The Voice Feels The Pressure Before Its Big Finish
Already, The Voice is just about over. Tomorrow, the field of four contestants gets wiped away and we get a winner. This show could've kept going for another three months or so if it followed a less fucked-up elimination schedule, but maybe NBC didn't realize they had an actual hit on their hands. This two-hour show was a weird one, with all the contestants teaming with their coaches for duets and also singing original songsand original songs on televised singing competitions are never good. Structurally, the show remains a mess, and I hope some of the problems will be fixed next season. But all four remaining contestants are people who I could imagine having careers in music, and that's not something I can say about any single season of American Idol. The people behind The Voice did a pretty amazing job picking talent, if nothing else.
One of the show's producers must've bought usage rights for Queen's entire catalog at a garage sale, since the show opened with all four coaches singing "Under Pressure," supposedly in tribute to the contestants. Carson Daly talked about the performance like it was some slapped-together impromptu thing, and maybe it was, since it seemed like the sound guy wasn't quite sure when one contestant would jump in. "Under Pressure" remains a shatteringly awesome song, but it's not the sort of thing that benefits from having four radically different voices sing it; the people on stage didn't interweave the way they've done in previous big-group singalongs. Christina Aguilera got at least one titanic note, but weirdly, Blake Shelton kind of won the moment just by belting out his solo lines with a bit of growl and a minimum of histrionics. (He was singing Bowie lines, not Mercury ones. Obviously.)
One thing I'm not going to miss: Social media reporter Alison Haislip, whose whole job is to read bullshit Twitter questions to contestants and to act like the questions are great. "Facebook wants to know: Did you sleep at all last night?" Shut up, Alison Haislip. Every one of her segments was just 30 or so seconds of absolute hell. I feel like I don't talk about her enough, but she needs to go away.
For his original song, Javier Colon got to work with Rodney Jerkins, who did the same shit on American Idol this year. That guy has no loyalty whatsoever. Javier's song was called "Stitch by Stitch," and it was a sort of MOR pop thing that exists at some intersection point between a ton of different genres. It was R&B, basically, but it was also something Ashlee Simpson could've sung six or seven years ago. It was a perfectly pleasant, perfectly anonymous bit of studio-pop, and it doesn't seem fair that a singer's career should live or die based on a song like that. That's life, I guess. Javier sang it just fine, but it didn't have any of the force of any of his covers, probably because it's just not as good of a song.
For their duet, Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton, both dressed like Blues Brothers for some reason, sang Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," and the amount of time these two have spent together shows. Their harmonies shouldn't have worked, but they did, and they both fit the song nicely. (Blake fit better, but Blake's the actual star of the two, so that makes sense.) "I Won't Back Down" is sturdy to the point of transcendence, and it didn't really give either singer many chances to take any crazy runs. But then again, neither of them is the type to do crazy runs, and I'm happy to see a singing show where you can do well just by planting your feet and belting out the song.
In the video segment before her original song, Vicci Martinez had a nice moment when she ran down her producer Butch Walker's past accomplishments and called Dashboard Confessional "a guilty pleasure from when I was in my teens." That guy! He's so done! Screaming embarrassments have taken their toll! (One day, there will be an early-'00s emo revival. I'm kind of looking forward to it.) Vicci's song, "Afraid to Sleep," sounded like Pink trying to do a Pat Benatar power ballad. I kind of liked it, but I've already forgotten just about everything about it.
Pitbull, it turns out, has graduated from showing up on reality singing competitions to deliver guest verses to showing up on reality singing competitions to perform his own song. Let's see Nas do that! "Give Me Everything" is ridiculous overblown Eurohouse with rapping on it, and Ne-Yo is totally wasted on the hook. One thing about Ne-Yo, though: He can show up in jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a porkpie hat, and look a bazillion times more stylish than Pitbull, who's perpetually dressed like he runs a mob-controlled nightclub and constantly hits on the waitresses. The backup dancers onstage were ridiculously hot, to the point where it's almost weird; this is something that's been a constant in Pitbull's career.
The Christina Aguilera/Beverly McClellan duet turned out to be Xtina's own "Beautiful," a song based on Xtina's totally reasonable idea that McClellan can represent the strength-in-defiance that animates it way better than Xtina herself ever could. "Beautiful" is probably the single best song Aguilera ever recorded, so it's a nice choice, even if it's a bit weak to pick your own song when you've got the entire history of music laid out in front of you. For some reason, though, they opted to do it as a rhythmless funereal mush rather than the triumphant power-ballad it should be. They both sang it extremely well, but nobody needed to turn "Beautiful" into a Staind song. Linda Perry was up onstage with them; she should've never let them do that to her song.
A thing I just noticed about Beverly: I'm pretty sure the two tattoos she has on her neck are sharks. She has fucking sharks tattooed on her neck. That is badass.
NBC cross-promotion time! Katharine McPhee is in the audience because she's in Smash, NBC's new musical drama thing. So in one show, NBC is using an American Idol alum to bite Glee. They are swagger-jacking Fox so hard over. I am definitely not going to watch Smash.
For her original song, Dia Frampton has two big-time songwriters I've never heard of. Her song was called "Inventing Shadows," which is a dumb name for a song. It sounded like the Fray but more emo, if that makes sense. Emo never died on The Voice the same way '90s adult-contempo diva-ballads never died on Idol. Dia had a row of dancing silhouettes behind her, and it looked fucking dumb. Dancing silhouettes are never a good look.
Javier and Adam teamed up to sing "Man in the Mirror," one of the most overdone songs in televised singing-competition history. But "Man in the Mirror" is also a good song and one that fit both of their voices pretty well. Both Javier and Adam wore dark suits and looked incredibly smooth, and even though smoothness is absolutely not the point of that song, I wasn't mad. At this point, though, I'm fairly certain I could go the rest of my life without hearing any version of "Man in the Mirror" ever again and I'd be perfectly OK with that.
In another segment that had nothing to do with anything, Brad Paisley sang "Don't Drink the Water." In a surprise that shouldn't have been all that surprising, Blake Shelton got up halfway through to sing it with him. I like how there's that weird little fraternity at the upper echelons of country stardom. I don't know if it's all an illusion, but those guys seem to actually like each other.
Beverly McClellan's original-song producer was some guy I've never heard of who's worked with 311, which did not fill me with confidence. But the song was big emotive '80s butt-rock, like some old Mutt Lange shit, and it turned out to be, by far, the best of the original songs that the contestants got to sing. Also, Beverly's pogo-in-a-circle move is awesome.
And because the show couldn't end without its requisite dose of insanity, Cee Lo and Vicci Martinez duetted on "Love Is a Battlefield" while wearing post-apocalyptic fetish gear. Cee Lo had a fake red mohawk and Road Warriors shoulder-spikes, and everone else onstage, Vicci included, looked like Rufio from Hook. There were also little kid dancers. And flaming garbage kids. And... I don't even know, man. Cee Lo's absurd theatrical productions usually get on my nerves a bit, but this shit was pure awesome. Any show that allows silliness like this to take place is a good thing in my eyes.
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