Sounding off about The Voice.

[Warning: this post is about the television show The Voice. There are a lot of things – important things, at that — to write about in the world, and I am expending time (not to mention a thousand words) on a silly reality competition show. Unless you like the show as much as I do, this post is going to be a snoozer. Brain, wherefore art thou? I have to confess that part of the raison d’etre this post is as a pump-primer: maybe if I can write about The Voice I can go on to write about the complete implosion of the Democratic Party, and related subjects.]

The Voice is into its third week now. In general, the overall quality of contestants is better than previous seasons, although the very top of the pool may not be quite as memorable. There are at least five contestants that I would be perfectly happy to see win. And as usual, it has provided new music to listen to.

As in previous seasons, contestants have been singing a mix of new songs and classics. Some of them have shown a willingness to take on iconic songs: “You’ve Got a Friend” (done by James David Carter), “God Only Knows” (performed by Matt McAndrews), and “Let’s Get It On” (Luke Wade). All of these can be tricky – as Blake Shelton said to Carter, there is a danger that the coaches will think about what a great song it is rather than what a great performance they gave. (Also, who sets themselves up to be compared to James Taylor, Brian Wilson or Marvin Gaye? Confidence, baby, it’s what’s for dinner. Or hubris, perhaps, but as my father used to say “It ain’t cocky if you can do it.”)

This far, I’ve enjoyed all three of those. I bought the first two. I was particularly concerned about “God Only Knows,” because I couldn’t see how it could be anything but terrible without the intricate Beach Boys harmonies, but it’s pretty good. McAndrews has a light airy voice that seemed to float over the music. Carter did “You’ve Got a Friend” as a country song – and it makes a very nice one. Luke Wade’s “Let’s Get It On” was good, but not enough to make me want to buy it. He “made it his own,” as the judges say, but c’mon… Marvin Gaye? Impossible standard you set yourself there, guy.

Then there were the oldies that were not so iconic. Taylor John Williams’ gritty version of Steeler’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” was fun, and Craig Wayne Boyd’s version of “Some Kind of Wonderful” was sloppy (in a good way) and energetic. I liked both of these better than I did the originals. (Also, what is it with men using three names this season? You get a lot of singers using only one, but three? At least in Carter’s case, he goes by both first names (“James David” rather than “James”). As he explained a little defensively after correcting the coaches about his name, it’s a Southern thing. He blamed his mom, which as a mom I find less than gallant. If he didn’t like it he could have changed it.)

And then there is the music now on the charts. I’ve been introduced to “Try” by Cobie Chaillot, and “Amnesia” by Five Seconds of Summer. In each case I didn’t much care for the contestant version, but loved the originals. (“Amnesia”…. Whew. It goes into my list of songs that are almost too difficult to listen to. You know when a songwriter sings words you that have rattled around in your brain? Yeah, that. Nice to know that some situations are universal. Or in this case, maybe not so much.)

Then there was “All About That Bass.” The original by Meghan Trainor is fun, but the cover by Voice contestant Anita Antoinette is smoking. Represent, for all of us larger than size four ladies! Love love love that song.

Tonight is the first elimination. Two contestants will be eliminated from each team, and in the case of each team there will probably be at least one contestant that I don’t want to see go. As I said, the talent pool is deeper than the past two seasons.

I do hope that someone old enough to drink wins this thing. The show attracts a lot of precocious teenagers. (I think the youngest this year is fifteen – but there is also a seventeen year-old and an eighteen year old. There were even more teenagers earlier in the process.) They’re cute, but I keep wanting to pat them on the head and say “go home and come back when you’ve actually lived some.” That’s unfair, because a lot of them come to the show with interesting backstories involving losing parents or overcoming illness, and so do have experiences to tap into.

The Voice also attracts singers who have been slogging along for years without a lot of success, people who have wanted to make music their life but have just needed the right break. (I have not checked all of them, but at least four contestants have albums on iTunes. Luke Wade commented to Pharrell Williams that after the blind auditions, he had more people buy his album in one week than he had previously.) Hopefully some of them will see increased interest even if they don’t win.

I’m not sure if he’s my favorite singer, but the most interesting backstory belongs to a singer on Adam’s team. Damien is a TSA agent who was in LAX when a gunman decided to take out his coworkers. He watched people die that day. I guess there is nothing like being faced with your own death to make you become really serious about following your dream.

I love the two new coaches. Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani bring a new energy to a show that seemed to be getting stale. (Also, may I just say for the record, that I find all four of the judges to be really sexy. Least hot in my book is Adam Levine: I’m alone in that, probably – a year ago he was named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man in the World.”) It is really interesting to see Pharrell coach – he clearly puts on his producer’s hat, with generally great results. On the other side of the coin, Gwen Stefani encourages her team to think about all parts of their performance; staging, wardrobe, hair. She turned Craig Wayne Boyd from a scruffy, long-hair, fringe-wearing throwback to a rocker. She injected new energy into his singing. And her suggestion to Reagan James that she not act too much older than her fifteen years was dead on. I have been frustrated in prior seasons (especially with Christina Aguilera) about the tendency of coaches to load their high-schoolers up with heavy makeup and songs of depth and gravity which come off as melodramatic and bathetic. (One notable exception to this was Blake Shelton’s coaching of then sixteen-year old Danielle Bradberry – she always looked fresh and young, and her performances seemed grounded in genuine emotion. Not coincidentally, she won.)

So – it’s off to see who goes on. More later.

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