The six finalists on “The Voice” got their first chance to perform two songs in one show and four of them took similar plans of attack: Perform one song in strict accordance with the original and tweak the other by altering the tempo and arrangement.
Naturally, there were mixed results. Yet Amanda Brown excelled by being the one singer who stuck with the intent of the best-known versions of her two songs, choosing to add vocal intensity over arrangement gimmicks.
Tuesday morning’s iTunes chart reveals that Cassadee Pope remains a fan favorite and it is still very much her contest to lose. Artistically, though, Brown demonstrated interpretive skills that have been lacking on television competitions, and Trevin Hunte, with an impeccable take on a “Dreamgirls” classic, is back to being a contender.
Each singer got to choose one song and the coaches picked another. Surprisingly, a majority of the songs have iconic status or defining interpretations; there were no contemporary hidden gems in the mix. After Monday’s show, the six singers shared their thoughts on their selections and performances. We have a few thoughts of our own. Performers are listed in order of preference.
1. Amanda Brown
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, made famous by Aretha Franklin
“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake
The dominant one-two performance of the night, Brown gave two wildly different interpretations, taking the Aretha hit up to the choir loft and pushing the Whitesnake jam into the gutter. A double feature of “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Rock of Ages” anyone? Power was the game she excelled in Monday, maintaining the intent of the originals and ensuring that everyone in the audience understood who Amanda Brown is as a performer.
“‘Natural Woman’ is one of those songs you grow up knowing and Aretha is an artist you always know and I wanted to pay tribute to that. I haven’t done that,” she says, noting the forceful impact of the energy of nearly 30 females singers behind her. “It’s not just important for me, but for people to see. I wanted to pay tribute to the artists that have performed these songs I feel like I put my little spin in both and hopefully someone says ‘yes, that was a good rendition.'”
2. Trevin Hunte
“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves
“And I’m Telling You” from “Dreamgirls”
After a perfunctory take on the summer-iest pop song of the last three decades, Hunte demonstrated superior control, pitch and volume with a glorious take on the “Dreamgirls” show-stopper most recently interpreted by Jennifer Hudson. Gender-swapping — a guy does a song associated with a woman or vice-versa — is always a safe gimmick on these shows and YouTube covers, but Hunte more than delivered the goods and used the song as a blueprint for a powerhouse demonstration.
“I definitely tried to mash myself into the song,” he says. “I rank the night high because it was one of the most challenging.”
3. Cassadee Pope
“Stand,” written by Blair Daly and Danny Orton, a No. 1 country song for Rascal Flatts
“I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne
From my vantage point in the studio — six rows behind Christina Aguilera — Pope had a few pitch issues in both performances and did not further illuminate her vocal skills. She’s an admirable singer who knows how to let it rip when a song is nearing its emotional climax ad that certainly generates the standing ovations. Popular as she and her performances are, Pope still fits neatly into a country-pop box that is already overcrowded with talent.
“We’re all artists and songwriters so we all know how to pour our hearts into a lyric to make a connection,” she told Billboard. “I was a fan of Avril Lavigne since I was 12 and I didn’t connect with the lyrics as a kid but the melody is so pretty.”
4. Nicholas David
“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
“Over the Rainbow,” written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg
David made a wild stretch from a spot-on disco turn to a modernized rendition of the “Wizard of Oz” classic. It’s always troubling when contestants step into a time machine as David did with the EWF tune, singing among a crowd of dancers ready for their moment on “Soul Train.” The set, the costumes — everything about it screamed 1978, except, of course David and his quirky persona. The throwback design suggests mimicry instead of modernity. The flipside, “Over the Rainbow,” was dramatic, sweeping, rhythmic and melodically connected to the original from the 1930s. Vocally, he was able to bring personality to it as well.
“‘September’ was the coach’s choice so I was trying to do what people are familiar with,” he says. “I was sitting with ‘Over the Rainbow’ and came up with a cool jazzy spin to switch it up. Time constraints kept me from doing everything I wanted.”
5. Terry McDermott
“I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
“Stay With Me” by the Faces
Two classic rock classics, one stripped down to piano and cello, the other performed by a group that could be a Rod Stewart-Ron Wood-Ronnie Lane tribute package. McDermott did both songs admirably, investing more personality into the Foreigner number than the Faces. He worked the microphone stand the way Rod Stewart does, which made for a gimmicky presentation, though McDermott says he always uses the microphone and the stand as a prop in his solo performances, influenced more by Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant than Stewart.
“I wanted to cover polar opposites,” he says. “The voice has to be what you pay attention to on a ballad so we needed to strip away everything to get you to pay attention. On the other side I did what bands do live on stage – a bare bones rocker and jump around like a lunatic.”
6. Melanie Martinez
“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley
“The Show” by Lenka
Adam Levine praised her take on the bubbly “The Show” by saying that it’s OK for her to be 17. The show’s youngest competitor, who calls “The Voice” her first gig, aims to be older than her years and the carefree nature of Lenka’s best-known song escaped her. She began cautiously and had some pitch issues that she corrected. If the corny set distracted her, that would be an acceptable excuse. On “Crazy,” she slowed the tempo and did a decent job of it. Unfortunately, it feels like every amateur trying to make a name for themselves takes that approach – turn a rocker into a ballad — and the best thing about her performance was the seamlessness of the song taking flight near its conclusion to the tempo Cee Lo and Danger Mouse used on the original.
She gave a fair amount of credit to the band. “Every musician knows who we are as artists. Before we start (rehearsals) they know how to make the song work (within the time limit).” Revamping “Crazy” was an easy call, but altering “The Show” was a non-starter. “You cant change a song that nobody knows. You have to interpret in your own way and I got to show a side of myself that I had not before.”