The Top 8 experience highs and lows in their bids for the finale

By Amanda Bell
December 06, 2016 at 04:34 AM EST
Tyler Golden/NBC
S11 E23
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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?

Brendan Fletcher (Team Adam)

“Angel” by Sarah McLachlan

Adam Levine says we need to see more of the “tender” side of Brendan Fletcher, which is why he’s chosen this achy mood melody that’s probably best known for that movie about a city of (you guessed it) angels. But, once again, what comes out of him is just more of the same sound we’ve come to know — and for many voters, it seems, love — over the past few weeks. Blake describes his voice well by saying it’s “gravelly” and “warm” and adds a new name to the growing list of singers he sounds a lot like: Michael McDonald.

It’s a serviceable performance, but nothing special, and there are moments where he sounds pretty stuffy in the chorus. The last person to be this sick on this stage (Austin Allsup) got sent home too early, so Brendan Fletcher fans better hope that part of the illness isn’t contagious, too.

Sundance Head (Team Blake) and Josh Gallagher (Team Adam)

“Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker

Second verse, same as the first. Sorry, but these duets are just awful tonight. Sundance Head enjoys a little bit of an advantage here because he’s the only one who’s actually feeling what he’s singing about, while Josh seems like an airborne fish desperately gulping for a raindrop.

Wé McDonald (Team Alicia)

“Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara

Um. Hmm. So, this…was not Wé’s night here on The Voice. Not only was her duet with Aaron messy and ridiculous, but let’s be real: She lost her groove with this one. Maybe it’s the stair descent? It seems to be the common denominator in a lot of these letdown performances, doesn’t it? Whatever the cause, Wé’s voice was off-key far too often to ignore, pitchy in parts she should’ve owned, and overall devoid of any of the gravity the original singer possesses when sharing her words here. I’ve seen Alessia Cara perform this live, so perhaps I’m being a little unfair to Wé on that note, but this just wasn’t her finest moment. Is it going to cost her a trip to the finals? Probably not. But if she wants to win this competition, there’s no room for this egregious an error from her going forward. The win is not hers to lose right now, let’s put it that way.

Aaron Gibson (Team Miley)

“(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams

First of all, I’d already made up my mind about Bryan Adams songs belonging to Brendan Fletcher this season, so that was pretty hard to overlook. But then Aaron Gibson just proved, again, why he really shouldn’t be investing in any pink hair dye (the stakes of his wager with Miley for going through to the Top 4, after he had to shave his legs for Top 8 status). His lack of range and investment in the song is painfully obvious until a little over halfway through, when he finally decides to step up his game and give it a few key growls of enthusiasm, but the damage is done by then. He’s two-for-two tonight on misses, unfortunately, which makes him low-hanging fruit for the elimination picks, even without factoring in his very recent three-peat at the bottom.

Christian Cuevas (Team Alicia) and Billy Gilman (Team Adam)

“Unsteady” by X Ambassadors

Yawn. It’s nice to hear Christian Cuevas turn to his falsetto a little bit to match Billy Gilman, but frankly, they both come off as pretty flat. As I said before, these duets aren’t doing anybody any favors. But, hey, at least they’re equally annoying across the board, so evidently they aren’t specifically harming anyone either. Well, except for everyone who has to listen to them, I mean. Womp.

NEXT: Will this rare miss cost this shoo-in a spot in the finals?

Josh Gallagher (Team Adam)

“Danny’s Song” by Loggins & Messina

Full disclosure: This was my wedding song, so I’m pretty critical of anyone who touches it. That said, there are some parts — the beginning and the end in particular — that Josh Gallagher sounds pretty alright with it. He gives it some colorful presence in the open and close that show off something new of his own personality…a bit of grit and authenticity that’s been missing from his rote delivery service so far this season. Buuuut then there’s the middle, where the tempo shift summons up some cartoonish drawl accent from him, throws him off-key in several moments, and brings out some Josh Turner-wannabe low-note reaches that don’t work at all. Josh Gallagher’s something of a comeback kid here for sure, stolen to Team Adam after being let go by Blake in the knockouts. It’s impressive. But this moment was hyped by Adam to be some breakthrough for him, and it was nothing of the kind. After this and how badly he was trounced by Sundance in their duet, he’s probably earned a ticket home tonight.

Brendan Fletcher (Team Adam) and Ali Caldwell (Team Miley)

“It’s Only Love” by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner

Hey, a duet that doesn’t destroy all the eardrums! Brendan Fletcher is a little inaudible when it comes to some of the lyrics, but at least he’s playing to what he knows here with a Bryan Adams melody. Meanwhile, Ali’s actually hanging in there with the Tina Turner verses, and they’re both a pretty excellent match for their song and artists here. Imagine that!

Sundance Head (Team Blake)

“Love Can Build a Bridge” by The Judds

When you get a call before taking the stage from the actual artist who made a song — in this case, Wynonna Judd, who wants make it clear her mother meant for this to be their “legacy song” — the tallness of the order reaches skyscraper status. But if there’s one thing Sundance Head has proven this season, it’s that he’s not afraid of a challenge. He might be the most confident and collected singer left in this thing, really. And while he’s not exactly playing to the ear-worms this song has implanted in fans, he does manage to make a gratifying, albeit somewhat exaggerated, show of it.

Billy Gilman (Team Adam)

“I Surrender” by Celine Dion

Oh, no! So, when I heard Billy Gilman was going to do a Celine Dion song, I got pretty excited about it — in theory, it seemed like a good match. But WHOA, was that off. In rehearsals, Adam notes Billy’s “purity” level has been at full-tilt lately and encourages him to do a little soul-searching to find the same kind of emotional commitment that had everyone in tears over his second Adele number a few weeks back. Whether that was bad advice or this song is just too ambitious for him, something doesn’t quite connect between Billy and this song and he’s left flailing in the wind, shout-singing and running around as he tries to live up to the absurd theatrics of the backdrop for his pimp placement. Could this actually cost Billy a shot at the finals? If anyone’s going off tonight alone, he might be in trouble. Though he totally deserves the Top 4 treatment with everything he’s accomplished this season, this was an uncharacteristic low point for him. Yikes.

Predictions for the Top 4:

  • Whew, this is a tough one. I’d ordinarily think Billy Gilman and Wé McDonald would be a given for the last hurrah of this season, but they both did their best to give away their chances tonight. Nevertheless, they’ve each built up enough of a following to ensure the faithful vote and will probably advance.
  • As you’ve probably gathered by now, these duets were overall pointless and irksome, but if there’s one purpose they served, it was to prove — without a shadow of a doubt — who the better country singer is between Sundance Head and Josh Gallagher. After that, Sundance should skate through to the finals, while Josh and his trusty ball cap will be sent packing.
  • Aaron Gibson is a goner. 100 percent.
  • Brendan Fletcher might be, too, because if nothing else, we’ve heard everything there is to hear from him at this point. He’s clearly got no tricks left up his sleeve. He’s a nice singer with a place in this industry, but is he THE VOICE? That’s a harder sell.
  • Same goes for Christian Cuevas, who took a big risk on a song that might get his own insides moving and grooving with the holy spirit, but was otherwise pretty unremarkable for those of us who aren’t familiar with the gospel he was singing in multiple languages. Between him and Brendan Fletcher, I’d say Christian’s is the longer shot, given Brendan’s timely iTunes popularity burst.
  • Ali Caldwell has maybe, just maybe earned herself a spot in the finals with her did-she-just take on Whitney Houston. Whether or not you’re a fan of the red hair and drama of her ensembles, she did a fine job with the song and stands out as one of the more sophisticated performances of the evening.
  • The Top 4 will be Billy Gilman, Wé McDonald, Sundance Head, and Ali Caldwell.
  • FINAL STANDINGS:

    • Team Adam — Billy Gilman, Josh Gallagher, Brendan Fletcher
    • Team Alicia — Christian Cuevas, Wé McDonald
    • Team Blake — Sundance Head
    • Team Miley — Aaron Gibson, Ali Caldwell
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