The Voice Recap: Where There's Gas There's Fire [Updated]

“Team Cee Lo is where it’s at,” declared rival coach Christina Aguilera, midway through this week’s quarterfinal round of The Voice. This in spite of the fact that the cat-stroking, pajama-wearing Gnarls Barkley frontman kicked off the episode with a fit of flatulence that had Xtina, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton alternating between giggles and gags.

And yet while the sweet smell of success clung to Team Cee Lo by episode’s end, it was stench of fading fortunes that lingered in the wake of Team Adam. Is it too late to ask producers to allow the top vote getters from next week’s Top 8 telecast to advance to the finale, regardless of which team they’re from? And also, would it be possible to vote off social-media dingbat Christina “Dip It Low” Milian while we’re at it? Seriously, sister, “roommating” is not a verb. And not every interview needs to end with a vapid compliment like “ohmahgah, you’re awesome!”

Okay, okay, enough kvetching. Let’s take a deep dive into the week’s performances — which represented a step up in quality from last week’s Team Xtina/Team Blake festivities, especially since both Cee Lo and Adam picked the right members of their teams for Instant Elimination!

Best Performance | Jamar Rogers: Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” (Team Cee Lo) Yeah, we could probably use 50 percent less motivational speaker-iness from the HIV-positive former drug addict, but there are a lot worse messages you could get from a potential pop star, y’know? And musically speaking, the guy has yet to hit a sour note in the competition. This week, Jamar slowed down the tempo of “It’s My Life” while amping up the drama — seriously, that run on the final chorus had more suspense than your average episode of SVU — and as usual, he performed with so much charisma that the wall of graffiti/fire/stereo-speaker projections never threatened to upstage him. I’m with Christina, who bluntly told Jamar that he was “one of the ones I’m definitely rooting for.” And the dude isn’t even on her team!

Worst Performance | Pip: Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” (Team Adam) “My last performance wasn’t my strongest,” said Pip of his flaccid rendition of “When You Were Young” two weeks back. At this point, I was hoping Adam would tell Preppy McBowtie that he doesn’t have a genuine rocker bone in his body, and that perhaps a Broadway-style number was his best bet. But nope, Adam instead allowed Pip to tackle a wistful Keane ballad that started inoffensively enough, but melted down faster than a stick of butter in the microwave. By the end of the song, Pip had completely lost his gasp on pitch, and his face briefly registered the fact that he wouldn’t survive long enough to let a nation of tween girls carry him forward on a wave of text votes. At least Blake salvaged things by noting Pip without a bowtie is like him without alcohol.

Biggest Surprise | Cheesa: Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” (Team Cee Lo) Bad enough that “I Have Nothing” has been covered seven times in 11 seasons of American Idol, but now the Whitney Houston ballad voted “Most Likely to Be Covered at a Teenage Beauty Pageant” has migrated to The Voice, as well. But in spite of her clichéd song choice, and in spite of Cee Lo’s insanely premature declaration that Cheesa could be “this generation’s power vocalist” — that’s kind of like looking at an egg and predicting it’ll be the best chicken cordon bleu ever — the Season 2 underdog delivered a very solid performance. Okay, there were a few flat notes in the opening verse, and Cheesa brings a somewhat lumbering quality to the ends of certain phrases, but it’s always nice to hear what her coach described as “grown-woman, child-bearing strength” as opposed to “Auto-Tuned Tinkerbell” crap that’s so prevalent on the radio anymore. Side note: Was it just me, or did the combination of sequins and stage lighting made it look like Cheesa was wearing nothing but light beams and faerie dust? Most peculiar!

Biggest Disappointment | Mathai: Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird” (Team Adam) Oh how I wish Adam had chosen something a little more unexpected for Mathai, as opposed to saddling her with a song from an artist with a voice very similar to her own. Or at least maybe he could’ve encouraged Mathai to slow down “I’m Like a Bird” to a crawl, make it a plaintive ballad, and avoid comparisons to the original. But while Mathai took some jazzy liberties on the bridge, this was a pretty straightforward rendition that, compared to Nelly Furtado’s rendition, seemed superfluous and occasionally off pitch. Xtina may have gotten a little too much joy in critiquing Adam’s performance as a coach, but she was right: You can’t force-feed a song to an artist and expect it to turn out swimmingly. Plus, how the heck was Adam surprised by the addition of the acrobat flying over Mathai’s pretty head? As the Lady Aguilera noted, “You gotta be involved in the production of your own team.” Mmmkay?

Most Improved | Katrina Parker: Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (Team Adam) The styling was very Adele by way of Morgan Fairchild, and the staging — a neon heart on the foggy floor — was depressingly literal, but there’s no denying this was Katrina’s prettiest, most on-pitch vocal in the competition. I’m not willing to go as far as Adam in declaring the vocal “in-cred-ible” — Katrina’s voice seemed to close up just a bit on the bridge, and the final glory note was more of a double when she needed a home run — but she may have done enough to leapfrog Mathai and land in next week’s semifinal, despite not having been one of Adam’s favorites early in the competition. (Talk about putting the ‘brutal’ in ‘brutal honesty’!)

Mr. Congeniality Trophy | James Massone: Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” (Team Cee Lo)
(Let’s sing it out to the tune of “Just the Way You Are,” shall we?)

Don’t change your hair, to try and please me
Though I have to say it’s kind of wack
Like a mid-’90s, rom-com best friend
Who’s played by jaunty Joan Cusack

And oh your vocals, as thin as Kate Moss
How did you ever get this far?
That zany set piece, Cee Lo’s strange caprice
Now you go back to fixing cars

Most Overhyped | Tony Lucca: Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” (Team Adam) Conceptually, you’ve got to applaud a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club for tackling Britney Spears’ breakout pop hit and giving it an eerie rock twist. (Yeah, it’s not the first time “…Baby One More Time” has been turned on its head, but I’m still willing to award Tony and Adam with points for chutzpah.) Still, I wish the performance had contained a little more emotional oomph, that Tony had exhibited enough charisma to outshine the Illuminati Dancers that flanked him, that there hadn’t been a breathiness to his vocals that made the audience’s “Bieber-esque” response seem downright peculiar. I’m not sure Xtina feels any more warmly toward her former castmate than she did during her scathing takedown two weeks back, but I thought her muted critique summed things up pretty accurately: “I enjoyed it.”

Most Over-the-Top | Juliet Sims: Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” (Team Cee Lo) From a pure vocal standpoint, this was the proverbial potato in the microwave — without any holes poked in it: Explosive, messy, undeniably entertaining if not entirely edible. Juliet, with her lightened hair and dialed-back makeup, looked like a completely different person than the mange-y rocker who slaughtered “Roxanne” two weeks back, and I didn’t even mention the enormous (gorgeous) black wings attached to her back. But her banshee wail and her undeniable passion were in tact, even if she intermittently lost control of pitch and melody in the process. I don’t think Juliet can win the competition without a little more restraint in the coming weeks, but I can’t say I’m not curious to check out her studio rendition on iTunes, or that she hasn’t earned a spot alongside Jamar in the semifinals.

James Massone

Letter Grades for the Week
Jamar: A-
Juliet: B+
Cheesa: B
Tony: B
Katrina: B
Mathai: C+
James: C
Pip: D

What did you think of The Voice this week? Who was your favorite? Who do you think will survive on Tuesday? And what did you think of Cee Lo and Adam’s automatic ousters? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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