The Voice Recap: Six-ual Tension [Updated]

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If The Voice‘s Season 3 soul hippie Nicholas David happens to be reading this recap, maybe he can jump down to the comments and prescribe us all a nice herbal remedy to combat anxiety, nausea and full-body jitters. Because no matter which of the Top 6 contestants you’ve been digging for the last few months, there’s no way you can head into Tuesday night’s results-show telecast with total confidence that they’ll break on through to the other side.

And since dude was kind enough to suggest oil of oregano, eldeberry extract and a nice, nondairy probiotic to cure what was ailing rival coach Adam Levine, maybe he’ll also have some thoughts on how to calm the savage beast inside Christina Aguilera, you know, the one who was all, “LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M CRITIQUING YOU!” to a terrified Melanie Martinez.

To be fair, Xtina wasn’t all Cruella de Ville all the time. She spent a good chunk of the night buttering up Blake Shelton like a Land O’ Lakes sales rep with a freshly toasted bagel in her hand. You could practically hear the wheels turning in her head: Maybe, just maybe, I can get Blake’s fans to buy my album for Christmas. And then she turned that internal monologue into a desperate plea to the viewing audience: “Attention holiday shoppers! Cassadee is the one true star this season! Terry is a close second! Lotus, in stores now! Hashtag: Team Blake!”

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But back to the Top 6 and their two performances each (one coach’s choice, one contestant’s choice) — since that’s what The Voice is really all about. (Xtina: “Wait! But I thought everyone tuned in to hear me sing Fiona Apple snippets!” You: “Honey, please.”) Every one of ‘em had checkmarks in the “plus” columns, and “minuses” that served as a sobering counterbalance: Cee Lo seemingly tried to sabotage his contestants with baffling song choices, while Adam allowed brutally distracting staging to hamper the vocalists under his tutelage. Blake, for his part, did absolutely nothing to push his team outside their comfort zones or expand their fan bases. Shall we get to tonight’s letter grades?

Nicholas David: Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” | (Cee Lo’s pick) Alas, a song choice as predictable as Christina Milian saying “Hey-ey, what’s up Carson?” every time her cohost tosses to her banal interview segments. Not that there’s anything wrong with Barry White, Huey Lewis, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, or Earth Wind & Fire, but for once, it would be nice to hear the dude tackle something that’s not a minimum of 10 years older than Melanie Martinez. Worse still, as Adam sagely noted, Nicholas completely neglected to sing the iconic melody on the chorus, instead choosing to riff around in a key that didn’t stretch his voice much at all. Combined with his failure to work the stage in any meaningful way — and some unnecessary disco dancers on a platform to pull focus from the main event — this was the bearded dad’s weakest performance all season. Grade: C+

Cassadee Pope: Rascal Flatts’ “Stand” | (Blake’s pick) Of all the country anthems in all the world, Blake had to go and choose a Rascal Flatts ditty that puts the “bla” in “bland.” Cassadee did what she could — pushing the second chorus as high as it could go, and infusing the lyrics with as much passion as they could endure — but you can’t throw a donkey out of a plane and expect it to fly. Making matters worse: The audience waving their glow sticks out of time with the music like they were all graduates of the Elaine Benes School of Rhythm. Grade: B

Amanda Brown: Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” |
(Amanda’s pick) I kinda wish if Amanda was determined to cover the Queen of Soul, that she’d chosen a road less traveled, something like “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” or “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” But if you want to please the masses, sometimes you’ve got to choose a classic, and to her credit, Amanda really brought to life the sensuality of the lyrics, even throwing in a Cody-esque shimmy at the end of the first chorus. Later, her off-the-beat cry of “you make me feel!” reinforced her connection to the material while deviating in tone and approach from Aretha’s rendition. As always, the coaches seemed reluctant to go all-in for Amanda, with Cee Lo regrettably yammering “I love and appreciate all women” instead of drumming up support for a woman who absolutely belongs in the Top 4. Adam, too, downplayed Amanda’s season-long brilliance by implying she hadn’t had a moment since “Dream On” on Nov. 8. If I didn’t know better, I’d be yelling “Sabotage!” Grade: B+

Terry McDermott: Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” | (Terry’s pick) I liked Blake’s suggestion to strip the rock ballad down to piano and cello (“I thought it was called a Cee Lo,” joked the country coach), but as Terry pointed out, the approach left him nowhere to hide, vocally speaking. And as Xtina noted, Terry never really brought to life the more tender side of “I Want to Know…,” the plea to “change this lonely life.” Instead, he seemed to be working overtime to prove his chops, to force the melody up a hill where it didn’t necessarily want to go, and that resulted in intermittent vocal strain. It didn’t help that the audience was clapping out of time with the music, either, but you can’t blame a Hobbit for that! Grade: B

Trevin Hunte: Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” | (Cee Lo’s pick) Another week, another dreadful denim vest for poor Trevin. I’d complain that Cee Lo was purposely undermining the teenage vocalist by not giving him better wardrobe advice, but maybe we should just be thankful he hasn’t forced Trevin into one of his signature muumuus. The song choice, unfortunately, was an even worse fit, and while I applaud Cee Lo for wanting to see Trevin tackle something upbeat and fun, I can’t imagine there weren’t at least 50,000 songs better suited to Trevin’s style than “Walking on Sunshine.” Even if Trevin hadn’t botched the lyric on the opening verse or tapered off into nothingness on the “I feel alive” ad libs, the whole enterprise was like cooking a Thanksgiving turkey in a microwave: Wrong idea, wrong tools, wrong pairing, dubious outcome. Grade: C

Melanie Martinez: Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” | (Melanie’s pick) No, Melanie wasn’t pitch perfect on her “haunted music box” remix of Cee Lo’s most famous composition. And yeah, it would’ve been nice if she hadn’t repeatedly gazed down and to the left, as if she was reading her lyrics off a piece of looseleaf she’d taped to the stage floor. But I had to agree with Adam that the end result transcended the technical. Surrounded by shiny mannequins with instruments, Melanie used her baby doll voice to convey a genuine madness to the lyrics, whispering “I remember when I lost my mind” like a kid who hadn’t quite yet gotten her mind back. Which I guess is my way of saying I’ll take flawed gutsiness and originality over bar-band competency any day of the week. Grade: A-

Terry McDermott: Faces’ “Stay With Me” | (Blake’s pick) Speaking of bar-band competency…Terry hit most of the notes of Rod Stewart’s saucy stomper, but the lethargic staging and by-the-numbers delivery failed to bring to life any of the randy sexuality or raucous humor of the original. Maybe none of the judges pointed this out so as not to bring coach Blake’s mood down right before his big NBC Christmas special? Grade: B-

Trevin Hunte: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (from Dreamgirls) | (Trevin’s pick) I will admit I rolled my eyes — and maybe even let out a “oh hell no!” — when Trevin once again flipped open his copy of Everything I Ever Learned About Music I Learned From Watching Reality Singing Competitions and flipped to the chapter on show tunes. But well traveled as the Dreamgirls path may be, and as religiously as Trevin followed the directions laid out by Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Sanchez, Frenchie Davis, and LaKisha Jones before him, there’s no denying he slayed the beast — hitting every note, and nailing the “you’re gonna love me”-ness of it all. Did we need another Gospel choir to emerge from the curtains? No we did not. Did Trevin need to remove his jacket for the final burst of melody? I’d argue no. Should he allow Xtina to take him on the road with her in the future? Let’s not even dignify the question with a response. But I’d be reaching too deep into my well of cynicism if I gave this performance anything less than… Grade: A-

Amanda Brown: Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” | (Adam’s pick) I’d actually suggested this track for Cassadee in this week’s Voice Leaderboard gallery, but I thought it worked flawlessly for Amanda, too. From the slow-burn intro to the full-fledged banshee wail, it allowed Amanda to solidify her rock chops and remind voters that of her almost superhuman grasp on pitch — all while clad in head-to-toe red leather. I really, truly wish Adam hadn’t allowed those tumbling acrobats to turn the staging into Dancing With the Stars results-show guest performer, but Amanda’s vocal transcended the ridiculata. Grade: A-

Melanie Martinez: Lenka’s “The Show” | (Adam’s pick) Since the start of the season, Melanie’s hallmark has been her originality. And that’s why it felt like such a letdown that her Lenka cover had a copycat quality from the vocals all the way to the staging, which tried to recreate the original music video’s vibe on a high-school drama club budget. (I did have to laugh, though, when Xtina once again lavished praise on the show’s set designer, only to have Adam thank her for the unintentional compliment, since he and Melanie came up with it.) To my eyes, though, Melanie looked a little embarrassed by the proceedings, as random stagehands appeared on stage to navigate cardboard busses, fly “kites” and make “dolphins” (yes, dolphins!) leap, even row a “boat” during the performance. (And here I thought the acrobats were distracting!) Xtina may have had a point that Melanie might fare better on a darker number like Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” but I’m not sure we needed her to sing half a verse plus the chorus to get her point across. Lotus! In stores now! Grade: C+

Cassadee Pope: Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” | (Cassadee’s pick) Speaking of a lack of originality, how come none of the judges had an issue with Cassadee offering up her second note-for-note Avril Lavigne cover in the last five weeks? Granted, the former Hey Monday frontwoman gave one of her strongest vocals all season, not once going astray during what Adam noted was a particularly treacherous final run of notes, and hitting every emotion flawlessly. But I just feel like someone with Cassadee’s experience should be working harder to innovate and surprise. And instead, she’s relying of extreme closeups of her fawning mentor, misting up during her performances, to drive her train to victory. Plus, could Blake lay it on any thicker with his feedback? This business about Cassadee being the “rare individual” who can tell a story and yet has the “ability to sing really, really good”? That, dude, is a baseline requirement for just about anyone making their living in music! Uff da. Grade: B+

Nicholas David: “Over the Rainbow” (from The Wizard of Oz) | I appreciated Nicholas’ attempt to infuse the well-worn soundtrack ballad with some jazzy inflections and unusual flourishes. I’m not entirely sure it all worked — occasionally, the timing and phrasing seem a little stilted, or maybe it was just the audience clapping (once again) off rhythm — but how much can I complain when St. Nick’s tone is so rich and calorie-laden, when he never, ever seems to hit a sour note? Grade: B+

And finally, predictions…

Should Go Home: Terry, Trevin
Will Go Home: Nicholas, Amanda (because life is pain)

And with that, let me turn things over to you:

Who were your favorites from The Voice‘s Top 6 performance telecast? Who’s most likely to get booted come Tuesday night? Hit the comments with your thoughts!


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