The Voice Recap: Best Episode Ever? [Updated]
“This may be the best episode of The Voice we’ve ever had,” Blake Shelton said tonight, in that homespun drawl of his that never seems anything less than genuine. And try as I might, I’m not sure I can find a way to disagree with him.
Sure, I could poke fun at the show’s enthusiastic-to-the-point-of-frenzied audience. (Is everyone in the studio required to pound a can of Red Bull, or maybe Red! Hyena!, in between every performance?). Or I could mock the crazy hyperbole of the “gold stars for everyone!” coaches. (Did Cee Lo really tell Nicholas David that his voice made him feel like “a child in the presence of my creator”?) I could even quibble with NBC’s decision to bring in guest mentors for the sole purpose of hyping Jennifer Hudson’s role in Season 2 of Smash (of course, if I did, I’d have to worry about my Gay Card getting revoked.)
So instead, I’ll just rise to my feet and give The Voice‘s Season 3 finalists the slow clap they deserve. Indeed, there wasn’t a full-fledged disaster at any point during the Top 10 performance telecast, and the very best numbers could’ve easily fit in during Sunday night’s American Music Awards. Yeah, I said it, and I’m not under the influence of a berry-flavored energy drink.
Let’s get to the grades for the Top 10, shall we? But before we do, a game of “Word Salad” with Christina Milian: “Our boy and our girl Blaketina, they’re performing on the show with live!” Um, okay then…
Amanda Brown: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Stars” | “That performance is the way I want to be introduced to that song,” said Blake, who along with Christina, admitted to never before having heard “Stars.” (That makes three of us.) But that’s the beauty of Amanda Brown: She eschews standard-operating reality-competition covers — not to mention the conventions of what pop radio expects from a black female artist — and takes things in an infinitely more interesting direction. The fact that she’s note perfect, incredibly nuanced, and as powerful as tropical-storm winds, ranks her as my favorite Voice contestant ever. Grade: A
Cassadee Pope: Miranda Lambert’s “Over You” | Regular TVLine readers know I’ve been throwing pebbles as Cassadee’s bandwagon all season, but I climbed aboard it at least for the duration of her haunting rendition of “Over You.” For the first time this season, the former Hey Monday singer nailed every note like an Army sharpshooter playing Duck Hunt at the county fair, and better still, she infused the tune with honest, aching emotion. Do I wish the cameras hadn’t spent half the performance in an over-Cassadee’s-shoulder shot of her mentor Blake, resting his head on his hand and gazing wistfully up at the stage? Um, yeah. Because while it was touching that the country star allowed Cassadee to cover a song he’d cowritten about the loss of his brother, putting the focus (literally) on him took focus off what his protégé was doing. At the end of the day, the performance worked because of Cassadee’s interpretive powers, not because of Blake’s personal connection to the material. Grade: A
Dez Duron: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” | This was an ambitious number for Dez — and not just because Adam Lambert and Melanie Amaro have turned in devastating versions on Idol and X Factor respectively in recent years. Sure, the dashing former football player has had some solid moments in Season 3, but nothing from his oeuvre suggested he’d be able to slay a dragon the size of this big, jazzy ditty. And yet for the second straight week, Dez served notice that he can’t merely be dismissed as a pretty face — no matter how many times the coaches or Christina Milian undermine his credibility with their “ladies love Dez” remarks. Bringing a powerful physicality to the performance, Dez tamed “Feeling Good” with outstretched arms and punches to the air — barely breaking a sweat as he scaled the high notes. Grade: A-
Bryan Keith: Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” | There’s something a little sleepy about Bryan’s delivery, an almost inebriated languidness that recounts smoke-filled, basement jazz clubs rendered in black and white. And that made “New York State of Mind” a perfect song choice, especially with the appealing way the dude’s voice begins to shred when he reaches the ends of certain lines. I’ll admit I had absolutely no clue what Cee Lo and Adam were talking about when they droned on about how one needs to “have a pair” to properly interpret the song — Billy Joel ain’t exactly White Zombie — and now I’m just left hoping the strange sidebar didn’t distract viewers from picking up their phones and voting. Grade: A-