Two performances in one night proves to be a little too much for most of the artists.

By Jodi Walker
May 05, 2015 at 05:42 AM EDT
Tyler Golden/NBC

The Voice

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As soon as Carson announced that one of the Top 6 artists’ two performances tonight would be dedicated to their mothers, I knew I would spend half of this Voice episode crying because I simply can’t watch mothers tearfully be proud of their children without also getting misty. But I did not imagine that the other side of that performance coin would involve quite so much rocking out—or attempts to rock out, as was sometimes the case. The coaches are really starting to fly fast and loose with the staging and song choice freedom and it’s making some artists pop, some try a little too hard, and some seem totally boring by comparison.

The opportunity to give more than one performance in an episode highlighted the difference between the contestants who are confident and consistent in their artistry versus those who are willing to throw a bunch of options up in the air and see what lands. As a result, I’m guessing that tomorrow’s results might highlight the reason the show just can’t seem to produce a star: Being an artist with a strong enough point of view to make an interesting record after the show doesn’t really matter when it comes to grabbing the Voice win. A large chunk of what matters in advancing are iTunes sales, and sometimes that just means singing a song that people will want to buy every week… and that had a pretty wide range of interpretations in tonight’s song choices.

The best performances are worth $1.29 or they’re worth a rewind, but they’re not always worth both. The show just might get lucky this season in having a winning overlap in a contestant who can sell songs and a contestant with a signature point of view; but with such an odd assortment of genres styles from each artist tonight, prepare for mixed opinions in the comments on who that artist is, probably not agreeing with any of the commentary below, and what I’m predicting to be a couple of surprising exits tomorrow night…

India Carney (TEAM CHRISTINA)

“Glory” by John Legend and Common, from the movie Selma

Tonight, the judges were all about talking when people have “popped” throughout the competition; I pretty much always disagree with them on that timing and India is the perfect example. For me, “Glory,” popped a brief glimpse of the artist that India could be if she won—this seemed like the first time she was really feeling a song rather than just trying to make us think she was feeling it. But for some reason…

“Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith

…Adam described India’s Sam Smith cover as the performance that made her a frontrunner. Eh. I thought it started off nicely and then it just went off the rails once she went into her high register with an excess of vibrato.

Joshua Davis (TEAM ADAM)

“Desire” by U2

I loved the idea of Joshua doing something more up-tempo, but I cringed a bit at the execution. Joshua has a great voice, but he’s not exactly the kind of artist who can front a band with three backup singers.

“In My Life” by The Beatles

But he is the kind of singer who can stand in the middle of a stage and sing meaningfully about his wife (his Mother’s Day guest). This wasn’t the most exciting performance, but it sure was lovely, and I say if people were moved enough to clap along, then let them clap however they want to, Adam.

NEXT: Rock Ballerina and Steamroll Soul…

Koryn Hawthorne (TEAM PHARRELL)

“Everybody Hurts” by REM

Well, this was a surprising set of performances for Koryn. I’ve realized that Koryn is the type of singer who can make just about every cover her own, even songs that are completely overdone on shows like these, but the other side of that, is that her reworking of songs tends to make them all sound kind of the same. I just happen to like that sound, especially when it’s an emotional shoutout to her mom who’s worked so hard to support her daughter’s dream and is working overtime in the audience not to break down into sobs.

“Dream On” by Aerosmith

But just because Koryn can put her inspiration-stamp (copyright, Pharrell) on just about everything, doesn’t mean she should. I felt a lot like how Koryn’s brother looked at the end of her rock performance: Laughing in disbelief that little Koryn had really just gone all the way in on a rock song, but also maybe a little too disbelieving.

Kimberly Nichole (TEAM CHRISTINA)

“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty

Yes, tonight had a lot of people trying to show their range but ending up way too far outside their lane to give a believable performance. I loved the sentiment behind Kimberly’s ode to her mother’s free spiritedness, but everything about the performance felt a little too constrained to convey the sentiment, including the high key and seated beginning.

“Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson

Good thing, then, that the pendulum swung in the other direction for Kimberly’s second performance. I’ve always most enjoyed the rock side of Kimberly’s because I feel like it’s the side she most enjoys about herself. And that leads to a performance and a vocal that is full of energy, commitment, and star quality. Was it a little over the top? Sure. But you’ve only got a few chances to show what your Super Bowl performance would be if you won this thing, so why not strap on a snakeskin cloak and strut down a catwalk in thigh high boots?

Meghan Linsey (TEAM BLAKE)

“Steamroller Blues” by James Taylor

Surely the feedback that Meghan’s performances tend to feel a little like she’s screaming at you has made it back to her coach, so I’m not sure why Blake would have Meghan scream at us about being an actual steamroller unless they’re actively trolling all of us.

“Amazing Grace”

So, I was so very surprised and thankful to get this elegant and controlled second performance out of Meghan. Her opening a cappella verse made me wish she did all of her performances without instruments. Her voice is such a force, she really benefited from not having a single thing to back it up for those first few moments, and when the instrument that eventually did come in to guide her through the melody was an organ, it was all the more surprising and lovely. It felt a lot like reassurance that Meghan doesn’t think soul is just singing your audience in submission, and it was nice to see her show a softer side around her mom, as well.

Sawyer Fredericks (TEAM PHARRELL)

“Shine On” by Daisy May Erlewine

Sawyer is always emotive when he performs, but in performing this song for his mom, he seemed a little more vulnerable tonight—like the kid he actually is—and as Adam said, that made this performance particularly engaging.

“Take Me to the River” by Al Green, as covered by The Commitments

And it’s a good thing he got that external connection in there with the first song because I have absolutely no idea what Sawyer did for the entirety of his Al Green cover because I was so busy laughing at the go-go dancers Pharrell had surrounded him with. It made no sense, as Blake said, it only served to highlight how still Sawyer is when he performs with or without a guitar, but it also made me laugh so hard that I think I ended up liking it. But, seriously, never do that to Sawyer again, Pharrell.

Episode Recaps

What did you think of tonight’s twofer performances? Do the contestants with the iTunes sales have the semi-finals in the bag, or can the fringe artists keep themselves in this until they get the record deal they’ve been dreaming of?

The Voice

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

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