Finally, after pretaped weeks of spinning chairs and boxing-ring duet duels, "The Voice" went live this week, with eight in-studio competitive performances from two teams (Team Xtina and Team Blake). This was the first time America had a say in the show's outcome, with the voters at home getting to save one singer from each team, and the coaches saving another. Now was the time to avenge the wrongful eliminations of Tyler Robinson, Rebecca Loebe, and Casey Desmond, America!
So Tuesday night, the singers mentored by Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton competed live...but not before all four coaches tried to set the properly triumphant tone by performing an opening Queen medley, the centerpiece of which was, of course, "We Are The Champions." I have to say, my expectations for this performance were pretty high, considering how wowed I'd been earlier in the season with the coaches' group number of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." But this Queen performance just fell flat, was not the performance of champions at all--and Christina's usual showoffy shtick, as she sang all over her fellow judges to the point of drowning them out completely, was just lame. Did she think this was one of "The Voice's" Battle Rounds or something? Chill out, Xtina!
But that just meant there was nowhere to go but up once this week's eight contestants (Christina's Raquel Castro, Beverly McClellan, Lily Elise, and Frenchie Davis, and Blake's Jared Blake, Dia Frampton, Xenia, and Patrick Thomas) got on the mic. All of the "Voice" semifinalists excelled in later group performances with their respective coaches--Christina leading her four ladies on "Lady Marmalade," Blake and his team paying homage to fellow coach Adam Levine by doing Maroon 5's "This Love"--but it was when a couple of them got to go solo that the real magic happened.
Here's how everyone did this week...
Raquel Castro - Well, Ke$ha isn't exactly known to be a powerhouse singer, so Raquel didn't have to do much to make a good impression performing Ke$ha's "Blow"--although I must say, I didn't know Raquel could bring it like this. This number showcased an entire new side of the little 16-year-old "Jersey Girl," as she rocked the stage looking downright sexy in a sequined freakum dress, greased-up legs, Gaga platforms, and Rapunzel extensions. Xtina herself looked shocked by Raquel's swanlike transformation, and personally I was surprised by her ability to dance (in Gaga platforms!) and sing at the same time, something most lip-synching pop starlets don't bother to even try nowadays. This all being said, however, Raquel's performance seemed to be missing the naughty, party-girl fun of Ke$ha's original. Maybe Raquel just needed some machine-gun-wielding unicorns with her onstage.
Beverly McClellan - The show's great bald-headed wonder was battling a cold, but always a true trooper, she didn't let that stop her from tearing up Melissa Etheridge's "I'm The Only One" (while wearing a military jacket, patent Doc Martens, and Scottish kilt, yet). All I can say is, if this is how she sings with a cold, then wait till the next time she hits the stage--and I do hope there is a next time--when she's in perfect health. This woman is clearly a pro! There certainly is no female pop star like Beverly on the market today, and I'd personally like to think there is room on the charts for a neck-tattooed, badass belter like her. What an interesting contrast Beverly provided against the sweeter, sexier, much younger Raquel; I just hope America isn't too scared of Bev to vote for her.
Lily Elise - This was one of the few disappointments of the night. Maybe there's a reason the judging panel passed on this second-chancer the first time around back in the Blind Auditions. Lily did her best with Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," and she hit the notes all right, but there was nothing special or standout about her performance; she brought nothing new to the song, and she exhibited such little charisma that she was all but upstaged by her weird backup dancers. This girl has "cannon fodder" written all over her.
Frenchie Davis - A few weeks ago when she made it through the Battle Rounds, Frenchie exclaimed, "Finally, America gets to vote for me!" She was, of course, referring to the Season 2 "American Idol" nude-photo scandal that got her unfairly booted off that show before she had a chance to compete. Well, all I can say is, "Idol's" loss is "The Voice's" gain, and America BETTER vote for Frenchie now. Miss Davis absolutely killed it on her cover of Kelly Rowland/David Guetta's "When Love Takes Over"--the woman is a DIVA, the kind of funky/fresh/fierce singer who could out-diva Xtina herself. Frenchie is taking over, people!
Jared Bake - I've never been really impressed by this bandanna-swathed rocker; I've always found his bar-band style to be a bit dated, not to mention generic, and I thought the judges were right when they roundly rejected him the first time. (Jared was another one of the second-chance contestants.) But Kings Of Leon's anthemic arena-rock favorite "Use Somebody" was THE perfect choice for him, a song that really showcased the manly rasp in this voice, and he seemed truly comfortable onstage for the first time. He's still not my favorite, and there are others on Blake's team that I'd like to see continue instead of him, but I do think he stepped it up this week. I just hope Jared's wife (and mother of his six kids!) wasn't too jealous of the way he got all up in the personal space of a pretty blonde audience member at the end of the song. Hey, whatever it takes to entertain the crowd and get votes, right?
Dia Frampton - The former one-half of indie-pop duo Meg & Dia took Blake's advice to play piano--and took a page from Kris Allen's "American Idol" playbook--and performed a haunting cover of Kanye West's "Heartless." And just as this song was a game-changer for Kris back in the day, it was for Dia on "The Voice" as well. I really appreciated hearing this song from a woman's point of view, plus I loved the piano accompaniment, which not only added richness and depth to Dia's interpretation, but also seemed to help her with her stage-fright (she seemed much more confident behind a piano than when left to her own devices in a boxing ring). Frampton came alive! Even Adam Levine, probably jealous that Blake got Dia instead of him, correctly called this performance the coolest and best thing he'd seen on "The Voice" so far. Oh, and (pardon the girly fashion aside) she looked adorable in that on-trend bow-blouse, too. As of this writing, Dia's version of "Heartless" is already skyrocketing up the iTunes charts, and I expect she'll rocket into the semifinals if she can keep delivering stunning, original performances like this.
Xenia - It's ironic that even though he recently married a sassy, brassy blonde, Blake obviously has a thing for doe-eyed, painfully shy brunettes: First Dia, now 16-year-old Xenia. Xenia, who was also wearing a cute bow-blouse in case you care, delivered a sweet, lilting performance of Jessie J's "Price Tag" that wasn't exactly filled with huge vocal power but was filled with charm, quirkiness, and newfound confidence. I still think Xenia needs to work on projecting a little more--sometimes her vocal lines trail off, frustratingly--but she is a real diamond in the rough, and I'd love to see her grow more in this competition.
Patrick Thomas - I've always resented Patrick for usurping what I considered to be bow-tied wonder Tyler Robinson's rightful spot on Blake's team. (Can you tell I like bows?) But I suppose I should not hold Patrick responsible for Blake's dumb mistake. I admit he did a pretty solid job with Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" this week, giving a performance with the suitable amount of genuine emotion without ever getting too sappy or cheesy, and nailing all the big power notes at the end. Still, this was not the "wow moment" of the night. If Patrick made it through over Dia or Xenia, it would be an even bigger reality tragedy than when he beat out Tyler.
So now it is prediction/picks time. It seems a no-brainer that Beverly and Frenchie would advance from Christina's team, but America may not be ready to vote for TWO larger-than-life, chrome-domed divas. Hopefully at least one of them will make it, and Xtina will pick the other one. As for Blake's team, I would really like it to be Dia and Xenia; my guess is Dia is a shoo-in, but I wouldn't be surprised if wholesome country boy Patrick picks up a lot of votes too, so who knows?
It sure will be interesting to see how it all pans out when the results are announced next Tuesday. Additionally, we'll see Adam Levine's power team (Javier Colon, Casey Weston, Devon Barley, and Jeff Jenkins) and Cee Lo Green's equally strong team (Vicci Martinez, Nakia, Tori & Taylor Thompson, and Curtis Grimes) compete--and I'm especially looking forward to seeing what Javier, Vicci, and Nakia can do on the live stage.
So get ready to set your DVRs and flash your V's, and see you next week!