The Voice recap: I Am Levine Going on Seventeen
Contestants vie for "breakout moments," but only a few manage it. Meanwhile, Adam Levine hits new heights of blonde.
Let’s talk about the most important thing first: Adam Levine has bleached his hair. Not to a light dusting of blonde that might grace one’s tips in the late ’90s, but no, full blonde that calls for a host of comparisons to a slew of familiar blonde faces. Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. Billy Idol. Tilda Swinton. Meg Ryan. The Goombas in the Super Mario Bros. movie. Rolf in The Sound of Music. Miley Cyrus in Miley Cyrus.
Sigh. I can’t harp on Adam tonight because there were plenty of divine artists to gush about—plus Kat Perkins—and I’d just like to get started right away. It’s the Top 8, a phrase I haven’t heard since my MySpace days, and certainly a phrase I hope never to hear again.
Performer #1: Sisaundra Lewis
Gasp: Sisaundra is singing “River Deep, Mountain High.” One of my absolute favorite songs, especially when performed by someone who can match the sheer crazy-before-crazy-was-a-bad-thing power of Tina Turner. And you know Sisaundra is more crackers than a pre-school lunchbox, so this is truly a match made in vocal heaven. (Let’s also acknowledge that Gwen Sebastian, a former back-up singer and standout contestant in season two, is on hand to consult, thereby becoming The Voice’s own twisted version of Travis Wall.)
Sis emerges like a grand dame, dressed like Aida by way of Alexander McQueen. She begins her performance not with any slow, easing-in approach, no. That’s not Sis’s style, and you know it, we know it, Sis knows it, and even Adam’s awful new hair knows it. No, Sisaundra doesn’t do subtle—she’s on full blast all the way through, but this song is all power, so it works. I can’t even understand the lyrics in the last third because she’s just yelling, but it’s the most gorgeous, diva-ready yelling ever, like if Jennifer Holliday was scolding you. If you don’t like Sisaundra, this performance is basically everything you hate about her, and if you do like her, then you might think she’s never been better. Both are accurate responses.
The added gimmick of the evening is that Sisaundra’s something-genarian mother is in attendance. She hasn’t been to a single performance of Sisaundra’s that wasn’t in a church, which could suggest that (1) she has no interest (2) Sisaundra only performs in seedy nightclubs and youth establishments (3) Sisaundra performs in church every week and thus she sees enough of her as is (4) she’s a Bria Kelly fan.
Either way, Sisaundra’s mom doesn’t cry. She kind of looks a little confused. I assume she enjoyed the performance, but she’s got Elderly Resting Face so I really don’t know for sure. Am I heartless that I still don’t buy Sisaundra’s tears? I mean, I feel for you, girl. I made my parents go to every one of my horrible school plays and musicals, and she couldn’t get her mom to see her with Celine Dion. It’s rough. But Sisaundra WANTS you to see her cry, which in turn makes me not want to see her cry.
Performer #2: Josh Kaufman
The last remaining member of Team Usher is singing “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which couldn’t fit more perfectly in Josh’s adorable bespectacled wheelhouse. It’s Josh’s uncanny ability to make any soft song into an absolute power ballad, and this song is one of those that just begs to be transformed. Josh does an unsurprisingly stellar job. I don’t want to exaggerate or anything, but he transcends time and space while he sings. But you know, I don’t like hyperbole.
Shakira throws me for a confusing little loop. “There are artists in this world and there are artists with good taste, and I think that you belong to the second group.” So, like, he’s not a part of this world, but he has good taste? Are those mutually exclusive? Blake says Josh was perfect, and Ush says it was his greatest performance of the season. I wouldn’t disagree—it was damn near perfect—although I still have very fond memories of “Stay With Me.”
NEXT: “Kat Perkins does a little Daft Punk” (nooooo) Remember Gwen Sebastian from two minutes (and, prior to that, two years) ago? She’s back and singing with Blake. Maybe this is all a big plot to make Gwen “happen?” I like her, so I won’t make a joke about “Stop trying to make Gwen happen, it’s not going to happen.” But there, I just did.
Performer #3: Kat Perkins
The most important thing about Kat’s performance is that Adam brings in Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, thereby teaching America that the other four members of Maroon 5 have names and one of them is James Valentine. This is invaluable information for an inevitable Final Jeopardy round in 2041.
Kat, in an effort to have “a breakout moment,” chooses to sing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and she’s trying to put a heavy metal rock spin on it. It’s an interesting choice, and rehearsal suggests that I am going to just hate this performance—let’s remember, given who’s left in the Top 8, Kat is my #1 pick to be eliminated tomorrow—but lo and behold, her actual performance is exactly what I feared, and the audience is eating it up.
Confession: the arrangement is pretty awesome. Kat is just okay. Singing about phoenixes (cover your ears, Fawkes) and planets and “raising the baah” and “going too faah,” she’s got electric stage presence, but do the vocals back it up? Not quite. Still, the audience is going crazy for it, as is Adam and the rest of the coaching panel, so I fear that this performance might actually give Kat some momentum into the Top 5, BUT if I really had to put my money where my mouth is, I’d still say Kat is in the bottom three this week and possibly (probably) going home.
Performer #4: Kristen Merlin
Shining like Gwen Stacy and Justin Timberlake when his hair looked like ramen, Kristen is a vision in her Mennonite shirt and vest, hard at work in rehearsal with Shakira. She’s singing “I Drive Your Truck,” which on its surface is a pretty hilarious title, until I learn that it’s about dead soldiers and sentimental big rigs. Eeeeek.
As much as I adore Kristen, the song is a little flat—not in pitch, but in excitement and, frankly, emotion. Yep, I said it. I just wasn’t moved the way I have been by performers in the past. Josh can turn slow songs into necessary listening, and Jake can make any ballad a dream, but the pacing on Kristen’s performance really doesn’t scream for engagement. I’m sure she’ll still get a ton of support from F150 owners across the country, but I’m a little underwhelmed by her tonight. Am I alone? Oof, probably.
Pharrell hits the stage for his big I’m-a-coach-now debut, and he’s basically recruited a group of high schoolers from a Color Me Mine birthday party to dance backup. It’s pleasant. He’s got a new hat, too.
Performer #5: Delvin Choice
Much like when T.J. Wilkins sang “I’ll Be,” singing “I Believe I Can Fly” should be forbidden…but I suppose if somebody has to sing it, it should be Delvin. And it’s hard to ignore the feels when Delvin breaks down (see, Sisaundra! That’s how you do tears!) while rehearsing. It convinces Adam to allow the otherwise overdone song onto the show, and I think it ultimately worked to Delvin’s advantage.
Despite the cliché of the song, it’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that, yes, reeks of familiarity, but Delvin makes it at least feel like it was a special moment for both us and him. The audience goes nuts, much like they did for Kat, but Delvin actually deserves it. I’m not dying to say it was Delvin’s best performance or his big breakout, but it will probably become his most memorable performance, as this song often does for contestants on competitions like this.
NEXT: Jake goes full redneck! (It’s okay, he said it, so I can say it.)
Performer #6: Audra McLaughlin
In the pre-package, we learn that Blake reads things about the show, which makes me sincerely hope he doesn’t read my recap (uh oh).
Ever since Audra bounced back, she’s been a wildly dominant force. In the company of Josh, Delvin, Sisaundra, and Christina, Audra has one of those power voices—but even as I’m mentioning those other four, I have to say that Audra really has the most consistent, market-ready sound. She sounds like a certified country star already, and I can’t imagine she won’t sail right through to the Top 5.
Gwen Stefani is suddenly on my screen and she’s singing “Hollaback Girl,” because she bizarrely doesn’t have a new song to promote so instead she decides to mumble her way through this 2004 ditty. She kind of fakes her way through some of the lyrics, but it’s a nice—if unexpected and unnecessary—throwback trip. I will say, I’m really excited to see what Gwen has to offer to the coaching chair. But we could definitely do without seeing this performance ever again.
Performer #7: Jake Worthington
Other artists are trying tonight to have “breakout moments,” but all Jake wants to do is show off his “redneck side,” and I didn’t realize how much I’d been dying for it until I see it. This is a fun Jake that we really haven’t gotten to see too often, and I’m on board! Fun Jake is so much better than Endearing Jake or Misty-Eyed Jake.
I’d like to pose this intriguing question, though: if the Top 3 only has room for one country artist next to, say, the hypothetical combo of Josh and Delvin, would you pick Audra or Jake? I’ve always loved Jake and think he’s just the tops, but Audra is actually the one whose album I’d actually listen to, while Jake’s is the YouTube channel I would subscribe to.
Performer #8: Christina Grimmie
We begin on Christina in full sad hoodie mode, after Bria and Tess have just been eliminated. Apparently they were best friends? Who even knew!?
As we finish the Top 8, Christina’s task is solidifying herself as a contestant who can’t possibly be eliminated. With this night-ending, neon-tastic performance, I couldn’t say that she’s a lock, but she remains one of the most exciting artists left if only because we really have no idea what Christina will do each week. Josh will be soulful, Kat will pretend to rock, Delvin and Sisaundra and Jake and Audra and Kristen will do their same genre jam, but Christina remains a fun surprise. That’s the intrigue that could bring her to the Top 5.
After tonight, I’m inclined to say that the bottom three will pick from Christina, Kat Perkins, Sisaundra Lewis, and Kristen Merlin. Will I be right? Tune in tomorrow!