Making it to the Top 10 of any large competition is a big accomplishment. The Voice’s group of 10-best artists might still include some filler, but many of these singers are only improving week after week. For those who aren’t shining as brightly, their time to correct course is drawing to a close. One week from tomorrow, the Top 9 will be cut to the Top 4, banishing over half the singers from the competition in one fell swoop. It’s gonna be a doozy
But before any of that can happen, the Top 10 still have a chance to make an impression. First to perform tonight is one of good guys, Team Gwen’s power player Jeffery Austin. Jeffery has built up enough credit with me to have an off night every now and again, and tonight he cashed in. He takes on “Jealous” by the British singer Labrinth. It’s not a well-known song (the album containing “Jealous” hasn’t even been released), so he doesn’t have the “wow factor” that automatically accompanies pulling off an Adele track or the like. Gwen tells her artist that she wants him to “lose complete control” and show a more intimate part of himself; but Jeffery stands rigid at the mic and gives less emotion than we’ve seen previously. None of this is to say his voice isn’t still a thing of beauty, but going forward, he’s got to challenge himself and get out of this mopey rut.
The second singer of the episode, Emily Ann Roberts, is the opposite of mopey. She continues to home in on her bluegrass roots, and it’s only benefiting her. Each week, I’m learning to appreciate her voice more. Her song choice, Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You,” is no happy-go-lucky ditty, but the bright, intimate staging and Emily Ann’s expressive body language keep it more yearning than dour. I’m not sure if this is as memorable as her other performances, but it’s lovely. Also lovely is the relationship between Emily Ann and her coach. Blake says he’s “never had a better collaborator in nine seasons” and declares “She’s Got You” as Emily Ann’s best song yet.
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Team Gwen’s second performer, Braiden Sunshine, is next to take the stage. Despite his continued popularity, Braiden hasn’t had much luck when it comes to song choice in the past few weeks. He’s been buffeted between cheesy ’80s rock and British New Wave, neither of which are his cup of tea. But tonight, he finally steps into the modern era with Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” Unfortunately, as any good Voice historian knows, “Radioactive” carries something of a curse on this show. It’s been performed three times previously — and none of those who sang it have ever fared well. Gwen opts for spare backing music, which doesn’t underscore the power of the song (there’s no drop), which makes the whole experiment come off as a lamer, tamer version of the original. We know Braiden’s got big notes, but he didn’t bring the drama or the tension this song requires, leaving the whole thing feeling deflated.
NEXT: Too little, too late? Or just enough and right on time?
After Braiden comes Team Adam’s Shelby Brown. I’ve been squarely in Shelby’s corner since she first auditioned, even though she’s been overshadowed the past few weeks by singers who’ve come on strong. But tonight, she turns all that around. Shelby sings “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill, a spiritual number that was also played at her late grandfather’s memorial. Whether it’s because the song has deep emotional meaning for her or whether she’s just found her niche — powerhouse, gospel-inflected country — Shelby breaks into a whole new level of this competition. She’s a pure power engine, with the biggest belt left of any female singer, plus the spunk to justify anything she wants to try. This was Shelby’s best performance yet (Pharrell agrees with me). Were if not for the huge cut coming next week, I’d say she’s earned herself at least Top 6. But it may be too little, too late for her, and that’s a real shame.
Next is the singer with “nine lives” (or at least three), Korin Bukowski. After two turns in the Bottom 2, Korin must think of this performance as her last chance to change America’s mind. Viewers haven’t been so impressed with her indie weepies, so she does a complete 180 and goes with Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.” It’s an up-tempo song, the first we’ve heard tonight, which works in her favor, and there’s a lot happening on stage, between the fuchsia floodlights and Korin’s boxy red jumpsuit. But the vocal alone is not exciting. Korin says this tune is more representative of her style and the music she wants to make, even though we haven’t seen her do anything like it on the show before. With the right molding, Korin could grow into this sultry weirdo vibe, à la Lorde — not a bad brand, but not the Korin we’ve seen so far. I say three strikes and she’s is out.
Following last week’s lowest-performing artist comes the highest. Amy Vachal sticks with what’s working and flips yet another unexpected pop hit, *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” into a silky jazz number. “Bye Bye Bye” has a creepy edge, which Adam tells Amy to play up in her performance. That slightly dangerous undercurrent keeps the song from straying into parody, unlike “Blank Space” last week. In contrast, this performance steps out of the shadow of the original, laying down its own supremely enjoyable vibe. But I’m struck again by Amy’s single-minded playbook. In rehearsal, Adam says, “We’re winning because of our [song] choices,” which only implies to me that they’re not winning on the strength of Amy’s voice. If you boil Amy’s Voice experience down, you’re left with a successful gimmick: Take an unexpected, uber-popular song, rearrange it with jazz inflection, and you get a Top 10 iTunes hit. It works, but it’s a gimmick all the same, and I wonder how much longer it can last.
For one of the first times since the live shows premiered, Amy’s teammate, Jordan Smith gets a middle slot in the performance order. But that doesn’t mean he’s about to give a middle-grade performance. Adam assigns Jordan “Hallelujah,”
from Shrek by Leonard Cohen. This song is amenable to all of Jordan’s scale-bounding runs and astronomical high notes, but a really great “Hallelujah” performance requires a more delicate hand. I’m a bit surprised, but impressed, to hear Jordan lay off the vocal gymnastics to deliver a stirring, restrained vocal. He’s displaying a more mature side of himself, and it’s refreshing. All the coaches heap their typical mountain of praise on the singer, and even Carson remarks that this feels more like the finale than the Top 10.
NEXT: When all else fails, break out those swivelling hips
Heading into the final third of the episode, Zach Seabaugh breaks out of his comfort zone with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen. When Carson announces Zach is taking on a Freddie Mercury vocal, I can’t begin to imagine it. But “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is as close to a country tune as Queen ever got, and Zach and Blake beef up the banjos to bring it into full twang mode. But it’s not enough to boost Zach into the top half of this season’s competition. He had a moment with “Brand New Girlfriend” during the Live Playoffs, and he’s been reliant on that success to keep him afloat ever since. But on this performance he sounds out of breath and behind the band. All his heartthrob moves are still intact (Elvis impression included), but this was not a Top 9 breakthrough.
Coming off her dynamite performance last week, Team Pharrell’s final hopeful, Madi Davis, has a lot to live up to. Not only does she rise to the challenge — she takes her song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” to heights I’ve never heard before. Using what Pharrell implies is her own arrangement, Madi performs in a surprising minor key but leaves the rhythm bouncy enough not to drag. Everything about the production, from the single, lamenting clarinet to the stage covered in mist, builds to create a complete atmosphere. Madi is continually stretching our definition of what she can do, and the results are always fascinating. This week, she shows that she can build an entire world in a three-minute song, and it’s magical.
Finally, Barrett Baber takes the stage to end the night on Conway Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down.” For the first time, Barrett is anchored to a stool by his acoustic guitar, unable to use his stage antics to bring up the song’s energy level. I like showman Barrett better than plaintive Barrett, but it’s smart to demonstrate he can bring different things to the table every now and again. This record isn’t full of the same big belts as his past performances, and the combination of a stationary performer and a more sedated song choice leaves me feeling a bit underwhelmed as the episode draws to a close. But I’ve always admired Barrett’s dulcet tones, and Blake tells him he’s just secured himself a spot in the iTunes Top 10 with this rendition
- Blake gave each member of his team a guitar, again confirming he’s the cuddliest coach
- Gwen cut Braiden’s hair this week…of course. She just can’t help herself
- Ellie Goulding is performing next Monday!
- My bottom 2 prediction: Braiden and Zach, meaning maybe Korin will cling on for one more week