The invincible Team Blake suffers a blow and an old favorite comes home

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The Voice Cassadee Pope
Credit: NBC
S4 E23

Circle up, y’all: A lot has already been said about The Voice and its fascination with and fetishization of country music — and, by extension, the man the show sees as the genre’s maestro, the finger-pointing, professionally rude Blake Shelton. We’ve written about this problem. I’ve elbowed at it multiple times in these recaps. The Voice‘s fourth season will go down as a country season and it will go down the whole time telling everyone what a surprise it was that this was even possible, streaked by a stubbornness to an idea that country music is something to be embraced instead of, y’know, enjoyed.

And still it bears repeating: Blake Shelton has not not produced a viable country singer from The Voice (hiya, Cassadee). “Okie from Muskogee” is a very bad example of very good country music. And, like, Carrie Underwood has multiple multi-platinum albums and Miranda Lambert first broke-through on Nashville Star and Taylor Swift is one of the most famous female musicians in the world and they are all country musicians, equally diverse in their successes and their songs, so why do I have to keep typing?

But true story: There’s so much real talent squeezed in between the phony messaging. Tonight’s results show (I should start calling them variety hours; they’re more song-and-dance than hanging ax) drove both points home. After all, Team Blake is the last group with more than one performer. There are also at least three really solid performers left. The two categories do not necessarily overlap. Let’s run it down:

The night begins with a homecoming: Cassadee Pope, last year’s winner and a Team Blake alumna, is back to debut her first single, “Wasting All These Tears.” She’s surrounded by drapery and spotlights and singing a song that cross-pollinates an Avril Lavgine chorus with Vanessa Carlton verses. Girl’s singing faces are try-y but her moves are just trying. It’s an impossibly minor song — but am I the only one who thought that Kelly Clarkson would have killed it? Then the drapery all falls away and Cassadee starts to stomp. Those last notes are so nice that we can all just forget about her shaky, longer, middle-r notes.

NEXT: Michelle and Sasha go clubbin’

After the performance, Carson gives Cassadee a big, post-song hug and she tells America to “just be proud of yourself.” What do the judges think about tonight? Adam says that Amber has so much more potential, and will only keep growing. His eyebrows surpass his blazer as the best-looking thing about him. Shakira promises more Sasha Fierce-ness from Sasha (shhh, you’ll wake Queen Bey) and has even been reading the “press,” which told her that her last contestant might be the Next Big Thing. Usher’s still basking in Michelle’s sustained standing ovation last night but then Blake barges in in the most obnoxious way possible and, sure, dude is charming but isn’t he also supposed to be a gentleman?

The night will be a night of duets, we’re told, like this is something new. What is new is the pairing of Michelle and Sasha, who have dissimilar — but complementary? — voices, matched on Madonna’s “Open Your Heart.” The stage is all bright-bright with waving electronic images and Sasha is Sasha-ing all over the song, turning its move-me rhythm into a watch-me showcase. But she keeps smiling and it’s an unexpected stroke of sincerity through the bombast. Indeed, after leading each other around the stage (meh) for the middle part of the song, Michelle and Sasha find a groove — and each other — in one corner. They start having fun; the ending is, yes yes, groove-y. I take it all back!

And then…

America saves: Michelle Chamuel

Up in the Skybox, Christina chats with Michelle and Cassadee, who makes a fake-y “yay” sound(/face) that I find really annoying. You have weird highlights! Stop making me so catty! Meanwhile, Carson wants us all to really focus on his joke about Blake’s drinking during the show before tossing to a pre-taped segment about Blake’s raising more than $6 million for Oklahoman disaster relief.

America saves: Sasha Allen

Holly and The Swons pair up for a duet on The Wreckers’ “Leave the Pieces” which is so much better than their version that it’s instructional. All three hit their notes; better, they hit their harmonies (A++). But they don’t act like they’re actually singing together, no matter how many times Colton (now clearly packaged as the “cute Swon”) looks past Holly’s lovely loose ponytail and into her eyes. I’m wondering, Where’s the sense of loss and letting-be or letting-go, of love and lust and much anything but prettiness? Country music is pleasing. It’s popular, so of course it is. But it isn’t just pleasing — too bad Team Blake pleases so hard. And can we talk about the set design? I like to extrapolate and assume Blake moonlights as the ghost of William Inge.

NEXT: America saves a blonde

Carson marshals the rest of the six. Danielle, what would you be doing right now, as a teenager, if you weren’t competing in a national singing competition as a teenager? Stuff, Carson. Things.

America saves: Danielle Bradbery

For the night’s last duet, Amber and Danielle take on The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” and it is clearly both too slow and too low for Danielle in the beginning; she’s lost inside the rhythm for the first bar or two. (Those hand movements! C++) Amber is better, with an easy vocal and facial control: She can belt and smile (and and and). Of course it’s enjoyable, but not flawless. I blame the masses of swaying limbs which crowd around the corners of the screen and make me write nasty things in my notes. Plus, I wish both had had a reason to sing together, instead of just with each other. Amber hits a glory note and Danielle follows suit — but girl should watch it. She was sharp.

America saves: Amber Carrington

(Bonus: Adam “collapses” onto the stage in relief before grabbing Amber in a hug and repeating, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Hear that, America?)

Blake’s face is already darkening as The Swon Brothers and Holly Tucker are left alone on the stage with Carson and a general sense of doom. It’s been weeks since one of them was offed and still, it was probably time for one of them to go — or haven’t you read our power rankings?

America saves: The Swon Brothers/America eliminates: Holly Tucker

At this point in the competition, I think it was Holly’s time — an easy platitude that should do nothing to discredit her talent and her straight-down-the-middle path to mid-’00s success. I really liked you, Holly! And then I didn’t all that much, but it was nice for a while.

Are you sad to see Holly go? Do you think this means that Amber is really in the middle-bottom of the Top 5? (Gulp.) And will you be buying Cassadee Pope’s new single. (It’s liiiiiiiiiiiiiive on iTunes.)

Episode Recaps

The Voice - Season 14

The Voice

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

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