Carson Daly appears on the screen. He briefly describes the concept of “The Voice” and quickly reads off the achievements of each of the four judges: Christina Aguilera, country music star Blake Shelton, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green. After the introduction, the four judges took the stage to show the world how it’s done as they performed “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (featuring Cee Lo Green). It was so good that they could probably sell millions of copies if they released it as a single. It didn’t take long to show that The Voice is much more than NBC’s answer to American Idol.
On American Idol, each contestant’s overall performance and popularity with teenage girls have as much to do with their success as their actual singing ability (see Pia Toscano). One can’t help but wonder if Toscano would have been better off being a contestant on The Voice rather than on American Idol because of the rules of the show.
Each of the four judges must build a team of eight contestants to mentor based solely on hearing their vocal performance. The judges’ chairs face the audience, so they cannot see the performer’s stage presence, their look, their age, etc. They can only see them once they hit a “Family Feud-like” buzzer to spin their chairs around. At which point, the words “I Want You” are illuminated at the bottom of the judges’ platform.
If only one judge hits the buzzer, then the contestant is automatically assigned to that judge’s team. However if more than one judge hits the buzzer, then they each get to make their pitch as to why the contestant should choose them as their mentor.
Fortunately for the judges (and also for the viewers), the only singers who perform on the show are the ones who have been hand-picked by the producers. Unlike American Idol, there is no suffering through the bizarre and the terrible to get to the good singers.
Once each judge’s team has eight members the “blind auditions” end. At that point, each judge will mentor their team members. And this is where it gets even more interesting. Before America will ever get the chance to vote for their favorites, the judges must reduce their teams from eight to four based on head-to-head competition.
If the first episode is any indication, the 16 finalists on The Voice are going to be far better singers than the 13 finalists on Season 10 of American Idol (which is supposedly the most talented group in the show’s history).
By the time that the first episode came to an end, each judge had signed up three members to be on their respective teams. They are as follows:
Tarralyn Ramsay – Ramsay was the first contestant to perform on the show. She performed “Breathe” by Faith Hill. Her voice is powerful, she has nice range and she put her own soulful spin on the song. If she were on American Idol, her bad wig, neon makeup and loud outfit would have distracted from her voice. Of course, at 31 years old, American Idol wasn’t an option anyway. She chose Aguilera over Cee Lo Green.
Frenchie Davis – Another 31-yr old who wouldn’t qualify for American Idol at this point. She was already on the show, and made it into the top 12 of season 2, but never got to perform when topless photos of her surfaced on the Internet. Even though the photos were taken long before she tried out for American Idol, they chose to eliminate her from the show. Her version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” was good, but nothing special. It was kind of surprising that Aguilera hit the buzzer. But the bigger surprise was that Cee Lo Green immediately recognized her when his chair was turned around at the end of the song with the other judges who didn’t buzz in.
Beverly McClellan – Aguilera rounded out the night with another contestant who needed a competition like The Voice to get noticed. McClellan is a 41-year old butch lesbian with a shaved head, and matching tattoos on both sides of her neck. She would probably scare the American Idol audience, but her version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” showed that she has something special. She is powerful and edgy, but also shows great control over her voice, which has a Melissa Etheridge quality. It was interesting to see that her mannerisms are reminiscent of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. She had the choice between Adam Levine and Aguilera. When she announced her choice by saying “I think I’m gonna do Christina” it seemed more like a goal than a Freudian slip.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF CHRISTINA AGUILERA’S TEAM – It wasn’t intentional, but Aguilera’s team embodies what The Voice is all about. All of the women are heavy-set, and two of them have shaved heads. They are all over 30 years old, and most likely would not have had an opportunity like this on any other show. While Frenchie Davis has enjoyed the most success so far (American Idol and Rent), she is the weakest member of the team. Tarralyn Ramsay is very good, but the best one on this team so far is Beverly McClellan.
Patrick Thomas – Almost immediately after Thomas starting singing Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” the judges started to hit their buzzers. All but Aguilera did so, but she explained afterwards that that it was only because she didn’t feel comfortable in the genre. For all of the hype that surrounds Scotty McCreery on American Idol, he has yet to have a performance that was even in the same league as Thomas’. Whereas McCreery’s style caters almost exclusively to diehard country music fans, the 20-yr old from Nashville transcended musical taste with his performance (cowboy hat and all). He wisely chose Blake Shelton over Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green, but it is understandable why each of them wanted to work with him.
Elenowen – This was the most unusual performance of the night for the judges. They had no idea that a duet would be allowed to compete, so when the second verse of “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová switched from a female voice to a male voice, it threw the judges for a loop. Josh and Nicole Johnson are a married couple struggling to make it in the music business. They are currently living in Nicole’s parents’ basement as they pursue their musical dreams. The young couple performed well together, but Nicole is clearly the stronger singer of the two. On his own, it’s doubtful that any of the judges would have buzzed in, but the two inspired both Cee Lo and Shelton to do so. It’s hard to pinpoint what their genre will be from just one song, but Shelton did seem like a better fit for them than Cee Lo.
Xenia Martinez – This 16 yr-old girl who is so shy that most of her peers don’t even realize that she is a singer also gave a surprising performance, but for a different reason. Martinez may be young and shy, but when she hits the stage, she becomes cool and has a voice that is mature beyond her years. Her version of “Break Even” by The Script had a great vibe to it. She seamlessly blended her raspy voice with tasteful falsetto. Martinez is another one who is difficult to categorize after just one song, although her performance was reminiscent of Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes. Once again, Shelton beat out Cee Lo to get her on his team.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF BLAKE SHELTON’S TEAM – Although he used the same blind auditions as Aguilera to build his team, Shelton ended up with singers who are much more marketable due to their youth and appearances. Aside from Patrick Thomas, the others are not country artists, so it will be interesting to see his approach in mentoring outside of his comfort zone. Each of his team members is talented, but Elenowen may have a harder time advancing as a duo because one is clearly better than the other.
Vicky Martinez – After listening to Martinez perform Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” it became very clear that the talent on The Voice is far superior to the talent on American Idol this season. The 26-yr old brought the song to life with a raspy style a la Melissa Etheridge. She mixes power and soul in a way that Haley Reinhart didn’t even come close to when she performed the exact same song recently. Martinez chose Cee Lo over Aguilera, but either would have been good for her.
Kelsey Rey – While the concept behind The Voice seems to be to give a fair shake to those that have the voice, but not necessarily the looks to go along with it, the opposite was true of Rey. She has always been given accolades for her singing, but was never sure if it was because of her stunning looks. It didn’t take long for Adam Levine and Cee Lo to buzz in to check her out after hearing Rey perform “American Boy” by Estelle. She has a great tone to go along with her looks, and gave a very good performance. Aguilera buzzed in just as the song was ending. Rey certainly had to feel validated having the choice of three of the four judges to work with. Although her style seems most similar to Levine, she chose Cee Lo over the others. The 20-yr old from Florida was certainly a good addition to his team.
Tje Austin – In the piece before his performance, you saw Austin walking down the street with his parents, but they only showed his legs. His parents looked like typical white Texans, so it was no surprise to see his dad sporting a cowboy hat. The surprise came when the 27-yr old Texan took the stage to perform “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. In the voiceover, he said “most people are pretty surprised when they look at me…they don’t expect for me to be able to sing.” Yes, he can absolutely sing, but that wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising was the fact that he is black and has an afro that would have fit perfectly in the movie “Car Wash.” Once you got past his surprising looks, you couldn’t help but appreciate his talent. Adam Levine and Cee Lo buzzed in at the same time once again. Christina regretted not buzzing in and mentioned that he had a Cee Lo feel to his voice, so it should come as no surprise that he chose Cee Lo over Levine.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF CEE LO GREEN’S TEAM – Like Shelton, Cee Lo put together a formidable group of singers who are all in their 20’s, and all have a marketable look. It’s hard to say whether Cee Lo is less discriminating or if he is confident that he can work with all types of artists, but he buzzed in more than any other judge. Some chose him, and some didn’t, but in the end, he ended up with a very intriguing team.
Jeff Jenkins – You couldn’t help but root for Jenkins. The 22-yr old small-town Texan lost his mom 10 months ago. Losing a parent is hard enough, but Jenkins lost more than a parent. He also lost his biggest supporter when his mom passed away…“she taught me how to love, how to forgive, she taught me confidence and how to believe in myself.” His performance on The Voice was his first time singing without his mom in the audience, so it had to be incredibly difficult for him, but to his credit, he performed “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts like a professional. Like Patrick Thomas, Jenkins’ performance was far superior to Scotty McCreery (his country music counterpart on American Idol).
As he finished the second line in the song, Levine and Cee Lo once again hit the buzzer at the same time. In the middle of the chorus, Aguilera hit the buzzer. Inexplicably, Shelton didn’t hit his buzzer until the song was almost finished. Had he buzzed in earlier, he probably would have been the favorite to land Jenkins. But Levine made a very strong push to get him, and in the end, Jenkins chose the one who wanted him the most. Even more puzzling than Shelton’s slow trigger finger was Levine’s comment to Jenkins…“I’ve never heard that song, but I’m pretty sure that no one can sing it as well as you just did.” There is no doubt that Jenkins did a great job with the song, but it is shocking that Levine had never heard it before.
Rebecca Loebe – Billed as a “homeless musician,” the 27-yr old from Georgia travels around the country performing as many shows as she can. She doesn’t earn enough money to justify paying rent for a place that she won’t use on a regular basis, so she lives out of the back of her 1992 Toyota Camry station wagon. Before her performance, she simply stated…“I’m just hoping that The Voice will help me get to the next step where I can make music and no longer live in my car.” Loebe’s dedication to music and performing is what sets her apart from almost every American Idol contestant. Her version of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” was nothing short of brilliant. She slowed it down and connected with the song in a truly unique way. Her tone, her range, her power and the beauty in her voice should have had the judges leaping for the buzzer. Aguilera, who buzzed in first, said that the arrangement was so inspiring that she was actually jealous that she didn’t come up with the idea first. Levine took longer to buzz in, but ended up securing Loebe on his team because she felt that his career has taken a trajectory more similar to her career aspirations.
Javier Colon – A 33-yr old from Connecticut, Colon came on The Voice with the goal of making a better life for his family. He is married with two beautiful little girls. His irregular earnings as a musician have made it difficult to make ends meet for his family. Like many people in today’s economy, he worries about how he is going to pay for diapers and his mortgage. Before he took the stage, Colon said…“I’m singing for my family, so I’ve got to give the performance of my life.”
Like Loebe, Colon chose to take a song and make it his own. You could feel his emotion as he sang Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” to perfection. As usual, Cee Lo and Levine hit the buzzer at the same time. At this point, you almost had to wonder if their buzzers were connected. Christina buzzed in after a while, and Blake finally buzzed in as the song was almost over, which was very surprising. Even Carson Daly couldn’t understand what was taking him so long. Backstage, the cameras caught him saying “oh Blake, you’re an idiot.”
Levine was actually encouraging Shelton to hit the buzzer as he stood up and hit his own buzzer over and over again to try and coax him into joining the rest of the judges in the competition for Colon.
Colon deservedly received a standing ovation from the audience after his performance, with Levine leading the way. In his effort to secure Colon on his team, Levine said…“I want to win this s**t, so I really, really need you to pick me.”
Aside from his outstanding performance, Colon also has an engaging personality. He playfully asked Aguilera the question that the viewing audience had to be wondering about the judges who waited to buzz in…“What took you so long?”
In the end, Levine’s passion and salesmanship won out over the other judges.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF ADAM LEVINE’S TEAM – Every other judge had already secured two singers on their teams before Levine got his first. But he more than made up for his slow start by picking a team of all-stars. As of right now, he is going to have the toughest time making cuts when they get to the next round. So much so, that he may actually benefit by hitting the buzzer on some lesser contestants that the others all pass on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The unique rules of The Voice make it a much more interesting competition than American Idol, but that is not the only thing that makes the show so entertaining to watch.
The talent level is far superior to American Idol this season, despite the fact that the judges keep saying how great all of the remaining contestants are.
Having the judges compete to mentor instead of just praising or critiquing is a stroke of genius, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that it is a Mark Burnett production.
The chemistry and competition between the judges is much better than it is on American Idol where they all basically echo each other’s thoughts on a weekly basis.
Carson Daly is the perfect host. He does just enough to gather information and throws in the occasional funny commentary. Other than that, he doesn’t interject himself into the show the way that Ryan Seacrest does on American Idol.
Will The Voice replace American Idol as America’s favorite singing competition? It’s too soon to tell, but if the first show is any indication, The Voice certainly has the potential to chip away at the American Idol audience.