We’ve made it to the semifinals and this is where the hard choices are made, and the performances from the top five dudes given on The Voice stage tonight did not make those choices any easier. As Carson explained at the beginning of the episode, each artist sang one song chosen by their coach and then a song that they chose as a hometown dedication. Each artist made it clear what they were bringing to the table tonight, but, of course, some made their presence more strongly felt. Let’s go through the five remaining artists, roughly in order of how they fared.
Team Adam’s Matt McAndrew seems like he’s becoming more and more the person to beat here, and both of his performances were just unbelievably strong. His first song was a cover of Ed Sheeran’s cover of Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain,” which Adam heard on Sons of Anarchy. (“I was like: What is this song? Oh my God!”) McAndrew took his voice low and then let it burst through on the slow, spiritual number. He followed that up with a performance of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” that Pharrell said would have made Bono proud. I don’t personally know Bono, but I’d suspect that Pharrell is right. It feels like McAndrew could play a stadium tomorrow.
Craig Wayne Boyd
If there’s anyone who’s going to upset McAndrew, it’s Team Blake’s Craig Wayne Boyd, and honestly I’m not quite so sure I wouldn’t switch these two in my semi-arbitrary ranking in a heartbeat. Blake first had Boyd take on Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues,” which Boyd updated and made his own. In this number Boyd absolutely won over the room while overcoming the over-the-top backdrop he was given and interacting with the band. (Loved that moment with the trumpeter.) Boyd not only gave a commanding performance, but seemed to be having a blast up there, which counts for a lot. But then came his second performance, a take on the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross,” which was big and orchestral while also coming off as deeply personal.
Damien is the champion of ballads, and he proved so once again by conquering Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life,” which is no easy feat. He is able to convey true emotion in his songs. So it was fun to see him let loose a bit on his second number, a cover of Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait.” Now, he had a couple of challenges to overcome on this number. First off, he was a little out of his comfort zone, even though he and Adam worked to turn the song into what Gwen pointed out was a Peter Gabriel-ish number. Second, he had to hold our collective interest when we inevitably started to think about our friends in Capeside, Mass. He fared well, but it’s evident that he’s best when he’s pouring his heart into something slower.
Mr. Falsetto King Chris Jamison had the honor of covering “Sugar,” the next single from his coach Adam’s band, Maroon 5. (Adam insisted that this was just coincidental, and that Jamison really wanted to do it. Nope. Not a plug in any way. Sure.) In a way, I think singing Adam’s song maybe did Jamison a disservice. Love Adam or hate him, his voice is terribly distinctive, and Jamison doesn’t have that same unusual quality. Still, it’s hard to ignore his talent when he goes into that falsetto. (He was backed up by some Robert Palmer girls dancing with guitars.) The falsetto, however, was used to even greater effect in his second number “When I Was Your Man,” where it highlighted just all around how powerful his voice is. I’m still not convinced that Jamison is as unique a talent as the three men I mentioned before him, but he’s pretty close.
Taylor John Williams
It seems a shame to put Team Gwen’s Taylor John Williams last on this list. Williams is certainly talented, and The Voice audiences loves him. By all accounts, I should love him if for no other reason than he played music that was right up my alley tonight. However, for me, he lacks the je ne sais quoi type of charisma that some of the other contestants have. His “Falling Slowly” was technically spot on, but for a song that’s now a Broadway number, it could have done with some more drama. Same with Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which he adapted for his purposes. Swift acts the hell out of “Blank Space,” and Williams could have afforded to do some of that. Williams seems like an artist who would do better in a more intimate setting, but that’s not The Voice. And if the screams of the audience are any indication, I’ll be eating my hat over this one tomorrow.