‘The Voice’ Top 12 Live Show: The Game Changes

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks (New)

This week's top 12 competitive "Voice" show was perhaps the most important of the season, and definitely its most game-changing. For the first time this season--and actually for the first time in "Voice" history--the contestants competed without team quotas, meaning that just the top vote-getters, regardless of coach affiliation, will make it through from this point on. None of the three contestants per team were operating under the assumption that they had at least a 33 percent chance of advancing to the next round, so in that way, the pressure was really on.

But on the plus side, this lack of quotas meant that everyone had a chance of making it through. Just imagine how things could have panned out very differently for Season 2's Jamar Rogers or Lindsey Pavao, or Season 1's Nakia, Frenchie Davis, or Xenia, if such a quota-free policy had existed back then.

So this was a win-win situation, both for the contestants, who were performing on a level playing field, and for "Voice" fans, who had a better chance than ever of seeing the best overall singers make it to the finale. But which of these singers has the strongest chance of win-winning in the end? Let's recap all 12 performances and find out...

Michaela Paige - I was worried about Michaela, who was already going into the evening as an underdog, after receiving very little screentime earlier this season and then being saved by her coach Blake Shelton last week. She was singing first, which is always a disadvantage, and then she did struggle with her lower register during the verses of her song, Pink's "Blow Me One Last Kiss" (kind of a predictable song choice for her, I must say). But her performance was as feisty and fearless as ever, and the 16-year-old spitfire worked the crowd and even got all up in the coaches' faces. And it was hard not to have a smile on my own face; the girl's spunky spirit is always just so infectious and irresistible. "That performance left absolutely no doubt in my mind [that I made right choice to keep you]," declared Blake. "You weren't thrown by everything, and you really did keep your breath [as you worked the stage and crowd]," said Adam Levine. Said Christina Aguilera, "You've become one of my favorites, because you're so fun to watch. Your voice is very bright and bold, and strong and full of energy. It's not fluffy at all." Cee Lo Green stammered a lot (maybe getting so close to Michaela threw him off guard), but eventually spat out, "You really work the stage like a professional. I'm a fan of yours!" Hopefully this was enough to ensure that we won't be blowing Michaela one last kiss on Tuesday night's results show, because I like this crazy kid.

Dez Duron - Dez is not the strongest singer in this competition (he auditioned last season and didn't even get a single chair to spin around), but with a face like his, that hasn't mattered much yet; he even easily scored the popular vote last week over bigger belters like Adriana Louise and Devyn DeLoera. But now, with only a dozen singers left and no more team quotas, Dez needed to deliver a performance that could compete with powerhouses like Amanda Brown and Trevin Hunte. So, did he? Well, yes and no. The song his coach Christina chose for him, the Lauryn Hill version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," certainly was a better fit than his Hunter Hayes country tune last week, and he was every inch the old-school blue-eyed-soul crooner, making all the ladies swoon with his smooth stylings. But was it a fantastic vocal? Not really. The whole song and performance never totally took off. But overall, it was very pleasant, and he of course looked like a star. Cee Lo called Dez "impeccable" and "wonderful through-and-through." Said Adam, "You really found your avenue. This [song] was the most decisively you. It fit you the very best." Blake praised Dez for taking on Frankie Valli, then, when Christina corrected him and said the performance was actually Lauryn Hill-inspired, he joked, "Hey, I'm a old bastard!" Then Blake added, "Well, I agree with the girls. Squeeeeeee!" Christina cried out, rhetorically, "How can you not love this guy?" More audience squeeing ensued. I think Dez is safe for now, but I still wonder how far his pretty face can take him on this show.

Adriana Louise - Adriana was Christina's pick last week, after the public's votes went to Team Xtina's Dez and Sylvia Yacoub, and Christina's decision to keep Adriana over fan favorite De'Borah came as a bit of a surprise. So Adriana had a lot to prove this week. But she definitely seemed up to the challenge, her competitive spirit stronger than ever. Belting out Carrie Underwood's "Good Girl" in a tiny gold cocktail frock, Adriana gave off a major Kat McPhee vibe, which may or may not have been a good thing. She sang the sassy song wonderfully, and went into full-on sexpot mode, practically sitting in Adam's lap as she serenaded him. Adam certainly didn't seem to mind one bit, but overt sexiness has often hurt female singing-show contestants in the past, so Adriana may have pushed that just a little too hard. But I had to give her props for pushing herself vocally. Adam admitted that "some high moments were a little tough" for her, but added, "Thanks for coming over--that was nice!" Said Christina, "That was so playful and so cute. Adam loves girls that get up in his face!" Cee Lo seemed a little bummed that Adriana hadn't chosen to get up-close and personal with him instead, but praised her beauty and conviction. And Blake said, "I've always been a big fan of yours. I can't believe America didn't vote you in--it must have been close!" We'll see if America votes Adriana in this week.

Cody Belew - It may be "Diva Week" over on rival show "The X Factor," but the real divaliciousness was on "The Voice" this Monday, with self-declared Southern belle Cody taking on Tina Turner's "The Best." The stupidly loud band drowned him out way too much--usually that's more of a problem on the audio-challenged "X Factor," actually--but he rose above the din with his soaring voice and massive stage presence. He was simply the best. "You're one of the best natural performers in this contest. You almost reminded me of Prince!" said Adam, giving Cody a serious compliment right there. "You own the stage. You were meant to be on the stage," said Blake. "You're so fabulous, and you're so free, and you flow. It's a pleasure. Win, lose, or draw, I enjoy you," said Cody's coach, Cee Lo. Only Christina offered a lame critique, telling Cody, "I would love to see something more uptempo. I want to see more bopping around from you." Apparently Christina pines for the days when Cody was considered a novelty contestant, doing the "little bit o' bam-bam" thing and dueting on Lady Gaga songs with Domo. "Bopping around"? Come on. I love uptempo performances too, but Cody deserves to be taken more seriously than that.

Amanda Brown - Amanda established herself as the woman to beat last week with her ambitious performance of Aerosmith's "Dream On," and not content to rest on her laurels, she upped the ante this week with an even more challenging song, Florence + The Machine's "Spectrum." This was not quite as dreamy. On the plus side, she looked like a goddess, giving us some Diana Ross realness in an ethereal golden gown and flashing some Jolie leg. But she struggled and was a bit all over the place, and she looked relieved when it was all over, like she'd been waiting to exhale the entire time. I was relieved too; this wasn't always so pleasant on the ear. It was good, but not Amanda-Brown-good; after raising the bar so high for herself last week, she's probably going to have difficulty maintaining that standard week after week, and this week was definitely a step backward for her. "I consider you my favorite mistake," said Cee Lo, who'd foolishly eliminated Amanda from his team before Adam stole her away, "but I think this performance was a little constricted for you." Adam remained optimistic, saying, "It wasn't perfect...but you epitomize everything that this show is about. Imperfections don't bother me, because I know you deserve to be here, and that you could win this entire thing." I still believe that Amanda could win, but I understood these critiques. One critique I did not understand was Christina's comment: "I'm still waiting to connect with who you are as an artist; I am not sure I quite get it yet." Huh? From her very first audition, Amanda has emphatically defined herself as an alternative-rock singer, covering Amy Winehouse/the Zutons, Grace Potter, and Florence, not to mention citing Radiohead as her chief influence. Has Christina not been paying attention or something? Maybe "Spectrum" wasn't Amanda's best performance, but it still made it quite clear what kind of artist she is.

Bryan Keith - Speaking of Winehouse, this former heavy metal screamer went into old-school crooner mode for "Back To Black," and while it wasn't the flashiest performance of the evening, he did Amy proud, proving once again that he has one of the smoothest, creamiest voices among the top 12. The judges were a little over-reaching in their praise--Blake even told Bryan, "I think you just took the lead for Team Adam there"--but I understood why they were impressed with what Christina called Bryan's "cool, modern-day, raspy Sinatra thing going on." Said Cee Lo, "I knew there was something special about your voice early on. This really signified how strong your voice is."

Cassadee Pope - It was cool that this former frontwoman for emo band Hey Monday played guitar during her cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Behind These Hazel Eyes," but vocally, she was no Kelly. Her vocals started off really shaky, and although she improved once she had a chance to belt out the chorus, she never quite recovered. But bizarrely, the coaches all adored this. "Hot chicks with guitars! Life is good!" raved Cee Lo. "My favorite performance from you so far; the song choice was a perfect fit," said Christina. "There are no boundaries for what you can do," said Blake, oddly quoting an old Kris Allen coronation song. "You have that special thing that one in a hundred million people have. People love you."  Eh, I'm not so sure people are going to love this performance. I actually thought this was one of the iffiest efforts of the night.

Trevin Hunte - There's nothing iffy about true prodigy Trevin Hunte, a young man with a very old soul and a very timeless voice. He took on Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman"--a classic just performed last week on "The X Factor" by Vino Alan, and very memorably earlier this year on "American Idol" by Joshua Ledet. I'd say I was getting sick of hearing covers of this song, but I could never get sick of listening to Trevin, whose cover rivaled the greatness of Joshua's, note for mighty note. He seemed to be holding back less this time, too--more confident, less tentative--and this led to a spectacular performance, with standing ovations from Cee Lo and Christina and high praise from all four judges. "You have a gift from God. I've never heard anything like it. You have this magic ability to bring down the house," gushed Adam. "That was amazing. For the first time, you did everything we wanted you to do as fans. You didn't leave anything but blood and guts on the stage," said Blake. "You brought it home for me, and that's what I've been waiting for you to do. I still wish I was your coach," said Christina. Then Cee Lo, Trevin's actual coach, babbled a bunch of new-agey stuff. The best I could make out was something like: "The miracle of you strengthens my faith. I believe you're an angel. You're going be a blessing in so many lives. I'm humbled by your voice, because I can't sing like you! Your talent is immense." Basically, Coach Cee Lo was pleased. He knows Trevin could bless him with his first Team Cee Lo "Voice" victory.

Melanie Martinez - Melanie is obviously one of the technically weaker singers of Season 3, but she's certainly the coolest, and she always makes cool artistic choices. This week she covered Young The Giant's "Cough Syrup," and not only was it a cool song selection, but it was one that finally allowed her to belt a little bit, instead of just doing the hushed indie-girl murmur she always relies on. It was definitely her most powerful vocal of the season, and her most authentically passionate performance as well; at the end, she almost seemed to be gulping back sobs. "I've never heard you project as much as you did on that one, and I enjoyed that. You have probably the most unique sound in this competition," said Blake. "That was your most emotional performance, and that's what I liked about it. It didn't have to be big and over-the-top and all that to convey a message and connect with people," said Christina. "What you have to offer that's different is something that's all your own. There's only one Melanie in this competition. You're spectacular and the only one like you," said Adam. I am still not sure how long Melanie can last in this competition--she didn't get the top votes last week, and her coach Adam had to save her--but as the Young The Giant song stated, life's too short to even care at all, so clearly she's going to just keep being Melanie no matter what. Good for her, I say.

Nicholas David - Nicholas wowed with his superb Barry White cover last week, and America subsequently (and somewhat surprisingly) voted him through to the top 12. At that time, his coach, Cee Lo, said he wanted to see Nicholas make it all the way to the end. But if Cee Lo was the one who picked Nicholas's song this week (it was unclear if the song was Cee Lo's choice, or if it was Nicholas's idea), then Cee Lo is not going to get his wish. Huey Lewis's "The Power Of Love" from Back To The Future? Was Cee Lo trying to throw Nicholas under the bus--or under the Delorean? This was just corny. Nicholas did what he could with it, singing it with a great attitude and an almost-as-great voice, but his whole smooth soulman vibe was gone. The judges felt his power of love, however. "You are so strange and beautiful. I just have fun every single time I watch you," said Adam. Cee Lo lapsed back into new-age psychobabble mode and said something like: "There's no better success than the realization of self. You truly are art imitating life. You represent that so wonderfully, and it's so necessary." (Okay, then.) Blake said, "Every time you're onstage, you're doing something in a different way. We can't wait to see what you're doing next!" I just hope there is a next time for Nicholas. And if Nicholas makes it through and Cee Lo has him sing, say, "I Wanna New Drug" next week, then Nicholas should say he wants a new coach.

Sylvia Yacoub - Sylvia, a contestant I'd admittedly not paid much attention to before, stunned me last week with her gorgeous, game-changing piano cover of Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away." And she stunned much of America with that unexpected performance, becoming one of Team Xtina's top vote-getters and immediately morphing from underdog to frontrunner. So I assume Sylvia hoped to keep up that momentum by choosing to sing Celine Dion's ambitious Titanic anthem "My Heart Will Go On" this week. (Her coach, Christina, implied that this was Sylvia's decision.) But I was disappointed by this direction. I so preferred Sylvia in singer-songwriter mode, simply sitting on a piano bench, than doing some old-fashioned ballad in a pageant gown. She handled the big song well--even host Carson Daly pointed out that it's one of the toughest tunes to sing, so I'll excuse the few wonky notes she hit, which were clearly due to nerves--but her coolness factor just sank as fast as the Titanic itself. "That's not even a song--that Leo and the boat sinking! That's a moment in the world. That's crazy, it's so ambitious. I think you did a good job, but that's a hard one, man," sighed Adam. "You are tried-and-true fearless. You just go for it. Yes, it was extremely ambitious, but there's no doubt about it that you made it your own," said Christina. Then Christina made it all about Christina again, and bragged about how she covered Celine on last season's "Voice." Whatever.  I'm surprised she didn't plug her new album, while she was at it. (Side note: Xtina's album, Lotus, is actually quite awesome, so I'm not trying to be a hater here.)

Terry McDermott - I loved it when the "Voice" semifinalists covered the almighty Boston's "Peace Of Mind" last week, so when I heard that Scottish rocker Terry intended to tackle the most iconic of all Boston songs, "More Than A Feeling," this week, I was more than excited. What a perfect song choice for him--the lyrics are all about how an old beloved song can still stir up so many emotions, and Terry is all about reviving classic rock songs in a heartfelt way--and what an overall rousing way to close the show. Terry called it "rock 'n' roll from the soul," and that's exactly what it was. And he nailed almost all of those crazy Brad Delp notes, too--this song was almost as ambitious as Amanda and Sylvia's Florence and Celine tunes, but he pulled it off for the most part. (There was one off note towards the end, but he recovered nicely.) "That was damn good, bro. You really hit those notes. The only thing I like more than your voice is your haircut!" said Cee Lo. "I don't even know if people realize how good Terry is. That is so special. Wow. Holy crap. I can't even talk," babbled Adam. "Congratulations, man. Oh my gosh. We as people in music understand how special you are as an artist. Ladies and gentlemen, please say hi to ROCK MUSIC!" proclaimed Terry's coach, Blake. Hi, rock music. And hi, potential winner of "The Voice." Can Terry do some REO Speedwagon next week? 'Cause Terry is so going to be here next week.

But two singers will not be here next week, sadly. The top 12 will become the top 10 on Tuesday's results show, and it's hard to predict just which two contestants will be going home--especially in light of the show's new rule. Statistically, the contestants who get cut may still be two of the four who didn't get the top votes last week--Michaela, Adriana, Cody, and Melanie--but we don't really know how those contestants ranked in the overall top 12. It's possible that some of them even received more votes last week than the top scorers on other, weaker teams. And based on this Monday's performances alone, I don't think any of those four singers should be the ones to go. I'd say Cassadee and Dez should get the boot instead--but they have loyal fanbases that may keep them safe. So tune in Tuesday to see who stays and who goes.

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