Top eight night on "The Voice" this Monday was one of the most competitive episodes in the series' history. Seriously, I've just begun this recap and already I'm dreading having to predict who'll go home Tuesday…and I'm dreading Tuesday's actual results show even more.
With so much awesomeness to process, let's just get to recapping, shall we?
James Wolpert (Team Adam) – James has been hit-or-miss this season, and his biggest misses have been when he's tried to do anthemic, belty classic rock, like "More Than a Feeling" and "Without You." So I was worried when I heard that James would be taking on the most anthemic and belty band ever, Queen, doing "Somebody to Love." This would be a disaster, right? Actually, no. It wasn't. It kind of felt like a preview for NBC's recently renewed "The Sing-Off," with nerdy James in a suit, backed by an army of what Carson Daly called "The Many James Wolperts." Yes, it was shouty and awkward in parts — what James Wolpert performance isn't? — but it was charming. (You know what was more awkward? When Carson compared James's army to the Eminem clones in the "Real Slim Shady" video. Doesn't Carson remember what Eminem said about him and Christina Aguilera in that song?) Anyway, this was good. Was it as good as James's coach, Adam Levine, claimed? Well, no. It did not "sound like Freddie [Mercury]," and when Adam claimed that James could "go front Queen tomorrow"…well, I don't think James is any threat to off/on Queen singer Adam Lambert, either. I even preferred Cody Belew's version of "Somebody to Love" from "The Voice" Season 3. Also, contrary to what Blake Shelton said, this was not James's best performance to date (that would be "A Case of You"), nor was CeeLo Green correct when he called this "one of the absolute best performances in the history of 'The Voice.'" But, all that being said, I did enjoy this. James is somebody to love.
Tessanne Chin (Team Adam) – Adam hasn't really done right by Tessanne with his song choices, giving her material that has sucked all the funk right out of her and made her seem old-fashioned. But No Doubt's reggae-tinged "Underneath It All" was the perfect fit for this Jamaican powerhouse. She got sassy, she got in the audience's faces, and she had swagger for days. It was fantastic to see her finally come to life like this. And that reggae breakdown was everything. "Such an amazing moment for you, there…We finally found a way to tie Jamaica to America," said Adam. Christina loved how Tessanne "brought it back to her roots." This was the Tessanne we should have been seeing all along! And I hope we keep seeing more of this version of Tessanne in the top six.
Caroline Pennell (Team CeeLo) – After last week's misstep — when CeeLo let Caroline sing her favorite campfire song, "Leaving On a Jet Plane," and she almost ended up leaving the show — CeeLo tried to steer her back in the right direction this week with Florence & The Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." It was an epic, challenging song, one that would force her out of her shell, yet it was in her wheelhouse, genre-wise. I was hoping this would be Caroline's rebound. And in some ways, it was. I certainly preferred it to last week's snoozefest. But she never quite reached the level of majesty that this massive song required. The song overwhelmed her, and she ultimately fell short of greatness. CeeLo chose not to comment on the actual performance, instead babbling some poem about "you are the only thing that matters to me at this moment" and telling her, perhaps unintentionally discouragingly, "If nothing else, you win, because you win my heart." (I bet she'd rather win the actual "Voice.") Adam appreciated how Caroline pushed herself. But I think she's going to be in trouble again this week.
Cole Vosbury (Team Blake) – With Austin Jenckes now out of the running, Cole is the closest thing to a country singer that Blake (or Season 5 in general) has. So it made sense that Blake had Cole sing "I Still Believe In You" by Vince Gill. Cole did a lovely job with it, sort of turning it into a Skid Row power ballad; there was so much heartland emotion in this, and if they'd allowed cigarette lighters in the studio, I'm sure the swaybots would've flipped their Bics in unison for Cole. And I am sure that Cole's track will light up the iTunes chart this week. Blake called Cole a "lock to be here for a while." Christina told him, "Your voice shone so brightly on that song." And I officially decided that Cole is my favorite to win "The Voice" Season 5. I am a member of the Cole Patrol!
Matthew Schuler (Team Xtina) – Imagine Dragons' "It's Time" was a return to the indie-rock stylings that Matthew chose for himself when he first auditioned with Young the Giant's "Cough Syrup" and sang Florence's "Cosmic Love" in the Knockout Rounds. I was happy to see Matthew back in his element — even though really any song is in his element, since Matthew can just about sing anything. However, this was the first time that I'd ever heard Matthew sound less than perfect. Christina assigned him a ton of choreography alongside a fleet of Rhythm Nation dancers, and I think all that busy staging distracted him and compromised his vocals. Still, Christina and CeeLo loved Matthew's "integrity." And I loved Matthew's presence. The guy certainly commanded the stage. Whatever Matthew does, he's got…wait for it…the X-factor.
Will Champlin (Team Adam) – Will became the first male "Voice" contestant ever to sing the Etta James classic "At Last" this week, and it was a risk. Will it pay off? Maybe/hopefully. I was impressed by the very first note that came out of Will's mouth (and by the way he'd somehow transformed into Adam Levine's mini-me). I thought this was a tour de force…until the end, that is, when his vocals went off the rails, similar to what happened during the coda of his "Demons" performance a couple weeks ago. But I knew that screechiness came from a place of passion, so I tried to excuse it. "Sometimes you get a little crazy because you are so passionate. I have to rein you back in…That was eight notes higher than in rehearsal!...But I love that ambition," said Adam. However, Christina, no stranger to this song herself, thought Will's shrillness was caused by him "overthinking" his performance. Either way, I hope this performance isn't Will's undoing.
Ray Boudreaux (Team Blake) – I thought Ray doing the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" would be corny, but I was actually lovin' this. The song was perfect for his swamp-poppy voice, and the Vegas staging even worked with his Presleyan good looks. I was thoroughly entertained by this sexy, swaggery performance. "It's like Robert Palmer up there!" said Blake. "I loved the whole thing. It was a great performance," said Christina. CeeLo dug Ray's "real rock 'n' roll energy." I can't imagine this is a song that'll climb high on the iTunes chart, so Ray may still be at risk this week, but I do think a lot of ladies will pick up the phone for him, so that will probably be his saving grace.
Jacquie Lee (Team Xtina) – I got excited when Christina, during rehearsals, told Jacquie to bring "aggression" to her performance of the Motown classic "Who's Lovin' You." Aggression is Jacquie's thing! Despite her adorable American Girl-doll face, Jacquie is fierrrrrce. And she definitely attacked this ballad, from its haunting a cappella intro to the big, knee-dropping finish. What a voice! What a star! How is this girl only 16? "It's like you swallowed an old lady," said CeeLo. "You threw it all up there on the stage," said a proud Christina. "You parted somebody's hair down there," said Blake. This was pretty amazing. To loosely quote/answer her own musical question, all of America must be lovin' Jacquie Lee by now.
So now, it is prediction time. Like I said earlier, this one will be a toughie. So many contestants had fantastic performances on Monday. But I will guess that the bottom three will be James Wolpert (because he went first), Will Champlin (because he received some negative feedback), and Caroline Pennell (because "Dog Days" wasn't as epic as it should have been). Which two will go home? Which one will get the Instant Save? Tune in Tuesday to find out.