After a ratings-bonanza Season 2 debut Sunday night after the Super Bowl, "The Voice" settled into its regular timeslot on Monday and kept trying to score. Of course, most of the focus as usual stayed on the judges, not on the contestants (my one real gripe about "The Voice"), as Cee Lo Green stole the show by dressing like a giant Disco Teletubbie in a red sequined onesie, petting a fluffy Mr. Bigglesworth-lookalike lap cat, and singing a random Prince medley with his allstar castmates. The auditioners who followed therefore had a lot to compete with, in order to grab the viewers' (and judges') attention--but there were a few singers who made a lasting impression.
And of course, some of them made a lasting impression because they'd had chances to make an impression on the viewing public long before going on this show. Among Monday's "Voice" batch were a backup singer for Alicia Keys, yet another ex-"American Idol" contestant, and a former Columbia Records artist who less than two years ago was all over VH1 as a "You Oughta Know" featured artist. At least the Keys guy came clean (like Sunday night's Mickey Mouse Club veteran Tony Lucca, who made no attempt to hide his professional past), but the other two focused more on their sympathetic backstories (or at least the show's editors did), instead of readily rolling out their résumés.
But surely many "Voice" viewers recognized a few familiar faces in the mix this Monday. This could work in the contestants' favor, if those contestants have built-in fanbases ready to vote as soon as phone lines are open this season--or it could backfire, when other viewers do a quick Wikipedia/YouTube/Bandcamp query and end up feeling duped. But then again, a little bit of mystery early on in Season 1 didn't hurt former major-label signings Javier Colon or Dia Frampton last year, did it?
Here's who made it through Monday, with the more seasoned contestants at the top:
Jamar Rogers - Regular "American Idol" viewers no doubt remember Jamar from Season 8, aka The Best Season In "Idol" History. Three years ago, Jamar auditioned with his best friend Danny Gokey, and the judges made the egregious error of putting Danny through but inexplicably leaving Jamar behind. Now Jamar is back on "Idol's" rival show, and interestingly, despite "Idol"s annoying tendency to milk and manipulate contestants' sob stories for all they're worth, back in Season 8, "Idol" producers either opted to ignore Jamar's own sob story, or Jamar opted not to share it with producers/viewers at that time. Even though Jamar's tale was about as depressing as the recently widowed Danny's--in fact, Jamar may have even upstaged Danny if he'd been upfront back then--perhaps it was a sob story that "Idol" producers found too dark, too family-unfriendly, too potentially controversial. It turns out that until six years ago, Jamar was a meth addict, and, in a story twist that one-ups even "X Factor" addict Chris Rene, he became HIV-positive as well. Who knew? Finding this out was a definite shocker for me, but I was rooting for Jamar well before I even knew about his hard-luck past, since I remembered him fondly from his "Idol" era (an era that the "Voice" producers completely failed to mention, by the way). Anyway, Jamar was as good as I'd recalled. His cover of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" was fiery and 100 percent committed, and I was genuinely surprised that only Cee Lo turned his chair around. But Jamar didn't seem too disappointed--he unabashedly fawned over Cee Lo ("I've loved you since Goodie Mob! You're the reason I auditioned for this show!"), and he seemed beyond honored to join Cee Lo's team. Perhaps Cee Lo, and America's voters, will now see something in Jamar that, for some reason, Simon Cowell foolishly overlooked in 2009.
Angel Taylor - Angel spent all of her pre-audition screentime talking about her abusive childhood and how she used to live on the run with her mother and sisters, rather than mentioning the fact that she also used to be signed to Aware/Columbia Records and was heavily promoted on VH1 not very long ago. That, of course, is not to take away from her excellent audition of Adele's "Someone Like You," which inspired all three male judges to turn their chairs. (Angel eventually decided to sign up with Adam Levine.) As someone who comes to the show with experience, already looking and sounding like a perfectly packaged pop star, Angel certainly could go far on this show. But why no mention of her previous albums and label deal, eh? It'll be interesting to see if all that is addressed in future episodes.
Angie Johnson - Angie may be recognizable to those who spend a lot of time on YouTube, as she's a viral-video star whose military-band performance of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" racked up 2.3 million views. The Air Force veteran was actually scouted by "Voice" host Carson Daly, who saw this "military girl in a hot outfit" and excitedly tweeted about it. Angie is hot, this is true, but I was left a little cold by her "Voice" audition. I appreciate the fact that she's served our country, of course, and I appreciated her song choice, Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker." But there was just something just a little cheesy and karaoke-ish about her performance; her famous YouTube song was actually MUCH better, much less forced. But I am sure Angie's number-one fan, Carson, was pleased that one judge, Cee Lo, picked her--and when Cee Lo got a look at Angie when he swiveled his chair to face the stage, I bet he was pleased, too. "I love a woman with guts, with power, with confidence!" he declared. I just hope that Cee Lo can give Angie songs that tap into what made her original viral video so special.
Jermaine Paul - Jermaine received a pre-audition pep talk, via video messaging, from his old boss Alicia Keys, and that clearly gave him a confidence boost when he hit the stage to belt/yell a funk-R&B version of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." The guy definitely had what Cee Lo called swag, but I DON'T think he was as good as the judges thought he was--or, more importantly, as HE thought he was. Jermaine was just a little too cocky, even angry, for my tastes, with his "what have you done for me lately?" attitude as he pitted Cee Lo and Blake Shelton against each other. I was shocked that Jermaine eventually went with Blake, not the more obvious choice of fellow soulman Cee Lo, but he may have done Cee Lo a favor. Jermaine seems like trouble, and I don't think he's a contestant America will really get behind.
Kim Yarbrough - This 50-year-old stage/screen veteran, whose website says worked with Al Green, James Blunt, Mo'Nique, Lalah Hathaway, Macy Gray, Stevie Wonder, and Della Reese, was one of THE standouts of the night. An absolutely fabulous diva extraordinaire, this funky mama amazed with her wild cover of "Tell Me Something Good." I was utterly shocked that Cee Lo didn't even turn around for her, and also a little surprised that Kim picked Adam as her mentor over her fellow diva Christina Aguilera. I don't really see Adam and Kim being a perfect match, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what Lady Yarbrough can do with whatever songs Adam chooses for her.
The Line - Boy/girl country duos are in totally vogue right now, which may explain while all four judges, not just resident country rep Blake, turned their chairs around for the Line, aka Leland and Hailey. I was not totally blown away by the Line, but I approved of their song choice, Tom Petty's "American Girl" (you can't go wrong with a little vintage Petty), and they certainly seemed marketable. Their backstory--they met when Leland hit on Hailey with the foolproof pickup line "Wanna go drink some Jack?," but now, much to Leland's seeming dismay, they're just platonic songwriting buddies--was kind of cute, too. I was a little surprised that all four judges wanted the Line, since, as I said, I didn't think they were mind-blowing...and I was even more surprised when they chose to join Team Xtina instead of Team Blake. What the heck is Christina frickin' Aguilera going to do with these two?
Gwen Sebastian - Another country contender, 37-year-old Gwen had some sort of "sob story" about how she put her plans for motherhood on indefinite hold to pursue music instead. ("It's okay to let go of having kids...I choose music," she sighed.) Um, that is not a sob story. Gwen made a choice, one that she seems relatively at peace with and one that I fully respect, but like any major life choice, it's one that is difficult and comes with repercussions and tradeoffs. So why is she acting like choosing to postpone or possibly forgo starting a family (as opposed to being unable to) is some great tragedy? Or was that just manipulative editing on the producers' part? Whatever it was, I don't think it helped her chances. Anyway, Gwen's cover of Sugarland's "Stay" was pretty decent--she certainly demonstrated that she has a marketable country voice--but she seemed to display more emotion after the song, when she wept with relief, than during her performance; she simply didn't quite bring the pathos that this tearjerker ballad needed, and I think she would have been better off doing an uptempo Shania Twain or Gretchen Wilson song. I was a little stunned that Blake, Adam, and Cee Lo all turned their chairs for Gwen, but not at all surprised that this died-in-the-denim country girl chose Blake--especially after he made his case with, "If you look across this panel, you'll see spikes and tattoos. I'm your country guy." Apparently spiked Teletubbie onesies don't play well with country fans, at least according to Blake.
Lindsey Pavao - If you've been skimming this article, stop right here and just read this one paragraph. Cee Lo called this girl "the coolest thing that's happened on the second season so far," and I'll actually go further than that and say Lindsey Pavao is the coolest thing that's happened on "The Voice," period. (And I am not just saying that because she has the same first name and last initial as me. Although that's cool too.) I knew I'd like this girl when I saw her new-wavey one-sided hairdo (which Blake called "badass"); heard that her influences include Radiohead, Nirvana, and Fiona Apple; and found out that she plays violin. I knew she would just be COOL. But I had no idea how cool until I her brilliantly Imogen Heapish, Fiona Appley change-up of Trey Songz' "Say Ahh." I got chills. My chills got chills. And I got a girl-crush, too. All four judges understandably wanted to work with Lindsey, and I really wish she'd joined Team Cee Lo alongside Sunday's night also-awesome Juliet Simms. But for some bizarre reason, Lindsey went with Christina. Maybe that's because she thought Christina would give her the artistic freedom she so clearly needs and deserves, since Christina pitched her with, "You have such a unique quality to your voice; I don't want to touch that, I just want to play with that." Yes, Xtina, don't change a THING about this girl, or I will come down to NBC headquarters and have stern words with you.
Dez Duron - This all-American Yale student/football player/supercutie came to the stage looking like a boy band star, but of course none of the judges could see what Dez looked like when he performed the boy band classic "I Want It That Way." And while his performance was not terrible by any means, it was nasally and reedy and strained in parts, and so he ended up singing the entire Backstreet Boys song to four unturned chair-backs. I guess none of the judges wanted it that way after all. Once the judges got a look at Dez, however, they all seemed crestfallen. "I'm pissed! Can we start over?" yelled Christina, slamming her disabled red button in vain. "That's a good-looking guy! Even I know that's a good-looking guy!" shouted Blake. But it was too late. Right now, Dez stands as the ultimate example that "The Voice" is, well, all about the voice, not the face. But I'd be willing to wager that if and when the judges hand out wild cards for the callback rounds later this season, Dez will be first in the receiving line. And then he'll make it to the top four and probably win. (And if that doesn't work, he should give "The X Factor" a try. Simon Cowell would love this kid. Or how about "The Glee Project"?)
So to recap, Team Adam now consists of Kim Yarbrough, Angel Taylor, and Sunday's Tony Lucca; Team Cee Lo has Jamar Rogers, Angie Johnson, and previous recruit Juliet Simms; Team Blake has Jermaine Paul, Gwen Sebastian, and Sunday's RaeLynn; and Team Xtina has Lindsey Pavao, the Line, Jesse Campbell, and Chris Mann. So far it's looking like Cee Lo and Christina have assembled the strongest teams, while Blake has the weakest, but obviously it's still way too early in the season to tell. Tune in next Monday for another Blind Auditions round and see which additional contestants get the judges' chairs a-spinnin'...and how many of those contestants have professional pasts that they too conveniently fail to mention.
And hopefully we will see that cat (who has his own Twitter account) as well. Let's get Cee Lo's kitty his own spinning chair!