The top eight performed on "The Voice" this Monday, and it was the most awkward "Voice" episode since that time when a Tony Lucca-loathing Christina Aguilera gave a critique while staring apathetically into her Starbucks cup, or that time when she texted in the middle of Tony's thank-you speech.
Why? Because in the space of two hours, the following things happened:
Terry McDermott almost swore on national TV (and in front of his toddler son!) when his family surprised him onstage, then he made out with his wife while host Carson Daly ickily leered and called it "good TV." Christina practically begged America to save her one remaining contestant, and it was not a pretty sight. Supposed social media correspondent Christina Milian claimed that every single contestant on the show was "trending worldwide!"--when a quick glance at Twitter proved that the only television show trending at all was "Liz & Dick." Adam Levine and Carson talked smack about Melanie Martinez's ex-boyfriend, while she squirmed and bit her lip and stared at her clunky shoes. Blake Shelton made a politically incorrect joke about the sunglasses-wearing Nicholas David being secretly blind. And Adam went off on a seemingly 10-minute-long rant about Hollywood rock club the Roxy that was about as hateful (and entertaining) as anything that's ever come out of Simon Cowell's mouth.
Yep, it was awkward, all right. But also awesome. Because when all was said and done, the episode was still packed with plenty of fantastic performances. "Only the greatest singers are left," Carson announced at the start of the show, and while that statement was also kind of awkward (Dez Duron was still in the competition, after all), there was ultimately no denying that this was an extremely strong top eight.
Here's how everyone did--the good, the great, and the awkward:
Amanda Brown - I was none too thrilled when I found out that Amanda was doing Adele's "Someone Like You" this week, since the Adele songbook has been so overdone by now, I've considered starting a petition calling for a moratorium on Adele covers on all singing shows. These covers always end up sounding copycattish, and I had no reason to think that wouldn't be the case with Amanda too, since she actually used to sing backup for Adele. But I will give Amanda (and her coach, Adam) props for changing up the weepy breakup ode, by "kicking its ass a little bit," rocking it out, and basically turning it into an '80s power ballad. Amanda's performance had a real Heart/Pat Benatar vibe to it, which was cool--but I still think covering her old boss was a mistake in the end. However, the judges appreciated this. "You did an Adele song and made it an Amanda Brown song. You are a rocker, and I can't get enough of that from you," said Blake. "I truly believe that the real reward is in the risks that you take. I'm glad that someone is brave enough in this competition to take those risks," said Cee Lo Green. Christina praised Amanda's "dynamic, powerful vocal," but did add, "I still think that we're waiting for you to tap into that magic you had with 'Dream On.'" This was one of those rare times that I semi-agreed with Christina--this performance was good, but by Amanda standards (or by Adele standards), it wasn't quite good enough--but I still wish that Christina would give Amanda some credit already.
Cody Belew - The moment I learned that Cody was going to take on Queen's "Somebody To Love," I got so excited, I wrote half of this paragraph with my capslock button on without noticing--and once I did notice, I considered leaving a few sentences in all caps anyway, just for effect. Yes, readers, I was THAT stoked. I knew if there was one person on "The Voice" Season 3 capable of belting out a big, brash, theatrical Queen song, it was Mr. Bam-Bam himself. Cody's coach, Cee Lo, may have been over-arching a bit when he declared, "I believe the torch is about to be passed from Freddie Mercury"--come on, now, that torch was forever extinguished when Freddie tragically died 21 years and two days ago--but Cee Lo still knew what he was doing when he gave Cody this Queen classic. Cody took all the peacockery and flamboyance of his "Crazy In Love" spectacle from last week, combined it with the gentlemanly flair of earlier performances like "Jolene" and "One More Try," and delivered a grand performance that climaxed with him hopping atop a white grand piano. It all worked (or werked). "That was great. Freddie Mercury has this ability to expose all my weaknesses as a singer, so I know you really have to be on top of it...and you did a fantastic job," said Adam. "What I enjoy about you is you are a risk-taker through and through, and you're not afraid to keep changing it up," said Christina. This sort of contradicted the critiques Christina has been giving Amanda all season (Christina doesn't seem to like the fact that Amanda changes it up and never stays in one lane). But I was just happy that my boy Cody got heaps of praise, so I let Christina's contradiction slide for the time being. The important points here are: Cody gave a performance fit for a Queen, he was awesome, and I hope he sticks around, because he's definitely somebody I love.
Terry McDermott - Speaking of staying in lanes and not changing things up, Terry has stuck to arena anthems by the likes of Bryan Adams, Journey, the Who, Paul McCartney, and Boston all season long, and that tactic has served him well. But this week, his coach, Blake, nudged him out of his classic-rock box and had him do a country song. Namely, a Blake Shelton song, "Over." (What's up with Blake making all his contestants sing Shelton songs, huh? Last week he had Cassadee Pope doing his ballad "Over You," and now this. Does he really need the extra royalties?) At first I feared that Terry, a Scotsman, was about to go all country on me, but luckily, he somehow managed to turn "Over" into a '90s Britrock song; Blake had instructed him to "erase" the original version, and that is exactly what Terry did. Blake was apparently so happy to have his song "erased," he even gave Terry a standing ovation and said, "You just performed that song the way I wish I could." Joked Adam, "So that's what this song is supposed to sound like!" Then Adam added, more seriously, "The precision with which you hit those notes is inspiring to me. You're one of the best singers in this competition." Cee Lo bizarrely compared Terry to Ronnie James Dio, which didn't quite make sense, but any rocker will tell you that is a huge compliment, so I am sure Terry was thrilled. I didn't think that this was Terry's finest performance, mainly because he's established himself on this show by covering familiar, fist-pumping rock singalongs, so I'm slightly worried for him this week. But he did prove with this that he can really rock out to anything, so he'll probably be safe. I just hope Blake doesn't having him covering "The Baby" or "Some Beach" next Monday.
Melanie Martinez - Soft-spoken, 17-year-old Melanie finally let loose and pushed herself vocally with her White Stripes cover last week, so when I found out she'd be performing Alex Clare's slow-burning, dark-hearted "Too Close" this week, I was excited to see if she'd push herself even further...especially after it was revealed that that she'd be drawing from her recent real-life breakup for inspiration. And there was indeed a lot that was inspiring about this number: the lightbulb-strewn front porch upon which she performed, the fact that she was playing the tambourine with her feet again, and the way she channeled her real, raw pain into the song. But it just wasn't feisty or angry enough for me; I wondered if the lyrics were just too close to her, no pun intended, for her to really feel comfortable letting go and giving it her all. And afterwards, she certainly seemed uncomfortable, and even annoyed, when Carson and her coach, Adam, made jokes about her "dumb"/"idiot" ex-boyfriend while she just grimaced, not wanting to play along. That was not a good look, although I totally understood why she was uneasy with the situation. Christina also gave Melanie a totally backhanded compliment, when she said, "It didn't really go anywhere, but it was my favorite performance from you so far." Huh? What the heck did that mean? I'm not sure, but I am a little concerned for Melanie after this. She may be too close to going home this week.
Dez Duron - After Christina's hopes of molding a "Voice" champion in her own image were dashed, once her two female mini-diva contestants were quickly eliminated, she was left with only Dez, her "last man standing." And she definitely seemed desperate this evening, practically pleading with viewers to vote for him. ("I know you want to hear an album from Dez Duron!" she exclaimed, as crickets chirped and confused spectators applauded weakly.) And you know, maybe Christina had reason to worry. While Dez's Southern charm, perfect hair, chiseled cheekbones, and good-but-not-great voice have taken him all the way to the top eight, it's beginning to seem like none of that will take him all the way to the finale--not when this season's competition is this stiff. And I'm not really sure if having Dez sing Justin Bieber's "U Smile" this week was such a good move on Christina's part, either. Yes, Dez changed it up and transformed it into a pretty convincing blues song, and he certainly belted it more impressively than the Biebs ever did. But this effort was not as impressive as last week's "Feeling Good." And the tween-heartthrob material probably only drew attention to the main reason why Dez has coasted this far: because he's basically the Bieber of "The Voice" Season 3. Cee Lo told Dez, "I don't think this was your best performance." Adam was way too nice and refused to "pick apart" Dez, and instead spent most of his time commending Dez for having the bravery to walk away from a promising college football career. Whatever. Blake just shrugged, "It works for you." I suppose it does. But will it keep on working for Dez? We shall see. If not, then Christina will be left on the sidelines for the rest of the season, idly fanning herself with a giant feather and wishing she could just leave the set and go promote Lotus some more.
Trevin Hunte - "We're going to show what Trevin does best, and that's power ballads," coach Cee Lo assertively announced during rehearsal this Monday. Cee Lo was clearly ready to wrest back control, after he let Trevin do an uptempo Usher song last week and the result was an utter disaster. So this week, Cee Lo had Trevin do a massive, old-fashioned R&B ballad, Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love Of All," which was supposed to be all about the shy 18-year-old's journey on "The Voice." As far as journeys go, this was an upward move from last week's "Scream" debacle, but I do wonder if Trevin's momentum is starting to slow. A couple weeks ago, Trevin was practically already being declared the winner (the praise he received was almost as over-the-top as the fawning comments Joshua Ledet got every week on "American Idol" Season 11), but now, I find myself less wowed by him, for some reason. It's almost weird how unenthused I've become. However, I will say this was another solid Trevin performance, and the accompanying gospel choir did give the production a sort of triumphant feel. (Side note: If you really want to be a successful, gainfully employed singer, instead of auditioning for one of these shows, consider joining a choir. Programs like "The Voice, "The X Factor," and "Idol" seem to be hiring choirs on a very regular basis.) "You can sing anything you want," Adam told Trevin, and Christina concurred: "You are one of those vocalists that truly do it all." Um, clearly neither Adam nor Christina were paying full attention last week: Trevin can't do it all, really, and that is my main concern. I cannot help but wonder how this guy will fit in with the current pop landscape, if he can't sing uptempo music all that well.
Nicholas David - Team Cee Lo's beardy funk soul brutha, Nicholas, definitely doesn't fit in with the current pop landscape, and he's definitely not trying to...but somehow that works for him and is a good thing. Hitting the stage in Willie Nelson pigtails and Kanye shades (the latter of which had Blake jokingly accusing him of being blind), Nicholas looked like a total oddball playing his electric organ during "What's Going On," but it was all part of his charm. "I love this element that you give the show with these incredibly soulful songs. I'm going to be a fan of yours forever," gushed Adam. "Thank you for letting 'The Voice' be the stage that introduced you to world," raved Blake. This was another stellar performance--one that even impressed special guest Bill Withers!--that surely won't diminish Nicholas's fan-favorite (or coach-favorite) status one bit.
Cassadee Pope - Cassadee certainly didn't need the pimp spot after her star turn last week (her cover of her coach Blake's "Over You" went all the way to number one on iTunes, even knocking "Gangnam Style" out of the top spot), but she got the pimp spot anyway. However, while her performance this week was strong (at least until she hit a couple of slightly ouchy notes at the end), I don't think this one will quite connect with viewers the way "Over You" did. I'd previously assumed that Blake was trying to steer Cassadee in a country direction (perhaps a smart move, considering the total lack of country contestants in the entire top 12 this season), and Adam had even recommended such a direction for her--but this week the former Hey Monday frontwoman was back to doing more predictable material, covering Michelle Branch's "Are You Happy Now." She seemed very at ease and in her element, strumming guitar and generally rocking out, but this was a bit of a copycat performance, and it was not nearly as emotionally stirring as last week's tour de force. It was undoubtedly enough to keep Cassadee in the competition, but while there's no way she'll be in any danger this week, she probably won't be number one on iTunes, either. Blake insisted, "You're seeing something important, America." Adam insisted that Cassadee was still the "frontrunner," but then he strangely spent the rest of his airtime dissing L.A.'s Sunset Strip club the Roxy for some mysterious reason. (Apparently Maroon 5 opened for Michelle Branch there once, years ago, and Adam's still bitter about not getting a dressing room. And they say Christina's a diva on this show!)
Cassadee may never play the Roxy again after that, but she'll definitely be around to play on "The Voice" next week. But who won't be around? Well, with top talent like this, it's tough to predict which two contestants will go home this week, but I think Dez, Amanda, and possibly Melanie and Terry are in danger. It's even possible that either Adam or Christina could lose his or her entire team in one fell swoop.
And that sure would be awkward for them.
- The Roxy responds to Adam Levine's rant
- Juliet Simms's new music video
- Christina Aguilera's best & worst "Voice" looks