This Monday, "The Voice's" final eight contestants, two per team, competed for the four coveted spots in next week's big Season 2 finale. And despite Christina Aguilera's shameless attempts to upstage all eight of 'em and turn this episode into "The Christina Show" by a) loudly singing during her critiques; b) casually mentioning that she once performed one contestant's song choice herself, AT THE GRAMMYS; c) jumping up onstage twice; d) taking credit for one contestant's song clearance; and e) wearing a freakin' tiara, almost all of the contestants still managed to shine as brightly as Xtina's famously Nars-oiled legs. And they all did so in their own unique ways. By the end of the two-hour episode, we'd seen a Vegas-style showman, a couple of old-school divas, an opera singer, an R&B powerhouse, a quirky coffeehouse crooner, an electro-soulman, and an all-out rock goddess. How will America ever choose which of these talented people to send home, when they are all so different? And more importantly, and annoyingly, how will America send home four of them?
That, perhaps, is the only way, or at least the biggest way, in which "The Voice's" obvious predecessor, "American Idol," still has "The Voice" totally beat. If this were "Idol," you see, or even "The X Factor," we'd still have a few more luxurious weeks to gradually say goodbye to these great singers, and we'd still have weeks of great performances to look forward to. Instead, half of these "Voice" contestants will be brutally cut in one painful fell swoop this Tuesday--and due to this show's infuriating rule about only one singer per team surviving, it's pretty much guaranteed that the overall four best contestants will NOT make it to next week's finale.
Seriously, can't Team Blake be disqualified or something? Despite all my complaining about Christina's showboating and showoffing in the paragraph above, she does have one of the strongest teams this season--in that way, this kind of IS "The Christina Show"--and both of her contestants deserve to be in the finale. The same could be actually easily be argued for the team led by the show's other big diva, Cee Lo Green. But at the very least, I'd like to enjoy a few more weeks with Juliet Simms, Jamar Rogers, Chris Mann, and Lindsey Pavao.
However, for some of these contestants, Monday was indeed their swan-song night. Le sigh. So how'd they do? And which ones will be the final four on the floor? Let's break it down...
Tony Lucca - I've never really understood Tony Lucca's appeal. This is probably because I never watched "The Mickey Mouse Club," the famous kiddy-star-breeding show on which he used to be a regular, in a cast that also featured Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and yes, Little Miss Christina Aguilera. Tony came onto "The Voice" with a readymade fanbase (500,000 Twitter followers and gawd knows how many "MMC" nostalgists), and that probably had as much to do with his advancement in the competition as did any of his solid but not-exactly-astounding performances. Anyway, this Monday, he once again was not exactly astounding, but he was definitely better than I'd ever seen him before. Doing the Heavy's "How You Like Me Now," a very cool song choice, Tony ditched his trusty guitar and strutted his stuff alongside two pencil-skirted femme fatales, in an unexpectedly entertaining Rat Pack-style number. Was it a little cheesy? Sure it was. But at least it was exciting, not the typical strummy WGWG fare I'd gotten used to seeing from Tony week after week. Blake Shelton praised Tony's "Robert Palmer thing" and called him "badass." Cee Lo called this performance a "really, really pleasant surprise" and told Tony, "I became a fan of yours tonight!" Christina, who's never acted like a massive Tony fan, pointed out that she'd originally cleared the Heavy song for her top 24 team member Moses Stone (um, so?), and cattily advised Tony, "If this doesn't work out, you and Adam Levine can start a Britney cover band." Personally, I think this show is going to work out for Tony. He's still not my favorite in this competition, but I know he has always been popular, and I'm sure this dynamic performance didn't change that one bit. To answer Tony's musical question, how do I like him now? Eh, I like him enough. Perhaps I understand his appeal a little bit more after tonight.
Katrina Parker - I may like Tony, but I love Katrina. I really wish she'd been in "The Mickey Mouse Club"--then maybe she'd stand a chance of beating Tony. Katrina did the Fugees' version of "Killing Me Softly," and she killed me softly with her song, indeed. Looking even prettier than she did last week (her season-long makeover has now reached Donna Mills/Linda Gray levels of glam buttery-blondeness), Katrina exuded a newfound sexiness and confidence, and her voice sounded so creamy, I was surprised Cee Lo's cat didn't scurry onto the stage to lap it all up. Cee Lo cited both Lauryn Hill and Roberta Flack's renditions of the classic track and told Katrina, "I just think you reinvented that song yet another time. You're in a long line of strong and talented women." Then Christina made some sense and advised Adam--who, like all the coaches, will affect this week's outcome by assigning points to his contestants--to give more of his points to Katrina. "I encourage Adam to really look at you," she said. I encourage this too, but I'm afraid Adam is going to have to get into some seriously fuzzy math and give Katrina at least 99 of his available 100 points in order for her to stand any chance of getting to the finale over the seemingly unstoppable Tony.
Erin Willett - This was the only performance this week that actually caused me to switch my previous allegiance. Going into this episode, I was completely rooting for Erin over Team Blake's other contestant, Jermaine Paul, as I'd always found Erin to be the much more consistent of the two. But Erin sure picked a bizarre week to start being inconsistent. She probably thought she was being artistic by taking David Guetta and Usher's club jam "Without You" and turning it into a woeful ballad, and the idea did seem to have some promise. But in execution, it was a total miss. The sluggish arrangement sucked all the joy out of the effervescent track, and while Erin is clearly one of this season's best belters, during this number she was surprisingly shaky; she in fact sounded like she was singing in way too low a key for most of the song. It's possible that her emotions were the cause of her uneven vocals--she was thinking of her recently deceased father during the performance, and she could barely hold it together by the end--but unfortunately, as much as I appreciated her intention and the sentiment, this time Erin did not channel her pain in a way that helped the song. Cee Lo and Xtina actually praised the arrangement, and Erin's supportive coach Blake raved, "I would give anything to have a tenth of the talent you have! But more than anything, I'd give anything to have the strength that you have." I agree that Erin is a strong woman, and a strong singer. But this was not her strongest performance, and I am afraid she blew it.
Jermaine Paul - This Alicia Keys background singer has given some good performances this season, but also some awful ones (like his shouty Bon Jovi cover) that should have stayed way in the background. But this week, Jermaine delivered a very impressive performance of "Open Arms," just when it mattered the most...and come on, who doesn't like some sweet, sweet Journey power-balladry? "I love to hear a strong male vocal on such a sweet, sentimental song," said sappy Cee Lo. "You murdered that song," said Christina. "You are no longer a background singer, my friend...today, you're in the front for good," declared Adam. I still don't think Jermaine is in the front of this entire competition--it's almost impossible to imagine him actually winning--but I do think he totally out-performed Erin this week, and that he won a spot in the finale.
Chris Mann - Going back to his traditional opera roots with "Ave Maria"--one of the first songs Chris ever sang as a boy--was a surprise move for this Warbler. I'd previously thought his glossy cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" was a better indication of the commercial "popera" direction he would (or should) pursue after "The Voice," so I wondered if the viewing public would connect with just a straight-up opera performance. But then I remembered how many records artists like Susan Boyle, Jackie Evancho, Il Divo, Josh Groban, and Andrea Bocelli have sold. Chris could sell records in those sorts of numbers, if he recorded vocal performances as flawless as his "Ave Maria" was this week. I do still think it was a risk for him to go so old-old-old-school, when other contestants were edging things up with modern performances by hipster acts--but you know, it was a risk that may have helped him stand out (and may have helped him appeal to older voters, who frankly do not care about the Heavy, David Guetta, or Bon Iver). "Stellar performance tonight, sir," said Cee Lo. "You lend to the show's credibility, doing something so classy and beautiful and classic," said Adam. "I just felt the heavens open up right now," gushed proud coach Christina. And I think I felt the "Voice" switchboards light up, too.
Lindsey Pavao - As much as I admire Chris Mann, Lindsey is my gurl. And as if I couldn't love this chick any more, for her song this week, she chose to do Bon Iver's "Skinny Love." This was probably even more of a risk than Chris's song choice--despite winning two Grammys, collaborating with Kanye West, and getting spoofed by Xtina's old "MMC" co-star Justin Timberlake on "Saturday Night Live," Bon Iver is still fairly unknown among mainstream music listeners--but that just made me adore Lindsey all the more. And I also dug that she finally played some guitar. Actually, in some ways this performance was less of a risk for Lindsey; after creeping out America with her shirtless microphone caddies, Carver-masked backup dancers, and spooky "Heart-Shaped Box" Battle Rounds duet, her hippie-ish, bonfire-singalong rendition of "Skinny Love" probably seemed downright cutesy and quaint to America. "I loved seeing you in a coffeeshop setting; you were in your element," said Christina. "I don't know about skinny love--I'm more into big love!" joked Cee Lo. Will America have big love for Lindsey? I hope so, but Chris will be mighty tough to beat. It'll definitely be interesting to see how this particular showdown goes down, because I don't think there is any other team on the show with such total polar-opposite singers.
TEAM CEE LO:
Jamar Rogers - Jamar has always seemed like a frontrunner this season, but he didn't rest on this laurels this evening. Just like Tony, Erin, Chris, and Lindsey, Jamar also took a risk, as his cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" was a departure from his usual fiery rock 'n' soul. Jamar was dead-set on "making the song 2012," which meant adding some electronic elements that even Cee Lo worried might be too "peculiar" (and when Cee Lo Green thinks something is peculiar, that's a red flag), but this turned out to be another starmaking performance. This just worked. Xtina even sang along at one point, and Adam told Jamar, "I'm just purely a fan of what you do." Cee Lo said, "The story of your life would be a best-seller. We all want to know you." And Cee Lo was right. There is something about Jamar that is just so intrinsically likable, and that quality just might make him this season's winner. All I ask is, if Jamar wins, that he not do that whole Taylor Swift/Melinda Doolittle faux-surprise shtick on next week's finale. How can Jamar still be so surprised that people actually like him?
Juliet Simms - Only a pimp-spot performance as amazing as Juliet's could have me rooting against the also-amazing Jamar. Her incendiary take on James Brown's "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" ironically had me believing that a woman could actually win this season, despite fact that so far, the men have been hogging all the votes. This was just jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly, eye-poppingly AWESOME. Juliet summoned up all the fire and frustration pent up inside her after years of trying to make it in a rock world "which is saturated with men," and she just let it RIP. And she did it while wearing some absolutely fabulous Ziggy/Gaga space-oddity shoulderpads that I am sure Cee Lo was eyeing with envy. "That's as loud as it's ever been in this room," noted host Carson Daly, as the studio audience roared uncontrollably after Juliet's tour de force. "That was something special, that was unbelievable...you're the one to beat tonight," said Adam. Christina then tried to make it all about her again by mentioning how she sang this same song at the 2007 Grammys--but sorry, Xtina, this was still Juliet's moment. With this, Juliet in fact overtook Lindsey as my official favorite on the show, and I hope she became America's favorite as well.
So, will "The Voice" still be a man's world (or a Mann's world) after the votes are counted and combined, via some sort of advanced algebraic equation, with the coaches' super-secret point system on Tuesday? Personally, I'd love to see Juliet, Lindsey, and Katrina all make it through, but honestly, I only think Juliet has a true shot. So I'm going to predict that Juliet will narrowly squeak past Jamar to the finale (what a Sophie's Choice, huh?), but then I think the final four will be rounded out by Chris, Tony, and Jermaine. It'll be a little disappointing to see such a Lindsey-less result, especially compared to last year's more girl-powered "Voice" finale--but then again, the show will still have Christina undoubtedly dominating the proceedings, so in that way, "The Voice" will never be a total boys' club.
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