Does anybody else feel like they’re pretty much making it up as they go along on “The Voice”?
Before the show premiered, the hype was all about the Blind Auditions. Those lasted for all of two episodes. Then there were the Battle episodes, which somehow stretched a total of 16 performances over four episodes of the most padded TV programming imaginable. And starting tonight (June 7)? Well, NBC’s calling Tuesday’s show the start of the Quarter-Finals, but other than a couple vague and confusing videos, it’s been impossible to know what to expect from the two-hour live episode. That makes life hard on your Friendly Neighborhood Recapper.
It turns out that we’re getting performances from two teams tonight. Team Christina’s Wailing Divas will go up against Team Blake’s Insecure Hipsters. I think I’m going to recap the episode like I’d recap any “American Idol” performance episode, but I’m as clueless about what tonight’s episode entails as y’all are. So click through for… something.
9:01 p.m.Â The show begins with Adam Levine at center stage singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Now, Adam Levine’s a man who makes his living singing very, very high and all he’s making me do tonight is appreciate just how talented Freddie Mercury was. Cee-Lo Green is also stymied by Mercury’s legacy on “We Will Rock You.” Blake Shelton comes out and his part has been lowered into his range and so he’s got less of a challenge and less of a struggle.
9:04 p.m. Christina Aguilera solos on “We Are The Champions.” I’m mostly distracted by her high-waisted leather underwear. But even Christina, with a voice as big as any in contemporary music, can’t sing Queen. That was a really poor start to the show.
9:05 p.m. “That was amazing,” Carson Daly says, summing up an entirely different performance from the one that I just watched.
9:05 p.m. Time for a montage flashing back over the past six weeks.
9:08 p.m. America will “help decide” who stays and who goes home. Note that that’s not the same as entirely deciding. The show has been mighty vague about the voting process. Carson says that two artists from each team will go home, one saved by the voters and one saved by the coaches.Â
9:09 p.m. “I just want them to get on the stage and just lose themselves,” Aguilera says. She’s proud.Â
9:10 p.m. “How do people have kids? These people are wearing me out,” Blake says. “Look who the put me against tonight. I have no doubt. My team’s gonna take it home tonight,” he says, pointing at Christina. Meanwhile, Adam and Cee-Lo just get to sit and chill. “At all times, I’m for a good fight,” Cee-Lo says, refusing to take side. But we all know that Cee-Lo’s new mustache has positioned him as Team John Waters.
9:12 p.m. Carson announces that this is “the most digitally integrated show on TV.” Huzzah for digital integration!
PERFORMER NO.1: Raquel Castro (TEAM CHRISTINA)
My Take: The first performance tonight is Jersey Girl Raquel Castro. She’s got a troop of background dancers upstaging her, as well as a full-on light show and an over-produced arrangement. Ummm… Dumb question: Isn’t this show called “The Voice”? Didn’t everybody make a big deal about how this wasn’t about looks or flash, but about whether people can sing? So why am I watching a 16-year-old girl in an impossibly short skirt failing dismally to be heard and seen over a full-on kitschy Vegas show? Raquel, already prone to over-singing can’t even be blamed for shouting her way through every bit of this freak show. She dances, but not very much. Mostly what she’s doing is dodging. Christina Aguilera is very pleased.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: Cee-Lo says “There’s no lying in live television and that was wonderful.” Adam praises her for singing and dancing at the same time, calling it “incredible.” Blake shakes his head and mutters, “Damnit. She is awesome.” Christina couldn’t be more proud of her, raving at her “attitude.”
PERFORMER No. 2: Jared Blake (TEAM BLAKE)
Song: “Use Somebody”
My Take: Maybe that first performance was just a reflection on Christina Aguilera’s performance? I mean, they’re not going to have background dancers with Jared Blake, right? No. Thank heavens. But he’s still fighting through a light show and an overbearing background arrangement that makes it impossible to tell if he’s even playing his guitar. The answer appears to be “No.” Half-way through, Jared throws the guitar into the audience and it changes nothing about the performance, other than giving him the freedom to go out and sing the song uncomfortably close to a woman he presumably knew ahead of time. With his chains and his huge black headbands, Jared is unbearably cheesy. He’s like a guy doing a parody of a Steve Van Zandt impression. In 2011. Pretending to be a contemporary artist. Still, vocally there’s no comparison here. Jared stomped all over Poor Little Raquel.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: Christina loves watching Jared performance and says “there’s really no critiquing.” Cee-Lo loves Jared’s voice and loves the way he does his thing. “That was a perfect song for you to do,” Adam says, claiming to be emotionally connected. Blake’s proud of Jared.
PERFORMER No. 3: Beverly McClellan (TEAM CHRISTINA)
Song: “I’m The Only One”
My Take: Beverly’s entire pre-performance clip package is dedicated to excuses. Yes. She has a cold. We get it. Is that the explanation for her military blazer and long red plaid skirt? Beverly has been given the least obtrusive musical arrangement and backing of the evening. That’s a good choice, because Beverly’s vocal affectations are pretty over-the-top under the best of circumstance and there’s little doubt that she is, as we were warned, battling with her voice. Long stretches are all growl, no singing. But that’s what people seem to like from Beverly. I assume people will also love the way she pantomimes walking across fire. She’s definitely having fun and she’s much more her own performer than, again, the night’s first two singers. The crowd is definitely in her corner.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: “I love your spirit. You’re a natural,” Cee-Lo rambles. He loves her so much. “Wow. The one that got away,” Adam laments, with Christina interrupting his every syllable. “I’m just blown away,” Blake says, also calling her “sexy” and “hot.” “Every time you hit the stage, you just make all the boys so jealous,” says a nearly incoherent Christina, who implies that Beverly made Adam soil himself. “You nailed it. You rocked it,” Christina says.
PERFORMER No. 4: Dia Frampton (TEAM BLAKE)
My Take: If I’ve learned anything from the first three performances tonight, it’s that this competition is no place for Dia Frampton, who can’t stop talking about her stage fright. Dia’s a gentle soul. Dia’s an artistic soul. This is a show about loud music and lights. Kudos to Blake for nurturing Dia and encouraging her to play piano if that makes her more comfortable, though playing piano *also* makes Dia nervous. Dia’s been given the “American Idol” Rolling Fog treatment. It may just be that Dia is almost unbearably adorable, but she’s the first singer of the night who’s actually caused me to concentrate on vocals, on phrasing, on intonation. I may need to vote for Dia tonight, because somebody has to protect her from a format that seems to favor “Big” over “Good.” Dia is better than “Good” and she’s the first artist of the night I actually think deserves that description. I don’t know if this is a familiar arrangement of the Kanye hit, but it’s so much better than anything else I’ve been subjected to tonight. We’ve had three performances of loud karaoke and then this.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: “It was very interesting,” says Christina, who lacks the vocabulary to describe somebody musical and quirky. “Very original,” says Cee-Lo, vowing to call Kanye tonight and let him know. “That was the most refreshing and unique thing I’ve seen on the show so far,” Adam says. “This is my favorite moment on ‘The Voice,'” Blake says.
9:57 p.m. We now pause the performances to show how invested Christina Aguilera is in her team. She’s so invested that she’s taking them out to dinner at Geisha House. She explains to them that being a real artist is about jumping off of cliffs. “She knows what it takes to go out there and be your best,” Frenchie Davis says. “From the wolves came amazing things,” Christina tells her Girls, insisting that she wouldn’t trade any of her professional missteps for anything.Â
9:59 p.m. Welcome Team Christina, performing together with their Mentor. Ugh. “Lady Marmalade.” Â Lots of shouting. Lots of cleavage. And Raquel Castro is far, far out of her depth here.Â
10:02 p.m. “Wow. That was amazing,” Carson Daly says.
10:03 p.m. The stuff in the V Room is dreadful. Please let’s not do this next week? I know “The Voice” is digitally integrated and whatnot, but is it possible that things could trend worldwide without Alison Haislip sounding so proud? “Billy Madison” trends worldwide if TNT airs it on a slow afternoon.Â
PERFORMER No. 5: Xenia (TEAM BLAKE)
Song: “Price Tag”
My Take: Xenia is another of Team Blake’s nervous non-divas. She’s been given a visible background band, which instantly helps add just a little intimacy. Unlike Dia, who overcame her nerves and was able to stand alone, Xenia is visibly distracted by choreography that asks her to point to her left and right at lyrically obvious moments in the song. And even that little bit of choreography is a challenge. If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was one of the producers’ teenage kids brought out to do a little karaoke between the real performances. Yes, she has a beautiful tone to her voice, but there’s an energy to the chorus of the song that’s entirely absent in whatever Xenia’s doing. They could have slowed the arrangement down if they wanted to help her, but they didn’t. Blake is just an amazingly good dude and such a genuine mentor, though. I can’t say enough for his enthusiasm and warmth in rooting Xenia on for every second of the song. He comes out and gives her a big hug at the end. It’s a fantastic moment and one that may not have seemed as genuine and believable with any other mentor.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: “I’d love to listen to a whole album of you,” Christina says. Cee-Lo calls it “adorable.” “I just love seeing you have fun,” Adam says. “I’m so happy and proud of her. My heart is swollen right now,” Blake says, saying that we’re watching a star being born. Xenia’s deer-in-the-headlights look through the whole evaluation is kinda sweet, but also kinda sad. I got almost no sense she enjoyed what just took place. She only looks relieved.
PERFORMER No. 6: Lily Elise (TEAM CHRISTINA)
Song: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”
My Take: Lily’s been urged to tear down her walls and show some vulnerability. First, though, she has to find a way to deal with the group of male dancers who have absolutely nothing to do with her voice or her performance. I get it. She’s pushing them away. She’s showing her independence. That’s some sophisticated choreography, y’all. I hate this crap. Let the girl sing. This is really rough to listen to. They cut over to Christina and she has a look that I’d almost call “quizzical.” Lily’s making a lot of “I’m being vulnerable” faces, but I really think the whole performance was tossed off-kilter by the disappearing dancers. Blake never would have subjected one of his dancers to that nonsense.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: Cee-Lo connects with Lily because she admitted her fear. “When the dancers went away, your performance became much more engaging,” Adam says in a true “Duh-Doy” moment. “Was it your idea to have the four mimes behind her?” Blake asks Christina accusingly. Christina explains what the dancers meant. Ummm… We got it, Christina. It wasn’t exactly subtle.
10:30 p.m. Christina isn’t the only mentor who cares about her singers. Blake invited his team over to his actual house. Or to a house he’s borrowing? He tells his team to put competition aside. They view Blake Shelton as a friend. I can buy that. I’d want Blake Shelton mentoring me if I were on this show.Â
10:31 p.m. Team Blake and Blake take the stage together and, much to Adam Levine’s amusement, they sing a Maroon Five song. It’s an uneven performance. Unlike Christina, Blake chose four very different vocals and their voices don’t mesh very well. It’s funny to see that in this environment, Dia actually doesn’t seem at all scared and she looks like she’s having fun. Adam honors Team Blake with a standing ovation.
10:34 p.m. “You’re so much bigger than everybody else,” Adam tells Blake, leading into double-entendre that leaves poor Xenia confused.Â
PERFORMANCE No. 7: Patrick Thomas (TEAM BLAKE)
Song: “I Hope You Dance”
My Take: Patrick, the cowboy hat is overdoing it. We get it. You’re a cowboy. It’s such an average and mediocre vocal until he gets to the big notes at the end and you suddenly realize that everybody has been misjudging Patrick’s voice. He’s much less of a Scotty McCreery-style baritone than he keeps being asked to be and he’s much better on the higher notes than the low. It’s lifeless and sincere.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: “I’m still waiting on you to take off your pants,” Christina says, continuing to drool over Patrick. And then she repeats the harassment. “Excellent performance,” Cee-Lo, who calls Patrick one of the show’s strongest contenders. “First of all, Christina Aguilera wants to do it with you,” Adam says. Blake says that Patrick is making Nashville proud.
PERFORMANCE No. 8: Frenchie Davis (TEAM CHRISTINA)
Song: “When Love Takes Over”
My Take: Oh. Goodie. More pointless dancers. At least Frenchie isn’t being asked to interact with them. She’s got lasers too. Christina really doesn’t have a less-is-more approach to her singers. The dancers add nothing and, in fact, distract the director, who forgets that the on-stage talent is actual Frenchie. But maybe it’s not such a bad decision. There was some really bad notes coming from Frenchie. She’s consistently sharp for long periods. The coaches won’t comment on any of that. Because they’re not judges. But that was rough.
The Judges Who Aren’t Judges Say: Cee-Lo raves that Frenchie’s breath-control is “above-average.” Yay. “You made me really love that song,” Adam says, ending with a “Damn, girl.” “You’re the most powerful singer probably in this competition,” Blake says. Christina gushes over Frenchie’s “poise” and “presence.”
Bottom Line: I think this will be my last time recapping “The Voice.” Out of eight performances, the only one I really liked was Dia Frampton. Everything else was over-produced, second-rate theatrics that, in my opinion, undermined the months of “This show is about people singing” tripe that the producers and mentors spewed. I don’t need to sit through melodically messy performances and empty praise from the celebrity coaches. Not for two hours.
What’d you think?