'The Voice' recap: Top 8 are top great as old coaches return

CeeLo Green, Usher and Gwen Stefani return to co-coach 'The Voice' top 8

“CeeLo! Where’s your cat?” Hannah Kirby said, inquiring after Purrfect the Cat by way of greeting on “The Voice” on Monday’s top 8 performance show, on which former coaches CeeLo Green, Usher and Gwen Stefani returned to help mentor Teams Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Christina Aguilera and Pharrell Williams, respectively.

“I didn’t bring her today,” Green responded. “Will I be enough, darling?”

His uncertainty seemed real and justified. Green’s departure from the show in 2014 came amid rape allegations (charges were never filed), a no contest plea to a felony count of furnishing Ecstasy to his accuser, and an outcry after he implied on Twitter that it’s not rape if a woman is unconscious and doesn’t remember. (He later apologized for the comments.)

It was a less flamboyant CeeLo we saw slip into his old chair on Monday night, though he did manage to channel his flair for the theatrical into some of the Team Blake productions.

And the other returning coaches? Yes, Usher threatened to make Levine’s sole remaining artist, Joshua Davis, do push-ups (he was kidding) -- and Stefani brainstormed costume ideas for some members of Teams Christina and Pharrell. Shakira send her regards via video from hilly Barcelona. It was nice to see them.

Matt McAndrew, a finalist from last season, also came back to the stage to rock out on his new single “Counting on Love.” Shelton performed his song “Sangria.”

As for the Top 8 performances …

Hannah Kirby (Team Blake): Kirby showed off her power and control, as well as a few of her trademark dance moves, with Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” on which she was joined by a chorus of dancing kids. The musical moppets were Green’s idea – and they were distracting. “I can so tell who the co-coach on that one was,” Aguilera said, noting that the move to include the kid dancers “had CeeLo’s stamp” all over it. Williams, who had at one point been Kirby’s coach, said she was “waving a flag out there for everyone who’s different” and wanted to do things her or his own way. Shelton kept his focus on Kirby’s singing, saying “every single syllable, every note” had been “absolutely perfect.” He added that Kirby had become one of his “all-time favorite artists” to compete on “The Voice.” “There’s never been anyone else like you,” he said.

Joshua Davis (Team Adam): Davis sought a “breakthrough moment” with Sting's "Fields of Gold," which he felt evoked his own story. In truth it felt more like a return to form after a shaky last week, an unsuccessful stretch that had left him vulnerable to elimination, requiring and receiving a last-minute save from his fans. Levine seemed resigned to accept the limits of Davis’ range and what increasingly appears to be his own likely lack of a win this season. He didn’t even bother to give Davis, his sole remaining contestant, a standing ovation. Shelton, meanwhile, said Davis had proved why he still deserved to be in the running and commended him for turning in a simple, stripped-down performance. Levine said that in a field of “bombastic” singers, Davis had bravely gone out and done something “distinctively very different” with admirable “class and elegance,” calling the effort “absolutely stunning.”

Kimberly Nichole (Team Christina): Nichole turned in yet another stunner, rendering Radiohead’s “Creep” completely her own. At one point, she bent over backward, literally, to belt out the lyrics, and by the dramatic end she had sunk onto her side on the smoky stage in her ball gown. Yet for all its big production values – the flickering faux candles, the glittering gown, the fake fog – her performance felt real and humble, belying the lyric “I don’t belong here.” She rightly earned a four-coach standing ovation. Williams called the performance “masterful.” Levine called it “really powerful and very dramatic and super-amazing.” Shelton marveled that Nichole had, with just a few days to prepare, given “the type of performance you’d think somebody would spend months rehearsing and working up” and called her “naturally talented” and “a star.” Aguilera said Nichole was a true “artist.”

Meghan Linsey (Team Blake): Linsey again showed she was a pro with the Beatles’ “Something.” She really is a pro, of course. In fact, she told us, she sang this very song at the Apollo Theater during her very first outing as a solo artist, which Green rightly noted was “a big deal.” The production – with its onstage orchestra seated dramatically on steps and giant waterfall projections -- wasn’t small either. (CeeLo, was that you?) Nor was Linsey’s voice. Levine called her a “badass.” Shelton called the performance “classy” and said Linsey got better, more confident and more comfortable with every passing week. “After this week, I expect to see you in the finale,” he said.

India Carney (Team Christina): Dressed perhaps more like Glinda the Good Witch than Dorothy, Carney riffed prettily on what is apparently her favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” showing a good deal of vocal color. Shelton said the performance “had magic in it.” Aguilera said she’d taken us all on a journey, calling the performance “gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.” Shelton predicted that Carney will move on to next week, but Stefani has rightly advised her to bring her personality out a bit more. It couldn’t hurt to give voters something more than Carney’s voice, poise and beauty to latch onto.

Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell): Fredericks gave Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man” his usual sweet, full-throated treatment and tried to move around just a little bit (OK, not very much) onstage as well. Levine told Fredericks that “the purity” of his voice “in its raw form” was all that was needed to bring power to a song. “It’s one of those things that doesn’t need to be anything other than what it is,” he said. Williams appealed to “every teenage kid that wanted to do something that was a little bit different from everybody else in the neighborhood or … in school” or “who had a dream and never thought it could happen” or who was a fan of folk music to vote for Fredericks – and left it at that.

Corey Kent White (Team Blake): This season’s sole remaining country artist, as we are often reminded, brought a bit of twang to Bad English's "When I See You Smile," an ‘80s classic rock song that Shelton maintained, if it were released now, would be considered country. White was uncertain about the choice, but Green reassured him, “Country is your core, not just your cowboy boots.” Anyhow, White did fine. Levine seemed so-so, but Shelton enthused that White had given his “best performance of the season” and had a “breakout moment … when the right song lands with the right artist at the right time.” Given that White is, lest we forget, this season’s sole keeper of the country flame, he’ll probably stick around even in a field of stronger singers.

Koryn Hawthorne (Team Pharrell): Hawthorne brought a trembling yet resolute intensity to Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” bringing all the coaches to their feet. Levine told the 17-year-old singer she was “the dream that is the show,” turning in breakout moment after breakout moment and evolving from a young girl into a “grown woman” before our very eyes. Aguilera, her former coach, told Hawthorne she thrived on the make-or-break pressure “100,000 percent,” killing her performances “every single time.” Williams again turned to the voters, asking anyone who loved inspirational, gospel or Christian music to support Hawthorne.

Tuesday, two will go home – and we’ll see who survives to make the top 6.

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