It's a night of special duets (Sheryl Crow and a chandelier!) and especially painful eliminations

By Adam Carlson
April 14, 2015 at 10:25 PM EDT
S4 E21
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I don’t know how to say this without scaring you, America, but I mean COME ON, AMERICA. Tonight was The Voice‘s first truly surprising elimination, ousting frontrunners Sarah Simmons and Judith Hill. That’s always a juicy milestone in a reality show’s season…except when it means that Sarah Simmons gets eliminated. There aren’t that many greats-in-waiting still waiting around. Was it something we did? Did we over-love Sarah? Trick question: That’s impossible.

We’ll get to the tragedy/travesty of the axed singers in a bit. First, let’s run down the rest of the hour, which included a bunch of duets and a lack of sadness. We’re reminded that Blake thinks his team brought its “A-game” last night while Adam thinks the women on his team have “ice water” in their veins. Did I catch that right in my notes: ice water? Because a) rude and b) did Adam know something we didn’t?

Carson tells us that tonight will be a night of special duets, and first up is Sheryl Crow, special dueting with the Team Blake foursome (not what a duet is) on Crow’s new single, “Easy.” They’re beneath three giant chandeliers, which reminds me that I one day want to own at least one giant chandelier. “Easy” is totally my mid-tempo jam that also totally showcases the smoothness of the group’s group-voice. But mid-tempo jams are usually for the GMA summer concert series before I’ve had three cups of coffee. It would have been nicer to see Team Blake get to sing and perform together. Sheryl Crow made Tuesday Night Music Club — sitting and strumming a guitar isn’t all she’s good for. Come on, America! (This is a recurring theme.)

Afterward, it’s time to check in with the judges, who all throw word spaghetti against Carson — a tangled bowl of “not playing it safe” and “don’t know how America will react.” Shakira is weirdly very harsh on her own song choices; Blake is unsurprisingly very rude to Adam (they’re bros!); and that whole thing with Usher and his glasses dies the first of several stupid deaths when Carson resolves their “feud.”

MOOD CHANGE: A week after Blake and Miranda’s gorgeous duet on “Over You” (so gorg), Carson tells us that the country coach has kept up working on behalf of Oklahoma disaster relief. Tonight, NBC will air “Healing the Heartland,” a benefit concert featuring Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, and more. The concert is partially the work of Blake. Also: “our partner” Starbucks donated $250,000 to OKStrong; also: you should donate money through Starbucks.

Also: We have duets to watch and Blake should be careful how often he whips out that customized Starbucks coffee cup — it’s both sentimental and nifty-keen and I would happily steal it.

NEXT: Sweet, sweet nothing

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First up from our Top 8 are Judith and Michelle dueting on Calvin Harris’ “Such Sweet Nothing.” The set design smashes a kaleidoscope against a dance club inside another kaleidoscope. Judith is rocking some blue eye shadow. Their voices sound lopsided in the opening bars: Judith’s fills a room like liquid; Michelle is narrow and sincere. I was all set to meh until they started singing on-top of one another, at which point I wanted to woo, happy to hear voices that blended rather than broke. It’s a nice change to see an up-tempo pop performance this season and enjoy it — instead of enjoying it because it isn’t slow or Southern.

Not-elimination time!

AMERICA SAVES: Michelle Chamuel

Usher is so excited! Michelle is probably also so excited but mostly shocked. Bonus: Meeting her mother, who was struck speechless, later in the evening up in the Christina Milian Skybox

Next dueting are The Swon Brothers and Sasha Allen, singing Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” The original track pre-programs its emotional moments — the runs are built into the melody and the Big Moments are built into the runs. Sasha and the brothers hit the runs (though Sasha’s big voice wants for deftness), just not really together. Compared to Judith and Michelle, the trio have barely any interpersonal chemistry, which would power the performance, despite Sasha’s repeated attempts to look anywhere, at anyone. Plus this was the first time this season that her natural emoting became uncomfortable, considering how little heft there was elsewhere on the stage. Who bought her those pants anyway? What’s their story?

AMERICA SAVES: Danielle Bradbery

Did Danielle know she would be saved? Carson drew out the tension as far as he could without breaking it, but she kept up a smirk while her teammates fretted. Real talk: I don’t like Danielle and I don’t know why — and I don’t know that I don’t like her, I just know that I don’t like being told how great she is when there is so much evidence pointing to how much work she still has to do. CliffNotes: Why was Danielle smirking? Because people smirk sometimes when they’re nervous.

Speaking of: Danielle and Sarah duet on Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” in a field of lanterns, which is a great idea in theory and execution. The bad news: Both women sound not-great on the song and not-great together, though they warm up away from the plodding first verse. Danielle is uncharacteristically flat at the start while being characteristically low-watt. Sarah’s feathery falsetto and complete commitment cover some of that over. She’s standing right next to you, Danielle, feeling something. Just do what she’s doing.

In a blink, the stage is back to its Voice-ian red (who else was a little jarred by the quick-fire transformation?) while Carson cues up another installment of confessionals.

Here’s what you didn’t know about our contestants and judges that you do now: Danielle loves cheesecake; the Swons love The Notebook (Lies! Holly says because maybe we should be friends); Usher loves “beautiful feet”; Adam loves feet as things that help you walk; Michelle eats straight-up lettuce (I’m going to start referring to most produce now as “straight-up”); everyone else pretends to eat straight-up lettuce; Judith is obsessed with superheroes; Amber thinks Blake and Adam could totally be a superheroic duo — Adam would not be the sidekick; and Sasha speaks for America when she says that Usher “does have a nice body.”

NEXT: So many things I don’t care about because Sarah goes home

AMERICA SAVES: Sasha Allen 

Shakira is so happy that she’s not kicked out of the competition that she runs to the stage, yelling with joy. And for our last duet, Amber and Holly tackle the Reba McEntire/Linda Davis song “Does He Love You,” which I’ve always liked better when it was sung by one person and called “Stay.” Tonight, both singers are stationed at separate pianos and made to sing at one another, a piece of staging that doesn’t account for the lack of requisite vamping necessary to make this work. Much better to just let Holly and Amber move about the stage (they do, eventually). Amber is good because obviously. But! Holly is also good — even as good — matching her forceful note for forceful note.

AMERICA SAVES: The Swon Brothers

Carson says, “I’m nervous.” Only women remain on the chopping block: Holly, Amber, Judith, and Sarah. (Also the Top 4 in our Voice power rankings a few weeks back. Good taste isn’t irony-proof.) Blake sinks deeper into thought/his chair with each second. No one looks at Shakira and Usher, who are probably unnecessarily happy.

And then!

AMERICA SAVES: Amber Carrington and Holly Tucker

AMERICA ELIMINATES: Sarah Simmons and Judith Hill

Like I said at the top of the recap, the first really bloody elimination is an inside-out nadir for every reality show — simultaneously making you hate it and yourself. Why do I care so much about a show that doesn’t care about me? Why doesn’t America like the people that I like? (Holly is usually so boring, yo.) Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with America?

This is the reality: Sarah and Judith were two of the season’s best performers, illustrating two of the most tried, most true competition tropes (the hidden gem and the ringer). Neither has given a bad performance and both have given great ones, which can’t be said for some of their remaining teammates. The Voice will almost certainly be less for losing them. My all-caps blogging will almost certainly be more obvious.

Tomorrow: more analysis and nostalgia (I’m already more sad-angry than angry-sad) from me and fellow Voice-er Samantha Highfill.

Tonight: Mourn those we lost, appreciate those we still have (Amber, Michelle, Adam’s polos), and thank heavens the sound mixing was finally as good as the night was sad.

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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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