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'The Voice' recap: The live shows kick off

April 3, 2012 | 10:09 am

'The Voice' contestant Naia Kete with host Carson Daly.With the battle rounds at its back, "The Voice" kicked off its live shows Monday night. The members of Team Blake and Team Christina -– with six singers apiece -– each took the stage solo to vie for viewers' votes. If I understood Carson Daly correctly (this is my first season watching "The Voice"), it sounds like we'll vote three members of each team through to safety, and then the coach of each team will be able to choose one member of his or her bottom three to rescue and send through as well.

So how'd they do? Well, some battle-round favorites didn't quite meet expectations. And some contestants favorably surprised us.

Nothing, however, probably surprised us as much as Cee Lo Green's hair -– both on his head and on his chest, the latter plainly visible beneath his low-cut, fringy red shirt.

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"There's a little something different about you tonight," Daly noted (how could he not?) at the top of the show. "What are you doing? Who are you? Where is Cee Lo?"

"Well … Adam cut his hair off, so I figured I'd grow mine out," Green said, referring to fellow coach Adam Levine's newly short 'do.

Quipped Levine of Green's lush Little Richard-esque locks: "That actually is my hair."

Honestly, I'm just happy to see Christina Aguilera in a different (lower-key and notably softer) outfit -– and without that silly disc-hat on her head.

If the live shows had brought us nothing more than a costume change for the coaches, I'd have welcomed them. But they also brought us a chance to get to know 12 of the contestants a little better.

Team Blake kicked things off with Jermaine Paul, the talented Alicia Keys background singer who wants to step into the spotlight as a solo artist. "It's my time, it's my chance, and I'm ready," Paul told us. For some reason, though, he chose to sing "Livin' on a Prayer," by Bon Jovi. Aguilera was pretty much spot-on when she said she "didn't see the connection with the song choice at all" but that Paul milked what he could from it.

Next we got Team Christina's Chris Mann, the classically trained opera singer from Kansas who's trying to make his cancer-battling mom proud by finding mainstream success. He turned in a powerful, note-perfect "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" that the judges and Daly called "amazing." As technically admirable as it was, it struck me as a little schmaltzy.

"Texas farm girl" RaeLynn, from Shelton's team, took the stage next with a countrified version of Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call." The 17-year-old singer looked adorable stomping around the stage in her boots and tutu, prompting Aguilera to call her "sassy" and eliciting praise from Maroon 5 frontman Levine. Coach Blake Shelton, fresh from co-hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards, said everyone there had been talking about RaeLynn, and that she represented "the new generation of country music." But I thought the song was pitched too low, and consequently came off as a bit groany.

Team Christina's hip-hopper, Moses Stone, performed a combo of Kanye West's "Stronger" and "Power." He sang, he rapped, he danced, backed by a batch of gymnasts. The rap-versus-singing debate raged among the judges, with Green and Aguilera taking a pro rap stance and Levine and Shelton expressing interest in Stone's development as a "singer." "Singing is what this competition is about," Shelton told Stone. "I don't know about the rapping." We'll find out soon enough what the audience thinks.

Los Angeles street musician Naia Kette, who'd let down her coach, Shelton, by allowing nerves to affect her performance during the battle rounds, had something to prove. But Shelton may have let her down this time by advising her to perform Adele's "Turning Tables" without mixing it up too much and making it her own. The choice may have doomed her by exposing her weaknesses and depriving her of her naturally appealing reggae flavor.

Lindsey Pavao -– she of the interesting hair and voice - performed a "trip-hoppy" "Somebody I Used to Know," by Gotye, accompanied by some grotesquely masked clown-doll-mime dancers. Levine said she had a "unique voice" but lacked power. Her coach, Aguilera, said she'd totally buy her album. I actually agree with both of them. I'm intrigued by Pavao, but I'd love to see her break out of her shell more.

Team Blake's Jordis Unga sang Heart's "Alone." To my ears, it lacked breath support in the quiet parts and then was shouty in the loud parts -– not terribly cohesive overall. Green said he "enjoyed the staging" and the performance (though he seemed mostly to be enjoying his own hair). Shelton said Unga's performance was "the opposite of playing it safe." I think it's the opposite of the opposite of playing it safe.

Sera Hall (Team Christina) took the stage in a white suit and sparkly bustier, flanked by a big hunk of hunky shirtless male dancers, and sang Drake's "Find Your Love" – though not terribly well. "It's hard to get past the male strippers," Shelton said. Aguilera rolled her eyes, but then even she seemed to have a hard time finding something nice to say about Hall's singing, instead praising her comfort onstage: "You look gorgeous ... like a diva in training."

Erin Willett actually had the opposite problem. Propelled by the memory of her dad's advice "to do everything 110 percent," Willett turned in a vocally strong performance. Her coach, Shelton, called it "technically and passionately the best vocal performance of the night." But the production values came off like a Broadway jukebox musical -– more Tony Awards than Grammy Awards.
Ashley De La Rosa, the charity-minded Florida high school student, said she was ready to seize her moment and show us who she really is. Then she stepped out and pleasantly surprised everyone, not just her coach, Aguilera, by singing Alanis Morissette's "Right Through You" with confidence and energy. Levine called her the "biggest surprise" of the evening and the "most improved," noting that the 17-year-old seemed to have grown into a woman. "You really did everything perfectly," he said. Aguilera, looking like a proud mama, called De La Rosa "phenomenal."

Shelton wasn't telling us anything we didn't already know when he said he thought his team member Charlotte Sometimes "definitely has a shot at winning" the whole enchilada. Still, Sometimes took the opportunity to remind us why she was worthy of such a prediction, bringing texture and vocal power to Paramore's "Misery Business." Levine said he thought he might have detected some flatness, but Aguilera disagreed, calling the performance "dramatic" and well-calibrated. Shelton, who also said he hadn't heard pitch problems, hailed Sometimes as a "true artist."

Jesse Campbell, who may be my favorite singer in the whole competition, capped off the night with "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. As his coach, Aguilera, noted, Campbell, who has bounced back from sleeping-in-his-car homelessness, can sing the phone book -– and he can sing it with soul. But Aguilera here pushed him to overdo it just a tad, and the natural sweetness of his performance style teetered on the brink of syrupy. Still, he deserved the coaches' praise. "Your voice is almost as beautiful as my hair," Green said, adding, "If someone from my team doesn't win, I'm looking for you to win the show." Levine warned his own team that Campbell was "the dude to beat."

My favorites for the night were …

Team Blake
Jermaine Paul
Erin Willett
Charlotte Sometimes

Team Christina
Ashley De La Rosa
Jesse Campbell
And either Lindsey Pavao or Chris Mann

Who were your favorites?

INTERACTIVE | 'American Idol' vs. 'The Voice' -- Who's the best?

"Idol" vs. "The Voice" Times music and television writers, including Amy Reiter, are ranking the five best performers each week, regardless of venue. Readers are invited to cast their votes too. See who made the top five last week at Who do you think stood out this week? Use the poll below to make your picks. Check back Thursday afternoon to see if your favorites made the cut. The poll closes Monday at noon.


Full coverage of "The Voice"

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Contestant Naia Kete, left, with host Carson Daly.  Credit:  Lewis Jacobs / NBC