[Note: I was writing this while the selections in the first live round were being announced, so that’s why there are asides about the selections.]
I have gotten hooked on The Voice. For people unfamiliar with the show, it is a singing reality competition show in which the initial selections are made by judges who cannot see the singers, who are going solely on how the contestants sound. It’s a great gimmick.
It’s not perfect, of course. After the first two rounds, the viewing public takes over selecting who goes forward. Sometimes the selections are disappointing. My favorite performer from last season, Caroline Glaser, was eliminated in the first live round. She has landed on her feet: she is starting a national tour opening for Straight No Chaser, who is a wonderful group with a loyal following. My only unhappiness at this is that she was not touring with them when I saw them in August. My other favorites, Michelle Chamuel and the Swon Brothers, finished second and third, respectively.
The contestants do not perform original music: they cover songs ranging from standards to top-forty. In a few cases, I prefer their cover versions to the originals. Caroline Glaser’s cover of “The A Team” is on my iTunes rotation, not Ed Sheeran’s original. The same is true for Michelle Chamuel’s versions of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and Cindi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” or the Swon Brothers’ cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” This season, I’ve already put James Wolpert’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and Stephanie Anne Johnson’s “Georgia On My Mind” into play.
As far as I can tell, the quality of the contestants is higher this season than last. Watching the first live rounds, for three of the teams it will be a difficult choice for the judges to figure out whom to pick to save after the public picks two. (Looking at the public picks for Team Blake, they opted to keep the two weakest performers. They ignored the large woman with the diva attitude and the amazing voice, and the remarkable and quirky former dancer. And that was the team where I thought it was obvious who should be moving on.)
The public is usually “safe” in their picks. They often do not go for unusual or interesting, Michelle Chamuel’s success last season notwithstanding. They often pick the weakest singers. (Of course, just as I wrote that America saved a young woman on Team Cee Lo with a voice that is somewhere between a bird and a rasp. I love her, and expected her to be gone. Of course, their other pick was a rather uninspiring rocker. He does have great hair, though.) Last season, in response to a public vote that he clearly disagreed with, Adam Levine commented in frustration “I hate this country,” a remark which got him into quite a bit of hot water. (I understood and agreed with the underlying sentiment — that the voting public was being idiotic — if not how he put it.)
My biggest gripe this season is with the coaches: Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine. They compliment too much: every singer seems to be the one who can win it all. Levine seems to be the most willing to give actual criticism, albeit very nicely. I wish their comments were not so empty: if nothing else, it gives the public no guidance in how to vote. It is not always easy for non musicians to identify if a singer is sharp, for example. Last season, they were more critical.
My other gripe is the tendency of singers to embellish relatively simple songs with unnecessary stylings. Contestants — too often with their coach’s blessing — add runs and vibrato that detract and distract from the quality of the song. It’s annoying as hell. It is harder to sing a song simply and well, when the melody is not covered up.
Adam has the best team this season. I am pulling for James Wolpert, who left his job at the Apple store to be on the show. After his performance in the first live round, Blake Shelton exclaimed “You can’t be a geek and be that awesome!” Of course you can, Blake. Geeks rule. (Remember the uber-geeky Michelle Chamuel?) But he also has four others, any of whom would be respectable choices. (Yay! America saved James!)
I am pretty happy with the people moving forward for Team Adam and Team Christina; the other two teams less so. I can hardly wait for next week.