The biggest Sunday of the year not only offered us America’s largest television fixation, the Superbowl, but premiered the second season of NBC’s breakout singing-competition show, The Voice. Last season, I had a lot of issues with the premiere. I felt like the judge’s made the entire program all about themselves, specifically the warring insults flung across the rotating chairs between Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine. As the show slowly started to find its footing, especially in the Battle Round stages, I grew to appreciate it. Will it ever topple my first love, American Idol? Not at this stage, but the season two premiere felt far more confident, organized, and enthusiastic about finding the next great vocal sensation. Even the judges banter left me with nostalgic smiles instead of nauseous rumblings this second go-around. All in all, this show might, and I stress might, put a serious chink in Idol’s armor this season if it carries the sure-to-be gargantuan viewership that the Superbowl consequently churns to its follow-up program.
So it looks like things really have not changed much at all. The slightly cheesy yet amusing rotating chairs that look like they came off the set of the original Star Trek series are back, with the judge’s firmly planted in them with natural ease. “Home at last”, many of them are thinking. I have to begrudgingly agree — it is sure nice to see Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, and Cee Lo Green back in those chairs of power. Which blind audition will force them to rotate their chairs in their direction? Oh, the drama!
First up was a freshly spry seventeen year old girl named RaeLynn. Yes, I can only assume this is a catchy stage name, and I can’t complain too much — it works. She confidently boasts that she will be singing a Miranda Lambert song…gulp! That kind of failed for most every contestant auditioning last year, as Blake always measured up their versions with his wife’s original one. Attempting something that everyone has already failed doing seems bold and downright unintelligent, but RaeLynn goes for it anyway. I can’t help but admire that bold and brash confidence. RaeLynn turns out a fiercely sung “Hell on Heels” that actually sounds more teenage angst than woe-is-me, single white Southern belle. It’s not the greatest vocal you’ll ever hear, but it’s enough to get Adam Levine and Blake Shelton to press their buttons, swiveling their chairs around. To no one’s surprise, RaeLynn wisely picks a country mentor to refine her country twang. RaeLynn doesn’t look like a winner yet, but with some coaching, she could be more than just your average Nashville Star wannabe.
Performance Review: (***)
Judge Selected: Team Blake.
Listen to RaeLynn —
Next to face the blind auditions was struggling father, Jesse Campbell. This 42 year old dad definitely laid his tragic story out there for the world, and it may have helped if we heard his voice before we had to listen to another woeful tale. It’s not like there isn’t a plethora of those on any other singing-competition program. Look, I feel bad for Jesse and the sacrifices he made in his life, but you aren’t broken or made by your back story. You are made by your talent, and so when I heard Campbell finally sing “A Song For You,” I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, he did get all four judges to turn around, but he went out of his way to be so melodramatic leading up to his audition, that his vocal came off slightly disingenuous. The affectations didn’t help either, and while I think his vocal was technically proficient, I don’t think he will be embraced by the audience as much as he could have been without heaping on the pity factor. Still, you can’t argue a great voice when you hear one.
Performance Review: (***)
Judge Selected: Team Christina
Listen to Jesse Campbell —
Third up was Daniel Rosa, a twenty year old from Riverside, California who was desperate for his dream to be fulfilled. Rosa seemed like a sweet kid, but his vocal chops, while prevalent, were incredibly inexperienced and needed massive vocal coaching. He was the only contestant of the entire premiere episode who was spotlighted but failed to get any of the four judges to turn their chairs for him with his take on “Animal”. Rosa needs more experience with perfecting his voice and his stage presence, and for now the judges made the right call.
Performance Review: (**) Because Rosa did not make the cut, NBC and their affiliates did not distribute video of his performance for public viewing.
Moving back to those who did get selected by the judges, we turn our attention to a fiery rocker chick named Juliet Simms. Simms definitely proved her dominance on stage, but I worry she may meet the same fates that many rocker girls end up with by the end of these singing-competition shows: never getting a chance to win. Seriously, what female rock contestant has ever won Idol? Usually they are too edgy for the conservative voting public, and never end up in the finale. We all know Allison Iraheta should have been in the finale alongside Adam Lambert in Season Eight of Idol, and that Carly Smithson should have made it further than she did in her season. Heck, Haley Reinhart was arguably the rock goddess last year on Idol, and should have won the whole shebang! Not really sure why television viewers can’t embrace a tough rock chick, but it just so happens to end up that way. I doubt Simms can escape a similar fate, but let’s hope she manages to kick our television speakers into overdrive with gritty, glorious rock performances. Her take on “Oh! Darling” was this kind of wonderful rock legends are made of.
Performance Review: (***1/2)
Judge Selected: Team Cee Lo
Listen to Juliet Simms —
Chris Mann is second to last for the blind auditions, and he is unlike any contestant we have heard in quite some time. This guy seems like he’s ready to be part of the next male A Capella group with his Groban-esque tenor voice that booms across the entire studio. Simon Cowell’s Il Divo may need to make room for another member. While I’m not convinced Mann’s style of singing is for everyone, you cannot deny the vocal bar he surpasses, jumping from good to extraordinary with one single note on Andrea Bocelli’s “Because We Believe (Ama Credi E Vai)”. This guy is the real deal, but whether it’s as the next major recording artist is a whole other story. Time will tell, but as of now, I remain open-minded.
Performance Review: (***1/2)
Judge Selected: Team Christina
Listen to Chris Mann —
They really did save the best for last with this season’s premiere. Finally, a back story that was honestly told without the undertones of weep inducement. Thirty-Five year old Tony Lucca has a pretty incredible past. He once was a Mouseketeer in “The Mickey Mouse Club” back when Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were a part of the program. Just like Aguilera and Spears, Lucca’s passion was music and making a name for himself once the variety show was over. Lucca went the indie route instead of instant stardom in the mainstream lane, and he realized he had made a poor decision, reaching a plateau of success. Lucca is now on The Voice with his adorable family by his side, trying to correct the career mistakes of his past, and showing everyone just what talent lay in that Mouseketeer from so long ago. Turns out, Lucca surpasses expectations. Normally I cannot stand when people cover Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” because it is a song that requires the absolute commitment of one’s soul, but Lucca transferred his essence with every lyric delivered. He lived and breathed that song, laying it all out on stage, concluding with all four judges turning around to face him in awe. Without question, his version of “Trouble” was exquisite, and he was also the most balanced performer of the entire night. I sure hope the guy makes it far to redeem himself after former career missteps. Christina Aguilera finally recognized her former Mouseketeer buddy after she went backstage, but it makes you wonder whether NBC filled her in or if she really didn’t remember him during his blind audition. In any event, Lucca was the best thing to come out of the premiere, and is a definite frontrunner in my book.
Performance Review: (****)
Judge Selected: Team Adam
Listen to Tony Lucca —
And that’s a wrap folks! All in all, a pretty solid start to NBC’s The Voice. I am definitely enjoying this show more than The X-Factor, and it’s a nice counter-piece to American Idol. Again, keep on reading and watching as we cover this program throughout the 2012 television season! Please post your opinions below in the comments section, and tell us who your favorites were from the blind auditions and how the premiere went overall. I look forward to your thoughts!