June 29, 2011

'The Voice' Restores Faith In Singing Competitions

Somewhere between Lee DeWyze winning season nine of American Idol and Pia Toscano's truly shocking ninth place elimination in Season 10, the collective reality singing competition soul died. Memories of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, and even more recently Adam Lambert, felt so distant that it was hard not to mistake it for reality television lore. Had the Golden Age of reality TV singing really left us with nothing to cling to other than Scotty McCreery and Jackie Evancho?

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came The Voice, which – after the last two seasons of American Idol – felt like a chance encounter with a great guy after your boyfriend breaks your heart. No longer was the contestants’ success based on how fast adolescent girls could speed text. Suddenly, a bald, 40-some-year-old, tattooed lesbian could be one of America’s top picks.

On the second to last episode Tuesday night, after 11 weeks of blind auditions and battle rounds and judge’s saves, the four most deserving singers were the four left standing, which, as anyone who has watched the past two seasons of American Idol knows is a feat in and of itself. Dia Frampton, Javier Colon, Beverly McClellan and Vicci Martinez could each make a record tomorrow and it would be sensational.

For the final show, the producers went with the gutsy “original song” option, typically one of the most maligned of American Idol shenanigans. The first two, “Stitch by Stitch” and “Afraid to Sleep,” by Javier and Vicci, respectively, were sung perfectly (Randy Jackson would have no complaints here about “pitchiness”), but the songs themselves left you wanting…something more. Two extraordinary voices, two so-so songs. Maybe the “original song” theme was not the best bet here. The mediocrity of these two singles was almost enough to make one long for the days of “No Boundaries.” Okay, not really.

But Dia defied that. Dia, who wowed a few weeks ago with a rendition of Kanye West’s “Heartless” that was even more inspired than Kris Allen’s version. Dia, who with a cover of REM’s “Losing My Religion,” solidified herself as the one to beat. Her original song, “Inventing Shadows” is catchy and current. It’s no surprise that the song was penned by an Adele/Keane collaborator. It was easy to imagine either of those artists singing the track -- maybe not as a single, but certainly as respectable album filler. After she sang, coaches Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera, (probably seething with jealousy that Blake Shelton has Dia on his team) barely commented on her performance, instead complaining about the distraction of the background dancers.

"You know what else is going to be distracting?” Blake said, smiling his adorable smile at Dia, “When they turn on their phones and you’re on the top of iTunes above their records.” (He was right, at midnight “Inventing Shadows” was No. 3 on the iTunes top 100 chart, by early morning it was No. 1).

At the start of the show, celebrity judge Xtina seemed like she’d crushed a Valium or two into the tall, mysteriously opaque black pint glass in front of her. But perhaps her calm was merely a way to ready herself for what was the most tender and moving moment of the night – when she sat beside Beverly and sang the Christina hit, “Beautiful,” with gentle, emotional depth. Beverly, who has likely had many a music producer door shut in her face, has a humble, childlike exuberance when she sings that makes it impossible not to root for her success.

If Dia won best original song and Beverly won the best coach duet, Vicci wins for all around most entertaining. Closing the show, she and her coach Cee-Lo Green emerged in futuristic battle armor surrounded by raging pyrotechnics and small child dancers to perform Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.” It was insane and awesome and the most entertaining reality singing show performance since Adam Lambert did Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

While Dia and Javier remain the likely front runners going in to tonight’s results show, Beverly and Vicci certainly held their own, especially with their duet performances. All in all, it’s been beyond refreshing to see a reality singing competition in which the most talented performers (with minimal exception -- Rebecca Loebe was robbed) have been rewarded. Is the show’s limited voting (viewers can only vote up to ten times per single method per performer) behind this? Or is the show’s viewership transcending the normal tween-heavy Idol fan base? Whatever the reason, The Voice has demonstrated that you don’t have to be a guitar-strumming, teenage white boy from Middle America to win the hearts of Americans. That alone is worth a second (and third and fourth) season.


Jeanine said...

No one can be better than Kris Allen singing "Heartless"!!!!

Scott said...

Yes they can and Dia did.