"The Voice" kicked off its first concert tour in Los Angeles Wednesday night, at the Gibson Amphitheater, and inevitably comparisons to the similar "American Idol" tour (which had breezed through L.A. only 13 days before) sprung to mind. There were several ways in which the "Voice" concert differed from "Idol's"; some good, some not so good. But in many aspects, of course, "The Voice" tour was a very similar show: It was an upbeat team effort, with the contestants (regardless of how high they'd placed in the competition) cheerfully jamming and singing on each other's songs, and it was a variety-style revue, with the top eight belting out their crowd-pleasing TV hits across a wide array of musical genres. But the most pleasing similarity--and the most important one, at the end of it all--was the fact that, just like with the "Idol" tour, there was a whole lot of talent on that stage. How bizarre it is that nowadays, such great singers have to go on shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol" (and "The X Factor," and "Platinum Hit," and "The Sing-Off," and "The Glee Project," etc.) to get heard.
Anyway, the first noticeable difference between the "Voice" and "Idol" concert audiences was the demographic--namely, that the "Voice" audience skewed surprisingly younger, with lots of little kids (and I do mean KIDS, not tweens). For some reason I had expected "The Voice"--with its later TV timeslot, older contestants, and edgier judges--to draw a more mature concert crowd, but instead there plenty of youngsters, the majority of them little girls, filling the seats. Even more interestingly, most of these little girls screamed the loudest for the young female contestants, Dia Frampton and Vicci Martinez. I'd always assumed that on "Idol," girl viewers voted for the cute boy contestants, but maybe I was wrong all along. Either that, or my suspicions about "The Voice's" very different voter base were correct. Regardless, watching hundreds of sweet little girls cheer on badass rocker Vicci and poised songstress Dia gladdened my heart. Who knows, maybe some of those girls will be inspired to pick up guitars or microphones after this show, and we'll see them on "The Voice" Season 10.
Girl power in fact ruled this concert--six of the eight singers were female, and some of them nearly upstaged winner Javier Colon. Top four finalist Beverly McClellan was the most fiery performer of the night, owning the stage with her heart-shaped glasses (which she later tossed to a fan) and signature kilt and her "mix of blues and rock with a shot of Southern Comfort," drawing on years of gigging experience to put on a show that pleased "Voice" fans of all ages.
Vicci Martinez was also amazing--it's amazing just how such a MASSIVE voice emanated from such a tiny, tiny body--and her raging rendition of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" was the first number of the night to get the spectators up on their feet, as she swaggered about the stage in a Sid Vicious white tuxedo jacket and sparkling pleather pants, howling her lungs out.
Dia was not quite as on point--she seemed to be having trouble with her in-ear monitors, and I missed her piano playing on all three of her solo songs, especially "Heartless." But when a surprise guest, her "Voice" coach Blake Shelton, joined her onstage for a reprise of their Tom Petty duet "I Won't Back Down" (a special one-off for the L.A. tour stop), she got her swag back, and she performed like a true star. (That was when I overheard a young girl in the row behind me say to her mom, "She really should have won!" Aw.)
Sweet teenage Xenia still seemed a little unsure onstage (her irksome habits, like her arm-wiggling and tendency to trail off at the end of every vocal line, were unfortunately still intact), but she looked glamorous and womanly, her raspy voice sounded like heaven, and since this was just the first date on the tour, perhaps she will improve as the tour progresses. I did notice that when Beverly and Casey Weston played backup guitars on "Price Tag," it seemed to give Xenia a confidence boost.
It was a cute girls' club jam session, as was the case when Vicci and Beverly backed up Casey on percussion for "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree." (Casey's bleating "I Will Always Love You" wasn't quite so exciting, sadly.)
Of course, another huge girl-powered moment was when Frenchie--one half of "Team Bald Bitches," as she and teammate Beverly put it--took over the stage with "When Love Takes Over" in full-on disco-diva mode. The woman was work-ing it. She had such stage presence, in fact, that when the rest of the top eight sang backup for her on "Like A Prayer," I barely even noticed they were there. (And back on the subject of "Idol," Frenchie later gushed to the crowd, "Thank you for supporting me since...that other show!" And the crowd, as if on cue, promptly booed the "other show." Ha.)
Anyway, let's not discount the men on the tour. Nakia was the show's real party-starter ("Team Cee Lo brings the party!" he proudly declared), rocking the stage in a Tony Manero white suit during "Forget You" and then later screaming out "Sex On Fire" until he dropped to his knees and his necktie fell off. Like Beverly, he was a consummate performer whose years of pro experience paid off, and he truly WAS on fire whenever he was onstage. I wish he'd gotten to do more than two solo songs.
But of course, the man of the hour was Season 1 "Voice" winner Javier Colon. I still found his original song "Stitch By Stitch" to be a bit of a snore (it was my least favorite of "The Voice's" four original songs), but it was actually better this time around than I'd recalled, namely because hearing his creamy, gorgeous, pure voice in a live concert setting was breathtaking. This man truly is THE VOICE. His performance of his famous audition song, "Time After Time," gave my goosebumps goosebumps, and when he introduced "Fix You" by telling the supportive audience, "As broken as I was, you fixed me," that was another chills-inducing moment.
So that's the good stuff. As I mentioned, many paragraphs ago, there were a couple ways in which this actually tour paled in comparison to "Idol's." First of all, none of the contestants sang songs they hadn't performed on "The Voice"; the closest they came to doing something new was when Nakia filled in for Christina Aguilera on Beverly's "Beautiful" duet while Javier played acoustic guitar (this was, by the way, one of the highlights of the entire evening). The Idols Live Tour always includes some new songs, and I would have loved that on "The Voice's" tour--Dia doing some Feist, Nakia singing some Black Crowes, Xenia warbling Amy Winehouse, whatever. It would have made things more exciting for the audience that had, presumably, already heard all these songs before.
And that brings me to my biggest gripe about the concert: It was trying too hard to be a recreation of the television show that spawned it. The set, with its giant microphone-gripping fists, looked too much like the NBC soundstage. The preaching-to-the-converted sizzle reel that started the concert, which recapped the show's entire first season and seemed like a "Voice" infomercial, was wholly unnecessary. The contestants' constant statements of undying gratitude for the show seemed scripted. And most annoyingly , the warmup guy from the actual TV tapings serving as the show's emcee, interviewing the audience members and contestants and nagging fans to text a song request for Javier's encore on their cell phones, was just plain lame. Even Allison Haislip would have been more welcome than that. (Give the social media shtick a rest already, "Voice"! Incidentally, those audience members who did obey the emcee's orders mass-texted requests for Javier to sing "Don't Stop Believin'," a song that will never go away whether it's sung by "Idol" contestants or "Voice" ones.) I've always thought "The Voice" was a cooler show than "American Idol," but all this hokiness totally bumped the coolness factor down a couple notches.
Thankfully there were such awesome contestants--particularly my favorites Vicci, Nakia, Beverly, and Dia--to keep things cool.
FULL SETLIST: Top 8 - George Michael medley Nakia - "Forget You" Vicci Martinez - "Jolene" Vicci Martinez - "Rolling In The Deep" Xenia (with Casey & Beverly on guitars) - "Price Tag" Dia Frampton - "Heartless" Dia Frampton - "Inventing Shadows" Frenchie Davis - "When Love Takes Over" Beverly McClellan & Nakia (with Javier on guitar) - "Beautiful" Beverly McClellan - "Baba O'Reilly" Casey Weston - "I Will Always Love You" Javier Colon - "Time After Time" Javier Colon - "Fix You" Xenia - "Breakeven" Casey Weston (with Vicci & Beverly on percussion) - "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree" Frenchie Davis (with full cast on backup) - "Like A Prayer" Nakia - "Sex On Fire" Beverly McClellan - "The Thrill Is Gone" Vicci Martinez - "Afraid To Sleep" Dia Frampton - "Losing My Religion" Dia Frampton & Blake Shelton - "I Won't Back Down" Javier Colon - "Stitch By Stitch" Javier Colon - "Don't Stop Believin'" Top 8 - "Man In The Mirror"