Carson Daly called Monday's show on "The Voice" a "huge night" — "probably the biggest night of the season." Was he referring to this week's higher stakes? Three, not two, of the contestants will be eliminated Tuesday night.
Or perhaps he was inspired by performances not only by current coach Blake Shelton, who sang "My Eyes" with his Season 2 "Voice" team member Gwen Sebastian, but also by next season's new coaches: Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani, who performed individually and then together on Stefani's hit "Hollaback Girl."
Or, I suppose, he might have meant the big news that Adam Levine had suddenly decided to become a blond: "I woke up, I had the day off and I thought I'd look like Shakira. … I don't know why I did it, but it feels right," Levine offered by way of nonexplanation, adding that the only thing that had given him pause about making his hair transformation was knowing how much fun Shelton would (and did) have with it.
Or maybe Daly was referring to the go-big-or-go-home quality of the performances of the contestants themselves: All of the Top 8 did remarkably well, presenting viewers with a tough call this week. This year, the voters' decision is not going to be about which performer is more talented, but rather, simply, which remarkably talented singer they prefer.
Here's how the evening's "huge" performances went down:
Team Blake's Sisaundra Lewis, whose secular-music-eschewing 76-year-old mother had come to see her perform for the very first time, took on Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," which she had performed as a backup singer with Celine Dion previously in her career. Lewis' powerful, controlled performance impressed everyone except perhaps, from the looks of it, her mom. But Lewis was moved to tears simply by her mom's presence.
Usher said Lewis had evolved into a "major entertainer" and a "diva." Shakira called Lewis' vocal ability "astonishing." "If you ever opened the School of Sisaundra Lewis," Shakira said, she and the other coaches would probably enroll "just so you can show us how it's done." Levine called the performance "elegant" and "electric" and said as a "strong woman" Lewis had made a great choice to sing a song by Tina Turner, "arguably … one of the strongest women ever to grace us with her presence." Shelton said he was "absolutely thrilled" that, after trying "all kinds of music," Lewis was figuring out who she was "as an artist."
Team Usher's sole remaining contestant, Josh Kaufman, formerly of Team Adam, took on Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and set about trying to make the audience love him. "You have to make a connection," Usher told Kaufman, saying he thought his team member was capable of making the audience "feel something that is magical." With his mostly spot-on performance, Kaufman seemed to deliver on his promise.
"There are artists in this world, and there are artists with good taste," Shakira told Kaufman. "And I think you belong to the second group." Kaufman's "tone" and "vocal arrangement," she said, were "so interesting and so intuitive." Levine told Kaufman that he enjoyed seeing him succeed "whether you are a part of my team or not." Shelton said Kaufman had given "as perfect of a performance as I've seen on this show in seven seasons. … It had magic all over it." Usher told Kaufman he had shown the confidence of "a real artist," made a "very personal" connection and come out and done "everything that you said you would and everything I hoped you would."
Kat Perkins, seeking to return from last week's bottom three with a "breakout moment" and shoot for the win, did a hard-rock/heavy-metal version of the Daft Punk (featuring Pharrell) pop song "Get Lucky." Jumping around onstage and in the audience and never missing a note or a beat, Perkins had a fiery energy that went way beyond the ample stage pyrotechnics.
Usher said the audience's enthusiastic response was "a clear indication of what everybody felt about" the performance and said he wished he had long hair to flip around as Perkins had. Shakira said she'd seen a new side of Perkins and admired the way she really knew herself and remained true to her vision. Levine again spoke disdainfully of Perkins' presence in last week's bottom three and glowingly of Perkins' passion, power and performance. "I am on fire, both because of the fire and also because I love you so much," Levine said.
Kristen Merlin, the only remaining member of Team Shakira, vowed to "leave everything out there" with her performance of Lee Brice's "I Drive Your Truck," a song inspired by the loss of a young soldier. Merlin felt personally connected to the song, in part because, she said, her dad was in the Army and she had profound respect for those who served in the military. She gave a heartfelt, emotional performance.
Shelton said she'd done a "great job" on a "tough song" and had "made a believer" out of him by getting better every week. Usher called the performance "irresistible," telling Merlin, "wherever you're headed in that truck, you're on the right track." Shakira called the performance "so beautiful" and "truly transcendent." "You moved me," she told Merlin. "Every single cell in my body felt what that song was about."
Team Adam's singing barista Delvin Choice, who had bounced back from being rejected during "The Voice" auditions in a previous season, evoked his own resilience with R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Levine said that, while "on paper" the song choice was "all wrong," presumably because it was a somewhat trite selection, Choice's emotional connection to the song meant it was clearly the right song for him to do. Choice moved himself to tears during rehearsal, prompting Levine to assert, "Delvin Choice was born to sing this song." And he did make the song soar.
Shelton said Choice's "powerful" performance was "as good as it gets on this show." Usher observed that you "never see a man fly till you've seen a man cry," commended Choice on his "incredible performance" and said the song represented "the dream that all of the contestants have." Levine said that, as far as he was concerned, "there wasn't any other song you could have done tonight." He added that, "no matter what happens," Choice should be "satisfied" because he'd proven he deserved "to be at the end of this thing."
Team Blake country singer Audra McLaughlin took on the task of making Rebecca Lynn Howard's "Forgive" — a song about love and betrayal — sound, in her coach's words, "like something that's really happening to her right now." That may not have happened, but she did show off her range by hitting and holding some impressive notes.
Shakira called her performance "awesome" and "effortless" and said she seemed vocally "unstoppable." Shelton agreed and complimented McLaughlin on the way she was "able to dump your heart into what you're singing." He said McLaughlin was about to make people feel what she was singing about and that he had found himself "getting wrapped up in that performance."
Another Team Blake country singer, Jake Worthington, battled through allergies (and perhaps illness) to sing "Hillbilly Deluxe" by Brooks & Dunn, with which he said he was hoping to "show a little bit of my redneck side." He showed all that and more, working the stage and connecting with the audience — literally, by touching hands of those positioned near the stage. (I trust whatever he had wasn't communicable.)
"You had me air drumming; that's a good sign," Shakira said, calling Worthington's performance "very frontal and very aggressive" and saying he "attacked every note" and "performed with the right attitude," which was the key to country music. Levine called Worthington "cool" and "casual" and "as authentic as it gets." Shelton said people already liked "Jake the dude" and knew he was a "great singer," and that this performance had "introduced America to Jake the artist." He said it was as if he had announced, "here's the guy I am" and "here's everything I do."
In the night's final performance, Team Adam's YouTube star Christina Grimmie, encouraged by Levine, again took a rapper's song, as she had last week, and rearranged it to make it her own. This week it was Lil Wayne's "How to Love." "I want to top last week," she said. She just may have.
Shelton said she'd looked and sounded "like a superstar." Usher said there was "no doubt" that she had an "incredible voice" but wondered if maybe she really wanted "to be a hip-hop artist," noting that it seemed like her "comfort zone." Shakira called the performance "something huge." Grimmie's ability to arrange a song as she had was "the mark of a true star," Shakira said, and called her voice and range "just insane." Levine observed that one of the things Grimmie had going for her was that "there's no other version of that song. If anyone wants to experience what they just experienced, they have to download your version." She had, he said, "created a new thing."
With eight solid performances, it's hard to predict who will head home on Tuesday night. Which three do you think are most vulnerable?