A long-term, loving relationship requires honesty — even when it’s uncomfortable or upsetting. And so, as much as The Voice has, essentially, put a ring on it (in terms of my DVR series-recording loyalty), I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Season 6’s Top 8 performance night lived up to the coaches’ unbridled, eye-rolling superlatives — or that Adam Levine’s new hair color is anything other than toxic.
Take, for example, Usher rewarding Delvin Choice’s histrionic performance of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” by noting, “You’ve never seen a man fly ’til you’ve seen a man cry.” (Wait, did Urrrsher spend the weekend perusing his seventh-grade poetry journal?) Or how about Adam Levine telling his rocker chick Kat Perkins that there was “nothing that wasn’t amazing” about her ear-piercing twist on “Get Lucky.” Even Pharrell Williams got in on the act, lauding his fellow incoming Season 7 coach Gwen Stefani’s half-baked rendition of “Hollaback Girl” by shouting, “Make some noise for the queen!” (Queen of… co-opting Japanese culture and fashion? #DomoArigato)
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Look, it wasn’t all bad — not by any stretch of the imagination (despite the fact that THREE singers are headed home on Tuesday night). But not every single episode deserves to get labeled with a “Best of All-Time Ever” banner. In fact, wouldn’t it be nice if exective producer Mark Burnett and his merry band of A-list panelists realized that gentle contstructive criticism won’t cause the audience to lose faith in the show’s contestants and instead catch up on their backlog of CBS procedurals?
Anyhow, with that complaint registered, let’s get to my letter grades for tonight’s performances:
Sisaundra Lewis (Team Blake): Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” — Grade: A- | Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m a Sisaundraholic. No, the Lady Lewis’ rendition of “River Deep” wasn’t a total reinvention of the original, but her elegant phrasing and effortless power — along with her delectable diva strutting — were pretty freakin’ fantastic. Will a 48-year-old song by a 44-year-old woman kill it on iTunes? Possibly not. But if Sisaundra falls victim to Tuesday’s triple-elimination, at least she can go out with one of the most ferocious glory notes heard on a reality singing competition in the last decade.
Josh Kaufman (Team Usher): Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” — Grade: B | First things first, Josh’s explosive “Stay With Me” cover still ranks as my No. 1 moment of Season 6. Yet while all of the trademark vocal tools he brought to that performance — the smoky lower register, the spotless falsetto, the passionate growls — were utilized in his cover of Bonnie Raitt’s aching whisper of a ballad, the end result left me a tiny bit underwhelmed. Sure, the stripped-down opening half was arm-tinglingly sublime, but when Josh brought out the peacock feathers (vocally, not literally) in the closing refrain, it steamrolled the intimacy of the message. Here in the dark, in these final hours… vocal bombast isn’t the right mood, y’know? So, here’s hoping Usher works a little harder on song choice when Josh inevitably reaches the Top 5 next week.
Kat Perkins (Team Adam): Daft Punk feat. Pharrell’s “Get Lucky” — Grade: C | As someone who aggressively used the hashtag “VoiceSave” + “Kat” last Tuesday — thanks to her scintilating Last Chance performance — I had high hopes when the rockin’ nanny revealed her intention to take a huge risk and turn an electro-funk jam into a headbanging rock ditty. Unfortunately, the arrangement was pitched so high that it left Kat straining to reach the bulk of her notes like a toddler attempting to swipe cookies off the kitchen counter. Even worse, that final repetition of “Up all night to get! Up all night to get lucky!” was essentially just a bunch of screaming. Yeah, I sound like a cranky octogenarian at a Jay Z concert, but the judges’ effusive praise left me utterly baffled. Then again, maybe Shakira’s remark about Kat obeying her inner voice was a thinly disguised criticism? “You obeyed your inner voice — all the way to your destruction!“(Yeah, probably not.)
Kristen Merlin (Team Shakira): Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck” — Grade:
B- C+ | I could try to critique Kristen’s performance using only car metaphors — girlfriend’s gas gauge was dipping toward ‘E,’ I don’t know what was going on under the hood, and so forth — but I don’t even have a valid driver’s license, so… I’ll just say this: The opening verse was majorly mumbly, the string section seemed to be swallowing Kristen whole and her emotions seemed to almost get the best of her voice, too, resulting in more bum notes in one night than she’s hit all season. Honestly, I’d say Kristen’s got the strongest body of work among Season 6’s trio of country contestants, but it only takes one flat tire to stop you from getting to your destination.
Delvin Choice (Team Adam): R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” — Grade: D+ | NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! And not just NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to the horrific song choice, but to the tremulous, oddly phrased opening verse; the illegal levels of vibrato; the weird white flappy thing floating in the middle of Delvin’s suit; the copious amounts of fog; the reveal of a choir from behind the curtain; the way Delvin dropped way behind the band in certain places; the violent use of runs through the final refrain; and even the glory note that ended too soon and gave the whole thing an anticlimactic vibe. So just to reiterate: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Audra McLaughlin (Team Blake): Rebecca Lynn Howard’s “Forgive” — Grade:
B+ B | I wish Audra had listened a little more closely to Blake’s rehearsal notation that “every note counts,” because (as has become her habit) her opening verse was almost unintelligible. Beyond that, though, the only other misfire for Blake’s country diva was an inscrutable red “mullet dress” over black (vinyl?) leggings. (#NoMeGusta) You could hear palpable heartbreak and frustration in Audra’s vocal, and the big, belty notes were almost disturbingly good. Bonus points for never falling out of rhythm despite the folks in the SwayBot pit waving their arms like ranchers trying to fend off an oncoming herd of mustangs.
Jake Worthington (Team Blake): Brooks & Dunn’s “Hillbilly Deluxe” — Grade: B- | I’m not sure Blake’s goal of showing “the badass side of Jake” really came to fruition, but this was a pleasant, albeit slightly gaspy rendition of a corny country ditty that (wisely) didn’t really push the contestant’s limited vocal range. What amused me, though, was Blake pushing the idea in his critique that with this performance, Jake graduated from likeable guy to actual “artist” — when, in actuality, the kid’s clumsy stage presence and “whoa, am I actually here?” wonderment expose the fact that he’s still completely in contestant mode, and nowhere near ready to headline. Oh sure, the kid has some talent, but that triple-elimination will sting all the worse if his isn’t one of the heads that’s rolling.
Christina Grimmie (Team Adam): Lil Wayne’s “How to Love” — Grade: B+ | I’ve got to admit: I kinda love Adam pointing Christina toward the R&B side of pop music — even if he overplayed the idea of “How to Love” as a pure rap track. Christina’s confidence in opening up the song’s range — and her ability to master everything from lilting high notes to fleet, twisty wordplay makes her a major force not just for the competition — but possibly beyond. Sure, there were a handful of botched notes on the bridge — and a few instances where her tone veered into unpleasant territory — but if anyone’s a lock for Top 5 status, it’s Christina (and not just because she got the pimp slot).
SHOULD BE BOTTOM 4: Delvin, Kat, Kristen, Jake (Delvin, Kat and Jake going home)
WILL BE BOTTOM 4: Delvin, Kristen, Audra and Sisaundra (Delvin, Sisaundra and Kristen going home)
What did you think of the Top 8? Who were your faves? Who’s in trouble? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments! And for all my reality TV-related news, interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!