Ah, the magic of live television. "The Voice" Season 6 finally went live with the top 12 finalists this Monday, and the show was not without its problems. Specifically, during an otherwise lovely performance of Sugarland's "Stay" by Team Shakira's Kristen Merlin, her microphone shorted out, and for more than 20 seconds, there was… silence. On a SINGING COMPETITION, there was no singing.
Conspiracy theorists may have wondered if NBC's powers-that-be had it out for poor Kristen. After all, she was the only contestant in the top 12 whose two past Battle Rounds performances had been ruthlessly edited, and she was the only performer this Monday who experienced any technical difficulties. If this latest setback had dented (or just plain crushed) Kristen's confidence, not a single viewer would have blamed her if she'd crumbled on live TV.
But Kristen did not crumble.
Instead, this scrappy fighter — who's been gigging in bars for years, probably under way rougher circumstances — just kept on crooning. She sang her heart out, and even though no one could hear her, she expressed more with her wide-eyed face and her can-do attitude than any microphone could have conveyed.
"I noticed you had 22 seconds left on that song and we were just about to bring you that other mic. And you just kept singing. That's what any of these four world-renowned artists would have done in that situation," said host Carson Daly, admiringly, as he gestured to the equally impressed coaches.
"That was great. You know why? Because it put you in an adverse situation that you had to overcome, something bigger and scarier than anyone in your position had to face. And you handled it so gracefully, it was as if nothing had happened. So that is a huge lesson for everybody to learn," said Adam Levine. "I would have been in a puddle of my own nerves. I would have been crying. I would have had a thumb in my mouth. I might have run offstage just having a hissyfit. I don't know what I would have done. But that was really inspiring to see you be cool: ice water in your veins. I love that!"
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Truth be told, Kristen's mic mishap might have been the best thing that could have happened to her this week. Not only did it give her the chance to show what a total pro she really is, and not only did it inspire both the coaches and fans to rally around her, but it just might make viewers head on over to iTunes to download Kristen's "Stay" — so that they can hear the entire song. (Every iTunes download counts as one vote on "The Voice," so that's an especially important point.)
I could joke and say I wouldn't be surprised if next week, some of the other contestants sneakily unplug their own microphones, so that they can have a similar triumph-over-adversity TV moment. But I doubt any of them would handle it as well as Kristen did this evening.
Here's how the rest of the contestants, functioning microphones and all, fared Monday night:
Bria Kelly (Team Usher) – I was surprised that NBC would put this season's golden child in the "death spot," but Bria's fiery performance was certainly a high-energy way to start the show. I was also surprised that Usher picked Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" for Bria — seriously now, did we really need to hear this song on any singing competition ever again? And could anyone ever sing it nearly as well as Adele herself? But Bria promised this would not be a "karaoke version," and she mostly held true to that promise. This was actually a very Pat Benatar version: rawkin', angsty, loud. If only she'd actually played her guitar (it just dangled from her neck like an Elvis-inspired prop), this performance would have been perfect.
Delvin Choice (Team Adam) – Delvin sang the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," another song choice that disappointed me at first. I wanted him to take on something more current; this ballad, one of Simon Cowell's musty old favorites, has already been covered on "American Idol" at least 81 times. I also worried if this song would connect with younger viewers, particularly the ones with active iTunes accounts. But then… Delvin hit that "I neeeeeeed your love" falsetto, and I was SOLD. He really did nail this vocal — and he worked the crowd like a veteran R&B showman, like Marvin Gaye in his "Let's Get It On" prime. And Delvin serenaded his happily married parents, which was adorable and probably scored him points not just with his family, but with sentimental viewers as well.
Dani Moz (Team Shakira) – Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" was an obvious choice for Dani (Pink's is the go-to catalog for pop chicks with an edge on these shows). But it was certainly a song that showcased what this diva can do vocally. Dani harnessed the vocal power of Pink and Nate Ruess, actually. However, her theater background did hinder her here and there; sometimes the emotion in her muggy face seemed forced. I think Dani will be OK for now, as she is one of the strongest singers of this top 12, but she does need to work on her presentation, if she wants to be accepted as a viable potential pop star.
Audra McLaughlin (Team Blake) – I was excited that Audra was covering Juice Newton. JUICE NEWTON! How is it that Juice has never been covered on "The Voice" before? But then, I found out that Audra wasn't doing "Queen of Hearts," which broke my heart. Instead, she did "Angel of the Morning," and sadly, she ran out of juice. This performance was a sluggish struggle. I couldn't wait for it to end, and it felt like 13 minutes elapsed before it finally did. I almost wished her microphone would malfunction. It sounded like it was in the totally wrong key for her, and it was just so maudlin and whiny. Audra is so, so, so much better than this song made her seem. I think she's in trouble this week.
T.J. Wilkins (Team Usher) – I appreciated that T.J. did something more modern and outside of his wheelhouse, John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change." He still had an old-fashioned vibe and presentation — he's just an old soul, methinks, and no one should ever expect him to cover Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" or bust out some Chris Brown-style dance moves, because that's just not the kind of R&B he does. But at least he tried to youth it up; by T.J. standards, this was actually adventurous. I think T.J. will be safe this week — and it will help him in the future if he continues to not play it safe.
Christina Grimmie (Team Adam) – This was the first song choice of the evening that really made sense to me. Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" was perfectly suited to Christina's big voice and brassy girl-pop style, and she attacked the song with a viciousness and fearlessness that erased all of her usual Disney-girl pageantry. However, she went overboard at the end with all her banshee-wailing; she should have pulled back more. While Blake Shelton declared her "the artist to beat on Adam's team," I think she could get on viewers' nerves (or eardrums) if she doesn't work with loud/soft dynamics more wisely.
Sisaundra Lewis (Team Adam) – At age 44, Sisaundra is not old… but she is old by pop-star standards, which is similar to dog years in the entertainment world. While I hardly think Sisaundra should wear short-shorts and a Nicki Minaj wig and sing, say, "#SELFIE," I do wonder if old-fashioned ballads like "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" will hurt her. Is that really the sort of song that fans will scurry to download on iTunes, which is such an important factor in "The Voice's" voting these days? We'll see. Vocally, of course, this was flawless — and the elegant restraint Sisaundra displayed (the total opposite of Christina's one-woman shouting match) was smart, considering that some of her detractors have accused her of just "screaming" in past performances. The votes will not go down on Sisaundra this week.
Kat Perkins (Team Adam) – OK, no female vocalist should take on Ann Wilson unless she really knows what she's doing. Ann Wilson, on a particularly good day, can practically make Adele sound like that girl on "#SELFIE." But Kat is no typical singer. She easily handled Heart's "Magic Man," and I loved how she worked both the crowd and the house band like a real frontwoman and put on a real rock 'n' roll concert. "You've gone for some of the greatest singing there is on Earth. I mean, Steve Perry, Journey, Heart, Ann Wilson. All this stuff is impossible. And you do it with the same power and charisma and proficiency and soul that all these guys did it with," said Adam. My one issue would be, it's a bit too much the same: Kat didn't really do anything new with the Heart song. But if she can figure out how to put a modern spin on classic rock tuneage, she'll be unstoppable in this competition. She's a magic woman.
Jake Worthington (Team Blake) – Balladry is the area in which Jake excels. When he sings a sad, slow song, he totally wears his heart on his plaid sleeve; when he does something upbeat, he comes across as hokey and a little karaoke. So Blake was wise to give Jake, the season's most "endearing" contestant according to Shakira, Travis Tritt's classic country weeper "Anymore." Jake had a real moment with it… especially when he saw his "mama" in the audience and choked up. Aw. I would not be surprised if this was the most-downloaded "Voice" song on iTunes this week. Jake is America's new sweetheart.
Tess Boyer (Team Shakira) – I'm not sure what Shakira was thinking when she gave Tess a Bon Jovi power ballad, "I'll Be There for You." For Kat, sure. But for Tess? Well, Tess certainly sang the heck out of it, I'll give her that. But it was a dated performance — and I don't mean dated in a Terry McDermott sort of way. It didn't evoke nostalgia; it just made Tess seem irrelevant. Blake was impressed enough by Tess's (admittedly powerful) vocal to declare her the Team Shakira "artist to beat," but I don't know if Tess will even be around next week. To quote Bon Jovi, these five words I swear to you: This song hurt her chances.
Josh Kaufman (Team Usher) – All right, now here's a song choice that was pure genius. British blue-eyed soulman Sam Smith is having a moment right now, with his breakout "Saturday Night Live" performance and recent surprise cameo alongside Disclosure and Mary J. Blige at Coachella. And Sam's passionate ballad "Stay With Me" was PERFECT for Josh — the just-right balance of new-school hipness and old-school soul. And dare I say it… this was nearly as brilliant as Sam's "SNL" performance. Josh's vocal was positively goosebump-inducing, and he wrung emotion out of every word — nay, out of every syllable — without ever getting sidetracked by the fussy histrionics that plagued those earlier performances by Dani and Christina. If there was real watercooler-chatter moment of this episode — besides Kristen's microphone malfunction, of course — it was this tour de force. "You have completely made this my night," said a gloating Usher.
So now, it is prediction time. Who won't be having such a good night Tuesday, on the first live results show of Season 6? Well, unfortunately, after weeks of buildup, this season's live shows are being rushed as if Mark Burnett has a plane to catch, only lasting five weeks. This means two contestants will go home every week. And I think this week, those two will be Tess Boyer and Audra McLaughlin.
But with the live "Voice" Save in play (as least for tweeters on the East Coast), anything could happen Tuesday… even another microphone mess-up! So see you then.