April 25th, 2015 · No Comments
April 21st, 2015 · No Comments
by Lyn Jensen
As The Voice moves through its voting rounds, the judges do double duty as coaches. Blake Shelton always ends up with a country-flavored team, and Adam Levine’s team varies between talent with classic mainstream appeal and some misfit outside-the-box types. The remaining teams always seem to favor R&B and mainstream pop. This season, those teams are coached by Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera.
1. Kimberly Nichole of Team Christina: Usually Adam and Blake have the strongest teams but this season, Christina does. As one of her front-runners, Nichole has to offer an outstanding performance every week, and she does it again here. Her song assignment is an Etta James oldie, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.” Guest advisor Mick Ronson notes the song and singer are in this area of “kind of” rock and “kind of” bluesy and soulful. For the up-tempo climax of the song, he advises mixing in a punky Ramones-like approach. (“A Ramones-y approach!”) The resulting performance is flawless. Hosting the show, Carson Daly interjects that the bar has been set very high. Pharrell says that on a scale of 1 to 10, “you reinvented 10.” Adam adds, “Lights out … These conversations have to get real serious about you winning this.”
2. Joshua Davis of Team Adam: Along with guest advisor Dave Stewart, Adam’s trying to coax his front-runner Davis into his higher register on “Hold Back the River,” a James Bay song. When the resulting performance goes into crescendo, the effect is a little like Bruce Springsteen. “A completely different look and vibe tonight,” comments Blake afterward. “Harder than you’ve ever been pushed.” Adam, though, apparently has some misgivings because he missed the “beautiful warm and fuzzy tone” of previous performances.
3. Hannah Kirby of Team Blake: This uninhibited teen Texas rocker, who’s here because Blake kept her, has done well with rock and not with anything else. She shouts (appropriately) her way through Tears for Fears’ eighties hit, “Shout.” She probably did enough to make top eight, but she’s not going to win this season, not against competition like Kimberly Nichole and Meghan Linsey. The judges are encouraging, however. Christina says, “You really rocked it!” and Pharrell adds, “You make every song your own.” Blake brags, “You’re a freak of nature! How can you give it all and still talk? You’re not going anywhere!” If that’s so, Blake may want to heed the advice of Reba McEntire, who last week compared Kirby to Dolly Parton. Since she faces such formidable competition, she may as well try something like Parton’s “Nine to Five” if she’s around another week.
4. Meghan Linsey of Team Blake: Linsey may be Blake’s best chance to win this season. Daly announces the Nashville veteran is “bringing the bayou to The Voice.” She picks a Louisiana swamp pop-rock song, “Home.” It’s a hard-charging bluesy Cajun country-rocker by Marc Broussard. Blake says, “Meghan definitely has that New Orleans sound–she needs to bring it out.” Blake’s guest advisor is a veteran Nashville producer, Scott Hendricks, who’s familiar with Linsey’s career. He says, “Who knew she could sing like this until this show?” The judges are enthusiastic about the result. “The best performance you’ve done on the show yet,” Christina raves, adding, “I was blown away!” Adam adds that he was glad to hear a song by the “underappreciated” Broussard. He then adds, “Not only your best performance, it threw you all the way to the top.”
5. Koryn Hawthorne of Team Pharrell: Hawthorne was Pharrell’s choice to keep. She takes Ed Sheeran’s “Make it Rain” and turns it into an inspirational R&B belter, with her big soulful voice. By the time the song’s over, she’s clearly moved herself into the middle of the pack. Even Daly’s moved to comment, “It’s like you escape into your voice.” Blake praises the high quality of tonight’s performances with, “This isn’t the episode to slip up even a tiny bit,” then adds, “Welcome to the top eight.” Christina adds, “Your best performance yet–you brought out that Old Soul quality.” Pharrell finds the performance to be an inspiring one with appeal to Christian voters, even though the song’s not specifically Christian.
6. Deanna Johnson of Team Adam: After Johnson was in the bottom three last week, Adam knows he has to move his team member away from the Christian songs he’s been assigning her. This week he tells her to do something bold with Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Guest advisor Stewart, formerly of the synth-pop Eurhythmics, suggests approaching the song the way Eurhythmics might. Johnson sings it adequately but shows herself to be the weakest vocalist left in the field. This year’s competition is crowded with rockers and a psychedelic song is likely to lose her the Christian vote. Christina gently points out Johnson’s vocal stumbles with, “That sounded pretty challenging.”
7. Rob Taylor of Team Christina: Taylor and Johnson are plainly the two weakest singers left in the field. Taylor goes back to seventies’ old-school R&B, selecting Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” For the first portion of the song, he holds off hitting showy, gimmicky notes and just sings (and plays piano). Then he goes into his unpleasantly shrill falsetto and becomes his own worst enemy. Pharrell actually appears to like the showy gimmicks. commenting about how the singer can go all the way up through an octave. Christina likes his piano-playing.
8. Corey Kent White of Team Blake: For perhaps the first time in Voice history, Team Blake’s country singer isn’t a front-runner. White’s got a breathy smoky voice–the kind speech experts might call “aspirate.” Unless he’s coached to make it an asset, it’s going to turn into a liability. He’s picked a classic George Strait song, “Unwound.” (The hook is, “The woman that I wrapped around my finger just a-come unwound.”) Blake says the song needs to become “Corey’s version,” to make it “more up-tempo, a rock edge.” He advises the singer to “put that guitar down,” play to the girls, “go out and grab a few hands.” Strangely the judges sound less than impressed, which is rare. Blake spends considerable time discussing a minor vocal flub. To move up to the front, White’s going to need something dramatic and haunting–maybe Alan Jackson’s “Midnight in Montgomery,” about an encounter with the ghost of Hank Williams.
9. Sawyer Fredericks of Team Pharrell: Somewhere between teen heartthrob and coffeehouse folksinger, that’s the territory Pharrell’s precocious front-runner inhabits. Fredericks likes the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” because, he says, “I’ve never been through this [love] but I can connect to it.” He plays up every word, giving the lyrics a prominence they’ve never had before. “Awesome as usual!” praises Christina. Pharrell raves, “That big voice! From zero to sixty in three seconds!” then adds, “We need more sixteen-year-olds in this country like you.” I’d add that it’s astonishing how this season The Voice has discovered so many brilliant teen singers, including Fredericks, while Idol could find no one that came even close.
10. India Carney of Team Christina: Nichole is one of Team Christina’s front-runners, and the other is Carney. She closes the show with a big showy R&B ballad. Daly introduces Carney as, “the passionate pop singer with a challenging voice.” Her song choice is “Run to You.” (It’s a Whitney Houston belter, nothing like Bryan Adams’ song of the same name.) She says she wanted to try the song again, after she sang it during a Lion King audition–and was rejected. Like some of the other singers tonight, she’s changing her style a little. It’s not the best song for her but it enables her voice to show both power and tenderness. Adam declares the Broadway show types who rejected her were idiots, and Pharrell likes her “crazy, crazy notes.”
When there’s so much talent on display, I vote for half the field: Sawyer, Corey, Linsey, Kimberly, Joshua. The two weakest singers left are plainly Rob Taylor and Deanna Johnson. I predict neither squeaks by into next week.
April 16th, 2015 · No Comments
April 15th, 2015 · No Comments
April 14th, 2015 · No Comments
by Lyn Jensen
What an evening of stupendous performances! Collectively the top twelve Voice contestants rocked like Coachella last night, with many of them singing classic rock hits. The front-runners gave performances that ranked with their season’s best, and the few weak links simply showed the separation in the field. Evenings of music like this–it’s why we watch–they give us some star-making breakouts:
1. Hannah Kirby of Team Blake: For the first time since the battle rounds, we hear some resemblance to Janis Joplin as Kirby, the bluesy young Texan, belts Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” Unfortunately this performance must be measured against her mediocre efforts of the past two rounds. Blake appears completely blind (and deaf) to her flaws, gushing about her like a teenager with a crush. He thinks she’s got “killer dance moves” (he means her ungraceful, nervous jerks when she should just stand there) and she “set the bar so high all the other artists are going to have to live up to that.” (It’s easy to set the bar when you’re the first one.) During rehearsal, guest advisor Reba McEntire compared Kirby to Dolly Parton–so if she’s around next week, maybe that’s the direction Blake can point her in next.
2 Brian Johnson of Team Adam: Like Kirby, Johnson wasn’t voted into the top twelve, so he needs to garner enough votes to stay above the cut line. Adam, in coaching mode, says what makes Johnson stand out is how he connects to every word, and he needs to find his voice’s sweet spot. He sings Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” After the performance, Adam comments, “Singing Sting is hard … You did an amazing job.”
3. India Carney of Team Christina: Like Roberta Flack back in the seventies, Carney was trained in opera but is pursuing a pop career. Christina takes her outside the R&B box by assigning her Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.” The team coach and McEntire advise her to take this man’s song and turn it into a woman’s song, do something unexpected with it, be gritty. “I didn’t know what I was going to see,” Christina says of the result. “I saw a different person up there.” Blake says the performance was so convincing he was ready to take the lady to church. Adam notes she’s drawing fans.
4. Mia Z of Team Pharrell: We again see a female vocalist take on a manly rock song–this time it’s the Stones’ “Miss You.” Pharrell says he assigned Mia the song because of its “blues nature.” The result’s bluesy and gritty–but also fun and youthful–like a young adult novel. “Cool and interesting song choice,” Adam says. “Cool to see you doing something subdued.” Blake adds, “You have the ability to do things only a handful of vocalists in the world can.”
5. Deanna Johnson of Team Blake: Adam assigned Deanna a Christian song last week, and it got her voted into the final twelve. This week he assigns her another Christian song, perhaps reasoning the Christian vote will come through again. However, he’s putting her into a box by having her appeal to such a narrow demographic, and the strength of this field will catch up with her eventually.
6. Sawyer Fredericks of Team Pharrell: The folksy country teenager does a coffeehouse version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” In coaching mode, Pharrell comments how Fredericks has a “folk Americana thing about him,” with a voice that makes people feel “liberated.” Guest advisor McEntire tells the teenager he has a powerful voice but he has to show the feeling in his eyes as well. His performance is a combination of subtle, powerful, and pretty. The judges try and get critical, discussing at length a slight stumble in his delivery, but it doesn’t diminish the effect. Adam speaks for the judges when he says, “Unbelievable, the way he fills the room with his voice.” They agree, he’s got the kind of talent that transcends any coaching.
7. Rob Taylor of Team Christina: The one male R&B vocalist in the top twelve puts his own signature on the classic blues of “I Put a Spell on You.” However, those high notes–the ones that sound like a teapot left boiling for too long–will probably not win many fans. He’s got Christina yelling and whistling like a too-hot teapot, though, and the studio audience loves it, too.
8. Corey Kent White of Team Blake: The one male country vocalist in the top twelve sings Jason Aldean’s “Why.” Blake says he wants White to demonstrate a little bit of outlaw, “about twenty percent bad guy.” At rehearsal McEntire advises him about acting the song, not just singing it. She then offers praise, about how his voice demonstrates, “what we need in country music today, sincerity.” His performance has some off-key moments–maybe because of trying to act the song, not just sing it–but it gives his voice a smoky quality. The judges are kind. Christina notes, “You’ve got the girl vote going for you.” Adam adds, “You are on the precipice of something really powerful.” Blake sums up, “You didn’t sing perfectly but you always deliver the lyrics perfectly.”
9. Koryn Hawthorne of Team Pharrell: “You’re very inspirational,” Pharrell tells his female R&B vocalist. She picks Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger,” because she feels it relates to her experience on the show. Almost all of this season’s women have powerful soulful voices, so we’ll see which ones prevail over the course of the season. After her performance, Christina compares her to Tina Turner. Pharrell’s on his feet and Blake’s generously predicting she’ll make top ten. Pharrell tells us he wants the Christian/gospel world to vote for Hawthorne because she’s so inspiring. So he, too, is courting the Christian vote this season.
10. Joshua Davis of Team Adam: Voice host Carson Daly calls Davis, “Team Adam’s folk rocker.” The song choice is Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.” Davis explains it’s inspired by his experiences on the road, “searching for what is America.” McEntire and Levine coach him to perform without his guitar–like an Idol contestant in the strict old days–to help him show more confidence. The result sends him in a mainstream pop direction, allowing the audience to focus on the storytelling gifts in his voice. “The way you embrace a song,” Blake says of the result, “it’s like you’ve written every song you sing.” Christina praises how Davis stepped outside his comfort zone. Thanks to this performance, Blake was exposed to a song he admits he’d never heard before. Of course that makes Adam, in particular, howl, but let’s be fair–Oklahoma doesn’t get much of the old Greenwich Village scene.
11. Meghan Linsey of Team Blake: While some other contestants are turning to rock this week, Blake’s soulful Nashville veteran goes back to country. Blake assigns her Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which he says is his favorite country song right now. Reba gives her some pointers from a female perspective, about baring her soul to a guy who’s got somebody else. The judges are generous with their praise of Linsey’s performance. (They’ve been generous with most of the contestants tonight.) Blake predicts a breakout moment on iTunes.
12. Kimberly Nichole of Team Christina: Daly introduces Nichole as the “Seattle rocker with the big personality.” Season 8 of The Voice is already shaping up to be the season Kimberly Nichole was introduced to America. Last week she brought down the house with “What’s Up?” and this week, she lays siege to “House of the Rising Sun.” Coaching the contestant, Christina talks about how different flavors come together in Kimberly’s voice–rock, R&B, pop, and so on. McEntire advises her to begin singing like a “real spooky mysterious thing and then get real big.” There’ve been many versions of “House,” and it’s crossed gender lines a few times over many years. Nichole uses the Animals’ performance–and the vocalist Eric Burdon’s classic “poor boy, and God I know I’m one” rendition–as a frame, for her heart and soul. The result could be compared to Tina Turner–except Nichole shows herself as a voice unlike any other. The audience is on their feet and the judges are stammering. Pharrell says, “There are no words to tell what you’ve just done.” Blake predicts Christina (and Kimberly) could win the season. Christina says, “I’ve never heard that interpretation, never” and vows to buy it on iTunes. The challenge for Kimberly and Christina next week will be how to not burn out.
Usually two of the four judges’ picks go home the first week. This season those four picks are: Hannah Kirby, Brian Johnson, Koryn Hawthorne, and Rob Taylor. Kirby and Taylor will probably be squeezed out–although Adam’s other Johnson, Deanna, doesn’t have much chance against this field either.
April 11th, 2015 · No Comments
April 9th, 2015 · No Comments
by Lyn Jensen
Last night (Wednesday) we found out which twelve singers are going into the final rounds–when viewers vote–on season 8 of The Voice. As on previous seasons, the judges (aka coaches and team leaders) had to cut their teams from five to three each. Two selections were based on viewers’ votes and the third was a judge’s choice.
Corey Kent White and Meghan Linsey are voted in. Blake keeps Hannah Kirby, despite cutting her two rounds ago, over two singers he kept all this time. As usual, Blake’s entire team is country-flavored but with variations in style.
As expected, Kimberly Nichole and India Carney are voted in. Christina keeps her male R&B vocalist, Rob Taylor, giving her an all-R&B team.
Sawyer Fredericks and Mia Z are voted in. Pharrell declines to save Lowell Oakley a third time, keeping Koryn Hawthorne instead.
The clock management on this show’s always faulty, so Adam always ends up being forced to make his decision as the credits roll. Joshua Davis and Deanna Johnson are voted in. WGWG Davis is no surprise, but Johnson is. She probably picked up a large Christian voting base when she sang a church song two nights ago. Adam, stammering as the final seconds of the show tick off, announces, “I got to go with my gut and I hate my gut!” He keeps his superfan, Brian Johnson, letting Tonya Boyd-Cannon walk. I can understand how he feels a connection to Brian, but he may have been able to coach Boyd-Cannon the way he coached his last champ, Tessanne Chin.
Next year, how about having Adam’s team picked first and Blake’s team picked last, so Blake can be the one who’s stammering his final decision as the credits roll?
April 9th, 2015 · No Comments
April 9th, 2015 · No Comments
April 8th, 2015 · No Comments
by Lyn Jensen
On The Voice, the semi-finals are called “the playoffs,” keeping with the format’s resemblance to the brackets of a sports tournament. Last night the five singers on Team Adam and the five singers on Team Christina performed for America’s vote:
1. Tonya Boyd-Cannon of Team Adam: Powerhouse singers like Boyd-Cannon don’t usually win these TV contests. After a few performances, voters may be thinking, “So you can blow the doors off the place. What else can you do?” Another possibility–they think the person’s such an obvious choice to win, they don’t need to vote. Adam must be an Elton John fan because he assigns his female R&B vocalist “Take Me to the Pilot,” which Elton’s friend Patti LaBelle made over into R&B. (Recall, too, how Adam “auditioned” earlier this season with “Tiny Dancer.”) He says it’s to take her out of her typical area, and also talks about “going to church.” (Elton and Bernie Taupin have long insisted the song’s not really about anything.) “The space Tonya occupies is the confidence-builder,” Adam says, after the performance. “Everybody else, do what Tonya does.”
2. Joshua Davis of Team Adam: There are no male rock vocalists on The Voice this season, just a few coffeehouse types with guitars. Davis’ song choice is a contemporary European chart hit, “Budapest.” His coach comments this song makes him sound contemporary while keeping a folksy vibe. Davis isn’t one of this season’s powerhouses–he has a different type of appeal. Christina says of his performance, “Your voice is very soothing.” Pharrell concurs, “Something about your tone that makes us all–inquisitive.” Adam says his team member has the kind of voice that “feels like everything’s gonna be alright.”
3. Sonic of Team Christina: Carson Daley calls Sonic, “the fashionable pop singer from San Francisco.” With her piercings and asymmetrical hairstyle, she’s like an eighties’ throwback. Her family’s from Nicaragua, making her part of this season’s Hispanic demographic. She gives a big bluesy dramatic performance of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” Pharrell particularly likes the result, “A nice cool journey … deep into the core of the note,” even as she struggled with some pitch issues.
4. Brian Johnson of Team Adam: This season’s remaining Adam Levine fan, being coached by his favorite singer, says he was bullied “a lot” for his interest in music until he went to a school where other students thought he was a “cool kid.” Adam says, “Same here.” For a song assignment, Adam goes back to the eighties for “At This Moment,” by Billy Vera and the Beaters. It’s a slow sedate jazz ballad but Johnson infuses it with maximum soul. Blake, the eighties’ fan, is babbling about how it used to be the theme on Family Ties. About the singing, Christina says, “I saw you pour so much heart and emotion into that.” Pharrell concurs, “You hit so many beautiful notes gracefully.”
5. Kimberly Nichole of Team Christina: All this season’s rockers are women. Christina persuaded Linda Perry, composer and singer of the nineties’ hit, “What’s Up?” to approve it for Kimberly. Christina says she wanted her team member to “go in a rock direction”, and “say something with a message.” As Nichole ranges over the song’s high and low notes, the audience cheers. Christina gives her a standing O. So do the rest of the judges. There’s a considerable period of applause and tears before anybody talks. “Perfection … Incredible,” raves Pharrell, “Your voice is like an electric guitar.” Adam observes it’s one of his favorite songs and, “That’s a really hard song to sing and you destroyed it.” (He means that in a good way.) Blake trumpets that Team Christina just lapped Team Adam. The consensus is that Kimberly Nichole stole the night. The other singers will be measured in comparison to her.
6. Lexi Davilla of Team Christina: Christina coaches her 17-year-old Latin pop singer on Celine Dion’s “All by Myself.” The song’s too big for her and her inexperience shows. The judges like her, though. Blake’s playing the “Christina lapped Team Adam” thing for all it’s worth.
7. Nate Hermida of Team Adam: “He’s coming out–of his shell–at the right time,” says Carson Daly of the teenage Filipino-American who sang a gay-themed song in the last round. With Nick Jonas’ “Chains,” Hermida finds a more mainsteam song that matches his quirky voice and style. Instead of playing guitar and getting folksy, he just sings, giving the song a big dramatic delivery. “Seeing you without guitar is like a whole different Nathan,” observes Pharrell.
8. India Carney of Team Christina: Carney sings her coach’s “Hurt.” Christina coaches her to be more “fearless.” Opera-trained Carney can be powerful without screaming or shrillness, and she stole the previous round. Her singing brings all the coaches to their feet for another standing O. This woman’s a student at UCLA (located in Westwood) by day and a Voice contestant by night, which leads Carson Daly to suggest, “[All of] Westwood’s watching! Go Bruins!” Blake sums up the coaches’ response with, “It was emotional, dramatic, powerful, I don’t know how you could’ve done it any better!” Of course he gets in another, “Team Christina lapped Team Adam” dig, too.
9. Rob Taylor of Team Christina: Taylor’s the only male R&B vocalist left in the competition. He sings “Earned it” by Weekend, but the song’s little more than a bunch of ooh-ing and aah-ing noises. (Calling it singing a song may be generous.) Maybe the judges don’t like their seats because they’re all standing up again. Adam’s so carried away he’s demonstrating how, “You put your whole body into every note.” Christina gushes, “You do something so unexpected and I love that.”
10. Deanna Johnson of Team Adam: On Monday Pharrell assigned Koryn Hawthorne a Christian song. Then on Tuesday we see Adam have a conversation with Johnson about how in school the girls called her voice “weird” and she only feels comfortable singing in church. So he assigns her a Christian song, “Down to the River to Pray,” talking about it will bring the church to The Voice for her. Maybe she’ll get the red-state Christian vote, but frankly, she’s pitchy and not very inspiring. She’s adequate for neighborhood Sunday service, but not for The Voice. The guys all think she’s great, however. Blake and Pharrell and Adam all rave about her. It’s not just the guys, either–Christina’s also getting carried away.
On Monday night I voted for Lowell, Sawyer, and Corey. On Tuesday night I voted for Joshua, Kimberly, Sonic, and India. (I think I pitied Sonic being on the same team as Kimberly and India.) So who will make it through tonight’s results show?
Team Christina: If Kimberly Nichole and India Carney aren’t the top two, that’ll be the voters’ fault–and Christina can use her judge’s choice for one, if necessary. I think Sonic shows the most potential of the remaining three, but Christina’s more likely to keep Rob Taylor if the voters don’t.
Team Adam: Joshua Davis is an obvious front-runner but the others present more complications. Will a Christian voting block keep Deanna Johnson and her unremarkable vocal skills around? Will the LGBT community give Nate Hermida their support? Either could elbow Tonya Boyd-Cannon out of the top two. Depending on who’s safe, Adam might even keep his fan Brian Johnson around, because I think he sees some of season 7’s Chris Jamison in him.