Blake Shelton may have been right when he stutteringly declared that "The Voice" top 10 live show on Monday night was the "best live show" he'd seen in seven seasons, which is to say the best ever.
"These performances are unbelievable," he said. They were. And the unbelievably good performances kept on coming even after he said it.
Who knows what motivated so many of the singers to reach new levels of impressiveness? Was it the guidance of guest mentors Diana Ross (working alongside Pharrell Williams), Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump (Adam Levine), Colbie Caillat (Blake Shelton) or old coach Christina Aguilera? Or was it, perhaps, the presence in the audience of legendary music producer Clive Davis, who had given the top 10 a "master class" in … well, apparently, in Whitney Houston, whom he had ushered to fame?
After Davis heard DaNica Shirey of Team Pharrell sing a Whitney song, he told the other contestants they had their work cut out for them. It was, in fact, Shirey's exquisite rendition of Houston's "I Have Nothing" that prompted Shelton to issue his best-ever declaration.
But Shirey wasn't the only one to wow on Monday night. At least half of the singers in this year's top 10 – perhaps even the vast majority of them -- gave performances that transcended anything they'd done before. That's going to make Tuesday night's eliminations feel especially unfortunate.
Here's how it went down:
Matt McAndrew (Team Adam): McAndrew held the audience – and especially his own coach -- rapt with his take on Coldplay's "Fix You," fulfilling Levine's hope that the marriage of his "soft and sweet" and "big and bombastic" sides would prove powerful. Shelton said McAndrew had "the drama," "range," "stage presence" -- "everything." Williams said radio stations should be calling him and adding his music to their playlists. Gwen Stefani said it showed "what kind of artist" McAndrew could be. And Levine agreed with Shelton that McAndrew could do "everything," adding, "But you do it in such a way that's so humble." It was a super-solid start for a stellar evening.
Anita Antoinette (Team Gwen): Having Antoinette bring her reggae vibe to Passenger's "Let Her Go" and styling her like Janelle Monae were inspired ideas. And I was especially grateful that she was in Doc Martens-ish boots rather than high heels while she was dancing atop and then descending a tall, banister-free staircase. Antoinette is not entirely vocally consistent, but she has moments of gorgeousness and she's always fun to watch. Shelton, Williams and her coach, Stefani, all complimented her on her fresh spin and fun energy. "You killed it," Stefani said.
Damien (Team Adam): Levine urged Damien to wring every bit of emotion out of Stevie Wonder's "You and I," and Damien, the king of singing himself to tears, was clearly up to the task. The Maroon 5 singer had predicted there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house, and at the very least there wasn't one on the stage. The coaches, too, were impressed, and rightly so; all four gave Damien a standing ovation. Williams told Damien he had assuredly made his parents, who were in attendance, "so happy" and that his hometown fans "must be losing their minds right now." Levine said he had "felt the entire audience get on board" with Damien when he hit an impressive series of notes.
Reagan James (Team Blake): Preternaturally poised and inarguably talented, 16-year-old James provided one of the evening's few disappointments with her performance of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." Shelton said the singer had "big ideas," but she may not yet be ready to fully execute them. For the second week in a row, she seemed a bit breathless, and at the same time a little shouty. Levine, however, praised the young singer for her "commitment" and told her it was her "best performance so far." Noting the song's difficulties -- "You were doing two people's jobs in one performance there," he said -- Shelton agreed.
Luke Wade (Team Pharrell): With his first riveting, then rousing performance of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" Wade may have sprinted back to the front of the pack after last week's unfortunate misfire. Wade's trademark tone was on display, and he added to it a wonderful new level of playfulness, confidence and command of the stage. Stefani said it was "cool" to see how much the singer had "evolved" during his time on the show. Levine declared him to be "back" after a "rough" week. And Williams told his team member he had not only executed what they had planned but had "exceeded" his expectations, adding, "job well done." Indeed.
Craig Wayne Boyd (Team Blake): The competition's sole remaining country singer made Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" into, well, what sounded like an entirely different song -- and a pretty good song at that. Boyd has managed to shed much of his initial cheesiness, along with his leather fringe and much of his long hair, and emerged much stronger for it. The song highlighted the strength and clarity of his vocals and earned him a standing ovation from all four coaches. Williams said he was impressed by Boyd's awareness of who he was and willingness "to represent that." Stefani predicted that he'd have a "whole career after this, a real serious career." Levine marveled at Boyd's growth. And Shelton called it "magic," alluded to the singer's "struggles … along the way" and congratulated him on finally having the "moment" he deserved.
Ryan Sill (Team Gwen): If "Voice" history is any guide, Sill, who was the recipient of last week's Twitter "instant save," will almost assuredly be a goner this week. But that didn't stop him from giving his all to his performance of Muse's "Starlight." It may have been his best performance to date, as Shelton observed, but it probably wasn't enough to save him -- and the coaches' comments seemed to indicate as much. Levine told him he was in the process of figuring out who he was and that if he kept at it, he'd "continue to be successful … beyond the show." Williams called him the competition's "most improved" singer, and Stefani said it was exciting to watch him blossom as an artist before our eyes. She was, she said, "just so proud" of Sill.
DaNica Shirey (Team Pharrell): Shirey's pitch-perfect performance of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" was definitely one of the evening's showstoppers. "Can you do it again?" Stefani wondered, adding that watching Shirey perform was "so fun." Levine indicated that Shirey was one of few singers worthy of tackling that song. And Shelton, after declaring it the "best live show" ever on "The Voice," said she'd "just killed it." Williams declared his mind to have been "blown" and complimented Shirey on getting over her initial hesitation, never looking back and continuing "to ascend and ascend and ascend."
Taylor John Williams (Team Gwen): Williams' take on the Beatles "Come Together" showed off a whole new side of him -- a fun side, a risk-taking side, a willingness to work the stage … side. As Levine put it, "It's just nice to see the beastly dude come out." Shelton said Williams "looked like a ninja." And Pharrell said he had "two words to describe that: rock star." Stefani admitted she'd been uncertain about the song choice, but had been made a believer. "You're not even wearing socks right now, that's how cute you are," she told her team member, adding that if she were a 15-year-old in high school, his picture "would be all over my locker. You would be everywhere."
Chris Jamison (Team Adam): I've probably said it before, but there is something especially charming about Jamison, a particular appeal in the carefree yet fully committed way he approaches his performances onstage. Jamison called on all his charms to carry Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" and hold his own in the midst of a full-on stage production. Once the cheers had died down, Shelton said he thought so too. Stefani said he'd "just manned the … whole stage" and called his command exciting and "rare." Levine called it "spectacular" and unlike anything the show had seen before.