The semifinals bring more attitude, more James Brown

By Melissa Maerz
April 14, 2015 at 11:15 PM EDT
NBC
S2 E18
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Tonight on The Voice, Blake Shelton sang a country song called “Over.” But just like in country songs, it ain’t over yet.

Before the two-part grand finale airs next week, Teams Blake and Xtina had to work their way through a very wholesome-sounding Killers cover. Coaches Cee Lo and Adam had to listen to Christina take credit for their song choices. (Apparently, Christina already performed Juliet Simms’ pick at the Grammys, and had already optioned Tony Lucca’s pick for her own team member, Moses. Is no song safe?) And the rest of us got to hear some pretty inspired interpretations of James Brown, Journey, and a little-known hipster favorite named Bach. So before Justin Bieber steals their spotlight on May 8, let’s get to the semi-finalists.

TONY LUCCA – TEAM ADAM

“TON-ee LOU-cah,” growled Cee Lo in his best Godfather accent, “Your performance pleases me.” Cee Lo wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Tonight, Tony made his best song choice so far with the Heavy’s great neo-soul anthem “How You Like Me Now,” which clearly has the magical power to make any white man sound 23% cooler.

Wearing a suit and tie, and flanked by two red-lipsticked girls, Tony might’ve gone a little too Robert Palmer in his tastes. But he ramped up the energy so much with his microphone-stand-leaning, fancy-shoe-kicking performance that even Christina couldn’t help but give him compliments. “That was definitely slickly done,” she said. “Did Adam teach you those dance moves?” Okay, so they might’ve been backhanded compliments. But still.

“If this doesn’t work out,” Christina added, “you and Adam can definitely start a Britney cover band.” We know she meant that as a joke, but I’ll wait for a few minutes while ten million Tony Lucca fans take to Twitter and petition NBC to make this happen. Seriously. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

ERIN WILLETT – TEAM BLAKE

“Think about what this song means to you,” Blake advised Erin when she selected “Without You,” by David Guetta featuring Usher. Obviously, that’s good advice. But it’s hard to bring real poignancy to a song about how Usher can’t “reign” without his lady. Sorry, Your Royal Dudeness. Maybe you can borrow Christina’s tiara and get your kingdom back?

Erin sang the hell out of that song, as usual. (“I would give anything to have a tenth of the talent you have,” confessed Blake.) And turning this mellow South Beach club jam into a classy power ballad was an original idea. But I didn’t hear any real emotion in it. Erin cried at the end, but it seemed like it was more out of exhaustion than anything. Maybe next time, she’ll choose a more affecting Usher song. Might we suggest a two-part ode to hooking up in the middle of the dance floor?

CHRIS MANN – TEAM CHRISTINA

What happened when Opera Man sang “Ave Maria”? First he defended his old-fashioned song choice. (“I don’t really care if it’s cool,” he said, tearing up, “I just want to sing the song!”) Then he lit a few aromatherapy candles. Then he wailed on that song as if he were Pavarotti in a titanium jockstrap. Then your mom cried.

Perhaps Christina said it best: “I just felt the heavens open up right now.” Running up to the stage, she gave him a hug. From this angle, it looked like she was wearing no pants. So the heavens must’ve opened up for Chris Mann, too.

NEXT: Closed eyes, open arms, can’t lose.

JAMAR ROGERS – TEAM CEE LO

I love Cee Lo, but he’s always choosing such slow, smoldering songs for singers who are dying to rage just a little bit. Tonight, Jamar got “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” which was first popularized by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His electronic take on the 1972 ballad was truly his own, right down to that very strange electric guitar solo, but it didn’t really work for me. Maybe I wanted to hear more of that burning-trash-can fire he showed off last week with Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

Cee Lo loved it. “I think the story of your life would be a bestseller,” he told the artist otherwise known as J-Bird. “We all wanna know you more. We all wanna love you even more.” But tonight, that was the problem. Wanting to love him more meant I didn’t quite love him enough.

JERMAINE PAUL – TEAM BLAKE

There are two rules for de-cheese-ifying singing competitions: Don’t sing a Journey song unless you’re Tony Soprano, and definitely don’t dedicate it to your wife. Jermaine broke both of those rules tonight with “Open Arms.” But he sang that classic-rock chestnut with such conviction and so many amazing, Christina-worthy vocal runs, everyone loved him. “You came in and murdered that song!” Christina exclaimed. “You put the Jermaine on it!” Agreed. And I’ll bet he’ll stick around long enough to put the Jermaine on the season finale, too.

KATRINA PARKER – TEAM ADAM

Poor Katrina. She’s always getting criticized for not being Katrina enough. First, she sang too much like Adele. Then, tonight, her rendition of the Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” was a little too Lauryn Hill for some coaches. Personally, I thought she sounded fantastic, and so did Blake. “It’s hard to believe that just a matter of months ago you were sitting in a cubicle doing whatever it was you were doin’ because your voice has a seasoned quality to it that I love,” he said. Sadly, I don’t think she has the votes to beat Team Adam’s favorite Tony Lucca. But if she gets the boot tomorrow, at least she got the best Christina endorsement before she left: “Take a look at Katrina Parker, because she’s a star.”

LINDSEY PAVAO – TEAM CHRISTINA

After hearing Lindsey’s quiet, smoky take on Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” I might’ve gotten the urge to take a bottle of wine out into my organic goat-harvesting field and read some Bon Iver erotica. Her voice was a little shaky at times, but I loved that you could still see the shy girl behind that cool Skrillex haircut. And I also loved the natural-looking setup, with people sitting cross-legged around her acoustic guitar, listening as if they were hanging out around a campfire.

To me, there’s something so real about watching Lindsey. It’s like hearing your little sister performing for the first time; it’s hard not to root for her. I’d love to keep her in this competition, but I’m betting she can’t beat Chris Mann. So I’m glad she went out on a high note, teaching Cee Lo “Big Love” Green what skinny love is all about.

JULIET SIMMS – TEAM CEE LO

Leave it to the tattooed rocker grrl to turn James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” into a feminist anthem. “I grew up loving Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler,” explained Juliet. “My battle is trying to make it in rock music, which is saturated with men.”

To be fair, it’s saturated with men like Adam and Cee Lo and Blake, all of whom were blown away by the giant, Janis Joplin voice that busted out of the girl in the tiny, Goldie Hawn dress. Gushed Adam: “You’re one of my favorites! You’re the one to beat tonight.” Gushed Cee Lo: “You killed it! You killed it!” Carson was even awed by the crowd’s response. “That’s as loud as it’s ever been in this room,” he said. “Ever.”

I predict that, eventually, this battle will whittle itself down to Juliet and Jermaine. Until then, Tony and Chris will round out the competition. In the meantime, who wants to make a case for Erin, Jamar, Lindsey, or Katrina? I’d love to hear your arguments in the comments, because it ain’t over until Christina takes off that crazy hat.

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A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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