Did Caroline Pennell's song choice ruin her chances?
Here's how everyone did Monday, under very varied circumstances:
Austin Jenckes (Team Blake) – Austin did the Outfield's "Your Love," so I was prepared to fully love Austin, of course. I mean, "Your Love" is only, like, the greatest song ever. But Austin didn't possess the eunuch-high voice of the Outfield's Tony Lewis (by the end of the song, he was practically screaming to keep up) nor the hipster sass of Katy Perry (who awesomely covered the Outfield tune early in her career). So this wasn't exactly the "breakout performance" that Blake Shelton claimed it was. (In fact, this non-country song selection, combined with Austin's death slot, made me wonder if Austin was being semi-secretly bused by Blake.) The coaches were all bursting with their usual praise, however. Blake enjoyed Austin's end-of-song scream, saying Austin had "mastered the art of the slow build." Christina Aguilera said, "I loved the ending. You took it there. You rocked it." CeeLo Green marveled, "I really didn't realize you had so much range!" Only Adam Levine, an avid fan of "Your Love," griped that he "wanted more of the big high notes I love so much." Personally, I think this was a bit of a miss, if not a total mess. Hopefully for Austin's sake, the Outfield line he crooned tonight — "As you're leaving, please would you close the door?" — won't prove prophetic.
Jacquie Lee (Team Xtina) – Here's another song choice that wasn't ideal. Christina wanted to showcase Jacquie's soft and vulnerable side — she even practiced some pre-performance yoga with Jacquie, indicating that a daily dose of downward dogs has been responsible for her more pleasant, chillaxed attitude this season. But Jacquie's stripped-down ballad version of Zedd's EDM hit "Clarity" fell a little flat for me. For the most part, Jacquie pulled this off; it's a VERY difficult song to sing, and though she struggled and strained in the beginning and her confidence noticeably flagged, few other contestants in this season's top 10 could have handled it at all. Still, I missed Angry Jacquie, the little spitfire that spat pure fire on "I Put a Spell On You" and "Love is Blindness." Christina was pleased with this performance, calling it "emotional" and "gorgeous" and saying, "I was really touched." But CeeLo said he could tell that the "nakedness" of the song was "unnerving" for Jacquie, advising her, "Anger really works for you." Said Blake, "I heard those [pitchy] areas where it was like, 'What the heck?' — but by the end of it, we heard the Jacquie we all love." This was a valiant effort, but hopefully the Jacquie that I love, Angry Jacquie, will be back in full, fangs-bared force next week.
Will Champlin (Team Adam) – Will, already an underdog on this show to begin with, could have been at a disadvantage doing a relatively unknown song, John Newman's "Love Me Again" (which went to number one in the U.K. this past summer, but is only beginning to gain traction in the States). However, thankfully, this performance had me loving Will all over again (not that I ever really stopped). I was delighted to see him back at his piano, and I adored the evangelical, pleading quality to his emotional vocal. I've always admired how Will leaves everything on the stage and delivers every performance like it's his last. But I don't think this'll be the last we'll see of Will; his star just continues to rise on this show. "If this guy ain't a testament to why you should hang in there and keep trying...Everyone should vote for this dude," declared a proud Adam. "You're such an accurate vocalist; that's what continues to blow me away," said Blake. Christina called Will "the full package: nice guy, nice voice, nice presentation. I feel like you came into your own. It felt really good." But then she said Will's red suit and onstage pyro reminded her of a performance by Satan. Um. Was Christina trying to sabotage Will with that odd comment? Chill out and do some more yoga, Xtina. This number wasn't satanic; it was heavenly.
Caroline Pennell (Team CeeLo) – When I learned that Caroline would be warbling John Denver's "Leaving On a Jet Plane," I was convinced that CeeLo was trying to bus her. Then I found out it was Caroline's adamant decision to sing the folksy ditty; it apparently has been one of her favorite staple songs since her dorky band-camp days. But I still think CeeLo, as her supposedly wise coach, should've steered her in another direction. Her sleepy performance was a little too band-campy, a little too "Free to Be You and Me," for my tastes. She performed it in front of a rainbow backdrop, for corny corn's sake; all she needed to do was wear a macaroni necklace and a couple of crochet God's-eyes to complete the '70s-Girl-Scout-campfire-singalong vibe of this dated performance. Suffice to say, I don't think this will be earning Caroline any "Voice" merit badges — or many votes/downloads. CeeLo diplomatically called the performance "nice" and babbled a bunch of '70s-sounding affirmations about letting go and finding oneself. Adam said he respected that Caroline made a statement. (Er, what statement was that? "I churn my own butter"? "I am about to be cast as the fifth Mrs. Brown on 'Sister Wives'"?) I just hope Caroline won't be leaving "The Voice" in a jet plane Tuesday, after the results. This wasn't great.
Cole Vosbury (Team Blake) – Oh, HECK yes. I have long dreamed of an '80s Hair Metal theme night on any of these singing shows, and I got a teensy bit closer to that dream when Blake had Cole sing Mr. Big's "To Be With You." Hold on, little girl, 'cause this was gonna be good. And for the most part, it was — Cole always delivers, always makes a song his own. My two minor gripes? 1) Blake had Cole do the song on acoustic guitar, not piano, and I think a piano version would've been more original; and 2) the distracting background singers were drowning Cole out, to the point where it seemed like he actually gave up on even trying to sing the feelgood chorus himself. This made the performance more like Mr. Medium instead of Mr. Big; it could have been better. Still, this was undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser. Cole just has that magic fairydust of likability sprinkled all over him, and this nostalgic tune, one that doesn't get done to death on singing shows every season, is sure to connect with voters. "It's impossible not to love this guy," proclaimed Blake, correctly. "I feel like I haven't heard that song enough in my life," said Adam, understandably. "I'm really happy that you've come this far, dude. I genuinely support you," said Cole's original coach, CeeLo. I think Cole was lucky to be able to switch teams mid-season. If he'd stayed on Team CeeLo, he may've ended up doing "Rocky Mountain High" this week.
Tessanne Chin (Team Adam) – Few contestants in "Voice" history would be able to do Gladys Knight justice, but of course, Tessanne Chin is no typical contestant. The woman is a beast on the mic, so she handled Gladys's "If I Were Your Woman" with her usual pipes and prowess. But…I am worried for her. iTunes sales are so important in this competition, and I wonder if an old-fashioned soul classic from 1970 will be the kind of song that inspires fans to download in droves. I'd hate to see the wrong song (albeit performed amazingly) hurt the chances of someone as talented as Tessanne. Adam didn't seem worried, though; he had a MASSIVE, cheese-eating grin on his face when she was finished, telling her once the applause died down: "Gladys Knight is some serious stuff. I know you had your apprehension, but I'd tried to talk you into it….It was solidifying your presence on this show as a major, major contender." I hope Adam knew what he was doing here.
Ray Boudreaux (Team Blake) – Speaking of song choice, this was a definitely a better one than Ray's snoozy John Legend cover from last week. A bluesy rendition of Ray LaMontagne's "You Are the Best Thing" brought out his natural swagger and gave him a little much-needed edge. Swamp-pop was back! "That was awesome. You brought it back to who you are and what you do," said Blake, clearly (and thankfully) backpedaling from his assertion last week that adult-contemporary R&B was the best genre for Ray. "I think out of everyone here, you've shown the most growth…I really feel you've found an identity that fits you," said Christina. Adam said he wanted Ray to be more "checked-in" and "bust out and entertain a little more," but I do think songs like this are the right direction for this guy.
James Wolpert (Team Adam) – Thirty years ago this week, Badfinger co-founder Tom Evans committed suicide. This Monday, James covered Badfinger's best-known hit, "Without You," and Tom probably rolled in his grave. Sorry, I know that sounds pretty mean. Actually, it might have worked if James had covered the jauntier Badfinger version of the song; but instead he of course did the more blustery ballad version made famous by Harry Nilsson and later Mariah Carey. I really don't know what Adam was thinking when he came up with this song choice. James's one past misfire of a performance was when he attempted to do another rangy classic rock song from the '70s, Boston's "More Than a Feeling," so Adam should've realized that doing Nilsson was Not. Going. To. Work. James was practically shouting the song, and by the end he'd screechily lost his way and I was convinced that Adam had lost the plot. Adam, bizarrely, seemed completely pleased with this mess of a performance. "Every single time, you've managed to take a song and it goes through the James Wolpert blender and it turns into something so intrinsically yours," Adam raved. Christina praised James's "clean" voice and "multi-dimensional" artistry, although she did admit, "At the end, you went a little astray with the pitch." A little astray? Really? OK, then. I just hope James can rebound from this. I like him, and I wouldn't want this season to be "without" him…but this was sort of a disaster.
Kat Robichaud (Team CeeLo) – I had mixed feelings about this performance. On the plus side, I was thrilled to find out that Season 5's resident rock chick would be doing some Pat Benatar. On the minus side, it was one of Pat's more sedate songs, "We Belong" — not, say, "You Better Run" or "Hell is For Children." It seemed that, after Kat's performances of Mary Lambert's indie lesbian anthem "She Keeps Me Warm" and AWOLNATION's ferocious "Sail" failed to attract America's votes, CeeLo wanted her to give a performance that wouldn't scare away America. So she did "We Belong" in a long dress, complete with elegant, theatrical choreography around a grand piano (instead of her usual crowd-surfing). She kept it classy, and it worked; this was a lovely performance. But I missed Kat's grit; her edges now seemed too smoothed over. CeeLo, however, called Kat "the next thing," and Adam called this "the Kat we've all been waiting to see." I guess if this keeps Kat in the competition for another week, I'm all for it, since I was furious/worried when she was in last week's bottom three. But I wouldn't mind another mosh-worthy AWOLNATION cover from her, maybe a few weeks from now.
Matthew Schuler (Team Xtina) – Matthew did a little yoga with Christina during rehearsal, to help him get in a Zen mood for his first love song of the season, Emeli Sande's "Beneath Your Beautiful." This was a chance for the power-belter to show off his softer, sweeter side, and while I thought the song started a little slow, by the end I was totally feeling the love. Matthew is simply one of the best singers of all five "Voice" seasons, and he always impresses with both his technical skill and his sheer passion. This was beautiful, indeed. "Every single time you finish a performance, this room lights up. This place takes on a buzz of a different level," gushed Christina. "Finding that true love? Not gonna be problem for you," Adam assured the still-single Matthew. I don't think finding a spot high atop this week's iTunes chart will be a problem for Matthew, either.
So now, it is prediction time. Who will be in Tuesday's bottom three, and which two will go home? My gut is telling me that the singers in jeopardy will be Caroline Pennell, James Wolpert, and Tessanne Chin, all because of song choice. (Austin Jenckes may be in trouble, too.) If that's the case, I think America — well, the East Coast of America, that is — will use the Instant Save on Tessanne, meaning that former frontrunners Caroline and James will be goners.
I'll say it again: Song choice, people. SONG CHOICE.
Tune in Tuesday to find out if I'm right!
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- Ray LaMontagne