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December 09, 2015 at 04:50 AM EST

It’s a bloodbath tonight on The Voice, as more than half of the Top Nine are suddenly cut from the season. Who was culled, and who made it through to next week’s finale? The results are not exactly what you’d expect. 

Before The Voice can really dive into the meat of the episode, season 3 winner Cassadee Pope opens the show with her song “I Am Invincible.” Season 9 hopefuls, behold your future. Cassadee doesn’t have Jordan’s range or Emily Ann’s gumption, but she does have an ease on stage that only comes with experience. She shows off more personality than most of the current contestants — but maybe she’s only free to do so now that there’s no pressure on her. That spunk keeps the performance from fading into a total snoozefest, but I’m eager to find out who our finalists are, and I have little time to listen to anyone who’s not in the Top Nine.

Except, of course, for Dolly Parton. Dolly, I would listen to you talk for hours about growing up in the Smoky Mountains with your 11 brothers and sisters. Whether she’s singing her classic songs that will outlive us all or just chatting it up with Carson, this lady knows how to tell a story. The veteran performer meets with the remaining nine contestants, who are visibly excited to be granted a private face-to-face (Emily Ann can barely keep her eyes in her head). She share a little advice (or “information,” as she puts it), and then we’re off to hear who’s the first safe singer of the night.

No surprise, it’s Jordan Smith. Jordan’s version of “Somebody to Love” went all the way to the No. 1 spot on iTunes last night, beating out Adele — a serious accomplishment. In fact, every performer but Shelby Brown made it into the iTunes Top 10, meaning it’s still a toss up over who will claim those final three spots in the finale. We learn who the next safe singer is right away: Emily Ann Roberts will also be sticking around.

That’s cool and all, but now it’s time for Dolly to perform. She sings her ‘70s hit “Coat of Many Colors” (it’s a tie-in to a TV movie of the same name NBC is putting on this week, based on her childhood). There is so much lure and legend surrounding Dolly Parton that it’s surprising to find how straightforward and real she is after so many years in the public eye. She’s nearly 70, and she can’t belt out all the notes like she used to, but she still gives a warm, gripping performance. Dolly is such a fun, sprightly figure, she could recite the phone book and I’d still be delighted to hear her. Thankfully, “Coat of Many Colors” is a much better story than the phone book.

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Once she heads off stage, Carson announces the third safe performer who’s heading to the finale: Barrett Baber made it through. Then Carson reveals which three of the six remaining artists will sing for the Instant Save and which three will leave the show right now. (I’m relieved that all six won’t be made to perform because splitting the Instant Save six ways could have led to some very awkward results.) The three singers who will sing for their lives are Jeffery Austin, Madi Davis, and Zach Seabaugh. Braiden Sunshine, Shelby Brown, and Amy Vachal’s journeys all end here. I’m shocked Amy didn’t make it into the top six this week, especially after placing so highly the past few episodes. 

NEXT: The choice is obvious

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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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