“The Voice” Auditions: Bow-Tied and Bushy-Tailed

We’ve come to the point in my Voice recaps where I admit that I’m tone-deaf. So tone-deaf. Almost aggressively tone-deaf. When Christina Aguilera gargles up a compliment like, “It was really the tone in your voice I was attracted to,” I literally believe she’s talking about nothing. (She’s usually talking about nothing, which makes it confusing.) She’s actually talking about something I can’t hear, but I believe that gives me an advantage over her: I can tell you what the average, below-average American hears in these contenders. We’ll call that a gift.

Anyway, The Voice breezed through more than a dozen auditioners last night. It was so hard to like many of them. Let’s give ’em all letter grades and shoot this two-hour fiasco off a cliff.

Sarah Golden, Lady Gaga’s “You And I”

Sarah set herself back a couple pegs without ever singing a note, because something about “You and I” just doesn’t work as an audition song. In fact, like most tracks on Born This Way, it feels like 2/3 of a good song that needs a cleverer hook or an essential shred of uncontrived nuttiness — the whimsy and kitsch that make “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” so unbeatable. The whole album is too cold and over-juiced, which is why it surprised me that Blake and Cee Lo snapped around to see Sarah’s unassuming mug. Sarah’s balladeer growl is serviceable, but I wish she’d played on her last name and sang the hell out of “Golden” by Jill Scott. Seriously. We weren’t shown Sarah’s face until the very last moment, but by the way Carson Daly prepared us for her reveal, you’d think she was a naked transvestite Elephant Man niece. Nope. Just a nice-seeming lady with her nice-seeming voice. Grade: B

Elley Duhe, Duffy’s “Mercy”

There was no excuse for underselling this song, because “Mercy” is one of the kookiest, sassiest jams of the past five years. The bouncy Elley Duhe looked like she had a good time, but her poppy trill just doesn’t compare to Duffy’s whack-ass warble. The judges abandoned her, but luckily, her dad looked a little like a wizened Chris O’Donnell. Good for her. Grade: C-

Pip, The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”

Single-named phenomenon Pip began his assault on the senses with a medley of awful quotes: 1) “I’m almost more comfortable onstage than I am offstage.” 2) “I don’t like to blend in with the crowd.” 3) “I like to push the envelope a little bit with my style.” Oh, and what a style it is: He pulled together some H&M suspenders and a bright blue shirt. That’s called “an average Wednesday” for some of us, Pip. Fortunately, Pippi Longsuspenders selected a perfect song, “House of the Rising Sun,” and gave it about 40% of the grit and gothic cool of American Idol pseudo-legends Siobhan Magnus and Haley Reinhart, who both slayed the Animals’ hit in their respective seasons. It was all worth it to see Pip’s mother cry, “He is PRECIOUS — PIP.” Grade: B+

Erin Willett, The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”
It’s very sad that Erin’s father has stage-four pancreatic cancer, but The Voice’s schmaltzy production makes me wonder if the producers forced him into the fatal illness to ensure that his daughter would be on the show. Worse things have happened! For instance: Triscuits. Just the worst.

Erin’s zeal was a great change of pace for the show last night, which lurched into an ugly languor early on. Her fire was electric, and her onstage “selling it” expressions were believable! Is it becoming clear that I judge these performers using RuPaul’s Drag Race criteria? Welcome to me. Grade: B+

Katrina Parker, Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”

Poor Carson Daly had to “recruit” Katrina to audition in one of those terribly staged, back-breakingly hokey ambushes at her office. She was so fake-surprised, it might’ve been her fake-birthday. After we learned that she almost died because mold took over her home in a coup, she bleated Joan Osborne’s theistic smash with the conviction and grace of a Joan Osborne backup singer. Did you know that Joan Osborne seriously rules? I fib you not. Katrina cajoled Adam into whipping around, but for the most part I wanted this to be much better and more memorable than it was. Grade: B-

David Grace, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”
None of your friendly judges picked David Grace. Blake Shelton claimed that David kept swooping into the notes and “didn’t know if that was intentional,” and Adam pretended to understand where Blake was coming from. As for me, tone-deafity-doo-dah, I jammed! There was a palpable rambunctiousness and sincerity to David’s performance, and that just might be more important than a pitch-perfect live voice, everyone. I don’t care what the name of this show is. Grade: B

Geoff McBride, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”
Finally, what appeared (and even sounded, I think!) to me to be a viable fighter: Geoff McBride wasted no time tearing into the hollers and glorious pangs of “Higher Ground,” and he invaded the stage space right behind the judges’ chairs. That’s a nervy and awesome move. The onetime boxer wore sunglasses to conceal a horrendous injury, but the voice truly spoke for itself. I rarely enjoy Stevie covers on these shows, but Geoff’s booming rasp was fit for the task. Grade: A-

Erin Martin, The Plain White Ts’ “Hey There Delilah”

The self-described “Egyptian warrior princess” donned an embarrassing silver headband and a cheap-ass Nefertiti necklace, but that was the easiest part of my astonishment to choke down. Erin chose the most cloying song of my college experience and delivered its preteen diary lyrics with a scraggly, little-old-lady purr that, I’m telling you, made me clutch my face. I yearned to fall through floor, genitals first. Erin sounded like Mr. Rogers voicing Henrietta Pussycat in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on an angry day. It was Bjork with laryngitis and a toddler’s tired tantrum. Adam was the only judge to resist the voice that I’m now calling “Kitty Kaiserwald,” but he explained why with a totally backhanded gem: “I was confused and a little bit scared — but in a great way.” What a ringing endorsement! She’s yours, Cee-Lo. Grade: D

James Massone, Drake’s “Find Your Love”
Now, I can’t explain why a 23-year-old would wear a letterman jacket and freakishly boxy gray jeans, but James Massone defies all your stereotypes. He’s a pretty great Drake mimic who sounds black and is just not. He’s a nervous Italian chirper with a friendly vampire bat face, good teeth, and a bad haircut. He looks a little like Blake Soper from Boy Meets World and Rilo Kiley. His emotional reaction to the judges’ friendliness (excepting Adam) was touching, and the truth stands: You’d hear this voice on the radio. In fact, you sort of already do.  Grade: B+

Chris Cauley, Bruno Mars’s “Grenade”
Like on American Idol, the contestants on The Voice are at the mercy of their song arrangements. Anything reggae-tinged is failure-bound. Anything lounge-tinged is beyond failure-bound. It becomes a sappy Hindenburg, exploding in a slow-motion blast of soft horns and sleepy keyboards. Chris Cauley’s “Grenade” was vomit-worthy elevator music, but his cute voice felt like a genuine part of the bluegrass tradition he so incessantly touted in his introduction package. The softness, the tenderness, the straightforwardness. All great bluegrass elements. Adam and Cee-Lo fought for him, but he ultimately chose The Most Sittable Face On The Planet. (Adam, BTW.) Grade: B+

Winter Rae, Rihanna’s “Take a Bow”

OK, I believed in this girl. The blue-haired bowling alley dolly seemed to have a sense of humor abour her Dragon Tattoo getup, and I’m always looking for a hint of self-aware levity on this show. Then she chose Rihanna’s downtrodden-ass “Take A Bow” and bored the judges into a sit-still. Her voice fit the song, but without the visual cue of a shock-blue mane, you’d have no idea she was anything unusual. She also brought Perez Hilton as her backstage friend for some reason. Discuss. Grade: C+

Jordis Unga, Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”

Aha! A second ascendant to the Voice throne! Jordis is a half-Tongan, half-Swedish firebrand who should’ve brandished a scepter during her Paul McCartney joint. She was going for “sorceress,” and I was believing it, lambs. The performance itself was a tad overblown, but I prefer that over the cavalcade of murmurers that dominated the rest of the show. As such, she’s my favorite performer of the night. I will now make fun anagrams out of her cool name. Watch this: I ADORN JUGS. This is how journalism should be. Grade: A