The Voice Recap: Coaches Take the Wheel

The second quarterfinal round of NBC’s The Voice was a sexy, sexy, sexy affair — at least in the eyes of randy, rambling Christina Aguilera. For those of us whose brains aren’t permanently stuck in “French brothel” mode, however, Tuesday night’s episode was a mixed bag of raw talent, strange song choices, squandered potential, enthusiastic dancing, cheerleader-y critiques and counterintuitive advice from coaches Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine. Oh, and as a bonus, we got some extremely encouraging results from last week’s quarterfinal showdowns involving Team Blake Shelton and Team Xtina. Let’s start by recapping this week’s performances in chronological order:

Tori and Taylor Thompson: The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”
The looks of panic and defeat plastered on Tori and Taylor’s faces during rehearsal continued to percolate below the surface of their painted-on smiles once they hit the stage in their USO pinup costumes and limped their way through a song they clearly didn’t know, didn’t want to know, and definitely didn’t like. The only way the sister act could’ve had less fun with the performance would’ve been if Cee Lo had grabbed the mic before they went on stage and announced: “For every note the girls miss, we’ll club a baby seal back in their dressing room!” Tori and Taylor never really got comfortable with the lightning fast cadence and perky disposition of “Boogie Woogie”; vocally, they sounded rushed and breathless, fading into the background of white noise created by the Voice house band, the random blasts of spotlight, and that dancing band of horn-toting soldiers. Blake made an uncomfortable comment about “loving every minute” of the girls’ “sick” outfits, Cee Lo used the phrase “wonderful job” not once but twice, and host Carson Daly tried to excuse the mess by declaring, “It was Flag Day!” Sorry, dude, the stars and stripes deserved better.

Casey Weston: KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”
Oh how I wish Adam had compromised with Casey on her desire to do a slow, stripped-down version of Tunstall’s jaunty 2005 hit. Instead, he overruled his protegee and demanded she closely mirror the tempo of the original track, which left her with few chances to upgrade her rendition from good-to-excellent karaoke, and no chance at outshining the warp-speed boogie of those wacky backup dancers. Imagine, though, if she’d tackled the first verse all slow and dramatic-like, accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar, then kicked into the rapid-fire chorus while the entire band joined in? (Also: Imagine if the poor girl hadn’t been saddled with a literal backdrop featuring an animated black horse and cherry tree?) Casey definitely took some sweet liberties with the tempo and melody of the “no, no, no, no” breakdown, and it says plenty about her artistic instincts that those tweaks turned out to be the best part of the performance. I just worry that if America doesn’t vote her through, Adam might pass on saving a singer who he could tell was “not so excited” about following his directions.

Vicci Martinez: Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”
Thank goodness Cee Lo was man enough to let his “assertive” artist have her way and tackle Dolly’s classic tale of a woman’s plight against a husband-eating temptress. I loved the quiet drama of Vicci’s intro, the almost tropical percussion that whispered in the background, and the way she handed off her guitar and began to stalk the candelabra-lined stage as the intensity of the ballad began to build. Vicci may have the richest, most evocative voice in the competition, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t gasp just a little when she wailed the line “Whatever you decide to do, Jolene!” As Blake noted, you get the sense that Vicci’s voice can explode at any second of her performance; but as far as I’m concerned, the fact that she chooses restraint over flair, that she only unleashes her power in short, shocking bursts, makes her a more intriguing artist than the vocal peacock who closed the show. (More on that in a moment.)

Devon Barley: OneRepublic’s “Stop and Stare”
If I wasn’t already irked that Adam chose Devon over the sublime Rebecca Loebe in the battle rounds, Devon’s deeply demoralizing rendition of “Stop and Stare” gave new focus and depth to my feelings of loss, resentment, and rage. The likable med student had all the confidence of a newborn kitten dropped in the center of an alligator pit, his tremulous voice missing note after note after note, his physical presence steadily retreating to the point where he was upstaged by even Adam, Blake, and Cee Lo’s tattoos. I’m not big on Carson’s barely concealed critiques, but his post-performance question to Devon was apt: “Are you glad that’s over?”

Nakia: Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire”
What was with all the pre-perfromance chatter about Nakia being forced out of his comfort zone and into a growly rock motif? Isn’t that kind of his wheelhouse? Or was the burly dude performing Enya ballads up till now and I’m just having some kind of repressed memory experience? Nevertheless, I thought the burly dude sounded pretty solid here, hitting the bulk of his notes, adding a little extra soul and longing to the track, and managing to command my attention despite the strange presence of lady firedancers working the stage behind him. (Bonus points for that So You Think You Can Dance-style spin and knee-drop.) I just wish The Voice‘s styling team had worked out Nakia’s hair situation, which kind of looked like something your plumber would extract from your bathtub drain before billing you $500.

‘Platinum Hit’ Recap: Long and Winding Road Trip

Jeff Jenkins: Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”
As a fan of Jeff’s audition and battle-round work, it pains me to say that his Carrie Underwood cover was a hot, honeyed mess. I mean, seriously, if Jesus was at the wheel for this performance, he should’ve been pulled over by the California Highway Patrol and cited for an excruciatingly off-pitch opening verse, excessive quaver, and total lack of charisma. Deep down, I think this was a case of nerves and inexperience triumphing over Jeff’s sweet instrument and demeanor, but I think my overall ruling can best be summed up by the following conversation between my husband and me:

Me: Wow, I have to say, even Danny Gokey sang this better.
Hubby: Seriously.
Me: Wait, you remember when Gokey sang this on Idol?
Hubby: Not really. But I don’t remember hating anything of his quite as much as I hate what’s happening on our TV right now.

No matter how poorly Jeff performed, however, I don’t think it warranted a “Good job, Bubba” from Carson. I mean, Bubba? Srsly? Maybe Jeff can go find comfort in the arms of (as he so sickeningly put it)) the legal Thompson twin.

Curtis Grimes: Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”
On paper, I loves Cee Lo’s idea of “sprinkling some country” on Robert Palmer’s pop-rock ode to having an Xtina-esque brain. But alas, Curtis (AKA the “hard working country boy from Texas”) was not the man for the job. Curtis’ delivery was a mumbly, torpid mess, and I haven’t seen a bump-and-grind that uncomfortable since MC Hammer’s “Pumps and a Bump” video. Adam’s exhaustive effort at offering a positive critique — “You really wear a cowboy hat!” “It was like a country version of that Robert Palmer song we all love so much!” — spoke volumes.

Javier Colon: Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”
No doubt Javier has a powerful voice that hits notes with machine-like precision, but Adam’s pre-perfromance comment (“his biggest strength is his range — he can do anything — which is also his biggest problem”) really sums up my central conundrum concerning Javier. Adam asked the guy to tone down the aggressive runs and melisma, and Javier himself said he planned to approach “Angel” as if it were a lullabye he would sing to kids. But isn’t the goal of a lullabye to soothe a child to sleep, not to cause their tiny eyes to pop open with shock and alarm and think “WTF is going on? How come daddy turns even the simplest phrase into a 40-syllable hoo-hah-gitchee-yah-yah-ta-ta?” Particularly egregious were Javier’s delivery of the word “reverie” and the way his penchant for runs forced him to rush the phrasing on a number of lines. Oh, also, his slightly askew cap. (J’loathe!) I wouldn’t be so hard on the dude if I didn’t think he had the raw talent to be terrific, but if he’s going to insist on dousing all his musical dishes in a gallon of artificial vocal syrup, then he might not be headed toward the victory march some pundits have predicted. On the plus side, though, when Javier dials it back and sticks to the melody, he’s pretty damn fabulous.

Before we forget, there were also group performances by Team Adam and Team Cee Lo (coaches included). Let’s sum ’em up in 10 words or less:

Team Adam, “With a Little Help From My Friends”: Why have Gospel chorus when they obliterate individual team members?

Team Cee Lo, “Everyday People”: Wig, Vicci, Nakia, and Cee Lo overcome Curtis, pig farmers.

And as for the results of last week’ Quarterfinal performances, let me raise a glass to America, Xtina, and Blake on scoring a perfect 100%!

Team Christina
America’s Pick: Beverly McClellan (Didn’t see that coming, but pretty righteous, no?)
Xtina’s Pick: Frenchie Davis (Oh hell yes! The Redemption of the Lady Aguilera!)

Team Blake
America’s Pick: Dia Frampton (She coulda looked a little happier, no?)
Blake’s Pick: Xenia (Didn’t see that coming, but couldn’t be happier about it!)

And finally, let’s get down to tonight’s letter grades and some predictions for next Tuesday’s eliminations…

Tonight’s Letter Grades
Vicci Martinez: A-
Casey Weston: B
Javier Colon: B
Nakia: B
Tori and Taylor Thompson: C
Jeff Jenkins: C-
Curtis Grimes: C-
Devon Barley: D+

Will go through: Vicci Martinez, Nakia
Should go through: Vicci Martinez, Nakia

Will go through: Javier Colon, Jeff Jenkins
Should go through: Javier Colon, Casey Weston

What did you think of The Voice‘s second set of live performances? Who was your favorite? Who will and should go home? And are you planning on downloading any performances? Take our poll, sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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