On Monday night, "The Voice" marked Memorial Day with a campfire, a porch swing, bedazzled cowboy boots and Blake Shelton's country-boy tribute song, "Boys 'Round Here," an appealing slice of American cheese if ever there was one. It also brought us more showstopper performances as the Top 8 – three singers each from Teams Adam and Blake, and one each from Teams Shakira and Usher – did their best to keep their dreams alive for one more week.
Team Adam's Judith Hill, Michael Jackson's former backup singer, took a backseat to no one with her take on will.i.am's "#thatPOWER." From her elaborate hairdo ("badass," Shelton called it) to her commanding stage moves, Hill looked -- as well as sounded -- every bit a superstar. Shelton caught a whiff of CeeLo Green showmanship. Usher was impressed by Hill's philanthropic work with students in Japan. Shakira toasted the audacity of making the song so much her own. And Hill's coach Adam Levine gushed that it was the first time this season he felt like he was watching an artist, rather than a "Voice" contestant, perform on the stage, saying Hill was at the same level as the four coaches.
Seeking to show the audience a new facet of her voice and performance style, Texas college student Holly Tucker, of Team Blake, fiercely stomped and sang her way through the Band Perry's "Done." Usher complimented the notes she hit and the coach who helped her hit them. Shakira dug Tucker's "blinged-out cowboy boots" as well as her "attitude and sassiness." Levine felt she'd shown her range. And Shelton contended that it was the first time in the competition that Tucker took ownership of a song. "You just chewed it up and spat it out. That song was begging for mercy by the end of it," Shelton said. "Meet Holly Tucker, everybody."
Team Blake's funny, talented duo the Swon Brothers took on the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road," tackling their harmonies with what seemed like a new seriousness and drive. They could have been feeling the heat from the competition -- or from the campfire they were gathered 'round on stage. If nothing else, Carson Daly was grateful to the Oklahoma brothers for bringing the warmth of a Memorial Day barbecue "to all of us stuck in this room." Usher liked the way the bros had brought the classic song their "personal touch." Shakira thought the harmonies "suited" their voices, calling it "a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll." Levine said there were a few moments when he was "a little scared" of the harmonies, but that ultimately those minor quibbles "ironed themselves out as the song progressed." And Shelton toasted the Swon Brothers' growth and realness, calling them "complicated in a really, really good way."
Sasha Allen, Team Shakira's sole remaining member, sounded uncharacteristically like her coach -- that fast vibrato -- on David Guetta/Usher's "Without You." The cheesy mime-ish backup dancers were not such a great touch, either. But the coaches seemed to enjoy it. Levine called himself a "dummy" for letting Allen go when she was on his team. Shelton thought her precision performance had bought Allen and Shakira another week. Usher said he'd enjoyed the fact that Allen did her own thing with his song. And Shakira called Allen "the whole package" and "the epitome of the American woman," able to rise to any challenge. "You can do it all," she said.
Levine assigned Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" to the earthy Sarah Simmons, saying it was "exactly the space that I think Sarah can occupy in music." She tackled it with the gusto we've come to expect from her but didn't elicit a huge amount of enthusiasm from the coaches. Shelton paid tribute to Simmons' flexibility. Usher alluded to "sharps and flats" but called the performance "good." Shakira (rightly, I think) questioned the freshness of the material but said it had been "quite enjoyable." And Levine, repeatedly wondering whether he could say "ass" on TV while repeatedly saying "ass" on TV, said Simmons had kicked everyone's "butt" the previous week and had shown off her "range and scope" this week. No one had done that song right, he said, until this week when she had.
Team Usher's one remaining member, Michelle Chamuel, in whose honor her coach had donned hipster-nerd specs for the episode, sang Bruno Mars' "Grenade." She wanted to show a new level of vulnerability, and she also showed off her trademark deep-knee-bend-enhanced song delivery. Shakira called the performance "spectacular," complimenting Chamuel's vocal timbre, falsettos, stage presence and confidence. Levine said it was "dynamic," one of the best performances of the night. Shelton added that it was Chamuel's personal best, marveling, "I can't believe such a big voice comes out of such a little human being." And Usher said he himself would be willing to catch a grenade for Chamuel, adding that she represented "true inner beauty."
The coaches were no less over-the-moon for young'un Danielle Bradbery's take on the Judds' "Grandpa (Tell Me Bout the Good Old Days)" – on an elaborate front-porch set. Shelton is Bradbery's coach, but the others were equally effusive. Usher called her a "prodigy." Shakira said she had "star quality." Levine predicted she'd be a huge country star, "one of the best." And Shelton said "anyone with ears" could see how amazing she was, but also that she took us all back to a time to "when things were good," an important thing to remember when taking in the world today.
Levine, meanwhile, saddled his young country-singing prodigy, Amber Carrington, with Adele's "Skyfall," telling her she had to sing the best she'd ever sung. The remarkably talented Carrington rose to the daunting challenge, and she sent it flying. "I think you just took the diva powerhouse vocal of the night for sure," Shelton said. Usher mistakenly called Amber "Adele," and then declared her performance to have been "incredible." Shakira noted that the song choice was "perplexing," given Levine's antipathy to contestants singing Adele songs but noted, "It worked." Levine said that no one had ever in the "brief history" of "The Voice" done an Adele song justice but that Carrington had. She could "literally do anything," he said, predicting that she'd be popular not only in the world of country music but in countries all over the world.
The evening also brought some terrific group numbers, which served as another reminder of how unfortunate it will be to see any of the remaining contestants go this week. If I had to pick, I'd say Allen and Simmons, and perhaps the Swon Brothers, are vulnerable this week.
Who do you think will be sent packing?