Powerhouse Performances Dominate First ‘Voice’ Live Show

Judith Hill performs on "The Voice" (NBC)

We’re live! After several weeks of pre-recorded fights to the death in this musical “Hunger Games,” “The Voice” is finally letting the audience decide for whom the odds are ever in their favor.

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In the endless inexplicable rules set of this show, we learn that there are 16 people left, and we must narrow it down to 12. So each coach loses one person. But what about the coach choosing to save one of the audience’s axes? Or the coach choosing two to go through and the audience one to go through? Or… who has any idea how this show works, even after watching the last three seasons?

The coaches are introduced, and each is becoming more and more a caricature of him or herself. Look, Shakira’s wearing something metallic! Usher, in a (reeeealllly) form-fitting gray suit now, has his leg up on his chair! (The better to see just how form-fitting…) Blake Shelton’s doing that weird pointy thing toward his head that makes him look no less creepy old man than usual.

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The eight contestants on Team Adam and Team Usher were performing last night. Before we begin, Carson Daly asks both coaches what they did to prepare. Usher says this: “The most important part is positive projection,” and “team work makes the dream work.” Why didn’t this guy go into corporate leadership? I see a future for him as the head of Dunder Mifflin.

Adam Levine, the feminist, says that he told his all-girl team that being the “best version of themselves transcends gender.”

We begin with Usher training his team at a boxing gym “how endurance will lead to victory and knock out.” Man, Usher is just full of these kind of lines! So he makes them exercise while they practice their group number, “Black and Gold.” It’s a breeze for Michelle Chamuel, who has already done push-ups with Usher in rehearsal. The number is good, but Michelle is so awkward when performing, it’s hard to watch. Josiah Hawley sounds the best overall, but Cathia has some soaring runs.

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Later, Team Adam does “Shake It Out,” and they prep by going to Adam’s family store, where Adam introduces everyone to his—get this—Maroon 5 sytlist. Then, no joke, they show a picture of Maroon 5, all wearing black t-shirts. Yeah, so, that’s a job I’d like to phone in for a million dollars. His stylist goes about dressing the girls like they are Fleetwood Mac, in unflattering, shapeless and dark ‘70s wear. Except Judith Hill, who always looks like a million-foot-tall model who can wear anything.

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For a coach number, Adam and Usher sing “Superstition” and it’s everything you want it to be. Their voices are actually really well suited for one another, and there’s just a lot of male cuteness going on on stage.

Also, there’s a whole lot of Christina Milian happening at this stage in the game. You know, that girl that says everything with the same peppy but lifeless drone from some corporately sponsored skybox, where she has contestants stand awkwardly near her while she reads commercials and doesn’t ever look at them in the eye? Lots of that.

And speaking of corporate sponsors, Blake made repeated reference to a really good Starbucks latte, that seemed to baffle even the other coaches. Adam finally asked him if he was getting paid for that, which of course they all are already, so that didn’t clear anything up.

Now the teams. First, Adam:

Adam urged all four of his girls to get emotional and intimate with their songs. He gave Amber Carrington Rihanna’s “I Want You to Stay.” She’s a country girl, but this was pure coffeehouse. Her voice is so powerful when it needs to be, and so pretty the rest of the time. Not sure how I feel about her ‘80s lady-hawk though. Blake talks about his latte, Usher liked the intimacy, and Adam thought it was incredible.

Sarah Simmons, who auditioned with “One of Us,” stayed the Lillith Fair route, getting assigned Sarah McClachlan’s “Angel.” Turns out, she sang that song before for a friend who died in an accident, so it’s all on the verge of waterworks, though Adam’s advice is not to cry. Sarah’s so soft-spoken, which is why it’s alarming and wonderful when she belt/growls part-way through her song. It’s really sad, and it’s also great. But I don’t understand her dress—is she wearing a jeweled crushed velvet gown with a sheer cape? Blake tells his team to do what Sarah did. Shakira tells Sarah in Spanish that she was incredible. Adam said he never heard the room get so quiet.

For Adam’s third installment in his Levine’s Sad Coffeehouse show, he has Caroline Glaser sing “The A Team,” because, he says, he wanted to show her darker side. Caroline plays guitar for the song, which makes her seem horribly affected singing accent seem a little more legit. She actually sounds the best she ever has here. And kudos to the camera guys, who repeatedly closed up for lingering shots of lightbulbs. This is all very late-‘90s suburban café feeling, and I’m getting nostalgic. Usher says it was soothing, Usher said he would vote for Caroline’s dimples (Carson: “That’s a different phone number”!!!), and Adam tells her she need not worry about competing with the powerhouse girls….

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…like Judith Hill. Adam’s one true mega-singer, the one who backed up Michael Jackson, as if you forgot. Adam gives her “Feeling Good,” which, sure, is a good match, but I’m over this song on music competitions. It jumped the shark on “American Idol” with Adam Lambert, and jumped again more recently with Lazaro Arbos, and I just don’t want to hear it sung by anyone but Nina Simone ever again. That means you’re cut off, too, Michael Buble! Anyway, in rehearsal we learn Judith can’t hit the high notes because she has a vocal nodule. And that Adam thinks Judith’s biggest competition is Team Shakira’s Sasha Allen. In performance, Judith works the crowd, taking incredibly long pauses for added drama, and, as Blake said, she “milked it.” Usher said she took us to church. And Adam just fawns over how incredibly cool Judith is. It’s true. That bun on top of her head? Only a really cool person could pull that off outside of a gym.

Team Usher:

Usher continued his coaching theatrics that he has shown since the Battles, doing creative little things which each contestant. He seems like a fun coach for that reason, but also a little too bent on making his contestants want to break down and cry.

Josiah Hawley, who still can’t escape the three-word Carson-given moniker, “model from Arkansas,” sang “Starlight” by Muse. Usher, who is kind of a little in love with Josiah, wants him to “hold the guitar and convey sexual confidence,” which I’m sure won’t be a problem. (I’m also noticing that Josiah says “brother” a lot, as a model from Arkansas would.) The performance sounds a little karaoke, but Shakira thinks he rocked it, and Blake found it haunting and energetic. “The world is gonna lose a male model over this,” Blake says. “I guess I’ll have to fill it.” Usher was pleased with Josiah’s confidence.

Usher waltzed with Cathia as they prepared for “I Have Nothing.” That was the most exciting thing about her segment. The song was just one of those ones you really shouldn’t touch, and Cathia’s good but she’s not Whitney Houston level good. Shakira thought it was too high for her. Usher even says it was “not an incredible performance.”

Usher gave Vedo “Against All Odds,” in an attempt to keep his sadness over the loss of his mother fresh and in the foreground. Usher said he wanted him to sing that song to see if he could stand still. He sings it well, but I’m worried about him singing such a dated number. Vedo’s got an old thing about him, despite his style, and all the mom stuff is making him out to appeal to, well, moms. Usher was pleased, though, and said he absorbed everything he said in rehearsal.

He also wanted Michelle Chamuel’s revenge of the nerds storyline to keep going, giving her “True Colors.” Wonderful song, but UGH. Too much of this “you are beautiful on the inside, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise” stuff from her. It’s getting preachy. Anyway, for rehearsal, Usher makes her sing into a mirror at herself, so that she can tell herself how beautiful she is. It’s painful, and I’m grateful Michelle doesn’t wind up crying hysterically, which is what it seems Usher wants. I also like that on stage, Michelle is still wearing glasses half the size of her face, and that they aren’t making her over. Yet, anyway. She is so much like all those women in movies who are actually very pretty and skinny but have big glasses and hair in their faces, and then someone sees something more and makes her be gorgeous. And she gets the guy. I’m waiting for this to happen, but very much don’t want it to. All the judges loved the performance, agreeing it was her “breakout moment,” but I dissent. I think she makes home-watchers uncomfortable, and her voice isn’t as strong as the other girls’. And the whole “I’m different—yay” thing is actually really one-dimensional. There’s obviously more to this girl—the push-ups for one thing—but she’s stuck in a “Glee” storyline. Except can you imagine this girl on “Glee”? Actually, kind of, yes.

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