At 'The Voice' Recording Sessions, Top Five Acts Coach Themselves
At the weekly recording sessions for "The Voice," Sasha Allen charges into a song and has a finished recording within three or four takes. The two Texans, Danielle Bradbery and Amber Carrington, also the least experienced of the remaining contestants on "The Voice," require the most takes to finish a song. And Michelle Chamuel is both the most animated performer in a vocal booth and the most exacting in pinpointing her weak spots, a result she says of her recording technology schooling.
The final five of "The Voice" -- the Swon Brothers are the lone males remaining -- went into Resonate Studios in Burbank Friday to record two songs each. All the singers had returned to Los Angeles within the last 24 hours after returning home where they delivered concerts to thousands, appeared on local radio and reconnected with friends and family. They recorded this week's sessions nearing exhaustion.
"The studio is more stressful than the show," Amber told Bill Appleberry, who produces the contestants' songs each week for Republic Records. "I like performing so much better, (feeding off) the adrenalin of the audience. In the studio I don't get as much emotion."
NBC invited a few members of the media to watch the sessions, requesting that none of the song titles be given out prior to Monday night's competition. The repertoire this week includes recent and older country hits, a superstar's signature song, a recent EDM hit and two classics, one a rock radio staple and another from disco's heyday.
Each singer gets 45 minutes to record, the show's band laying backing tracks before them and background singers coming in afterward. The songs get mixed over the weekend for release Monday night on iTunes.
Watching them record -- without the guidance of their coaches -- finds the singers making artistic decisions by their lonesome, Appleberry offering words of encouragement and picking areas for them to re-record so he can put the best takes into the final version. Remarkably, all of the singers displayed command of their songs, even in cases where they were reading off lyric sheets or trying on a new style.
"I'm doing something a little more delicate -- people haven't heard my softer side," Allen says while stifling sniffles from a cold. "After this week, there's really nothing else to share" in terms of exposing her qualities as a singer.
Of all the singers, none seemed more comfortable in the vocal booth than Michelle Chamuel, who dances, bounces and plays air guitar with left hand while singing. The song she was recording was one she has been asking to do for weeks; her familiarity with it, and the fact that it is not as famous as last week's selection, Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," could help her, she figures.
"That was a much bigger hit," she says, "so I had to ask how do I live in this? This week, the song is not as well-known by the TV audience ... It might be coming out of left field."
The Swon Brothers, both of whom said they had not slept for two days, went home to their hometown of Muskogee, Okla., and were surprised to receive the Rising Star Award in a ceremony at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. They also performed to a full house at the local Civic Center.
"It hit me when we get there, the magnitude of TV," Colton Swon says, noting the non-stop requests for photographs and the number of "cousins" and "friends" trying to connect with them. "It was ridiculous."
As has been the case since the contest was down to the final eight, it's tough to tell who holds an advantage. There is no runaway winner and none of the singers outdistance the competition, whether it be at the live shows or in the studio.
Allen finds lessons Christina Aguilera taught her -- "dedication, hard work, repetition" -- paying off as she moves from backup singer to the center of attention. She says it's important that there are no excuses and nothing that plays as false.
"I'm really working hard and I want people to believe in me authentically and not because of a gimmick," she says, adding "no crutches."
But Zach Colton has a slightly different take on how season four of "The Voice" will play out based on him watching the show as a fan.
After Colton noted, "we're not the best singers here," Zach offered "at this point, it's stiff, stiff competition on the music side of stuff. In the final two weeks, it's about the connection you make with people in the interviews and the reality packages."