus Water 2.  As much rejoicing as there will be among the girls, especially Kelley, to be rid of the deranged Drew, how happy will Alec be that he outlasted his older brother?  Should make Thanksgiving dinner a little more interesting - Drew, who gets the biggest slice of pumpkin pie now, bitch?

Next week it's "drop your buffs" time and there'll be a mixing of the two teams.  Will we finally get a Reed confessional?  Will we finally get the rain that's been threatening?  Will the cameraman stop beating us over the head with shots of snakes slithering around the island?  Will another immunity idol be buried back at Coyopa's camp?  Come back next week to find out.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Voice Season 7 Battle Rounds: Day Number Two

Let's get the poop jokes out of the way first.

When Team Pharrell singer Jordy Searcy was backed up, unable to get any movement as he tried to bear down on The Script's "Breakeven (Falling to Pieces)" Pharrell's number two, guest mentor Alicia Keys, pushed him to sing the crap out of the song, telling him to "push your belly out as if you're gonna go take a poop."  After she dropped that brick of wisdom, it was easy to guess that bloggers would be sitting on their stools, dumping a load of puns on tonight's episode. 

And that's too (#2?) bad, because it may have eclipsed some very good performances from the second day of battle rounds.  The Jordy battle against Taylor Phelan was far closer than expected and showcased two strong vocals.  Jordy has a sweet, clear voice that blended beautifully with Taylor's grittier, heartfelt vocals.  But Taylor has that certain something that makes him more memorable, while Jordy falls into the nice voice but forgettable category.

Going in, Taylor was the clear favorite and Jordy seemed clearly outclassed.  But, again showing how important a good mentor is, after rehearsals Jordy had really upped his game.  He sang powerfully, holding his notes and hitting strongly in his upper register.  Pharrell Williams' fellow judges did not envy him having to choose, but it was clear that Taylor was the winner (putting two Taylors into the next round).  He looks and sounds like a performer, not a contestant, and he's one of the few whose performances I listen to repeatedly and look forward to seeing in future weeks.

Less obvious was the duel pitting Alessandra Castronovo against Joe Kirk.  My personal preference was for Joe as it takes far less time to type his name and it doesn't cause spellcheck to go nuts.  The Team Adam members battled on Rihanna's "Stay" a touching, gentle, melodic song that gives you nowhere to hide.  Going in, I thought Joe would be the clear winner as I did not even remember Alessandra from the blind auditions.  Like Jordy, she was only seen briefly in a montage of "others" who had made it through the blind auditions.

During rehearsals, it seemed as if Alessandra felt like the underdog as well. She worried that even if she sang her best, it wouldn't be enough.  She was up against a cute, freshly scrubbed Jonas brother lookalike with a young, current sound.  Did the world really need another Haley Reinhart?  But something happened to Alessandra when her life on the show was on the line and she sang with passion and power and eclipsed the occasionally flat youngster.  She was as solid on her deeper tones and she was on the high notes showing great range and consistency.

Surprisingly, Blake Shelton called Joe's the best performance on the show thus far and Pharrell guaranteed him that he'd have a future in the music business while calling Alessandra a "diva" in the great vocalist, not demanding princess, sense of the word.  Gwen Stefani called it a tie and it appeared that Adam Levine would choose the more marketable one. Adam agonized about his choice, going so long that Blake quipped he'd had a birthday during the wait.  But it didn't seem for show and when he went against the obvious choice, picking the girl over the boy band cutie.  

If you thought I was rooting against Alessandra, you know I had a clear favorite in the duel involving Team Gwen members Menlik Zergabachew (gesundheit).  We might as well have former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski try out for The Voice.  But I digress.  Menlik was matched up against Troy Ritchie and there was no clear favorite going into the battle.  It was a clash of styles and genres with a Reggae artists taking on an alt/pop singer on a song that is one of the most annoying, trite, silly, cheesy and tuneless songs ever to be recorded.

Troy's karaoke version of "Out of My League" by Fitz and the Tantrums during the blind auditions did not seem worthy of even the single chair that Gwen turned around for him.  Menlik had a better audition with Sublime's "Santeria" and Gwen had to win him over Blake to the great disappointment of all of us who were dying to see what Blake would do with him.  What would happen when two mediocre singers took on a god-awful song?

It was a painfully boring performance that was not unlike two drunk groomsmen on the dance floor near the end of the wedding reception.  Winner of the battle gets to go home with the bridesmaid who is currently sobbing under Table No. 7.   Troy had slightly more stage presence, as the extent of Menlik's move is to swing his arm around him like a tether ball.  But neither vocal was particularly on point.

Still, the judges managed to wring drama from the duel as Gwen agonized over this tough decision (which reminded me of the old days when Blockbuster was still around and on a Friday night you had to pretty poor choices as all the good new releases were already gone).  Her choice of Troy made some sense in that there is zero market for Reggae, the last Reggae artist from the show has sold 28 records, and the most impressive thing about Menlik is the Scrabble value of his last name.

What was surprising was that Adam and Pharrell both hit their buttons to steal appropriate, take, assume, redeem, reclaim, save, rescue, retrieve, salvage Menlik from obscurity.  Not surprising was Menlik's decision to go with super-producer extraordinaire Pharrell. 

In addition to these full battles, we saw montages of other battles.  If we've learned anything about the rules of Reality TV, the "winners" of those battles will shortly be cannon fodder, never to be heard from again, so no need to waste our time on them.  You can catch their few moments of screen time on the video below.

We're about halfway through the battle rounds with two more episodes to come.  Check out The Voice next Monday at 8 on NBC to see if a song even worse than "Maneater" is selected, if Alicia Keys has any more suggestions on how to deal with creative blockage, or if  someone singing a genre even less in demand than Reggae (Rock perhaps?) makes it through. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Voice Season 7: Battle Rounds

The first battle round episode of this season's The Voice managed to stretch a mere fifteen minutes of musical performances over a fast-paced, engaging two-hour show.  The show has certainly hit its stride with its best combination of judges yet, a impressive array of special guest mentors, and a talented diverse group of performers.  While the first battle of the night was one of the weakest, the rest had unexpectedly strong performances by underdogs, close contests that were tough to call and a few worth re-watching moments.

Let's break them down.

My favorite battle of the night pit Team Gwen members Amanda Lee Peers against Taylor John Williams singing Dolly Parton's "Jolene."  The fact that neither singer was in any danger of some woman taking away their man made the simmering emotion of their duet even that much more impactful.  Amanda, the underdog coming into the round, gave the best technical performance.  She may have been just a one-chair turnaround in the blind auditions, but she belted and emoted the hell out of that song, dropping to her knees at one point as her voice raged with passion.

Taylor took a more restrained approach to the song, a la The White Stripes, and was in danger of being buried beneath Amanda's thunder.  But a simple yodel (at 1:49) and his clear angelic voice, which had earned a four-chair turnaround with his Heartless blind audition, gave him the narrow victory.  While Adam praised Amanda's engaging, believable performance and Blake said he'd pick her the winner for her heart-felt performance, neither picked her up when Gwen let her go, choosing to keep Taylor on her team.

Two questions.  One, does Amanda get to keep her Team Gwen tee shirt now that she's been cut?  Two, does it bother anyone else (besides my husband) that when a judge lets one of their players go and another judge picks that person up it's called a steal?  He gets apoplectic each time the button is pushed and Carson Daly shouts that there is a "STEAL."  My husband, like me an attorney (unlike me, wildly successful and actually still practicing) will tell you that stealing involves someone taking without permission the property of another.  Saving someone's cast off from obscurity (or a life slinging grande frappuccinos) is not a steal.  It's a save, a rescue, an adoption, a reclamation but not a steal.

The second best battle of the night had Team Pharrell's Griffin taking on Luke Wade.  Luke was an four-chair favorite with extensive on stage experience as a blues singer.  Griffin was a Michael Buble sound alike who looked like an extra on the Sopranos.  During their rehearsal, Team Pharrell guest mentor Alicia Keys proved herself to be more than a stunningly beautiful face by giving some great advice as the two men squared off on the Paul McCartney classic "Maybe I'm Amazed" from way before either of them was born.  Sing the "Aretha Franklin" version she told them.  Their soulful take on the pop classic elevated it from karaoke to inspired.

On stage, it was another close race.  Luke has a gravelly voice that is bluesy and soulful and unexpectedly zigs and zags around a melody.  Griffin is more direct, but where in his audition he was a Frank Sinatra-era throwback, last night he had grit and power channeling Adam Lambert more than Tony Bennett.  His performance was so unexpected, bold and powerful it was a difficult choice for Pharrell.  He went for experience and a more broken-in sound, taking Luke, but it was no surprise that someone picked up Griffin.  The only surprise was that it was country bumpkin Blake who took the Jersey Boy looking, high note piercing, crooner. 

What do you get when a mediocre song is sung by two guys with solid pipes?  You have the battle between Craig Wayne Boyd and James David Carter of Team Blake.  Craig has a heavy country twang and sounds like he has the dog in the back of his truck next to the gun rack while James is more new country with a crossover voice that could fit nicely in the LA and NY markets as well as Nashville.  They were lucky to have Lady Antebellum as celebrity guest mentors as those four know how to blend their voices and make the weak sauce they're forced to record actually sound pretty good.

Craig, with his distractingly perky hair, has a more traditionally country look and sound.  James could pass for former American Idol David Cook (after a hair transplant).  They had a nice duet going until near the end (1:57) when James put a Vulcan death grip on his rival.  The song went on wave on wave and it was a toss up whether Blake would go old school or new wave (on wave).  "How do you choose," Pharrell noncommittally and asked as he declined to weigh in.  Gwen and Adam called it a tie as well. It was forcefulness versus melodic, flouncy golden hair versus closely coiffed, and ultimately Blake went for the more mainstream James.

Being such a twangy, blue-grassy, old school country guy, of course none of the other judges took him on their teams and he went off stage to a life of disappointment and regret...but wait!  Gwen hit her button and Craig was given a second change.  We didn't see it, but I'm sure he ran backstage and grabbed the Team Gwen shirt from Amanda.

Team Gwen's other match-up was between curly-haired cutie Jean Kelley and Elvira tousled Sugar Joans (not her stripper name, surprisingly).  Jean has a strong, if uninteresting, voice while Sugar is a cookie-cutter Christina who has never met a note she didn't want to beat into submission.  They yelled and screamed at each other to the tune of Survivor.  This was another battle that was evenly matched, but more because neither was exceptional.  Jean has a better natural voice, Sugar is a stronger performer.

Gwen went for the "effortless, natural" performance of Sugar and I was disappointed to see Jean go, not just because I love hearing Carson Daly introduce her ass Jean Kelley (and her not being a deceased famous movie star) but because I thought she has a more versatile voice that, if given the right coaching, could really work.  As Carson is starting to chat with Jean, as the other judges decide whether or not to choo choo choose her, Adam has his funniest moment of the show, interrupting Carson with "blah blah blah" while hitting his button.  Only, Pharrell has other ideas of where Jean belongs and he hits his button too.  She wisely chooses the producing genius and let's hope he can help her find her Voice.

One of the least difficult battle to choose was the first of the night, when Team Pharrell put be-braced teenager Elyjuh Rene against the Maiya Sykes.  There was enough scenery chewing between the two of them to make Kirsten Wiig's Mindy Elise Grayson character seem subdued.  Elyjuh has a great natural voice and if someone can get him to tone down the facial expressions and the urge to do more runs than a running back at the NFL Scouting Combine, he could go far.  Maiya has a great voice but her age and style are out of sync with what's on the radio today.

Pharrell compliments to two for making his job hard and acknowledges there are significant differences in where they are in their lives and what that brings to the stage.  In the end, he takes the younger singer who he will be more able to mold over the long haul than the more polished, but also more stuck in her style, Maiya.  Sadly, for those of us who love her pluck and personality if not her genre of music, Maiya is not taken, picked up, salvaged, retrieved or rescued (and certainly not stolen) and her run on the show is as short as Elyjuh's runs in the song were long.

The most uninspired pairing was from Team Adam.  Despite both being four chair turn-arounds, neither Chris Jamison nor Jonathan Wyndham could do much with the song Adam picked for them, Young Girls by Bruno Mars.  Chris had more trouble with the notes and his mouth couldn't seem to get around most of the vowel sounds in the song very well.  But Jonathan, who had sparkled in the blind audition, was absolutely lackluster on stage. 

During their meeting with guest mentor Stevie Nicks, Chris had been warned about being too timid, Jonathan told not to come on too strong.  So, of course, it was Chris who blew out the speakers and Jonathan who faded into the background, his powerful, pristine voice seeming weaker and less bell-like than the first time we heard it.  Chris out-performed him and seemed to care more and perception being reality, Adam surprised even himself by picking Chris to move on.

For me, the standouts from tonight were Taylor, who has both the look and the sound to make a deep run, Griffin, who was a surprise, and former front runner Luke.  I'm also keeping my eye out for Jean to sneak her way to the top if Pharrell is the miracle worker I think he is. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Recapping Survivor Blood v. Water San Juan Del Sur Episode 3: John Rocker lives up to his reputation

It only takes two tribal councils where her name is written down for Baylor Payne to realize she may not be in the best position on her tribe.  With only two girls remaining on Coyopa, and she being the physically weakest, it's time for Baylor to scramble.  But what she doesn't realize just how lucky she was that Josh Canfield was paying attention back at camp and how his quick thinking, and second straight tribal council vote switch, saved her.  She was smart to try and pair up with him early and, even if he can't be trusted farther than she can throw John Rocker, he's a good ally to have.

Josh is playing HARD.  He watches what goes on around camp, who is talking with who, who has the numbers, how the next few votes would go.  He is paying lip service to being part of the guys' alliance, but he is the founding and sole member of the Josh alliance.  The only problem with his game so far is that he's had to explain his shady behavior too much already and after just six days he already is seen as someone who will go rogue.

On Hunahpu, you would think life would be great  They haven't lost a challenge and they're still enjoying their shiny new piece of flint whick will keep the home fires burning.  But this wouldn't be Survivor if everyone sat around singing Kumbayah.  So we have Drew Christy, aka Sleeping Beauty, aka Douchey McDoucherson, lazing around the camp while everyone else works on improving their shelter.  He actually finds weaving palm fronds too taxing.  He has violated one of the cardinal rules of Survivor, he is standing out (technically lying down) and being the subject of conversation.  In an otherwise cohesive, tranquil tribe he is the odd man out.

While we're talking about violating basic Survivor rules, John puts his enormous foot in his even bigger mouth by telling everyone at Heroes' Arena that he had made a deal with Jeremy Collins while they were both on Exile Island to protect his wife, Val, that he tried to execute that plan, and that he failed.  Now his tribe knows that he had tried to form a side alliance with someone on the other side, failed to tell them about this alliance, and was working with Val.  Tangentially, they also know that having John on your side does not guarantee you another day in the game.  And Josh knows that his suspicions were correct and that John is a weak link in the guys' chain.

It's time for the Reward Challenge and Coyopa picks first and they decide to have Wes Nale take on his dad Keith in a challenge where balance, stamina and focus are the key.  At first, unexpectedly, the elder firefighter takes the lead, but he fatigues and is passed by his son, who gives Coyopa its first (narrow) victory of the season.  Keith tears up and at first you don't know if he's upset that he lost or that he's not able to keep up with his son, but Jeff Probst gets him to admit that he's proud of his son and that gets Wes to tear up as well.  Awww.  From Jeremy's stunned and hurt reaction to seeing his wife had been voted out, to the hug between Wes and Keith, the heart-string pulling Blood versus Water twist is one of the best Survivor has come up with.

Back at the Hunahpu camp, Julie McGee storms off sulking about what Jeremy said about "my  boyfriend John."  She's worried that "my boyfriend John" will now be targeted at his tribe.  I think she should be worried how stupid she looks repeatedly referring to him as "my boyfriend John."  She should also be worried that now absolutely everyone knows all of the sordid past of her boyfriend John the raving homophobic bigot. 

Keith is getting savvier and this time on Exile Island he makes a deal ahead of time to share the information about the location of the hidden immunity idols.  He and Josh open their clues and discuss that they have to be wary that their fellow tribemates, including Jeremy and John, may already have found the idols.  Josh and Keith are bonding as well as a "southern hick" and a "gay guy from New York" can.  Keith is still a little too aware of Josh's homosexuality, and makes some uncomfortable comments, but Rome wasn't built in a day and hopefully this experience will open his eyes.

As night falls, Baylor is working it, girl.  She knows she's the low woman on the guy's totem poll, so she tries to talk to the younger guys on her tribe - Wes and Alec Christy (aka the least annoying Christy brother) - about flipping the script and voting out John next.  They listen and show interest, then Alec tells us in his confessional that he's just stringing her along.  They're playing it the right way.  Lie to her, tell her what she wants to hear, but focus on winning the challenge.  But maybe the idea she's planted will grow once Josh is back at camp.

The Immunity Challenge looks like a spidery maze that took a lot longer to build than the actual competition will last.  It will pit pairs against each other crawling, climbing, dragging, pulling, and pushing and I'm getting exhausted just watching.  With all the physicality involved (including Alec taking a cheap shot at Julie and John later shoving Reed Kelly), the biggest key to this challenge is being able to throw a ball into a basket.  We learned that while Josh and Baylor are a fast twosome, Baylor is not a great shot as they lose both of their rounds thanks to her shooting.  Hunahpu wins again and, ever gracious, Natalie Anderson explodes after the win and decides to go on the attack against John of the losing tribe.

I'm not sure why Natalie is so pissed at John, unless she blames him for the fact that two women, both non-White, have been voted out on his tribe.... Yeah, that does look like his handiwork doesn't it. She calls him a racist, homophobic, and a bad sportsman.  Julie tried to defend her boyfriend John but he doesn't need her help because Dale Wentworth comes to his defense saying, in effect, we don't care what hate John spewed in the past, he's our tribemate and we're solid.  John makes Dale immediately regret coming to his defense when he tells Natalie, "If you were a man, I'd knock your teeth out," and the adding, for good measure, "you look like a man."

At this point, even Julie wishes her boyfriend John would shut his mouth.  Natalie continues to yell at Coyopa that they should vote him out and John mostly keeps his cool.  Finally he says he's willing to throw down and fight but instead Jeff cools things by giving Coyopa their Immunity Idol and sending the losing tribe back to their camp with Natalie's words echoing in their heads.

John is not worried that his teammates will take anything she said to heart and he believes he's in a solid all guy alliance on his tribe.  He regrets that the past is being brought up again and he says he regrets the comments he made in the past and he doesn't quite fall back on the "some of my best friends are" excuse while still pointing out that his closest ally is a gay guy.  John's plan at camp is to deflect attention away from his past is to tell Baylor and Jaclyn that his target is Dale the old guy. Meanwhile, he tells the rest of the guys that his target is Baylor. 

A pretty good plan, until John decides to tell Josh that he has the Immunity Idol.  Warning, warning!!!  You hear the alarm going off in Josh's head as he manages not to look shocked or worried to John.  But the wheels are turning.  Josh already knows that John is volatile and unpredictable, but the fact that he has this advantage makes him dangerous as well.  Josh should also realize that if John is voted out, or forced to play his idol, then it's back up for grabs - and Josh has the clue to where it would be buried.  In a badly edited voice over, John had said he was somewhat concerned that he might be the target tonight, but that seems to guarantee that he isn't. But we'll pin our hopes on that bit of foreshadowing, plus Josh's comment about thinking about targeting John, that Baylor won't be the next domino to fall.

Josh makes a good point in one of his confessionals about the pitfalls of making an alliance too early as he slowly discovers the truth about John.  It's a good idea in life as well not to jump too quickly into things whether reality TV alliances, stereotypes about people or changes in your hair style.  So Josh is now having second, third and fourth thoughts about being allied with someone who he can't trust, let alone respect.  While not officially cutting John loose, Josh says of him, "If I don't have to use him, then I don't want to."

Josh and Wes are hanging out in the water and Josh starts to lie to Wes about how the clue they found on Exile Island was for the other camp, but Wes wises up and asks Josh if he thinks that John has the idol from their camp.  Wes is no dummy.  He saw Josh and John hanging out and figured that John probably told Josh about the idol.  I love when I'm surprised by someone playing the game!  Wes can't wait to throw out the idea of blindsiding John.  Baylor conveniently comes over just as they're setting their plan into motion

Wes tells Alec the plan, but Alec is not keen on the idea of "getting rid of our biggest athlete."  Apparently, Alec hasn't noticed how having John on their team has not resulted in ANY IMMUNITY WINS.  He also forgets that having a strong physical threat with an immunity idol is a bad thing post merge.  So he's nervous and unconvinced about the plan.   Josh isn't feeling too confident either - both John and Baylor think they have an alliance with him and they are the two main targets for the vote.  John tells us that he is bringing his idol to tribal just in case.  Because the last thing you want to do is get voted out holding an idol.

At tribal, the plan was to let John feel confident so he wouldn't play his idol.  Jaclyn did not get that memo.  So she let the potential target, who was sitting with an immunity idol, know that the vote is not a slam dunk.  She dropped clue after clue that he might be in trouble.  She was supposed to pretend that she knew a girl was going out next, that she was relieved it was Baylor and not her.  Nope.  She could not have made it more obvious that there was something else going on.  You know who also didn't get the memo?  Baylor.  Because instead of acting like she knows she's the one and only target, or throwing attention off of John and saying something like, I hope we vote the old guy off, she's also giving off huge, neon bright, freeway billboard sized warnings to John.

Do we even have to tally the votes?  Josh and Wes now know that John HAS to be aware of their plan.  Is it even worth throwing votes his way at this point?  Truly, the only question is does John play the idol, which will still be a minor victory in that it keeps that power out of a strong player's hand.  Oh, and, how much will Missy cry next week when she sees that her daughter Baylor is gone.

WHAT????  The third member voted out is JOHN?????????????  But, but, but.  Any idiot could tell that there might be a fissure in the alliance.  Any idiot could tell that the girls had some hope that one or more of the guys flip and vote against the guys' alliance.  Any idtiot would see the looks passing between the tribe, Josh's discomfort, Jaclyn and Baylor's surprising confidence.  Any idiot knows you don't want to go home with an immunity idol in your pocket.

Well, never let it be said that John Rocker is just any idiot.

Baylor (4)
John (2)
Josh (6)
Keith (2)
Jeremy (3)
Alec (2)