Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Voice Recap: Season 8, Week One, Night One

This is The Voice.

It's back and she's back and so I'm back as well.  The Voice Season 8 got underway while the ink on runner-up Matt McAndrews' brand new recording contract was still wet.  After having three team members in the final four and seeing two of his team signed to contracts in the days since the Season 7 finale, Adam Levine must be flying high.  Sure Blake won Season 7, but Adam was the undisputed king of the four-chair turn arounds and had his pick of artists.  Even with Christina Aguilera's much ballyhooed return to the show, and renowned producer Pharrell back for his second time, Adam had to be feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good as the season began.
By the end of week one, Adam must have thought he was in a musically inspired episode of the Twilight Zone.  One after another of this week's artists given a choice did not pick the golden boy.  He might be married to a super model, fronting a hit-producing machine like Maroon 5, and People's Sexiest Man, but Adam thoroughly lost his mojo.  Let's see some of the artists who decided to go another way, starting with Monday night's show.

First up was Italian American rocker Sarah Potenza who growled through Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me."  She looks more like the fun middle school art teacher who shops at the funkiest second hand shop in town than a rock star. Her voice is as rough as her unruly hair and had only one gear - loud. She picked a raspy, loud, one note song and did a good job of sounding like a middle-aged Rod Stewart, but I'm not sure that's a compliment. 

I may not have pushed the button on my Voice App, but all four judges did.  Adam pushed first and then started making "white guy trying to be soulful" face.  Pharrell was next and was so overcome by Sarah's Mike Meyers as Linda "Coffee Talk" Richman inspired-glasses that he stood and made his own array of strange "O" faces.  Eventually all four turned and the begging/pleading/sweet talking began.  Adam gave her a hug and Blake and she bonded over Nashville and boots.  In the end, she surprised us all by going with country boy Blake.

Next was young crooner Lowell Oakley who sang Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."  The bar is set pretty low when there are just a handful of people singing in a particular genre and Lowell would not have been Perry Como's back up's back up in the old days, but today he gets two judges to turn around (kudos to Christina and Blake, you passed your hearing test).

The kid has a nice voice, a decent tone and stays on key.  It's just not for me an interesting or engaging voice.  Not much else to say about the performance, but I wonder if his pants have their own twitter account yet.  The tight above ankle pants have a life of their own and I really didn't care to find out if he was circumcised or not.  Maybe in the future The Voice can borrow the black box from The Bachelor.  After Adam and Pharrell give their spiels, and Pharrell symbolically strips bare for Lowell, the teen breaks Adam's heart and joins Team Pharrell.

The next "one who got away" from Adam was soul singer Rob Taylor.  He showed amazing range in faithfuly covering Luke James' "I Want You." Deep rich low tones, crystal clear ultra, super duper high notes.  Rob has it all - except for a decent barber.  Hopefully TPTB will help him with a make over before the live rounds, because his voice is really solid.

Not surprising, there's quite a lot of salesmanship going on as each coach tries to land the very talented singer.  But no one has a pitch like Christina, who gives Rob a taste of what a golden duet they can do in the future and lures him away from her fellow coaches like the siren she is.  Hopefully, unlike the sailors lured by the siren's song, Rob will have a nice, long, healthy run on the show.  This one has got to hurt Adam, but it's still early in the night.  He'll charm the next one. 

The next four-chair turn around was country singer Cody Wickline who took on the George Jones classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today."  Adam hit his button within the first three seconds and then saw as his dream of bagging his first artist of Season 8 slowly slipped away from him with each subsequent button push.  

Cody has a heavy old-fashioned country accent which borders on Muppet-like.  He needs to reel in the tricks and schtick and just focus on singing from his heart.  There were definite good moments and I like the little cry in his voice, but I hope he keeps on the modern side of the country spectrum and doesn't go too twangy. It was an obvious choice for him to go with Blake, so Adam shouldn't have taken this one that hard.  Maybe he'll have luck with the next singer.

Treeva Gibson is fifteen and both her parents are deaf, so her angelic voice was a pleasant surprise. I can't imagine what they must have thought when they were told she wanted to be a singer and they had no idea if she had the talent.  Well, she does!  She did a great job with Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" but only managed to turn two chairs - Christina and Blake.  Adam missed the boat, holding out for perfection rather than recognizing some young and beautifullly raw talent.  

I'll have to give Blake credit for the best description of the night, as he told Treeva that her voice drapes over the band.  She has a really warm texture to her voice and she is a nice change from the quirky indie girls they usually populate the show with.  It's one of the few performances I've listened to over again. She's effortlessly good - she doesn't rely on runs or overly dramatic motions, just some good singing.  I'm worried that her new coach, Christina, may have her do too much, stretch her voice beyond what it should do.  But I'm looking forward to hearing her again.

Meghan Linsey was one half of Steel Magnolia, a mildly successful country duo in the late Aughts.  But, both personal (a breakup between her and her fiancee/partner) and professional (the move towards bro-country) problems left her solo and label-less.  Despite her country music background, Meghan would like to reinvent herself as a bluesy rocker.  Interestingly, Meghan had sung with Blake on stage back when she was opening for him a few years ago and was probably expecting to have to choose between him and the other coaches. 

Not so fast, Meghan.  The only coach unimpressed with her gravelly take on "Love Hurts" was her old pal Blake.  I have to agree with his decision not to turn around (though it was more likely made because he already has a singer who growls and sounds like she's a two-pack-a-day smoker).  I am not a fan of her voice - it's a bad combination of Jennifer Nettles and Janis Joplin - and I prefer my woman singers to be slightly more feminine sounding and not the vocal equivalent of Rambo and Jean Claude Van Damme.  So finally Adam's losing streak will end now that he doesn't have to contend with Blake.  Oooh, no, sorry, Adam.  Meghan is going Team Pharrell.

The next singer, Joshua Davis, got one of the fastest turn arounds of the night and whatever he did in the studio to get that immediate reaction did not translate to my experience listening on my comfy couch at home.  He sang Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and it got Adam and Blake to hit their buttons before his first note had stopped reverberating.  But all I heard was a nondescript, unmemorable singer who sounded slightly better than Elvis Costello (which is not saying much; my vacuum sounds better than Elvis).

Joshua is another seasoned performer who's been struggling for years and is hoping that exposure on The Voice will make the difference.  It certainly can't hurt, but I'd be shocked if he makes it beyond the battle rounds.  There is nothing unique or identifiable about his voice and I didn't even think he really connected with the song.  He has purdy eyes though.   He and his blue eyes were swept up in Blake's magic and once again Adam failed to get a singer that he wanted.  This is getting awkward, but I don't think this is the great get that got away.

Last singer of the night may haunt Adam, though.  He is Sawyer Fredericks and he's young and cute and possessed with a voice that is the complete opposite of Joshua's. It has a tone and sound unlike anyone else's and you'll immediately know it's him when you hear it.  He's got the whole package - the styling, the appreciation for a wide genre of music, and the chops to mesmerize an audience.  He's the one everyone will be talking about from tonight's show.

His take on the old American folk song "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" made the song sound both timeless and fresh.  Even if folk is not your genre, I'd be surprised if you weren't hitting your imaginary button.  I loved his singing, his guitar playing and his confidence on stage.  And I love how he plays around with the notes, not in a showy way, but as if the notes had a life of their own.  He seemed really in the moment, caught up in the music, and it gave me chills.  If he chooses Adam, the night not only wouldn't be a complete waste for Adam, but he'd manage to grab the biggest talent of the night.  So after much lobbying by the judges, Sawyer makes his decision.  Pharrell.  And Adam just died a little inside.

Rankings for the Night:
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell)
Rob Taylor (Team Christina)
Teeva Gibson (Team Christina)
Cody Wickline (Team Blake)
Sarah Potenza (Team Blake)
Meghan Linsey (Team Pharrell)
Lowell Oakley (Team Pharrell)
Joshua Davis (Team Blake)

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