The Voice recap: To Reba or Not to Reba
Three artists give their best performances of the season, four give their worst, and Sisaundra continues to be Sisaundra.
Did Blake Shelton ACTUALLY tweet out Adam Levine’s cell phone number? That, of course, is the big question of the night. Not which artist soared to the top of the Top 10, or which artist flailed behind at the bottom like a T-rex with a sweet tooth on the wrong side of the cookie jar.
The part of me that wants to call Adam is also the part of me that added email@example.com to my Gmail contacts and regularly exchanges Snapchats with @girlsHBO. So, yeah, I’m indulgent when it comes to celebrity social media. Because you were too nervous to, I called Adam’s “phone number” and got a “busy signal.” Sigh. What a tease. As long as I didn’t somehow get suckered into accidentally voting for Kat Perkins or Bria Kelly, I’m okay with the loss.
Oh, and yes—if your favorite contestants on The Voice are either of those two, you might want to stop reading this recap now.
We begin the night with something called a Rixton. I’ve done some research and it appears that this four-member boy band is the latest project by Scooter Braun, the producer behind Justin Bieber (who was himself a co-creation by Usher). So there’s your connection, world. Carson Daly, doing his best Ed Sullivan, introduces the band’s first major appearance on a US TV show. As network producers must know, the first thing I want to see on a show about ten singers is a performance by a group I have never heard of.
The song is fine—familiar, even—but again, why? Also, just in case you don’t know what their name is, THANKFULLY they spelled it out in subtle letters behind them. The lead singer of this Rixton thing also throws out a lot of references to The Voice as a person, as in, “How are you feeling, The Voice?’ and “Do you want to get brunch this weekend, The Voice?” But the absolute best part is when the performance ends and Carson says, “Welcome to the US!” As if, truly, they have now arrived.
Now we begin. Adam has brought in Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) to assist him this week, and the first artist on his team to get Nashed/Graham Crackered is Kat Perkins.
In an effort to display Kat’s tender side—a necessary side we haven’t seen yet—Adam gives her Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” The only line we hear in rehearsal suggests that this will be a rough performance from Kat “What Sleeves?” Perkins. You know where I stand on Kat’s style—The Occult by Ann Taylor—so it’s purely down to the performance, and Kat’s latest is very middle of the road for me. I can’t deny that Kat has a strong little voice in there, and hearing her toned down was a welcome respite from the usual Perkins noise buffet, but her lower register didn’t register in the least, and despite a last minute save towards the second half, I was largely relieved when her performance was over. Where is Rixton??
Immediately, Kat brings forth the waterworks, a trick-o’-the-reality-trade that I certainly hope we as a nation have moved beyond. Her tears do not affect me for I am soulless. Usher kicks us off with this quotable gem: “Until the end of time, acoustic singing will matter more than all of the theatrical theatrics of a stage performer.” Truer true words have never not ever been spokensaid. Adam weirdly says that he’s happy Kat is presenting the song to a new generation who might not have heard it, because if there’s any Fleetwood Mac song that has been lost to obscurity, it’s “Landslide.”
We jump over to The Wubbulous World of Shakira, where the she-wolf has recruited someone named Busbee (stylized on Wikipedia as busbee, which I refuse to acknowledge). As it turns out, Busbee is a songwriter/producer responsible for a whopping two songs I’ve heard of—Pink’s “Try” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Dark Side,” both of which have already been performed this season and sound basically the exact same—so we’re off to a promising start with Mr. Bee. Given his work with pop divas, it’s a good match that he’s working with Shakira’s Tess Boyer. Tess was in the bottom three last week, but I fully believe that she doesn’t need to be told to fight. She seems like someone who has the fire to try to make a big comeback, and she gives it her best shot tonight.
She’s singing “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore; Shakira’s big concern is that the song is all rhythm, so it will require Tess to “stay in the pocket.” (Everyone drink!) I don’t know the song, but Tess—who has murdered the Yellow Power Ranger for her slammin’ outfit—is rocking out to it, and I’ll likely go Spotify it later this evening because it’s got a nice groove to it and I could use a nice groove as I begin planning my Summer ’14 playlists (the theme this year is “good music,” as opposed to last year’s theme, “songs involving Pharrell”).
The thing that might hurt Tess with this performance is the unfamiliarity of the song. Though that shouldn’t be a factor, it’s hard to discern if a performance is truly spectacular if you don’t have a baseline to compare it to. For all I know, it was the absolute best cover of this song I’ve ever heard. Standalone, it was another standard in the Tess realm, perhaps not exciting enough to take her out of the bottom two again, but damn, this girl has pipes and enough smoky eye to make a 1964 strip club jealous.
Adam says we finally heard a side of her voice we’ve been missing. Blake challenges the world to find a single part of the performance that wasn’t on pitch. Shakira says she was sassy, right in the pocket (everyone drink!!) and sexy. All of these things should bode well for Tess, who obviously has support in America thanks to her #VoiceSave, but will need those tweets to translate into phone calls (or however one votes these days).
NEXT: May the Auds be ever in your favor
Blake’s new mentor is producer Scott Hendricks, who has a big fan in Audra McLaughlin. Now, I’ve been wavering on Audra. I began the season rooting for her, then I reneged a bit on my love when I decided that her lack of personality was her biggest detriment, but this week marks a big turnaround in my support of Audra.
The reason for the changing of the guards is Reba McEntire’s “You Lie.” Frankly I can’t find any fault with Audra’s performance tonight. She looks like a Greek goddess and sounds like a bona fide country artist, ready for any radio or music festival. Yes, I still wish she had the undeniable pep to her that would make me stand up (ha!) and say, “That’s a star,” but I think that could potentially come with time. This week’s performance really reminds me of Carrie Underwood in her early weeks on Idol, and so at this point in the game, it’s safe to say that Audra will surely be around another week, and could even find her way into the Top 4.
The most promising singer in the competition, Josh Kaufman, is up next in the fourth slot of the night, which is weird if only because we’re so used to seeing Josh close out a show with his unmitigated awesomeness.
Joining forces with Team Usher and his mentor Natural (ugh, what?), Josh is given Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It.” I’m already expecting it to be Josh’s worst performance, only because he’s due for a dud and who better to blame than Kenny Loggins? My gut is correct—it’s not that Josh’s worst is bad, and in fact, Josh’s “worst” is far better than some of the other artists’ “best” performances. But tonight is just not up to the thrill of his usual offerings.
If the song sounds particularly porny, it’s only because it actually is super porny. The backing funk sounds like every ‘70s erotica film ever, and the disco light show in the background doesn’t do anything to get rid of that tacky underscoring. Josh is of course fantastic, but the song is repetitive and unrelenting, which I suppose is a necessary low in Josh’s string of fabulous highs. Josh shouldn’t be in trouble tomorrow, but knowing that he would easily score the #VoiceSave anyway, I’m not too worried about him making it through to next week.
If competition-making performances abound tonight, then Audra lit the path for “New Jersey Internet sensation” Christina Grimmie, who totally takes a hold of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and turns it into something entirely new—which was admittedly the entire point of Adam’s devious, brilliant plan.
My only critique with Christina is the discrepancy between her stunningly mature voice and the demeanor she portrays when the music is off. She reverts back into this teenage shell, bordering on saccharine and overly tweeny (her last-minute “Shakira, you look beautiful!” mumble being a prime example). I’m not sure what to make of Christina’s off-stage persona, but regardless, I’m a big fan of what she does on stage with both new and old songs, and I can see myself listening to her down the line.
The always delightful Jake Worthington teams up with Blake for a meaty George Strait song. Part of the fun of watching Jake on The Voice is seeing him interact with Blake, whose father figure relationship is a total joy to watch. I get the sense that Blake will not let Jake out of his life even after the show ends. Their interaction is also responsible for these three hilarious quotes:
Jake: “I never thought I’d be on iTunes! They couldn’ta gotten a uglier picture of me.”
Jake: “If I knew any other language I’d tell you thank you in that, but I don’t.”
Blake: “You want to hug now, or is it weird?”
Performance-wise, it’s a softer, slower side of Jake, who seems a little less at home with such a slow-burn, but sounds as pure and wonderful as ever. The coaches don’t lay on love like they have in the past—this is probably one of Jake’s more forgettable performances, which isn’t to say it wasn’t good—but there’s no doubt that Jake will return next week to rock the stage again with a more upbeat song and look just as adorable as ever.
NEXT: “Up next: Bria Kelly takes on Avril Lavigne” (uh oh)
Just hearing “Up next: Bria Kelly takes on Avril Lavigne” sends shivers down my spine, likely because of the deadly combination of Bria Kelly being Bria Kelly and Avril Lavigne being whatever she is now. But maybe this is the perfect match? There’s something inherently angsty about both of them, like a Hot Topic in a mall which is going through something you totally don’t understand, ugh, God, mom.
Hilariously, Bria—now being called a “young Virginia blues singer”—is forced to read a cue card that says, “Usher brought Natural, who has produced many of Usher’s hit songs.” I feel for her. Then she starts singing, and I stop feeling for her.
Bria’s performance is exactly what you would expect of a Bria performance—it’s not quite pitchy but not quite on-key. It’s not quite pleasing but not quite screechy either. Really, I just can’t wait for it to be over. Her performance is no doubt made worse by her “yeah-ee-yeah”s and other random vocalizations that make this easily her worst of the season.
While I believe her continued presence on the show to be flat out ruining this season, I sincerely hope America takes note of this performance and the coaches’ less-than-kind hedging and just gets rid of her already. Adam and Blake basically call her out on being awful. Maybe finally we’ll be cured of this plague. Maybe.
Thankfully, Bria is followed by Delvin Choice, who is so much more promising in just about every way. He’s got some great momentum as we go into the Top 10, so Delvin just has to continue delivering the same enthusiastic, pitch-perfect performance we’ve come to expect.
The song is “Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr., a funky blues tune that is so in Delvin’s wheelhouse it’s disgusting (in the best way something can be disgusting, like too much pie or also not enough pie). Rehearsal promises a stellar stint by Delvin, and his live performance is just as exciting as I’d hoped it would be. Delvin’s real charm is in his being so comfortable with singing that he can really spend time working on stage presence. Though I don’t care for the let’s-graze-everyone’s-hand approach to crowd interaction, Delvin (who still looks like this Muppet) is so in tune with his singing persona that he’s a real treat to watch otherwise.
Will he connect with viewers more than the likes of, say, Jake or Audra? Perhaps, perhaps not. But we’ll definitely see Delvin next week.
Two more left, and we get the interesting case of the season, Kristen Merlin, who appears to have a much larger fan base than I estimated. And good for her! She deserves all the love, especially after last week’s tech mess. Next to Jake Kristen is probably second most endearing contestant of the season, and you can easily chalk that up to sheer honesty and authenticity, underneath the necessary baseline of talent.
Kristen is singing Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” which is a folk song that poses a challenge to Kristen because it’s not country. Everyone seems to be worried, but Kristen has hardly pigeonholed herself into one sound, even if she has only touched country this year. But let’s be real about this—folk can pass as country pretty easily if it needs to, much like margarine can pass for butter with the exception of a diehard few determined to blow the whistle.
I don’t think the performance is Kristen’s best (although Blake does), but Adam has a good point of commentary in that Kristen is looking more and more comfortable on stage every week. She used to appear nervous but now she seems to radiate a little more confidence, which is exactly the kind of growth a person needs in this competition. I do think there’s a chance Kristen could be in the bottom three this week, but I’d like to think that common sense would place Kat, Bria, and the inevitable Tess there instead.
Finally, the night ends with Sisaundra Lewis. Just being told that Sisaundra is closing out the evening should suggest a great performance, but at this point I don’t know what constitutes a “great performance” by Sisaundra.
Last week found Sisaundra blowing the roof off what should have been a nice group number on Team Blake, and it’s just so typical of this powerhouse singer to sing well beyond what’s required of the song. Enter Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie.” It’s certainly not the likely choice for Sisaundra; it’s a classic ‘80s rock song, and that’s not necessarily a Sisaundra specialty. But of course, she sings it to death, and the usual argument here—that she oversings to the point of annoyance—is just as evident as ever. I have to believe that Sisaundra doesn’t really care about what lyrics are in a song, as long as there are notes for her to hit and sustain and yell.
Results-wise, I’d be surprised if she wasn’t safe this week, given that (1) she’s amazing and (2) she was the final performer of the night. But I imagine we’ll lose Sisaundra in the next week or two, if only because we’re at a point where the contestant’s ability to connect is going to be more important than just the voice. We know these artists can sing now, and it’ll be all about personality as a winner draws closer and closer. Sisaundra has the pipes, but she’s still failing to establish a believable connection as a regular human being, instead of the incredibly talented diva-goddess that she is.
Who did you vote for? Sound off in the comments, tweet how much you disagree/agree with me @MarcSnetiker, and I’ll meet you back here tomorrow! Bring your Special K!