After the first of its live shows, some real problems have emerged with The Voice. Similar to the last season of American Idol, none of the celebrity panelists is willing to say anything remotely critical, although that reluctance at least makes more sense here because they’re supposed to be coaches, and not judges. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that all the other coaches can’t stand Christina Aguilera and that she really doesn’t have her shit together enough to be on live TV. Carson Daly sucks so bad, and I especially can’t stand how he doesn’t just throw to the judges after the performances; he has to say something like “That was great! Cee-Lo, wasn’t that great?” And yet I still enjoyed the show way more than anything I just wrote would indicate, since it’s a fresh format with a bunch of engaging people who can actually sing and since there’s always the chance that we’ll get to hear one of the coaches sing.
Carson Daly started out the show finally dressed like he was hosting something on TV, wearing an actual suit that looked pretty OK. But then he had to remind people that he was friends with MxPx or whatever by pairing goddamn skate shoes with the suit. I would dearly love to see Ryan Seacrest show up on this show, challenge Carson to a fight, and tear Carson’s throat out on some Khal Drogo shit.
In any case, Carson threw to the show’s coaches, who performed together for the second time. Given that all of these people are total pros, those group performances are a nice little trump card for the show to pull out on big occasions. This time, for whatever reason, they were all getting together to sing a medley of Queen songs. Adam Levine sounded smooth and in control on the first bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it was fine, but they should’ve given him “Under Pressure.” Cee Lo and Blake Shelton tag-teamed “We Will Rock You,” with Cee-Lo sounding hoarse and tuneless (always a danger with that dude; he is, after all, a rapper), and Shelton sounding tough and comfortable. They should’ve given Cee-Lo “Somebody to Love” and Shelton “Fat Bottomed Girls,” obviously. It was, however, fun to see Levine nail the Brian May solo. That guy! All surprises! And then Christina Aguilera, wearing something that she must’ve pulled off the floor of the Burlesque wardrobe room, sang “We Are the Champions,” and it turned out to be exactly the song she should’ve sung. Goddamn, she sold that thing. After decades of sports-montage abuse, I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy hearing “Champions” again, but she wrung out every drop of feeling left in it while showcasing all the ridiculous shit she can still do with her voice.
Somewhat clumsily, this led to a previously-on-The Voice montage. Even with a two-hour show, we only got two of the teams—Team Xtina and Team Blake—facing off. Carson, shitty host that he is, did a shitty job explaining the rules from here on out. Rather than the Idol model, where everyone votes and the person with the lowest number leaves, we got something else: The audience picks someone to be safe, and so do the judges, but then two people from each team go home. I didn’t get it at all, and all these wrinkles seem pretty stupid. Just send the least popular person home and save yourself the confusion. Also of note: Cee Lo wasn’t wearing sunglasses, and he appeared to be growing a mustache. He looked like a minor villain in a low-budget action movie starring Tyrese. And all the various contestants were sitting in a green room tweeting at people, which seems like a truly shitty way to psych up for a televised performance.
The first performer, the absolutely tiny Raquel Castro, performed with a vast onstage mob of dancers, a truly weird production decision for this show. But she was singing Ke$ha’s “Blow,” a fired-up club-pop song that can support that sort of silliness. And she looked remarkably comfortable, showing off a couple of big notes and managing to avoid getting kicked in the face by the backflipping dancers. A song like that isn’t going to convince anyone that Raquel’s a great singer, but she held the stage convincingly and Ke$ha probably couldn’t have sung that song nearly as well.
The next guy up was Team Blake fake Daughtry Jared Blake, and I’m hoping he gets kicked off because (1) he sucks and (2) I really don’t want to be typing the word “Blake” twice in a sentence ever again. He sang the Kings of Leon butt-rock staple “Use Somebody.” Halfway through, he pulled a reverse “Summer of ’69” video move by ripping off his guitar and throwing it to a stagehand, which freed him up to do this weirdly awkward hand-on-heart dance move all over the place. He also sang the last line directly to someone in the crowd who I thought was his wife, but no, she was just some girl. Also: Glittery black headband. I’m saying: fuck this guy.
Beverly McClellan, one of Team Xtina’s two massive-voiced bald chicks, came up next to sing Melissa Ethridge’s “I’m the Only One” while wearing a fake military waistcoat and what I guess you’d have to call a kilt. Melissa Ethridge songs are a little on-the-nose for McClellan, just like Janis Joplin songs are. But as wheelhouse as it was, she did know exactly how to roar it out, and she looked like she had more fun onstage than anyone who came before her. Also of note: Xtina’s attempts to talk shit during the judging sessions just don’t work. She needs to stop.
Carson Daly referred to the painfully shy coffeehouse chick Dia Frampton, from Team Blake, as a “singer, songwriter, and novelist” without deigning to explain further. This seemed unlikely, and I didn’t find anything under her name on Amazon, so I have to conclude that Carson doesn’t know what the word “novelist” means. Frampton did a singer-songwritery version of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” which was sort of cute when Kris Allen did it on Idol but not so much here. She looked and sounded ridiculous while singing about her homies, though she did, at least, omit the “yo” from “you need to watch the way you’re talking to me, yo.” She sang some big notes and all, but “Heartless” isn’t a song that has anything to do with big notes. It’s the closest thing to an actual rap song on 808s & Heartbreak, and something like “Say You Will” could’ve worked a lot better even though nobody would’ve known it. Cee Lo called it “the greatest rendition of a song I’ve ever heard,” which is some straight absurdity.
To pad things out, we got a video package where Christina Aguilera took her whole team out to a fancy dinner and told them they were great. This led into all of Team Xtina singing “Lady Marmalade” with Xtina. Aguilera’s outfit was vaguely terrifying (“Snooki dressed up like Tinkerbell for Halloween,” my wife called it), but it was still a fun performance that worked in solo moments for all of them; only Lily Elise fucked up her bit by not singing loud enough. Everyone else brought serious firepower. After that, we got some fun stilted Twitter conversation with the frantic green-room host. Isn’t it great when they talk about Twitter on TV? It’s just the best.
Next up: Painfully uncomfortable teenage Team Blake singer Xenia, who had to work with a choreographer named Hi-Hat to stop cringing. I love the idea of Blake Shelton having to hang out with someone named Hi-Hat. Xenia came off slightly more confident than she did in the video package, but not much. She sang Jessie J’s “Price Tag” and pretty much mumbled the whole way through it. Worse, she sang into a mic stand and had no idea what to do with her hands. The coaches all had to work hard to come up with nice things to say about it.
Lily Elise, the one Team Xtina member who seems way out of her depth, came up next to sing Fergie’s fucking terrible “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” She had to sing it with a bunch of male dancers pawing at her, which was pretty funny. I love how determined Xtina is to make backup dancers happen. (The other judges, to their credit, clowned Xtina for the dancers.) Lily sounded OK, I guess, but it took every fiber of my willpower to not switch over to the NBA Finals while she was singing.
In another video package, Shelton’s team all had lunch with him in a mansion somewhere, and Blake actually seemed to talk to all of them like human beings, something Xtina couldn’t pull off. If you’ve ever met a country star, this generally turns out the case, at least in my experience. This naturally led to a group performance; in a vaguely funny moment, all of them sang Maroon 5’s “This Love,” and it worked OK with each of their voices. One thing about both this team and Team Xtina: There’s more onstage chemistry than we saw in any of this season’s Idol group-sings.
Patrick Thomas, Team Blake’s vaguely dorky country dude, was up next to sing Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”; he made a big thing out of dedicating it to his sister. He sported a massive cowboy hat and a suit jacket, which was a good look. His take on the song was bland but authoritative, and it wasn’t quite enough to shake my conviction that only moms should be allowed to sing that one. He did, however, wipe the floor with Lauren Alaina’s rendition on Idol a couple of weeks ago.
Frenchie Davis ended the show by singing a David Guetta song that, I guess, samples Coldplay’s “Clocks,” an eminently sample-able song. She gave it a perfectly commanding dance-diva performance, strong enough to overwhelm the ridiculous-looking dancers and the cheap lasers behind her. She was great in the exact way that I expected her to be great. I’d predict that she’ll stick around for a while, except that I don’t understand this show’s rules and I have no idea who will stick around.