It's the first round of live performances, and Jesse Campbell blows everyone away
We’ve made it to the live rounds! That means that, in addition to some serious vocal performances, we get scary clown masks, acrobatic dancers, gospel back-up singers and, most important, the coaches finally get to change their clothes! No more shots of Adam rocking that Big Lebowski sweater or Christina receiving satellite-dish messages from her hat.
Now we can see the newly single Adam looking very chic and understated in a black t-shirt and a new haircut. Christina gets styled up like the Misfits in a claw-marked t-shirt and smoky eyes. Blake’s wearing what passes for formal wear in Nashville (that would be a black jean jacket). And Cee Lo’s dressed up like a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.
“Cee Lo, there’s a little something different about you tonight,” observes Carson, trying not to laugh. “What are you doing? Who are you?”
“Adam cuts his hair short, I grow mine out,” explains Cee Lo.
To which Adam replies, “That actually is my hair.”
Boys, boys! There’s enough hair for everyone tonight! (Naia Kete alone has enough for ten teams.) So let’s break this down, starting off with Team Blake.
TEAM BLAKE: JERMAINE PAUL
Jermaine has worked for many years as Alicia Keys’ back-up singer—or so he might have mentioned a few bazillion times. So why’s this R&B vet taking on Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”? “I feel like I am livin’ on a prayer…this is like a faith walk for me,” he says. Voice contestants—always taking their Bon Jovi so literally!
The song choice was a little unorthodox, but I love everything about this performance. The smoke machine! The two dueling, stand-up, Sheila E-style drummers! The way Jermaine talks so tough when he gets to the “talk so tough” part! Genius! Everyone’s always talking about range in this competition, and Jermaine’s got some to spare. It’s not just his amazing voice, which manages to make even His Dudeness Bon Jovi sound soulful. It’s also that this smooth R&B guy can channel so much New Jersey, allowing himself to be elevated through the floor in a white leather jacket. That’s rock’n’roll.
Jermaine’s one of my very favorite contestants this season. I know he’s kind of arrogant, and he knows he’s hot (did you catch him making the Blue Steel face a few times?), but I simply cannot stop listening to him sing. And apparently neither can Blake (who’s clapping through his whole performance) or Christina (who observes, “You nailed every opportunity of that song”) or the girls who shriek like thirsty vampire bats through his entire time on stage.
Also, we get to watch a backup singer perform with his own backup singers? Somewhere there’s a cat looking at a picture of a cat looking at a picture of someone blowing that cat’s mind. My verdict? KEEP HIM, FOREVER!
NEXT: More Team Blake madness ensues, while Betty White hits on her favorite country star
NEXT UP FROM TEAM BLAKE: RAELYNN
Now that every pop act from Kelly Clarkson to Train is going country, why can’t Adam Levine? I love that Blake puts a Nashville twist on Maroon 5’s “Wake Up Call.” “It’s always been one of those songs that could’ve been a country song,” he explains, “[It’s] ‘you’re cheatin’ on me, I’m gonna shoot you now.'” Hmmm, he wouldn’t know anyone who’s famous for songs like that, would he?
It’s an inspired song choice for RaeLynn, who covered Blake’s awesomely hot-tempered wife Miranda Lambert last time around. Too bad RaeLynn continues to be one of the weakest singers in this competition. I like her feisty spirit and her cute little Hot Topic Cowgirl outfit (black summer dress, hot pink flower in her hair), but there’s no note this girl can’t over-twang. I can’t understand a word she’s singing until the chorus; she just sounds like Boomhauer‘s niece, striking up a conversation. And she still can’t hit all the notes.
Adam likes her cover of his song (maybe because she gives him a hug). And Christina likes her dancing. (“You’re a sassy little thing!” she enthuses. “Are you allowed to grind your hips at your age like that?”) But Blake’s praise feels very political. “You’re representing the new generation of country music so well,” he says. “I left the ACM awards last night, and you’re all anybody talked about out there.” Sure, it would be fun to have a country singer win this competition for a change, but this Mini Miranda is not the one to do it. Sorry, RaeLynn, sugar pie. DITCH HER.
Quickly, before we get to Naia, can we talk about Betty White? Why is Carson talking to her like she’s a deaf ESL student? “HI, Bet-ty WHITE!” he yells in her ear. “Are you HERE to pro-MOTE your SHOW?” Luckily, Bets handles it as gracefully as anyone who’s reading off a cue card can. “I’m just here to look at Blake Shelton,” she reads. “Anyone who doesn’t think he’s handsome is… Off their Rockers! Premiering at 8/7 central on NBC!” And then she walks down the aisle, grabs Shelton by the face, and sticks her tongue in his mouth.
Okay, she doesn’t really do that. Instead, the camera cuts to Naia Kete, who’s taking on Adele’s “Turning Tables.” Even though Naia tells Blake that “[reggae is] rooted in who I am,” he still asks her to sing the song straight like the British bombshells do, with none of the Jamaican lilt that makes her voice so distinct and so cozy. (I know that’s a weird word, but something about listening to her sing makes me want to light a fire and curl up… right next to a giant bong. Only kidding! But she does have a very soothing tone.) It’s such a mistake for Blake to prevent her from putting a reggae imprint on this song. So many girls in this competition, from Angel to Mathai, have been trying to cover Adele. If there’s anything that makes Naia stand out, it’s not being Adele.
Pushed out of her comfort zone, Naia’s voice is shaky and feather-light and unremarkable. Nothing can make it dramatic, not even the slow, sweeping footage of snow falling over skyscrapers behind her. She holds her own on that elongated “goodbye-eye” but doing the wounded-bird thing isn’t really her strength. She has such a snuggly voice, and Blake’s not letting her use it.
Blake defends his choice, insisting that it’s “important for Naia to prove that she’s more than just reggae.” (So why isn’t it important for RaeLynn to prove she’s more than just country?) But I agree with Christina, who mumbles, “Um, it was cool, I actually would’ve liked a more reggae choice, there were some moments in there that weren’t great, but… y’know.” Exactly!
Judging by her past performances, I would love to keep Naia, but based on tonight alone, I have to vote to DITCH HER.
NEXT: More Team Blake, as our honest coach tells a contestant, “You’re full of crap, just like I am.”
TEAM BLAKE: JORDIS UNGA
Jordis isn’t just over the top. She’s over the top, in ALL CAPS, with FIVE MILLION EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! Covering Heart’s “Alone,” she describes her vision for the performance: “When it comes in, I see fireworks! What do you think about that? Too weird?”
Nah! Not if you train some sea lions to set them off!
The song starts out very understated. There’s Jordis, sitting on a little block, with a look on her face like, “Oh, hello there! You caught me sitting here thinking about my lover, who’s very far away.” But when she busts in on the “Till now, I always got by on my own…” and the strings cut in, the whole thing quickly tips into the red. Suddenly she’s standing there in a Mozart jacket, blowing those Ahhh-aahhhhh! parts to smithereens. I find myself… if not exactly enjoying the performance, at least being very impressed.
And so is Blake. “That is the opposite of playing it safe,” he says, grinning. “You showed everybody, ‘I can be tender’… and then [you] took the hardest parts of those songs and [it] was just amazing. I’m so glad that America has the chance to find out who you are.” I agree, and we’re still finding out. So I vote: KEEP HER, FOR NOW.
I know Charlotte has chops, as Christina would say. But there’s something about Ms. Sometimes that I don’t love. Maybe it’s that she’s trying way too hard to be “sassy,” or even that she uses the word “sassy” at all. But then, maybe Blake likes that? “You’re full of crap,” he tells her, “just like I am.” Aw!
For her part, Charlotte’s here for a reason: “I want to show America that I can arrange songs, I’m not just a singer. And if not, is Denny’s hiring?” At least she’s got a sense of humor, but again, adding a string section, a smoke machine, a long gown, and a twinkling piano feels a little too high-school-theater-queen for Paramore’s “Misery Business.” Plus, Adam rightly notices some flatness in her voice.
Christina and Blake like Charlotte, with the former praising her ability to extend high notes and the latter calling her a “true artist,” but I have to vote DITCH HER. Because her voice isn’t strong enough or natural enough to compete. Also, Denny’s might be hiring.
Bold song choice on Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”! But Erin masters every last vocal run, even the jazzy la-la-las. Plus, she plays the piano while she’s singing! (See, Adam? We know you swiped that piano from that poor girl last week, but this feat can be accomplished, like walking and chewing gum!) Plus, there seems to be some kind of 1950s dance going on at the imaginary soda shop by her piano? Anyway, Erin totally makes it work. It’s hard to write about her big, strong voice without using the word “powerhouse.” Her late father would be proud.
Blake’s effusive. “I don’t care what anyone says, that was the best vocal performance of the night so far!” he insists. And who’s gonna argue with that, Betty White? KEEP HER.
NEXT: Team Christina begins with “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Operafunkle
TEAM CHRISTINA: CHRIS MANN
Chris Mann sings like he’s shooting something out of a cannon. And that “something” is Simon and Garfunkel, and that cannon is his mouth. I was hoping that Christina might choose a subtle song for this guy with the totally unsubtle voice, just to balance things out. But you might’ve noticed that Christina’s not a subtle lady. (Hence, the top she was wearing up until last week.)
So maybe Chris Mann had to put his jock strap on before wailing on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that actually features the sound of a cannon (or something) blasting in the background. There’s a whole lot of testosterone-fueled bellowing, and if anyone can master testosterone-fueled bellowing, it’s a guy whose last name is Mann. His whole Josh Groban-meets-Andrea Bocelli style isn’t really my thing—it’s hard to feel any real emotion when emotion’s walloping you over the head with a tennis racket—but technically, he’s awesome in the old-school Biblical sense of the word.
Carson’s verdict? “That was amazing.”
Adam’s verdict? “It sounded amazing.”
Christina’s verdict? “Amazing.”
You can’t argue with three amazings. KEEP HIM!
TEAM CHRISTINA: MOSES STONE
Poor Moses, always having to explain to these old people what “the hip hop” is all about. Performing a medley of “Power” and “Stronger” by Kanye West, he’s got Kanye’s rhythm and swagger down. And for those who don’t care about rhythm or swagger, he’s got like ten dozen acrobats doing backflips across the stage. The guy has to work so much harder than the pure singers to get noticed! But Christina’s standing and cheering him on the whole way.
Cee Lo, the one guy here who’s actually done any rapping at all, offers understated compliments. “It was a nice touch,” he says. “I appreciate your stage presence, I really like your style. Great job tonight.” But Blake and Adam only want to force this young rapper to sing. Adam says, “I think you actually have a lot more potential as a singer than a rapper.” Adds Blake, “You already sound like a better singer to me on this show.”
Then Christina steps in and takes a stand for hip-hop, mostly because it’s also an opportunity to take a swipe at Blake and Adam. “I think the great thing about you, which can go over some people’s heads, is the fact that the people who are on the radio doing [your genre], they’re all Autotuned. That was no Autotune. I heard you singing.” Praising his rapping and dancing, she says, “You’re all in one!”
I’d like to agree with her. And I was pro-Moses last week; I loved his rapped verse on the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But it’s just harder to show your talent as a rapper when there’s no room for freestyling. When they get to the original song stage of this competition, Moses will be a tour de force. But for now, it’s hard for him to prove himself. I hate to say this, but DITCH HIM.
NEXT: More Team Christina, with the good, the weird, and the boring
NEXT UP FOR TEAM CHRISTINA: LINDSEY PAVAO
From the beginning, I’ve been rooting for Lindsey, who’s really got her own style, Skrillex haircut and all. And I love that she choses Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which is such a great song, and a perfect choice for this artsy indie-rock girl. But something about this performance is just a little too bizarre—and not in a good, Kate Bush kind of way. The dancers with those china doll masks? The Liza Minnelli in Cabaret outfit? The too-breathy delivery? Christina loves all of it and wants everyone to buy it on iTunes™. But I think Adam says it best: “Those dudes in the clown suits really freaked me out a little bit.” DITCH HER.
If Mary J Blige staged “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” it would look like this. There’s Sera Hill, wearing an elegant white suit and enough rocks to shame Marilyn, standing atop a hill of shirtless men, singing her head off. True, she’s taking on Drake’s “Find Your Love,” but her voice is all Blige, swinging between DRAMA and NO MORE DRAMA on stage. My only problem is that she’s concentrating way too hard on trying to sing and dance at the same time, like she can’t quite figure out what to do with her hands and feet while she’s belting out the chorus. Then again, maybe she’s distracted. Did I mention that there’s a whole lot of shirtless men out there?
“I was waiting for Christina to start stuffing some ones in some of those guys’ pants!” jokes Blake. Even he can’t manage to stay focused on Sera. “She did great,” he says, adding, “There were male strippers on the stage! What can I say?”
Christina calls Sera a “diva in training,” and that sounds about right. But she’s not as memorable as I’d hoped. I vote: DITCH HER
ASHLEY DE LA ROSA
Since last week, our polite little charity-fundraising princess has grown into a bitter rocker grrl, right before everyone’s eyes. And everyone likes it. Singing Alanis Morissette’s “Right Through You” (or, as Carson calls it, “Right Through It” —this show really is live!) she’s better than she’s ever been before. I like her as a rock singer. She’s got a snarl to her voice and a little rooster-strut to her neck. And that’s good: no 17-year-old should ever just sound sweet.
“You’re the most improved I’ve seen by far,” says Adam. “You can see the 17-year-old in the previous performances and tonight you saw a woman. You came out tonight and it was like, Damn!”
Adds Christina: “You had lasers going on. Who gets that at 17?” Well that settles it, Xtina! KEEP HER.
FINALLY: JESSE CAMPBELL
Can we just go ahead and say that Jesse Campbell wins? Because he’s so good. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” might be a nice-but-boring song choice, but he sings it with more heart than most of his rivals combined. He doesn’t need dancers or costumes or string sections. He just needs to make you listen and believe when he sings, with deep gospel certitude, that “the world is pretty amazing.” And, wow, does he make those words seem true. I worry a little that he’s another Javier Colon—a great talent who might not have a big enough personality for real staying power—but I’m just gonna shut my mouth and hope that I’m wrong.
Adam proclaims, “You’re the one, dude. You’re the dude to beat.” Christina, after bickering a little with Adam over who dragged who into “Negativetown,” agrees with Adam, insisting, “You can sing the alphabet. You can sing the phone book!”
But it’s Cee Lo who gives the best compliment: “Your voice is almost as beautiful as my hair.” It’s that sleek and lovely? Well, KEEP HIM!
And when you’re done keeping him, tell me: What was Christina saying about being the only sober judge? And what was Adam muttering behind her back? And what was Blake saying about all this bickering? And why can’t we all just get along?
And while you’re at it, tell me in the comments: Who do you love the most so far? Tomorrow, we’ll be back to recap the elimination episode. So let’s get our votes in now, before Cee Lo flashes his shiny brunette locks at you, and you get distracted.