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Recap: 'The Voice' Monday - Top 12 Performances
The Top 12 yields several strong performances and few stinkers
If the listings on my cable package are correct, we’re going to be down to four contestants by the end of tomorrow’s night’s results episode. That’s…kind of quick, no? Granted, I’m all for the show forgoing any stall techniques as it heads to the finish line. But there’s a difference between racing to the finish and turning into The Flash on the home stretch. Again, we’ll have confirmation once the episode starts, but it sounds like only one member of each team will be around next week. That means two per team may be packing in roughly 24 hours.
In any case, all 12 remaining contestants will be performing tonight, which should make for a fast-moving, streamlined show with a minimum of overt product placement. That should mean mercifully few moments in Christina Milian’s Social Media Circle Of Doom. There are no more saves for Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton from this point on. It’s all about the audience vote at this point. That means those saved by the coaches last week (Adriana Louise, Cody Belew, Melanie Martinez, and Michaela Paige) seem to be at a major disadvantage at this stage of the game. Their performances may be the most make-or-break of the night. I’ll make predictions at the end of recap as to who will survive tomorrow night. For now, let’s get to tonight’s running diary.
8:00 p.m. “I never thought I was going to be in the Top 12,” says Louise in footage taped last week. You and me, Adriana.
8:02 p.m. “The live shows start now,” says Levine in a pre-tapes piece. Wait, what the heck were last week’s episodes then? Calling them “playoffs” doesn’t make them less live.
8:03 p.m. OK, sounds like Comcast is wrong: the bottom two in terms of overall votes will go home tomorrow, leaving ten overall. That makes infinitely more sense. NBC will milk this cash cow until it’s dry. Then, it will burn that singing cow carcass seeking a few extra embers of ratings warmth.
8:04 p.m. Up first, from Team Blake, we have Michaela Paige. She’s anxious to prove that Shelton made the right choice in saving her. She’ll be singing Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”, which fits into pop-punk dreams of stardom. It’s also the 45th Pink song thus far this season, approximately.
8:05 p.m. I almost didn’t recognize Paige without her mohawk. I kinda miss it. Know what else I miss? Her singing. My word, there’s a lot of vocal accompaniment here. It doesn’t help that the stage production throws so many bright colors at the camera that it’s difficult to pick her out onstage. Here’s a case where “The Voice” overwhelms the contestant to the point that Paige had little chance to shine. That’s a shame.
8:07 p.m. Aguilera calls Paige one of her favorites in the show, praising her “bright” and “bold” voice. Green says she works the stage like a professional. (It sounded less creepy when he said it, I promise.) Levine picks up on Green’s point, praising her fluidity onstage. Shelton says that her performance left no doubt that he made the right choice, praising her ability to take coaching advice and apply it onstage. If Paige makes it through, it will be due to the words just spoken more than her actual performance. (Again, the flaws in that performance are on the show, not on Paige.)
8:14 p.m. Let’s move onto Team Xtina and hear what Dez Duron has in store this week. He dubs himself a “soulful pop artist”, and in that vein he’ll be singing Lauren Hill’s rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”. I’m not saying Aguilera is flirting with Duron, but he did poke him on Facebook halfway through the rehearsal.
8:16 p.m. Oh good, three back-up singers right onstage. On a show called “The Voice”. And it’s not like Duron needs it: this song is right in Duron’s wheelhouse, and he delivers one of his best performances to date this season. He looks like a boy band member, but sings like Michael Bublé. That’s a pretty devastating combination for this show at this point in the competition. One need only look at the girls going absolutely bonkers in the front row to know he’s in no danger of going home tomorrow. For her part, Aguilera is singing along with every single word. My God. At least be subtle!
8:18 p.m. Green calls the performance “impeccable”, citing Duron’s overall appeal. Levine thinks that Duron found an avenue that can take him through to the finals. (He might be right.) Shelton clearly didn’t watch the pre-taped package, not understanding which version Duron just performed. Awkward. “How can you guys not love this guy?” says Aguilera. “Also, I will cut you if you come near him.” OK, maybe she didn’t say that part. Out loud.
8:24 p.m. Christina Milian is showing me a tweet with 117 exclamation points in it.
8:25 p.m. Let’s shake that tweet off and head back over to Team Xtina, where Adriana Louise will now have the chance to shine that Aguilera feels has been denied her until this point. To that end, she will be performing Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl”. Aguilera thinks it’s a perfect choice for Louise. Let’s see.
8:26 p.m. Once again, the stage production is making me dizzy. Ugh. While I expressed disbelief at Louise’s save last week, she certainly does much better here this time around. There’s nothing particularly memorable about her vocal, but she doesn’t feel out of place at this stage of the competition either. Near the end of the song, she hints at giving Levine a lapdance, which was probably a lot of fun for him and less fun for those at home wishing they were in that position.
8:29 p.m. Green praises the conviction that Louise gives to each performance. Levine thinks some of her high notes were a bit rough. Shelton is happy Louise did a country song, and thinks that she made it her own. Aguilera thinks that America doesn’t understand how difficult the choices that Louise has made over the course of the show to date. It’s a salient point, but one that perhaps Xtina could have made earlier as both coach and cheerleader for her team member.
8:36 p.m. Alright, let’s get some face time with Team CeeLo in the form of Cody Belew. Belew wants to be remembered for “epic performances”. For his next song, he has chosen Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best”. That’s a fairly bold choice, but Belew is a bold performer. He’ll win this way or lose this way, but it’ll be his way until the end.
8:37 p.m. Well, if the lead singer of the band fun. ever quits, Lord knows Belew could step right in and fill those reaching-to-the-back-row-of-the-stadium shoes. He starts strong, but when it comes time to hit the song’s big note halfway through, he comes up slightly short. After that, things don’t spiral downwards, but they definitely level off. “Simply The Best” is an anthem, but this ends up being one of his more muted performances throughout the competition. Maybe nerves got the best of him tonight. It wasn’t bad, but he’s done far better to this point.
8:40 p.m. Levine calls him one of the “best natural performers” left in the competition. Shelton agrees, saying that Belew owns the stage each time he appears. Aguilera enjoyed it, but wants to see more up-tempo numbers from him should Belew continue (in the vein of “Telephone” from the Battle Rounds). Green appreciates that Cody still injects fun into his performances even as the stakes get higher. I doubt he’s going anywhere this week, and I find myself agreeing with Aguilera here. He doesn’t have to re-Gaga, but something that brings more overt fun might be just what he needs to continue in the competition.
8:46 p.m. Our first Team Adam performer of the night, Amanda Brown, is next. She considers herself an “alternative artist”, which is slightly surprising given her performances to date. No matter. She’s excelled at everything since the Battle Rounds started. She can sing whatever she likes. This week, she’s singing Florence + The Machine’s “Spectrum (Say My Name)”.
8:48 p.m. Say this for Brown: she definitely brings something new to the table each week. The difference between this and “Dream On” are stark. But I can’t help but feel like last week represented a stronger side of Brown. Part of this has to do with the song choice: “Spectrum” isn’t an immediately catchy song, and it’s hard to lock into its complex rhythms during a casual listen. And whereas most performers thus far have had the chance to directly interact with the crowd, Brown stands atop a platform for the duration of the performance. It lends the performance an aura of drama, but also keeps her distanced from those that need to vote to keep her in.
8:50 p.m. Shelton didn’t realize until tonight how many sounds exist within Brown’s voice. Aguilera says that she’s still waiting to connect to Brown as an artist, feeling that she’s shown breadth if not depth to date. Green notes that the staging left her slightly constricted, but also compares her voice to “the human heart”. Levine says that Brown epitomizes “The Voice”, saying that the restrictive staging was the entire point to emphasize what truly mattered. I’d love to think that a singer consistently standing onstage and simply singing a song can win “The Voice”, but I’d also like to think that I could win “The Voice” myself. Neither of those things is true. ESPECIALLY that second part.
8:56 p.m. Sticking with Team Adam, we have Bryan Keith up next. He’s performing Amy Winehouse’s “Back In Black”, a surprising choice but still in line with a singer that wants to bring back an older song to rock radio.
8:58 p.m. Keith’s hat has never looked more appropriate than it does right now. While his vocal is on point, there’s not much to indicate in his performance that he connects with the darkness within the lyrics. (It’s almost like when politicians used to play “Born In The U.S.A.” at rallies, unaware of the cynicism within the tune.) Still, how many listening to this will object to his misreading of the song’s subtext? Very few, I’d wager. Still, that was a very strong vocal and should definitely push him through.
8:59 p.m. “I think you just took the lead for Team Adam,” says Shelton. Aguilera seconds Shelton, keying into his modern-day Sinatra vibe. Levine says this part of the show is a “collection of moments”, saying that Keith just had his breakout moment of the show. It’s amazing how quickly the tide can turn on shows like this. Last week, Brown seemed like a lock to make it to the finals. After tonight? Anything’s possible.
9:02 p.m. Christina Milian announces that Aguilera just tweeted about performing on tomorrow night’s live results show. I’m going to Instagram that!
9:03 p.m. One of Team Blake’s finest, Cassadee Pope, is ready to go. The pop-rock performer is taking on Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes”. And she’s taking it on behind a six-string, no less. She’s dedicating this performance to her father, who has been out-of-reach throughout the competition. This should be cheerful!
9:04 p.m. Once again, Pope picks a song that starts off so low that her vocal is barely discernable. Luckily, the tune doesn’t stay there for long. Unfortunately, a chorus of 12 seem to be echoing her vocal throughout the more powerful points, save for THE vocal apex of the piece. Whew. God forbid we hear Pope on her own for more than three seconds, “The Voice”. If you only started tuning into “The Voice” tonight, you would think the show was covering for her subpar vocals. Those watching all season know that isn’t true, but how many late-comers actually start watching now? Enough to potentially harm her long-term, I’ll wager.
9:06 p.m. Aguilera calls that her favorite Pope performance to date. “I got to feel your heart,” she says, relating to the daddy issues just displayed onstage. (Look, she said it! I didn’t imply it!) Levine knows that his comments to Pope last week may have angered her, but he was glad to see a glimpse into Cassadee’s personality this time around. Shelton says there are no limits to what Pope can do going forth.
9:13 p.m. Alright, let’s get to Team CeeLo, where Trevin Hunte hopefully got some much-needed self-confidence after America voted him in last week. This week, he’s singing Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”. That’s pretty much in Hunte’s comfort zone, and doesn’t vary from what he has shown thus far. But when what he’s shown thus far is so damn good, why mess it up?
9:14 p.m. Hunte must be a “Doctor Who” fan. (Bowties are cooooool.) His voice is almost supernatural at times, hitting high notes unexpectedly and without a hint of sweat. But when Hunte really puts himself behind certain phrases, he just pins you to the back of your seat. Like I said last week: the fact that he keeps doing so well might eventually cause people to take him for granted. But it won’t happen this week.
9:17 p.m. “You have a gift from God,” says Levine. “I’ve never heard anything like it.” Shelton says, “You didn’t leave anything but blood and guts onstage.” Aguilera actually thanks Hunte for his performance, and notes that she’s still mad that she’s not coaching him. Green calls Hunte a “blessing” whose power extends beyond himself, saying that Trevin encourages Green to be better himself. “You’re a natural born champion.”
9:24 p.m. Let’s start heading toward the finish line tonight with the final remaining member of Team Adam, indie folk singer/songwriter Melanie Martinez. She’ll be singing Young The Giant’s “Cough Syrup”, relating to the song’s take on being an outsider. Levine suggests that she let the emotion of the song guide her, even if it takes her over slightly come performance time.
9:25 p.m. Whereas everyone thus far has stood atop the stage, Martinez starts off sitting beneath it. It’s the perfect beginning for her and the song. When the power chords start, she gets a little lost in the mix. But she’s much clearer and stronger in the softer parts of the tune, taking Levine’s advice and feeding into the song’s darkness. For the first time in perhaps the competition, Martinez stepped out of herself to deliver a new side to America. Let’s see how they respond when it comes time to vote. (As I stated at the outset, all four saved contestants have an uphill battle ahead of them.)
9:27 p.m. Aguilera thought that was her most emotional performance to date. Levine says that in contrast to the bombastic voices surrounding her, Martinez has a voice all her own. It sounds like he’s insulting her when I type that out, but it was earnestly delivering in-studio. I’ve been betting against Martinez for a few weeks now. I know better than to do it again, even if I still see her struggling to make it through tomorrow night.
9:33 p.m. It’s time for Team CeeLo and one of my favorites in the entire competition, Nicholas David. He wants to perform a reworked version of Huey Lewis And The News’ “The Power Of Love”. (Oh please oh please let him drive to the stage in a DeLorean.) Green encourages him to push past the “café” approach and do a more traditional version of the tune in order to make it to the next round. Uh oh. My Spidey sense is tingling. The last time an artist on Team CeeLo did something against his will, we got “Bailamos”. Strap in.
9:35 p.m. Whereas the staging thus far has often worked against the performers, having a choreographed brass section behind David actually helps sell the vibe. He makes a curious choice to reintroduce his Barry White voice halfway through, but quickly corrects that mistake and continues in a stronger manner. But overall? This feels like Amanda Brown, Part II: a previously strong contestant that suddenly might be fighting for his life. The café approach might have been riskier, but at least would have featured an artist expressing himself. Isn’t that what Green is all about?
9:37 p.m. “You are so strange and beautiful!” says Levine, noting that David had some trouble keeping up with the speed of the track. Green praises David for embracing the more traditional form of the song and giving it his all. I’m glad the coaches gave him strong marks, but those felt like praise for past weeks rather than specific accolades for tonight’s performance.
9:42 p.m. We’re onto Team Xtina, and the artist who gave one of the most surprising performance during the We’re-Not-Calling-Them-Live-Shows-They-Are-Live-Playoffs-Darnit, Sylvia Yacoub. After showing her softer side last week, she’s splitting the difference with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. Well, go big or go home, I guess! Aguilera asks her to add some Beyonce to the proceedings. Look, Jack liked it, and he WANTED to put a ring on it. But then he drowned. At least Rose got a necklace. Eventually.
9:44 p.m. Just as the live horns helped David, the string section really helps sell the drama of this already-dramatic ballad. Having Sylvia add a little soul to the song helps Yacoub put a new spin on some notes that might have otherwise been out of reach for her. (So, nice coaching, Xtina!) Yacoub is someone that can build off the momentum she gained last week and push past others that have been considered favorites since the blind auditions. There’s no way to quantify that, but that’s a gut feeling I have at this point.
9:46 p.m. Levine praises her ambition, if not the actual performance. Aguilera calls her “tried and true fearless”, but says no one can argue that Yacoub didn’t make it her own. For once, I have a much higher opinion of a performance than the coaches do. We’ll see tomorrow if America agrees with me or them.
9:50 p.m. Ending the night, we have Team Blake’s final performer, Terry McDermott. That’s a surprising final performer of the night, but I suppose “The Voice” can’t end EVERY show with Trevin Hunte. He’ll be singing Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” to close things out. McDermott calls it his “single biggest challenge” to date. Well, yes. This sound is more than slightly difficult.
9:51 p.m. McDermott looks at home in front of the house band, but the compression of “More Than A Feeling” into a digestible, 90-second song means that he’s skipping all over the place, rather than building up organically to the more difficult portions. (Again: thanks, “The Voice”, for making things difficult for those you’re trying to showcase.) He absolutely, positively blows one note in a rather horrific manner, but mostly he tames the arrangement and does a difficult song justice.
9:56 p.m. “That was damn good, bro,” says Green. “I don’t know if you realize how good Terry is,” says Levine to the crowd, stunned at how good that performance was. Shelton appreciates how much McDermott owns his love of classic rock. “Thanks, Guv’nah!” says Terry in reply.
9:58 p.m. Honestly, picking a bottom two here is difficult. If I had to choose, I’d put Adriana Louise and Michaela Paige. I actually think Amanda Brown and Nicholas David had the weakest performances of the night, but their cumulative performances to date will save them for now. But America didn’t vote for Louise or Paige last week, Belew did enough with “Simply The Best” to stay, and Martinez is so unique that she won’t split any votes the way Paige may do with Pope.
But who cares what I think. Who do you think had the strongest performances of the night? Who is likely to go home tomorrow? Sound off below!