Please read the following sentence in the frenzied, ragged scream of The Voice host Carson Daly: WE’VE GOT OURSELVES A HORSE RACE!
OK, more likely than not, we don’t — and it’ll come down to Billy Gilman versus Wé McDonald when Season 11 wraps in a mere 15 days.
But at least Top 10 performance night gave us fans of longshot specials and overturned apple carts a little cause for hope. Billy’s vocal rocketship never quite made it off the launchpad, while Wé’s mashup of opera and jazz came across about as natural as a toilet plunger grafted to a branch of an apple tree.
As Billy and Wé’s stumbles brought them back into striking distance of their Season 11 competitors, Sundance Head, Christian Cuevas, Ali Caldwell and Brendan Fletcher all performed strongly enough to make a case for their inclusion in the finale-week Top 4 — even if the ghost of Kenny G’s pop-chart domination nearly threatened to swallow whole one of the aforementioned artists.
Let’s jump right into letter grades for the week’s 10 performances:
Billy Gilman (Team Adam) Martina McBride’s “Anyway” — Grade: B | Like an apple pie direct off the factory assembly line, Billy’s “Anyway” had an aura of perfection about it, what with the soaring, scoopy notes and practiced angst. But beneath the glistening crust, there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional filling, and there were even a few underbaked notes in his lower register. Four-coach standing ovation aside, I’m not sure a slice of “Anyway” was worth all those sugary calories.
Courtney Harrell (Team Blake) Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” — Grade: F | Oh, if only Courtney actually could turn back time, perhaps she could take back all those notes that hurt us, OK? Seriously, though, like an index finger caught in a mousetrap, Courtney’s abject failure to string together two correct notes was both painful and baffling. If she’s not sent packing after three abysmal performances in a row, then don’t be surprised if Blake Shelton gets himself a Marvel comics movie franchise sometime in 2018.
Josh Gallagher (Team Adam) Tim McGraw’s “Real Good Man” — Grade: C- | Who decided to strand Josh atop a monstrous staircase, then have him thuddingly descend to the stage while getting upstaged by everything else happening on the very busy set? Josh himself seemed to lose steam in the final third, his pitch abandoning him like a political news junkie discovering an episode of The Bachelorette on her DVR.
Aaron Gibson (Team Miley) Elton John’s “Rocket Man” — Grade: C+ | I appreciated Aaron’s attempt to put his own stamp on a pop chestnut to which 90 percent of Americans can sing along. But reducing the soaring anthem to a two-note, bongo-fueled, jam-band bowl of pablum simply wasn’t the right direction.
Christian Cuevas (Team Alicia) Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” — Grade: A- | To my ear, Christian’s never quite broken out of the “midpack player” role — and, on paper, his choice of a current Lady Gaga jam didn’t seem like an opportunity to break out. Boy, was I wrong! With some expert coaching from Alicia, Christian infused the ballad with delicate, nearly broken-down interludes that contrasted beautifully with his bigger, beltier notes. Best of all, dude came thisclose to breaking down with emotion but never lost his grasp on pitch in the process. Two more performances at this level, and Christian might be pushing a chosen-one artist right out of his or her confetti shower.
Austin Allsup (Team Blake) John Waite’s “Missing You” — Grade: B- | Austin’s voice sounded uncharacteristically ragged tonight, making his opening verse more of an ode to his lost sense of pitch and phrasing than a distant lover. But the stoic country cat gained strength as the performance went on, his behind-the-beat delivery bringing a haunted/haunting edge to the lyric and those final few crumbling notes proving genuinely stirring.
Wé McDonald (Team Alicia) Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” — Grade: C+ | I was completely stoked to hear Wé wrap her lush, velvety lower tone around an incredible jazz standard, but the actual performance came up short of almost all my expectations. Wé’s goofy spoken word intro was almost immediately at odds with the languid vibe of the song, and the teenager’s phrasing was so hectic I started to wonder if she had any sense of the words pouring out of her mouth. Worst of all, though, the “opera” notes for which coach Alicia lobbied so heartily stuck out like Miley Cyrus at Buckingham Palace. Granted, even the best contestants get one flier per season, but remembering Wé’s Live Playoffs catastrophe, I’ve got the count at 2 hits and 2 outs.
Brendan Fletcher (Team Adam) Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” — Grade: B+ | Poor Brendan had to contend with the most aggressive saxophone intrusion since 1980s pop radio, but despite the dubious distraction, he delivered a sweet, scratchy interpretation that was as emotionally tuned-in as it was musically in-tune.
Sundance Head (Team Blake) Tom T. Hall’s “Me and Jesus” — Grade: A | No joke — fireworks actually began exploding somewhere outside my apartment in Jersey City just as Sundance finished his rousing, raucous and nearly note perfect take on this inspirational country jam. Mere coincidence or a hint from the man upstairs about who’s got his Season 11 vote? It’s hard to say. But even without divine intervention, Sundance is looking more and more like a lock for the finale — even if his staging sometimes looks like it was borrowed from a late ’70s episode of Hee Haw.
Ali Caldwell (Team Miley) Badfinger’s “Without You” — Grade: B+ | I wanted Ali’s performance to be perfect, because she’s been my favorite all season and especially because last week’s “9 to 5” was a failure of song choice and execution. And while there was Real Housewives-level drama in the way Ali’s striking gown with its elongated pink train played against a powerful wind machine, it was Ali’s opening verse and first refrain that reminded the audience of why the former girl-group member simply must advance to the semifinals. Sure, the final 20 seconds or so went haywire, with Ali struggling to maintain control without dropping her Mariah-esque ambitions, but she absolutely did enough to avoid a Bottom 3 placing come Tuesday.
Who do you think ruled The Voice Top 10 performance night? Vote for your faves in our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!