Today, “The Voice” announced that Usher and Shakira will be taking the temporary place of CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera during the show’s next cycle. It’s a smart choice on the show’s part. Whereas the comings and goings of hosts on “American Idol” and “The X Factor” tend to overwhelm the show itself, building a deep roster of judges that can be mixed and matched each cycle seems like a smart way to not only keep the show fresh but also keep the coaches happy. If artists know they can drop in and out depending on their album/tour/celebrity status, wouldn’t they be more willing to sign on? Why buy a chair when you can rent one? With this move, “The Voice” turns into the X-Men of reality singing competitions, able to consistently change its lineup while keeping the core identity intact.
With that in mind, let’s kick off tonight’s running diary. As always, all times are EST. And no, I won’t make X-Men references all night. (Oh wait. I probably will.) As always, if the prepackaged sob story that accompanies a contestant is too dull, I reserve the right to come up with my own instead. Comic book writers re-con stuff all the time. Why can’t I?
8:00 p.m. Looking over my notes, I’ve already forgotten the faces to half of the names of the accepted contestants. That’s not a good thing.
8:01 p.m. Deadly drinking game: Take a sip every time Green says “unique”.
8:02 p.m. We’re getting flash forwards of auditions that will take place this week. I’m fervently looking for a drunk Joseph Fiennes in this montage.
8:03 p.m. Tonight’s first contestant is 17-year old Melanie Martinez. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist, equally fond of photography and singing. She notes that the gap between her teeth has often made her feel like an outsider, but she’s used it to also strengthen her character.
8:04 p.m. If Sprint hadn’t invented tablet technology, Carson Daly would be unable to show America Martinez’s photography. Thank you and your gift to the world, Sprint.
8:05 p.m. With guitar and tambourine in hand, Martinez takes the stage to perform Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. Holy Dia Frampton vibes, Batman! Adam Levine and Blake Shelton both press their buttons before the first chorus. It’s a slinky, burlesque version that eventually inspires Green to press his button as well.
8:07 p.m. Levine praises her original vibe, noting that he heard some Björk in her version. Shelton notes that he pressed his button because she sounds like no one else. Green says “unique” eighteen times, proving that my drinking game was a terrible idea. Aguilera says that she enjoyed the performance, but knew she would be in good hands with the other judges. She then says that anyone who sings a Britney Spears song better sleep with one eye open. (OK, maybe she didn’t say that second thing.)
8:10 p.m. Given that she wants to come into her own as an artist, Melanie Martinez becomes the sixth member of Team Adam. I thought she would pick Green with that preamble.
8:15 p.m. Up next? Cupid, who wrote “The Cupid Shuffle” in 2006. You know this song. This song is now in your head. Nothing in the world will get it out of your head tonight. Cupid hates being a one-hit wonder, but doesn’t hate it enough to not teach everyone in the waiting room the dance that goes to the song.
8:17 p.m. What’s he going to sing to show he’s not just a one-hit wonder? “The Cupid Shuffle.” Wait, what? That’s madness. “Why would you want to do that?” asks Daly. And Lord help me, I agree with Daly on this one. The Mayans were right, I guess.
8:18 p.m. Cupid feels like this is make-or-break for him in terms of his overall career. This is high-risk, high-reward. Also high-stupid.
8:19 p.m. This is absolutely painful to watch. I want to crawl into my couch and die.
8:20 p.m. The judges all opt to not press their button for him. When they turn around post-song, Green asks, “What are you doing on the show?” He’s even more confused by the song choice, not just because it’s Cupid’s actual song but also because it’s not a good song to show off his voice. Green then gives him a chance to sing something else, which prompts Cupid to sing a little “Let’s Get It On.” It’s a hundred times better than his performance of “The Cupid Shuffle.” But it’s too late.
8:27 p.m. After that debacle, it’s up to Brian Scartocci to lighten the mood. So naturally he talks about his recent divorce from his childhood sweetheart. Good God. Music isn’t paying the bills for his two daughters. This is fun, huh?
8:28 p.m. Scartocci takes the stage to perform Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?” It’s rough around the edges, but that roughness also conveys emotions behind it. If no coach presses a button, I will start drinking paint thinner. Thankfully, all three male judges press the button almost simultaneously halfway through the performance. Whew. Crisis averted.
8:30 p.m. Scartocci looks like a nerdy Daughtry, no?
8:32 p.m. Levine heard what I did: Scartocci honored the song but also made it his own. Green then learns about the real-life inspiration for the song from the single father. Shelton notes that they may not share musical tastes, but share many sartorial choices. Levine decides to play dirty and offer Scartocci a chance to sing with Stevie Wonder himself.
8:33 p.m. Although sure of his preference before coming onstage, Scartocci is now confused. When he finally decides, Brian Scartocci chooses…a commercial break. Well, he said he has to pay the bills. I guess this is one way to do it!
8:36 p.m. “It’s Sophie’s Choice!” (Hey, I’m just pointing out this theme song could be much worse.)
8:37 p.m. Back from commercial break, we learn that Brian Scartocci becomes the seventh member of Team Adam, forgoing his initial instinct to join Green’s team. Will Nerdy Daughtry regret that?
8:39 p.m. REJECTED ARTIST MONTAGE! We see pair after pair go down in flames.
8:40 p.m. One pair that doesn’t get the montage treatment? Beat Frequency, consisting of husband Sean and wife Natasha. They had their first date in the studio, which makes their love story sound like the pilot for an upcoming Disney Channel comedy.
8:41 p.m. It must be exhausting for Carson Daly to pretend to care about these people.
8:42 p.m. To wow the judges, Beat Frequency chooses Katy Perry’s “E.T.” Proving she can actually press a button, Aguilera makes her positive opinion known right away. I can’t say her enthusiasm is well-founded, as their initial harmonies give way to some out-of-control messiness. Emotion is all well and good, but controlling it will be more important as the competition goes on.
8:43 p.m. Aguilera notes that this particular Katy Perry song is technically difficult. Levine calls them the best duo so far, which says a lot about the duo talent. (I actually prefer 2Steel Girls, but who knows what the chronology of these blind auditions actually is.) Shelton enjoyed their performance, but knew he would have little to offer them as coach. With only one judge pressing her button, Beat Frequency becomes the eighth artist on Team Christina.
8:49 p.m. NBC peacocks comedy. Does it also peacock singing competitions?
8:50 p.m. We catch up with contestant Tyler Lillestol in Dodger Stadium, a man equally passionate about baseball and singing. When baseball didn’t work out, he focused on his singing career. He learns about his invitation to “The Voice” via Jumbotron in Dodger Stadium after singing The National Anthem. Like ya do.
8:51 p.m. Before heading to the stage, Lillestol announces that he’ll be performing Usher’s “U Got It Bad”. This will be either brilliant or the worst decision since Cupid decided to sing “The Cupid Shuffle”.
8:52 p.m. So many baseball metaphors.
8:53 p.m. He’s not bad, but not terrific either. His final notes almost compel Aguilera to press her button, but she ends up holding off along with the other judges. Levine feels the volume changes between the midrange and falsetto parts of the song held the performance back. Aguilera asks him to choose moments within the song in future performances to strengthen his performances. Both are legitimate criticisms.
8:59 p.m. As we head into the second hour of tonight’s show, we meet Liz Davis. “I might be a fireball,” she notes. WE’LL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT, LIZ DAVIS.
9:01 p.m. Davis takes the stage hoping to be the first country artist to win “The Voice”. She attacks the stage with Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party”, and it’s instantly engaging. Her voice makes Levine and Aguilera turn around, but her performance keeps their eyes glued on her. Shelton needs to hear almost the entire song before finally pressing his button. Well played, Ms. Davis. Fireball status granted.
9:03 p.m. Shelton busts out his ACM Award from behind his back to sell his country credentials (and connections) to Davis. Levine notes that her “Alright!” before the song even started had him hooked.
9:05 p.m. To the shock of no one, Liz Davis becomes the sixth member of Team Blake. That’s the best get yet tonight so far.
9:10 p.m. Next up: J.R. Aquino, here to audition all the way from Alaska. Some readers this recap might recognize J.R. from his YouTube channel. Statistically speaking, it seems likely, given the stats we see onscreen. Since he’s not a cat that barks like a dog, I have never seen J.R. Aquino before tonight.
9:12 p.m. Aquino chooses Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are” as his audition song. Aguilera manipulates her button in ways that probably will incur fines from the FCC. She and Levine eye each other and both turn around at the same moment. His mid-range is strong, but those high notes…yikes. A few weak ones there in the middle. Luckily, Aquino already has two coaches ready to fight for him. Wait, make that three: Green gets in just under the wire. Good to know you’re still alive, CeeLo.
9:14 p.m. Levine notes that, like Bruno Mars, he himself is someone with experience in falsettos. Aquino’s voice is pretty impressive, but his stage presence is off the charts. Watching him casually banter with all four judges might be more surprising than the performance itself. Green actually criticizes those aforementioned high notes before praising Aquino’s singing as a whole.
9:16 p.m. I’m guessing that honest criticism works, because JR Aquino becomes the fifth member of Team CeeLo. Green’s team is still sparse compared to the others at this point.
9:17 p.m. "Alaska's now on the map!" –Carson Daly, Cartographer
9:23 p.m. Daly hand-delivers an invitation to audition to Agina Alvarez. Alvarez once had a recording contract, but found her albums shelved. She hopes to honor the support of her parents with this second try.
9:25 p.m. Alvarez picks Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around”, and it’s a curious vocal to say the least. As Aguilera notes in her post-song critique, the performance was delivered at a “10” throughout, leaving no one any chance to breathe and enjoy the performance. (It may have been an “11”, to be honest, which would be great if Spinal Tap were involved.) When no judges turn around, Shelton apologizes on behalf of them all. Indeed, all four seem sheepish about not pressing a button for Alvarez. Is that because of the performance, though, or what they see upon turning around? I ask, you decide.
9:31 p.m. A once hard-drinking country singer, Nicholas David, is our next contestant. After battling both booze and an ever-expansive waistline, he met a fellow recovering addict in attempting to rebuild his life. “I feel my message of healing and hope can reach a larger audience,” he says. I guess David isn’t on Twitter.
9:33 p.m. Now here’s an interesting version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” It’s country, it’s jazzy, it’s adult-contemporary, it’s soulful, and it’s all awesome. Green is the first to turn around, and I kind of hope no one else does. This feels like the right match.
9:34 p.m. Levine points out the ingredient I was missing: Aaron Neville! I’d write more about the judges’ reactions, but Green just said “unique” fourteen times and now I’m drunk. In any case, Nicholas Davis becomes the sixth member of Team CeeLo.
9:40 p.m. Moving right along, we meet 17-year old Alessandra Guercio, who attends Laguardia High School For The Performing Arts (ie, the “Fame” school) in New York City. That’s a pretty good school. It’s no NYADA, but it’s good. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a “Glee” joke.)
9:42 p.m. To impress the coaches, Guercio selects Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”. Levine likes what he hears and turns around within a few bars. The middle section of the song isn’t nearly as strong as the beginning, but that doesn’t stop Green from joining Levine in pressing his button just before the song ends.
9:44 p.m. Way too many coaches seem to be upset upon learning her age. Tsk tsk, coaches. Levine seems to have heard the same problems mid-song that I did, but he chalks those issues up to age versus talent. Aguilera heard the training in her voice, but felt it was too controlled for her tastes. (She also notes that Guercio’s problems stemmed from excitement after Levine presses his button, which feels obvious once uttered.) In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because Alessandra Guercio becomes the eighth member of Team Adam.
9:46 p.m. Successful Contestant Montage! Adanna Duru becomes the ninth member of Team Adam, Kelly Crapa becomes the seventh member of Team Blake, and Paulina becomes the ninth member of Team Christina. Well, alrighty then. I look forward to actually meeting those three in The Battle Rounds, since we know absolutely nothing about them after that.
9:50 p.m. Our final artist of the night is Avery Wilson. Growing up, he kept his singing to himself, performing only in his room while he performed in public by dancing with his brothers. With his father’s encouragement, he decided to pursue a life behind a microphone instead.
9:52 p.m. Wilson croons David Guetta’s “Without You,” and everyone but Shelton turns around before I could finish typing this sentence. But Blake can’t hold off for good, eventually pressing his button during the second chorus. Tons of raw talent on display here, even if breath control was a big issue near the end.
9:54 p.m. Wilson is sixteen years old??? Wow.
9:55 p.m. Aguilera praises his talent, and wants to cultivate it over the season. “You’re one of the guys that makes it worth it,” praises Shelton. How much did Green like this performance? “I think I could get better because you,” he says. Wow. That wasn’t Green buttering Wilson up. That seemed to come from the heart.
9:57 p.m. With all four judges salivating over his talent, Avery Wilson becomes the seventh member of Team CeeLo. “Let’s win this show, man!” Green shouts.
Updated team rosters, ranked in order of strongest to weakest…
Team Adam: Bryan Keith, Joe Kirkland, Samuel Mouton, Loren Allred, Nicole Nelson, Melanie Martinez, Brian Scartocci, Alessandra Guercio, Adanna Duru
Team CeeLo: Daniel Rosa, Trevin Hunte, MacKenzie Bourg, Domo, JR Aquino, Nicholas David, Avery Wilson
Team Christina: De’Borah, Devyn Deloera, Adriana Louise, Aquile, Nelly’s Echo, Lisa Scinta, Marissaann, Beat Frequency, Paulina
Team Blake: Terry McDermott, Gracia Harrison, Eric Musicman, Julio Caesar Castillo, 2Steel Girls, Liz Davis, Kelly Crapa
Green had the best night tonight, but Levine’s overall team is still stronger at this point. Aguilera had the worst showing tonight but still has enough depth to keep her out of last place. Liz Davis was strong, but not enough to keep Team Blake from bottoming out for the time being.
And now individual grades…
They Stood Out: Nicholas David, Avery Wilson, Liz Davis
They Scraped By: Brian Scartocci, Beat Frequency
They Got Robbed: Agina Alvarez. Here’s a case where I understand why the coaches didn’t pick her, but I would have been interested to see how she might respond to coaching. There’s clearly talent there, and finding a way to control it might have yielded a strong competitor.
What did you think of the fourth blind auditions? Are two-hour blind auditions too long, or is there no such thing as too much of a good thing? Did any contestants stand out for you? And can we collectively forget that Cupid debacle? Sound off below!
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