"The Voice" always tries to emphasize the point that this show is ultimately all about, well, the voice, and not about all the other trappings of showbiz--but of course, that's not entirely true. If it were, then we'd end up with four teams of all Susan Boyles and Clay Aikens, the type of awkward everyday folk who'd never otherwise get past security at any record label's main gate. Looks, charisma, and performance skills do unavoidably end up playing big part on "The Voice"--note last year's smoothly handsome Javier Colon and adorably doe-eyed Dia Frampton, for starters. The mentors obviously get to see who they're working with the moment they turn their chairs around during the so-called "Blind Auditions"--and that has to affect not only how aggressively they fight for any particular contestant, but how they pick and choose when they whittle down their teams in the Battle Rounds later on. And of course, the viewers know everything about the contestants--what they look like, what their sob stories are, how well they work a stage or an audience--by the time the public voting starts weeks later.
So really, the only way "The Voice" could really be just about voices would be if it were a radio show. (Hmmm...that gives me an idea. No one steal that!) Or if the judges wore blindfolds all season long and the contestants sang in shadowy silhouette behind screens every week--until that final moment when the winner was announced and emerged to claim the prize, shocking judges and viewers alike when it was revealed that he/she was 80 years old or looked like Marty Feldman on a bad day. But of course, no one on "The Voice" looks like Marty Feldman. Many of them look like "total package" stars already, some with the résumés to match.
However, at least "The Voice" is based on the premise of putting singing first (unlike Simon Cowell's "The X Factor," for instance), a point usually proven when a token hopeful with a made-for-TV superstar look, the kind of contestant who'd be a shoo-in on "American Idol" or other talent shows, fails to inspire a single chair to spin around. This week's example was Winter Rae, a Manic-Panic-haired, copiously tattooed rebel chick that host Carson Daly accurately described as looking like "the quintessential rock star." Winter's cover of Rihanna's "Take A Bow" was actually pretty good, and I was a little surprised that none of the judges wanted her; the judges certainly were surprised, and maybe a little disappointed, when they finally saw Winter. But it was too late. Perhaps it's just as well: Winter showed up at her audition with the much-loathed Perez Hilton, who is one of her BFFs or something, and I can't imagine that association would've helped her chances once the public voting started, anyway.
On the flipside, the night's big example of its voice-over-image concept was show opener Sarah Golden. Sarah had both an androgynous look and vocal style--she reminded me of cult folky Phranc a bit--and at first neither the judges nor TV viewers were sure whether it was a woman or a man up on that stage singing an alt-countryish version of Lady Gaga Nebraska anthem, "You and I." Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green, the mentors who wanted her, were both startled initially, but still equally keen to have Sarah join their teams. Both judges would have been good matches for Sarah--Blake is a country singer who could coax out a downhome quality in the Houston singer, while Cee Lo is a quirky type who would appreciate her individuality. Sarah eventually went with Team Cee Lo, and the night was off to a great start.
For the remainder of the two-hour episode, quite a few contestants came out who were oozing charisma, style, and good genes (one of them was an ex-model), so I tried to put myself in the judges' shoes--or their chairs, more specifically--and I actually closed my eyes during each audition, in an attempt to not let awesome skyscraper hairdos and natty bowtie/suspender sets sway my judgment. It was an experiment that didn't totally work--I couldn't resist sneaking a peek, and I ended up watching most of the singers with one eye open--but it did give me appreciation for the talent on this show. Many of these contestants could really sing.
Here's how the rest of the auditions went:
Pip - Yep, just "Pip." Much like Madonna and Cher, or at least like last season's Xenia, this guy required no last name. I admit I peeked at this guy--and I immediately decided that he was a dead ringer for NKOTB's Joey McIntyre. Not that that was a bad thing--the New Kids sold a lot of records (and posters, and Trapper Keepers, and lunchboxes, etc.) back in their day. Nineteen-year-old Pip was as cute as his name and he rocked a pair of suspenders in a way that put the 10-times-older Larry King to shame. I was surprised, then, by how mature his "House Of The Rising Sun" was--no boy-band shtick for this kid! Cee Lo told Pip he had an "old soul," and Blake was impressed as well, but it was Adam Levine's comments like "It takes a real man to wear a bowtie" and "You epitomize what the show is about" that sold Pip, and so Pip chose to join Team Adam. I think Pip made the right choice here. If Adam does right by this boy, we may see Pip lunchboxes for sale in time for the fall school season.
Erin Willet - This chick with the dated '80s look sort of reminded me of Alannah Myles, but thankfully she didn't sing the done-to-death "Black Velvet." The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" was a more unexpected choice, and she sang it well, even if her rendition was a little karaoke-ish. Blake was the only judge who wanted her, and she seems like a fodder contestant to me so far, but we'll see what Blake does with her.
Katrina Parker - First of all, this woman's last name is awesome. Heh. But more importantly, so is her voice. I loved her jazzy, sultry rendition of Joan Osborne's "One Of Us," and I also loved her retro-chanteuse image (yes, I admit, I peeked), and I was surprised that Adam was the only mentor who picked her. But I think he gained a really strong team member; the other judges blew it. Besides having a very special, sexy voice, Katrina had a cute backstory America will love: She works at a conservative insurance company by day, and Carson Daly surprised her in her cubicle to invite her to the live auditions. Katrina claimed that before that, her co-workers didn't even know about her singing (or, presumably, all those tattoos under her casual Friday attire). What, didn't they know she had a website?
Geoff McBride - Geoff came across as an old-fashioned soul belter, someone with an undeniably strong set of lungs (it ain't easy to sing Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and he pulled it off), but not someone who's really marketable in this day and age. Both Cee Lo and Christina Aguilera wanted him, and I think Geoff should have gone with Cee Lo, who has a throwback, Motownish vibe to his own music. But Geoff instead joined Team Xtina. I think Geoff is another fodder contestant--Christina already has a very strong team, and it's hard to imagine her keeping Geoff over some of her other protégés--but we shall see.
Erin Martin - Erin certainly had the look I wanted to know better (the girl is rad, plain and simple), but when she announced that she used to be a model, AND that she'd been turned down by record labels already because she "needed work," I expected her to be another pretty face who's made out as an example of what-not-to-sing. But I loved Erin's quirky rendition of Plain White Ts' "Hey There Delilah"; it was in fact one of my favorite auditions of the night. Her raspy, feathery voice (a little bit Joanna Newsom, a little bit Macy Gray) was truly unique, and I now think Erin M. could be this year's Dia or Xenia. However, though Dia and Xenia's Season 1 mentor, Blake, wanted Erin, she went with Team Cee Lo, much to Cee Lo's drooling delight. ("You're a wonderful creature of a woman...You belong with me, don't you agree?" he purred, a little grossly.) I think either mentor would have been a good match for this woman; I'm just glad someone picked her. I think she's a total star.
James Massone - Okay, this one I didn't get. He totally gave off a boy-band vibe (and not in a good way, like Pip), and I was annoyed by his sob story which wasn't really a sob story at all. (His brother was supposed to go to a recording studio where a horrible mass shooting took place--but his brother did not go and is perfectly fine. Um, so?) James's cover of "Find Your Love" by Drake sounded current and commercial, I guess, but with my eyes closed it was pretty obvious to me that his voice was thin, and lacking compared to many of the show's other hopefuls. So WHY did three of the judges (all but the clearly sane one of the bunch, Adam) spin their chairs for this kid? I can't imagine Cee Lo, who ended up with James on his already quite strong team, will keep him for very long--but then again, James is the kind of likable all-American boy who might go far if Cee Lo does let him get to the voting rounds. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
Chris Cauley - This man is total cougar bait, the "Voice" equivalent of "Idol's" Phillip Phillips. I was charmed by his backstory of how he used to perform with his June-Carter-soundalike, bluegrass-playing late grandma (it was cute when he broke out some grandma video on his iPad and played it for Carson), and when he auditioned, there was a nice smoky tone to his cover of Bruno Mars's "Grenade" that I appreciated. Adam and Cee Lo appreciated it too (Cee Lo even said it was the best audition of the night, which was a bit of an exaggeration), but Chris chose wisely when he picked fellow cougar-bait singer Adam to be his coach.
The Montage - I'm not quite sure why successful auditioners Nathan Parrett (Team Adam), Brian Fuente (Team Blake), and Moses Stone (Team Xtina) received such little screentime; either they're being saved for later, when they'll break out some amazing performances out of nowhere and surprise everyone, or they're total fodder. I guess we will just have to wait and find out. I'm particularly interested to see more of rapper Moses Stone; it seems odd to have an MC on a show that's supposed to be all about the VOICE, and of course we all remember how controversial it was when another MC, Astro, was on "The X Factor." Will Moses have a shot? Or was his 10 seconds of air time all he'll ever get?
Jordis Unga - And finally, in the VERY deserved pimp spot, was this incredible woman. Jordis is not new to reality television, or to Mark Burnett shows, as she competed on "Rock Star: INXS" several years ago. However, even though my threshold of good taste when it comes to reality TV is very low (I watched "Celebrity Circus," for gawd's sake), I boycotted "Rock Star: INXS" back in the day, on the principle that searching for a replacement for an iconic, dead-by-hanging lead singer was really just too much. So anyway, this was my first impression of Jordis, and judging from her "Voice" audition of "Maybe I'm Amazed," she really deserves better than to be Michael Hutchence's stand-in. Baby, I was AMAZED. What a performance! I don't see how she didn't win "Rock Star," since she clearly is one. "You're the type of person that I have been waiting for," Blake told her, and she signed right up. Blake may have won this show already, with Jordis on his team.
So to recap, Team Adam now consists of Pip, Katrina Parker, Chris Cauley, Nathan Parrett, and last week's Kim Yarbrough, Angel Taylor, and Tony Lucca. Team Cee Lo has Sarah Golden, Erin Martin, James Massone, and last week's Jamar Rogers, Angie Johnson, and Juliet Simms. Team Blake has Jordis Unga, Brian Fuente, Erin Willet, and previous recruits Jermaine Paul, Gwen Sebastian, and RaeLynn. And Team Xtina has Geoff McBride, Moses Stone, and last week's Lindsey Pavao, the Line, Jesse Campbell, and Chris Mann. I think Christina diluted her team a bit this week, while Adam, Cee Lo, and Blake definitely strengthened theirs, so it's going to be a highly competitive Season 2. I'm still Team Cee Lo for now...but really, it could be anyone's game.