The Voice Season 3 Semifinals Recap: To Die Four

nicholas davidThe Voice‘s Season 3 semifinals featured the Top 4 contestants travelling to faraway lands — and I’m not talking about their American Idol-esque hometown visits.

Trevin Hunte went all the way to heaven (where angels wear baby blue nightgowns and play classical instruments). Nicholas David sojourned to Miss Havisham’s burnt-out Amish-country vacation house (where a sad red wagon waited longingly for a little boy to come and play with it). Cassadee Pope flittered away to Faerieland (“Because she is made of PURE MAGIC!” cried her mentor, Blake Shelton). And Terry McDermott detoured at a vast cathedral before he continued on his way to Mordor.

(Go ahead…say “MORDOR!” in your boomingest, British-iest Christopher Lee accent. We can pick up this recap when you’ve finished.)

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All that is my roundabout way of saying the semifinal set pieces were a wee bit over-the-top. But hey, with four talented folks competing for three spots in next week’s finale (one of which really shoulda gone to Amanda Brown), you can’t be surprised that they pulled out every stop. We saw yet another Gospel choir. We saw extreme closeups of Blake resting his chin in his hands, his face gazing into the light emanating from Cassadee’s soul. We saw Nicholas’ wife getting an ultrasound! The only thing that got left out was Trevin Hunte leading a brickbats- and torches-wielding throng into his mean high-school chorus teacher’s classroom. (Maybe producers are saving that feel-good footage for next week’s finale?)

We now interrupt this broadcast to present — without comment — Cee Lo’s response to Carson Daly’s question about how what he wants Voice fans to take away about his final two contestants, Trevin and Nicholas: “I want them to be remembered as really great friends of mine, and the future!”

Carson didn’t really respond to that ridiculata with a “well said,” did he?

Don’t answer that…let’s get to grades for this week’s performances…

Trevin Hunte: Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” | Why has The Voice been leading us to believe Trevin’s a New Yorker when he’s been living in Georgia since he was 11? Did I miss the newsflash? Or did the show’s producers think his tale of being told to give up on his dreams by a teacher would somehow tug harder on the heartstrings if we believed he came from Queens rather than what looks like a lovely Atlanta suburb? Whatever the case may be, this was one instance where I wish we’d gotten less hometown visit and more behind-the-scenes insight into Cee Lo and Trevin’s unfathomable song choice. Not since his blind audition has the kid credibly covered a song from the last two decades, and instead of using his penultimate live show to try to establish some post-Voice credibility, he goes and covers one of the most mawkish, sentimental ballads in the American songbook. Even more troubling, “Wind Beneath My Wings” ranks alongside “Scream” as Trevin’s worst vocal of the competition: His pacing seemed rushed, he went sharp on almost every big note in the second half of the track, and didn’t really seem emotionally connected to what he was singing. By the time he reached the “fly, fly, flyyyy” portion of the ditty, I began devilishly rooting for Cee Lo’s pink parrot to come swooping onto the stage and drop a critique right in the center of the stage. Instead, Xtina rambled incessantly about all the times she’d sung “Wind” during her childhood. Then again, at least she stopped short of singing a few bars and then imploring us to pick up copies of Lotus, in stores now. Grade: D+

Nicholas David: Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” | Nicholas, in typical fashion, barely missed a note while pairing up his warm, buttery tone with a ’70s-era pop-soul anthem. Okay, I could gripe that once again, Cee Lo’s song choice left Nicholas looking like a groovy nostalgia act — Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love,” from 1985, is the newest song he’s tackled since the live shows began — and far from the kind of current artist who’s ready to cast Ke$ha from the Billboard charts and back from whence she came. (FYI: I’m not saying oldies can’t be goodies…I’m just advocating a little variety!) But I’ve got to admit that the Minnesota hippie infused his performance with added emotional heft this week — no doubt in part because his wife and family were offering tearful support from the front row. That extra aggression in Nicholas’ delivery brought to life the urgency of his message, even if it might’ve taken a little toll on tone in a couple spots. It’s just a shame the show’s director chose to spend what felt like a third of the performance in extreme closeup on the Mrs. and her wriggling toddler. We’re not suposed to be voting for “Best Family” — as if having a spouse and children somehow implies you’re more worthy of a record deal — but rather, The Voice. Which is why that overbearing, “look! he’s doing it for his wife and kids!” vibe was the equivalent of going to a romantic movie and having someone repeatedly slap your shoulder and yell, “I think it’s really gonna work out for Wall-E and Eva! I really do! Those crazy kids! So romantic!” Or to be more direct, the camera work was unnecessary, distracting, and borderline hostile. (Side note: Who else is dying to know more about the behind-the-scenes tension Cee Lo alluded to in his critique?) Grade: B+

Cassadee Pope: Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” | I realize that Blake’s immense popularity is probably worth a 25% uptick in votes for his contestants, but the show simply gorges on the Cassadee-Blake connection like a 5-year-old shoveling down Halloween candy. It’s all cute and sweet — until it turns into a sudden and all-consuming urge to vomit. I mean, did Carson need to tell us Cassadee was tackling “a special song hand-picked by Blake” — as if it was a diamond engagement ring her coach had personally mined in Northwest Canada, and then cut, polished and set with a little help from his old friend Neil Lane. And don’t even get me started on Blake’s hyperbolic hoo-hah about Cassadee’s ability to connect with her lyrics like no one who’d ever previously graced the Voice stage. (Cue RaeLynn, foaming at the gums with a lasso, a bullwhip, and a microphone, ready to exact unspeakable revenge on her former mentor.) If everybody would dial it back just a hair, chances are we’d all be able to appreciate and enjoy a little more Cassadee’s very real improvement as a vocalist this season. “Stupid Boy” (which in this instance sounded more adult contemporary than country) put Cassadee in storyteller mode while reinforcing the idea that she’s got serious chops; her signature high notes never flirted with screechy or threatened to veer off pitch. Would it be too Blake of me to call this her personal best this season, or to say this is the closest I’ve come to downloading one of her tunes onto my computer? Grade: A-

Terry McDermott: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” | If I’m gonna give Carson grief for his lead-in to Cassadee’s performance, I’d better call him out on how he introduced Terry’s choice of “Let It Be” as “one of the most loved songs that unifies us all.” (“Let It Be”: It’s like the Dead Sea…only you can play it on your Bose system!) In all seriousness, though, Terry’s performance once again proved to be the trusty (and sorta blandly seasoned) starch to the telecast’s main courses. Aside from a pretty falsetto run at the very end, and a little riff on “Mother Mary come to me,” Terry colored well within the lines of the thousands of “Let It Be” that came before him. Don’t get me wrong: He’s got a nice voice. He did a good job. He hit most of his notes as easily as Kim Kardashian finds the paparazzi’s flashbulbs. And he had by far the most entertaining hometown visit package (unlike Idol, The Voice didn’t feel the need to put subtitles under his Scottish aunt and uncle — yay for progress!). But unlike Trevin (who at least tried and failed with his Usher cover) or Nicholas (who turned “Over the Rainbow” on its head with a new arrangement) or Cassadee (who’s covered both male and female artists), Terry only knows one way to hit the ball. And eventually, type of play usually leads to a strikeout. But enough of my cranky take. Let’s balance it all out with a gallon of corn(y) syrup from Blake: “In my absolute heart, I believe that was musical perfection.” Grade: B

Uff to the da! With that, let me turn things over to you:

Who were your favorites from The Voice‘s semifinal performance telecast? Who’s most likely to get booted come Tuesday night? Are you surprised there are three contestants going to the finale? Hit the comments with your thoughts!