We’re down to ten finalists on “The Voice”, with all contestants singing tonight to avoid being in the bottom two. I’m assuming this pattern will hold until we’re in the Final Four, but it’s also possible that NBC stretches this out until the Super Bowl. But let’s not worry about the show asymptotically approaching the finish line. Let’s see which would-be superstars make their mark this week.
 
As always, I’ll be jotting down my thoughts in running diary format. As always, Christina Aguilera will wear something that will make me question her state of mind. As always, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine will lob adorable insults at each other. And, as always, CeeLo Green will wear something that straddles the line between “fashion statement” and “visual assault”. It’s how we roll in this neck of the musical competition woods.
 
8:00 p.m. In a nod to the mentors from the Battle Rounds, we learn that A&R man Ron Fair, country producer Scott Hendricks, and singing artist Jennifer Hudson are helping the coaches this week train the top ten.
 
8:03 p.m. Aguilera and Shelton take the stage together to perform “Just A Fool” from Xtina’s new album. Aguilera is rockin’ some serious bangs tonight. I didn’t realize the pair had a duet on her album. Their voices blend fairly well together, even if the chemistry between them is nearly non-existent.
 
8:10 p.m. Leading things off tonight, from Team Xtina, is Sylvia Yacoub. Fair sits alongside Aguilera during rehearsals, and we learn that he is the one that first signed her to a record deal post-“Mickey Mouse Club”. This week, Yacoub is singing “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys. Hey, it’s that’s song from that creepy credit card commercial about the guy that buys his way into the lives of female celebrities! Fair appreciates Yacoub’s talents, but worries about her confidence levels heading into the Top Ten.
 
8:12 p.m. Once again, Yacoub is behind the piano. Since that is where she delivered her season-best performance, this is a smart move on her part. I do worry slightly about her position in the show, since there has been a trend over the past few weeks to bury contestants in this slot and hurt their chances to move on. Still, Yacoub has the pipes to stand out, even if she has to worry about nine other performances being fresher in voters’ minds. While this wasn’t her best performance, it was a strong one all the same.
 
8:14 p.m. Levine dubs this her most “refined” performance to date. (“Refined” sounds slightly backhanded in print, but he means it in a positive way.) Shelton echoes me, noting that the first slot can be dangerous but that she overcame the challenge. “You ARE on fire!” declares Coach Aguilera. Personally, I preferred her more out-of-control “The One That Got Away” performance, but in terms of stepping up her game towards more polished levels, it’s hard to argue with the coaches’ reactions here. But I do wonder if sanding off the rough edges inevitably leads to a better performer.
 
8:21 p.m. Another week, another chance for Christina Milian to not post my tweets on NBC.
 
8:22 p.m. Moving along, we get one of Team Blake’s remaining members, Terry McDermott. Shelton’s producerHendricks is along to help McDermott rehearse Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69”. “There’s no one else on the show like him,” praises Hendricks. Shelton implores Terry to focus on his connection with the crowd during his performance this week.
 
8:24 p.m. Rather than head into the crowd, McDermott first moves up the stage towards his bass player. But soon enough, he’s down in the pit mixing it up with the cheering throngs. This is an extremely high song, vocally speaking, yet McDermott seems to meet every challenge the song throws at him. He doesn’t make it seem effortless, which I think will actually play into his favor. “Cheers, Boss!” he says to his coach immediately after he finishes. That never gets old.
 
8:26 p.m. Aguilera notes that Terry often sings on his tiptoes. Awesome. I’ll never be able to unsee that from this point onwards. Levine says that he hasn’t fully recovered from Shelton stealing him away during the Blind Auditions. Shelton says, “You remind me of everything I love about rock and roll,” thanking McDermott for choosing him during the first episode of the season. I have no idea how long a rock singer can last in a competition like this, but I’ll be happy as long as he does.
 
8:32 p.m. Alright, let’s get some Team Adam action, in the form of Melanie Martinez. Levine chooses The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Apparently Martinez only started singing A YEAR AGO, which kind of blows my mind. Levine wants her to express more power in her voice this week. This should be an intriguing performance.
 
8:34 p.m. There’s a really weird level of distortion behind her, which is intentional but sounds like a massive audio screw-up. The girl-and-her-guitar approach opens eventually up to an arrangement that sounds like early-period Sarah McLachlan by way of Mazzy Star. And it just might be her strongest performance since the blinds. While she has drawn people in through her soft voice in spare arrangements all season, it’s also nice to see her inhabit an ambient musical space and give it a solid mooring.
 
8:36 p.m. After the song, we learn that all the imagery from the screens onstage were derived from her artwork. In a related note, I managed to not put my pants on backwards today. So Martinez and I have a lot in common, talent-wise.
 
8:37 p.m. “If there was one artist left in this competition that I could work with, it would be you,” says Shelton. Aguilera appreciated Martinez’s effort to push her talents, but wanted a bigger push. Green disagrees, calling it “one of the coolest things” he’s seen this season. Levine contradicts the pre-packaged material, saying the song choice came from Martinez, not himself. Not sure if that’s him trying to give her more credit or if the editing was just funky earlier. I’m guessing the latter made Levine want to set the record straight.
 
8:39 p.m. I’d give a non-small sum of money to get Green’s notebook in my hands. What on earth are these coaches writing down?
 
8:43 p.m. It’s time for some bam bam on Team CeeLo, with Cody Belew meeting Green and Jennifer Hudson to rehearse Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”. Well. That’s a challenge. Looks like he has a bone to pick with Aguilera’s criticism last week and his taking his response to 11. Not content to just perform one of THE diva classics in recent musical history, Belew is adding extra flourishes as well. Green and Hudson look on in amazement at Belew’s shock and awe campaign. Sadly, Hudson is less impressed with Belew’s voice than his showmanship. Ruh row.
 
8:45 p.m. “Do you know my name?” screams Belew. And holy crap, he’s performing from inside The Thunderdome, apparently. It’s a massively entertaining performance, but I’m not sure it’s a particularly great vocal. It takes nearly half of the performance to achieve anything remotely interesting from a singing perspective. But hey, this will be the most watched performance over the next week. There’s little doubt of that. No one is going to have trouble remembering this when it comes time to vote. They’ll remember that jacket, not the vocal.
 
8:47 p.m. “Man, you’re so cocky! You make me look uncomfortable,” says Levine. Interestingly enough, he avoids anything about the vocal. Shelton appreciates the variety of Belew’s performances over the course of the season. Aguilera recognizes a fellow diva when she sees one, and likes what she sees. Green is still laughing. “You bring me so much joy!” he says, noting that Belew is the kind of artist that could help others strive to be themselves rather than try to emulate others. It’s a good point. But it still doesn’t change the fact that this was a bad vocal performance. If Belew were just a Vegas act, it wouldn’t matter. But this guy can really, really sing. We’ve seen it several times already this season. Maybe it’s realistic to think he needs added visual oomph to continue, from a pure competitive perspective. But it’s still slightly depressing all the same.
 
8:55 p.m. From Team Adam, one of last week’s strongest performers Bryan Keith is back to tackle Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind”. Well, that’s an absolutely perfect choice, both in terms of his talents and recent events in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I’m not sure he even has to perform live to get into the Elite Eight. But I’m glad he will anyways.
 
8:57 p.m. Keith has slight issues in the beginning, but those notes are ungodly high, and he quickly recovers as the song moves into his vocal wheelhouse. He handles the upper registers much more smoothly as the song moves on. While not as immediately memorable as his performance last week, I don’t see a problem for him getting through to the next round after that.
 
8:59 p.m. Shelton notes the Michael Bublé vibe that Keith gives off. (Apparently he reads my recaps, as I’ve made that comparison several times this season.) Green says, “To sing that song, you have to have a PAIR!” Alrighty then. Levine appreciates that he sang the song “like a man”. It’s very testosterone-y in here all of a sudden.
 
9:03 p.m. We’ve had five performances thus far. Four were excellent, and one was extremely entertaining. That’s a solid hour of reality TV right there.
 
9:05 p.m. “Last week was really not my best,” says Team Adam member Amanda Brown. Well, at least she knows it. This time around, she’ll be performing Grace Potter’s “Stars”. She has a purpose that wasn’t exactly lacking last week, but seems more directed this time around.
 
9:07 p.m. The intimate song gets an intimate camera treatment, with Brown’s face filling up the screen. It’s a night-and-day transformation, vocally-speaking, from last week. Amazing what happens when Brown gets hold of a song that actually works with her talent, instead of against it. She sells the emotion of the song in a way that feels as if she wrote the song herself, as opposed to performing a cover. That performance fit in with a general theme on display tonight: these contestants starting to understand how to express their personalities and musical tastes through their performances. (Even if I didn’t like Belew’s vocal, that performance was undeniably him through and through.) Seeing each attempt to hone their artistry is fascinating to watch.  
 
9:09 p.m. Shelton hadn’t heard “Stars” before, but is glad that he was introduced to the song in this way. “Hello, my favorite mistake!” says Green. “If you win this entire thing, I’ll always feel like I discovered you.” Levine appreciates Shelton’s words, since he and Brown knew bringing a relatively unknown song into the competition at this point might be a risk. Well, I’d say the risk paid off nicely.
 
9:18 p.m. Moving back to Team CeeLo, we have Nicholas David. Nothing any drama this season could be more shocking than if David showed up one week completely clean-shaven. He’s taking on Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me”. Unlike last week, Green is content to let David stay behind the piano. Whew. Hudson seems like someone will be casting lots of votes for David tonight, given her praise for Nicholas during rehearsals.
 
9:20 p.m. David gets a full gospel choir to back him up. I’m not sure he needs it, but that’s “The Voice” for you. David’s performance veers between straight recreation and a “David-ization” of it, with various vocal flourishes and off-kilter tempos keeping things interesting. And while I semi-despise any backing vocals in any performance on this show, the counterpoint that the chorus occasionally delivers some goose bump moments. Lord, picking who will go home tomorrow is looking like an increasingly risky proposition. These contestants have been really on tonight.
 
9:22 p.m. “The may be the best episode of ‘The Voice’ we’ve ever had,” says Shelton. GET OUT OF MY HEAD, BLAKE. Aguilera gushes as well, specifically about David and something about chicken soup that made little sense. Green says he heard “the voice of a generation”, actually getting weepy as he links David’s performance to his childhood growing up surrounded by church music. Wow. I kinda wish the season would end after tonight. How are they going to ever top this?
 
9:30 p.m. Let’s round out Team CeeLo by bringing out Trevin Hunte. He’s going upbeat this week, in the form of Usher’s “Scream”. Neither Green nor Hudson thinks that’s a particularly good idea. But Hunte wants to remind people that he’s 18 years old and has more to offer than soaring ballads. Skepticism turns to joy as the coach/mentor see Hunte get into the rehearsal.
 
9:32 p.m. This is a smart choice for him, since he instantly feels like a three-dimensional artist and not just a one-trick pony. (It was a helluva trick, and a better trick than anyone else in the show. But still, audiences can take it for granted if that’s all they see.) It doesn’t hurt that he gets three notes in the middle of the song that reminds the audience that Hunte can hit notes than simply no one else remaining, either. Was this up to his usual level? No, but it rounded him out in an important way, especially if he goes back to more traditional ballad work in the upcoming weeks.
 
9:34 p.m. “You can sing the dictionary, man. It doesn’t matter,” says Levine. Aguilera calls it her favorite moment from him, which isn’t surprising given her past “criticism” of him. (She’s basically loved everything he’s done, but always wanted new shades. It was a fair point, and one addressed tonight.) Green acknowledges that the risk paid off, and was happy to see Hunte confident onstage. 
 
9:35 p.m. When Trevin Hunte delivers one of the more mundane vocals of the week, you know you have a good episode on your hand. Like Belew, Hunte emphasized performance over vocal. Both had solid reasons for doing so. This isn’t a knock on either. Bot had strategic reasons to do so.
 
9:41 p.m. Grab a chair in Team Blake’s house and have a listen to Cassadee Pope, people. She will be performing Miranda Lambert’s “Over You”, which was co-written by Shelton himself. Everyone worries about tears during the performance, on both sides of the stage.
 
9:43 p.m. Well, Pope doesn’t have much trouble connecting with the song, that’s for a sure. A song written about Shelton’s brother turns into an ode to a deceased member of Pope’s own family. Shelton’s face while watching her perform is something to behold, a moment that reality TV can uniquely achieve. Green and Aguilera join Shelton in giving Pope standing ovations. Apparently I should have worried about tears as well. Wait, what? Um. Er. It’s dusty in here. It’s got nothing to do with what Pope just did. Yeah. That’s it.
 
9:45 p.m. Levine felt this song actually suited her better than past performances, thinking that country might be a good place for her to be in future weeks. “Cassadee, you just sang easily the most important and most personal song that I’ve ever been a part of writing in my life. But you made me feel like I was hearing it for the first time,” says Shelton. “Ladies and gentleman, you’re looking at an artist here.” Go top THAT, Dez Duron.
 
9:51 p.m. As teased last paragraph, we’re ending tonight with Team Xtina’s last member, Dez Duron. Here’s a guy who didn’t even make it through the blinds last year, and now he’s in the Top 10. AMERICA! He’s performing Michael Bublé’s cover of Nina Simone' “Feeling Good”, which is a more somber number than he’s performed in the past.
 
9:54 p.m. Wow, in silhouette, Duron sounds eerily like Bublé himself. Duron is going “Rat Pack” by way of “boy bands”, and it’s a pretty potent combination. It’s sort of amazing that no one’s thought of this combination before. The song seems to unleash a theatricality in Duron that I’m not sure we’re seen before. Just as Pope might have found her milieu tonight, so too might have Duron.
 
9:57 p.m. Green was impressed by the soul and articulation of the performance. Shelton congratulates both Duron and Aguilera for finding his niche tonight. Aguilera praises Duron for digging in deep while also making room for a Sylvia Yacoub shout-out as well. That’s some gamesmanship right there, and it’s a bit off-putting. These performances speak for themselves. What a murderer’s row of numbers we just saw. Top to bottom, I’m not sure this season has come remotely close.
 
9:59 p.m. Last week, I felt comfortable about predicting who would go home. Tonight? I feel infinitely less so. If I was put on the spot, I’d probably select Sylvia Yacoub and Cody Belew. This doesn’t feel like a year in which America wants an Aguilera-type singer to win, and Belew’s performance felt like a final statement rather than a bid to continue. The contestant that made the biggest move towards serious consideration for wild-card winner? It has to be Cassadee Pope.
 
What did you think of tonight’s show? Would you agree with Shelton’s assessment of its greatness, or was this (sub)par for the course? Who do you think will go home? Sound off below!