The final eight singers perform; coaches emphasize emotional excess over technical prowess

By Jennifer Arellano
Updated January 14, 2020 at 08:10 PM EST
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The Voice James Wolpert
Credit: NBC
S5 E20

If I could best encapsulate the vibe of Monday’s top eight performance show, it’s that it felt a lot like the set list at prom night. There was the eclectic mix of vaguely reggae tunes, the slow-dancers, the classic rock sing-a-longs. Stylistically, there were Rat Pack tuxedos and over-curled hair. There was the prom king (Sexiest Man Alive Coach Adam), prom queen (a svelte and subdued Christina Aguilera), and the class gossip (…Jay Leno? I’ll ‘splain later). And like a lot of high school dances, there was a whole lot of sentimentality (how many times did a coach say “I love you”?) and casual avoidance that this is their last night together (tomorrow is eliminations).

My strained teenage dance metaphor aside, Monday’s performances, for a whittled-down final eight singers, weren’t full of winners. They served to reinforce the remaining singers strengths’ and weaknesses. Ray Boudreaux can only sing soul-pop, Caroline Pennell is best at softer Lillith Fair-like tunes, and Tessanne Chin… can sing virtually anything. There were only two standouts for me tonight: James Wolpert’s Queen cover and Will Champlin’s gender-bending Etta James rendition.

In the celebrity guests department, a man no stranger to controversy stopped by. When there’s a Miley, surely a Thicke can’t be far away. Earlier in the season we saw Matthew Schuler cover Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” with great aplomb, if I may add. Though the princess of provocateur only appeared on the show in spirit, her twerking partner-in-crime, Robin Thicke, opened tonight’s show with a performance of “Feel Good.” He even took a trip to Carson Daly’s Skybox, where the falsetto-voiced singer proved generally uninteresting while thanking The Voice for his success.

Onto the night’s performances…

TEAM ADAM: James Wolpert

The song: “Somebody to Love” by Queen

The performance: This pairing is such a no-brainer that I’m surprised James hadn’t tackled this earlier during the competition. His stage production is built to match the classic rock gods’ bombast as James was engulfed by a fleet of suited up man-bots. This Freddie Mercury tune was the best use of James’ unique vibrato, cascading yelp, and showman confidence by far.

The feedback: “That is the tallest order, for a male vocalist to sing Freddie Mercury like that,” said Adam. Blake called his performance “maybe the best I’ve heard you sing so far.” Regarding the production value and grandiose tuxedo mafia, Christina said she felt like she was watching a Broadway show. Cee Lo called it “one of the absolutely best performances ever in the history of The Voice.”

TEAM ADAM: Tessanne Chin

The song: “Underneath It All” by No Doubt

The performance: Tessanne says she wants to show her “fun side” with this song choice. Adam wants her Jamaican heritage to start coloring her performances. On the stage, which by the way looked like a quasi Miami open-air nightclub, we definitely saw more of Tessanne’s casual singer side, with the spoken word, “reggae breakdown” bit. While I think Tessanne is a massive talent, and consistently powerhouse-worthy, she hasn’t really given us a showstopper in the way that James and Matthew have thus far. And this performance wasn’t it, either. I wanted to hear a lilting, more stripped-down version of her voice in the verses, but what we got was more diva, more of the same.

The feedback: Adam called her performance “the most well-rounded thing you could possibly sing on this show.” Cee Lo said she is “the immense beauty that was born out of that place.” And Christina is glad she got to hear Tessanne’s speaking voice bleed into her singing voice: “You were able to tap into your truth.”

NEXT: Florence and the Cotton Candy Machine…

TEAM CEE LO: Caroline Pennell

The song: “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine

The performance: The fate of Cee Lo’s team rests on little Caroline Pennell’s shoulders. As she’s his final singer left, and as she was in last week’s bottom three, Cee Lo is hell bent on playing it risky. His “surprising” choice is a song that I think is better suited to Matthew Schuler, who tackled a Florence tune earlier. Onstage, Caroline sugars up the slow-burning power-belter, singing it like it was a sweet jingle to a suburban grocery store commercial instead of a yearning, epic anthem. It severely lacked the fierceness and power of the Florence Welch original.

The feedback: Cee Lo proclaims that he has written something, and after a few confusing saccharine lines, ends with this: “You are the only thing that matters to me at this moment.” Adam calls her rendition “bold and exciting,” and adds, “You did the best thing you could possibly do at this time.”

GROUP PERFORMANCE: Ray, Cole, Tessanne, and Will

The song: “One Day” by Matisyahu

The performance: Ray and Will were out of their element here. Tessanne’s voice levitated above everyone else’s, but honorable mention goes to Cole, whose usual folksy styling revealed a great gift for melody. Anyone else think a Tessanne and Cole duet would be just dreamy?

TEAM BLAKE: Cole Vosbury

The song: “I Still Believe In You” by Vince Gill

The performance: Blake says he wants America “to realize how deep Cole is.” This song is Cole’s most emotional performance to date. While showing a sensitive and smooth side is essential for displaying his versatility, what bothered me about this was that Cole sang it like a Boyz II Men song, and after a while I just wanted the real thing.

The feedback: Blake seemed to love it, saying this is “the first time we’ve had a chance to hear all the character in your voice.” “You made country proud,” he added.

TEAM CHRISTINA: Matthew Schuler

The song: “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons

The performance: I was expecting to be wowed, but it’s been a two-week drought since his transcendent Top 12 rendition of “Hallelujah”. But Coach Christina is more concerned with the accoutrements, enlisting her own choreographer, who’s auspiciously named Jeri Slaughter, to garner a backup, fist-pumping, dance army to bolster Schuler’s singing. This one was a miss for me; all I heard was power and no heartfelt enunciation.

The feedback: Christina had nothing but praise for her star student: “You come from a place of integrity,” she said.

GROUP PERFORMANCE: Caroline, Jacquie, Matthew, and James

The song: “Lego House” by Ed Sheeran

The performance: This was the epitome of cute and harmless. Everyone sings softly, and when gentle, harmonious singing is the name of the game, Caroline excels.

NEXT: “I need a lover with soul power”

TEAM ADAM: Will Champlin

The song: “At Last” by Etta James

The performance: Does Will do children’s birthday parties? Because this man is full of surprises. I was bowled over for yet another week by his seemingly spontaneous combustion of clutch performances. Not only is this a loaded, legendary song, it’s sung by a powerful, one-of-a-kind woman. Will made every word just drip with feeling. My favorite performance of the night.

The feedback: “You just wanna nail the highest possible note in the history of music,” said Adam. “I love that ambition!” And Christina, who knows the song by heart, was impressed: “It was cool hearing a guy singing it.”

TEAM BLAKE: Ray Boudreaux

The song: “Gimme Some Lovin'” by The Spencer Davis Group

The performance: I think that Blake could have given Ray more to work with than his usual soul-pop fall backs. We’ve heard Ray sing in this vein before and it’s pretty boring at this point. Well, except for the part where it looked like he was about to be engulfed by a coven of hungry hybrid singer-dancers. Hey, no touching!

The feedback: Nonetheless, Blake was impressed with the whole production: “Ray has got some style, some swag!” Cee Lo said he’s going to “start calling you Sugar Ray.”

TEAM CHRISTINA: Jacquie Lee

The song: “Who’s Lovin’ You” by The Jackson 5

The performance: Coach Christina’s tiny diva that could closes out the show with a searing rendition of the Motown tune. Christina again enlists her trusty choreographer to inject some fighting spirit into Jacquie’s performance. Yes, she’s extremely talented for her age, but I’m starting to get desensitized to her consistent power-play performances. What does her non-belting voice sound like?

The feedback: Christina professes, “I love you so much, Jacquie.” Adam is still bewildered at the “conviction” in her voice despite her young age. And Cee Lo gets the last word and the single best line of the night: “It’s like you swallowed an old lady or something.”

Parting Thoughts:

-Did Matthew drop the ball tonight or has he merely raised the bar too high with his past performances?

-Did anyone think it was weird when Jay Leno was giving Ray and Cole advice on the pettiness and illusory state of Hollywood? cough...Team Coco! cough… (that’s an actual one; it’s cold out here for a Voice fan.)

-Did you feel like you were watching the cream of the crop with Monday’s performances?

Who were your favorites? Who do you think will be in the bottom three? Let us know in the comments.

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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