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"This may be the best episode of 'The Voice' we've ever had," declared Blake Shelton during this Monday's top 10 "Voice" episode--and you know, he may've been right. It was an evening positively packed with stellar performances, so much so that I truly cannot predict which two talented contestants will, sadly, go home on Tuesday night.
All I can say is: CODY BELEW BETTER NOT BE ONE OF THEM.
Readers, usually I recap "The Voice," and other TV talent shows, in sequential order, from the first contestant (i.e., the one in the "death spot") to the last ("the pimp spot"). But sometimes, I just can't help myself, and I have to skip ahead. So allow me to start this Monday's top 10 recap with a couple of fawning paragraphs about Team Cee Lo's Cody "Bam-Bam" Belew, who actually sang fourth this week.
Cody, with his Southern sass and soul, has long been one of my favorites of "The Voice" Season 3, ever since he first auditioned with "Hard To Handle" and practically jumped in Cee Lo Green's lap, like Purrfect The Cat herself, when he got picked for the Red Zone team. But since that performance, Cody has toned down the "little bit of bam-bam" that he brought to show, choosing to sing more traditional, buttoned-up balladry instead. Last week, a disappointed Christina Aguilera lamented this fact, and said she longed for more "bopping around" from Cody.
Well, clearly Cody was listening.
This week, Cody paraded out in a one-shouldered leather contraption that basically looked like Michael Jackson's "Bad" jacket, Rose McGowan's 1998 VMAs chainmail dress, and everything Seth Aaron ever designed on "Project Runway" Season 7, thrown all at once into a shredder. He sang Beyonce's go-go hit "Crazy In Love." He was flanked by two backup dancers, one of whom may or may not have been his former Battle Rounds sparring partner, Domo--and he outdanced them both. He served a little bit of Glambert realness at times. He left the audience panting for more...and then he gave them more, by quipping, "Wait, I ain't done yet!" and doing a boogie that he later described as "three parts attitude, one part hip action." And a gazillion parts awesomeness, of course.
So, was that enough bam-bam for you, Christina?
Apparently it was. "You worked it like a true diva! Heyyyyyy," exclaimed Xtina, sassily saluting Cody with a "Men On Film" Z-formation fingersnap. Said Adam Levine, "Man, you're so cocky--but in the best way! You make me look humble. It's awesome!" Even Blake dug this rodeo boy's performance. "Is this the same guy who sang 'Jolene'? I enjoyed that, and I'm confused--in a good way," Blake said. "I guarantee everybody in Arkansas is going, 'Did we raise this boy?'"
Well, hopefully the people in Arkansas, and elsewhere, will just vote. Cody's wild leatherman spectacle probably wasn't everyone's cup of chardonnay, and considering that Cody wasn't voted through before when he did a more conservative performance (he was Cee Lo's personal pick for the top 12), this risky number may backfire on him. But if he does go out this week, he'll go out with a bang. And with a bam-bam.
Nothing else on Monday evening was quite as eyebrow-raising, eye-popping, or side-splitting as Cody's Sasha Fierce show, but as I said a few paragraphs ago, there were many other excellent performances. Here's how everyone else did...
Sylvia Yacoub - I've been having a bit of an identity crisis with Sylvia. At first I thought she was just one of the many interchangeable Aguilera mini-me's on Team Xtina, but then a couple weeks ago, she showcased her Bareilles/Perri/Amos side with a game-changing "One That Got Away" performance that made me think she was more of a coffeehouse songstress type. But then, last week, she performed an ill-advised MOR Celine Dion cover, and I wondered who the REAL Sylvia Yacoub really is. This week, with a cover of Alicia Keys's "Girl On Fire"--quite a current song choice--she got to incorporate both sides of her dual personality, and it all started to make sense to me. Although I preferred the first part of her performance, when she was back on her piano bench, over the second half, when she sprinted into the audience, overall, this was a very strong effort from Sylvia. "You're becoming increasingly more confident. A solid performance!" said Cee Lo. "That was your most polished, refined, in-control performance I've seen you do. I'm totally blown away," said Adam. Said Blake: "It is tough to be the first person to sing, because by the end of the night, a lot of people forget you...but I think a lot of people will have a hard time forgetting that performance." But of course, Blake said this before he'd seen the other great performances to come...
Terry McDermott - Making his way through the Great North American '70s/80s songbook, one AOR anthem at a time, this week Team Blake's Scottish rocker took on Bryan Adams's "Summer Of '69," wisely doing yet another Camaro-rock classic that Middle Americans will eat up like a Scotsman gobbling up a heaping helping of haggis. Yes, maybe some Bryan Adams purists (I'm sure there are some of you out there) were irked by the liberties Terry took with the melody, but this was another arena-worthy performance by the rock revivalist with the big pipes and big hair. "You're always so spot-on. It's fun to watch you, because you actually sing on your tiptoes. It's cute," said Christina. Said Cee Lo, "You reminded me of everything that I genuinely love about rock 'n' roll. I've become such a fan of yours, I'm ready to hear your own music!" Said Adam: "I get angry every time I watch you, because I really wanted you on my team." I think Adam has reason to be mad. Terry could actually win this whole show. His perfect combo of U.K. cool and meat-'n'-potatoes heartland rawk makes him a sure frontrunner in this game.
Melanie Martinez - How fitting for the girl with the black-and-white striped hair to do a song by the White Stripes (a song she fought hard for, according to her coach, Adam). "Seven Nation Army," a dark and stormy and at times even ferocious song, was a real challenge for such a soft-spoken little girl, but this was Melanie's best performance yet, by far. The fight she had in her when she insisted on covering this song came out, and she was feistier and tougher and louder than ever--and she was playing guitar again, too! I really enjoyed watching and hearing Melanie take what she does to an entirely new level, and so did the judges. "I'm so glad you're back to playing an instrument again...that's an important part of who you are. If there was one artist on this show I wish I could work with, it's you," confessed Blake. "I've been waiting for you to jump off that cliff and raise the bar for yourself. I do see you were trying to push yourself more with that," admitted an impressed (but not impressed enough) Christina." Raved Cee Lo, "That was ubercool, one of the coolest things that happened this season!" Side note: You know what was also ubercool? Melanie's photo-print dress, patterned with her own original photography. Does Melanie have an Etsy site I can buy that from?
Bryan Keith - Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind" was a timely song choice in this post-Sandy age, and Team Adam's Bryan certainly sang it well--the man is seemingly incapable of hitting a bum note, and he is a consummate professional through and through. But I'm starting to find him a little boring. Sure, he's a smooth and solid singer, but I can't imagine ever buying his records. (Then again, no one from "The Voice" ever sells records. But still.) However, when Blake compared Bryan to the mega-million-selling Michael Buble, I realized just how popular Bryan could be, and just how likely it is that he could make it all the way to the finale. "I'm seeing this other side of you I didn't see in the beginning; your attitude reminds me of Michael Buble, this laid-back, easygoing thing that you have. I've become a big fan of yours," said Blake. "I can feel that you're really enjoying yourself up there. You're connecting with what you're singing, and that's so important," said Christina. And then Cee Lo gave the most awkward/amusing critique of the night, when he said, "What I love about your voice is you sing like a man's man. To sing that song, you gotta have a pair. You feel me?" (Eek!) But yes, I think America is feeling Bryan Keith right now--even if I am not.
Amanda Brown - After a slight fall from grace last week (with a Florence + The Machine cover that in no way approached the greatness of her previous week's "Dream On"), Team Adam's Amanda needed a real comeback this week. Thankfully, she chose wisely when it came to her song this time, and she pulled it off. Grace Potter's "Stars" may have been the most obscure song choice of the night, but Amanda's performance of it sounded like a hit. She seemed so much more comfortable than she had covering Florence's "Spectrum" in a mermaid gown last week, and everything about her performance just flowed. And she must have known she'd done well, because by the end, she crying what looked tears of relief and joy. "Again, you impressed me. If you win this entire thing, I'll always feel I discovered you first," joked Cee Lo (Amanda had originally been on Team Cee Lo, before Adam stole her away), "but I could never be selfish with a voice like yours." Blake admitted he didn't know the Potter song (sheesh, I was sure at least he'd be familiar with it), but pointed out, "That is the way that I would want to be introduced to that song. That was magical. That was the girl who sang 'Dream On.'" Only Christina, who seems to think Amanda is the one contestant on this show suffering from an identity crisis, griped, "Every week, I feel something different with you is going on. Was that country?" Um, so what if it was, a bit? Christina actually sang a country duet from her Lotus album, "Just A Fool," with Blake at the start of Monday's episode--so what's wrong with Amanda being a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, too?
Nicholas David - Last week's Huey Lewis cover was just lame--a song choice that sucked all the cool and all the soul out of Nicholas--but this week, doing Bill Withers's "Lean On Me," Nicholas was back in his element and back in the game (not that he was ever really out of the game). He had a choir behind him and a piano in front of him, and he really took "The Voice" to church. (He also looked like he'd taken himself to Hanson's hairdresser, rocking a sleekly flat-ironed look that worked surprisingly well on him.) "That was so soothing for my soul...that was a homerun for you," said the equally flat-ironed Christina. "I'm a huge fan. Bravo, my friend," said Adam. "It's almost like we're watching a musical legend perform," said Blake. "I hear the voice of a generation," said Nicholas's proud coach, Cee Lo. Keep this guy away from the Huey Lewis songbook on future episodes, and he actually could win this show.
Trevin Hunte - Team Cee Lo's chosen one seemed unstoppable before this week, but this Monday, he showed us that even he is not perfect. Basically, despite Adam's insistence that Trevin could "sing the dictionary," Trevin proved that he could only pull off singing the dictionary if it was in ballad form. Uptempo numbers are just not his forte. I understand why he wanted to try (against Cee Lo's wishes) to perform Usher's "Scream" this week--after weeks of slow, traditional, conservative performances, he was getting some minor flak for never switching it up, and Trevin said during this week's rehearsal, "I think that America has forgotten that I am 18 years old." So kudos to him for at least taking a risk and trying something youthful and contemporary. It just didn't work. He sounded winded, he seemed unfocused, and his stage moves were awkward. For the first time this season, he didn't seem like a shoo-in, which was a bit shocking. (Okay, Trevin, experiment over--back to ballads for you next week, assuming you do make it through to next week.) But the coaches, refusing to acknowledge the obvious fact that Trevin had made a rare stumble, were all way too kind. "This isn't my favorite moment you've had, but I truly believe that you could sing anything," assured Adam. "This was my favorite moment from you. Good for you. You were living," said a deluded Christina. "I trusted you, and I'm glad that it paid off," said an also-deluded Cee Lo. I disagreed. Cee Lo was right the first time when he advised Trevin not to do "Scream," and Trevin should have listened to his coach.
Cassadee Pope - There is no way Cassadee is going home this week. Even if she'd performed badly (she didn't), the song she did would surely save her. Her coach, Blake, gave her a VERY personal song, one he co-wrote with his wife Miranda Lambert, "Over You," about the death of his own older brother. While at first I was a little bummed that the rocker image from Cassadee's Hey Monday frontwoman days was almost entirely erased, aside from the tattoos peeking out of her ethereal, vaguely bride-like gown, I could not fault her emotional performance; clearly she was honored that Blake had trusted her with a song that meant so much to him, and that led to a really good moment for her. Cee Lo called her "flawless" and "wonderful"; Christina likened her to a lotus flower (nice album plug, there); and Adam said, "That was so markedly different from your other performances--this seemed to suit you best. I want to see more country music from you, because it feels really good." But the best compliment came from Blake himself, who said, "You made me feel like I was hearing it for the first time...words can't express what that means."
Dez Duron - I don't know why Dez got the pimp spot, since with a face like his, he obviously didn't need it. And the show's resident heartthrob definitely gave a good enough performance to be safe again this week, no matter what spot he was in. At first I thought he was foolish to cover Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," an overdone singing-competition song that has cursed many contestants in the past, but this standard actually fit him as well as the natty white dinner jacket he was wearing. The crooner shtick worked wonderfully for Dez, and not just because of his matinee-idol looks. "Congratulations to you and Christina for figuring out where you fit in musically; I think I just saw it tonight," said Blake. And Dez is probably going to fit somewhere in the top eight, when all is said and done.
But who won't make it through to the top eight this Tuesday? You know, with talent as strong as this, I really wish "The Voice" was only eliminating one contestant per week, as it's done on "American Idol." It's too soon to say goodbye to two of these people! I am fairly certain that one of them, however, will be Sylvia--singing first hurt her chances, and the competition was just too stiff this week. As for the other castoff, I hope it's not Cody, but I think he and his Red Zone teammate, Trevin, are both at risk. No matter what happens, though, Tuesday is going to be rough--and it's only going to get rougher as this season goes on.