To that end, let me register a handful of gripes. How come Usher assigned The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” — a song that’s wearing thinner than Mixology‘s welcome in the post-Modern Family timeslot — to his guy Josh Kaufman, and then kept D’Angelo’s epic, sexy “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” for himself and Adam Levine?
Speaking of Adam, why did he greenlight Christina Grimmie’s arrangement of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — which sounded tailor-made for the inside of Celine Dion’s Vegas-stage humidity bubble — when he’s spent the entire season painting her as the cool R&B chick who’s ready to snatch Katy Perry’s diva crown (no Auto-Tune required)?
And as for Blake Shelton — the only other coach with a horse in the race — well… actually, Blake never really hits a false note. Oh sure, his fella Jake Worthington is clearly the Contestant Voted Least Likely to Embody the Show’s Title, but when you close your set dueting with Mr. Shelton on “A Country Boy Can Survive,” a good segment of the audience is going to chow down like one of Tom Colicchio’s four-star restaurants just instituted an all-you-can-eat menu.
OK, now I’m sounding about as enthusiastic as Shakira telling Christina that she’s “the one with the highest register in the competition.” (Um, Shaki, she’s also the sole remaining female!) And while tonight’s nine performances showed our Season 6 warriors are probably suffering from a bit of vocal fatigue, there were certainly enough good moments to make the two hours breeze easily by. So let’s jump directly to letter grades, shall we?
Christina Grimmie: “Wrecking Ball” — Grade: B+ | I have a dream… that some day, some reality singing competition producer will outlaw song reprisals during the course of a season — seeing how recreating the first-time magic is next to impossible. Case in point: Christina’s “Wrecking Ball” audition was pretty much note perfect; tonight’s encore — which ran a full 3:20 as opposed to an abridged 1:40 in the Blinds — wasn’t quite as clean, with some flat notes on the first instance of “wre-eh-eh-cked me,” a weird mid-performance crouch that felt as random as a Voice SkyBox interview and a set of late-in-the-performance ad-libs to which Shakira and Usher called attention with their lack of effusive praise. I don’t mean to start a war, Grimmie fans: 80-85 percent of this vocal was powerul and on-point, but like the second rabbit pulled from the magician’s hat, the overall effect was more “oh” than “OHHH!”
Josh Kaufman (& Usher): “Every Breath You Take” — Grade: B | Usher implied that he selected The Police’s classic stalker anthem because he hopes to be involved with Josh’s singing career for years to come, and if you ignored lines like “every bond you break” and “my poor heart aches,” the sentiment was kind of sweet. Still, despite a sweet vocal blend toward the end of the track, the bulk of the performance felt more like it was coming from two talented but underrehearsed fellas trading lines on a ditty in which neither one was fully invested.
Jake Worthington: “Don’t Close Your Eyes” — Grade: B+ | Jake’s reprise of his Blind Audition anthem was sneaky-smart (and arguably the most enjoyable of Round 1). The romantic ballad played up showcased the tender gruffness of Jake’s tone, didn;t push too far outside his limited range, and best of all, painted him in a more adult light than the “golly-gee, how’d I get here?” kid of his interview packages. If that wasn’t enough, the song choice gave Blake an opportunity to name-check the late Keith Whitley — and once again tie his contestant to a tradition of ’80s-era “real music” that plays to the nostalgia receptors of the show’s not-exactly-teen-centric audience. Don’t close your eyes, and you might see this one climbing the iTunes singles chart.
Josh Kaufman: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” — Grade: A+ | I’ll admit I was initially aghast that Josh’s fans voted to have him reprise one of the more old-fashioned ditties of his Voice Season 6 run, but like an eagle-eyed nun faced with an unruly 4th-grader, Josh schooled me, and schooled me hard. The guy’s got an eye-popping number of weapons in his vocal arsenal, and yet he never pulls ‘em out just to show off. Every burst of falsetto, every growl, every melodic dip (“that’s why I know you’re my heart’s desire”), even the scat-like way he rattled off the “got my future in your hands” ad-lib, was selected and executed perfectly. Josh effortlessly drove home the effervescent joy of the lyric — and built a larger vibe of musical jubilation alongside the rockin’ horn section. Yes, he’s got his future in our hands, Voice addicts. Let’s hope we handle our responsibility well.
Christina Grimmie (& Adam Levine): “Somebody That I Used To Know” — Grade: A (only for Christina, though) | Biggest surprise of the night? Adam’s noticable pitch probelms on the opening vese of Gotye’s ubiquitous breakup ditty. Christina, on the other hand, mixed tissue-paper delicacy and grittier tones to drive home the track’s tricky mix of regret and disdain and sarcasm. (Her harmonies were, to my ears, some of the best we’ve ever heard from a Voice contestant.) It’s a testament to the excellence of Christina’s performance, in fact, that I’m even considering a download of a tune that reached Kardashian levels of unwelcome ubiquity just a couple years back.
Jake Worthington: “Right Here Waiting” — Grade: C+ | Like a toddler contemplating a full bowl of vegetales, Jake never fully dug in to this ’80s pop smash. Yeah, he put a little bit of twang on it, but there was a monotony to the delivery — a total aversion to dynamics, not to mention some incredibly stilted phrasing — that made it one of the country kid’s least exciting performances all season. And making matters even worse, dude slipped out of the pocket on several occasions. Blake, who gets a gold medal for get-out-the-vote strategizing, declared Jake one of the most “honest, sincere narrators of a lyric” that he’d ever seen on the show, at which point the words “honest” and “sincere” texted their friends “milquestoast” and “awkward” and asked them to house-sit that sentence.
Jake Worthington (& Blake Shelton): “A Country Boy Can Survive” — Grade: C+ | Yowza. The verse on this duet was pitched wayyyy too low for Jake’s comfort zone, leading to a series of questionable notes that continuously pulled my attention away from the lyrics and into questions along the lines of, “How exactly didd this dude outlast Sisaundra Lewis?” #sadbuttrue
Christina Grimmie: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — Grade: B- | It’s probably not fair to judge Christina against a performance from two weeks ago on American Idol, but it’s also pretty valid. I mean, not only did Jena Irene have one of Idol‘s biggest Season 13 moments with her piano-driven twist on this gentle Elvis ballad, but she was first to hit the market, too, casting a “been there, done this” vibe to Christina’s cover. Worse, though, was all the fog and strings and showy glory notes for Christina’s performance — signifying not much of anything. Well, except for this contestant seems to be very different from the one who killed it a few weeks back on iTunes with covers of Lil’ Wayne and Drake. OK, to be fair, she hit the notes with missle-like precision, and the a capella intro showcased the prettiest part of her tone, but the end result resulted in an unfortunate Vegas lounge makeover (figuratively speaking).
Josh Kaufman: “Set Fire to the Rain” — Grade: B- | Like your favorite short-sleeved summer shirt at the back of your closet, “Set Fire to the Rain” made sense on paper for Josh. But once he slipped it over his head and tried to button it up, it turned out the fit was Rated N…for No Bueno. Yeah, there were flashes of haunting regret and beauty, but too often the high notes seemed a half-step out of Josh’s range, rendering his tone shrill and tight and not altogether pleasant. Usher, though, having learned that coach hyperbole is a key element in winning, leapt to his feet and delivered a solid stump speech. “It cannot happen that this guy does not win The Voice!” he shouted, and in this case, I cannot disagree.
SHOULD win: Josh (with Christina as runner-up)
WILL win: Josh (with Christina as runner-up)
What did you think of the Top 3? What were your favorite two performances? Who will win? Who should win? 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!