Monday, November 19, 2012


What a (Good) Girl Wants

I have been sucked into this talent show called The Voice by my young cousin. Initially I resisted it, literally leaning away from the screen. So much Carson Daly. Endless Katy Perry covers. And I really hate tragedy packaging, despite my own side hustle teaching young college applicants exactly how to package their “tragedies” to epiphanic effect. So in that first show, when all these beautiful slickies wept to the cameras that they wanted to win The Voice because they were born prematurely, or they had been in a hostage situation like a decade ago, I was not having it. You want to be famous, you mongering fakers! Next!

Now I love The Voice. I love the redneck-dad, drunken ineptitude of Blake Shelton, the faint praise that Xtina rations her hungry little songbirds, Cee-Lo’s satiny just-do-you mantras, and even Adam Levine’s (oddly) passionate stump speeches. I really think he cares. (I still recoil from Carson, though. Why not Charles Grodin or RuPaul?) I love critiquing the singing, since I can’t sing for shit. But The Voice offers more than talent. There are issues afoot, complex narratives of class, gender, and ambivalent feminism! In my pajamas, with my pudding cup, I am eager to unload any unspent critical faculties.

Five Moments of Complicated Feminism on The Voice

1) Battle: Alessandra Geurcio vs. Kayla Nevarez

They’re both 17. Alessandra goes to LaGuardia High, the Fame school, and her audition b-roll shows her singing scales while an old guy plays the piano in front of some giant windows. Kayla wears open jackets, like Mariah Carey in 1993. She sleeps on the couch in a crowded apartment, and her dad has liver disease. She sang “American Boy” at her audition; she always plays it cool.

For the battle, Alessandra shows up in tight gold jeans and robo-emotes her way through Katy Perry’s “Concrete,” falling to her knees and imploring invisible forces. Kayla is so seventeen, both cynical and fragile, unsteady in heels. They both sing beautifully.

I’m eating a pudding cup and chanting Kayla-Kayla-Kayla to myself while Carson goes down the coach’s line. As Blake says, this choice is “a sucky one.” But then Adam Levine, who will choose between these girls, tells Alessandra, “I felt this insecurity in you that, honestly, made me sad.” Sad? That she’s obviously been trained to please pros and bros is making this boner sad? Adam then says that Kayla isn’t humble enough.

Adam picks Kayla, but I’m too pissed at him for negging Alessandra to be completely pleased. Thankfully for Alessandra, Xtina has been down this road herself. She snatches up Alessandra and says, gesturing toward Adam, that “no woman should have to feel not confident.” Alessandra weeps and fans herself. But who would have thought that it would be Dirrty Aguilera, so profoundly chilly toward the female contestants, saving this girl from humiliation?

Adam prefers to be the Good Guy, and he knows he screwed the pooch on this one. “Good job,” he tells Xtina. “You can teach her a lot.”

“I know,” Xtina says tiredly.

2) Xtina Chooses Adriana over De’Borah

Where Xtina stands ideologically is complicated, because she is building her version of a Lou Perlman team. She chooses the newly adrift Disney child-stars and all the skinny teenage girls with tight skirts and big hair. By the live show, she’s got three such gals, plus one potato chip named Dez Duron and the inimitable, astonishing De’Borah, who dresses like Carlton Banks and sings like no one else on the planet.

I yawn through prom-dressed Devyn’s choreographed shove of her mic-stand, Adriana’s flitty and underdetermined “Firework,” and Sylvia singing the season’s hundredth Katy Perry cover, though accompanying herself on the piano makes for a nice change. Dez croons me to sleep. Then, De’Borah: she sings as though she’s just been released from the mental institution, and I mean that as a compliment. She dances like someone lit the soles of her sneakers on fire.

“America” chooses Dez and Sylvia, and Xtina “saves” the sobbing Adriana.

Oh, come on! Adriana, Devyn, and Sylvia are the same person. Sylvia’s a little better, okay, but Adriana and Devyn are totally the same. They are the same because they are prom queens who belt and tremble, who challenge nothing and no one. They have checked off every box on the pop-tart template. They have no original ideas, and, I think bitchily, they look like Bratz dolls. Is it because De’Borah’s gay? Can America not take it?

But then I wonder if I’m the close-minded one. I’m ready to toss these girls like a cheap bouquet, which means that I fully accept them as the simulacra they have worked so hard to become, probably because they recognize that’s their best chance for success.  Am I, sitting on my couch with my empty pudding cup, the real Mean Girl here?

It’s true. I am being totally antifeminist.

3) Domestic Violence Song and Dance

The coaches often compare the contestants’ renditions to the original artists’, and at no time was this more awkward than when the sweet metal-grandpa Rudy Parris sang Chris Brown’s “Forever,” which he chose to connect with “a young audience.” He spectacularly fails to win the judges. “What an interesting song choice!” Xtina says. “I wasn’t really sure of your connection with it. I didn’t know how to digest it.” Poor Rudy obviously has no idea. He is sent home.

Taboo domestic violence appears again in the live show that aired the night before Election Day. Country amalgamation Liz Davis, who I just loathe, switches from her lighter-fluid n’ hotpants archetype to diva mode. She dons a silky white gown (a little too post-Grammy– not yet, Liz!) to sing Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” which is about a battered woman burning down her house. Liz is nothing if not calculating. She’s been singing Miranda Lambert songs to Blake, Miranda’s husband, for weeks now. She does okay. There’s a too-hostile yell to the crowd.

“Perfect time for that song!” Xtina says.

“It makes me proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,” Cee-Lo says ironically, though not in the direction of the song’s irony. “Independence Day” is the “Born in the USA” of pop country music. It’s not a national anthem.

I realize that Liz only sings songs about acts of vindication toward bad men. This is her thing. I’ve been so busy sniping about her Tanfastic addiction and unseemly, naked ambition to notice what she sings about. Liz Davis is the Trojan horse of The Voice.

Liz goes home, though Blake appreciates her “softer side,” which I can only take to mean her outfit.

4) The Ascent of Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown is my favorite to win. Until the live show, she wore wide-leg trousers and loose blouses. Her voice is everything, but she also has incredible style, her sexiness all leather pants and unruffled intelligence. She communicates her difference from Xtina’s girls at every opportunity, through her clothes, her bobbed hair, her song choices, her unwillingness to play any single type.

At the live show, she growls and hand-dances through Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” her voice so supple and elastic that when she lifts off into to last high note, I think she may have made a deal with the devil. I adore her. “I love her trousers,” I keep saying to no one.

But I hate to think that I’m that simple, that I have been won over by pants. Would I register the wonder of Amanda’s voice if she wore hair extensions and bandage dresses? If Liz Davis had an agenda, I wish she had signaled it visually, instead of trying to pass as a type. This is network TV, guys. Your finer points are lost in the lights.

5) America Speaks

America gives Adriana the boot after she makes the "sporadical" decision to serenade Adam up close and personal. America doesn't like this flagrant sexy stuff, even though Xtina does it all the time. Is she allowed to leer because she’s an established star, and not some spangled waitress getting too big for her britches? America then axes Michaela, the smizing mall punk who brings Blake to tears. "I love this little girl," he often reminds us. But America does not. America is getting hip to these typey-types, more than the judges are– even if America is quicker to reject female types than their flat male counterparts (Dez and Bryan, that guy in the fedora).

I understand that a woman has not yet won The Voice, but if America doesn't choose Amanda in the next election, I'm moving to Canada. The Voice has already asked more of me than I bargained for.

Previously: The Best Time I Found Bits of Hair on a Shelf.

Rebecca Scherm usually writes fiction, bless her heart.

52 Comments / Post A Comment

Anne Helen Petersen

I've never watched an episode of The Voice but I'll read this forever.


@Anne Helen Petersen Totally! Can we start a weekly (or however often this is on? I feel like it might be one of those multiple times a week things) episode write-up by Rebecca? This is awesome.


@meryls I second that motion. I have been watching the show regularly this season and have no one to talk to about it.

rebecca the brave

@BosomBuddy And we haven't even touched on the men yet!

Amanda killed it tonight tho, right? Xtina is so threatened by her. What IS that?


@fancyschmancy Amanda is my favorite to win it. She won me over with Dream On and her outfits.


you should make more...like soon.@n


The only way it's ok for Amanda to not win is if Trevin does. Because that boy...holy shit.

Also, I auditioned for The Voice and it was an absolutely insane experience, but I loved it. The thing that frustrates me about the show (and all of the talent shows) is that really the only type of women's voice that is advanced and praised is the huge, belting, Xtina or Kelly Clarkson type. Not everyone sounds like that, but they can still be talented!

Lily Rowan

@TheRobyn Interesting -- I've been saying this season that they've gone less for the little-girl weird voices that seemed so popular in the first two seasons.

Also, would like to read a write-up of your audition experience!!


@TheRobyn yes I agree with @Lily Rowan, The Voice in past seasons has shied away from composing entire teams with big powerhouse pop voices. This seems to be a new thing. Also Melanie has been the only girl since the top 20 with a quirky, softer voice, but she seems to be advancing just fine.


The only episode of The Voice I've ever seen was the one after the Super Bowl where Xtina was, undeniably and completely, drunk. It was glorious. Is she drunk every episode? I would tune in regularly if she was.


@annev6 Xtina is always on the sauce.


De'Borah forever.

Judith Slutler

@Norrey I was gonna say, how did she not win? I don't even care about whether or not that is somehow unfeminist, just, De'Borah. Saying this only on the basis of her video above, btw.


@Emmanuelle Cunt I just stalked her a little further and her duet cover of Message in a Bottle (see YouTube) gave me chills. And her parents are so cute!


@Norrey Now, I haad alot of FEELINGS about De'borah getting cut but in Christina's defense, her rationale was that De'borah had nothing left to learn from her and that the girl she chose (who's name I'm too lazy to look up because, yeah, they seem pretty interchangable, so many bandange dresses!) could benefit from the kind of lady belter vocal coaching Xtina can provide. And I won't try to say it was homophobic because Beverly made it pretty far the first season, on Team Xtina BUT it is possible she's got a different strategy this season.


@shantasybaby Although I generally think "I went with the one I thought I could help more!" is a cop-out when they really mean "I went with the one that's more marketable!" I almost buy it here. De'borah had given a great performance, and the public wasn't interested. Saving her would have just delayed the inevitable. Xtina seemed to think the other girl (also don't remember her name, also don't care) has given a shitty performance and could do better next time and move on.


Finally, something that makes me feel less guilty for watching this show.

I was gutted when De'Borah left, and Dez fills me with rage every time I see his face. He's just so nothing! There is nothing there!

Lili B.

I have never seen The Voice, so this is like every anthropology class that I always wanted to take and never got to.


"I love the redneck-dad, drunken ineptitude of Blake Shelton"...Rebecca, you have impugned the honor of my secret tv crush. I think we can only settle this by competing in a duel ourselves. Does it have to be singing, though, cause I'm kind of a bad singer? How about coffee consumption, I could make a serious showing in that?

rebecca the brave

@LuluMonster (rebecca here!) oh, did I not mention that he is a drunken, inept FOX?? (Also: Have you seen the clips of him on Chelsea Lately? GOLLLD.)


I do not watch this show, but this piece, and that screen grab of Xtina looking like a wax portrait of herself, fills me with such joy that I might have to start.

Tragically Ludicrous

The Dutch original (The Voice of Holland) has so far had one female winner and one male one. The girl winner was a 19-year-old who plays the harp, which almost seems like cheating, but it's still pretty neat.

I keep forgetting to watch the ongoing season. Maybe I'll remember on Friday. I think it's almost over, so then at least I'll know who wins.


This is amazing. You're a total thought-stealer here.

Lily Rowan

Ahhhhh! I love the Voice! And would like to talk about it more. Also thoughts!!

So thanks.


@Lily Rowan @Lily Rowan Are you just asking for random thoughts? Because there are LOTS of things I could talk about on The Voice! Is anyone else a little creeped out by Blake's love of the young girls? Is it bad that I just PRAY it's because he wants to be a father figure type but FEAR that there's going to be scandal where he is actually taking advantage of them? I even spun a yarn where Miranda was involved in it, but that's just cause I'm a freak who watches too much Law and Order SVU. If Amanda Brown doesn't win, I hope for Saint Nick, he just makes me happy. I also, weirdly don't hate the Fedora Guy, I liked finding out he used to sing metal. And Trevin- did anyone else cry when that lady who was like his mom got elliminated? Does anyone else want to really dislike Cassadee (seariously, spelling) Pope but can't? She looks just like Shenae Grimes AKA Darcy from Degrassi, doesn't she?


@shantasybaby I really really wish Blake would stop saying "I love this little girl!". And was it Adam who talked about Michaela and her 15-year-old competitor having a pillow fight? Please be less skeevy, judges!

Also, I am hating Cassadee just fine. I don't like Avril Lavigne, but at least Avril had a bratty sort of swagger. It's a terrible thing to be somehow less interesting than Avril.

Lily Rowan

@shantasybaby I really firmly believe that Blake is paternal toward these girls (but of course, that doesn't mean he's not also a perv. But I really really hope not).

I also generally like Cassadee, and really most of them. But I'm pretty sure Trevin will win. I would be glad to see Amanda win for the ladies, but she's not my favorite.

Also, I am weirdly obsessed with Cody Balew, because I love him as a person, but wish he would pick non-diva songs, to showcase his actual voice! Like last night: Show is not called The Horn Section Plus Dancers.


@shantasybaby I think Blake and Adam are both creepsters, though I maintain an odd affection for Blake. The way he was looking at Cassadee (do you think she hates writing her name, too?) during her performance last night made me think something was going on between them. If not, he needs to back off.

I love Nick, too! He seems like such a nice guy. He can sing to me forever.


@shantasybaby OMG YES DARCY THAT IS IT


"because she is building her version of a Lou Perlman team"
Well I'm glad someone is taking my dream and running with it!


I love this, I love the Voice, and I love all of you.

Regina Phalange

As someone who walked around from the ages of 10 to 18 as a person-shaped tangle of raw anxiety and self-consiousness, watching teenage girls do their thing on these shows fills me with such envy/annoyance/excitement.


@Regina Phalange God, this is so true. Deeply envious of those incredibly self-possessed teenagers who aren't even drunk in order to sing.


@Regina Phalange For sure! Maybe I'm in the minority but I loved Michaela especially for this reason...her look was quite obnoxious but she had so much confidence and swagga for a 16 year old!


I've never seen The Voice. I think it would frustrate the crap out of me. De'Borah was the only singer mentioned in the article that did anything for me, not just because of her singing, but her genuineness when she was singing. I wanted to like Amanda, especially since Dream On seems to me to be an excellent song to show the full range of one's vocal chops, but I just couldn't make it past the first minute.

Laura Duncan Wilgus@facebook

Holyyyyy cow! De'Borah is incredible! How can I consume everything she has ever made ever?

Katie Walsh

This is the kind of media/cultural analysis that I need/want/love. Now, can we get down to talking about class and national identity on X-Factor? CAUSE YEAH.

Katie Walsh

Also, I hate to say it but Carly Rose on X-Factor reminds me of Angela from Sleepaway Camp. SORRY!!!


It irks me to no end to know that I missed this post on the day it ran because I LOVE THE VOICE.
Can this be a weekly thing?
If not, can Rebecca just call me and we can chat about how amazing Amanda is, and why Trevin is so endearing but I'm worried he might have peaked, and how stressed out do you think Melanie Martinez's hairdresser was about getting that part in her hair just right so the two-tone wasn't lopsided, and then she can counsel me on how to get over my insane crush on Adam Levine, even when he's being smarmy.

rebecca the brave

@Lyssachelle I'M HERE FOR YOU. This is Rebecca. I'm also concerned for Trevin, who is such a sweetheart, but he seems like a lump of tearful jelly, you know? His ambitions have no structure yet! He is not ready! Even if he wins, I'm concerned it won't be good for him or his career. He needs to sing something much smarter next time, and darker. I nominate Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin On." Am I right?

rebecca the brave

@Lyssachelle Also: In my fantasy The Voice, I replace Adam Levine with Gwen Stefani.


@fancyschmancy REBECCA!!! (I feel like I should be running in a field towards you...)

Trevin worries me because I think he's going to turn out to be Chokey-Chokerson like Jordis Unga was last year. (Why yes, this is my second year with The Voice. And yes, I did know Jordis from Rock Star:INXS back in 2005, where she also blew it and it hurts me because if she had the confidence of an American Idol contestant, she'd rule the airwaves...But I digress.)
TREVIN. Oh, bless his heart. I think I'm attached because he's Guyanese and so is my family; so I love it when his accent creeps in — I'm all, "MY PEOPLE!!!"
But YES! "What's Goin' On"!! Maybe something where he can put some stank on it, like Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me" or some Otis Redding...

Don't tease me with Gwen Stefani, how amazing would that be? I think Xtina would eat her though, she doesn't act like she'd play well with others. I want to like her so much, but she just looks like she would have made me cry in middle school for not tight-rolling my jeans correctly.

And I will say this for Carson; his enthusiasm with the parents backstage during auditions seemed pretty sincere, despite the fact that I think he's just a giant, giant doofus.

rebecca the brave

@Lyssachelle Xtina and Cee-Lo are out next season anyway. Their replacements are Usher and Shakira. Get Gwen! We need Star Power!


I take a one-week sabbatical from the internet and this pops up! I have never seen the show but I would sign up to read your feminist thoughts on reality tv foreverrrrrrrrrrrrr.


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