Yes, The Voice is a singing competition, but it’s also a numbers game: How many votes you get each week. How many iTunes singles you sell. Whether you’re stuck performing first or get the coveted closing slot. And, this week, a new twist, with Blake Shelton sharing rival coach Adam Levine’s cell phone number with his 6.06 million Twitter followers.
Um, YIKES. Is “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” (If We’re Not Acknowledging Idris Elba) going to have to live out the lyrics to one of his songs and actually spend time at a pay phone? Carson Daly had better provide us with an update come Tuesday night.
That’s almost as daunting a crisis as which three vocalists will be at risk after a Top 10 performance telecast with only a couple of genuine missteps, one of which may have been diffused (from a voting standpoint) by a probably-not-strategic-but-nevertheless-strategic crying jag from Bria Kelly. (Perhaps it was Shakira’s lugubrious word salad, full of positive words but conveying limp disappointment, that sent Usher’s teenage rocker over the edge.)
Whatever happens, somebody who’s really, really talented is probably going to need the “Voice Save” to avoid being dragged to the guillotine after just two weeks of public voting. Let’s jump to my letter grades and predictions:
Kat Perkins: Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” — Grade: B- | Aside from the opening couple lines — which were Rated R…for Rough — Kat hit most of her notes, and delivered ’em with plenty of emotion. The trouble was, though, she colored so carefully within the lines of Stevie Nicks’ original vocal that I couldn’t detect any reason her version needed to exist at all. I mean, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also the most predictable form of karaoke. If the talented former nanny survives to top 8 week, here’s hoping Adam’s song selection process goes beyond, “Um, which existing artist do you sound the most like?”
Tess Boyer: Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” — Grade: B+ | The night’s most obvious choice for elimination? Tess’ heinous yellow dress — complete with peek-a-boo midriff and befuddling napkin-triangle skirt-front. And while I’m worried that Tess’ Bottom 3 showing last week — and the dreaded No. 2 performance slot — might lead to the contestant getting tossed out with the outfit, it would actually be a damn shame given the powerhouse pipes she showcased on “Ain’t It Fun.” OK, so maybe Tess didn’t totally get down with the git-down on the bubbly opening verses, but once she hit the a cappella breakdown, girlfriend got loose, and her layers of glory notes quickly stacked up like a magical ladder leading (hopefully) to the Top 8. I mean, like Blake said, find somebody who could find a single note that wasn’t perfectly in tune. Shouldn’t that buy the former cheerleader another week?
Audra McLaughlin: Reba McEntire’s “You Lie” — Grade: B | The coaches went gaga over Audra, and I wish I could’ve, too, seeing how “You Lie” ranks in my Top 5 country songs of all time — and seeing how Audra has a remarkably powerful instrument. Unfortunately, though, I heard too many troublesome little missteps to completely connect with what Blake’s country chanteuse was trying to communicate. She seemed to start the song a half a beat too late, then mumbled her way through the intr0. After that, there was the botched lyric on the first line of the second verse — it’s supposed to be “Desperate to talk/ Yearning to touch,” not “Yearning to touch/ Yearning to touch” (as Audra sang it). Even Audra’s choices for the big notes on the chorus struck me as slightly haphazard. Reba’s original builds the refrain to a climax — each repetition of the song title becoming more rueful and desperate. Audra hit the first “you lie” with such force, though, it was as though there was nowhere left to go. I know, I know, I’m being super nitpicky, but if Audra wants to take home the Season 6 crown, she needs more honest feedback than Adam’s “world class” nonsense. The Lady McLaughlin needs to get her nerves under control, get her lyrics committed to memory (she forgot ’em last week too), and then maybe we can have the finale talk, OK?
Josh Kaufman: Kenny Loggins’ “This Is It” — Grade: B+ | I thought after last week’s astonishingly good “Stay With Me” that Josh was already storing the Season 6 trophy in his dressing room. So, I can only wonder if Usher’s choice of a 1979 tune — and his failure to update said tune in any way for a 2014 audience — was a way to even out the playing field. (See also: That pink jacket!) Oh, sure, Josh’s vocals remained fascinatingly complex as ever — the way he melts his smoky lower tones into his growl into his full voice into his falsetto reminds me of a Top Chef contestant playing around with flavors — but there were some awkward transitions between verse and chorus tonight, as well as a handful of notes where Josh sounded (dare I say it) a tiny bit gaspy. Please, Usher, if you need song ideas for your front-runner, scroll to the gallery at the bottom of this recap!
Christina Grimmie: Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” — Grade: A- | I haven’t downloaded too many tracks from The Voice this season, but I’m waving my $1.29 at Christina’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” like a bachelorette party attendee at a Chippendale’s dancer. Christina breathed fresh life into the verse — delivering it with a conversational ease and a sweetness of tone that erased the audience SwayBots from my line of vision — and then, reached for a series of high notes that displayed a hummingbird-like delicacy and yet a cheetah-esque swagger. This was so sublime, I won’t even poke fun at Blake for declaring this the night Christina transitioned from a singer to an artist.
Jake Worthington: George Strait’s “Run” — Grade: B- | Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, Jake’s gonna have to hope America doesn’t judge his George Strait cover on an opening verse that was flatter than the surface of an iPhone. The Season 6 cowboy, though, picked up steam (vocally) as his old-school country performance rolled on, adding heart and a twinge of sorrow to this tale of a man missing his long-distance love. Granted, I could’ve lived without Blake and Jake’s post-performance, get-out-the-vote campaigns that were based less on musical talent and too much on the idea that his drawl and his cowboy hat make him the Apple Pie of The Voice smorgasbord, but whatever. If Blake’s gonna insist that Jake represents everyone who lives in between NYC and L.A. — insert eye roll here — and Jake’s gonna declare his intent to “do this for the little people,” they’d better both be careful: Someone’s gonna wind up with a crown and a sash by the time the interview portion of the pageant is complete!
Bria Kelly: Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” — Grade: D+ | I’m scared. I really am. Bria’s bleating pronunciation of the word “you” as “Yoo-wahh-ahh-ahh” tonight is probably going to be lodged in my brain’s Nightmare Centers forever — alongside the “old woman looking up from a Ouija Board” in The Others, the twins from The Shining and the entire second season of Hannibal. I’ll be even more frightened, though, if Bria’s tear-soaked visage at the end of the judges’ verrrry mild criticism results in a wave of sympathy votes that saves her in spite of a performance that was as pleasant as using a tinfoil-wrapped toothbrush.
Delvin Choice: Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” — Grade: A- | Clearly, Delvin (not Adam) should be in charge of dictating Delvin’s own song choices — seeing how “Bright Lights” brought out Delvin’s booming lower register, his hip-swaying funkiness and his natural showmanship in a way that last week’s dated “Unchained Melody” never could. I let out a genuine guffaw when Carson Daly practically photo-bombed Delvin’s extra-dramatic finale, as the contestant rose up from the SwayBot pit, paused for several seconds for the band to end, then declared, “you’re gonna know my name by the end of the night!” Prophecy fulfilled, Mr. Choice!
Kristen Merlin: Passenger’s “Let Her Go” — Grade: A- | Kristen’s got one of those warm soothing voices that’s like melted caramel when she’s easing her way through an intimate verse, and yet when she opens up and belts, she’s got a surprising amount of power. “Let Her Go,” while tecnically outside Kristen’s country wheelhouse, fit her perfectly — especially since it was originated by a male vocalist, and therfore allowed her to easily move it out of the karaoke lane. I winced a little at Shakira’s awkward “you represent the minorities in this country” critique — oh Shaki, sometimes silence can be your greatest gift to your team! — but let’s just skip to agreeing with Blake: This was Kristen’s best performance on the show to date.
Sisaundra Lewis: Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” — Grade: A | Three words: Miss. Sisaundra. Lewis. Three more: Beastmaster in effect! OK, and maybe a few more on top of that: I mean, the whole thing was as wickedly big and brassy in reality as it was inscrutable and incongruous on paper. Who’dve thunk we’d be hearing one of the biggest diva voices to ever hit the reality-competition world pairing up with a 1983 power rock ballad from the erstwhile lead singer of Journey? But that’s the beauty of Sisaundra: With an instrument so powerful-yet-controlled, she could probably do 90 seconds of Tuvan Throat Singing and still make the audience go wild. And oh DAY-UM, Sisaundra’s final glory note lasted longer than any of my 2014 diet plans (thus far)! Which is my way of saying, congrats, lady — and we’ll see you next week for Top 8!
SHOULD BE BOTTOM 3: Bria, Kat, Jake (Bria and Kat going home)
WILL BE BOTTOM 3: Bria, Kat, Tess (Bria and Tess going home)
What did you think of the Top 10? Who were your faves? Who’s in trouble? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments! And for all my reality TV-related news, interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!
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