The Voice has entered the home stretch to its two-part finale next week, and last night the final eight contestants, two from each team, took the stage for a night of high-octane performances. But before we get to that, a note about the judge’s costuming choices. Despite however The Wanted feel about her, Christina Aguilera wore a tiara and a four-finger “Xtina” ring. Cee Lo Green wore a shirt with a picture of his evil Dr. Claw cat, and Adam Levine, clearly taking in our criticism from last week, wore a proper shirt.
The finalists from Teams Adam and Christina did combine to churn out a milquetoast rehashing of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” And Team Cee Lo and Team Blake all put on denim shirts and sang Lady Gaga’s “Edge Of Glory.” We’re in the semifinals now, so no one singer handed in a trainwreck performance. But some certainly shined brighter than the rest — including coach Blake Shelton, who took the stage to sing his gossamer country hit “Over.”
Usually we group the performances by The Good, The Bad and The So-So, but this time around we’ll rank them best to worst, because — again — despite the criticism leveled therein, none of the singers were terrible by any means. Just, you know, different strokes, different folks.
Juliet Simms (Team Cee Lo)
It took a minute, but we’ve finally put our finger on that thing that’s been bugging us about Juliet since they made her go blond: She’s now the flesh and blood incarnation of Janice, from the Muppets. Which is not a bad thing; Janice is about as cool as felt can get. Juliet sang the hell out of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” — they way a song like that should only be sung, with a meaty scream that comes deep from the belly. The audience’s applause was rapturous, and Carson noted that it was the loudest it’s ever been. [Cut to her family in the audience mouthing to her, "That was so f***ing good!"] Cee Lo told her she “murdered that record!” And if the coaches’ panel chatter is to be believed, Juliet is the one to beat from last night.
Tony Lucca (Team Adam)
The young father and, lest we forget, former Mouseketeer sang The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” — that song from the Kia Super Bowl commercial with the toys that drive around and get in trouble. Lucca was dressed in a sharp slim-fit suit with two FOIN ladies at his sides, Robert Palmer style, so when he sang “I’m a bad, bad, bad, bad man” it made us wonder if he’d actually done some bad, bad things with those ladies. He’s a father, after all! It was a truly exciting and soulful performance for a white boy, all flashing lights and microphone dips and “stage presence.”
Lindsey Paveo (Team Christina)
Surprise! Lindsey was a shy child, we find out in her pre-taped rehearsal package. Coach Christina basically told her to eat the mike since that shyness translates to quietness when she sings. So of course she took on Bon Iver’s quiet “Skinny Love.” It worked! There is something very Katy Perry about Lindsey, both in her voice and in her look, which is why, we suspect, they always style her with those wide, black-lined eyes. The arrangement was kind of funky and interesting, bolstered by a thumping kick-drum that brought to mind KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse And The Cherry Tree.” The judges all commended her newfound confidence, a/k/a microphone proximity.
Jermaine Paul (Team Blake)
In what turned out to be the most loyal and straightforward vocal performance of the night, Jermaine Paul took on Journey’s “Open Arms.” His take wasn’t so much a re-imagining as it was a faithful re-interpretation, but his changes did include a bright spot toward the end when he reached high into his upper octave for a powerful run. Backlit by luminous yellow light, the one-time background singer for Alicia Keys had three of his own. When Adam told him “You are no longer a background singer,” it sent him into a teary tailspin.
Jamar Rogers (Team Cee Lo)
The man whose life story “would be a best-seller” wanted to add elements of “electronica” to his version of Harold Melvin’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” And while there was little evidence of EDM in Jamar’s fairly standard neo-soul vocal, he spit it out in front of a laser light show right out of the Coachella dance tent. Later, Adam said he was “purely a fan” of what Jamar does. And those proud tears in coach Cee Lo’s eyes? Actually dollar signs.
Chris Mann (Team Christina)
Ok, so he’s an opera singer who wants to stay true to himself. That’s already a calculated risk on a show like The Voice. (As much the judges like to pat themselves on the back for range of musical styles represented, it’s never the Susan Boyles who take the whole thing in the end.) Further risk: He chose to do an operatic piece by Bach — the Ave Maria, which is only sung during wedding processionals and Christmas — in another language, wearing a very white, very European-looking leisure suit. Do you see what we’re getting at here? His was a lovely and brave vocal, but not one built for ‘Murican voters. When he was through, Cee Lo called him “incomparable” and waited for applause. Adam congratulated himself for all the “ecclectic” performances he just saw.
Erin Willett (Team Blake)
You’re perhaps doomed from the start if you think you can turn an EDM song into a ballad, but that’s exactly what Erin attempted with David Guetta and Usher’s collaboration “Without You.” Dressed like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Erin got lost in the song, sort of shapelessly wailing the words “without you” for her minute and a half, but using all the right notes. It was more an exercise in tonality than a performance with a beginning, middle and end. She broke down at the end saying she fell in “emotionally,” and everyone liked it, even though she sounded froggy the way she sometimes does, as if she’s singing from the back of her throat.
Katrina Parker (Team Adam)
The former cubicle worker has never really found her niche on the show, and her cover of Lauryn Hill’s version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” earned her no points for originality. (Coach Adam even added Wyclef’s requisite “one time” during the rehearsal.) She clearly enjoyed herself singing it, but that’s easy to do when you’re not challenging yourself to do something different with the song, when you’re singing it note-for-note the way it’s been sung in karaoke bars for more than a decade and a half. Christina called her out on it. But will the audience at home?