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‘The Voice’ Premiere Recap: Maybe ‘American Idol’ Should Be Worried

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

When NBC announced plans to launch its own vocal competition "The Voice," my first thought was, how exactly would this show be different from all the other singing shows out there? We've already got "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," "The X Factor," "The Sing-Off"...come on, do we really need another TV talent show?

The answer, dear readers, is yes. Yes, we do. We need "The Voice." I had my doubts, but based on Tuesday's premiere, I can say "The Voice" is awesome. Cee Lo Green just gave "Idol" a big forget-you, Blake Shelton just told "AGT" it's goodbye time, Christina Aguilera just proved she's still a fighter, and Adam Levine just gave all those other shows a wakeup call. Even Carson Daly didn't suck.

Of course, at the heart of this show was that familiar rags-to-records concept: unknown singers competing for a label deal. (Or semi-unknown singers, since two of the hopefuls are "Idol's" Frenchie Davis and "Rock Star: Supernova's" Lukas Rossi.) But while the show's "blind audition" setup--the coaches sat with their backs to each singer, and only swiveled their chairs around if they liked what they heard--was a gimmick, it was gimmick that worked. Like a charm. It added a whole new level of drama to the audition process, not to mention a whole new low level of rejection when a singer performed an entire song to a row of four turned, unmoving chairs.

And while no one was truly hideous-looking on this show--the contestants ranged from average to downright hot--it was also interesting to see how a gorgeous singer like Sonia Rao, who normally would have made all heads turn at a traditional audition, didn't get a single chair to turn on "The Voice."

Adding to the drama were the bidding wars that ensued whenever more than one panelist wanted to mentor a particular contestant, and then that contestant was forced, like a child in a custody hearing, to choose which coach to go with. It was a competition within a competition, an audition within an audition...and man, it just sucked me in. Who doesn't enjoy a good Xtina/Cee Lo catfight?

It remains to be seen if "The Voice" will still be as enjoyable once it gets past this blind-audition stage and the real competition begins. But for now I'm totally digging it, and it could be mighty interesting to watch these four mighty-ego'd celebrity coaches battle it out. Eventually each coach will assemble his or her own dream team of eight singers, and so far they've chosen wisely. There are certainly a few contestants I'll have my eye--or my ear--on, as the competition continues.

Here's who is on each team so far...

TEAM XTINA

Tarralyn Ramsey - A big R&B belter/diva type, her cover of Faith Hill's "Breathe" started out shaky due to nerves, but eventually she nailed the huge chorus and impressed Christina and Cee Lo enough to inspire them to spin their chairs around. Tarralyn was wise to go with Christina: One diva deserves another.

Frenchie Davis - Christina continued to build her team of divas with the addition of this former "Idol"/"Rent" powerhouse. I was actually genuinely shocked that Christina was the only coach who wanted Frenchie, since this dynamite lady's cover of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" was pure fire. Xtina got Frenchie by default, but Cee Lo might have been kicking himself once he realized just who he'd passed up. "What up, Frenchie?" he quipped, once he recognized her.

Beverly McClellan - A bold and bald 41-year-old rocker with a 14-year-old's energy, this woman was just bad to the bald bone. Belting out Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" like she was singing for her life (and in a way, she was), she took a little piece of both Adam and Christina's hearts. But she went with Christina in the end, rounding out Xtina's triumphant trio of loud ladies.

 

TEAM BLAKE

Patrick Thomas - A traditional country crooner cut from pure plaid cloth, his version of Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" sounded as solid as the original recording. He got all three male judges' attention, but unsurprisingly, he chose Blake, who aptly pointed out that he has the Nashville connections to give Patrick the career he craves.

Elenowen - A basement-dwelling, struggling young married couple, these sickeningly cute lovebirds romantically dueted on "Falling Slowly." It was a bit (yes) pitchy, and Elle sang circles around her hubby. It will be interesting to see if Blake splits these two apart. And I wonder, if he'd been able to choose, if he would have only picked Elle and sent Owen back to Elle's parents' basement (where E&O currently reside). They both sure are cute, though.

Xenia Martinez - I loved this shy high school girl's raspy, smoky tone and old-soul vibe...it was very Edie Brickell, very Beth Orton, very Regina Spektor, and just very cool. I had never heard the Script's "Breakeven" sound so cool, in fact. I was very surprised that Xenia went with Blake over Cee Lo, who wanted her too, but maybe Blake has plans to turn her into a Gillian Welch-style alt-county chanteuse. That could work.

 

TEAM CEE LO

Vicci Martinez - An openly gay rocker chick rebelling against a religious upbringing (but eventually winning her family's support), this girl had a made-for-TV sob story. And her raw, emotional cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" was good enough to make the judges almost sob. Cee Lo seemed the most moved by Vicci's performance, so she went with him over Christina--a shrewd move, I think, since a girl like this needs the show's edgiest, quirkiest coach. And this was a win for Cee Lo, as well; I think he scored one of the best singers of the night.

Kelsey Rey - Adam Levine was the pickiest judge, so much so that I was beginning to wonder if his red button was stuck and he was just unable to get his chair to face front. Of course, Adam must have a well-honed radar for pretty girls, because Kelsey was one of the few to make him hit that button, and it turned out Kelsey was quite a looker. Adam practically begged for Kelsey to join his team, but she picked Cee Lo--a rare time when Adam has been turned down by an attractive female. I do think considering Kelsey's jazzy style (she sang Estelle's "American Boy"), Cee Lo is the better match. Sorry, Adam!

Tje Austin - Tje (pronounced "Ty") was obviously picked based on his voice alone (he did a nicely soulful cover of Bruno Mars's "Just The Way You Are"), but he had a cool look that actually matched his Stevie Wonder-ish voice. I was digging the funky 'fro and red pants, and Adam called him the "whole package." But I do think Cee Lo and Tje will make a better package together. This will be a good match.

 

TEAM ADAM

Jeff Jenkins - This portly, somewhat awkward boy sure didn't look like a pop star (at age 22, he looked more like 14), but his voice alone, singing Rascal Flatts' "God Bless The Broken Road," was enough to get all four coaches to spin around. I thought his voice was a little weird and wobbly, but the kid sure did have raw power, ready to be harnessed by an expert coach. (He was clearly singing from the heart, for his mom who recently died.) I'm not so sure Jeff's best bet was Adam, who admitted he'd never heard the Flatts song before (really??), but even Blake said Jeff shouldn't be limited to just the country genre. And Adam argued very aggressively for Jeff, who finally became his first team member, more than an hour into the two-hour broadcast. I hope Jeff was worth the wait.

Rebecca Loebe - This girl was one of my favorites. I adored her almost Sarah McLachlan-ish cover of Nirvana's "Come As You Are," a radical reworking in the vein of great "Idol" remakes like David Cook's "Hello" and Kris Allen's "Heartless." I could imagine Rebecca recording her version tomorrow and having a hit with it. Christina and Adam were wowed and campaigned hard for her, but Rebecca identified more with Adam's musical style, and went with him. Adam is a lucky man. Rebecca is totally one to watch in this race.

Javier Colon - If you've watched NBC at all during the past few weeks, then you've already seen this handsome young dad's goosepimply cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," as it was featured in all the promos. It's understandable why NBC chose to spotlight this guy in order to drum up some excitement for this show. He's that good, and he already seems like a frontrunner. All four coaches lobbied for him, but Adam did so with the tenacity of a snaky used-car salesman, and he eventually closed the deal. Another big, big score for Levine. So, can we have a Rebecca/Javier duet at some point?

 

My personal favorites so far are Xenia Martinez, Vicci Martinez, Tje Austin, Rebecca Loebe, and Javier Colon, which means so far, Adam and Cee Lo have the teams to beat. But the coaches will complete their lineups next week, and with five slots still up for grabs on each team, anything can happen. But I know one thing that's going to happen: I'll be watching "The Voice" on Tuesday nights.

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