Friday, April 27, 2012

The Voice: Season 2 Semifinals / Ranking the Top 8

While the first round of Live Shows on the second season of NBC's The Voice was entertaining and relatively light on drama, this and last week's quarterfinal round was both riveting and intense - and it was a killer piece of television. With the four teams free of moderate competitors and easy decisions, and with the ultimately useful last-minute instant elimination twist, every performance meant something, even if the reality was that most of them didn't.

Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine wisely used their new instant (i.e. before viewers could vote) elimination power to rid their teams of voter favorites they felt didn't deserve to advance (Adam was the only judge outwardly in favor of the new twist, since he preferred to have more control; Christina did protest too much, methinks, but it was clear that she was all too happy to eliminate the competing diva Jesse Campbell, whose cockiness brought about his downfall). Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton made the right choices on much tougher decisions.

The problem was that after the instant elimination, all of the teams had one male artist and two female artists remaining going into the vote, and it wasn't hard to predict that the women would split the vote and the men would win the voter saves, of which there was just one per team. Jermaine Paul (Blake) and Chris Mann (Christina) deserved their guaranteed semifinal slots, while Jamar Rogers (Cee Lo) and Tony Lucca (Adam) won safe slots that really ought to have gone to one of their teammates, making them have to compete again with "last chance" performances for the other spot. Lucca, to his credit, pulled off a brilliant coup with his cover of fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" (see video below), a delightful surprise that was both a decent cover of the song and a great comeback to Christina after her harsh comments during the first round, and she was appropriately gracious in defeat. Jamar, though, sob-storied his way ahead of an impressive performance by Cheesa and, more criminally, the incredible Juliet Simms, who walks all over him every time, this week with ridiculous giant wings strapped to her back, and she still was badass.

This meant the girls went head to head in the elimination shows, and the judges were forced to cut some great contestants. Christina, who sees something in Lindsey Pavao that I just must be missing, made a questionable choice to let go of Ashley de la Rosa, but in truth neither of them is on the level of the other semi-finalists anyway. Blake had to let his beloved RaeLynn go because Erin Willett "Proud Mary"-ed the shit out of her. Cheesa couldn't compete with Juliet, and, sadly, my favorite contestant, Mathai, came off a weak semifinal performance (she clearly agreed with me that she got a bum song assignment, Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird") against solid survivor and demonstrated Adam favorite Katrina Parker and was defeated; either of the two would have been deserving semifinalists, so it was inevitable that one would get undeservedly left out.

All in all, we have a remarkably strong final eight singers, and it'll be interesting to see how the judges' picks stack against the viewers' votes, which will almost certainly favor the guys. Here's how the top eight stack up from this blogger's vantage point, although I should note that the top half is very difficult to rank individually. As always with this continuously strong show, there's much to look forward to next week.

The Voice (Season Two) Semifinals: Ranking The Top Eight

8. Lindsey Pavao

Her performance of "Part of Me" was simply dreadful; her "last chance" song was better but I don't get her voice the way Christina seems to, so maybe I'm missing something. Or, perhaps, Christina's devotion has more to do with personal identification.

7. Jamar Rogers

He's spirited but unexceptional, and playing up the sympathy card to a point that it's becoming too much. Darling, you're not the only person living with HIV or recovering from a destructive lifestyle. Believe me.

6. Tony Lucca

This week was brilliant...strategy. It was a decent cover of a great song (see this list I did for the blog Cover Me for some much more interesting covers of Britney Spears tunes), and Christina was right: he does seem to be a stubborn classic rock guy in a Britney Spears world, which makes him seem even older than his years.

5. Chris Mann

In this case I see exactly what Christina sees in this popera pinup boy, who Vertigo Shtick contributor Kurt Bitter once described as "a young, gay Celine Dion" (who, it turns out, doesn't even like boys, Katy Perry style). I feel his vibe, but I just don't know what I'd want from his admirably powerful voice in my pop-based personal library. It's just a taste thing, not a criticism of his musicianship.

4. Katrina Parker

She was a thousand times better this week than in the first round (and she looked incredible, too). I just don't much dig her song choices myself; if she gets a good song in the next round she should easily crush Lucca because her voice is, as Linda Richman said of Barbra's, "like buttah."

2 (tie) Jermaine Paul & Erin Willett 

Jermaine and Erin are this season's Frenchie Davis and Beverly McClellan, Christina's semifinalists from the first season: both equally stellar but neither one clearly superior to the other. It will have to play out in the next round, but both of them are above most of the rest, in most cases by a distance.

1. Juliet Simms

I'm not certain I'll be waving the Juliet flag all the way to the finish line yet; she didn't even make my Top 10 going into the first round, and I'm more enthusiastic in my support of Parker, Paul and Willett. But when Juliet Simms steps on stage she becomes something magnetic and it's almost tangible - I was in the audience when she performed "Roxanne" in the first round and it was simply electrifying. Whatever it is she's got, she's the real deal, and may be the one to beat as the competition comes to a close.

Quarterfinals / Top 8 Contestants

Vertigo Shtick's Top 10 of the Top 24 Contestants

Live semifinal performances begin Monday, April 30 at 8:00/7:00c on NBC.
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