Take Adam Levine’s critique tonight of Team Shakira’s dreariest member Deja Hall: “The place that you are at now is better than any place you’ve been so far. That just means the sky’s the limit.” On its surface, you could almost mistake Adam’s words as praise. But put them beneath the blue light of a crime-scene investigator, and the blood splatter shows up clear as day.
Translation? “You were somewhat less disappointing tonight than you were in your previous three performances, so there’s that?”
Similarly, Blake Shelton has mastered the art of not-so-subtly implying which singers make him happier than a Starbuck’s cup full of moonshine, and which ones he’ll forget by the time he’s finished chugging said container. “I thought it was good, dude,” he drawled to Team Adam’s struggling Jake Barker, a critique that only stung in comparison to Blake’s standard operating hyperbole.
Speaking of which, if I was going to place myself in one of NBC’s red roating chairs right now, here’s what I’d say to Shakira and Adam, both of whom narrowed down their five-artist teams to three apiece in the no-longer-live, no-longer-voted-on-by-viewers Playoffs:
“Shakira, for once in your life, you made all the right choices with regard to your team — even though exec producer Mark Burnett undercut your authority by repeatedly showing your three male colleagues imploring you not to cut your strongest players.” (To my good pal Feminism, I’ll come get you out from underneath the couch and help you wipe away the dust bunnies in the morning.)
“Adam, not every member of your team sounded like a New York City subway car with worn-out break pads speeding around a hairpin turn over a rusty track. At least not all of the time.”
OK, OK, so I haven’t mastered Blake’s art of breaking it to ’em gently…
Without further ado, though, let’s get to letter grades and reviews for tonight’s performances:
Kristen Merlin: Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs” — Grade: B | I wondered if Kristen was being positioned as Ultimate Cannon Fodder (™ pending), seeing how not one but both of her Battles got the dreaded montage treatment. But Shakira’s country candidate was absolutely solid (if not particularly original), with a glory note on the final “walked away” that was as long and forceful as anything we’ve heard in Season 6. Better still, her steadfastness in the face of arhythmic SwayBots — “Don’t cheer! I’m makin’ fun of y’all!” groused Blake, after calling ’em out — proves she’s on the side of good, not evil.
Deja Hall: Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield” — Grade: C- | The best part of Deja’s anemic effort tonight was that brief bit of Shakira singing “Battlefield” during rehearsals. Otherwise, Deja’s pretty but unformed voice packed about as much punch and ferocity as a miniature Pomeranian growling in the front yard. “I never meant to start a war”? Oh, Deja, you’ll need at least five years of life experience before that’s any kind of possibility.
Tess Boyer: Christina Perri’s “Human” — Grade: A- | Oooohweee*! (*not a real word) Tess’ lower register on the opening verse of “Human” was as thick and rich as homemade caramel on your kitchen stove. The former Team Usher and Team Blake castaway proved that perhaps third time will be the charm with a performance marked by flawless phrasing and the kind of quiet control that sometimes eludes big, belty singers. Shakira’s description of Tess as a “little miracle” was apt: I mean, girlfriend might get her sometimes hapless coach to the Season 6 finals! #DontKillHerWithSongChoiceShaki
Patrick Thomson: Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” — Grade: B- | The coaches praised Patrick for finally showing the kind of artist he could be in the real world, but I wasn’t aware there was a big market for Ray LaMontagne cover bands. Ouch. That was harsh, even by my standards, but despite being mostly in tune and reasonably passionate, there was not a single second of Patrick’s performance that caused me to believe it deserved to exist outside a reality singing competition…
Dani Moz: Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” — Grade: A- …Dani’s sparse piano arrangement of a sweeping Gaga tune, however, possessed the kind of originality and purposefulness that moved it out of the slums of Karaokeville and into the cozy hamlet of Relevancy. Usher was right that Dani wasn’t entirely flawless — I heard a couple crumbly notes and timining issues in the middle — but her fearlessness in playing with the melody and her explosive final glory note made this a breakout moment I won’t soon forget. Wait, does Shakira have two legit shots at stealing Tessanne Chin’s crown from Adam’s mantle?
VOTED THROUGH BY SHAKIRA
(well done, Shaki!)
Delvin Choice: “Let’s Stay Together” — Grade: B | Delvin’s got a gorgeous tone — especially when he digs into his lower register — and a lot of technical skill, but careful coaching is going to be the difference between an early ouster and a serious Season 6 run. In this instance, the acoustic-and-bongos arrangement of Al Green’s soul classic proved to be a little too “lido deck on the Norwegian Pearl (pre-happy hour)” and some of those runs toward the end felt a little overbaked. (Should one word require seven or eight notes? In most instances, the answer is “he-el-ll-ll no-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oh!”
Jake Barker: Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” — Grade: C+ | If Jake was hoping to flatter Adam with his song choice, he succeeded — insomuch that he proved his coach to be a vastly superior vocalist. This particular track, unfortunately, seemed to bring out the most nasal, tight qualities of Jake’s tone, and even his trademark falsetto seemed to lose steam about midway through the number. Of course, this being The (Always Predictable) Voice, maybe Jake knew deep down that only Contestants 1, 3 and 5 would advance — with Contestants 2 and 4 doomed to plank-walk. Nevertheless, his performance was more “out for a Saturday stroll” than a full-fledged fight for his competitive life, no?
Kat Perkins: Journey’s “Open Arms” — Grade: B | Adam said there was nothing to criticize in Kat’s performance, and while I might argue that was a slight exaggeration, I don’t feel a burning passion to quibble with People’s Sexiest Man Alive, either. And yet while the Season 6 rock chick delivered her vocal with a muscularity and verve that pegs her as a genuine contender, I couldn’t shake the desire for her to color a little outside the lines of Steve Perry’s template — or, perhaps more accurately, choose a song that gave her more room to color outside the lines of the original tune.
Morgan Wallen: Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay” — Grade: C+ | I kinda forgot this happened already — except for the eagerness and borderline “wait! is this happening?” disbelief in Morgan’s eyes. Poor kid didn’t even realize Blake’s “you’ve improved substantially” was one of the night’s coldest critiques.
Christina Grimmie: Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” — Grade: B- | First things first: I really enjoyed the fragile clarity of Christina’s voice in the opening verse tonight, the way she was able to cut through the room with seemingly little to no effort. But as she pushed harder and louder and more aggressively through Jason Mraz’s plaintive ballad, her instrument took on an occasionally grating quality that I figured/hoped somebody on the panel would point out. (Plus, I’m not quite sure she nailed the fast-paced wordplay at which Mraz excels so deftly in the midsection of the song.) Which isn’t to say Christina didn’t earn the third berth on Team Adam… I’m just nowhere near ready to put a crown on girlfriend’s head.
VOTED THROUGH BY ADAM
(Yes! Adam took RuPaul’s advice!)
What did you think of Night 2 of the Season 6 Playoffs? Did Shakira and Adam make the right choices? Who gave the best overall vocal of the night? Who got robbed? Take our poll, then sound off in the comments!