The Voice Top 9 Performance Recap: The Front-Runner Takes a Tumble

Alisan Porter cryin

Thou shalt not take the name of thy diva Beyoncé in vain.

On tonight’s Top 9 performance episode of The Voice, however, Christina Aguilera righteously name-checked Ms. Knowles — calling on the “Formation” singer to perform a duet with her protégé Bryan Bautista after his fantastic performance of “1 + 1.”

Smart move, really, promoting a #BryanAndBeyonce hashtag. After all, the ridiculously handsome crooner had his best week just as his teammate, season-long front-runner Alisan Porter, self-immolated in the blazing heat of an overbaked performance of Aerosmith’s “Cryin’.”

I guess you could say Xtina was given lemons, and she made lemonade.

I know, I know… that’s a controversial take on the Chosen One… but if the coaches aren’t willing to call out excruciating excess, somebody has to! On that note, let me offer my letter grades for this week’s performances:

Paxton Ingram — Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” — Grade: C- | Nothing quite says “I’m ready for you to go home” like a coach selecting/okaying the reality singing competition Molotov cocktail that is Whitney Houston’s cheesy ’80s track. It’s painfully rooted in its era, but also vocally challenging, and poor Paxton’s limp arrangement and flat vocals reenforced those points as brutally as Xtina’s supposedly positive critique: “You took me back to my first-grade talent show!” Uff da. Who says you can’t find Simon Cowell-level insults on The Voice?!

Mary Sarah — Maren Morris’ “My Church” — Grade: C+ | Has any Voice contestant in the history of Carson Daly’s zeal ever gotten the background vocal support that props up Mary Sarah’s vocals? Sometimes, those unseen women are working so hard, I feel like producer Mark Burnett should include a “featuring X, Y and Z” credit when Mary’s voting information appears on the screen. As usual, the Nashville vet’s upper register was bell clear, but her lower notes gave way like a wet cardboard box carrying a dozen hard-copy books. Even worse, Mary’s slightly sluggish approach prevented the Gospel-esque chorus from truly soaring, giving the impression her church doesn’t really have the most exciting musical component.

Nick Hagelin — Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” — Grade: C+ | This was one of Nick’s less out-of-tune efforts, but just as you can’t bet on a Shetland Pony in the Kentucky Derby, nor can this handsome but middling vocalist continue to be held up as a potential winner of a competition known as The Voice.

Hannah Huston — Jessie Ware’s “Say You Love Me” — Grade: B+ | Oh, how I wish The Voice was a 26- or 52-week affair. Because, honestly, what an incredible artist Hannah might turn out to be if she had the benefit of a long and arduous boot camp to work through her nerves, her off-putting facial tics, and her occasional struggles with dynamics. Still, while the opening third of “Say You Love Me” was plagued with a few bunk notes, there was a gorgeous vulnerability in Hannah’s upper register — and a stunning depth of feeling in the final chorus that superseded the handful of strident notes that held her back from topping the night.

Shalyah Fearing — Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” — Grade: B- | Let’s keep it extra real: There’s no way Shalyah is going to win Season 10 — not with immature technique that finds her overshooting and undershooting notes like buckshot aimed into the fog. (Kudos to Xtina for braving a potential backlash to point it out.) Still, when Shalyah dropped to her knees and unleashed some next-level holleration on the final chorus, I forgot about her technical difficulties and surrendered to the intent with which she was delivering the lyric. Nope, there’s no way Shalyah is going to win Season 10, but I’m happy to keep her around ’til the bloodbath of semifinal eliminations.

Laith Al-Saadi — Bob Seeger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” — Grade: A- | Here’s the thing about Laith. If he wants to win the whole enchilada, he needs to move past his excellent blues-bar covers and aim for something more unexpected, something that confirms he’s an artist with vision and bravado. That said, “We’ve Got Tonight” gave him a heretofore unseen moment of vulnerability, his clipped and crumbled notes contributing to his tale of a broken man seeking temporary solace in the arms of a woman. We’ve seen slow and steady win the Voice race before — think Jermaine Paul and Craig Wayne Boyd — but I’d like to see Adam push Laith to go big or go home. (Ugh, did I just type “go big or go home”? It’s official: I’m the worst. #YOLO)

Adam Wakefield — Linda Ronstadt’s “Love Has No Pride” — Grade: A- | This won’t go down among The Voice’s all-time greatest hits — and it won’t qualify as Adam’s high point of Season 10. But sometimes, when a gorgeous pop-blues scorcher is delivered cleanly and powerfully and within the lines of intonation, you have to just doff your hat and give it your hearty applause. (Oh, Xtina, I wouldn’t have given it a standing O, either, but damn, I’m not trying to get America to vote for my three remaining artists, either!)

Alisan Porter — Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” — Grade: C+ | If Alisan had been a contestant on Season 7 of American Idol, I’m sure Randy Jackson would’ve accused her of being able to “sing the phone book.” After all, her voice is enormous, audacious and frequently glorious. That said, she’s not infallible, and when the opening verse of “Cryin'” began to stretch her tone to its uppermost strident point, I felt my teeth gritting in anticipation of the shriek-fest to come. Maybe the judges really heard themselves some rocker-gal abandon, but when Alisan hit that extended note leading into the key change, then went for one more refrain, I had flashes of Xtina’s pre-ordained victory/end of the “Girl Coach Curse” drifting away. One bad week can’t stop a Chosen One edit — ask Cassadee Pope! — but here’s hoping Alisan watches her performance back Tuesday morning and learns the limits of her instrument.

Bryan Bautista — Beyoncé’s “1 + 1” — Grade: A- | Oh, heck yeah! The Bryan Bautista who slayed “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in the Battle Rounds — but who’s been relegated to mid-pack player the last few weeks — returned this week with a scorchingly hot, deeply felt Beyoncé cover that should have him looking for more female artists to cover rather than fretting over the risk of such a move. As Adam noted, dude’s got magic in his upper register — not to mention an easy stage presence that never makes you feel like you’re watching a nervous contestant desperate for votes. Season 10’s been in desperate need of a surging underdog — and it looks like he just arrived on the scene!

What did you think of The Voice Top 9 performance night? Who were your faves? Who’s at risk? Take our poll, then sound off in the comments!

GET MORE: Polls, Reality TV, Recaps