Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Blind Auditions, Episode 3

It's time again to dash some hopes, make some dreams come true, and be amazed by all of the Jedi mind tricks of one Pharrell Williams as week two of The Voice Season 8 kicks off.  There are eight more full performances to go through and none that made me forget Sawyer Fredericks' performance last week. And that includes Adam's shaky, oops I forgot the words, faux audition to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

Starting off the night was Kelsie May who has not only the perfect name for a young country artist but the cutest giggle and biggest dimple of the night.  She takes on Loretta Lynn's "You're Looking at Country" and there is so much steel guitar and twang that three of the judges immediately look over at Blake.

She does a serviceable job, albeit with a few warbly moments.  She talked more than sang, but she has undeniable charm and stage presence.  With the right songs (i.e, nothing that requires too much actual singing), she can be an enjoyably bubbly performer who makes the audience smile, if not rush out to buy her music.  Absolutely no one was surprised when she went to Team "I'm married to Miranda Lambert" Blake.

The next one up was Kimberly Nichole who sang "Nutbush City Limits" by Tina Turner.  I had mixed feelings about this artist as her septum piercing was off putting, but her tutu was adorable.  It became instantly clear to me why blind auditions are such a good idea.  Without the distraction of that thing hanging under her nose, you could focus on the vocals.

So about those vocals,  A little screechy, but I still liked the confidence and attitude.  She was definitely channeling Tina.  I'd like to see her use her lower register more as she has some power there.  But what she does have plenty of is a connection to the music she's singing and the ability to deliver a strong performance.   Surprisingly, Blake is the first one to turn and only Pharrell joins him, just before the end of her song.  Despite Blake's promise that he'd be good to her (see what I did there...the Tina Turner reference?  "Better Be Good To Me?" Anyone?),  she decided to join Team Pharrell.  And by "decided" I mean, fell victim to whatever powers he has to look through you, deep into your soul, and convince you to follow him to the ends of the earth.

Dontcha know the next contestant is Michael Leier from Fargo, North Dakota.  He hates that everyone copies the Marge Gunderson accent and so please read the rest of his review as if we were in the movie.  So that little fella, he chooses, dontcha know, to sing "Last Kiss" famously covered by that nice lookin' fella Eddie Vedder.  Michael looked really bored and I thought maybe he should have had some coffee and maybe a donut to wake him up before he went on the TV in front of all those people and sleep-walked his way through his one big chance.

Bias alert - I LOVE this song.  I LURV it.  When Eddie Vedder (who I'll try, but fail, to name check as much as the judges did) sings this, I want to strip off my clothes and roll around in melted chocolate. TMI?  So just being reminded of his vocals, even by a bored to tears watered down version of the song, I had to hit my button.  Michael was very lucky that Adam and Blake turned around for him and if he wants to go any farther in this contest he's going to have to show he wants it.  He chose Team Adam and I hope he can kick this young fella's ass because he does have a pretty good '90s alt rock sound.

By contrast, Travis Ewing came out on stage and sang as if his life depended on it.  He put his own spin on Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" and worked the stage and the crowd like a pro.  He has a good sound for the studio and is cute enough to get votes.  Not sure about the anchor necklace or his news anchor hair; maybe we can get Gwen Stefani back to give him a make over. But he's got the voice and that's what the show is all about, right?

Surprisingly, Adam was the only judge who didn't turn around.  Travis did lose a little steam by the end, but he still showed some good Blues instincts and vocal ingenuity.  He got a little breathless which could be nerves and needs to work on his breathing.  But he has a lot of raw talent and this may be just the tip of the iceberg of what he can do.  He was powerless to withstand the power that is Pharrell locking eyes with you and telling you just what you need to hear.  Let's hope this goes better for him than being on Team Pharrell worked last season.

Last week we had a contestant whose parents are deaf, tonight we have a singer who is deaf in one ear.  Sonic chose Sam Smith's "Money on My Mind" which was a questionable one as the range of that song is daunting.  A poorer choice was the chain that went from her nose to her ear, a sort of "The Fault is in Our Stars" nasal chic.  The judges were lucky they didn't have to look at her and wonder what would happen if her hand or the mic got stuck on the chain.  Not a good look and distracting as hell.

The only thing worse than her jewelry choice?  Her voice.  Sonic "sang?" as if she was a robot that was short-circuiting.  She screeched, chopped off notes, and basically flailed around until the song mercifully came to an end.  For some reason, two judges turned and Adam dodged a bullet when Sonic chose to go to Team Christina.

Every season we have at least one vocalist whose voice is gender-bending, whose chair turnaround results in many shocked "that voice came out of that person" reactions and this year it was Jacob Runnell. The exceedingly cute teenager sang Bruno Mars' "Count on Me" and did a great job.  He has the whole package - nice voice, great look and likability for days.

I wonder if Pharrell and Christina would have turned around had they known it was a cute boy singing that song.  Jacob has a smooth as silk voice, nice vibrato and great range.  And he picked the perfect song and genre as Bruno Mars is right in his wheelhouse.  He has great potential and his unexpected choice to go with Team Blake could be genius, considering the success he's had with young artists.

Another reliable archetype of The Voice is the middle aged singer with the dynamite voice and filling that role was Barry Minniefield.  Barry sang a daring-at-its-time "Me and Mrs. Jones" (an extra-marital affair, gasp!),  originally sung by one-hit wonder Billy Paul.  Barry is a big teddy bear of a guy and recently qualified for AARP, is it too late for him to see his musical dreams come true?

It was a close call.  Despite a great vocal, only one chair turned around.  Adam heard the solid R&B sound, a clear throw back to the '70s, and instead of thinking Vegas lounge-act like the rest of us, he decided the guy deserved a button push.  The rest of the judges recognized that his vocals, while rich and powerful, are neither current nor in demand, so there was no competition for this singer.  Welcome to Team Adam.

We knew the last singer of the night would be a four-chair turnaround.  India Carney showed herself to be brave by singing the oft-mocked Billy Joel's classic "New York State of Mind."  I happen to be a Billy Joel fan and don't get why he's often the butt of jokes and derision.  This is one of the most lush, beautiful songs written in the past forty years and a great platform for any singer.

I thought India did a good job, using her rich deep tones pretty well.  But she started warbling with the world's shakiest vibrato that bordered on Elmer Fudd territory by the end.  I don't know if it was nerves or if she always sings with that shaky a voice, but I hope it's the former.  Because that rat-a-tat-tat, singer in a blender, sound was unnerving.  She's an absolutely beautiful girl with a billion dollar smile who just needs to learn to control that vibrato.  Unfortunately, she went with Team Christina and it is unlikely her coach will tell her to reel it in.

So another eight have been selected and we're one day closer to having our teams set. Who was your favorite?  I felt this was a rather thin, weak field.  What did you think?

Travis Ewing (Team Pharrell)
Jacob Runnell (Team Pharrell)
India Carney (Team Christina)
Michael Leier (Team Adam)
Kimberly Nichole (Team Pharrell)
Barry Minnifield (Team Adam)
Kelsie May (Team Blake)
Sonic (Team Christina)

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