Following a BBQ-party performance by "rarely sober national icon" Blake Shelton, Monday's Memorial Day edition of "The Voice" kicked off with a series of rousing, high-energy performances. But by the top eight episode's end, the show took a sober turn, as the realization kicked in that this Tuesday, two very talented contestants will go home.
Over the past couple weeks, America has pretty much gotten it right and voted off the weakest singers, without any major upsets or injustices. But now that we're down to such a strong top eight, practically any elimination this week could be considered an "upset." And with Shakira and Usher only having one contestant each, Tuesday's vote could hypothetically result in both coaches ending up instantly teamless.
Oh, but let's cut to the chase: That ain't gonna happen. Shakira's Sasha Allen and Usher's Michelle Chamuel were amazing this Monday. It'll likely be two of the (also very talented) other six, possibly both from Team Adam, who go home. However, all hope won't be lost. An old Team Blake contestant, Gwen Sebastian, who never even made it past her season's Battle Rounds, appeared on "The Voice" this Monday as Blake's backup singer (and she even got to do the "You don't do the Dougie?" line in "Boys 'Round Here"). So you never know where this season's rejected "Voice" contestants will end up.
Here's how the top eight performed this Monday:
Judith Hill – What was this? Season 4's chosen one got the death spot? Whoa. And then she sang a very unexpected song, will.i.am and Justin Bieber's "#thatPOWER" (her choice, not her coach Adam Levine's), that could really kill her chances in this competition. Double whoa. Don't get me wrong: I really enjoyed Judith's performance this evening, despite (or maybe because of) how risky it was. I liked seeing this "child of funk" go full-on Vegas disco-diva, complete with Tina Turner-at-Thunderdome shaggy silver cape, foot-tall Patti LaBelle hair that Blake called "badass," and some fierce, leggy dancing. Judith was having a real Glambert/Cody Belew moment, and it was a ton of fun. The whole production actually reminded me of the wild days when Cee Lo Green was still a coach (as Blake later joked). But I am not sure if what Shakira called an "audacious" move was a smart move, because I'm not sure if this is what Judith's core fanbase wants to see from her. Adam boldly stated, "This is not a contestant on 'The Voice'; this is an artist performing a song, just like all of us [coaches] do." We'll see if America appreciated Judith's artistic statement, but I am worried for her. She may not be a contestant on "The Voice" much longer.
Holly Tucker – Finally! Finally Holly didn't seem like some sweet little girl singing at a school pageant. What a makeover she underwent this week! And I'm not just referring to her fierce, fresh new styling, which made her look the part of a legitimate country-pop star. No, I'm referring to the way she tore into the Band Perry's "Done." I had no idea Holly had a performance like that in her. Where has this girl been all season? Blake, her mentor, should never make her do ballads or church hymns ever, ever again. This is the kind of feisty music Holly should be doing. Usher told her she did an "incredible job." Adam said he was "happy to hear [Holly's] aggressive side." And a proud Blake declared, "I love you. That's the first time I've ever seen you own a song. You just chewed it up and spit it out. Meet Holly Tucker, everybody!" I was happy to meet her, indeed. After weeks of being underwhelmed by Holly's ho-hum performances, this is a Holly Tucker I can get behind.
The Swon Brothers – Singing Steve Young/the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road" for their home state of Oklahoma, Season 4's only duo (and only remaining male singers) set themselves apart another way: by really working their killer, '70s-style harmonies to full effect. Sure, all of the top eight are strong singers, but none of the others have the advantage of being able to blend two strong voices. This campfire singalong — literally, the Swons were singing beside an actual onstage fire — had a great down-home feel; by the end of it, I felt like roasting up some s'mores. And I wanted s'more. (Sorry.) I could have done without those random backup singers sitting around the fire with the brothers, but overall, this performance made me a happy camper. (Again, sorry.) Shakira loved the harmonies, Usher said this performance was "incredible"…and Adam quibbled a bit, but he was probably just threatened. Blake, the only other coach with three contestants still in play, is Adam's biggest threat, and with a twosome like the Swon Brothers, Blake's a double-threat, so to speak.
Sasha Allen – For the second week in row, Sasha went with youthful, uptempo pop, more contemporary than adult-contemporary. David Guetta's "Without You" (a song originally recorded by Usher!) was another smart song choice by Sasha's coach, Shakira. The club banger seemed a little too high for Sasha at first, but then she worked it out, giving off a sexy Kelly Rowland vibe and delivering the lyrics with passion and believability. (She thought of her fiancé, the father of her kids, to tap into real emotion — and it worked.) Shakira called Sasha "the whole package," and I agreed: The lady's got the look, the sound, the style, and the voice. And if she makes it to the finale, I've love to see her reprise this performance as a duet with Usher himself.
Sarah Simmons – Uh oh. Sarah is one of my absolute favorites this season, and her rock 'n' roll Jessie J tour de force last week was a stunner. But I am worried for my girl this week. Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," one of THE most overdone singing-show songs in recent memory, was just NOT the right song for Sarah. She sounded like she was straining throughout, her theatrical delivery came across as forced (unlike Sasha, Sarah didn't seem to be tapping into any real-life experience for inspiration), and everything about the staging and arrangement — the harp, the opera-singer gown, the overwrought orchestration — just stripped away all of Sarah's rock-star cool. Usher appreciated this different side of Sarah, but Shakira passive-aggressively called the performance "interesting." Hmmm. And then Sarah's coach, Adam, further alienated diehard "Voice" viewers like myself by claiming that no past "Voice" contestant had done this song right until Sarah did it — totally dishonoring the legacy of Season 2's amazing Lindsey Pavao! For shame! But I digress. I really do hope Sarah doesn't become just somebody that "The Voice" used to know. She's too talented to go home in eighth place. But I do think she's in trouble this week.
Michelle Chamuel – If Sarah goes, I'll be very sad, but I'll take comfort in knowing that my other favorite Season 4 songstress, the awesome Michelle, will likely be safe. Team Usher's one hope took on Bruno Mars's "Grenade" (her choice, and a smart one), and while her performance wasn't the most technically flawless of the night, it was the most emotional, the most riveting, the most real. The song started off with her singing to her mirrored reflection (a flashback to a coaching technique Usher used to bring out Michelle's best in "True Colors"), and this was the perfect dramatic kickoff to a performance filled with tension, passion, and pain. Once again, Michelle milked honest emotion from every line, every word — nay, every syllable that she sang. For someone so lovably awkward, it's always amazing to see how much she owns a song, owns the stage, and owns who she is. She's just a phenom. Shakira called Michelle "spectacular." Adam called her "exciting" and "dynamic." Blake declared her the best of the night so far. And proud Usher, rocking a pair of Urkel-style spectacles in honor of his star team member, said: "You put in the work. People can identify with an incredible spirit. You represent true inner beauty." Damn straight.
Danielle Bradbery – The Judds' "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)," performed on a cardboard "Hee Haw" front porch, had a lot of potential to be totally hokey. The phony nostalgia shtick was cloying and annoying. BUT. Danielle saved the song. She made the performance sweet, warm, and cozy. The girl is quickly becoming America's sweetheart, and she oozes likability no matter what she sings or how many silly "The Mandrell Sisters Show" stage props get thrown at her. This wasn't Danielle's best performance, and I could have done with a little more emotion from her. But she's young, and that will come in time, with life experience. Usher was right when he called her a "prodigy," and Shakira was right when she pointed out Danielle's "star quality." But maybe it was Adam who was the real star here, at least among the coaches, when he said, "It's cool that you sang a song about Blake." Zing! Best line of the night.
Amber Carrington – Speaking of real stars, Amber boldly took on the mighty "Skyfall" — not only an ADELE song, but a BOND song — and delivered a shockingly cinematic performance that I had no idea she was capable of. I still don't quite understand why her mentor, Adam, keeps discouraging her from singing country-pop, since that's her chosen and natural genre, but if Amber can do "Skyfall" this much justice, maybe she should consider a permanent stylistic switch. If anything, she demonstrated her versatility tonight. Going into full-on chanteuse mode, dripping with "Fabulous Baker Boys" old-school glamour, Amber was sexy, sophisticated, slinky…it was like this young girl had just grown up before "Voice" viewers' eyes. Everything about this performance was pure drama, but not in an affected or unnatural way. This was Amber's breakout moment.
So now, it is prediction time, and as I said before, I think Tuesday's going to be tough — especially for Adam. I actually predict that Adam's Judith Hill, a former frontrunner, will go home (she sang first, she chose a potentially polarizing song, and she made a stylistic departure that could be off-putting), along with another Team Adam favorite, Sarah Simmons, who had an off night. There was a time when I totally thought Season 4 had a good chance of ending with a Judith/Sarah finale, but now I wonder if Adam's only chance of victory this season lies with Amber.
Tune in Tuesday to see if I'm right! See you then.
- Usher says Michelle Chamuel will win "The Voice"
- Exclusive interview with Judith Hill
- Photos from "The Voice"