The Voice Semifinal Performance Recap: Runs, Baby, Runs [Updated]

tony luccaIt’s not easy being a contestant on The Voice. Not only must these fledgling artists show extreme patience at getting upstaged in the midst of their critiques by chants of “I love you Adam!”/”I love you Xtina!” (possibly delivered by Adam’s and Xtina’s assistants, disguised in trench coats and sunglasses) but they also have to endure backstage interviews in the Sprint lounge conducted by a babbling ponytail attached to a stem-cell smoothie. (Sometimes that entity is referred to as a “Christina Milian.”)

This week’s semifinal show, however, proved that sometimes it’s worth putting up with a whole lot of production-related nonsense as long as you get to see a star (or two, or maybe even four) blossom right there on your television screen.

The only thing that sucks for viewers are the vagaries of The Voice‘s voting system and seasonal structure. On Tuesday night, the Season 2 Top 8 will be slashed in half — with only four singers surviving based on a combination of viewer votes and scores from their own coaches that were collected tonight by an accounting firm and won’t be revealed until the results-show telecast. And it won’t necessarily be the four best contestants who move on to next week’s finale, either. One hopeful each from Teams Adam, Blake, Cee Lo, and Xtina are guaranteed berths in the finale, resulting in dubious instances of apples vs. oranges, apples vs. bagels, and bagels vs. toothpaste.

In other words, Voice fans: If you’re sitting on your living room sofa and shouting “Why can’t I have another week of Juliet and Jamar?” then you are not alone.

Who knows, maybe a last-minute rule change will save the day, or at least the season? Or maybe Blake will sacrifice both of his team members and do a last-minute draft of Cee Lo’s eliminated contestant? Until then, let’s dive into the week’s performances!

Tony Lucca (Team Adam): The Heavy’s “How Ya Like Me Now” | As a Malibu Shores fan, it’s hard for me to admit that I’ve been mostly underwhelmed by Tony all season, but who’d have guessed that fancy footwork would turn out to be the missing ingredient in the guy’s performances? Seriously, Tony’s whole get-down-with-the-git-down sidestep/shuffle was like a spicy mustard bringing flavor to his basic-turkey-sandwich-from-the-local-deli voice. Yeah, dude was dressed like a waiter in a high-end restaurant, and no, I’m not sure we needed the slinky backup dancers pointing the way to their nether-regions, but at least we got energy and charisma, if not a particularly distinctive tone. (And the spoken-word twist on the chorus heading into the final refrain was a nifty touch, too.) Xtina, sharpening her claws against the stone wheel, took credit for Tony’s song choice (apparently she cleared it for her own contestant, Moses Stone, before his early ouster) and then lobbed one more bitchery bomb at her former Mickey Mouse Club cohort: “If this doesn’t work out, you and Adam can start a Britney cover band.” Grade: B+

Erin Willett (Team Blake): David Guetta featuring Usher’s “Without You” | I started getting all excited by the pre-performance package, with Blake going on about how this would be Erin’s big, breakthrough moment, but it was clear from the very first note that her slowed-down rendition of David Gueta’s soaring club anthem was gonna be Rated W…for Waah Waah Waaaaah. The opening verse was simply pitched too low for Erin’s comfort zone, and she delivered the song with a clumsy cadence that stripped the impact from the lyrics. And then, to make matter worse, Erin let her emotions get the best of her — not all that surprising considering that her dad recently passed away — causing her voice to close up and her grasp of pitch to slip away like a rope through a mountain climber’s hands. Indeed, the fall was tragic, and ultimately gory. Grade: C-

Chris Mann (Team Xtina): “Ave Maria” (classical) | I probably shouldn’t let myself get irrationally irritated by Chris’s whole “my voice is so amazing and powerful that the world doesn’t understand it, but now I’m just going to let it soar” shtick, but it always feels so rehearsed, so phony, that I find myself shutting down before he even sings a note. It doesn’t help that the guy can barely contain a grin of smug self-satisfaction every time he hits a big note, but I can’t say his rendition of “Ave Maria” wasn’t pretty in an “if you can’t afford Josh Groban tickets, why not try Chris Mann?” sort of way. Still, while Xtina had a point that not many of Chris’s opponents could handle the difficulty of a classical ballad, it has to be said that her prodigy hasn’t exactly proven adept at handling the challenges of modern music, either. Call me when he’s mastered James Brown, Xtina! Grade: B-

Jamar Rogers (Team Cee Lo): Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” | Speaking of irritating shtick, as much as I love Jamar as a performer, sometimes I wish he’d occasionally let up on beating the new-age spiritual-guru drum, reminding us that he’s the champion of underdogs everywhere, the living embodiment of overcoming the odds, a beacon of triumph and second chances. Okay, okay, he’s an incredibly talented dude who’s overcome drug addiction and bravely faced an HIV-positive diagnosis, but let’s not confuse him with Mother Teresa delivering meals to impoverished children in the slums of Calcutta. (That said, a nun’s habit might’ve been more flattering than Jamar’s purple tux jacket with tails, matching baseball cap, chainmail vest, and tight white pants.) And yet Jamar’s voice is truly special enough that it’s easy to put aside his sales pitch and focus on the actual product. I’m not sure the electronica-infused arrangement of “If You Don’t Know Me…” added much emotional impact, but you’ve got to give Jamar credit for pushing himself artistically and not just following in the wake of Harold Melvin and Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall. Those glory notes on the chorus were flawless, and I loved how he zagged against the expected with that closing bass notes. Xtina bursting into song on her critique may have been a ridiculous reminder of “I can sing the stuffing out of a ballad, too!” but I still wouldn’t mind a duet with these two at the finale, y’know? Grade: A-

Teams Adam & Cee Lo: The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” | All four of these cats sounded great, though Katrina surprised me holding her own with Jamar and Juliet in a rockier arrangement. Grade: B+

Jermaine Paul (Team Blake): Journey’s “Open Arms” | When Jermaine started talking to Blake about wanting to present “the right me” for his semifinal performance, I got all optimistic. Did he mean the version of himself that doesn’t treat every note of every song like a serial strangler wrapping his powerful hands around a tender throat? But no, who was I kidding? This is Jerr-urr-urrr-maay-uhh-ayy-uhh-nuhh-ehh-ugggghh-ughh, the man who never met a word that couldn’t be drawn out to 15 syllables. (A moment of silence, please, for the word “cold,” which died a disfiguring death in the crushing embrace of Jermaine’s “Open Arms.”) Still, while I recognize that from a stylistic standpoint, Jermaine might not be my cup of arsenic, I also thought the performance was loaded with technical problems: Was it just me or did the dude come in late on the opening verse? And to my ears, that final set of runs devolved into a series of haggard screams that bore little resemblance to music. When Adam told Jermaine that he was no longer a background singer, I wondered if he was sneakily implying Jermaine had stumbled so badly he might have to look for a 9-to-5 office job. Grade: C

Katrina Parker (Team Adam): The Fugees’ version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” | I wish Katrina had stepped off her little platform, or at least stepped away from the mic stand — “one time!” — and grooved a little bit during her rendition of “Killing Me Softly.” After all, this was the Lauryn Hill version (and not Roberta Flack’s) that she was tackling. But that’s just a minor quibble over a performance that was hands-down Katrina’s high point in the competition. Sometimes it’s nice to hear a gorgeous melody sung in a simple, unadorned manner, and that’s really where Katrina excels. She doesn’t try to bend her songs so much that they become grotesque balloon animals; rather, she fills ’em up with helium, nudges them into the air, and lets ’em soar. I get the sense that Katrina may still have some work to do in figuring out what kind of artist she wants to be, of learning how to put her own stamp on a composition, but I’m interested in hearing how she gets there. Xtina had a point when she brutally noted that Tony is the “obvious” “predictable” choice for Adam to reward his coaches’ points to, but “take a look at Katrina Parker because she’s a star.” Grade: B+

Lindsey Pavao (Team Xtina): Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” | Lindsey is nothing short of an enigma. There’s no denying the eerie-sweet tone of her voice, or the fact that she treats songs with a gentle touch of a grade-school science teacher placing a wounded baby robin in a classroom incubator. Her lovely, lilting “Skinny Love” — with a final set of notes as delicate as origami — stood out against the “more is more!” vibe of most of her competitors. And yet I sometimes get the sense that Lindsey wishes she could crawl under an amplifier, turn to pixie dust, and float back over to her local coffee house rather than be surrounded by a circle of vacant backup dancers positioned in a peculiar clap-circle formation. Even worse, I couldn’t understand a single word of the opening verse of her “Skinny Love,” which is somewhat problematic for a performer whose wheelhouse is emotion and feeling. I have no idea whether America and Xtina will end up siding with this peculiar soul or her more outgoing, outsized rival Chris Mann, but if I’m being honest, the finale would be a lot less interesting without Lindsey, no? Grade: B+

Team Blake & Team Xtina: Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” | This went up to the edge of glory, and then fell right off the cliff. Chris Mann was especially terrible, though Lindsey really struggled with pitch, too. Grade: D

Juliet Simms (Team Cee Lo): “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” | Had Juliet opened the show instead of closing it, there would’ve been a logical explanation for Xtina wearing nothing but a black frilly jacket to the proceedings, because Juliet’s vocal was so raw and gale-force, I suspect she might’ve blown the pants off of several members of the love studio audience. What was amazing about this vocal was the way Juliet got lost in the wilderness — it was almost as if something feral and wounded had taken hold of the microphone — and she never lost her command of the melody, never let her howling delivery of the chorus veer into a place that wasn’t musical. It’s hard to fathom that on Tuesday night, either Juliet or Jamar will get the boot, while either Jermaine or Erin will advance to the finale, but if this turns out to be Juliet’s final impression on The Voice audience, then let’s all offer up a collective prayer that a major-label deal won’t be far behind, eh? Grade: A

Should Advance to the Finale
Juliet Sims
Jamar Rogers
Lindsey Pavao
Katrina Parker

Will Advance to the Finale
Juliet Sims
Jermaine Paul
Lindsey Pavao
Tony Lucca

Your turn. Take our poll below, then hit the comments with your opinions. And for all my reality TV news, interviews, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Red in Denver says:

    What is UP with CHRISTINA? WHY is she SO NASTY in her comments to Tony Lucca? He and Adam should form a Brittney cover band ?????

    When this show first started last season, I really LIKED Christina, and have always thought her voice was pretty amazing. But, THIS season, Christina has really turned me off with her harsh comments and some of her elimination decisions.

    • dj says:

      That’s exactly the way I feel. I used to like Christina before this season, but her treatment of Tony, her elimination of Jesse, and comments in the news from members of The Wanted about how she’s a total bitch have really changed my opinion of her. And what’s up with the tiara?

  2. mariah says:

    Just because I can…my top 8 rankings.

    #1 – Juliet: The girl KILLED it. Amazing.
    #2 – Tony: I love him and LOVED what he did with his song.
    #3 – Katrina: She was SO solid and I love her voice.
    #4 – Lindsay: Not my fave of hers, but I always enjoy her.
    #5 – Chris: He didn’t do anything insteresting witht he song, but it was pretty.
    #6 – Erin: I was pretty bored during her song, but I’ve always liked her voice.
    #7 – Jamar: If he’d shut up about his triumph over adversity, he’d be a lot higher on the list.
    #8 – Jermaine: He’s got a great voice, but he bores me.

  3. Deena says:

    Dear TVLine, Could you find someone to review this show who doesn’t sound like he’s being torchered to watch it on a weekly basis? Thanks.

  4. marie says:

    “Ave Maria”? Really? Ugh. Glad I gave up on this turkey of a show a couple weeks ago. I grew up listening to opera / classical, as well as many other genres – there was just a lot of music in the house – and take it from me, Chris Mann is really nothing special.

  5. RaineriRRC says:

    Wish I knew what Millian did to you. lol

  6. eclipse says:

    Still listening to Juliet – This is a Man’s World – now #5 on itunes. Any song where I hold my breath is touching my soul. She deserves to win – plus she is humble – a rare thing in this business.

  7. Jamey says:

    The format of the show is fine until the semi-finals but I agree the best four should be there , no matter what coach they are from. I hate that Jamar or Juliet should be leaving. I agree with your final four!

  8. Sara says:

    While I agree that Juliet won the night (and I hope she wins it all), and Team Blake was bad, I’m really hoping Erin goes through over Jermaine. Not based on last night (where both were bad), she is the more talented vocalist of the two. Does anyone else feel like they must be listening to something different from the judges when they critique Jermaine…I swear, I’ve never understood his appeal and was surprised anyone turned around for him in the beginning, let alone that he’s still there!

  9. bouionice says:

    Slezak…very disappointed in you…not a single word about Xtina’s tiara? :-)
    As for the show – wish it were possible to get the top 4 regardless of coaches so that we could dump all of team Blake and keep all of team CeeLo.

  10. syb says:

    Juliet was magnificent.

    Jamar’s got a great voice, but I find him uninteresting, and yes, I’m tiring of the insistent backstory always stage center with him. Part of being an inspiration is just doing it and not bathing in it. I realize this has something to do with the show’s director, but still, ENOUGH! Shut up and sing.

    So I hope the voters move Juliet forward, or that somehow someway she makes the final.

    Really enjoyed Lindsay again.

    Katrina was good, but it just made me wistful for the simple understated and hauntingly beautiful Roberta Flack version.

    Heard an 11 year old girl singing Ave Maria this morning for that dance show. it was better than Chris Mann’s version. Such a beautiful song. I heard nothing mindblowing in Chris’s version. it was ok, but forgettable.

    All the rest run together as “meh.”

    Thank you Michael for chiding these judges about the “I Love You” “I love you too.” Come on, you ego-maniacs. It is not necessary to respond to that mid-critique every time. It’s not always about you, and I’m sure they won’t start hating you if you finish your comments. Uber-annoying.

    Speaking of egomania on a rampage: LOL at XTina to Juliet for what essentially amounted to: “I really rocked that song myself, you know.” She should audition for CeeLo’s cat if she needs that much stroking.

  11. twostepcub says:

    Damn, but if Cee-Lo had the two best of the competition. Although I adore Juliet, color me bitchy but I wish she had a different song than the current go-to James Brown staple. How abour “King Heroin”. It’d fit her!

    Jamar went crazy on “If You Don’t Know Me”, a MUCH better choice, though I guess I’m too obsessed with the show to be a weeny bit soured since the incredibly hunky Ben Saunders who won the original Voice Of Holland did the song as well, and these thing make me feel like the show has more of a preplanned script than I want.

    Carson Daly is like Dick Clark if he had his stroke back in 1965.

    Jermaine Paul – damn, great voice, damn WTF with the Journey? And I LOVE Journey. Just another overdone song, but miles better than Erin Willett’s caterwaul on “Without You”. I mean, are we supposed to forget that Glee just did this same version THIS season? (Apparently the judges have no clue). Blake’s team dropped down to last, which is a shame, since Jermaine has chops.

    Christina Aguilera’s transformation to become a photonegative of Cher is 75% complete.

    On Xtina’s team, even though I crave Chris Mann’s Zoolander goes to the opera voice, I give my vote to Linsdey, simply for picking an obscure song (check out the Birdy version it’s 110% better than Bon Iver’s, and his is good) that fit her waifish voice. Maybe is Zoolander did something besides the too-obvious grandstand operatic choice, I would’ve gone with him. Now duckface!

    Adam Levine was sent down from heaven to test gay men’s willpower. But God is gracious, and gave us his only gay brother.

    As for Adam’s team, it’s actually getting uncomfortable now HOW MUCH XTINA HATES TONY. I am positive he made the nasty with her in some Mickeymouse dressing room. However her cattiness will earn him votes just for that. He’s back with the seizure-“Dancing”, but his choice of song was inspired, since it’s a recognizable yet not-top-40 song. In fact, check out Dyke and the Blazers for the original sample from the song. As for Katrina, Adam has taken her from being Adele to becoming a Carnie Wilson tribute act. And while she admirably tackled “Killing Me Softly”, I was too outraged about the constant reference (and treatment) of Lauryn Hill’s version as opposed to the sublimne Roberta Flack (for ONCE, I stood up and appluaded C-Lo in my living room). I would’ve loved her take the song more down that route. ANd Lauryn Hill? STOP ICONIFYing her unless you’re trying to teach them to simply go nuts after one album.

    My four-pick? Lindsay, Adam, Jermaine, and in a tough decision, based on total performance, Juliet (who apparently is consistently covered with sweat and nose mucus).

    That’s my two devalued Spanish Euros.

    PS: The Voice statue: worst prostate exam EVER.

  12. Elise says:

    Michael I normally agree with your reviews, but this week to me at least I still found Tony Lucca underwhelming. I guess he’s only made it this far due to the fact that Team Adam itself was underwhelming with Katrina being the recent stand out.

    • syb says:

      I think twostepcub above your post may be on to something re Tony. XTina’s obvious hostility and overall bitchiness to him may have earned him so votes just to spite her.

  13. Ruby says:

    Juliet’s performance was, just like her rendition of “Roxanne”, flawless and astonishing. The sad thing is, she’s not going to get through. Last week all boys were voted through. I have no reason to believe that it won’t be the same this week. The teenage girls have taken hold of this show, just like they did with American Idol. It’s a damn shame.

    • FreeHaley says:

      Ugh. Sad, but it has already begun with Chris going through over Lindesy. Not a good sign, not at all. She was so much higher than him on iTunes too.
      And if people won’t put their money behind Chris it just shows the folly of power voting.

  14. FreeHaley says:

    Arghh! Why can’t it go by iTunes votes. How do America’s votes always end up totally different than the iTunes orderings?
    How does Chris go through? Maybe this does show what power voting does, even in the highly limited form The Voice allows, it totally flips results for iTunes.
    He has a nice voice but he doesn’t know how to fit it to pop so it sounds weird instead of dominating and then for opera he is just not any sort of stunningly good opera singer, he is not even close to the ones you’d see at the Met or something and even little Jackie Evancho sings it with more magic.

    Damn now I am worried that Juliet will be a goner too. She leads iTunes, but Jamar is the sort to pull in mad dialing and texting.

  15. 30CamdenSquare says:

    Lindsey peaked 29 places higher on the itunes charts AND STILL LOST!! Say goodbye to girls everybody.

    • FreeHaley says:

      :( power voting sucks…. not much more to be said….

    • 30CamdenSquare says:

      Correction Lindsey peaked 34 spot higher.

      • FreeHaley says:

        Interesting that in other cases the itunes did match the voting more closely even in the Jamar/Juliet case where I wouldve figured he’d have been golden with the power votes, Juliet was ahead on iTunes by quite a few spots and won the general votes overall by a number of percentage points too.

        I guess it’s like a certain element that doesn’t use itunes much loves Chris like mad. Maybe mom-type voters? I could see them all going crazy over Chris and yet not being into iTunes so much.

        • ET says:

          By my math, she won the popular vote 61 to 39 percent. Pretty significant!!

          • FreeHaley says:

            Yeah, something like that.
            I was wrong about how voting would go down. I had a little bit of hope for her, since she did get sooo much great press last night, and I hoped maybe somehow Cee Lo might give her just a touch of points to help her squeak by, but yeah she soared through easily.

  16. FreeHaley says:

    Like Vicci. Liked her last season, liked her tonight.

  17. FreeHaley says:

    Interesting, Tony only went through because of bonus points from Adam. I’m not really crazy about either. I’m fine with Tony going through, but I’m not sold on his team this season at all.

    • ET says:

      Yep. And Tony only made it THIS far because of Adam, not because of the general public. Next week, though, he won’t have his coach to pimp for him, it’ll be up to the public. He won’t win. Thank God.

  18. FreeHaley says:

    Whoa so we were totally wrong about the voting. It wasn’t an automatic vote the guys through at all.

    And Juliet would’ve still won, easily, even without Cee Lo’s bonus points! It was refreshing to see him put a stake in a contestant instead of the 50:50 this time.

    Wow, I was just about to tune out of the finale but this brought me way back. I’ll be watching for sure.

    But it is a shame to see Jamar go though since, in all honestly, he probably is the second best left (other than perhaps Lindesy). He just ended up the toughest team.

    • 30CamdenSquare says:

      Yeah, Juliet won 61% to 39% in the public vote. I thought they were all the women were goners after Lindsey just flat out blew Chris away on itunes and still went home. Apparently more people like Chris. They just aren’t interested in buying his music.

      • ET says:

        Hopefully Lindsey will have a successful career anyway. I will never understand how she lost to Chris.