We all know who’s going to win Season 8 of The Voice — even though his coach semi-sabotaged him tonight with an unspeakable army of Ariana Grande clones.
Still, the identities of the four artists who’ll join preternaturally talented Sawyer Fredericks (AKA He Whose Recorded Burps Would Crack the iTunes Top 10) in next week’s semifinals are far less of a certainty — especially after a mixed showing on Top 6 performance night.
Will viewers bow down to Kimberly Nichole’s epic “Dirty Diana,” or crinkle their nose at her overbaked “Free Fallin'”? Can Koryn Hawthorne’s perfectly imperfect “Everybody Hurts” wash away memories of her overly ambitious “Dream On”? And what to make of Meghan Linsey, whose three-minute scream session on “Steamroller Blues” stood in direct opposition to her ethereally gorgeous/gorgeously ethereal “Amazing Grace”?
There really isn’t a bad singer left in the mix — only the occasional bad song choices, bad arrangements, bad advice and bad staging. And that makes it tough to predict which solitary singer will be cut on Tuesday night — just missing the Top 5 in the process.
But let’s not get too caught up in handicapping the race; the more pressing business of grading this week’s performances is at hand!
Team Xtina: India Carney — John Legend and Common’s “Glory” (from Selma) — Grade: B | For the opening 30 seconds of India’s performance, I thought to myself, “Opera chick is finally going to have a moment!” But as India flipped Common’s rap into a sung verse — and cranked up the vibrato to 11 — her intensity level waned, and (as has become all too common these last few weeks) the end product seemed to be more about technique than genuine emotion.
Team Adam: Joshua Davis — U2’s “Desire” — Grade: D+ | It’s unclear whether we really needed a New Orleans jazz twist on U2’s “Desire” — but I can say without any hesitation that Joshua shouldn’t have been the one attempting it. Team Adam’s sole remaining singer has a rich, soothing tone — but his performance had all the passion and sexual energy of a room-temperature stick of margarine, a thudding error for a song that’s primarily about lust. Just as unfortunate, Adam’s decision to surround Joshua with The Voice band members backfired, too — as the horn section’s enviable charisma merely reminded me of how little magnetism Joshua has himself.
Team Pharrell: Koryn Hawthorne — REM’s “Everybody Hurts” — Grade: A- | Were there some pitch issues in the final refrain? Could Koryn have benefitted from a touch more restraint? As Ryan Lochte would say, “Jeah” and “Jeah!” But as Blake noted, her emotional and physical investment in the songs she tackles is kind of transcendent. Tonight, the bubbly teen brought to life the complex mix of hope and sadness of an REM lyric that was a monster hit several years before she was even conceived. (!!!) The fact that she also managed to add her own intricate inflections and bring a fresh touch with her distinctive quavery tone made the end product infinitely greater than the sum of its individual notes.
Team Xtina: Kimberly Nichole — Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” — Grade: B- | Without a doubt, “Free Fallin'” ranks as my favorite song covered on Top 6 night. But Kimberly’s opening verse was pitched so high, it brought out a slightly grating edge to her standard operating growl. Perhaps even more troubling, she brought so much holleration to the latter half of the number that she rendered Tom Petty’s wonderfully simple ditty almost unrecognizable. It was an odd choice — one that felt more aimed at “Look at the notes I can hit!” moreso than on capturing the mood of the lyrics (which aren’t as feel-good as Xtina kept insisting).
Team Blake: Meghan Linsey – James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues” — Grade: C | I’ve complained about Meghan’s lack of nuance before – just last week, in fact, regarding her screamfest on The Beatles’ “Something” — but “Steamroller Blues” was her most egregious ALL-CAPS interlude. She treated James Taylor’s slinky blues jam like a Monster Truck decimating a compact car — kicking it off with the volume dial on full-blast, with her voice falling to pieces like an unpaid credit card bill in a shredder as she somehow got louder and more maniacal with every bar of music. When her own coach’s best compliment was that Meghan stomped on a ketchup packet and splattered America in the face (vocally speaking), you know this was a mess.
Team Pharrell: Sawyer Fredericks — Daisy May Erlewine’s “Shine On” — Grade: A- | True confession: I’ve never heard the original version of “Shine On,” but after experiencing Sawyer’s tender, heartfelt take on the folk ditty, I can’t imagine a version more pleasing to the ear. As Blake pointed out, there’s something so simple, real and powerful about the way this teenager approaches a song that not even an army of rhythmless audience SwayBots can stop me from getting caught up in the magic. Eschewing crazy runs and outsized glory notes, Sawyer wraps his gifts in simple brown paper and a piece of bailing twine — and that less-is-more approach makes it all the more thrilling when he opens up and brings to life a lyric in vibrant, pulsating color.
Team Xtina: Kimberly Nichole — Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” — Grade: A | As a proud reality singing competition conspiracy theorist, can I please point out the perturbing one-two punch of Kimberly being forced to perform first in Round 2 of Top 6 night (only two numbers after her Round 1 jam) and Kimberly being obscured for half her performance by blasts of dry ice/steam more potent than the breath of Khaleesi’s dragons. Nevertheless, the self-proclaimed rock-n-roll ballerina lived up to her moniker by delivering a crazy-nasty-cool vocal highlighted by sexy, staccato verses, strut-and-grind choreography and a backbend-y final glory note that left me holding my breath with excitement. As I write this, Kimberly’s “Dirty Diana” remains the lowest ranking iTunes recording among the Season 8 Top 6 — a crippling blow to fearless acts of musical risk-taking, and a reminder that we’d all be ready to type the hashtag #VoiceSaveKimberly Tuesday night around 8:54pm ET, mmmkay?
Team Adam: Joshua Davis — The Beatles’ “In My Life” — Grade: B- | I won’t try to pretend that Joshua was out of tune or that his tone was in any way displeasing on his second song this week — but I can’t lie and say that it moved or excited me in any capacity. Team Adam’s last artist standing has a peculiar tendency not to emphasize any word or phrase over the next — and it all just winds up running together like a canvas that’s coated with cream-colored paint. And so inevitably, while my job requires me to pay strict attention to what the dude is doing on camera, his performances always wind up being a study in willpower not to check Facebook or take a snack break or refresh my email inbox.
Team Pharrell: Koryn Hawthorne — Aerosmith’s “Dream On” — Grade: C+ | Isn’t there a quote in a history book somewhere that those who do not know their Voice history are doomed to fall short of Amanda Brown? No? Well, there should be. Because Amanda’s “Dream On” was the greatest thing ever to happen to NBC’s reality singing competition — even more epic than Christina Milian’s exit from the Sprint sky box! Koryn’s opening verse was noticably wobbly — and while I liked how she dug into the groove when she walked to the front of the stage and jammed out with a pair of guitarists, her aborted attempt at the song’s treacherous high note was deeply disappointing (and didn’t go unremarked by La Aguilera).
Team Xtina: India Carney — Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” — Grade: B- | Just like with her first performance this week, India quickly drew me in as she mastered the quick cadence and desperate ache of Sam Smith’s opening verse. Alas, though, the spell was broken when India’s pitch began to waver at the top of her register — and a breathless (gaspy?) quality began to muddy her tone. Adam and Xtina rambled on about how the performance had returned India to front-runner status, but you’ll never convince me that ship didn’t hit an iceberg somewhere around Top 12 week.
Team Pharrell: Sawyer Fredericks — Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” — Grade: B | I don’t know whose idea it was to surround Sawyer with a pack of shimmying Ariana Grande clones, but this attempt at bringing “FUN!” into his performance was akin to interjecting Godzilla in the background of Casablanca‘s final, climactic scene: Equal parts ridiculous, distracting and irksome. Sure, the vocal was solid, but with Sawyer’s Americana realness under heavy siege, the kid himself seemed a little bit disconnected from the lyrics. Sure, Pharrell would have to dump a bucket of pig’s blood over Sawyer’s head mid-performance to
Team Blake: Meghan Linsey – “Amazing Grace” — Grade: A | Mad props (ugh — I just typed “mad props”… forgive me!) to Meghan for bravely going a cappella on the opening verse of her hymn — and sounding as flawless as Rihanna’s yellow mega-cape looked at the Met Ball. OK, sure, the giant pillars/church organ set was cheesier than a croque-monsieur (and her false eyelashes so heavy they actually obscured her left eye), but vocally, this was a risk that payed off — and proved Meghan can pull off dynamic range (when she chooses).
Will Be Bottom 2: India, Koryn (India going home)
Should Be Bottom 2: India, Joshua (Joshua going home)
OK, your turn. What did you think of The Voice‘s Top 6 performance night? Who were your faves? Who’s in trouble? Take our poll below, then hit the comments to expand on your thoughts!