First-ever live remote 'Voice' elimination show experiences technical difficulties

While both American Idol and The Voice recently went remote for the remainder of their respective seasons due to coronavirus concerns, with varying degrees of success, neither series had truly broadcasted live -- until this Tuesday, when The Voice attempted its first-ever real-time remote eliminations show.

To be honest, it was a bit rough. There were times when the hour-long episode looked like it was live-streaming on GeoCities. I practically expected to hear the glitchy dial-up screech of a 28.8 modem whirring in the background as Carson Daly, standing alone on a scaled-down soundstage in front of the coaches’ empty red chairs, tried to connect with the top 17 contestants sheltering in their homes across the country. But the show was truly live, for the most part, and it was therefore exciting. As those 17 singers were brutally whittled down to a top nine, they learned their fates via webcam, and viewers even got to participate by voting during the Instant Save singoff. So in that way, this felt like a typical Voice results show.

And of course, no typical Voice results show would be complete without some annoying outcomes. Notably, only male contestants initially made it through via America’s Monday vote, leaving it to the coaches to proactively save four deserving female singers and thus ensure some sort of casting balance. Yep, so nothing had changed there. Whether the show takes place at Universal Studios or at home, it still seems to be a boy’s club.

Anyway, from Team Blake, America unsurprisingly saved Todd Tilghman, the pastor and father of eight who’d warbled a Karate Kid power ballad in his small-town church. Thankfully, Blake Shelton then did the obvious right thing and saved Toneisha Harris -- a woman that Mega-Mentor James Taylor had once compared to Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand! And of the two remaining artists on Blake’s team, the one who’d received more votes this Monday, Joanna Serenko, moved on to the Instant Save round. Blake then bid an awkward farewell to the immediately eliminated Joei Fulco over his fuzzy webcam, as her WiFi connection sputtered out.

As for Team Legend, America saved Cammwess, a choice I could get behind (his Bill Withers cover was lovely on Monday), and John Legend then also made a wise choice and saved hippie songstress Zan Fiskum. Mandi Castillo moved on to sing for the Instant Save, while the computer plug was quickly pulled on fallen four-chair contestant Mike Jerel.

From Team Kelly, also known as “Team Estrogen,” America of course saved her one male contestant, Micah Iverson -- but he really did deserve the win. Sadly, Kelly Clarkson had arguably the strongest team of this season, so she had a tough choice. However, it was a smart strategy on her part to save the also-deserving Megan Danielle, a country singer with an actual chance at making the finale. Cedrice then moved on to the Instant Save showdown, while also-ran opera singer Mandi Thomas signed off.

And finally, from Team Nick, the stormy and artsy Thunderstorm Artis prevailed – America totally got that one right -- and Nick Jonas (who faced an even harder decision, since he has an extra singer on his team) saved torch singer Allegra Miles. While inexplicably popular milquetoast contestant Michael Williams somehow survived again to sing for the Save, that meant that the show had to say goodbye to Roderick Chambers and, much more distressingly, talented diva Arei Moon, who’d actually given one of Monday’s most vivacious performances.

When came time for the Instant Save showdown, I braced myself, fearing that wonky WiFi would potentially ruin all four singers’ performances. But it soon became clear that this segment of the show had been pretaped. All four performances had the same disappointing production value that had marred Monday’s show, but at least this way, all of the contestants could get through their songs without a 404.

Unfortunately, I think the fact that these performances were canned made for an anticlimactic Instant Save round. It actually would have been a whole lot more suspenseful if someone had gotten booted off their server. You see, the live Instant Save situation normally either brings out the fire in the at-risk contestants, or they choke and go down in flames – but either way, it’s good TV. But these performances, shot prison-lineup-style against bare beige walls, all lacked that in-the-moment fighting spirit. But of the four contestants -- Joanna doing “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” Mandi singling “True Colors,” Cedrice crooning “Breathin’,” and Michael Williams doing “To Love Somebody” – I thought Cedrice, as expected, brought the most drama. (Her Monday performance was the most fabulous of the bunch; the woman can make even a beige wall look dazzling.)

But viewers disagreed with me, and I was sad to see Cedrice go home. (Go home figuratively, that is. Literally, of course, Cedrice was already at home.) But Kelly assured Cedrice, “You are such a star. … You are bigger than this moment,” so I hope to see Cedrice on a big stage again someday. As for who won America’s Instant Save vote, I could be mad at this result. At least this time it was a woman, Joanna, and her excellent “New York State of Mind” top 17 performance from the night before really should have fast-tracked her to the top nine in the first place.

So, this Voice season has four more episodes to go, including the May 19 finale, which ought to be interesting. I suggest that whoever ultimately makes it into the top four look into upgrading to the highest-speed internet available in their area. But I commend The Voice’s producers for working within these limitations the best they can. I think Blake put it best when he said, “For God's sake, if there was ever a time to realize that anything's possible and this is not the end of the road for anybody, it's right now. I mean, look at what we're just doing with this show. The show must always go on.”