The Voice Recap: You Wanna Critique Me! What Rhymes With 'Critique Me'? [Updated]

Nic Hawk The Voice - Season 5We’ve now reached that awkward phase in The Voice‘s trajectory where the coaches’ feedback is like a shot of novocaine — numbing in its bland positivity, but always with a painful little jab of knowing you’re not getting to hear their whole truth (and sometimes anything close to the truth, for that matter).

Things got so ridiculous during Night 1 of the Season 5 Live Playoffs, in fact, that Nic Hawk, coming off a performance of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” that was the culinary equivalent of smashing a dozen eggs with the back of a frying pan, ended up being the only person to admit “the vocals could’ve been better.” (Yeah, yeah, Coach Blake actually reported that info after chatting with Nic on the commercial break, but still…)

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And that wasn’t the only glaring example of The Voice being so aggressively upbeat that you could use an episode of Barney & Friends to come down off the sugar high. When Xtina referenced “that note” during her critique of Will Champlin, you could practically see him wince with agreement — until she suddenly shifted gears and praised his badly botched run. Likewise, uni-monikered Grey looked utterly befuddled at the end of her unfortunate Paramore cover, as Blake took his long-winded critique over the river, through the woods and down to grandmother’s house for a shot of Wild Turkey.

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But hey, on the plus side, mostly everybody from Team Blake and Team Adam proved pretty solid, if not entirely spectacular. (Odd, though, that Blake had four of the night’s first five performance slots, no?) Either way, if you’re jonesin’ for some bitchy realness, let me give you my quick take on the proceedings:

Ray Boudreaux: Marc Broussard’s “Home” — Grade: A- | Once I got over my obsession with the song’s awesome bass line, I really started digging Ray’s sweet, syncopated second verse, and the way he built the intensity from the easygoing intro to a growling climax. Blake’s rehearsal prediction — that this would be the “performance of the night” — came true (at least among the Team Blake acts). Dude is so through to the Top 12 — and he didn’t even need a cameo from his adorable daughter to get there!

Nic Hawk: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” — Grade: D- | Nic’s a nice boy/ But I don’t want it/ And you don’t want it/ No, Blake don’t want it/ Nic’s a fun guy/ But his voice sounded knackered/ Notes got all splattered/ Now his Voice dreams are tattered…Hey-ey-ey! Hey-ey-ey!

Shelbie Z: Reba McEntire/Bobby Gentry’s “Fancy” — Grade: B+ | The verses were pitched just a centimeter too low for Shelbie, but she brought a great sense of timing and fire to the choruses. Alas, though, you never really want to go first in a 10-person lineup. That, plus Blake already having a blonde country protege on the charts in Danielle Bradbery, might mean Shelbie goes home before her time. But if she does, at least she got to sing the priceless line “I shivered as a roach crawled across the toe of my high-heeled shoe” on national television.

Austin Jenckes: The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” — Grade: B | Austin’s cover started strongly — if you closed your eyes and ignored his incessant grinning during a song about a woman’s drug addiction. And while I wish at least one coach had observed that things got a little rushed and flat in the final third, I wouldn’t be shocked if the dude ranks second or third among voters on Team Blake anyway.

Cole Vosbury: Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” — Grade: B- | Wait, I thought Cole said he wanted to make his rendition different from the original. So how come the arrangement was pretty much a carbon copy of Rod’s? I mean, I’m not saying it was a bad carbon copy, but still…

Preston Pohl: B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” — Grade: A | Apparently, a good chunk of TVLine readers disagree, but nevertheless I’ve got to be 100 percent honest (while wrapping myself in tin foil — with some butter, garlic and rosemary — for the inevitable roasting I’m gonna get): I absolutely loved Preston tonight. (And I say this as someone who only ranked his “Electric Feel” behind Juhi, Monika Leigh and George Horga in his Blind Audition episode!) To my ears, Preston really captured the groove of the song perfectly, while managing to infuse the rap portions with an electric feel (see what I did there?) courtesy of his smokey-cool rasp. As Blake put it, “the pocket, the pitch, the passion.” I couldn’t agree more!

Tessanne Chin: Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” — Grade: B+ | Again, I cannot tell a lie: Tessanne’s vocal tonight was one of those weird instances where I’m impressed more than I’m moved, where I admire more than I feel. Don’t get me wrong: The woman has range for weeks, never misses a note and could probably recharge every cellphone in a city block with her vocal power. But there was something that felt a little perfunctory in the delivery, like the struggles in the song’s lyrics were something she’d read about in a book rather than experienced firsthand. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t totally belong in the Top 12 — I just want to see her get more creative with her choices once she gets there.

Grey: Paramore’s “Still into You” — Grade: C- | I think Grey may have been so focused on Adam’s notes about projecting rock-star swagger that she forgot that it was her primary duty to actually sing in tune (which, prior to today, has never been her issue). The more Grey worked the stage, the more strained her voice became, leading to an almost desperate vibe where you could sense the singer feeling her dream of music stardom slipping from her hands — right in front of 15 million people. The overall effect had me feeling a little, well, y’know, grey. (Sorry.)

Will Champlin: One Republic’s “Secrets” — Grade: C+ | I’d ranked Will in my Top 3 Season 5 Knockout performances, so it came as a shock to hear his nerves take ownership of the opening verse of “Secrets,” a situation that rattled his pitch like a loose car muffler. Even more troublesome, though, was Adam’s advice to have Will get up from the keyboard, walk away, go back to it, play standing up, try to reattach his mic, sit back down, and resume playing. Why not just let the dude stay fixed on the bench and accompany himself? Sheesh. There were flashes of brilliance interspersed in the performance, of course, which will make it all the more heartbreaking if Will doesn’t survive into next week. In fact, the question comes down to James-or-Will again, it’ll be interesting to see if Mr. Levine shifts allegiances, no?

James Wolpert: Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” — Grade: B+ | The judges seemed especially enthusiastic about James tonight, and maybe that’s because the final third of his Joni Mitchell cover packed a punch worthy of Sydney Bristow. (If you don’t know that name, Google it already!) The opening two-thirds, however, came off a little mumbly, making it hard to fully engage with James’ otherwise gutsy, stripped-down rendition. The coaches all brought up the Ghost of James’ Knockout Past, but we’ll just have to wait and see if it was a sneaky strategy to remind voters of his weakest moment, or an attempt to highlight his massive improvement in a short period of time.

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of tonight’s Live Playoffs? Were the coaches too bland with their feedback? Who were your faves? Who are you worried about? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!