Things got viciously, competitively real on The Voice‘s Season 4 Top 5 performance episode. How real, you ask?
How about Adam Levine declaring that “from a technical standpoint it doesn’t get more proficient” than human ray of sunshine Danielle “I’ll make more money by 20 than you will in a lifetime” Bradbery’s TimMcGraw cover? Or Shakira declaring “you did good” after Amber Carrington’s disappointing “Firework”?
Okay, I know, those critiques qualify as faint praise at worst, but THIS IS THE VOICE — BTW, any time the phrase “this is The Voice” is uttered, it must be done in the style of the NBC megahit’s jingle — where all critiques must be carefully buried between the lines.
In other words, Adam might’ve well hurled a bucket of pig’s blood on Danielle’s mauve mullet dress, while Shakira’s words landed like a foul, month-old tomato smack in the middle of Amber’s face.
Anyhow, regardless of how the judges tried to subtly signal their favorites, Tuesday’s results show should be verrry interesting. Two acts are going home, while three will advance to next week’s finale. My best guess is that Michelle Chamuel has enough momentum — and uniqueness — to sail to the Top 3, especially when she was rock-solid again tonight. And while season-long front-runner Danielle Bradbery hit her share of flat notes (musically and emotionally), that wade out into the audience to hug her mom and dad probably resulted in an avalanche of votes.
Which means Sasha Allen, Amber Carrington and The Swon Brothers are fighting for the last chair left in the circle. With that in mind, let’s cut to tonight’s set list and letter grades, shall we?
The Swon Brothers: Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” (Contestant’s Choice) | If The Voice was a theme park, Team Blake would be stuck at the Bumper Cars or the Merry Go Round. Which is my snarky way of saying dude and his singers have exhibited a very limited taste for danger over the course of Season 4. “Turn the Page,” however, found the Swon Brothers graduating to the Tilt-a-Whirl, as they took a ’70s rock classic and delivered it with 20 percent more country flavor. I didn’t entirely buy Zach as the road-hardened protagonist, and Colton looked like he was rocking grandma’s paisley blouse as it was being devoured by a plaid cowboy shirt, but the big notes at the end landed perfectly. I may never download a Swon Brothers track off iTunes, but I can’t deny that this was their best week in the competition to date. Grade: B+
Sasha Allen: Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” (Contestant’s Choice) | You don’t steal a steak from a hungry lioness. You don’t pick a fight with Wladimir Klitschko. And you don’t cover “I Will Always Love You” on a reality singing competition. Because in all of the above scenarios, chances are you’re gonna come out maimed and bloodied. And sure enough, as Sasha botched the timing of the ballad’s delicate intro, it began her descent toward Tuesday-night elimination. The excessive vibrato and multiple flat notes didn’t help, either, and nor did the harp and fog and white robe-dress that had everything except a pair of clip-on wings and Shakira shouting “Angel! Angel!” But to me, the biggest issue with the performance was an odd emotional disconnect — which I suppose I should’ve predicted based on Sasha’s interview package and her dedication of the song to her kids. I mean, how can you rehearse “IWALY” all week and remain blissfully unaware that it’s more than the sum of its refrain. Dolly Parton’s classic ballad is a woman’s bittersweet goodbye to a love affair that’s not destined to work out. You don’t sing, “So goodbye/ Please don’t cry/ We both know I’m not what you, you need” to your children! Grade: C+
Michelle Chamuel: Zedd feat Foxes’ “Clarity” (Usher’s Choice) | Michelle will never be a perfectly flawless singer — note how Blake underplayed his praise with an “it’s always solid” remark — but that’d be like complaining that a shark isn’t winning a foot race against a cheetah. Razor-like precision isn’t Michelle’s game. She ultimately seems more interested in using the textures of her voice — the high quavering swoop of her falsetto, the banshee wail of her belting — to harness the power of a song’s lyrics. In her hands, “Clarity” wasn’t just another radio hit for boogie-down purposes, but a plaintive question about the fate of a relationship sung by a woman who manages to hold the eye without the need for backup dancers or crazy costumes or superfluous minutiae. Also, is it wrong for me to admit I also fancy Michelle for the sole fact that she tackles alt-electronic music on a consistent basis — and that, alongside thrash metal, is one of the least likely genres you’re gonna hear covered on a reality singing competition. Grade: A
Danielle Bradbery: Tim McGraw’s “Please Remember Me” (Blake’s Choice) | There’s no denying Danielle showcased a ton of vocal power in the rousing final refrain of “Please Remember Me,” but her interpretive power proved far less impressive. Nothing about her expression or tone or delivery matched the content of a song with the lyric, “When I can’t hurt you anymore, you’ll find better love.” If I didn’t know better (yes, that’s a Nashville reference), I’d have thought maybe Blake was sabotaging Danielle by giving her a song that was ill-suited to her tender age. But the floorlit closeups of Blake with dollar signs spinning in his eyes told a different tale. Apparently, it doesn’t matter what Danielle sings or how she sings it or how little creativity or growth she shows: The train is moving too quickly to try to wave it down with logic or constructive criticism. Grade: C+
Amber Carrington: Katy Perry’s “Firework” (Contestant’s Choice) | Amber’s usually such a dominator, vocally speaking, that it was jarring to hear her struggle with her lower register and then go sharp when she attempted to hit big notes on what Katy Perry says is her most challenging hit to perform live. It didn’t help Amber that the band’s arrangement cranked the strings, drums and background singers up to 11, but that only raises a question about why Adam and Amber didn’t cook up a more interesting countrified twist — or do something to move the performance past middling karaoke. Grade: C+
The Swon Brothers: Loggins and Messina’s “Danny’s Song” (Blake’s Choice) | The Swon Brothers may have outlasted a half-dozen artists more interesting and/or distinctive than themselves — Judith Hill, Sarah Simmons, Grace Askew, Luke Edgemon, Christian Porter, Jessica Childress, Midas Whale, Caroline Glaser, Shawna P and Warren Stone all come to mind — but Blake has coached them brilliantly. “Danny’s Song” — a sappy but effective ode to a newborn baby — showcased Zach’s skills at the piano and the tightest harmonies the boys have cooked up to date, while stretching their artistry in a slightly folksier direction. Was this a home run? Not quite. But sometimes you can outscore your opposition with a series of doubles and singles and occasional triples than you can with a combo of grand slams and strikeouts. (Side note: I hope I didn’t both that baseball metaphor too badly.) Grade: A-
Sasha Allen: Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” (Shakira’s Choice) | With the wacky, no-way-they’re-gonna-blow-up-on-iTunes song choices Shakira keeps giving her, Sasha must be starting to feel just a little abused like a coffee machine in an office. (Click here if you don’t get that reference.) But while everything about “Bad Girls” was daft and strategically unsound — oh how I cringed at the sight of the word “SASHA” appearing in giant lit-up letters — the fact is that it was sung pretty darn well. I mean, the young mother might be a Broadway star in pop diva’s clothing, but she worked the stage moreso than most of her rivals, executed a series of choreographed dance moves and didn’t miss a single note along the way. Sasha oddly left out the beltiest line — “I got what you want, you got what I need/ I’ll be your baby come and spend it on me” — and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was hoping Shaki would call in Kris Allen to wash some of the disco out of the jam, but I can’t deny the element of risk or the power of the vocal. Grade: A-
Danielle Bradbery: Jessica Andrews’ “Who I Am” (Contestant’s Choice) | If I were a cynic, I’d be rolling my eyes and yelling “Come ON!” at Blake using photo albums from Danielle’s childhood as a backdrop to her brown-sugar sweet rendition of “Who I Am.” But wait, I am a cynic, and my eyes are rolling. Which isn’t to say that the whole performance — save for a few questionable notes in her lower register — wasn’t the ultimate get-out-the-vote vehicle (as well as a showcase for her seriously powerful pipes). I mean, even my jaded heart melted a little as Danielle walked out in the audience to finish her song in the warm embrace of her mama and her daddy. But if that wasn’t enough, Blake reminded voters that Danielle is “every bit the girl that you hope she is.” How long before they create an American Girl doll in her image? Grade: B+
Amber Carrington: Maroon 5′s “Sad” (Adam’s Choice) | Speaking of rolling my eyes and yelling “Come ON!”…I’ll admit I was a little dubious about Adam selecting one of his own band’s tracks for Amber — that is until the fog began to roll across the stage, an overhead camera captured Amber standing in a single spotlight and she began to deliver one of the most effortlessly gorgeous vocals this show has ever witnessed. I loved the way Amber’s voice was front and center in the mix — with minimal background singers and subtle instrumentation — the better to soak up the ache and regret that infused her every word, from the desperation of “I’m scared to death that there may not be another one like this” to the final falsetto runs of “I’m so sad.” I never make a Kelly Clarkson comparison lightly, but Amber’s versatility and ability to interpret country, pop and soul, definitely is reminiscent of the American Idol Season 1 champ, no? If the Voice franchise really wants a crossover superstar, maybe Amber should be the one it pushes, not Danielle. Grade: A+
Michelle Chamuel: Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” (Contestant’s Choice) | First, a small complaint: Can we please have a moratorium on clocks/hourglass imagery during any/all future performances of “Time After Time” on reality singing competitions? Because between Michelle’s rendition and Beatrice Miller’s on The X Factor last year, that’s two too many in the course of about eight months. That gripe aside, Michelle gave another stellar vocal on her second Cyndi Lauper ballad of the season, bringing a sweet restraint to the opening half before playing with the arrangement and going for some unexpected glory notes in the latter stages of the number. As Shakira noted, Michelle is on a “permanent crescendo” (that’d be a great name for a band or a race horse, no?) and the extended “lost” over the final chorus drove that point home. Even better, though, is the way Michelle personalizes every lyric, as though she’s somehow whispering it directly into your ear. “You are the winner,” declared a beaming Usher. If it turns out that “Coach” is incorrect, though, at least in terms of Season 4 voting, I really hope the collaboration continues, and he can use the Bieber machine to launch Michelle into the recognition and stardom she deserves. Grade: A-
Should go home: Danielle Bradbery, Sasha Allen
Will go home: Sasha Allen, Amber Carrington
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Season 4 Top 5 performance night? What did you think of the coaches’ comments? Who was your favorite? Which two singers are going to be in trouble come results night? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my Voice-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!