Remember when the tag line for "The Voice" was "Close your eyes. Open your ears"? Originally, the idea was that blind auditions would help the judges choose a talent without getting distracted by looks. But last night, as the battle-rounds stage of the competition came to an end, there was so much look going on, the judges could hardly tear their unclosed eyes away. There was Casey Desmond's Little-Mermaid-gone-Gwen-Stefani hairdo, and Lily Elise's "8 Mile"-era Eminem hoodie, and Emily Valentine's "Sucker Punch" costume, and Curtis Grimes' 24-gallon cowboy hat, which he removed in a sweeping, rodeo-champion gesture just in time to give Emily a long, slow kiss at the end of their duet. And we're supposed to pay attention to the lyrics?
If this week of "The Voice" felt more like "Project Runway," we can't exactly blame the judges. During the first round of Team Adam, Carson Daly introduced Casey as a singer "who makes all her own clothes" and a "glam rocker with a love of fashion." "She's crazy-awesome rocker-techno!" explained her competitor, Jeff Jenkins, who battled Casey on Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." As Casey approached the stage, her friends in the green room exclaimed, "Oh! She looks so good!" But we couldn't see how good she looked: Her brow-high blue eye shadow and neon-pink lipstick were burning the words "Casey Desmond, Queen of the '80s" directly over our retinas.
Good thing Jeff stuck to a simple jean jacket, because we really, really wanted to love this big old Rock-afire Explosion bear of a country singer, whose mother died last year. Asked what Mama Jenkins might say about her son competing, he said sweetly, "You're doin' it, Bubba! You're making your dreams come true." Right then and there, our cynical blogger hearts grew three sizes.
We think Adam was pulling for him too. "I picked [Jeff] and immediately knew he was amazing, I didn't even need to think about it," Adam said. "Casey is ... interesting, because I was the only one to pick Casey." So, yeah, this one wasn't exactly a tough call. Though Christina conceded that Casey had "a great look," Jeff's golden voice won Adam over. Backstage, you could see his sister, crying her eyes out -– and a certain "Voice" recapper may or may not have gotten a little teary too. C'mon, Bubba! You're wearing us down!
Luckily, it was easy not to care quite so much about the next two competitors: Team Blake's Xenia and Sara Oromchi, the latter of whom lamented that if she stayed long enough in this competition she'd miss prom. (OMG! Bummer!) It's a good thing these two self-proclaimed "shy" women weren't competing in a personality-off, because even Blake seemed a little bored by them. "I picked you two because you both seemed like the most fashionable," he admitted as the two brunets, who both looked like they'd been plucked off an indie-rock-girl rack at Forever 21, practiced the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You." Now, Blake insisted, the challenge was for them to show who they really are. (Hint: Stepford hipster-wives?)
Golly, how they tried to show who they were: Xenia purred through her best smoky Norah Jones jazz voice, while Sara tried (and occasionally failed) to show her range, reaching and stretching and grasping at the high notes. Sara definitely sounded like the stronger singer, but Adam wasn't convinced. "It was pitchy, and there were nerves flyin' around everywhere and notes that weren't being hit," he said of both contestants. Left with few options, Blake chose Xenia, who immediately consulted her winners handbook checklist. Tears shed? Check. Tears shed by little sister backstage? Check. Tears shed by judges? Well, not so much. But if no judges' dreams were fulfilled, at least Sara got to go to prom.
Team Christina's battle was even more confusing, and not only because Lily's outfit was so baffling: So, are we to believe that her gray hoodie was actually holding up her short shorts with some type of sweat-shirt suspenders? It's a good thing Christina wasn't expecting a pop-star home run this time out. "I'm not looking for perfection in this battle," she said, adding that passion and emotion were more important. And there was plenty of emotion pouring out of Lily in her yelling rendition of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone" -– but we're not sure what that emotion was. Anger? Frustration? Hot-pants chafing?
Poor Cheri Oakley was no match, even though she wrote Reba McEntire's "Turn On Your Radio" and sings with a honeyed tone so lovely, she could've made that song a hit herself. Maybe her voice couldn't compete with Lily's spotlight-hogging zebra-striped shirt, nameplate gold necklace, giant hoop earrings, and even-more-giant stripper heels. Cee Lo noted that Cheri's voice was more controlled, but Christina, who's clearly a master of restraint, at least in terms of clothing (she wears as little as possible), was clearly impressed with Lily's style. "Lily, you surprised me!" she exclaimed. "All these days you've been hanging out in your sweats and your little sneakers, I really wasn't expecting you to come out like a little hot mama with your red shoes -- high heels -- and short shorts. You look pretty good!" Apparently, sounding pretty good wasn't an issue.
Yes, looks can be deceiving -– especially on the team that belongs to Cee Lo, a Marmaduke of a man who wears head-to-toe red outfits complete with red Crocs. Cee Lo wasn't giving any style tips this week, but his two competitors were still obsessed with each others' physical attributes. "Singing with Curtis is bittersweet, because we've been really close so far ... in the friend side of the competition," admitted Emily Valentine. And then, if you didn't catch that hint: "When Curtis is singing, it's hard not to lose yourself." And finally: "I sort of have a little crush on Curtis." D'ya think?
Pitting these two against each other was a little cruel, especially when they're singing Lady Antebellum’s secret late-night hook-up anthem, "Need You Now." "It's a love song, but the relationship is a little volatile, and that should come through in the song," Cee Lo explained. Hmmm, maybe pitting two lovebirds against one another in a fight-to-the-death finale is a good way to get that volitility out?
From the start, the duet was an awkward pairing: the tattooed pop-rocker against the country smoothie, capped off with an obviously staged kiss at the end -- and lots of Bob's-yer-uncle jokes from the judges. "One of you's going home -- not alone I guess!" quipped Carson.
"Cee Lo probably told y'all that he wanted y'all to duet, not do it," said Blake. (Somewhere, Blake's future children are crying, "Dad! Quit it with the bad jokes!")
Sadly, Emily got booted in favor of smoldering-baritone Curtis. Sigh! As "Thelma and Louse" taught us, cowboys are dangerous: They make smart ladies lose all their ambition. We would've liked to see Emily go further in this competition, but we fear that the kiss got the better of her. Next time, Emily, do as "The Voice" advises: Close your eyes, open your ears -- and close your mouth.
-- Melissa Maerz
Photo: Jeff Jenkins and Casey Desmond on "The Voice." Credit: Lewis Jacobs / NBC