May the best good-looking man with killer pipes win.
Five super-talented, easy-on-the-eyes guys took the stage – twice – in “The Voice” semifinals on Monday night. (Well, six if you count coach Blake Shelton, who kicked off the show singing “Lonely Tonight” alongside Ashley Monroe.)
First, each semifinalist sang a “coach pick,” though, it would seem, two of them selected their own songs for the round. And then, after a “hometown visit” a la “American Idol,” each returned to the stage with a song dedicated to their supporters back home.
The hometown visits were sweet: Small relatives were embraced. Elder relatives bestowed heartfelt tributes. Coworkers cheered. Mayors declared days in contestants’ honor. Concerts and interviews were given. Tears were shed by contestants and those close to them – and also, apparently, by Gwen Stefani, who repeatedly declared herself to have been profoundly moved.
Team Adam’s Damien appeared first with Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life,” which Shelton called “one of the most perfect performances” he’d ever heard on “The Voice.” Pharrell Williams complimented Damien on his ability to “tell his story” every week, and Adam Levine called his team member “one of the most coachable guys on the planet Earth.”
Damien’s second number was more upbeat, but no less heartfelt: Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait,” to which, as Stefani pointed out and Levine confirmed, he brought a Peter Gabriel-esque spin. Shelton observed that it was nice to see Damien do “something fun and up-tempo,” which was true, and Williams marveled at Damien’s “phenomenal” voice and “incredible” spirit as well as the “touching” message he was transmitting to the world. Levine declared himself to be “so proud” to play a part in Damien’s success.
For Craig Wayne Boyd, coach Shelton played to his base with Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues,” and Boyd seemed to have fun with it, running around the stage, pointing his finger for emphasis and “honkeytonking” with verve, whatever that exactly means. The coaches admired his confidence. “That is the kind of performance that you see from someone who knows exactly who they are and knows had to go out there and have a great time,” Williams said. Stefani hailed his natural stage presence and ability to “get the whole crowd going,” as well as his singing, and Levine called Boyd “consistent” and “powerful.” Shelton declared Boyd to be “one of the best singers I’ve ever heard in my life” and said he was eager to see what would become of him after the show, predicting he may turn into “a superstar in country music.”
And speaking of playing to his base, Boyd went even further with his second song: the country gospel standard “The Old Rugged Cross,” on which he was backed by a string section and surrounded by projections evoking church. Williams followed Boyd to church, offering glory, while Levine took strategic measure of the song choice and performance, calling it “brilliant” and “special” – “the perfect thing at the perfect moment.” Shelton defaulted to hyperbole: “You gave one of the most passionate epic vocal performances I have ever heard on this stage,” he told his sole remaining contestant.
Team Gwen’s Taylor John Williams shed his hat, grabbed his guitar and sang a perfectly solid version of “Falling Slowly” by the Swell Season. The crowd voiced their approval, as did the coaches. Shelton said he’d done “much better” than ever before, showing greater vocal “strength and range.” And Pharrell toasted him for his willingness to take “creative license” with songs. Stefani offered sort of tepid praise, considering that Williams is her only shot at the win. “Whether you’re here on this show or not, you’re going to make a record and we’re all fans,” she said.
Williams’ second song, “Blank Space,” was among the show’s few weak spots. While it was interesting to hear a male take on the Taylor Swift song – and the whole Taylor-on-Taylor thing was kind of cute – Williams seemed outmatched by the song and overshadowed by the dancers writhing in silhouette behind him. The coaches rolled out their usual descriptions for Williams: “unique,” “true artist.” And Stefani begged for votes, saying Williams deserved to move on, but I don’t feel terribly confident on his behalf.
I do feel confident about Team Adam’s Matt McAndrew, who began with a rivetingly intense performance of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain.” Shelton called it a “Grammy-worthy performance.” Pharrell called McAndrew a “star.” And Stefani mulled his curious contradictions – a “sweet guy” with glasses who has a lot of tattoos, and so on. Levine went in for the hard sell: “There’s nobody more humble, nobody more laid back than this guy,” he told the audience, adding that McAndrew can, nevertheless, “do literally anything.” He added, “I don’t think ‘The Voice’ has ever had a guy that can do as much as effortlessly or as gracefully” as McAndrew can.
Certainly McAndrew proved he was up for a challenge with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for,” holding his own amid a big production and ending with a dramatic fall to his knees. The coaches loved it almost as much as the crowd. Shelton marveled at McAndrew’s apparent effortlessness. Williams said McAndrew had “slaughtered” it and done Bono proud. Stefani called McAndrew’s voice “rich and magic.” And Levine was rendered nearly speechless, offering a breathless, “just wow.”
And speaking of “just wow,” is Team Adam’s Chris Jamison peaking at the right time or what? First he showed off his killer falsetto and undeniable charisma (I’m a little abashed to admit it, but I feel a secret thrill every time it’s his turn to perform) with Maroon 5’s new song “Sugar.” (Nevermind the hot-pants-wearing, guitar-slinging female dancers.) Shelton observed that “the party starts” whenever Jamison hits his falsetto, noting “you can just feel the room change.” Stefani called the performance “strong” and “amazing.” And Levine remarked that Jamison “had to fight” to remain in the competition, flirting with the bottom three twice, but had “continued to rise to the occasion” and could either win it all or leave this week and still continue his upward trajectory.
That trajectory took a sharp turn skyward with Jamison’s showcapping second outing: Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” which in other hands may have seemed an uninspired song choice. In Jamison’s able mitts, however, it was kind of a genius move, proving the cute college mailman is a gifted, sensitive singer, not just a showman, and highlighting his exquisite falsetto. Stefani said it was her favorite Jamison performance. And Levine declared himself to be super-proud. “Vote for this dude,” he pleaded. “He deserves to be there at the end.” I couldn’t agree more.
I’d love to see Jamison and McAndrew make it through to the finals – and if Craig Wayne Boyd joined them there, that would be fine, though I can see an argument for Damien, too. Taylor John Williams’ time seems up. And for the wildcard slot, for which all those eliminated in the Top 12 will be eligible, well, I’d be pleased to see DaNica Shirey return to the fold for the finals. You?