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.

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