We move from Blake down the row of The Voice mentors to Christina Aguilera.
Of the panel, hers is clearly the voice that most deserves the capital T and V. She may pick some dull songs from time to time, or oversing good ones, but there’s no denying the power of her instrument.
As I watched Christina’s cartoonish “I’m thinking really hard” face in her turned chair I felt like I got a vibe for her strategy. This is someone who knows the characteristics of a good voice. You could visibly see her turn off to someone if they hit a bum note, or even if they were in-tune but out-of-key during a run.
I think X-Tina was on the hunt for two belters (one black, one white), one unusual pop voice, and one guy. Aside from losing out on quality men, she got just what she wanted. Once she had a favorite in the bag, she was looking for someone for them to battle – either to push them harder, or to make her choice simpler.
The minor problem with her picks is the minor problem with her. Note when she tapped in – usually on the basis of melisma and ornamental high notes. If an auditioner didn’t have that – or Adam gunning for them – then X-Tina’s interest wasn’t piqued. My evidence? She wound up with a seven-lady team with only one truly off-kilter pick (who, surprise, has a Linda Perry vibe).
Is her strategy all that bad? Nope. For all her wishy-washy arguments to join her team, I think once it gets down to singing in a room with them she’s going to be a hard-ass. But can a vocal prodigy like Christina articulate good vocal technique to relative novices?
Let’s take a look at her roster.
- Julia Eason – “Mercy”
Julia is my dark horse pick of the competition at the moment. She has a beautiful voice for pop and good instincts on how to use it. Christina was right, her runs were thoughtful and distinct. That said, she pushed a little too hard on the verse runs in her chest voice, which threatened to throw her out of tune. Quick runs like that take finesse, which she clearly showed on the intensely pretty higher run in mixed voice (where she physically couldn’t hit it so hard). I’d chalk it up to nerves. Even as she wobbled at points her vocal was connected, and only shouty on the highest chest note. I would have taken her in a heartbeat, and I think she’s the person Christina seemed the most genuinely excited to work with.(Not a shock that Julia’s already experienced in music – as Julia Harriman. She has a YouTube channel as Julia Harriman with two finely-produced songs – one country, and one alt-pop. )
- Tarralyn Ramsey – “Breathe”
Did she luck out by being first, or is she the real deal? I say the latter. Despite two bad lines of nerves and some struggling in the top of her chest range, she has one of the most impressive voices of all the women in the show. Take note of all of the unforced head voice, in which she hits only one bad note. That’s not an easy thing to manage. I don’t think anyone else showed this sort of balladeer pipes, save for Javier and maybe Angela Wolff – both on Team Levine – and neither had Tarralyn’s range. I fear for her nerves and her handling of faster pop songs, but I would have recruited her in a hot second.(Another established artist, Tarralyn was signed to Verity/Warner and released a pair of self-titled Gospel/R&B albums. She’s also no stranger to reality TV singing competitions – she won VH1’s Born to Diva in 2004.)
- Frenchie Davis – “I Kissed a Girl”
On one hand, that early in the competition I would have jumped on a powerful pop belter pretty quickly. Christina rightfully has some doubts about Tarralyn, so she by punching in on Frenchie she was stacking the deck in her favor (and in her wheelhouse). At points Frenchie pushed too hard, and it was interfering with her support and breath control. She also was a hair behind the beat, but maybe that’s how Perry performs it. (I don’t want to know; Perry is the death of Feminism. It’s another post entirely.) The combination didn’t inspire much blind confidence in me, which may be why Adam and Blake didn’t go for her. I would have eventually punched in to block X-Tina from snagging her, realized instantly (like Cee Lo) who she was, and then fought X-Tina for her. (Except, in this alternate universe I’d already have Tarralyn, who I am confident in, so I’d pass.) Will her years of pop and Broadway experience help or hinder Christina’s efforts to coach her?
- Julia Eason – “Mercy”
- Beverly McClellan – “Piece of My Heart”
Gigging bars as a musician is rough and she’s used to a hard sell with lots of loud flash to cut through crowd noise. Hell, it’s the same reason I cover “Like a Virgin” at the top of my lungs. At points Beverly’s ragged screaming went past Joplin/Etheridge into something little unpalatable. However, she’s an undeniable performer, and the pureness of those beautiful high notes? How on Earth can she still do that?! She nailed too many of them for it to be luck. Christina was for-certain reminded of mentor Linda Perry by this performance. Clearly Beverly still has the ability to be a strong technician despite rocking her vocal cords for years. Unless X-Tina steers her really wrong (and she won’t) she is going to smoke whoever she’s up against in the next round.
- Cherie Oakley – “Gunpowder & Lead.”
She felt very much like an American Idol performer – a strong voice, but aimlessly careening through a melody and around the stage. Why choose a song that starts so talky and then sits on the same notes for so long? Adam was right on with his “too aggressive” comment. She was on the verge of losing high notes she can clearly hit because she was pushing so much damned air through her vocal cords. As a professional background vocalist she should know better! On the whole it was a karaoke caricature of a front-woman; there’s no way I would’ve rang in. Can Christina reign in the excess to find the sure, tuneful singer that’s been on all these world tours? It’s possible, since she must have some technical chops, and she’s a hit songwriter. We’ll see.
- Justin Grennan – “Drops of Jupiter”
One lone dude on a team of ladies. Honestly, Christina got beat for the guys she wanted more, so she had to settle. And settle she did. Even in the brief clip, Justin doesn’t have much follow-through on the meatiest line of the song. His voice slip’n’slides right off the notes.(Justin’s average vocals also front an otherwise solid cover band. Really he’s not bad at all, but I just don’t think he’s The Voice. Judge for yourself.)
- Raquel Castro – “Bleeding Love”
I’m really not sure what to say here. I don’t think her voice has anything particularly unique about it, but she seems to have some sort of intangible confidence and control that Blake’s 16-year-old Xenia hasn’t learned yet. “Bleeding Love” isn’t exactly the best live showcase – it’s meant to be a super-produced pop song. I see potential there, and maybe would have fought Christina for her to fill out my team if I had wound up with open slots. If X-Tina actually cares she’s going to take her back to basics (was that a pun?). If we see ‘Tina pushing all the runs and ornamental BS then we’ll know Raquel is canon fodder.(Raquel’s resume is mostly acting – she played J-Lo’s daughter in Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl, so I guess she would have received special treatment on Idol ;)
- Lily Elise – “If I Ain’t Got You”
One of my least favorites of the entire show far, other than the guy who sang “Paparazzi” with marbles in his mouth. She seems to have a specific inability to sing any single note. Her low range had the consistency of a slinky, she substituted wobbly support for true vibrato, her high notes were shouted, and her high runs were badly supported. Did I miss anything? Oh, the way she sang the word “physical” was painful. Christina only took her so she can sacrifice her to someone better in the next round.
(Lily also fronted a cover band, where she was unfortunately just as inconsistent as on the show. Hear for yourself on her YouTube channel. I recommend “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” because it is the best song, ever.)
- Beverly McClellan – “Piece of My Heart”
Team Christina – My Battle Round Predictions
The previews already tipped the Tarralyn v. Frenchie battle, which is criminal. See what I mean about Christina being a hard-ass? She knows they’ll split votes, so she’s taking care of it now while she can.
Expect to see Julia against the total straw-man of Lily or Rachel. Christina probably wants to keep a boy in the game, so Justin will get the other, or Cherie, since those are the two she’ll be on-the-fence about. Which leaves Beverly against Cherie or a straw-girl? Sounds about right, and Beverly can and will disintegrate anyone in this game on “Teenage Wasteland,” which she sang in the preview. That’s a pick meant for her to win.
Christina will pick: Julia, Frenchie, Beverly, Justin or Cherie
Christina should pick: Julia, Tarralyn, Beverly, Cherie or Raquel
(Really she should keep Frenchie and ditch Raquel, but that’s not possible!)
On team Peter: Dia, Julia, Tarralyn
(I’m not too thrilled to have picked a Gospel artist for my team – in retrospect, I’d rather have Frenchie.)
Check back later for my look at Team Cee Lo!