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.

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