The Top 8 singers on “The Voice” gave us a lot to love on Monday night. In addition to elaborately staging (Choreography! Exciting lighting! Fleets of backup dancers! Sprawling backing bands!), the evening’s performances provided bursts of impressive vocal pyrotechnics, as well as compelling, quieter moments. Savvy song selections helped some singers hit their sweet spots, moving their coaches to seek out new ways to praise them. CeeLo Green even wrote his sole remaining contestant, Caroline Pennell, a mash note, declaring her to be, at the very least, the winner of his heart!
The first contestant to take the stage was James Wolpert, of Adam Levine’s complete team of three, who made the “bold choice,” as his coach dubbed it, of tackling Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” The choice paid off with a dramatic, complex, pitch-perfect performance. Levine was rapturous, declaring that Wolpert did Freddie Mercury proud and could go out and sing with Queen “tomorrow.” “Powerful … potent … dynamic,” he said. Blake Shelton told Wolpert it was “maybe the best I’ve seen you sing so far.” Christina Aguilera was a little distracted by the army of backup dancers she thought looked “like if Adam and James cloned themselves and made babies.” But Green offered serious kudos, calling Wolpert’s timing “impeccable and razor sharp.”
Tessanne Chin, also of Team Adam, showed off her reggae roots on No Doubt’s “Underneath It All,” an inspired choice that highlighted her lush vocals and sultry stage presence. “We finally found a way to tie Jamaica to America in the most beautiful, soulful way,” Levine said. Green said Chin represented “the immense beauty” born from places like Kingston and Port Antonio, Jamaica. Aguilera, who had suggested last week that Chin reveal more of her Jamaican flair, said she’d “finally” heard what she’d been waiting to hear and credited Chin with being able “to tap into [her] truth” and “bring it back to [her] roots.” Then Aguilera suggested one of her own songs as a future choice for Chin.
Seeking to find new, more solid ground for 17-year-old Caroline Pennell, who was rescued from the bottom three last week, Green picked a song he hoped would show off his last remaining contestant’s “fierce” side: Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over." Pennell did her coach proud, which he acknowledged with a love note, in which he declared that Pennell was “the only thing that matters to me at this moment.” “If you win nothing else, you win, because you win my heart,” he told her. Levine, speaking more extemporaneously and somewhat less effusively, said Pennell had done the best thing she could have done, under the circumstances, by stepping out of her comfort zone and trying something new.
In an apparent effort to rally the country (not to mention the sentimental) vote, Shelton assigned Cole Vosbury “I Still Believe in You” by Vince Gill. Vosbury reminded us that his grandmother had been a country singer and named Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw as early musical influences. Vosbury, singing amid smoke and string instruments, wanted to show “desperation” in his delivery. To me, at times, he seemed to strain for notes, and the whole production seemed a bit drowsy. But one person’s drowsy is another person’s dreamy. Shelton was transported. “No one else sounds quite like you, Cole,” he gushed. “You did country proud tonight.” Aguilera said the quietness of the song allowed Vosbury’s clear vocals to shine. “I really loved it,” she said.
Aguilera’s Matthew Schuler tackled Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time,” hoping to show off his “honesty and sincerity” and also some militaristic stage moves suggested by his coach’s choreographer, Jeri Slaughter. Though Schuler seemed a little breathless from his physical exertions in some spots, he managed to find the air to support some solid notes in others. And the American flags projected behind him will probably net him a few extra votes. “You come from a place of integrity,” Aguilera told him. “You just want to speak your truth.” She added that the time of year was a perfect time to “come together” to sing a “song of freedom.” Green expressed his added support for the “sentiment of the song” and for Schuler’s performance.
While Schuler has been a steady favorite, Team Adam’s Will Champlin has taken a more circuitous route to the Top 8, yet scuttled any lingering doubts that he belonged there with his impressive take on Etta James’ “At Last.” Champlin’s coach spoke rapturously about his passion, dedication and ambition. “It doesn’t matter how high a note is, he wants to go higher,” Levine said. Aguilera, noting that she herself has often sung “At Last,” called Champlin’s performance “magical” and “tremendous.” She said she especially enjoyed hearing a man sing the song.
Shelton assigned team member Ray Boudreaux “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group, aiming to show off the swamp-pop singer’s soulfulness and showmanship. Alas, with a low-cut shirt and slicked-back hair, shapely backup dancers, and loungy stage patter (“How y’all doin’ tonight?”), Boudreaux came off more smarmy than charming. Still, Shelton praised the singer’s “style” and “swag.” Aguilera said it was nice to see him “do something up tempo.” And Green called the energetic performance “great,” saying he might have to start calling Boudreaux “Sugar Ray.”
Last to perform was Team Christina’s Jacquie Lee. The 16-year-old singer poured emotion, power and precociousness into the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You." Aguilera paid tribute to the way Lee let go of everything and “simply” sang. Levine wondered at how she was able to capture and convey the cruelty of heartbreak at such a tender age. Green called the teen’s mature vocals “crazy,” and got in the evening’s best line in its final moments: “It’s like you swallowed an old lady or something,” he told Lee. Ha.
After such a strong string of performances, which two singers will America send home? Boudreaux seems a likely enough candidate for elimination. Considering her close shave last week, Pennell, too, could be vulnerable, despite a strong showing this week. I hope not, though; I would be super-sad to see her go.
Which three singers do you think are most likely to land in the bottom three?