"The Voice" will send two of its top five singers home on Tuesday night, eliminating them ahead of next week's season finale. But on Monday's semifinal performance show, which Usher kicked off by taking the stage with his new song "Twisted," it actually sent all five of them home to see their friends and family, make a few media appearances (including radio, that quaint old medium), and perform at a ballgame, nightclub, school gym or other venue.
All five contenders enjoyed tearful reunions. Some of them got keys to the city. Others enjoyed new recognition from their peers. (One of Danielle Bradbery's fellow high school students said she had no idea she could sing like that.) The Swon Brothers had a dual triumph, raking in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame "Rising Star" award (with a video tribute from Vince Gill) and a whole week named in their honor.
And us? We got to hear the contestants sing two songs apiece: one chosen by the contestant and dedicated to someone special and the other chosen by her or their coach.
Team Blake's the Swon Brothers dedicated Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" to all the band members who've played with them in the past and the guys who do currently, who've given them "a backbone" through times flush and lean, they said. Usher and Adam Levine toasted the bros' band appreciation – "Good on you," said Levine, who honored them with a made-up-on-the-fly, flutter-handed "Swon salute," which is bound to catch on. The Swons' coach, Blake Shelton, said the duo had shown more growth than any other performer in the competition. Week after week, they "continue to blow people away and beat the odds," he said.
Shelton's selection for the Swons was Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song," on which one of them (Zach, I think, though I'm not entirely sure which is Zach and which Colton) played piano. Usher declared himself to have been -- Blake had called it -- "blown away" by their performance. Levine said the song was one of his favorites and that he'd enjoyed their version. And Shelton predicted that, looking back, they'd come to think of this night as the biggest they'd had on the show.
Sasha Allen, of Team Shakira, boldly elected to sing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," citing Houston as an inspiration and influence and dedicating the song to her young children, whom she said she would, yes, always love. The production – harp, flowing gauzy white gown, smoke, wind machine, projected water drips – was a little over the top, but somewhere in there, Allen managed to deliver an adequate version of the song. Levine thought she'd stood up to a nightmarishly challenging song and given it her own spin. Usher said her voice was going to keep her on the show. Shakira called the performance "beautiful" and "pure" and said Allen had satisfied Shakira's own mother, who'd been agitating for a Houston song, and "made Whitney's fans really proud."
The production values were no less razzmatazz for the song Shakira had picked for Allen, Donna Summers' "Bad Girls," which included dancers working their moves directly in front of each of the male judges and Allen's first name spelled out in glittery lights. "If there was any ambiguity about what your name was, that's been cleared up," Levine said. Usher said he'd found his "private show" thoroughly "entertaining." And Carson Daly observed it was like it was "1979 all over again."
Shakira, who said Summers' album was her very first, called Allen's performance "magical." With "a little bit of guidance and a lot of work," she said, Allen had become a "phenomenal performer." At the very least, she'll no longer have to dream about seeing her name in lights.
For his team member Michelle Chamuel, Usher picked Zedd's "Clarity," with which she earned her usual props from all the coaches. "I feel like a broken record because every week I always just tell you how much I love you, so I don’t know what I can say -- except I love you," Levine gushed. Shelton lamented the fact that Chamuel never stumbled, was "always solid," and demonstrated the power of "squatting." "As if you didn't know the numbers I'm hitting are awesome, I'm going to squat," he said, channeling Chamuel. Usher said that every week, Chamuel was "consistent," bringing her "A game" and "showing the world the artist that you are."
Chamuel gave the props right back to Usher, dedicating Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," the final performance of the night, to her coach and his "incredible team." He'd grown to be "like family" to her, she said, and she really looked up to him. "Time after time you've been there for me," Chamuel told Usher, "and this one's for you." After Chamuel's riveting performance, Shakira called her "without a doubt one of my favorites in this competition" and said she was "on a permanent crescendo." Levine said she'd taken the performance "to the next level." And Usher enthused, "My God, you're the winner … medicine for the whole world."
Danielle Bradbery's coach selection, Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me," was dubbed "amazeballs" by Usher and technically "proficient" by Levine. Coach Shelton lauded Bradbery's "precise, perfect pitch" and said she had no "weaknesses" in her voice.
Bradbery's own pick was Jessica Andrews' "Who I Am," which she dedicated to her parents and her best friend, Haley. She sang it to her family in the audience and managed to sound more connected to the lyrics than she sometimes does. (See Levine's loaded comment above about technical proficiency.) Shakira said she was "such a little star" and "the cutest thing ever" and predicted she'd be proud one day to say she knew Bradbery way back when. Shelton smartly used his time not to praise Bradbery's voice, but to soften up her image, calling her "unaffected," "every bit the girl you hope she is," and someone who "wants this so bad" and is "working so hard."
Levine's answer to Bradbery, Amber Carrington, dedicated her first song, Katy Perry's "Firework" (with which Perry wished her luck via video), to her best friends back in Texas. And while she hit some blockbuster notes at the end and did her best, she didn't entirely get the better of a tough song. Shelton admired Carrington's power and called her "just so freaking good." Shakira said Levine should add it to his list of nightmare songs, but said we all knew Carrington had "a great voice." And Levine said Perry had told him the song was a nightmare even for her to sing, but said Carrington had sung it better than anyone on the show had before. Then he offered Carrington kudos for not sticking to a single genre. "You can literally do anything," he said, "and that is the coolest thing."
In fact, the coolest thing for Carrington, Levine and the rest of us actually came later in the evening, when she tackled Maroon 5's "Sad," and made her coach very happy. It was beautiful, emotional, perhaps my favorite performance of the night. Shelton felt it, too. "I don't think you've gotten the recognition for how emotional you are when you perform," he said, "and it's beautiful."
Levine said that the fact that she'd sung his song "better than I did and did it such justice makes me so happy … I'm so overjoyed right now I don't even care about anything else. That was incredible."
"Incredible" may be way overused on "The Voice," as is "amazing," but some of these performers are worthy of high praise indeed. I'm picking Carrington, Bradbery and Chamuel as my top three, but really, all top five are still contenders. Who do you think will go home?
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