‘The Voice’ Recap: Blind Auditions #2

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The Voice finally lives up to its name with a fantastic two-hour show that highlighted some serious talent. Way to go, producers, for casting such a diverse group of contestants, and bravo to the coaches that embraced them! I don’t want to jinx it, but so far the fifth season of NBC’s mega-hit program is proving to be its best. And we might have even spotted our winner from last night’s audition episode. Time to review…

So first up for her shot at stardom was 16-year-old Jacquie Lee. She made quite a bold statement by tackling Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” and all signs were at first pointing to failure. But girl buckled down, hit her jazzy stride midway, and let the soul rip out of her lungs on those final notes. I am a sucker for Winehouse, but anyone who covers my dearly departed must first have the chops. Thankfully, Jacquie’s got them from a technical standpoint. However, Jacquie’s youth hurt her in the mature segments of the song (hello, drug confessions!), leaving us with the obvious impression that she had no clue what she was singing about. Still, raw talent is raw talent. I’m positive Team Christina will provide the thawing, preparing and cooking Jacquie needs for her talent to really explode.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MIdkiqBbrC0

Now here comes Barry Black showing us what he’s got while playing the guitar. Bias against people with guitars aside, I should automatically be rooting for this R&B crooner with a tinge of soul since he shares my father’s first name. Sorry, dad — I just can’t! Barry has incredibly poor diction, doesn’t cap his verses, and had an unsettling, lackadaisical approach to his cover of “What You Don’t Want For Love.” Adam, this could be the cannon fodder you probably weren’t looking for. At least his sounds — undecipherable as they are — somewhat please the ear.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OXVGdc0VnqY

Whenever someone makes me interested in a country song by the strength of their voice, I take notice. There was something about Destinee Quinn’s version of “Cowboy Take Me Away” that was both addictive to listen to and emotionally fulfilling. The peaks and valleys of the song arrangement were perfectly illuminated. Sure, Destinee had some shaky moments, especially when she shot for those ultra-hard-to-reach high notes, but kudos to her for taking the risk. Destinee’s tone is a fine balance of soft and sultry; it teared up that track with a confidence that could lasso any heart-breaker. I am thrilled Christina snatched her up, and with some vocal sharpening, Destinee could be a major threat later on in the season.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mt0MNEicM8o

I’m mortified to admit this…but I never heard The Jefferson theme song before until Cole Vasbury sung it on The Voice. Blasphemous, I know! While I now understand why the song is held in such high regard (it’s catchy and inspiring!), I am struggling to make sense of Cee Lo Green’s decision to press his button in approval for Cole’s rendition. Smart, gimmicky move aside, this just wasn’t a clean vocal. Too much dependency on rock growls told me exactly what I had suspected: Cole is an amateur in the genre at best. He’s got the charisma of a musician but needs to hone in on his own unique brand of artistry, whatever that may be. Once more, I smell cannon fodder.

Performance Review: (★★½)

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

The heavens opened, and out walked the angelic Holly Henry, whose cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” is one of my favorite Voice auditions ever. Ethereal, gorgeously breathy and transcendental with every note, Holly’s tone is unmatched this season. Soothing in every way possible, the girl can make even those with the coldest of hearts fall to their knees and cry a waterfall. At 19-years-old, I am astonished that a tone like hers — which sounds pre-recorded but amazingly is not — exists. I’m flabbergasted by the magical quality of Holly’s voice, and for my money she’s become the person to beat, especially since she’s in the hands of reigning champ Blake Shelton.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XsmrggvmzG0

Next up was Austin Jenckes, who sang Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” like a man with first class seats on The Soul Train. I can’t say Austin is very memorable — or even all that original — but for what he does, boy does he sure do it well. There was some trepidation in the first few verses of the song, but he brought it to the end zone with a guttural sound of total triumph that closed the audition. However, he’s going to have to give us more than just a power note moving forward. Even in the reliable arms of Blake Shelton, I can’t shake the feeling that Austin’s journey might end sooner than expected.

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RXLQ3hnTkjA

E.G. Daily, way to bring the nostalgia factor! I had no clue this artist hopeful was once the voice of Tommy from Rugrats! It turns out the voice actress is also a pretty darn good country singer as well. She bravely took on Faith Hill’s “Breathe,” and gave it just the right amount of sexy rasp it was unknowingly missing all these years. When E.G. went full Energizer Bunny, she was spectacular but her voice noticeably quivered in the intro section. She’ll need to work on her verses if she wants to be seen as a well-rounded contestant that deserves to rub elbows with her younger foes. It remains to be seen how wise it was for E.G. to choose Blake Shelton, a coach not known for taking a chances on contestants with “life experience.”

Performance Review: (★★)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8lZdRdcLVgU

Jonny Gray is going to be a very polarizing contestant this season. Even I’m not sure how I really feel about his unique brand of…well…I don’t know how to classify his artistry. The former air force officer offered up an energetic take on the song “All These Things That I’ve Done” that easily made him the coolest dude in the studio (sorry Blake!). He’s got range and understands how to navigate complicated song structure, but his pitch went haywire in spots. It also sounded like he was slurring his words at some point. Too much to drink beforehand or not, the guy’s musicianship was palpable to all from moment one. If Jonny works on his breathing and pitch, he could easily find himself in the upper echelon of competitors this season. He’s at least got originality down pat.

Performance Review: (★★)

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

The final performer is definitely getting the “producer favorite” edit. But does Jamaican-born singer Tessanne Chin warrant such hype? For the most part, yes. It’s clear the woman has been a trained singer for quite some time now, but I’m not sure her song choice of Pink’s “Try” was the best way to show off her thunderous pipes. Tessane’s low notes had appropriate muscle but when she changed keys for the chorus, she lost her timing and fell behind the track. Tessanne’s voice did crack once in awhile, but she’s got gusto and a tone that commands all to behold and subsequently applaud. She’s a fighter with a sweet disposition, which makes her someone you’d instantly want to root for. A contender for sure, Tessanne will be Adam’s secret weapon that he’ll never hesitate to flaunt in front of his fellow coaches.

Performance Review: (★★½)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wu34S07okgI

That’s it for the first week of The Voice Season 5. Blake is picking up steam, but I still argue that Christina has the strongest group so far. Cee Lo Green is falling quickly behind in terms of group strength, while Adam goes for the contestants he think might be frontrunners without realizing Blake only needs one superstar to win. Share your thoughts below in the comments section!