'Voice' Recap: Do You Believe in Life After the Brutal Top 9 Week?


(photo: Tyler Golden/NBC)

On Monday, the top nine competed on The Voice, in what was this season’s most important and surely most stressful week yet. You see, the show’s producers have made the baffling and frankly totally annoying decision to cut five (yes, FIVE) of the remaining nine contestants this Tuesday, ahead of next week’s top four finale. So this do-or-die Monday, everyone had to go big or literally go home.

Some contestants took big risks, which may or may not pay off. Others played it too safe. So who’s making the final four – besides chosen one Jordan Smith, of course?

Let’s get to the recapping…

Barrett Baber (Team Blake)

“Ghost” by X Factor U.K. star Ella Henderson could have been a “moment,” as they like to say in the biz, for Barrett – if he’d stuck with the tender, stripped-back approach he took last week. Instead, he gave exactly the wrong performance at the wrong time, seemingly trying to channel The Voice Season 7’s Timberlakian soul crooner Chris Jamison for a fussy, forced, corny performance that was even more cringeworthy than Evan McKeel’s ill-advised “Let’s Stay Together” a couple weeks ago. This just didn’t make sense for Barrett. It wasn’t even very country. In a crucial week, when he was in the “death spot” already, he pretty much threw away his chances.

Of course, all of the coaches lied through their veneers and raved about this bizarrely unfocused performance. Pharrell Williams claimed Barrett “shared his emotions in the purest way possible.” Gwen Stefani called this “powerful.” Blake Shelton said, “I feel like here’s the door to the finale, and you just kicked it in.” Adam Levine appreciated Barrett’s unpredictability. Well, I predict this: Barrett blew it. The only thing he’ll be kicking this Tuesday is himself.

Shelby Brown (Team Adam)

Teenager Shelby’s evolution this season, especially in terms of her confidence, has been a wonder to behold. And her Grammy-ceremony-worthy performance of Jo Dee Messina’s “Even God Must Get the Blues” this Monday was wondrous indeed. While she exhibited a certain sophistication I had not seen from her before, she was still giving me some young LeAnn Rimes realness, with a from-the-gut, emotional delivery and plenty of power notes. The song choice, while relatively obscure, was extremely relevant (it’s about troubled, violent times, complete with references to the 10 o'clock news). And Shelby sang every word like it pained her, with a furrowed brow and an open heart.

Blake told Shelby she sounded “amazing.” Gwen, Adam, and Pharrell noted Shelby’s increased confidence. My only concern for Shelby is that the song didn’t have ton of momentum. Yes, her big finish was spectacular, but if viewers didn’t pay attention to this performance right through to the end, then Shelby may be getting the blues on Tuesday’s results show.

Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen)

Six years ago, Adam Lambert performed a glorious cabaret ballad version of Cher’s “Believe” during American Idol Season 8’s Hollywood Week, and it was then that many viewers really took notice of him for the first time. Well, I hope that Voice viewers took notice of Jeffery this Monday. His similarly torchy take on the club hit was exquisite, one of the best and purest vocals of the night (no Cher-style Auto-Tune needed here!), and he had me believing. I don’t know what was up with that weird shadow-dancer/Laugh-In set in the background, but even that mess could not distract me from Jeffery’s dazzling, heartfelt performance.

“Let me start by saying I hope all three of my artists make it, but you, Jeffery, just proved that you absolutely deserve to be in the freakin’ finale,” raved Blake, who predicted that Jeffery would go to #1 on iTunes. Gwen called Jeffery “awesome” and “ridiculously talented.” Yes, Jeffery never disappoints. I just hope viewers don’t disappoint me by not voting for him in droves. I want Blake’s prediction to come true.

Braiden Sunshine (Team Gwen)

While almost everyone else left on this show – even Barrett, despite a couple of strange song choices – has established some sort of identity and signature sound, Braiden continues to confound with his flip-flopping. Last week, he was covering Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5; the week before that, it was Spandau Ballet; and previous weeks have brought us, along with multiple hairstyles, some head-scratching covers of Styx, Bread, and, in what was fleetingly his best moment, Michael Bublé. And this week, he took a page from Jordan Smith’s playbook and went with a traditional hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

This was a smart song choice because it possibly won over some conservative, Middle American viewers, but the kid still sang it like he was at a middle school recital. Come on, we are just one week away from the finale, here. This performance was not top four material.

Adam graciously (no pun intended) put a positive spin on Braiden’s uneven “journey” and called him “unique and interesting,” then sort of backhandedly told him, “You didn’t ever really find one [style], but you kind of proved to everybody that you could do everything. You have to be so happy with every single thing, this being like the exclamation point tonight.” Yep, that sounded like a kiss-off to me. With an exclamation point! But at least Adam was nice about it.

Zach Seabaugh (Team Blake)

I groaned inwardly, and outwardly, when I learned that Zach would be doing Miley Cyrus’s treacly “The Climb,” a song she dropped from her setlist long before she hooked up with the Flaming Lips. Zach is a showman and a showboater, so I figured he’d be better off doing Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” than a power ballad from a Hannah Montana movie.

But you know what? This was actually pretty solid. Taking his coach Blake’s advice to “George Strait” the song, Zach delivered a non-cornball, not-at-all-gimmicky performance, and he even sang much better than usual, with only a couple of slightly strained notes. He didn’t swivel his Elvis-pelvis once, and yet he still entertained. This was a case of a contestant picking just the right song at just the right time – basically, the opposite of what his fellow Team Blake member Barrett did Monday.

Blake said this was Zach’s best performance of the season so far and exclaimed, “Perfect timing, man!” Gwen, who is 29 years older than Zach and actually dating Zach’s coach, made a bunch of awkward fawning remarks about Zach’s heartthrobby cuteness – again. She also claimed that “The Climb” is one of her favorite songs ever, which was just strange. But I guess if there are a lot of girlies out there, of all ages, who crush on Zach and love “The Climb” the way Gwen apparently does, then Zach has a shot.

Madi Davis (Team Pharrell)

Leave it to Madi to turn a potentially cheesy oldie like the Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (which, oddly, is her favorite song) into something special and supercool. And she pulled this off while performing on an old-timey wooden set that looked like something out of Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas special, while someone randomly played accordion in the background, with a song arrangement reminiscent of “You Belong to Me” from The Jerk. This performance was a little bonkers. Honestly, it should not have worked. But because Madi was singing it, of course it worked – wonderfully.

My only fear for Madi would be that such a light-hearted and quirky performance wouldn’t connect in this make-or-break week as much as the big ballads and religious songs by other contestants. But I should probably never doubt Madi, who despite her young age always seems to know what she’s doing. The coaches certainly didn’t doubt her. Pharrell was up on his feet. Blake likened this performance to something out of a Disney movie and said it seemed “too perfect to be live,” then predicted Madi would make the top three. Adam praised the set design and said he “really wanted to be hanging out at that place,” so I guess he’s a fan of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. I only know it would be the perfect Christmas gift for me if Madi advanced to the finals.

Emily Ann Roberts (Team Blake)

While promised and much-hyped guest mentor Dolly Parton was nowhere to be found (apparently she will rear her platinum-wigged head on Tuesday’s results show), Emily still honored the absentee country goddess with a cover of her snappy steno pool anthem, “9 to 5.” While the song choice seemed too mature for 17-year-old Emily (has she ever even held a 9-to-5 job before?), and I missed some of the grit and bluegrass twang of her more solemn past performances, I have to say, she was quite the little performer here. Emily brought the sass and the spunk, and she truly entertained. She was working it.

Gwen called Emily’s vocal “perfect” and said she loved this new “crazy-kooky” side of the sweet singer. Blake said, “If I was somebody that ran a record company, I would right now be calling around trying to figure out [how to sign you] – because you’re going to make somebody so much money.” His speech gave me déjà vu to the time when Simon Cowell told a then-unknown Carrie Underwood that she would become the top-selling American Idol star ever. Simon was correct back then, and Blake might be onto something now.

Amy Vachal (Team Adam)

Amy doesn’t have the mightiest pipes or showiest style of Season 9, and Adam knows this. So the song he very wisely picked out for her – the Norah Jones version of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” as opposed to the Adele version – played to Amy’s quiet strengths. She was in the full singer-songwriter mode of her first amazing audition, and her voice was soft, warm, gentle, and inviting. This was just nice – in the best, least bland, least meh sense of that adjective. I even bet couples watching The Voice at home started making out on their sofas during Amy’s mood-setting performance.

“Your voice seems like what beautiful clouds are made of. It seemed like when you sang, the stars would come out to assist that moment,” cooed a dazed, smitten Pharrell. “This room completely froze and stopped, and all the energy was focused on you,” added Adam. “There are so many different ways to sing – especially on this show, it’s very big and over-the-top all the time – but what’s special about you is you do it in a way that is completely different and refreshingly raw, and honest, and beautiful. As far as that’s concerned, you do that better than anybody on the show. I am so proud of you.”

Jordan Smith (Team Adam)

Of course Jordan the Unicorn got the “pimp spot.” It wasn’t even his first time in that spot this season, either. But this was a pretty awesome use of it. Letting loose like never before on Queen’s “Somebody to Love” (fun fact: backstage at the top 24 results show, Jordan told me his dream cover song was “Bohemian Rhapsody”), Jordan pulled out all the stops. There was a massive robed choir, a patella-shattering knee-drop, crazy scenery-chewing antics, and most importantly, crazy vocal acrobatics. This was over-the-top, but in the best possible way. This was actually my favorite Jordan performance yet; I really wish he’d done more stuff like this all season.

Adam, who was beaming and cheering throughout this performance like he’d already won (because, let’s face it, he probably has), hopped onstage, bear-hugged Jordan, and dropped the mic for dramatic effect. “I don’t need to say anything at all, because that’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” he proclaimed, joyously and hyperbolically, during the final 10 seconds of the broadcast.

So now, it is prediction time. This one’s going to require some very fuzzy math. First of all, let’s look at the iTunes numbers, even they only tell part of the story. As of this writing, late Monday evening, seven of the nine contestants are in the iTunes top 10 and will therefore receive “iTunes multipliers.” (Barrett Baber’s almost there, at #11, and poor Shelby’s all the way down at #24, but Shelby did once advance even when she was dead last in the iTunes ranking, so you never know.) Jordan managed to dethrone Adele’s “Hello” from the #1 spot, so he might as well say “hello” to the Season 9 trophy now. But excitingly, Jeffery isn’t far behind Jordan, at #3. Emily (#5), Braiden (#6), Madi (#7), Amy (#8), and Zach (#9) round out the top 10. So this could still go any which way.

As for other math, there’s a lot to calculate here: the top three who’ll advance straight to the finale via the public vote, the middle three who’ll engage in Tuesday’s high-stakes Twitter sing-off, and the bottom three who will automatically go home. Here’s my prediction…

Top three: Jordan, Emily, and Jeffery.

Middle three: Madi, Amy, and Braiden. I’m not too thrilled about this outcome, since that would mean Madi and Amy couldn’t both advance. Also, Braiden doesn’t really deserve this spot. #VoiceSaveMadi #VoiceSaveAmy

Bottom three: Barrett, Zach, and Shelby. It’s incredible to even imagine three country singers (two from the ever-popular Team Blake) going home all at once, but I think they’re going to split the vote, so I’m sticking to my prediction.

However, there’s a very good chance I could be wrong! Tuesday will be nail-biting for sure, and possibly downright heartbreaking. I know I’ve got my nail-bitten Twitter trigger-fingers ready, just in case one of my favorites has to sing in the #VoiceSave showdown to end all showdowns. See you then.

Follow Lyndsey on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr, Vine, Spotify