Tomorrow is the cutthroat elimination round. The Voice‘s season 11 contestant pool will be sliced in half, with just four of the eight remaining singers advancing to next week’s finale. Clearly, those nerves are starting to get to these singers — with few exceptions, they all seem a little off their games tonight. Is it the return of the heinous duets, which force them to once again share the stage after so much time spent alone and with songs that are cherry-picked for them, instead of both? Or is it the fact they’re all so afraid of missing a single moment that they slip completely from their usual sturdy platforms? You be the judge.
Here’s what happened in tonight’s Top 8 performances.
Christian Cuevas (Team Alicia)
“To Worship I Live (Away)” by Israel & New Breed
There’ve been a lot of hymnal-style ballads to hit the stage this season, have there not? Christian Cuevas has made no secret about his allegiance to family and faith, and obviously, that spirit of purpose has served him well thus far — his performance last week caught the attention of Lady Gaga herself and the iTunes downloading community.
This week, Christian goes full throttle in search of evangelical voters. His number of choice could easily be heard on any given Sunday morning at one of those progressive rock-leaning church stages where it’s cool to throw up your hands in worship, and he’s able to do part of it in Spanish, his own second language. It’s a risk to take a song that’s so specific in genre and appeal, but Christian does what he does by starting out slow and steady (albeit a little boring) before escalating into his booming full voice at the chorus. It’s formulaic, yes, but apparently, his consistent style has won him over enough viewers to get him this far, so why fix what ain’t broke? Look, he’s not my personal pick for the finale… But I can still see him getting there.
Wé McDonald (Team Alicia) and Aaron Gibson (Team Miley)
“FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna (ft. Kanye West and Paul McCartney)
I’m no statistician, but it’s probably rare for a duet song selection in a competition show to be fully fair to both singers involved. Has there ever been one this one-sided, though? It’s not impossible Aaron Gibson would be good with this song on his own — although I have my doubts — but by being paired up with a powerhouse like Wé, he was absolutely destined to be immediately resigned to barely heard backup-singer status during this performance, and lo, he was. Even in those moments when they traded off Rihanna’s solos, his scratchy one-note approach paled in comparison to that of his stage partner. If the point of this is to show apples and oranges don’t taste alike, well, duh. Altogether, the disconnect between these two made this song virtually unlistenable. Wé gets a clear advantage from this, but chances are, people won’t be repeat listening to this mess.
Ali Caldwell (Team Miley)
“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
Daaang, Ali. Ali Caldwell has been pretty hit or miss when it comes to these kinds of sprawling icon pieces in the past, but tonight is certainly one of her better nights. She exercises a lot of control when approaching the oh-so-familiar notes of the played-out anthem, but she (mercifully) doesn’t try to hit every single memory mark made by the one and only Whitney Houston in her cover of the Dolly Parton classic. Her “restraint,” as Alicia puts it, serves her well tonight and makes her rendition surprisingly pleasant, even when she does reach for those near-impossible notes that established Whitney as such a legend. Alicia and Miley both coin this a perfect performance, and while that might be hyperbole, she did manage to avoid summoning up a simultaneous eye-roll from the at-home collective who’ve heard this song become more brutalized than the National Anthem at high-school football games.
NEXT: Wait, are these duets or battles?