Tonight’s installment of The Voice had twice as much suspense as usual. Not only was there the looming question of which two contestants’ performances would fail to garner voter support — setting themselves up for a Tuesday night walking-of-the-plank — but there was also the looming threat that a power outage might suddenly pitch the live telecast into darkness.
Yep, as host Carson Daly announced at the top of the show, today’s California heat wave had blown out the air conditioning in The Voice studio, and “if it hits a certain temperature, the lights could go out.” I can’t say I’d have minded such a blackout-esque catastrophe, since it would have merely returned the program to its “you can hear ‘em, but you cannot see ‘em” roots.
On the flip side, though, I’ve got to admit the one area where the ongoing incarnation of The Voice lacks any sense of mystery concerns the gender of the eventual winner. Just like in the current, much-maligned Idol season, the ladies just keep on asserting their superiority over the gentlemen like piranhas in a tank of fragile guppies.
Whether that was a calculated move by producers trying to avoid another Javier Colon/Jermaine Paul sales vacuum — or simply some kind of goddess energy cloud hanging over Hollywood in the first half of 2013 — I cannot say.
But I do know it’s time to get to tonight’s set list and letter grades.
Team Usher: Vedo — Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” | Usher and his choreographer spent so much time focused on Vedo’s dance moves — which ultimately weren’t all that mesmerizing — that they neglected to notice Vedo’s vocal approach was so karaoke that he might as well have been surrounded by drunken coworkers during an ill-advised Monday happy hour. Dude’s intermittent pitch problems and inability to sustain his breath support at the ends of phrases didn’t help, either. Grade: C+
Team Blake: Holly Tucker — Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing” | Holly’s definitely got a big range — and this week she showcased a little bit of grit and growl on the final chorus of Martina McBride’s ballad of a woman overcoming an emotionally abusive relationship. The problem was, though, that Holly’s occasionally blank delivery didn’t fully communicate the angst of the song’s protagonist, only her eventual flight. Or to put it in constructive terminology, she’s got to stop mistaking volume for genuine feeling. Grade: B
Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner — Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” | When Garrett wasn’t doing his full rocker wail tonight, his voice dissipated like steam from a teapot. And while there was something conceptually cool about taking a boy-band ballad, piercing its lip and teaching it to rock, without a foundation of proper pitch and meaningful phrasing, the whole affair became a triumph of arrangement over actual exection. Grade: C+
Team Adam: Sarah Simmons — Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” | I know Sarah’s not everyone’s cup of Earl Gray, but there is something deeply thrilling about the way her voice shreds like the fibers of a jute rug when she opens up and lets loose her banshee wail. That aspect of Sarah’s voice painted her as a deeply flawed and messy protagonist, whereas Brandi Carlile’s sweeter touch feels like it comes from a place of mild (yet completely adorable) neuroses. Sarah may have sacrificed a little musicality showing off what Blake referred to as “the extremes” of her voice, but at least she wasn’t boring. Grade: B+
Team Blake: The Swon Brothers — George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” | I can’t lie: I was a little dismayed when the season’s least distinctive act (thus far) kicked off their pre-performance package with a quote that was like a shot of Novocain to my soul: “We want to be the kind of artists that people love.” (Um, what would be the alternative?) But the good news is the duo chose for themselves a George Jones ditty that shored up their authentic country cred, and performed it with a simplicity that helped them stand out from some of the night’s fussier arrangements. On the flip side, Colton’s verse simply didn’t have the mojo of Zach’s, and — whoops! — that final harmony went badly awry. With those flaws in evidence, I felt like Usher deserved a perjury charge for using “incredible” not once, but twice, in his critique. “Pretty good,” however, I’d have accepted. Grade: B
Team Shakira: Sasha Allen — Heart’s “Alone” | Shakira asked for less Broadway belter, more intimate rock confessional, but Sasha seemed to get her wires crossed. The quavering, over-the-top emotionalism of the verse (where she also seemed to be a half-beat behind the piano and cello that led the band) bordered on a theatrical parody. And when Sasha ramped up the volume on the chorus, there was so much “cry” in her voice that the overall effect was jarring. The woman obviously has talent, but she’s wielding it in entirely the wrong way. I mean, if Wolfgang Puck unwrapped a bunch of Velveeta singles and slapped them on a plate, would it be haute cuisine? Exaaaactly. Grade: C+
Team Usher: Josiah Hawley — The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” | I’ll admit I rewound Josiah’s performance on my DVR — but only because those blasted SwayBots that surrounded him were so miserably out-of-rhythm that I couldn’t focus on anything else. Upon playback, it was clear that Josiah
was wearing a white t-shirt had definitely improved his pitch and connectedness compared to last week, which ought to be enough to help him survive another week in the competition. He’ll have to take bigger risks and quit the male-modeling facial expressions, though, if he wants to seriously contend for the finale. Grade: B
Team Blake: Danielle Bradbery — Carrie Underwood’s “Wasted” | Blake’s coaching choices this season continue to confound me. I mean, we already heard Daniele give a serviceable cover of the Season 4 American Idol champ (“Jesus Take the Wheel”) in the Knockout Rounds, so why go back to the same well a mere two weeks later — unless he’s positioning Danielle as the eventual frontwoman in a Carrie Underwood cover band? Danielle showcased her usual clarity and power this week, but where she needs improvement is in finding a way to take full possession of a song rather than merely leasing it. Frankly, the lyrical content seemed too mature for a kid like Danielle, and her vacant grinning throughout the performance pretty much put an exclamation point on that theory. Grade: B+
Team Adam: Judith Hill — Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” | Judith was super smart to give the band the week off, sit down at the piano, and draw the audience in with a whisper instead of a roar. The conversational ease with which she caressed the lyrics made it feel like she was reaching out to each individual voter, but the meticulous soulful inflections served as a reminder that the “friend” in question was a world-class vocalist, too. And man, she’s definitely the best-dressed contestant on a reality singing competition in, well, ever. Grade: A-
Team Usher: Michelle Chamuel — Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” | Michelle may not have exhibited quite as much breath control as in previous weeks, but she also danced harder and roused the crowd more deftly than any of her 11 competitors. I loved the little falsetto flourishes she added on “the only way her heart will mend,” and the way Michelle really got me to listen to the lyrics of a song I’ve only heard a handful of times before. Girlfriend laid down some harsh relationship truths — and I suspect the object of her affections will have a heartbroken ex by lunchtime tomorrow. Grade: A-
Team Shakira: Kris Thomas — Jackson 5′s “I’ll Be There” | If you’re going to weave in and out of your falsetto over the course of a Jackson 5 number, you’d better be approaching 90 or 95 percent accuracy in pitch. And poor Kris, with his frightened eyes and trembling stance, never quite got past an 80 percent. Dude had better hope that Shakira’s adorableness translates into power voting, because I can’t really imagine anyone rushing to iTunes to download his “I’ll Be There” over the original (or even Mariah Carey’s). Grade: B-
Team Adam: Amber Carrington — Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” | I know Blake and Adam love to carry on about Daniele being the one to beat in the competition, but methinks Amber is the true front-runner right now for the Season 4 title. As Usher pointed out, every time you think Amber’s singing at full throttle, she finds yet another gear, digs even deeper into her song. She’s got a tremendous accuracy in her singing, and she seems to know the exact right moments to throw in an ad-lib or a twist on the melody (like that sweet slide on the final repetition of the word “love”). Even better, the teenager who recently lost her mom to cancer bravely took on a big bombastic ballad about a young mother’s fight with the disease — and managed to infuse it with an aching gravitas while not getting overcome with emotion. Amber was so sublime I can almost — but not quite — forgive Carson for kissing her on the head as she finished her performance. Grade: A
Should Go Home: Vedo, Garrett Gardner
Will Go Home: Garrett Gardner, Kris Thomas
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Season 4 Top 12 performance night? What did you think of the coaches’ comments? Who was your favorite? Who’s going to be in trouble come results night? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!