The Voice Performance Recap: Imperfect 10?

The-Voice-Recap-Michelle-ChamuelBlake Shelton, Adam Levine, Usher and Shakira get tons of good press for their work as coaches on The Voice — and rightfully so. Even their shtickiest moments (like Adam and Usher hiding behind their swivel chairs during Shakira’s impassioned defense of one of her artists) are fun, frothy distractions from the stresses of our workaday lives.

Once in a while, though, it might be nice to hear them drop their shiny, happy superlatives and offer some brutally honest feedback to the wannabe singing stars in their midst.

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Tonight’s Season 4 Top 10 performance episode served as a prime example of how quickly the foundation of a two-hour episode can crumble when it’s built on soft-pedalled, phoned-in, sometimes disingenuous uses of words like “great,” “incredible,” “amazing” and “fantastic.”

What next? Calling social media menace Christina Milian an adept, insightful interviewer? Perish the thought!

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And while I’m on a rant…considering that said coaches are paid to devote their time and energy to drawing the best possible performances out of their contestants, I’d like to see them cooking up intriguing new arrangements that set the bar a little higher than “solid karaoke.” If that means a little extra time in the studio, so be it. These folks are paid handsomely, after all.

Anyhow, I know I sound a little Grouchy McGriperson, so I’m gonna jump to tonight’s set list — along with reviews and letter grades for every performance. (I’ll be briefer than usual this evening since I’m battling the nasty after-effects of some dodgy street meat. Yikes!)

Holly Tucker: “How Great Thou Art” | Girlfriend has a powerful set of pipes — there’s no denying it. But like a seaside hotel in the off season, there’s still too much vacancy in her delivery. I’d like to see Blake work with her next week on reading (and fully comprehending) her lyrics before she opens her mouth to deliver a single note. Grade: B

Judith Hill: Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” | I liked the way Judith shook up the arrangement with a slowed-down, jazz-influenced intro, but the closing portion of the performance — a howled repetition of “ain’t nobody’s business” — got shoutier than a substitute teacher in a classroom of unruly seventh-graders. [Side note: Anyone else taken aback by Judith’s tearful outburst about how some folks think she’s “taking advantage” of her connection to Michael Jackson? Way to turn a non-issue into an actual talking point!] Grade: B+

The Swon Brothers: Randy Houser’s “How Country Feels” | I’ve been pretty tough on these dudes the last few weeks, but their harmonies were tighter than Josiah Hawley’s abs, and the song was a flawless fit for their gruff-guy vocal stylings. (Now if they’d just stop pretending to play guitar — or actually play the guitar! — going forward…) Grade: A-

Amber Carrington: Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” | Amber’s been my favorite contestant since the live shows began, but tonight, the verses were pitched too low for her comfort level, and she went intermittently flat on the chorus. Plus, adding an aggressive wind machine to the mix seemed to blow away all of girlfriend’s stage presence. (Is this a nice way of saying she’s no Kelly Clarkson? I dunno.) Combined with the coaches’ failure to call out her problems, I worry Amber’s fan base won’t activate, and her first subpar effort will make her Team Adam’s first casualty. Grade: C+

Sasha Allen: Emeli Sande’s “Next to Me” | I’m willing to admit that maybe something in Sasha’s tone mixes with my eardrums like skittles and jalapeños, especially after the coaches lavished praise on her “Next to Me” cover. Was I the only one who noticed how Sasha’s voice trailed off at the ends of certain lines, how she never really got in the pocket of the song’s uptempo rhythm, how she was drown out by the band on the chorus, or how her ad-libs toward the end of the performance seemed to veer off pitch? It wasn’t just me? Was it? Anyone? Grade: C+

Josiah Hawley: Coldplay’s “Clocks” | Usher’s got to know that Josiah’s range is limited — methinks his pantomimed “window” of opportunity was a subtle nod to that fact — and yet he saddled his contestant with a rhythmically tricky ditty that’s got low, rumbling verses and falsetto “oohs” on the chorus. This would be kind of like mentoring Justin Bieber and assigning him “Ave Maria.” Catastrophic! Grade: C-

Danielle Bradbery: Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” | The kid undoubtedly lights up the stage, and although her Daisy Dukes were maybe two sizes too short, she definitely captured the vagabond spirit of this fun country anthem. Did I detect a couple wince-worthy notes on the final chorus? Yeah. But that doesn’t mean Danielle won’t advance directly to the finals — or prove a mighty nifty retirement plan for her coach. Grade: B+

Kris Thomas: Miguel’s “Adorn” | In the spirit of total honesty, Kris’ on-stage vibe is way too wide-eyed and swagger-free to fully channel the spirit of Miguel’s ode to sexytimes, but on the plus side, he didn’t hit a single sour note — and the horn-centric arrangement allowed me to hear the song with fresh ears. Here’s hoping it was enough to buy the talented kid another week to find his sea legs on stage. He really does have potential! Grade: B+

Sarah Simmons: Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best” | Moments of raw, almost deranged passion interspersed with some not-entirely-musical holleration. But hey, Sarah sure looked like she was having a blast in her chain-mail skirt. I could listen to this a dozen times, and grade it anywhere from an A to an F. So for now, let’s just settle for…Grade: B-

Michelle Chamuel: Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” | Michelle is never going to deliver the cleanest, pristine-est vocal, but there’s real perfection in the nooks and crannies and imperfections of her voice. The dramatic break in her whisper on the opening verse, combined with the tortured wail of the chorus, was the kind of from-the-gut singing that upgrades her from really cool contestant to potential music star. And it doesn’t hurt that the mutual admiration and love she’s got going with Usher is my favorite contestant-coach dynamic of the season. Grade: A-

Will go home: Amber and Kris
Should go home: Sasha and Josiah

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Season 4 Top 10 performance night? Do you agree it’s time for the coaches to get tougher? Who was your favorite? Who’s going to be in trouble come results night? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!