One of the biggest criticisms of American Idol has been the way that the show often spurns strong voices in favor of a “casting effort.” That is to say, the producers often seem to speak through the judges in order to choose a diverse cast that has a number of vocal weak links.
That was especially evident this season when the judges selected Thia Megia for the Top 24 over Jessica Cunningham, who appeared to be a much stronger and more experienced singer. In the Top 24, they completely excluded one of the round’s best voices, Lauren Turner, from the Wildcard Round. And in the Wildcard Round, they spurned an appealing and talented Kendra Chantelle in favor of the underwhelming Ashthon Jones and Naima Adedapo. The result? Those three weak links were among the first four eliminations in the Top 13. All the “casting” direction did was weaken the cast and ensure that the competition’s men had a clearer path to advance.
Fast forward to The Voice, NBC’s upstart talent competition that is getting decent ratings and rave reviews. One of the fears in this show’s format is that the “casting” would happen there as well. The Blind Audition rounds seemed to indicate that the judges weren’t going to take vocal weaklings (though we didn’t see clips from every audition). But what would happen when we got to the infamous Battle Rounds, where two teammates would sing head-to-head, and only one would be picked to advance?
With rare exception, the celebrity coaches have picked the strongest singers to advance into the Top 16. Those generally were also the ones we saw the most backstory clips about leading up to the finals. Since these Battle Rounds happened well in advance and had nothing to do with audience voting thus far, and since most of the remaining 16 performers have had a decent share of screen time and backstory revealed, the producers of The Voice have done something that American Idol has almost never done — leveled the playing field. Instead of creating favorites and instant castoffs through production sleight-of-hand, they’ve allowed the performers to do that mostly for themselves.
So now with the live shows just five days away and the Top 16 settled, here is our breakdown of those performers, including our odds for each to win the show. In the past, we’ve based ourAmerican Idol odds on a great number of online sources that give different indications about the strength of each performer. The Voice is still new and has much less information to draw from, so we are basing most of this on “gut feeling.” Sure, we’re assessing the strength of each performer, and we’re making some assumptions based on voting patterns for shows like Idol. But until we get a read on how The Voice is going to conduct its voting and eliminations, most of this will be incredibly informal and almost strictly opinion instead of based on statistical research. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring that to you in the near future.
Adam’s team is clearly the strongest, and would probably have been even stronger had he chosen Rebecca Loebe over Devon Barley (one of only three choices we strongly disagreed with in the 16 Battle Round performances).
Javier immediately became the odds-on favorite after his blind audition reworking of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” The track became a hit on iTunes, and he broke into Google trends hot list. His Battle Round was a walk in the park as he easily defeated Angela Woff on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” (even though Angela did more than an admirable job). If you recognize Javier, it might be because he’s had fleeting moments of recording success in the past. Once a Capitol Records artist, he released two CDs (in 2003 and 2006) and even charted a song (barely) in the Hot 100. His second CD was a departure from the first, as he tried to redefine himself as something other than the run-of-the-mill R&B artist. It didn’t take, and that was the last that a major label has seen of him. This clip of him singing a mashup of his single “Indecent Proposal” and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” should give you an idea of what he’s capable of doing. The only thing keeping Javier from being Adam’s last-man-standing is Jeff Jenkins…
If you saw Jeff on the street, you’d never say that he was a recording artist in search of a big break. But once he opens his mouth to sing, the only thing that comes out is vocal excellence. His flawless version of “Bless the Broken Road” was only one of two moments all four judges turned their chairs in the Blind Auditions. (Javier’s performance was the other.) Blake seemed a natural fit for Jeff’s country voice, but he surprisingly opted to work with Adam. In the Battle Rounds, he vanquished the very talented Casey Desmond, who had some excellent moments on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but was obviously overmatched. Jeff’s backstory will give him some lift, as he sings each time in memory of his mother, who lost a battle to colon cancer less than a year ago. He has said that she was always his musical inspiration and his strongest supporter.
A high school senior, Casey will charm audiences with her smile, blonde locks and down-to-earth style. Passed over in the first wave of the Blind Auditions, Casey became one of the last contestants chosen in the Second Chance phase with her acoustic version of Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy.” (Favorite moment: When Casey’s mom blurted out “I love that guy!” after Adam Levine pushed the button to turn his chair around.) In the battle rounds, Casey posted a bit of an upset when she toppled Tim “The King of Almosts” Mahoney in their duet of Stevie Nicks’ “Leather and Lace.” Casey has a ton of potential (as evidenced by her growth between the two rounds), but she has an uphill battle just to get back two more experienced and favored men in her group.
Pre-med student Devon has by far the longest odds to even rise to the top of this group, let alone win the entire show. In the first round, Devon was a surprising choice with a middling performance of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” Something in his voice must have been incredibly appealing to Adam, as he was one of two judges to turn his chair. In the Battle Round, Devon was an extremely unlikely advancement as he defeated Rebecca Loebe on Radiohead’s “Creep.” Granted he was greatly improved from the first round, but Rebecca had incredible upside that was bypassed presumably in favor of a more blank vocal canvas for Mr. Levine to work with. If Devon moves past the next phase and into the Final Four, it will be a monumental upset. His best chance is for The Voice to employ American Idol’s unlimited voting format, allowing teenage girls and their moms to dial in a frenzy for the very wholesome-looking young man.
Blake’s squad appears to be the weakest one on paper. His strongest performer is Patrick Thomas, and he looks like a long shot to win. Three of his four team members are in our bottom four (though one of those seems like a much stronger performer than the chances we give him). My theory is that Blake too much too long to turn his chair for some of the stronger singers, which gave him less of a chance to add them to his team. In the Battle Rounds, he advanced two of his weaker performers (one of which he appeared forced into).
Patrick got an early boost in the competition when the producers chose his blind audition as the promo to run in front of the Tonight Show. His performance of “Live Like You Were Dying” was way above average and established him as one of the show’s contenders. In the Battle Round Patrick had a narrow win over Patrick Robinson, who was surprisingly good on “Burning Love.” Because of his down-to-earth appeal and early exposure, Patrick is an easy choice to be Blake’s final contestant unless the audience warms more to one of Blake’s ladies.
Jared had a strong performance in his first blind audition of “Good Girls Go Bad,” though none of the coaches turned their chairs for him. Fortunately, the coaches gave him a second choice and he more than impressed with his take on “Not Ready to Make Nice.” In the Battle Round, Jared was pitted against the husband-wife duet Elenowen on “Ain’t No Mountain” and was a clear winner there. Jared is a seasoned performer and will undoubtedly give a good performance next week, but his age may be an impediment to younger voters. Otherwise, he should at least advance to the semifinals and could pose a threat to Patrick Thomas.
Dia has an exotic beauty to her that will be appealing to viewers, but her voice is a bit thin and she lacks a lot of confidence on stage. She was slightly above-average in her performance of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly,” but still managed to get Blake to turn his chair. In the Battle Round she was vocally overwhelmed by Serabee on “Can’t Hurry Love,” though her opponent so overcooked her performance (and ignored advice from her mentors) that Blake was forced to choose the weaker voice because of her willingness to take his counsel. Dia and her sister Meg had a contract with Warner Brothers several years ago, so it’s possible she’ll blossom as the show progresses. But the publicity given to the guys in the group should give them a significant advantage.
Of the 16 finalists, Xenia is an easy choice as the biggest long shot in the bunch. Her blind audition of “Break Even” was interesting but vocally weak, but Blake was impressed enough to turn his chair. In the Battle Round, she was pitted against Sarah Oromchi on “I’ll Stand By You.” Xenia was nervous and vocally thin, but Sarah was drastically off-pitch, leaving Blake with Xenia as an easy choice. Still, that leaves him with the weakest singer in the competition, which should make his first elimination a no-brainer. Xenia’s only hope is an amazing transformation in the semifinals. She has a unique and sultry voice, but unless she gets an instant burst of confidence, her time in live rounds will be brief.
While his team does not have the strongest contenders at the top, Cee Lo Green’s team is probably the most balanced with no real weak links. However, it could have been stronger had he chosen the lovely and talented Kelsey Rey instead of the sister duo, Tori and Taylor, who bring up the rear of his crew. Still, Cee Lo’s group will be interesting to watch since they will likely give a solid round of performances across the board.
While his appearance may be off-putting at first, Nakia’s voice will be magnetic for many viewers. For his blind audition, he made the gutsy move of singing Cee Lo’s hit, “Forget You,” and nailed it. He progressed to the Battle Round and was an easy choice over Tje Austin on their duet of “Closer,” in spite of Tje’s strong effort on the number. Nakia is quirky and will stand out in a talented field that looks mostly clean and wholesome. That’s not his appeal. Nakia, who has been performing and recording independently for years, will make tons of fans with strong vocals that transcend his rough exterior.
Country-boy Curtis has flown below the radar a bit, perhaps because he was one of the last performers selected in the Blind Auditions. There, he tried desperately to get the attention of Blake Shelton with “Hillbilly Bone,” a single Shelton released as a duet with Trace Adkins. Though it lacked the attitude of the original, Curtis’ version actually seemed more genuinely country than Shelton’s. While Blake didn’t turn, Cee Lo did and picked up one of the better country voices in the competition. In the Battle Round, Curtis was paired with Emily Valentine (a Lindsay Lohan lookalike with tattoos) on Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” The duo evoked some genuine lovers’ angst, which culminated in a post-performance on-stage kiss (which was apparently choreographed). It was a close call, but Cee Lo sided with Curtis, who will pose the strongest competition to Nakia in the semifinals.
Vicci was one of the first performers to make it through the Blind Auditions with her solid, though not spectacular, version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Things got a bit better for Vicci in the Battle Round when she went head-to-head with Niki Dawson on P!nk’s “Perfect.” The duet was one of the better numbers in the four-weeks of Battle Rounds, and though I preferred Niki to Vicci, Cee Lo’s choice wasn’t without merit. From here in, however, Vicci will struggle to find a strong audience following because her personality doesn’t leap through the TV. As a vocalist, she’s a little shaky, but seems to have a lot of potential. Unless she sparkles next Tuesday, we might not get to see much of that.
The only duo left in the competition, Tori and Taylor Thompson are no strangers to reality talent contests. In 2003, the sisters were the first two performers to win spots on the American Juniors finalists group. Today, The Voice’s producers are pitching them as simple pig farmers, but these girls are as experienced as most of the older contestants. Even so, their greatest asset seems to be cuteness. They were fairly strong in the Blind Audition with “Stuck Like Glue,” in part because their voices blend so perfectly. (Note that they were about three seconds away from potential elimination, as Cee Lo didn’t turn his chair until the last measure.) In the Battle Round, the pair was a big surprise winner over Kelsey Rey on Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” This was probably the decision I disagreed with the most thus far. Kelsey would have been a second-tier contender had she advanced. At best, Tori & Taylor will survive one week, but they are unlikely to pose any real threat to Nakia and Curtis.
Unlike the three other teams, Christina’s is dominated solely by one gender. Of her four remaining team members, all of them are females and three of them had only Christina turning her chair to claim them. Worst of all for Christina is that she doesn’t have any strong contenders for the title. Her best chance lies with tiny Raquel Castro, though Beverly McClellan probably has the strongest voice and Frenchie Davis has the most name recognition.
If you’ve seen Raquel before, it probably wasn’t since she was quite a bit smaller. To this point in her life, Raquel has mainly been a child actor, famous mostly for her role in Jersey Girl opposite Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. In the Blind Audition, she was mostly impressive on “Bleeding Love,” though she had some stray notes at the end of the song. In the Battle Round, Julia Eason may have been a bit stronger vocally, but Raquel’s confidence and stage presence were far superior on “Only Girl in the World.” It’s doubtful that she’ll have enough firepower to overcome the guys at the top of my rankings, but Raquel’s youthful appeal makes her the favorite to be the survivor from Christina’s team.
If anyone is going to strongly challenge Raquel, it will probably be Frenchie, who is the ultimate reality talent survivor. In 2003, she was an early favorite on American Idol‘s second season, but was disqualified after she revealed to producers that she had been a nude model. Since then, Frenchie has worked consistently on- and off-Broadway in shows like Rent, Dreamgirls and Cinderella. In the Battle Round, Frenchie did well with “I Kissed a Girl” but turned only Christina’s chair. In the Battle Round, she won a very aggressive and competitive duet over Tarralyn Ramsey on “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Frenchie may not have Raquel’s youth or physical appeal, but she has tons of stage presence and a memorable voice. (And somehow she makes bald and plus-sized strangely attractive and even sexy.) Don’t be surprised if Frenchie rises to the top of Christina’s group.
Beverly is likely one of the show’s bigger underdog contestants who actually has a chance to move deep into the competition, though her odds of actually winning aren’t that great. For her Blind Audition, Beverly won the coaches over with a strong and gritty performance of “Piece of My Heart.” In the Battle Round, she vanquished Christina’s only male, Justin Grennan, in a close decision on “Teenage Wasteland” (which might have been the best overall duet in the round). If fans pay attention to “the voice” (which is what this show is supposed to be about), then they’ll have to give Beverly some strong consideration. Still, knowing that fans pay a lot of attention to image, it’s doubtful that they’ll warm more to Beverly than to the other ladies in the group.
Even as I look at Lily’s odds, something tells me that I’m ranking her too high (though she is at the bottom of the odds for Christina’s team). Lily was narrowly passed over in her first crack at the Blind Auditions, but won Christina’s praise in the final measure of “If I Ain’t Got You” in the Second Chance round. In the Battle Round, Lily was uneven but still managed to score a win over Cherie Oakley with “Since U Been Gone.” Lily has a lot of potential, and her girl-next-door beauty will appeal to viewers. But because she seems to be so raw in her performance style, it’s not likely that she’ll be able to outlast the other three ladies.
Let me know what you think about The Voice‘s Top 16? Do you agree with the coaches’ picks? Who was the best? Who was the worst? And who do you think should win and/or will win the show? Remember to follow this blog on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/capnpen. Also be sure to follow our Facebook group, American Idol Update.