“My mother and father came to this country looking for the American dream. If the judges turn around, the dream lives on,” says straw-hat-wearing Eric Macek, just before his oddly Celtic-sounding take on “Free Fallin'” (weird, since he’s Russian.) Eric is the third contestant to dedicate his song to his parents, who may be getting deported back to Russia soon. It seems mandated that contestants bring their parents, and that they also have a seriously depressing story. Not that it always helps. After some intense close-ups of Blake Shelton’s hand near the button, in the end, none of the judges bites.
First up is Ducky and, whoops, your name is Ducky. His girlfriend even has red hair! It’s not red like Molly Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink hair – it’s magenta – but still! Ducky has the kind of mustache you can twirl, and his pallor and fedora make him look like a silent movie cowboy villain. During his “Tighten Up,” the judges argue over who should take him. Nobody does. They can’t seem to admit this is on purpose, though. “We wish we’d have pushed our button,” Xtina says.
Jonathus learned English from listening to music; winning this contest would be the American Dream. The moment he starts singing “U Got It Bad,” it’s clear he might have a shot. Beneath his dead-on vocal impression of Usher, there seems to lurk some talent. The judges can’t see his pompadour or his sick dance moves, but Cee Lo and Xtina both buzz in. “I want to package you and do the right things by you,” Xtina flirts, not even waiting for the crowd to chuckle before chiding, “You guys are perverted!” Cee Lo doesn’t miss a beat: “She’s got ‘package’ on her mind.” After young Jonathus admits he’s had the hots for Xtina since fifth grade (ouch!), he picks her as his coach.
Monique Benabou, who is adorable, has a parental sob story having something to do with cancer. I hate to give it short shrift but, you know, something like 40% of the contestants on this show have cancer in the immediate family. With her curly brown hair and feather earrings, Monique looks like a contemporary of Neneh Cherry and Jody Watley. During her “Mr. Know It All,” Blake persuades Xtina to pushes the button. Monique looks super-happy and grateful. Blake compliments Xtina when explaining why she was the right mentor: “We may fight sometimes, but I still think she’s the best female vocalist of her generation.” Aww, you guys!
Carson goes to retrieve Naia Kete while she and her band are playing a show in the park. Naia is wearing a blue dress and matching head scarf to contain the snake den of dreads on her head. Her entire family is engaged in a competition for whose dreads are the most rad. (Mom wins by a lock.) When Naia starts singing “The Lazy Song,” Blake turns almost immediately, followed by Cee Lo. “Hello, Earth Angel. I pushed my button for you,” Cee Lo says. (I forgot to mention Naia is a total stunner.) “Cee Lo, you push all my buttons,” she says, and the show ends, because it is perfect. Just kidding. “The minute you started singing, it made me smile,” Blake says. “I fell in love with your voice. I think you probably have ideas of what to do with it and I wanna hear those.” He manages to win her over and totally deserves it. Dude’s a serious charmer.
Charlotte Sometimes – aside from being a huge fan of the Cure and watching teachers roll their eyes while taking attendance – has overcome a jaw disease to get to where she is today, vocally. And how! With a fluttery timbre on OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” she makes all the judges turn around. “Charlotte Sometimes? I want you all the time,” Christina says (She’ll be here all week.) “When you opened up, it was like a flower,” Cee Lo says. “It was beautiful.” I’m not even gonna touch that one. Adam goes about complimenting Charlotte the wrong way, telling her she may not the best at everything, but she has one simple thing that could be refined. Tonight’s Teflon Don, Blake Shelton, manages to woo her by mentioning that similar-sounding Xenia from last year now has a record deal.
Tony Vincent is a Broadway lifer, as attested by cast photos from Rent and American Idiot. He wears more eyeliner than his wife, and beneath that bald pate is a big ego. “I chose The Voice as the platform for the next step of my career,” he says, because he likes their emphasis on vocal talent. Sure. During a very theatrical take on “We Are the Champions,” Tony bites hungrily into every word. Cee Lo is the only one who turns. “It takes guts to come out and do Freddie Mercury,” he says.
The next contestant is a “Christian artist” trapped beneath the heavy shadow of his father, a well-known preacher who has written “like 40” books. Anthony Evans talks about the pressure to measure up to daddy, while literally taking a long hard look in the mirror. He sings “What’s Going On?” with an appealingly wobbly vulnerability to his voice. Xtina turns her chair at the last possible moment, impressed by how Anthony was “hitting some of those runs and executing sharp” at the end.
Jamie Lono is a puppy with stringy blonde hair, a red shirt that looks like a pajama top and a Scottish plaid tie. He works in a sandwich shop, and his parents went broke paying for the lung operations he had when he was a kid. (The Sadness Gods are appeased.) Adam pushes his button almost immediately into “Folsom Prison Blues.” Cee Lo follows suit. “I wanna make sure you never have to make sandwiches again,” Adam promises, echoing Josh Krajcik’s burrito-making storyline from The X-Factor, for those of us who watched that show. I can’t make heads or tails of what Cee Lo means by “I would like that type of energy and surround it in ability,” but he wins the kid’s vote.
Next up is another blast from the past of someone involved in the show. Justin Hopkins was a guitarist in the Last Call With Carson Daly house band. He looks exactly like Chris Hardwick, who I just realized also looks exactly like Josh Lucas. Hopkins’ slightly sped-up version of “Babylon” catches the attention of “old soul brother Cee Lo Green,” who swoops in to claim him. “I got to so selfishly watch your talent for so long,” Carson says afterward, but even a celebratory Hopkins doesn’t look quite convinced that Carson ever noticed anything.
“I’m a 6-foot, 300-pound white guy and I sing Sixties soul music,” says the rock-eating creature from The Never Ending Story, whose name turns out to be Eric Tipton. After that intro, though, how surprised was I when bearded, bespectacled Tipton busts out some Hall & Oates? It’s not a very exciting rendition, either; nobody turns around. The judges blame their disinterest on a song choice so iconic that they can’t get past the original version, which is a perfectly serviceable lie.
Mathai is another beautiful young singer of indiscernible ethnic background. Her story is that she’s choosing music over med school, and her cover of “Rumour Has It” leaves me inclined to agree with this choice. Her voice is very strong, but it also flutters and purrs. Everybody turns except Xtina, who seems to judge young female singers on a sliding scale against her former self. “Attention: we are looking at a star,” Blake says. “You don’t sound like anyone else I’ve ever heard before,” Adam says, bringing out the big guns. “I’m really desperate to have you on my team because I love you,” he says. Cee Lo tells her she’s beautiful, which fails to dissuade her from picking Adam.
Next week: The blind auditions train has almost reached the terminal. But not yet!