Professional experience won the first round of live shows in the second season of "The Voice," as viewers are given the opportunity to help determine which five of each judge's six hand-picked contestants move on to the next round.
The live shows, which began Monday with the teams of Blake Shelton and Christina Aguilera singing, provide the singers with the opportunity to showcase their voices as they see fit, a bit of guidance from their coaches helping with confidence issues and, in a few cases, artistic decisions. On Monday's show, the contestants mostly kept it safe, tackling songs to show off vocal dexterity and control rather than interpretive powers.
There were no awe-inspiring performances, but judging from inside the Burbank soundstage where the show was shot, a few elements did stand out:
-- The studio audience loves, first and foremost, a big ballad sung well.
-- Nothing generates a standing ovation more than a long-held note at the end of a song.
-- Girls scream louder than guys and Adam Levine is apparently sexier than he was last season.
From my vantage point, here is a ranking of the dozen singers who competed Monday night. Some of their acts undoubtedly translated better on television, but live, their vocal strengths and failings were quite obvious. That said, there is no clear-cut front-runner on either of these teams, which should make the coming weeks interesting as teams are whittled down.
From best performer down to most deserving to depart:
1. Lindsey Pavao
(Team Christina; Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know")
A unique sound rooted in Bjork and Siouxsie, she made Gotye's hit a haunting waltz through a graveyard, complete with dancing skeletons. A bold song choice, a distinctive arrangement and signs of vocal power shot her to the top of the class -- not because she had the night's best performance, but because she opened a window suggesting myriad possibilities.
2. Erin Willett
(Team Blake; Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City")
Willett started the soul classic seated at the piano and once it found its groove, she she took her place among the dancers who appeared more in line with Twyla Tharp's impression of the 1950s than anything from the '70s. A really smart arrangement helped: She emphasized the choruses, kept verses short and set the tune to a beat reminiscent of Alicia Keys' "No One." Blake tagged it as technically and passionately the best of the night.
3. Naia Kete
(Team Blake; Adele's "Turning Tables")
The busker from the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica proved she can do more than pop-reggae by following Shelton's advice and sticking with Adele's recorded arrangement. The performance brought out a lovely overtone in her higher register and a breathiness on the bottom.
4. Chris Mann
(Team Christina; Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water")
There's a PBS special dying to burst out of this opera-trained Kansas native who treated the Simon & Garfunkel classic like it was the Righteous Brothers' recording of "Unchained Melody." Capable of going places vocally that none of his peers can match, he will need to develop his connectivity skills as the show progresses; it's the difference between delivering and communicating.
5. Jesse Campbell
(Team Christina; Bob Thiele's "(What a) Wonderful World")
Levine pegged him correctly -- "you are the dude to beat" -- which Cee Lo reinforced. That's based on his silky delivery and impeccable phrasing. Then there's the arranging and on Monday, he put the soft and intimate Louis Armstrong hit through a Vegas lounge act/cruise ship filter that destroyed so much of the song's sentimental beauty. Even after that, it wasn't half bad, but the last thing a 42-year-old performer should be doing on one of these shows is appear old -- and that's exactly what he did.
6. Moses Stone
(Team Christina; Kanye West's "Stronger"/"Power")
Rapping and singing had the judges split as to what he does he better. His flow was solid, and his vocals had a distinct human quality. One thing for certain: He has great stage presence and is a solid all-around entertainer. If there comes a day when he can't bounce between the two skills he could be in trouble, but for now he should be safe.
7. Charlotte Sometimes
(Team Blake; Paramore's "Misery Business")
With a strong performance that emphasized her breath control, the Jersey girl earned praises from Levine ("a unique voice") and props from Shelton on her arrangement.
8. Jermaine Paul
(Team Blake; Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer")
The one singer to go waaaay against type, Paul demonstrated exactly why he is a backup singer. He was cool, professional, hit the marks and convincing. Yet there was a disconnect between the song and the singer, a lack of conviction on his part that could have pushed it over the top.
9. Jordis Unga
(Team Blake; Heart's "Alone")
Jordis could probably win just about any Karaoke contest anywhere, especially is she is allowed to sing a full-bodied tune like this Heart power ballad. On the crucial final note, though, Unga wobbled her way through, so no matter how much you want to convince yourself she's another Ann Wilson, she's only 95 percent of the way there.
10. Sera Hill
(Team Christina; Mary J. Blige's "I'm Goin' Down")
Tentative vocals and enunciation issues are her first two strikes, but doing a Mary J. tune exactly as Mary J. would do it? C'mon. Hill's performance looked like an audition for a MJB tribute show, with shirtless male dancers that upstaged her as she strutted around like…oh, you know who.
11. Rae Lynn
(Team Christina; Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call")
Aguilera called her sassy and Shelton said she has Nashville buzzing, but her intonation and forced stage presence are red flags, not to mention her inconsistent pitch. She wants to be a foot-stomping story-teller but as a teenager she needs to sing numbers that are more age-appropriate.
12. Ashley de la Rosa
(Team Christina; Alanis Morissette's "Right Through You")
Tinny on the opening bars and screechy at the song's conclusion, de la Rosa brought nothing unique to her performance and even prowled the stage as if she locked herself in a Morissette immersion class. She earned some faint praise from the judges, but is the show's least original voice.