The Voice Episode 2.01: ‘The Blind Auditions, Part 1’ Recap

Posted on February 6, 2012

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The Voice Titles

Summary: NBC’s vocal talent showcase returns for a second season with a strong opening that shows why it’s relevant and, perhaps, the competition to beat.

** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**


KSiteTVLet me preface this by saying that I am not a huge reality television fan. I’ve seen my share of the big names in the biz – your Real Worlds, your Survivors, your Amazing Races, your Big Brothers, your Apprentices, and more – but I generally tend to avoid them like the plague. It’s not that I have anything against them, per se. Just that they don’t specifically scratch my TV itch.

That said, I really appreciate talent in all its forms, so I do somehow manage to get sucked in by a number of reality talent competitions, usually innocuously introduced to them through various friends. It’s how I stumbled into American Idol, how I came to discover the wonder that is So You Think You Can Dance – by far, my fave of the genre – and even came upon sports competition shows like The Ultimate Fighter and The Contender. What I hadn’t been introduced to by anyone was NBC’s gamepiece The Voice.

As a matter of fact, I can’t recall a single person I know who was watching the show last year during its first season. I, myself, came to the show late. I was familiar with the concept and the opening gimmick – the “blind” auditions, in which the judges/coaches sit with their backs to the singer and hit a button to flip their chair around to lay claim to the person behind the voice should they hear something they like and think they can work with during the latter stages of the competition – but nothing about it jumped out at me as must watch TV. It wasn’t until the last few weeks of the season that I began to tune in and discovered something that was very unique about it: the talent they had wasn’t just random people who had never had a shot before. These were people who had been making their way, to whatever degree, in music for some time … and it showed!

Singers who had been in bands or played numerous open mics or had even had contracts at one time. All of them – or nearly all – had experience, had put in the blood and sweat, and most importantly, had personality. Even those who were greener had a unique and distinctive stage presence. All of which really made the competition stand out from the staid stalwarts like Idol or goofy fame grabs like America’s Got Talent. These were people you could not only see winning the show and making that first album but those who would have lasting substance and the strong work ethic to keep the dream churning along.

It was for this reason that I was looking forward to catching the show from the beginning this season. While they gave us a glimpse of a few people who didn’t quite make the mark – Mark Trussell’s go at the Bieberlicious “Baby” was certainly one way to go – their vetting process is still something to behold. Even the one “down” point of the six contestants they featured tonight, Daniel Rosa, was significantly more possessed of ability than the majority of the scores of hopefuls Idol has been cycling through during the laborious audition phase of their current 11th season.

But enough jibber-jabber setting the stage. Let’s get into it…

Rachael “RaeLynn” Woodward: Miranda Lambert’s “Hell on Heels”
The cute 17-year-old Texan is exactly what you expect to open a singing competition these days and, in some ways, it felt like the show was doing the obligatory and getting it out of the way. Young enough to still need her parents around, showing the strong family roots as part of her package, and a bright, sunny disposition with a gorgeous smiles make her easily the most instantly marketable of this first group. Even with the giant rose gnawing on the side of her head. I have to agree with host Carson Daly that signing a song from country great Miranda Lambert – judge Blake Shelton’s wife – was a risky gamble, but she had enough of a voice to back up the gumption. Strong as her voice was, though, I found it a bit too affected for my taste, relying a bit too heavy on a warble that became more pronounced when she stepped away from the pop start and more into the country groove as the song went along. Both Adam Levine and Blake turned and, though Country is such a monster genre, I have to kind of agree with Adam’s comment about not wanting to be “just” a country star. Given her roots and her song choice, though, it was clear from the get-go who she was going to choose to work with if given the shot.
Chosen: Team Blake

Jesse Campbell: Ray Charles’ “A Song for You”
Competition over!

Talk about laying it on thick. Not to make light or take anything away from Mr. Campbell but he’s got all the trademarks of fabulous drama for this kind of program: a single father, homeless and living out of his car with his young daughter, a church and wedding singer who came to California to stay with his brother to live out his dream. It was all quite touching but a bit of an obvious grab for attention by the producers, especially given such a pleasant but unassuming man. It’s not for nothing, though, that each judge swung around for him and fairly quickly. This is a man full of a gorgeous voice and such a command of both that instrument and his stage presence. He played to every single seat in that house and did it with such ease that it felt somewhat unfair to keep him on the show and not just move him forward to a recording career. This gentleman has the goods and it will be interesting to see him progress through this process. The awkward comment on race from Christina Aguilera – deftly played for humor by Cee-Lo Green – aside, the judges couldn’t help but fawn over him and trip over themselves to get him on-board. I will say I was a bit surprised by his choice of coach.
Chosen: Team Christina

Daniel Rosa: Neon Tree’s “Animal”
Daniel is a specific testament to the conceit of the show that it is strictly about vocal performance upfront. The heavy-set 20-year old would immediately be called out for not having a strong marketable image on other shows, even though his thick glasses, slicked hair, and bow tie were a distinct style. I was actually kind of hoping he would’ve brought the ukelele out with him to perform. If he’d had the instrument, it might have helped him focus a bit better. There was a nice quality to his voice, a smokiness that might actually fill out well if he keeps working at it. (I agree with Christina that it was a great sign for him to directly ask what he could’ve done to be better.) Blake referred to pitch problems, which I could gather, but it also felt to me that he wasn’t confident enough in his voice and performance to keep his voice strong. It started off shakey and then kept fluctuating throughout. I hope he takes the experience and improves, but it was pretty evident why none of the judges turned around for him.
Chosen: No one

Juliet Simms: The Beatles’ “Oh, Darling”
Here’s the always-interesting conundrum of these competition shows: an “indie” rock chick plying her wares on what could be perceived as a pop-focused contest. It’s something that’s always played a bit weird and out-of-sync on other shows but again impresses the difference of this one. While I wasn’t as completely enthused with Simms’ performance as the judges were – I don’t know that the song was the best choice for her – it was a compelling display of how she throws her entire self into her work. The rock trill and growl to her voice were somewhat to be expected and, while I hate to make now-cliche comparisons to Janis Joplin, there was a bit of that flavor that portends interesting and better performances down the road. Adam referred to it as a “dirt in [her] voice” and “gruffness” that should offer a nice contrast to the soulful quality of Jesse Campbell and the “silkiness” of Tony Lucca. I’m not sure she has longevity, but she should make the first of the team competition weeks fun. The rather uncomfortable exchange between Adam and Christina kind of drew the focus from Simms in the end, but her surprising choice in coach makes her that much more of a wildcard.
Chosen: Team Cee-Lo

Chris Mann: Andrea Bocelli’s “Because We Believe”
Look out, Adam Sandler, there’s a new Opera Man. Saying that he is so often used to “shrinking his voice down to fit,” Mann made the concerted effort to stand out by singing an opera/pop hybrid. It was definitely a way to get noticed and it worked for both Cee-Lo and Christina. His big voice has a lovely quality to it but it also makes for a rather deceptive image. It’s very hard to gauge just what he’s going to accomplish on the show and how versatile his voice is going to be. The standout moment to me, much like Daniel Rosa, was when he asked the coaches what they would do with what he can do as an artist. Cee-Lo and Christina both stumbled through some platitudes without really answering. I think he has a valid concern and it remains to be seen what else he can offer.
Chosen: Team Christina

Tony Lucca: Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble”
I am absolutely in love with LaMontagne as an artist. He offers a deceptively simple voice and world view that many feel they can take on. The problem is that LaMontagne has such a fragility and nuance that is hard for others to capture. Lucca, the former Mouseketeer compatriot of Christina, came close with a fair amount of pain and passion to his vocals and proper command of the guitar to accompany him. What I really enjoyed was the soft and smooth variations he offered to give the song character and personality, though I wouldn’t say I necessarily saw his own unique thumbprint on it. I also enjoyed the moments they showed with his family after he sang, which felt more touching than most of the pre-prepared stuff of the video packages for each of the contestants. Outside of Campbell, I believe, he was the oldest of the six singers shown tonight at 35. Just as with last season’s winner Javier Colon, he has the sensibility of someone who has had his hat in the ring, has a stronger feeling for the business, and also appreciates everything that much more. Adam finally got one for his team and I’m looking forward to seeing how far he goes.

Oh, and it can’t hurt to know that pre-fame Britney had the “biggest crush” on him. Thanks, Christina.
Chosen: Team Adam

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Posted in: Television, The Voice