After its thrilling April 26 premiere
--an episode so awesome it probably had even "American Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe shaking in his wingtips--"The Voice" returned to NBC's airwaves this Tuesday...and I'm sure Nigel heaved a sigh of relief. Episode 2 of "The Voice" just wasn't as good, y'all. It seemed like the show had foolishly showcased most of the great singers last
week, presumably to build a buzz; well, that worked in the short
term, but that left the series with a comparatively unimpressive bunch this week, with only the adorable and affable bluesman Nakia truly standing out.
Adding to my frustration was the show's continued, convenient failure to mention the pro or semi-pro backgrounds of several contestants. While I'd already written about the many seasoned singers getting second chances on this show, including former Capitol Records signing Javier Colon and Season 2 "Idol" contestant Frenchie Davis, I was OK with that, as long as the show was upfront about these people's pasts and didn't paint them out to be total newbies. I actually have no issue with talented folks who once grabbed for the brass ring and missed taking another swipe. But seriously, this week's batch of "Voice" hopefuls included a hit Nashville songwriter, a successful child actress, ex-contestants from "American Idol" and "American Juniors," TWO former Universal Records recording artists, and one-half of an established indie-rock duo...and only one of those singers (Cherie Oakley) 'fessed up. The others acted all nervous and green, like they'd never shared the screen with Ben Affleck or had been on the Warped Tour or had faced down Simon Cowell before. Do the powers-that-be behind "The Voice," who are so gung-ho about social media that they hired Alison Haislip from the G4 Network to be their Twitter correspondent, think their viewers are too stupid to figure out how to use Wikipedia, IMDB, or YouTube? Come on, now.
And then, on the subject of pros who'd been on other reality shows, "Rock Star: Supernova" champ Lukas Rossi, who'd been widely hyped to appear on "The Voice" and was even featured in the show's promos, was disappointingly cut out of the audition episodes entirely. Hey, NBC, if you feel it's appropriate to feature a couple of American Juniors, then why not a Rock Star? While many detractors understandably believed that it was unfair to have Lukas, the winner of another Mark Burnett Production, compete on the Mark Burnett-produced "Voice" in the first place, the fact is many other ex-reality contestants made the cut. And to promote the show with Lukas's likeness seemed unfair to him--not to mention his fans, some of whom probably only tuned in to see him.
And finally, one last gripe before moving on: While this whole show was built on the premise of the singers being judged solely on, well, THEIR VOICES, that purpose was quickly defeated at the end of episode 2, when a few singers who'd already been rejected were invited back for second auditions (AFTER the judges had gotten a good look at them). See, "The Voice's" twist on the audition process was that the coaches were supposed to listen to the hopefuls with their backs turned, picking them based on vocal ability alone. And while the coaches turned their backs once more when the second-chancers tried out again, it was likely that they had already developed opinions about them, at least at the subliminal level. (Angela Wolff, a brunette-bombshell stunner who didn't make the cut the first time but got snatched up by girl-crazy Adam Levine the second time around, was likely the biggest beneficiary of getting to sing again.)
That being said, I will give "The Voice" the benefit of the doubt as it moves past the "blind auditions" and into the "battle rounds," because I think the show's four celebrity mentors/judges (Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Maroon 5's Adam Levine), unlike the yes-men and yes-woman judges of "Idol," have more at stake here. They're competing against each other, each trying to groom the season's ultimate winner...so they have more reason to be tough on the contestants, dole out actual constructive criticism, and truly bring out the singers' best. And isn't that what these sorts of talent shows are supposed to be all about?
Anyway, by the end of this second episode, all four teams were complete, with eight singers each. Click here to see who made the teams last week, and keep on reading to see who made it this week...
Cherie Oakley - This Nashville-based backup singer already has plenty of professional experience (she's performed with Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, plus she co-wrote a recent number-one hit for Reba McEntire), but she's still trying to make it as a star in her own right. It's a wonder, with her spotlight-worthy good looks and obvious industry connections, why she felt the need to go on a show like "The Voice," or why she took the risk of singing Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead" in front of Miranda's famous fiancé, Blake Shelton. Blake was of course Cherie's toughest judge, rightfully saying she didn't sing it as well as the original. Only Christina, "The Voice's" easiest-to-please mentor, swiveled her chair around, and even she did so at the VERY last minute. Cherie was not the most impressive vocalist I heard on this show, but she's the total package--showbiz experience, cute image, songwriting ability--so I'm sure Xtina can work with her.
Raquel Castro - This plucky 16-year-old babbled on and on about feeling intimidated competing against older and more experienced contestants...but it turned out she wasn't such a newcomer after all. Unlike Cherie, she didn't mention her professional past, but a quick IMDB search revealed that she'd been in several films, including a breakout role in the romantic comedy Jersey Girl. (It's a good thing she didn't audition for "Idol," or her former co-star Jennifer Lopez would've recognized her!) However, Raquel's lack of singing experience was noticeable when she took on Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love." I started to wonder if trigger-happy, gun-jumping Christina would've hit her red button for just about any singer with an extra X chromosome. What a girl wants, apparently, is an all-girl team.
Julie Easton - A cutesy SoCal soccer girl, Julie's cover of Duffy's "Mercy" was hardly amazing, but it was solid enough, and she had the girl-next-door image to win over America--which I'm sure Xtina was happy to find out once she spun her chair around. But I'd have to hear Julie sing again, because I didn't get much of an impression from her brief audition. Hopefully Christina knows what she's doing here. I actually think she has the weakest team of all four mentors.
Justin Grennan - This guy was on the show for literally about three seconds; only a fraction of his audition actually aired. How odd it is that the one male contestant on Christina's team got so little screentime! We'll have to wait for a future episode to find out why Christina picked him over all the other men in this game, but it's fairly certain that for as long as he lasts on this show, Justin will enjoy hanging with Xtina's seven ladies.
Lily Elise - No one picked Lily the first time around. Once Christina got an eyeful of Lily's adorableness, she announced that she had regrets about not hitting her red button. And a couple of commercial breaks later, Lily was back onstage being given a second chance...and lo and behold, this time Christina selected her. I'm not still so sure whether Christina was right the first time. I need to hear more from Lily to determine if she really deserved that second chance.
Devon Barley - A young medical student of two doctor parents who dreams of singing instead of stethoscoping, Devon actually took time off from med school to audition for "The Voice." His parents were bummed out by this, and I could kind of see why; this guy just wasn't all that good. Devon's cover of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" fell totally flat, and since Adam once seemed to be the choosiest coach (last week, he waited an entire hour before he picked his first team member), I was genuinely surprised that Adam selected this guy. Until this point Adam had the strongest team, but Devon became his first real weak link. But I do have to say, it was pretty cute and sweet when Devon's formerly resistant parents rooted for him from the stage wings. So I hope Adam can help Devon step it up, so Dr. and Dr. Barley are not disappointed.
Casey Desmond - Like Justin Grennan, this pink-haired "glam rocker" received little screentime, but I was intrigued by her cover of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." (It was way better than wannabe comic Josh Hand's "Paparazzi," which was roundly rejected by all four judges, with no second audition granted.) As much as this show is supposed to be about just, well, the voice, image does count in this biz, and Casey's got that part down. Now I need to hear more from her than just eight seconds in the middle of a rushed pre-commercial-break montage, to figure out if she's got the vocal goods.
Tim Mahoney - A 39-year-old struggling musician still waiting for his elusive big break, this guy had one of the better voices of the bunch. He belted out a nicely soulful, bluesy cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," with so much tenderness that Adam actually thought Tim was a girl. I have a feeling Adam was secretly bummed when he turned around and saw what looked like a middle-aged male cab driver in front of him. But hey, at least Adam got a good singer out of the deal.
Casey Weston - The other Casey, another one of the second-chance auditioners, warbled a sort of Colbie Caillat-ish coffeehouse cover of Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy," and while I don't necessarily think Adam was a stupid boy to pick her, I wasn't wowed by her either. She seemed like a Season 9 "Idol" reject to me. I'll have to see what Adam can do with her.
Angela Wolff - Another girl dumb enough to sing a Miranda Lambert song, Angela almost came across as a Blake Shelton stalker, professing her crush on the handsome country star and mock-threatening to unfollow him on Twitter if he didn't pick her. (At least I think she was mocking.) Her Miranda imitation almost had a Single White Female quality to it, so ardent and unabashed was her admiration for Miranda's man. No one picked her, of course, but as I already mentioned, she got another chance. Her cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" was not nearly as good as last week's version by Vicci Martinez, but it was better than her first audition, and Adam scooped her up. Oh, and by the way--Angela used to be signed to Universal Records. Just sayin'.
TEAM CEE LO
Emily Valentine - No, this wasn't Brandon Walsh's old arsonist psycho girlfriend from "90210," as awesome as that would have been. But Emily definitely gave off a bad-girl vibe, with her vintage-pinup style, multiple tattoos, and song choice of Pink's "Sober." She made an impression, and not just because of her striking image--it turned out this was Emily Wynne-Hughes, the frontwoman of rockabilly band Go Betty Go and, perhaps more notably, a token pink-haired contestant on "American Idol" Season 8. This was a singer who definitely suffered from not being able to be seen during her "Voice" audition--she looked supercool, but missed a whole bunch of notes during her Pink performance. But Cee Lo apparently heard some potential, and I do think they'll be a good match. And I liked Emily's "Idol" audition a couple years ago, so I'll keep my eye and ear on her and see what develops.
Niki Dawson - This was another contestant who got almost zero screentime. So I can't say much about her "Teenage Dream" performance, other than the fact that she sang it better than Katy Perry. (Not that that's saying much.) However, Cee Lo's instincts have been pretty good so far, so I'm eager to hear more.
Nakia - An Austin music veteran who's recorded with legend Alejandro Escovedo and kind of looks like Zach Galifianakis, this guy was a total showman; the judges could hear it in his vivacious voice before they even turned around. His performance sort of reminded me of Casey Abrams's "Idol" audition (which, come to think of it, took place in Austin), and I loved that he had the guts to sing Cee Lo's "Forget You" and THEN actually get selected by Cee Lo--the ultimate compliment! Nakia was this episode's one big hope (no pun intended), and I think he might be frontrunner Javier Colon's biggest competition this season.
Curtis Grimes - This country boy performed Blake Shelton's "Hillbilly Bone," but unlike Nakia's case, singing the song of one of the mentors didn't impress that particular mentor. Ironically, it was Cee Lo who picked Curtis, while Blake wasn't inspired to buzz in. I have no idea why Cee Lo liked this dude. Maybe, since the mentors will soon have to whittle their teams down from eight to four, he just wanted some cannon fodder.
Tori & Taylor Thompson - These sister golden-hairs warbled an especially sugary version of Sugarland's "Stuck Like Glue," indicating that their kiddy past on the "Idol" spinoff competition "American Juniors" still is not that far behind them. (No wonder that show only lasted one season.) Yet I am intrigued to see what Cee Lo can do with these kids. Knowing his knack for resurrecting Motown-ish sounds on "Forget You" and "Crazy," I wonder if he can craft them into some sort of modern-day version of a Spectorian girl group. That could be cool.
Sara Oromchi - Sara did John Lennon's "Imagine." At least I imagine she did, since this is another singer who sadly got little face time. Let's see if she gets any more next week.
Tyler Robinson - An openly gay, lovable dork in a blazer straight out of NBC's "The Sing-Off" wardrobe, this guy actually outed himself to his own dad on the show ("I guess he knows now!"), then sang Train for his encore. I personally would give my left hand (I'm left-handed, by the way) to never hear "Hey Soul Sister" again, but I found myself digging Tyler's vibe, and I totally loved Blake's reaction when he spun around and got a look at his spazzy new protégé. I think Blake and Tyler could have a lot of fun together.
Serabee - This foxy lady's "Son Of A Preacher Man" performance got little screentime, but if you liked what you saw, CLICK HERE and check out the music video Serabee did when she was signed to Universal Republic two years ago. Just sayin'...
Dia Frampton - In her pre-performance interview, Dia mentioned she is an author of children's books. That's sweet. What she failed to mention is she was also in the rather popular indie duo Meg & Dia, formerly signed to Warner Bros. Records. Dia was actually one of my favorite "Voice" singers of episode 2, but seriously--why did she go on and on about being so terrified to sing in front of the famous "Voice" judges, when she's performed all over the world on the Angels & Airwaves and Warped tours, and has been on MTV?
Jared Blake - Jared was another one of the second-chancers. Last week his cover of "Good Girls Gone Bad" failed to impress, but he fared better this week with a gender-bending take on the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice." Blake will probably gel well with this dude; I could see Jared going the outlaw-country route somewhat convincingly. Blake and Blake might be a good combination.
So there you have it. For those of you keeping track at home, Christina's team consists of Tarralyn Ramsey, Frenchie Davis, Beverly McClellan, Cherie Oakley, Raquel Castro, Julia Easton, Justin Grennan, and Lily Elise; Adam has Jeff Jenkins, Rebecca Loebe, Javier Colon, Devon Barley, Tim Mahoney, Casey Desmond, Casey Weston, and Angela Wolff; Cee Lo has Vicci Martinez, Kelsey Rey, Tje Austin, Emily Valentine, Niki Dawson, Nakia, Curtis Grimes, and Tori & Taylor Thompson; and Blake has Patrick Thomas, Elenowen, Xenia Martinez, Sara Oromchi, Tyler Robinson, Serabee, Dia Frampton, and Jared Blake.
Phew! Looking at these final lists, I think Cee Lo has actually assembled the strongest team: Vicci, Tje, and especially Nakia are all standouts. Adam trails behind closely, as he has a couple of big potential stars in Rebecca and Javier. As for the other two coaches' chances? Well, like I said, I think Xtina's team is the weakest...but then again, she's got the most "pros" on her team (four), so maybe she'll do all right.
Now please excuse me while I program my DVR to tape "American Idol" tomorrow night...
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