I’ve tentatively followed The Voice as its wound its way from gimmick to gimmick. It’s intrigued me, I’ll admit it, but I was ready to abandon it at the first sign of creative failure, which always seemed like it could be around every corner. This show never gave me the chance. It’s stayed light on its feet, and now, a week into live voting, I’m hooked. Good singers, fresh image, emotional mimes, quips from Adam Levine, a new crush and a strong conceit. This show has what I want, and no amount of Twitter obsession from V-Correspondent Allison Haslip can push me away at this point. Here’s a blow-by-blow account of last night’s installment of… The Voice!

Why Is a Mime Twirling Around My Crush? Stop It, Mime!

  •   Yes, Adam Levine can play the guitar… Why does this surprise people. Have we really gotten to the point in pop music where we actually don’t expect the lead singer of one of the most famous rock bands in the world to at least be able to play a little bit of Queenly goodness! Come on!
  •     I’m a little confused by the voting process. I mean I get the save one person thing, but why advertise this as a team competition. No team wins tonight, right? Both teams lose two members. The team competition, as of right now, is still no more than some teasing comments from one judge to the other about how much they love everyone on their team.
  •      They put Raquel first, which I thought was a horrible idea. Why put your most unproven, possibly disastrous contestant first on a night you’re trying to prove that you’er a necessary, essential singing competition? But… It was the smartest thing they could have done. The team of dancers, the new arrangement, the dance break, the identity makeover. They did what American Idol tried to do (give the artists more of an artistic identity through increased stage presence and artistic control on production) but failed to do. And they did it without saying a word about. You just knew, this was very different. This wasn’t how Idol did it. Raquel was being advertised as an artistic entity from the get-go, a singing, dancing pop-star rocking a song with not so heavy vocals. What would never work on Idol (whenever Idol contestants try a song like this, the lack of a real stage show to focus on makes you realize how empty those songs can be vocally) works perfectly on the Voice stage, which strives more to be a “personalized concert experience.” Each contestant gets their own. We get to determine which ones stick. Raquel’s stuck in my opinion.  You may call it selling out on a voice competition called The Voice, to open with a dance number to a Ke$ha song, but I say it was genius. That team of dancers said more than any speech about differences between the shows could have. Any curious stragglers knew suddenly that they were dealing with a new anima herel.
  •    You can immediately tell the difference between someone who made the easy transition to the big stage (the dark-horse Raquel, who was just waiting to explode on a big stage in a pretty dress with a team of dancers) and someone who seemed really uncomfortable up there (raspy rocker Jared Blake, who picked the perfect song choice for his voice, but who couldn’t fill up the stage with it.) Raquel’s voice was shaky, but her performance was anything but. It was captivating from beginning to end, with momentum and true surprises. She had vocal, Aguilera-like fun with a dance floor song and eliminated the trash-pop aesthetic of Ke-dollar-sign-ha, favoring a sexy glamour chic that surprisingly suited the 16 year old well (though I haven’t seen reviews yet, and don’t know whether she was eviscerated for trying to be a teenage sex-pot like Idol Haley Reinhart.) Jared’s vocals were fine, I guess, but his performance lacked in comparison to the one that came before.
  •     I worried that this opinion (liking Raquel more in spite of worse vocals and praising the show for allowing a dance troupe, something Idol would never permit) was relegating me to the station of one who likes flashy performances all the more if you fit more dancing people on the stage, but Beverly came out and proved that wrong. Beverly was up there alone in her kilt, and she pushed her way forcefully through a song that was perfect for her. She smiled and winked and strutted and then screamed, and had more fun with a cold then any person has any right having. This revealed another problem with Idol. Beverly, the oldest contestant, went up there and had more youthful exuberance then every teen and 20 something on Idol combined had this year (sans Casey, who was eviscerated for being too exuberant and self-indulgent). Her seasoned performance seemed tossed off in the most casual, yet perfect, way. There didn’t seem to be any artifice to the way she pounded to the rhythm of the song or giggled at revealing her softer, more humorous, side (for a second) No, this was a performance by a giddy Melissa Etheridge fan who out Etheridge’d Melissa Etheridge herself.
  •  The coaches coached these guys up, clearly, but it seems frustrating when The Voice turns to the slot which should be reserved for “judging,” right after performances. It has no judges. Just mentors, and so this slot seems like a purposeless time for Christina and Blake to taunt everyone around them
    and giggle about their naughtiness. I hope they fix this.
  •    Like I said, you see coaches coaching on this show, and it seems so much more genuine then what Idol tried to this past season with the Idol’s sitting with a production team and talking with some of the bigwigs, or in seasons long past with the celebrity guest mentor carousel. Blake has a relationship with Dia, and when he asks her if she’d be more comfortable behind a piano, if that’s the artistic image she would like to convey, you feel actual production and star creation happening between a mentor and a mentee. The teacher took the time to watch his students YouTube videos and saw her concert persona there, and he pushed it. It worked. Dia’s not a dancer. She’s an indie pleader with a voice that plaintively whines its mournfulness best when she sits and lets it all come out through her eyes. Dia finally managed to balance her coziness with a powerful musical sensibility that exceeded the school-girlish way she faces the coaches with her arms folded and her big eyes cast downward. She, like Raquel, emerged as a contender. I’m curious to see how the very different voting process fosters that sort of momentum.
  •    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other big difference right out of the gate. These coaches sing. They play their guitars. They don’t just say they do these things. They do it for us, and they do it with their teams. They prove it. Randy has never taken out his bass, and theIdol  judges are kept separate from the contestants until the finale, if even then. Here, establishing the coaches’ music and coaching cred is a collaborative effort, as the coaches put on fun master classes with each other and with their teams.
  •   Note 1: I would think that it was creepy to have a sixteen year sing “Lady Marmalade,” if I hadn’t seen so many 12 year olds sing it at summer camps and in school hallways back when I was a middle-schooler. Yes it’s a dirty, dirty song, but something about the song being catchy, in French, and attached to the film “Moulin Rouge” makes it feel acceptable for all audiences. It’s odd that it’s reached this level, I agree. Don’t shoot the messenger.
  •   Note 2: The whole Allison Haslip V-Correspondent thing is very forward-thinking and all, but, umm, it’s annoying as heck.
  •   Christina on Xenia: “Your still developing your chops.” Yep, right before our very eyes. This girl is working out her anxiety, and this was, unfortunately, the first big failure she’ll have to persevere her way through. She struggled mightily to make it through her “personal concert experience.” It looked great. They set her up to shine. Her dress, hair, and earrings, as well as the band behind her, set her up perfectly, but, you can’t deny, nerves got the best of this quiet girl in a way that they did not consume the competition’s other wallflower, Dia. I find it frustrating that no judge mentioned that Xenia flubbed her performance three times, actually forgetting how many choruses she was supposed to sing at the point where she tried to walk away from the mike while the song continued. That being said, Christina also said she would buy an entire Xenia album, and I can’t help but agree. I am obsessed with the tone of her voice, and while I don’t think she fits in The Voice’s concert experience aesthetic, and I know she will be going home, I will be sad if I never hear her calm, low, funky voice again.
  •    I admit to having a pretty big crush on soul girl Lily Elise, but Adam’s criticism of her performance was the best of the night (actually it was probably the only thing that qualified as criticism!) He wondered why she needed the dancers that I suspect were supposed to act as a crutch but really acted as a clipped wing that kept Lily from flying. The mimes, as Blake called them, twirled away behind Lily as she struggled through the first part of her song, and Adam was right to point out that just because someone like Raquel can bring singing competitions into this new decade with her own dance group, does not mean that everyone has to in order to connect. Lily suffers from the opposite problem that Xenia does. She is largely overconfident and brash, but the last choruses of her performance justified some of this soul swagger. That being said, I fear my crush will soon be all for naught, for I don’t feel Lily Elise is long for this competition.
  •   Allison Haslip, I swear, if you say trending one more time… I bet one of the five trending Voice topics V-Correspondent Allison Haslip mentioned involved the universal hatred of V-Correspondent Allison Haslip. How must that make V-Correspondant Allison Haslip feel? Does she feel? I fear her enthusiasm for social media was pre-programmed in her mainframe by the NBC powers that be. I think we created her when we, as a society tweeted too much. This V-Robot is the consequence of millions of tweets. Want proof? As Lily returned to the room, Allison announced that Lily would immediately be sitting back down and getting back to tweeting, as if anyone watching was concerned Lily might take some me-time before logging back in and answering urgent questions about her favorite album. It feels a little like these contestants, who surely must have something better to do right before their performances like practice… or worry, are shackled to those trendy tables, hands glued to trendy mobile devices, obligated to trend on Twitter. The V-Robot is holding them captive. Poor kids.
  •    The Voice, unlike Idol, cares about the quality of its duets and group performances (as seen in the duets round) and they’re trying to keep this team spirit at the fore. These very different singers can make some beautiful music together when they actually take some time to work on harmonies (the death of any Idol group performance). This was on perfect display in Team Blake’s Maroon 5 celebration. Dia and Jared had never sung together. Neither had Xenia and Patrick. Both duets were great, and could have sustained a block during duets week. I hope this keeps factoring into this show.
  •    Next up in the personalized Voice concert experience generator was Patrick Thomas, who appears to have stolen Scotty McCreary’s peaceful country sunrise backdrop, which is fine I guess, cause Scotty doesn’t need it anymore, what with the Idol win and all. I have nothing to say about Patrick’s performance really. It was fine, I guess, but I’m all tuckered out on low-voiced, smug country balladeers after the Scotty saga. It may be unfair to Patrick, who is truly a very good singer, but if there’s any justice in America, all of Patrick’s potential legion of fans will be too tired from constantly dialing in for Scotty, and this cowpoke will hit the lonesome trail. I’m totally over sad country songs, in case you can’t tell…
  •    Last up was Frenchie, one of this show’s biggest draws due to the automatic post-Idol publicity she brings with her. Every time she comes on stage, I see the cogs working . It could not be more fortuitous that The Voice drew in its viewers with the best singer “that old singing show” refused to have. It’s almost poetic, but Frenchie mostly transcends that drama by being a great singer. She probably moves on with Beverly, pushing little Raquel out of the competition, even though the David Guetta song Frenchie sang was way too slight for Frenchie’s powerful pipes, even as you could tell Frenchie was clearly holding back. Less Guetta for Frenchie; let the diva fly!

I think we see Dia and Patrick join Frenchie and Beverly two weeks from now, leaving Xenia and Jared (who deserve to be cut) and Raquel and Lily (who really don’t) behind. After writing that sentence, I fully believe what my friend has been saying for weeks. Blake has the weakest team by a mile. I would take Lily and Raquel over Dia and Patrick, yeah. But, I’m confused as to why it is that teams even matter other than for idle water cooler gossip about which team might win if these teams ever actually do face each other and not just sing around each other. I look forward to finding out the answer to this question. The Voice has achieved its goal, capturing my attention, and the attention of millions of viewers who know only one competition’s tricks, and leaving us wondering why this alternative wasn’t provided sooner. I think everyone assumed that, as this show entered the live rounds and gave up on the gimmicks, that we would be treated to our first dose of
Idol worship, but this show demonstrated its own distinct personality and direction while executing a good example of a familiar format.