Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Report from the Set: 'The Voice'...

Those of you who follow my professional work over at LA Examiner know that I have been covering The Voice during its live rounds. For the first two weeks I sat in the press green room, snacking on cheesecake bites and guzzling water by the plastic bottle to stay cool under the lights and with all the pyro, but during the semi-finals round I moved into the actual studio to watch the performances live on stage in front of me instead of live on a monitor and to get a little "peek behind the curtain" take on the production of the show. Since I used to work not only in production, on television shows-- but specifically live television shows-- I have a deep respect and admiration for all of the cogs in the wheels that are necessary to keep a spectacle like The Voice running. I would be lying if I said I didn't spend part of my evening watching the camera operators dance around the stage just as nimbly with their Steadicams as the performers themselves did with their mics and musical instruments. But I would be lying if I said I didn't spend part of it watching the subtle things snuck in before the live countdown began back from each commercial break, too. Come on, half the fun is in getting to spy what wasn't shown on TV, right!?


Right off the bat the three male coaches were ushered out to take their (super comfy looking, by the way) seats first, and they stood and toasted another successful show before getting situated. Cee Lo Green seemed cool as a cucumber in his crisp white track suit, over-sized shades, and double (yes, you were seeing that correctly!) blinged-out watches, but the drinks didn't go down as easy for Blake Shelton or Adam Levine.

Surprisingly The Voice went off without a lot of fan fare. At only the third week into these live performances, the crew certainly seems to have it down pat. I have no idea how stressed or crazy (or last minute, as the case was tonight with the eight semi-finalists staying around after the cameras shut down to prep for tomorrow's first-ever live results show) rehearsals usually are, but by the time the stage manager counts Carson Daly down for the final five seconds, everything is just on and ready and seemingly effortless. I have worked in live television (on talk shows, but still!), and The Voice's sense of efficiency puts them all to shame.

Daly is a pro. That really goes without saying. But I was most impressed by the length at which he could read his teleprompter. He didn't squint; he didn't stumble; he didn't even seem to read through the copy off to the side of the stage prior to being called back up to read live, on national television. Or maybe that's a normal skill. It might be timed for me to go back to the eye doctor...

As each performer walked off stage right, they had to pass the VIP audience section which resembles something of a mosh pit (or at least the VIP seats at any modern concert). Many performers, most notably Frenchie Davis and Nakia were quick to bend down and touch their adoring fans' hands or say a quick hi to anyone in their path. Many more still, like Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellan, were so caught up in the performance high they waved to those up in the higher sections, throwing rock signs out and responding to cheers and catcalls.

But it really was the coaches that the audience seemed to have the most fun with. As the taping went on, cheers would go up from different sections for different coaches, seemingly unprompted by the audience wranglers or stage managers. Sometimes the coaches would have time to engage; Green got up and shook hands with one section of the audience, and Levine turned around and gestured for another section to really cheer and clap. When Levine rallies, you answer, I just have to point out!

And super producer Mark Burnett was on-hand, too, to whisper notes to the coaches in the commercial breaks. My seat was too far away to hear anything, naturally, or even try to read his lips, but after last week's mini filibuster at the top of the show, I wouldn't be surprised if he was giving them techniques to time their commentary before they speak to ensure everyone gets a fair turn. And perhaps he was also reminding them of how their judging process would work because at the end of the night, when they were asked to score the semi-finalists and then seal their official ballots, there appeared to be a few side-long glances occurring, as if to say one or two of the coaches didn't quite get it. But I won't say who.

Admittedly there were moments in the studio when it was hard to hear some of the things Daly or the coaches were saying. After all, they are mic'ed and told to speak at a normal volume for the cameras, but in a studio that holds close to one thousand people, some of the sound gets absorbed before it travels all around the circle. So when Daly announced that Shelton would be performing with two special guests, it was completely lost on me. But I'm kind of glad I missed the announcement because when I saw Xenia slowly making her way up on stage, followed surely by Dia Frampton on the other side, a warm smile crept across my face. More than any other show on television right now, The Voice allows for mentorship, and Team Blake truly seems to have formed a little family unit. By Shelton sharing the spotlight not only with his proteges but two young ladies who he has really brought out of their shells, he was showing off his soft, sweet side. Not that he ever really had a bad boy image, being a country king and all, but this took him to a whole other level.

While everyone sounded pretty good live, in the studio (no uber-heavy bass drowning out lyrics this week, thank goodness!), it was about so much more than just the vocals. The Voice is really out to put on a show and entertain. Aguilera has consistently told Davis to stay with dance anthems and big party songs to get the crowd excited. We already know she can hit and hold the high notes, but it is important to see personality shine through, too. Though with Davis' gospel take on "Like a Prayer," I admittedly enjoyed it more when I just watched her standing and singing and blocked out all of her back-up dancers, the outside elements did lend themselves well to performances like Martinez'. Her close-out "Dog Days Are Over" was a true anthem and had the entire audience a surrogate member of her drumline, tapping their feet and hitting their hands against their legs or chairs to get into the groove with her.

Seeing Nakia and McClellan get behind the piano was a nice way to see what else they could do besides rock out, but unfortunately no one seems to like to follow through with their musical instruments these days! Every performance that started with one-- and not just in the semi-finals, but earlier, such as Jared Blake tossing his guitar off-stage mid-way through his live show-- ended with a run around the stage. I never want to see a musician hiding behind an instrument, so to speak, but if you're going to use it to enhance a song or a vibe or an overall performance, then stick with it! Don't be as A.D.D. as your audience; be better than them! Since each and every performer, even Frampton who had strapped on a guitar, did it, it is most likely a note coming down from the producers, but it's a note I don't quite understand!

Personally, though, the performance of the night (both in the most anticipatory sense as well as the one that delivered the hardest emotional punch) was Javier Colon's. I'll just say it: I am super bummed I was on the wrong side of the stage to receive the hat he tossed into the crowd. The guy (guy!?) who caught it waved it around for the rest of the night, taunting the rest of us, including Shelton who joked that he wanted to catch it. Now you'll have to excuse me if you feel like this post is unfinished, but I'm off to eBay to hunt for it...

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