In addition to a quick sprint across the Sprint Skybox by Olympic runner Usain Bolt, there to cheer on fellow Jamaican Tessanne Chin, “The Voice” brought us another run of strong performances Monday, as the top 10 singers took the stage. After an unremarkable group performance of “Say It, Just Say It,” each contestant appeared solo, hoping to prove he or she had what it took to go all the way -- or at least as far as next week’s top eight.
Austin Jenckes was assigned the Outfield’s “Your Love” by his coach, Blake Shelton, who predicted Jenckes would have a “breakout moment” with an “unexpected song choice” and would “prove to America that he does have the pipes” to win. Jenckes performance built to a crescendo, making the most of his gravelly power notes. That “slow build” was apparently just what Shelton had been looking for. “Awesome, dude,” he said. The other coaches were also impressed. “I didn’t realize you had so much range,” Cee Lo Green told Jenckes. “Hats off to you.”
Team Christina Aguilera’s Jacquie Lee, whose coach had summoned her own yoga instructor to help her singers get in touch with their bodies, open up their lungs, and get rid of “stagnant energy,” hoped to let her softer emotions come through with Zedd’s “Clarity.” If nothing else, Lee made her mother, watching in the audience, weep. Aguilera, too, said she was “really touched” by Lee’s performance, calling it “emotional and gorgeous." Green and Shelton, though, detected some shakiness in the beginning, but allowed that, by the end, Lee had hit her usual stride. And Adam Levine gave the 16-year-old singer extra credit for “showing that kind of vulnerability in this high pressure atmosphere with so much grace” at such a young age. “I commend you on that,” he said.
After complimenting his own team member Will Champlin on his range and against-the-odds staying power, Levine assigned the repeatedly saved singer a song that’s a hit in the U.K., but not yet here, John Newman’s “Love Me Again.” Apparently, Champlin’s performance made his coach love him all over again. Noting that Champlin had been “given up on,” picked back up and bounced around “like a yo-yo,” Levine declared, “If this guy ain’t a testament to why you should hang in there and keep trying,” then he didn’t know what was. “Everyone should vote for this guy,” he said. Champlin certainly had the other coaches’ votes. Aguilera thought he had really come into his own during the performance, and Shelton said Champlin’s vocal accuracy continued to “blow me away.”
Team Cee Lo’s charming, quirky-voiced 17-year-old Caroline Pennell selected her own song, John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which she said reminded her of camp and captured her feelings about leaving her family to try her wings at college and beyond. Even with the corny projections behind her (didn’t she also have corny projections behind her last week?) depicting stylized ‘70s sunrises and airplane flights, Pennell managed to make her creative mark with a song her coach, at least, seemed to find a curious choice. Green said the tune seemed on the brink of overpowering her, but that he was happy to help her “live out a dream” onstage. Levine actually seemed more impressed, complimenting Pennell on her “artistry,” on “staying true” to herself and on selecting a song that reflected her experience on the show.
Shelton predicted that Cole Vosbury, his second impressively bearded contestant (interestingly, all three of Shelton’s remaining singers are soulful white dudes who play guitar), would appeal to “the ladies” with his take on Mr. Big’s “To Be With You.” Afterward, Shelton expressed satisfaction that Vosbury had done so. “You nailed it to the wall, dude,” he told him. Levine, who had at one point wanted Vosbury on his team, and Green, whose team Vosbury had originally been on, both declared themselves to be his loyal fans.
Levine’s Tessanne Chin took her coach’s advice, overcoming her doubts to tackle a classic soul song, “If I Were Your Woman,” by Gladys Knight & the Pips. “This song’s kicking my ... , but I’m gonna kick it back,” she vowed during rehearsals. She made good on that promise, proving she might be the woman to take the whole thing. Levine said her performance had solidified her “presence on this show as a major, major contender.” Aguilera called the performance “beautiful.”
Team Blake swamp-pop singer Ray Boudreaux took on Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing,” earning praise from his coach. Shelton said the way Boudreaux “bent those notes over the chords” was something only someone who grew up steeped in that kind of music could do. The other coaches were also impressed. Aguilera said Boudreaux had “shown the most growth” out of all the contestants, saying he’d “found an identity that fits” him. Green called the performance “real” and “sincere.” And Levine dubbed him “one of the more solid vocalists in the competition.”
Team Adam member James Wolpert wanted to show “dynamic contrast” in his performance of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You,” noting, too, that taking on a classic, though risky, had its rewards. He was certainly rewarded by his coach’s admiration. “Every single time, you manage to take a song and it goes through the James Wolpert blender and becomes something that is so intrinsically yours,” Levine said, adding that the singer had blown his mind with his “precision” and “soulfulness.” Aguilera praised Wolpert’s “clean” tone, though she noted that he had gone a little “astray with the pitch” at the end. Still, she said, “you had me the whole time.”
In one of the more curious decisions of the evening, Team Cee Lo’s Kat Robichaud took a song perfectly suited to her voice and organic stage style -- Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” -- and then grafted on some stagey, overly self-conscious choreography. Green’s goal was to keep her out of the bottom three, where she landed last week before being saved via social media, and he seemed satisfied with her efforts toward that goal. “I think we did everything right,” he said, proudly and peculiarly predicting that the performance would be “immortal.” Levine backed Green up, calling the performance “elegant” and saying it showed “the Kat that we were waiting for you to be.”
Team Christina’s Matthew Schuler aimed to strike a vulnerable, romantic chord with Labrinth/Emeli Sandé's “Beneath Your Beautiful,” dedicating the song to his as-yet-undiscovered “future wife.” As usual, his passionate vocals and onstage charisma drove the crowd wild. “Every single time you finish a performance” the room “just lights up,” Aguilera said. “It takes on this buzz,” a “different kind of energy.” Levine posited that “finding that future wife” was “not gonna be a problem” for Schuler. After all, Levine noted, he was not only “a great singer,” but also “handsome” and “charming.” And, I’d add, winningly humble too.
I’d pick Schuler and Chin’s performances as the best two of the night, though I always enjoy Pennell’s unusual choices and vocal character. Who are your favorites?