Like a skeletal hand clawing its way up from the grave in a zombie-apocalypse thriller, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (aka The Asteroid Song) (aka The Most Done-to-Death Ditty in Reality Singing Competition History) broke through the serne surface of The Voice‘s Top 12 performance night, terrorizing everyone within earshot.
But it’s not a blockbuster without a rugged hero wielding a bow and arrow or a katana or, better still, both. So let’s all put our hands together for freshman coach Miley Cyrus, who armed her trio of artists with tunes by Father John Misty, Leonard Cohen (not “Hallelujah,” thank goodness) and The Rolling Stones (not “Satisfaction,” amen).
Like Taco Bell, the Coach Formerly Known as Tongue-Wag McTwerkybutt is thinking outside of the bun — and, to my surprise, I’m all about it.
Because whether or not one of her protégés is destined to win the whole gordita — let’s be honest, that’s probably up to exec producer Mark Burnett and how he chooses to spin the various Season 11 storylines — at least Miley seems to understand there’s a hunger for fresh ingredients among the Voice faithful, even if it might be cheaper and easier to serve us whatever theadbare tunes have been sitting under a heat lamp since the days when Simon Cowell seemed egdy.
While I try to make sense of my unforseen appreciation of the subtlety of the chick who came in like a wrecking ball, please dive into my reviews of the week’s performances.
Team Blake: Sundance Head, “My Church” — Grade: B- | The soulful undercurrents of Sundance’s southern-rock tone crashed like a wave — to sweet effect — on this bluesy-country jam. I would’ve liked to see and hear a little more freespiritedness — and pitch control – from the American Idol alum, but Sundance sometimes seemed dragged down by the collective weight of his ten-gallon hat, extreme beard and heavy leather vest. Styling treachery aside, though, dude’s a lock to stick around for at least a couple more weeks.
Team Miley: Darby Walker, “Ruby Tuesday” — Grade: C | When Darby’s voice shredded on the full-tilt choruses, I was finally reminded why Miley got obsessed with the overly theatrical teenager in the first place. The kid does have a genuine talent beneath the layers of “who, me?” bashfulness and coached-since-diapers staginess and breathy affectations. Yet while Darby was hardly the worst of the night — from a technical standpoint — I suspect her early-in-the-episode position and failure to advance by public vote last week make her a strong bet to be singing for a Twitter save come Tuesday.
Team Alicia: Christian Cuevas, “The Scientist” — Grade: B | Christian’s always had big vocal range and emotional sincerity in his arsenal, but the complex R&B twist he put on Coldplay’s haunting rock ballad hinted his holster might contain present-day musical relevance, too. Sure, the last few bars sounded a bit wobbly, but Christian’s lilting upper-register flourish on “eeea-say,” his fearless melodic twists and his explosive upper-register approach to the chorus were the first signs I’ve seen that he could be more than a mid-pack player.
Team Alicia: Sa’Rayah, “Livin on a Prayer” — Grade: B- | The sparkly jumpsuit, vocal bombast and horrific sound mix all read very American Idol Season 3 — not that I have a problem with that. But while Sa’Rayah delivered some impressive syncopation on the bridge and a few devastating glory notes, she never seemed fully in control of what was happening on the stage — especially when she slipped out of sync with the band and descended into pure caterwauling on the final refrain. I’m not sure what Alicia meant when she told her diva contestant that she always “finds your way back to your yes,” but here’s hoping America doesn’t send her into the dreaded valley of “no” on Tuesday. She deserves one more shot — on the basis of her ridiculous ambitions alone.
Team Adam: Billy Gilman, “The Show Must Go On” — Grade: B+ | There’s no denying the technical merit of what Billy does on stage — dude’s range stretches perhaps even further than Adam Levine’s healthy ego — but his Freddie Mercury cover lacked the excruciating beauty of the original. The crisp cleanliness of Billy’s performance scrubbed away the haunting desperation from lyrics like “Inside my heart is breaking/ My makeup may be flaking/ But my smile still stays on” — leaving me more impressed than actually moved by the end product. Not to say that “impressive!” is the worst thing you can shout at a guy’s performance.
Team Blake: Austin Allsup, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” — Grade: C+ | Props to Austin for at least eschewing karaoke with his southern rock spin on an Aretha Franklin classic. But the way the arrangement left Austin screaming at the top of his register on the final third of the tune had me scanning the stage for evidence that dude might’ve passed a kidney stone during his turn on the stage.
Team Alicia: Wé McDonald, “Take Me to Church” — Grade: A- | Let’s put aside for a second the ickiness of hearing a babyfaced teenager tackle a song whose lyrics seem to be an extended metaphor for sexual climax. (Seriously, Google the words and then tell me in the comments if I’m wrong!) But the way Wé shifted from ship’s horn rumble to hummingbird delicacy just in the opening verse convinced me that — given the right material — she could be pop music’s next great hope. Even the families of Wé’s competitors — who found themselves as her backdrop when she finished up wailing out in the audience — looked blissed-out to be part of the experience.
Team Miley: Aaron Gibson, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” — Grade: B- | Aaron’s gruff, Phillip Phillips-y tone is easy on the ears, but you know what’s not? Straining from start to finish to understand what the dude is mumbling into his mic. One can only get so far in the voting without the slightest concern for enunciation — not that any of the coaches bothered to call the issue out in their critiques. Then again, maybe that’s what Blake was hinting at when he noted Aaron’s performance reminded him of Godzilla singing?
Team Blake: Courtney Harrell, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — Grade: D | I remember one time my sister made an incredible soufflé at Thanksgiving — every ingredient was painstakingly selected to maximize good taste and eye appeal. But then she set the Pyrex dish on a hot stovetop, and after a few minutes, the whole thing exploded — spewing broken glass and gooey cheese over a five-foot radius. We had no choice but to sweep up the mess and ponder what might’ve been. Similarly, the previously solid Courtney’s competitive fortunes went “Boom!” as she lost control of the tricky Steven Tyler vocal line and ended the performance with a series of sharp, wince-inducing screams that had me wishing for an asteroid to drop on my living room couch and end the agony. If she’s not Bottom 2 on Tuesday, then Blake’s sway over the audience is even more potent than ever in Season 11.
Team Adam: Josh Gallagher Jason Aldean’s “Why” — Grade: D+ | Luckily for Courtney, Josh made a serious attempt at snatching her unwanted award for Most Botched Notes Per Minute on Monday night. As he opened his number on a stool out in the middle of the swaybot pit, I thought, “Those are some… interesting melodic choices.” But as the band kicked in behind him and threatened to swallow him whole, Josh began tossing in unneccessary runs — most of which went badly awry. Was it the emotion of the song that left a tear in Josh’s eye during his critique, or a sense of dread about having fumbled his dark-horse chances?
Check back early Tuesday for updated critiques of Ali and Brendan!
Team Miley: Ali Caldwell, “Did I Ever Love You” — Grade: A | Ali’s rehearsal package found Miley and Top 12 mentor Garth Brooks boosting the likable diva’s confidence in an unfamiliar song that left her feeling less than confident. She needn’t have stressed for a second. Clad in a red sequined gown that Jessica Rabbit would’ve loved, Ali not only brought perfect intonation and exquisite phrasing to the late Leonard Cohen’s rhythmically twisty ditty, but also the kind of emotional connectedness that’s the mark of a genuine talent. She may not be the producers’ Chosen One, but if she continues to perform at this level, and Miley keeps steering her away from predictable Whitney and Celine-type ballads, Ali could wind up disrupting the system?
Team Adam: Brendan Fletcher, “Whipping Post” — Grade: B | Admittedly, I haven’t been Brendan’s biggest fan this season, but his “Whipping Post” was undeniably solid. Putting some genuine stank and sting in his delivery, the guy proved he’s more than just a sandpapery tone and a blank expression. Still, as Brendan tore through the noisy arrangement, I found myself wanting more nuance and shading to his delivery. With a four-coach standing ovation, though, I’m not sure Brendan’s got any reason to question his approach at this point.