I like the two-hour versions of The Voice more than the one-hours because they give us a chance to see and hear more of the coaches. By which I mean I’m fascinated by the ongoing spectacle of Christina Aguilera sitting in her judge’s chair as though it was a queen’s throne, tossing out that mixture of lofty pretentiousness and strained street earthiness while invariably bringing the contestants’ performances back to — who else? — herself. At the opposite extreme, there’s Blake Shelton, whose steady transformation into a real TV star, a country sage whose charm is squarely in the great TV traditions of Roger Miller, Jimmy Dean, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, has been a joy to behold. I’d give a thousand “I was feelin’ you, girl”s from Xtina for one “Gosh-dang, I’m glad I know you!” from Blake.
Last night, the most hyped musical moment wasn’t from the contestants, but from the coaches. Adam Levine and Maroon 5 commenced singing “Moves Like Jagger” (what an outrageously silly yet catchy song title), and Levine reminded me once again why, when I first heard the lineup of The Voice judges before it premiered, I said, “Him? Why?” Levine’s pretty, chalky vocal fluttered through the lyric, not really claiming the song at any point. Then about two-thirds of the way through, Aguilera stomped up the ramp and onto the stage, doing her usual melisma shtick, making her trademark “Look, I’m playing the microphone as though it was a clarinet” hand gestures.
Aguilera had chosen this night to design her hair to look as though it was still wet from the shower and wrapped in a red-swirled bath towel. (Her hair seemed to have hair around it.) Added to her long, baggy white T-shirt carefully draped so as not to cover her pushed-up chest, she was a vision of Hotsy-Housewife Anti-Chic.
Christina made almost no effort to actually engage Levine in a duet on “Jagger” — as always, it’s all about Xtina. She ran up and down a few scales, nodded briefly to acknowledge Levine on stage, and then bathed in the audience adoration.
By contrast, the far more modest yet superior performance this night was Shelton’s. He sang “Honey Bee,” a terrific song about the fun of being a committed couple (he means you, Miranda). I daresay this was the first time many viewers of The Voice were exposed to the name “Conway Twitty,” name-checked along with Loretta Lynn as one of the music-making couples he admires.
Shelton’s relaxed command, his lack of showiness, is in keeping with country tradition. But it’s more than that: Like all first-rate pop singers, country or otherwise, he knows that the best way to impress an audience is by making something difficult look easy. In a sense, his performance also fit right in with the mission of The Voice, because just watching him, the contestants got a lesson in how to comport yourself on stage, and, perhaps, in life.
Christina: C+ (upped a notch for sheer camp factor)