Monday night's "Voice" episode brought the return of on-hiatus coach Cee Lo Green — in a guest-mentor role, though he'll be back in his spinning red chair as a regular coach in Season 5. It was Cee Lo's second visit to "The Voice" this season, following his performance with his Season 2 protégé Juliet Simms a couple weeks ago. But sadly, this was the second time that Cee Lo showed up without Purrfect the Cat. Not cool, Cee Lo. Not cool.
Thankfully, there were some very cool, as well as some fuzzy and cuddly, moments on Monday's top 10 "Voice" show. And a little bit of fur flew between the coaches, too. Here's how everyone did:
Holly Tucker – Holly got another disadvantageous placement this week. Last week, she sang second; this week, she went first, in what is commonly known on singing shows as the "death spot." The conspiracy theorist in me wondered if her coach, Blake Shelton, wanted to sabotage her, to get her out of the way of his country golden child, Danielle Bradbery. But Blake wouldn't do something like that, right? He's too nice! Anyhoo, this week Blake gave Holly the spiritual song "How Great Thou Art," something that would tap into her gospel background. Under normal circumstances, I would think such a fuddy-duddy song assignment was total sabotage, but the somber song was appropriate for a sad night when a massive tornado was raging through Oklahoma, Blake's home state. I just wish the performance had been more powerful. I didn't feel moved; it was all just a little too pageanty, with not enough raw emotion. Authentic emoting has been an issue for Holly before, but on this song, it was more crucial than ever that she connect. Usher called the performance "an incredible statement to make," but seemed to have mixed feelings about her stylistic "departure from what I expect." Shakira was more impressed, calling Holly an "angel" and "heavenly." Adam Levine said, "That epitomizes what the show is about…it's the power of the voice." Blake was especially effusive, proudly telling Holly, "I've never heard you sing so strong before, ever. You turned it up one more notch…the most important performance you've had so far." I don't think Holly turned it up enough, but we'll see if her performance struck a chord with viewers.
Judith Hill – Judith's backstory as Michael Jackson's This Is It duet partner and memorial singer has been well-documented on "The Voice," and some naysayers have even accused her of exploiting MJ's legacy, or at least of being too professionally connected/experienced to deserve a spot on this show. Whatever. But because of all this, I could certainly understand why Judith was reluctant to sing a Michael classic on "The Voice." Her coach Adam, however, insisted that she do "The Way You Make Me Feel." I had nothing against her covering a Michael song, but I didn't quite understand this choice. Of all the Michael Jackson tunes out there, this wasn't quite the one to show what Judith can do vocally, nor did it set her up to have an emotional, poignant moment. Adam explained that he wanted her to sing something uptempo and lighthearted for once, and while the performance started off slow and jazzy, which is sort of Judith's signature style, she did eventually pick up the pace. Her adlibs at the end were true thrillers — as was her "Beat It"-style strut — but this still wasn't the "moment" it could or should have been. Host Carson Daly seemed moved, however, telling a visibly shaken Judith, "That was equal parts you paying homage to somebody that's a big part of your life, and you being you, incredibly." Usher, a major Michael fan (he too performed at MJ's memorial), also said he was touched. Adam assured Judith, "This audience was so receptive to what you did." No one really wanted to critique this performance, knowing how much Michael had meant to Judith. But I think a different MJ song ("Human Nature," "Earth Song," "She's Out of My Life") could have had more impact.
The Swon Brothers – The Swons are, like their mentor Blake, from Oklahoma, so their hearts were heavy on Monday night. This probably would have been the right night for them to do the somber George Jones song they did last week, but instead they were back in party-hardy mode, doing Randy Houser's "How Country Feels." But the Swon Brothers are nothing if not true showmen, true pros. So they went out there and delivered, gave everyone a good time, and entertained. Their harmonies were on point, too. "You guys make me feel good every time you hit the stage," said Shakira. How does country feel, then? When the Swon Brothers are doing it, it feels pretty damn fun.
Amber Carrington – Team Adam's country-pop girl faced a major challenge taking on "Breakaway," a song by one of today's great pop-country crossover singers, Kelly Clarkson. She was good, but she wasn't quite Kelly-esque. In the lower registers, she struggled, and it was only when she got to the chorus and hit the power notes that she really impressed. Shakira said the song was "right in [Amber's] wheelhouse, a perfect mixture of country and pop." Blake and Usher enjoyed the performance. Adam openly declared his "friggin' love" for Amber. I'm sure she'll be safe this week, but I'd heard Amber sing better than this — way better — on previous episodes. Something was off.
Sasha Allen – Wow, Emeli Sande's "Next to Me" sure is getting a lot of play lately. It was covered twice on "American Idol" in the past two weeks, and now Shakira had her team member Sasha do it on "The Voice." I hope it doesn't become one of those overdone singing-show songs that I'm soon rallying to have blacklisted from all talent competitions forever. But hey, if I had to hear "Next to Me" covered for the third time this month, I'm glad I got to hear Sasha's version. Shakira was smart to give Sasha, who normally does diva ballads, something fun and fresh (along with some youthful, funky styling). Sasha seemed about 10 years younger and 10 times cooler. This lady can go totally pop, after all — who knew? "I'm so happy you did a song like this…you did a really fantastic job," said Adam. "It was time for you to come out and be uptempo, fun, and rawkin' out!" agreed Blake. "I'm really happy to see you having fun this week," added Usher. I was happy, too. This was a stellar performance.
Josiah Hawley – Why do I have this sneaking, sinking feeling that this Team Usher heartthrob is going to win "The Voice" this year, or at least go much further than he should? Don't get me wrong; I like the guy. His Script cover last week was a breakout, bar-raising moment for him. And he sure is nice to look at. But I worry that the fact that he is this season's token WGWG, now that Garrett Gardner is gone, will keep him in the game over more technically skilled vocalists. "Clocks" by Coldplay wasn't a great choice for him. Once again, Usher picked a song that was way out of Josiah's range, a song that showcased rather than camouflaged Josiah's vocal limitations; when Josiah tried to mimic Chris Martin's unique falsetto, his voice practically disappeared. Shakira and Adam felt the song choice was a mistake, because Chris Martin and Coldplay's sound is so distinctive. Blake thought the song had too many "holes" and adlibs, not enough actual lyrics to latch onto. Usher kept talking about Josiah's "personality." I do have to admit, Josiah is one charismatic guy, and if he never puts down his guitar this season, he just might win. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Danielle Bradbery – Once again, Season 4's youngest contestant displayed an astounding amount of maturity. Seriously, how is she only 16? The Team Blake wunderkind's cover of Jo Dee Messina's "Heads Carolina, Tails California" was another solid performance, as polished and professional as any performance by Judith or Sasha. Usher said Danielle "made country cool" and even humbly admitted that he could see why Blake is a two-time "Voice" winner. Clearly Blake believes he's got another winner on his hands, as he predicted that Danielle's Jo Dee cover would be another iTunes hit, and he even called Danielle his "retirement." So move over, RaeLynn, Dia Frampton, and Cassadee Pope. Blake's got a new favorite. And she may be America's favorite, too.
Kris Thomas – On the minus side, this Team Shakira contestant's cover of Miguel's "Adorn" wasn't nearly as exciting as the previous evening's performance of the song by Miguel himself at the Billboard Music Awards. On the plus side…Kris didn't kick any poor "Voice" audience members in the head. So, there was that. But I just didn't get a figurative kick out of this performance. It felt so mousy, so tentative. It had none of the fire and sizzling sex appeal of Miguel's original. A sexy, upbeat song was clearly the wrong choice for this balladeer. "I want to be as honest as possible…I can see you thinking. I want you to store it away and have more fun. I want you to come out of your shell," griped Adam. "You were thinking a lot," Usher conceded, "but your voice is incredible." Shakira, who openly adores Kris, got angry with Usher for calling her team member "nervous." Usher claimed he never said that. The two bickered for a few seconds. I don't know if Kris was nervous going into this performance, but he should be nervous going into Tuesday's results show. I think he's at risk this week.
Sarah Simmons – Now, this was more like it! Hell yes! This was sexy. I already loved Sarah before, but now after this, I'm obsessed with her. At first, I had assumed that Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best" was the totally wrong song choice for this ballad-belter, and I'd wondered why Sarah's coach, Adam, had allowed her do it. (It was her song pick, not his.) But I'm soooo pleased that Adam trusted Sarah's instincts and let her do her thing. Her awesome, awesome thing. Sarah totally rocked this out: She was a little bit Janis Joplin, a little bit Beth Ditto, a little bit Ann Wilson, a little bit Florence Welch, and a whole lot of awesome. The instant she opened her mouth, the audience exploded with excitement, and the momentum never let up from there. This was a strutting, swaggy, sultry performance, and I was floored. So were the coaches. "Oh my gosh, that is just rock. You just radiated sexy. And I think you turned a corner musically," raved Blake. "If you got it, you got it," asserted Usher. Adam was fanning himself like a hot 'n' bothered Christina Aguilera and proudly, rightfully declaring this the performance of the night. Damn right, it was. Did I mention that Sarah was in a screamo band in high school? Did I mention that she's awesome? Did I mention that you all need to vote for her now? Please do.
Michelle Chamuel – Clearly "The Voice" saved the best two contestants for last this Monday. This Team Usher maverick's cover of Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" was not the most vocally/technically perfect of the night, but when to came down to pure emotion, pure connection, nobody came close to Michelle. Nobody ever comes close to Michelle. She seems to feel every single word, and she always finds the perfect balance between theatricality and authenticity. Holly Tucker and Kris Thomas could take some pointers from Michelle, actually. "I'm a fan of yours…you take the competition away from us, because we're all beaming with pride," said Adam. "I love how dramatic you are when you perform," said Blake. "I say THAT was the performance of the night," insisted Usher. I'll call this evening a Sarah/Michelle tie. Is it too soon for me to start rallying for a Sarah Simmons/Michelle Chamuel finale? That simply has to happen.
So now, it is prediction time. We're only down to a top 10, and already the competition is stiff — there's a lot of great talent in this mix. But I'll say the two singers going home this week are probably Holly and Kris. Holly is simply outclassed by two other female country contestants this season (Amber and Danielle). And while Kris is the only male R&B singer left after Vedo's elimination last week, I think he is losing his edge.
Tune in Tuesday to see if I'm right! (And to see if Purrfect makes an appearance.) See you then.