Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Blind Auditions Episode 4

After Monday night's forgettable, lackluster array of hopefuls, would tonight's show have any memorable performances?  Sadly, I don't really think so.  After a strong debut episode, the last three haven't exposed us to any potential superstars.  Maybe this will be a good thing, the show will start out weaker and as the coaches do their thing the artists will get better.  We could call it, a reverse Taylor Phelan.

First up is freelance singer Ashley Morgan.  She hopes to be The Voice's Melinda Doolittle, a background singer discovered on a reality show and given her own spotlight.  She chooses "I'd Like to Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston to showcase her range, if not her awareness of any contemporary music.  Christina was excited when she heard the song choice, but not excited enough by the vocals to turn her chair.

I'd have to agree with Christina's assessment.  I was surprised that Blake turned around, shocked that Pharrell did.  Not to be snarky (when would I ever do that?), but this performance made it crystal clear why Ashley is a background singer.  She's on tune, on tempo, and does not mangle the song - all key attributes of a good background voice. But she lacks any originality or spark.  She should be singing in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle or behind Janelle Monáe, but not on the stage alone.  Sorry, but the Kara Dioguardi look alike was just, in the words of Randy Jackson, aight.  Welcome to Team Pharrell.

By contrast, 16-year-old Koryn Hawthorne would probably not make a great backup singer.  But she could easily be up front.  She growled and powered her way through "My Kind of Love" by Emeli Sande.  She doesn't blend effortlessly into the background, instead, she grabs you by the lapels (even if you're wearing a tee shirt) and pulls you in to take notice.  She has a sound, and a confidence, beyond her years.

Only Pharrell and Christina were smart enough to hit their buttons and recognize the awesome instrument she has.   She delivers so much depth and resonance in her lower registry and then can go hit those high notes without a hitch.  She has a real connection to what she's singing and can blow away the audience without overpowering them.  I'm a little worried that Christina may have her go overboard with her vocals, but I hope the tough-sounding singer is as tough with her coach.

The next singer is 17-year-old Lexi Davila who describes herself as shy.  But not too shy to stand on the stage in front of millions of viewers, singing "Dreaming of You" by Selena.  Despite her nerves, and the fact that no one turned around for an excruciatingly long 45 seconds, she got stronger as the song went on.  She's beautiful and young and tears up talking about her late grandfather. She's the whole package.

Only Adam and Blake turn around for Lexi, the other too concerned that the girl who went with the voice might be too young and inexperienced.  But the other two recognized she has raw talent - a distinctive and solid voice with a pretty good range. She has a nice vibrato, warm rich low notes, and (when she doesn't go too screechy) an angelic tone on her high notes.  She chose Team Adam,

After a montage of singers that were put through, and an uncomfortable unsuccessful audition by funk/soul/reggae lead singer Quincy, we had another cute teenager, Brenna Yaeger.  She told us a sad story about missing her childhood home after her parent's divorce, that made her song choice of Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me" even more poignant.  

She started out strong, with a really beautiful, lacy tone.  I was shocked that she wasn't an immediate four-chair turnaround.  But as the song went on, she actually seemed to lose her mojo.  I don't know if was nerves (why isn't Miranda's husband turning around) or the distraction from Adam, but the second half of the performance was weaker.  Still, she has a great tone and sound for a country artist and she's undeniably cute as a button.  She got two hugs from a desperate Adam while Blake did "the finger thing" and she seemed genuinely torn.  Eventually, she had to choose and she went - shocker of all shockers - for Team Blake.

I hate when singers audition with songs I love, because I find it hard to evaluate them separate and apart from the song.  West Point Band vocalist Jeremy Gaynor sang "Superstar" written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney and Bonnie) and later made a big '70s hit for The Carpenters.  It's such a great song, a perfect platform for a vocalist to show what they have.  And Jeremy did just that.

He slowed it down a bit and caressed each individual note like a long-lost lover.  He hit some Adam-esque hit notes as easily as he hit the lower notes.  Not surprisingly, he was the first four-chair turnaround of the night.  How do you not love a soldier who can sing like an angel?  He's goodlooking, passionate and sings a wide variety of music (apparently that's a military requirement).  He has his pick of judges and goes for the first one who turned around, Christina.  West Point's loss is her gain.

Next up is Jack Gregori who is no teenager.  His parents encouraged him not to try and make a living at music so he went from college to law school and practiced law until things went south.  He rediscovered his love of music.  Despite hailing from New York, he plays in a band called "Country Music Juke Box." He auditions with Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

The 40-year-old has a deep, rich country voice.  Almost Scotty McCreary deep.  But he reminds me of the first singer of the night in that he sings the notes but doesn't stand out as an artist.  It was nothing you couldn't hear in any bar, any night.  I was not surprised that Blake didn't turn around and Adam did a pretty good job pretending he didn't step in it with his premature button push.  But this one is DOA at Team Adam.

Briar Jonnee sings almost all of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" before any chair turns around.  And I think I get why.  It was so close to being a great vocal, but was just under the radar.  A little shaky, a little unfocused.   But she benefited from choosing a great song that can make an average singer sound great.

Sadly, that's what I think Briar is, just an average singer.  She tried her hardest and gave it her all, but she's not unique or memorable.  Her vibrato was more nerves than vocal trait and the most interesting part of her segment was Christina and Adam's walks.  Pharrell thinks she has some raw talent under the nerves and maybe he's right, but I didn't hear it.  Blake begs her to come to his team and almost jerks his finger out of its socket, but she ultimately doesn't even make eye contact with him as she is mesmerized by Pharrell.

The chubby kid with the high voice is now getting his revenge.  He's married and auditioning for The Voice.  Take that middle school bullies!  Brian Johnson chose "Reason to Believe" written by Tim Hardin but first popularized by Rod Stewart.  Another song that a wounded jackal could sing and I'd like.  I'll try and put aside my bias and listen to his voice, ignoring that the melody and lyrics make this one of the best songs of the last fifty years.

He gets the first turnaround just on his pre-song crooning.  And it's the judge who he wanted most to turn, Adam.  Blake turns around too, after actually hearing some of the song.  Brian sings with a lot of feeling and puts his own spin on the song (and liberties with the lyrics), but he doesn't completely nail it.  Still, there's a good amount of jousting for him between Adam and Blake, with Blake saying all the right things so that the high-pitched vocalist actually changes his mind and chooses Team Blake.

Finally.  What this season has been missing is the three-named country artist.  Along comes Corey Kent White to fill that voice.  CKW may not have a name that rolls off the tongue, but he has his country music bona fides taking on Zac Brown Band's "Chicken Fried."  Corey toured with a country band for a while and had his dream come true when he got to sing on stage with Willie Nelson.  From that day on he focused on singing.

He has the full support of his grandfather and experience playing small venues.  It doesn't hurt that he's a cute looking kid with a nice voice.  Adam and Blake look back and forth between each other while Christina is looking at both of them wondering what's taking them so long and while this is going on, Pharrell sneaks in and hits his button.  Blake all of a sudden realizes he's about to miss out and hits hit button just before the song ends.  The battle begins and Pharrell goes for the nuclear option right off the bat.  Adam makes a strong case for Pharrell. And then Blake reminds him that he had The Swon Brothers on his team and Corey, a fellow Oklahoman, decides to trust Team Blake.

Jeremy Gaynor (Team Christina)
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Christina)
Lexi Davila (Team Adam)
Brenna Yaeger (Team Blake)
Corey Kent White (Team Blake)
Brian Johnson (Team Blake)
Briar Jonee (Team Pharrell)
Ashley Morgan (Team Pharrell)
Jack Gregori (Team Adam)

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