‘The Voice’ Premiere Recap: Blind Auditions #1

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NBC’s The Voice — which just won an Emmy on Sunday for “Best Reality Competition Program” — has now entered its fifth season. I can’t really say the show has hit its stride since it’s failed to produce a real star, but the strong ratings and dynamic chemistry between the coaches argue loudly that the The Voice is here to stay (perhaps outlasting American Idol, and most certainly The X-Factor). If The Voice’s fifth season is as stupendous as Idol’s fifth, we could be in for a fantastic fall treat. Let’s see if the premiere gives us any indication of this…

First up to break in the new season was Kat Robichaud, 29, from Raleigh, North Carolina. Now you know I love rocker chicks, but I wasn’t feeling Kat as strongly as the coaches were. Something about her rasp just didn’t work for me. It was grating instead of melodically affluent, never arriving back to the station after its in-your-face departure. She’s got confidence and edge aplenty, but I was expecting someone who used to be part of a band for several years to reign in the cheesy gimmicks. Her kick mid-performance of “I’ve Got the Music in Me” was cool but not exactly professional. Kat has an interesting tone but it failed to jolt me out of my stasis. Hopefully Cee Lo can smooth out the roughness that is Kat Robichaud.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mL6Fb1JbqHk

It didn’t take long for shy little indie gal Caroline Pennell, 17, to blow everyone away by the sheer prettiness of her voice. I always try to resist these indie artists on the show, but I end up humbly bowing to their eminence by audition’s end. While she doesn’t sound older than her age, there is a maturity to Caroline’s artistry that I haven’t witnessed in many teenage singers belonging to this genre. There wasn’t a whole of experimenting going on with the notes. Everything was rehearsed well in advance, making for a very professional showing that proved Caroline was both concert and radio-ready. She doesn’t scream “superstar” upon examination, but most indie artists aren’t flashy to begin with so she has nothing to worry about. My only bit of concern is that her lilting, sweet tone — which beautifully pauses and cracks when it needs to — isn’t that dissimilar from other indie contestants from season’s past. Pennell will really to have to separate herself from the pack and remain consistently impressive if she wants to make it to the last legs of this competition. Hopefully Cee Lo can take her there.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kiLJ53jILBY

54-year-old Donna Allen is the definition of class. With her standing mic, Allen projected so much heart and sincere emotion while covering Joe Cocker’s legendary track, “You Are So Beautiful.” Not a single note or phrase was embellished or overwrought — Allen’s flawless vocal was restrained yet undeniably powerful. I realize she may be irrelevant to the current music scene, but my god this woman can belt! It’s interesting that Allen decided to be a part of Team Adam, who’s not known for taking chances on older singers with a throwback sound. The safer choice would have been Christina, but perhaps this was a decision inspired by Allen’s desire to fit into a modern music industry. In any event, it was an absolute privilege to hear such masterclass singing.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4G4CYt1BzBE

And the goods just keep on comin’! Matthew Schuler, 20, has one of the most unique voices I’ve ever heard. Some are calling him the next Burnell Taylor (from Idol’s 12th season) because of his phrasing, but to me Schuler is heads above the Idol alum, both in terms of how he wields his voice and maximizes his marketability. Choosing to sing the intro of “Cough Syrup” a capella was smart because it isolated Schuler’s voice, giving listeners a deep sense of the power it offered. Schuler only stumbled a bit when he jumped into the chorus and lost control of his pitch. However, from the choice of song to the dynamic phrasing, Matthew Schuler has instantly positioned himself as one of the most exciting contestants this season. I cannot wait to see how Christina Aguilera fine-tunes his already stellar instrument.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y9l4Aek15HU

Crazy, entertaining, but a mediocre singer that picked one heck of a fast-paced, catchy tune in “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!),” Nic Hawk probably won’t last long in this competition despite his memorable audition. I’m not sure hitting on his coach, Adam Levine, is going to help his chances in the battle rounds, but at least Nic’s lively personality brings some levity to the proceedings. I only wish Blu Cantrell’s rapid-fire R&B hit had a stronger vocalist covering it, but alas…we ended up with whiny karaoke.

Performance Review: ()

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NlhLpPtfn44

When you sing a song like “Here for the Party,” you better stay absolutely true to its title. Shelbie Z did just that and more — she head-bobbed, blew the roof off the studio with her booming, steam-fueled voice, and did country music justice. She’s a perfect fit for Blake Shelton. I’m not sure she’s that unique of an artist to go the distance, so she’ll need to infuse some creativity into future performances. With a thunderous tone like hers, I’m sure she’ll manage just fine.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GA9W0RGO5Xw

Rockstar Supernova alum Josh Logan was the penultimate performer of the premiere, singing Alex Care’s popular track, “Too Close.” The guy certainly knows how to milk a song with mystery and intrigue. He let the song cook a bit in the oven with nifty runs and soulful phrasing, before then launching into a chorus that was sung surprisingly shout-free. Logan might be too subtle of a rocker for many, but his take on the genre was refreshing. He didn’t unleash a variety of tricks most rock artists overwhelm audiences with the first time out. I can tell he has a lot more to offer, and I for one look forward to seeing what those offerings are post-coach mentoring. Christina, this guy might be a frontrunner so don’t cut him until you max out his potential.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=h323xSua5DU

James Wolpert is one of those musicians — like Bob Dylan — that knows how to make up for being a not-so-great singer. Picking a unique song with a specific narrative structure (Jack White’s “Love Interruption”) gave us the impression that Wolpert was an ace storyteller. That middle section where he just growled out those lyrics landed one hell of a punch. It riled up the coaches and studio audience, and by the time Wolpert was over, he was as infallible as Superman. At the end of the day, this is still a show about vocals, and sadly Wolpert’s instrument isn’t quite a winning formula on its own. He’ll need to keep employing original tactics to distract from his weak singing voice otherwise he’s sure as heck to go home. I was impressed even though I can see right through his shtick, which will no doubt test everyone’s patience before long.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jM1a2LrCLVo

Crazy that after night one, Christina Aguilera of all people had the most well-grounded group. I doubt this will continue since she predictably goes for boring powerhouse vocalists, but she’s got a pair of winners in her hands if she plays her cards well. Sound off in the comments section below, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s recap on the 2nd night of Blind Auditions!