Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Voice Israel, Season 2

I didn't get to see the finale live and thought I could manage to avoid hearing about the results for several days until getting back from out of the country.  I thought I was home free until I picked up an English language newspaper several days later and the results were there of all places, buried on the back page of the front section.

I was really invested in this show (the first season of The Voice I've watched in any country) and this is but one of many reasons that I never even think about what's happening on American Idol any more.

Lina Makhoul emerged as a very capable winner in a season loaded with talent.  I was blown away by the quality of the contestants who were eliminated in the duets round -- the round of 48!  And to think that American Idol can't even put together a top ten without a few embarrassments in most years.

Lina wasn't anywhere near the top of my list (possibly not even top ten), and in fact, based on talent alone, I might not have kept her in the duets round if it were up to me.  Based on charm and star potential it was obvious that she'd be sticking around for a while.  She managed to advance to the finals partly because of the  unfair bracketology of the show.  She had very little competition because she was the class of a very weak group.  Her jaw-dropping Fayrouz cover (in the round of 20, I believe), by far her finest moment of the season, practically cinched her road to the finals.

Her opponent in the final pairing, Ophir Ben-Shitrit, fought through a ridiculously talented group mentored by Aviv Gefen and was by far my favourite performer of the season.  In the round of 16, Aviv's group had a reasonable claim to being ranked 1-2-3-4 overall, at the very worst, they were four of the best seven or eight left in the competition.  I thought Ophir vs Lina would be a close contest, but Lina wiped the floor with her despite singing a sterile version of "Hallelujah" as her final song (although Ophir's final song was far from her best performance too).  But Lina had the girl next door smile and charm, whereas Ophir was a bit too much of an ice queen to really connect with the voters.  She could come across as a bit snooty and vain even I'm sure she doesn't have a vain impulse in her body.  Personality is key in these shows, and the singer who lets down their guard and bares their soul tends to do well.  Lina seemed more like an open book throughout the season, Ophir was more distant.  

In a season where judges took shots at each other over who could and couldn't connect to the lyrics in English language songs, where several contestants were judged largely on their abilities to sing in different genres and languages, almost nobody seemed to have a grasp on what a good English performance sounds like.  Natives of the Middle East have a lot of difficulty enunciating hard consonants in English, particularly the "r"'s, and for this reason a lot of performances throughout the season came off sounding sloppy, as if they were trying to sing with a mouthful of food.  Words and sentences would be slurred together into a complicated jumble, and often I doubted I would be able to understand what they were singing about if I didn't already know the words to the songs.  The cadence of the lyrics would be inconsistent, and melisma was often totally misapplied. This was easily the most frustrating thing about the season because performances of very famous English language hits were more often than not praised to the heavens, even though they were at best average.  Lina's audition performance of "Empire State of Mind" is exactly the kind of thing that would have gotten her eviscerated by the judges in the semifinals of American Idol.  She'd have found herself quickly in the bottom three after a few "that's tough, taking on a great singer like Alicia Keys" (i.e. the "never sing songs by Whitney or Mariah on talent shows" rule) and "I don't know, for me it was a bit all over the place" type of comments from the judges.

The only contestants on "The Voice" who could sing well in English were Atalia Pierce and Roni Perry.  Neither of them made it to the finals (how Dana Tsalah made it past the duet stage, let alone into the finals, is a complete mystery to me) but this might not be the last we hear from them, particularly (if justice and Aviv Gefen have anything to say about it) from Roni Perry.

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