Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Voice Season 8, Episode 5: Let the Auditions End and the Battles Begin

After two weeks of blind auditions, almost all the teams are complete.  Going into tonight's episode, Pharrell still has two open stops, Adam, Blake and Christina need just one more singer.  After we get through the last of the blind auditions, we'll move on to the battle rounds.  As in past years, the judges will be assisted by various, sometimes random, musicians.  This season's group of artists who had a break in their schedule and some need for TV time are Nick Jonas (for Team Christina), Meghan Trainor (for Team Blake), Ellie Goulding (for Team Adam) and Lionel Richie (for Team Pharrell).

First up is 17-year-old Nathan Hermida with "Sure Thing" by Miguel.   Was his song choice to plant a subliminal message to the judges or was it ironically chosen for him to fail with?  Looks like the former as the self-described nerdy Asian, whose mother worries will ultimately move back home if he tries to make a living from singing, has a lovely voice.

Nathan has a very current sound - velvelty and soulful - with a slight vibrato and sexy tone perfect for R&B/Pop.  He gets two chairs to turn, Adam and Christina.  They like the "doesn't look like he sounds" vibe they get from Nathan and both plead their case on why he should pick them.  In the end, he picks Team Adam.

Paul Pfau sings "Fly Me to the Moon" made popular by Frank Sinatra.  Another young guy singing an old standard.  Are we allowed two crooners in a season? I think that violates some FCC rule.  Adam wishes his team weren't full (maybe you can throw back the guy who sang the Johnny Cash song last week) and he risks injury to his multi-instrument playing hand by repeatedly hitting his now inactive button.

I hated this when he started.   It sounded like he had just suffered a stroke as he was incapable of pronouncing all the letters in any of the song's first words. "Fy me to the moo, let me pay among the stars."  But as the song went on, this affectation faded to the background and you could hear some promising tonal quality, a gritty-yet-silky-smooth sound that is distinct.  And Paul has a good look for the show.  Despite hailing from Oklahoma, Paul does not fall under Blake's spell and chooses Pharrell.

Mechanic Vance Smith takes on "I'll be There" by the Four Tops.  You know where he won't be, in the live rounds.  He was scared and breathless and brought nothing to the song and we were seconds away from David Spade coming in to escort him offstage with a dismissive Buh-bye and then he hit the last two notes, reaching high up in his vocal repertoire for a note even Adam would consider too high, and Pharrell and Christina both hit their buttons.

Maybe it was a Pavlovian response to that note, but what should have been a nice sendoff and a "better luck next time" pep-talk turned into a bidding war.  Ultimately, Christina "won??" this one and completed her team.

Caitlin Caporale sings Christina's "Impossible" and once again the person who most inspired the contestant is not able to turn for them.  Caitlin is gorgeous and has perfect hair so it takes a while to realize that she's not just another pretty girl, but the owner of a nice set of pipes. It's a medical curiosity how that much power and passion can come out of the small person, as Blake aptly puts it she has a 700 pound voice in an 80 pound body.

Caitlin only gets stronger as the song goes on and it's a rare audition you don't want to end.  Caitlin gets a late in the game all chair turnaround (albeit just two).and the would be R&B singer surprises no one by picking Pharrell.  But the big surprise comes in her impromptu duet with Christina when Caitlin vocally demolishes the vocal powerhouse.  I hope Pharrell doesn't mess this one up, this girl could go all the way.

The last audition of the night is Hannah Kirby, a girl who plays the fiddle and goes to college in Texas, but chooses an old rock classic "The Letter" instead of a country tune with which to audition.
She sounds angry.  Really pissed off.  That must have been one brutal letter.  What?  The letter is that your baby wants you?  So why so mad, Hannah?  I'm concerned she shows such a disconnect between the lyrics and her tone.

 She scowls, growls, yells throughout the song and while there is something in there, she needs to take a Xanax, drink some herbal tea, and meditate before her next performance.   Didn't anyone ever tell her that just because you can do something it doesn't mean you should?  Try singing next time, use that deep powerful vibrato for good, not evil.   Blake heard something he liked, or he was tired of going through the blind auditions, so he chose Hannah to complete his team.

With all the teams set, it was time for the Battle Rounds to begin and for the first "steal" of the season.  Let me get this out of the way, this is not a steal.  You are saving, rescuing, salvaging, giving second life to, and resuscitating the artist, but you can't steal something that was given up.  Okay, now, moving on.

The first pairing of the night was James MacNeiece and Tonya Boyd-Cannon from Team Adam.  We hadn't seen James before, so it was a forgone conclusion that she would win the battle.

James is just an average singer - perfect for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, but not a national singing show.  There's just nothing unusual, distinctive, or gripping in his voice.  But he did a sold job in this performance. Tonya wasn't as strong as in her blind audition - this song really did her no favors - but she has a great tone and more promise.

The next battle pit background singer Ashley Morgan against teen Mia Z singing "Put the Gun Down" by ZZ Ward (does that give Mia Z an edge?).  During the rehearsals, Pharrell correctly identified the difference between the two.  Ashley is a great technical singer, but she's not that interesting.  Mia is distinctive and unusual, but she might not always be accurate.  So each had to work on the other's best attributes.

The battle was a clear choice between someone who sings all the right notes in all the right ways (Ashley) and someone who has fun doing her thing on stage (Mia).  The decision, according to Adam,  boiled down to whether you like pancakes or waffles.  I think he was partially correct, but more apt would be the choice between plain pancakes and Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate sprinkles.  Mia has more vocal tricks and more facets to her voice than the technically perfect but bland Ashley.  Pharrell picked Mia and then there was a three coach "steal" of Ashley (so much for my assessment) with the three fighting tooth and nail for her and Christina ultimately winning.

The last battle of the night was Team Blake's Brian Johnson and Joshua Davis singing Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."  Kudos for the song choice, as it really highlights the men's vocals and the differences between the two.  Joshua is grittier with a raspy/breathy tone, Brian has a really sweet. cool tone that cuts through like a knife.  They both did a great job with this sad song.  During rehearsal, they brought assistant coach Meghan Traynor to tears!

This was a hard one to pick.  Brian has such a cool R&B sound, but Joshua brought his baby to the stage!  Do you want to make the baby cry like Meghan Trainor?? What am I saying, it was easy.  Brian has so much soul in his voice  (just the sound on the word "coming" gave me goosebumps), that I'd give him the win.  Blake agreed, but Joshua needn't despair. Adam hadn't gotten over losing him in the blinds to Blake and was only too happy to get him back now.

 Tomorrow night, more battles.  Here's a sneak peek for tomorrow's show as two powerhouse belters go head to head:

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