The Voice‘s all-star coaches are, generally speaking, a gentle, encouraging, and decidedly articulate bunch. And if you perused a transcript of their comments from tonight’s telecast, you’d probably think it was business as usual on Season 3 Top 8 performance night.
But tone of voice, facial expression, body language, coded wordplay…sometimes they tell a different story. And with only eight singers left in the competition, the subtext was often as poorly hidden as Christina Aguilera’s décolletage.
There was Xtina herself practically sighing and rolling her eyes while telling the incredible Amanda Brown she’d given “another really dynamic and powerful performance.” (How dare she!) There was Adam Levine admitting Freddie Mercury songs expose all his vocal weaknesses, the subtle implication being that “Somebody to Love” had done the same to Cody Belew. And there was everybody awkwardly hurling potshots at Melanie Martinez’s soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, while not really saying anything about her actual singing. (Hey, Voice judges, did you ever stop and think that the target of your collective, televised disdain is most likely a teenage boy? #TheMoreYouKnow)
Fret not, though, Top 8 performance night also had plenty of conspicuous craziness, too. Nicholas David revealed he never cuts his beard while his wife is pregnant, and oh, she’s due to have their third child in February. (For the record, Christina Milian is totes okay with the David family not finding out the baby’s gender before it’s delivered. I’m sure they’re all relieved. “Heyyyyy, what’s uuuuup Carson? Trending on Twitter. Oh my God! Sexy side. Sprint lounge. Hashtag!”) Cassadee Pope thinks of Blake Shelton as her crazy uncle. 50 Cent still exists! And Carson Daly gets aroused in the unlikeliest of situations: “I was watching Terry [McDermott] and his wife make out. That’s good TV!”
While you try to get that sound bite out of your ear with a Q-tip, let’s grade the night’s solo performances:
Amanda Brown: Adele’s “Someone Like You” | The phrase “made it your own” has been used so many times on reality singing competitions that it’s as expected and meaningless as “but wait, there’s more!” at the end of an infomercial. And yet that’s exactly what Amanda did with one of the decade’s most omnipresent ballads. By heeding Adam Levine’s advice to kick the song’s ass, to give it a pulsating rock arrangement and a wild, defiant vocal, Amanda conjured up not just a different sound, but also an entirely different set of emotions than Adele. Whereas the original is about the pain and acceptance of true love lost, Amanda’s cover hinted at defiance, perhaps even a hope that the “for me, it isn’t over” might be a two-way street. I loved the little bit of stank Amanda gave to the line “guess she gave you things I couldn’t give to you,” and the boiled bunny angst with which she infused “don’t forget me!” This is no knock on Adele’s original — not at all — because just like with the Sherlock Holmeses of Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr., there’s room to adore ‘em both. I just wish Carson had pressed Adam for an explanation when he said how he and his fellow coaches were extra hard on Amanda because they expect so much from her. Um, shouldn’t the bar be set just as high for everyone else in the Top 8? Grade: A
Nicholas David: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” | There’s no one cooler in the competition than “the spiritual soul singer from Minnesota,” and not just because he can rock pigtails, a leather pimp jacket and plaid pants, but also because he remains calm and poised in the face of Christina Milian’s inanity and tells his fans to “keep it together.” The thing about Nicholas is that his song choices and arrangements are probably never going to be crazy innovative, but he’ll still manage to surprise you just by virtue of his gorgeous tone and absolute pitch perfection. I liked how he put almost a rap-style swag on the phrase “we don’t need to escalate,” and the way he effortlessly reached into his upper register on “father, father.” The man knows the capabilities and outer limits of his voice better than Kim Kardashian knows the number to her publicist. Groovy! Grade: A-
Dez Duron: Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” | If I’m being totally honest, Dez doesn’t have the most distinctive instrument in the history of reality singing competitions, but what he lacks in tone, he makes up for with showmanship and emotional clarity. (Yes, I just said “emotional clarity”; please bear with me.) Too often this season, the coaches have dismissed Dez as the contestant most likely to cause squealing and power-texting among silly teenage girls, but that unfairly overlooks his mastery of the big, fussy Voice stage. The guy is in constant, magnetic motion without ever coming across as frantic or overly rehearsed. Plus, Dez really seems to understand the intent behind the lyrics he’s singing. Where the Bieb’s original “U Smile” came across like a kid playing dress-up, Dez delivered it like a grown-ass man, bringing at the very least a little PG-13 understanding to tehe lyric “Ain’t no way you’re ever gonna get/ Any less than you should.” Plus, I don’t think he hit a single bum note. Grade: A-
Cassadee Pope: Michelle Branch’s “Are You Happy Now” | The staging of Cassadee’s number was a study in excess — all billowing curtains, waves of smoke and wind, and intense strobe lighting — to the point where I started worrying that her wind machine might start pelting her with backstage detritus. But after a somewhat blah opening verse, Cassadee emerged from the summer storm, assumed her spot at the mic stand, and brought home the chorus with the twist of spite she’d promised in her pre-performance package. The former Hey Monday singer has now put together back-to-back weeks of charismatic performances without any major pitch issues, and while I still think her overall body of work pales next to Amanda’s, I can’t say I’ll be apoplectic if she lives up to Cee Lo’s prediction that she (and her quarter million Twitter followers) could “win this thing.” Now if only she could convince the Voice stylists to stop putting her in those stiff short-in-the-front/long-in-the-back dresses… Grade: B+
Melanie Martinez: Alex Clare’s “Too Close” | I appreciate that, at 17, Melanie already has a strong sense of the type of artist she wants to be and that she “Melanie-izes” every song she covers. But her whispery approach is more successful on some tunes (“Toxic,” “Lights,” “Seven Nation Army”) than it is on others (“Hit the Road Jack,” “Bulletproof”). And while “Too Close” had its intriguing moments — the click of the castanets, the foot tambourine, the overall wistful mood — I had to agree with Xtina that ultimately, Melanie’s version didn’t really go anywhere. It was ultimately a nice side salad whereas Alex Clare’s original is a plate of gastronomic drama. Not that a side salad is a terrible thing, mind you. But three or four seasons from now, this won’t be the Melanie performance everyone remembers. Grade: B+
Trevin Hunte: Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” | I understand that Cee Lo thinks Trevin is at his best when he’s covering power ballads, and he may in fact be correct. But that doesn’t mean that Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” is the right song choice to transform the teenage contestant into a relevant, radio-ready recording artist. At least not in the year 2012. But telethon-ready vibe aside, Trevin’s rendition had additional problems, too, no matter how overzealously the coaches pimped it. For starters, the tempo was a wee bit rushed, and it seemed like Trevin could never quite latch on, leaving him out of breath and dropping ends of phrases on the verse. Yeah, he hit all his big glory notes, but even those old tricks were somewhat blunted by the presence of a full (and cheesily staged) Gospel choir. Adam droned on about how it doesn’t matter what Trevin sings, that he can master pretty much anything, but that theory was already disproven by Usher’s “Scream,” and I’m not entirely uncertain “Greatest Love” doesn’t represent strike two. Grade:
Cody Belew: Queen’s “Somebody to Love” | Forgive me for pulling a Blake Shelton, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about Cody’s performance. I did love the combination of black sequined shirt and forest green suit, but everything else felt oddly inauthentic. From the way Cody kicked things off atop a standalone staircase (and flanked by a Gospel choir) to the strained quality of his falsetto to the hammy way he jumped atop the piano to close the number…it felt like an attempt to put his bam-bam magic on steroids, and it proved less enjoyable than anything he’s done all season. Is that crazy of me to say? Am I just being hard on him because, with only eight contestants remaining, he’s clearly the weakest link from a vocal standpoint? Maybe. But with two folks headed home on Tuesday night, I can’t say I’d be devastated if Cody was one of ‘em. Grade:
Terry McDermott: Blake Shelton’s “Over” | I’m a big proponent of contestants going outside their musical comfort zones, but Terry tackling a Blake Shelton country hit was a bit like a freshly shorn poodle trying to pull a sled in the Iditarod: Dude didn’t have the skill set or the preparation to make it work. For starters, the verses were pitched too low for the normally consistent Scottish rocker, and his struggle to hit those notes seemed to stop him from connecting to the lyrics — a fact that was punctuated by his vaguely disconcerted facial expression. Also, has there ever been a more backhanded compliment than Xtina telling Terry he’s “always such a solid vocalist.” Because every budding singer really dreams of being known as “solid.” Grade: C
Dez, Melanie, Tery and Cassadee: All American Rejects’ “Move Along” | Grade: A Mess!
Amanda, Cody, Trevin, and Nicholas: Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” | Grade: OMG Amanda’s high note!
And with that, let me turn things over to you:
Who were your favorites from The Voice‘s Top 8 performance telecast? Who’s most likely to get booted come Tuesday night? Are you voting for Amanda? If not, WHY NOT? (Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.) Hit the comments with your thoughts!
p.s. No new Reality Check this week, thanks to last week’s Thanksgiving holiday. But we’ll be back with a new video next Monday, scout’s honor!