The Season 9 top 10 and a resilient-looking Gwen Stefani took the stage on “The Voice” Monday, and if you tried to count the number of times the coaches told the vocalists they’d turned in their best performances on the show to date, you may have gotten dangerously close to running out of fingers.
The thing is, the coaches were right. One after another, singer after singer stepped forward and staked his or her claim to sticking around for at least another week. Someone will have to go home, of course, but whoever it is, it won’t be for lack of talent or charm.
Here’s how the top 10 performances went down:
Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen): After remarking how much his life had changed since he auditioned for the show and ditched his old PR desk job, Austin stepped out and showed off his tonal and emotional resonance with Labrinth’s “Jealous.” Adam Levine said he’d been transported away from the competition and complimented Austin on his “bright future.” Pharrell Williams admired Austin’s “honesty” and “comfort.” And Blake Shelton admitted he hadn’t “been more wrapped up” in any performance this season has he had been in Austin’s. Gwen Stefani said that, although she and Austin had “struggled” to find the perfect song, they had ultimately managed to do so.
Emily Ann Roberts (Team Blake): During rehearsals, this beautiful 17-year-old country singer, obviously the apple of her coach’s eye, happily accepted a new guitar from Shelton and advice from Wynonna Judd. Over the phone, Judd counseled the promising young singer to stay true to herself, advice she had gotten from Tammy Wynette. Roberts delivered on that promise with a polished, pitch-perfect rendition of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.” Williams said she sang with an “old soul” and consistently proved herself to be “wise,” “talented” and “focused” beyond her years. Levine said she’d developed from a “really good” to a “phenomenal” singer. And Shelton said he had “never had a better collaborator in nine seasons of doing this show than working with Emily Ann,” calling her “smart” and artistically self-aware. “That was your best performance so far this season,” he added.
Braiden Sunshine (Team Gwen): This baby-faced 15-year-old sought to showcase his adaptability and breadth with Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” He also showed off a new haircut and perhaps a new level of confidence. Still, Levine may have gone too far when he complimented the young singer not only on his courage, but also on his “balls.” “There’s no other way to say it,” Levine said, defending himself against the disapproval of the other coaches. Shelton rescued the moment by complimenting young Sunshine on his “throwback” charm and calling him one of his “favorites.” Stefani called the teen “punk rock” and said his hair made him look at least a year older. “You’re so good, and everybody loves you,” she said.
Shelby Brown (Team Adam): You know how Levine vowed to get Brown a giraffe last week? Well, all he managed to come up with was a modest-size plush toy. Brown seemed pleased enough, though, cradling the stuffed animal in her arms and declaring herself to be the “happiest person on the planet.” As long as she’s satisfied. Certainly the coaches were delighted with her heartfelt rendition of Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” a favorite of her late grandfather that had been played at his memorial service. Williams called it “honestly” Brown’s “best performance.” Levine said Brown was a “rare talent” who had finally delivered on her “potential.” “Every single week you get better and better and better,” he said.
Korin Bukowski (Team Gwen): Stefani tried to get Bukowski, who has twice been rescued from the brink of elimination, to loosen up and show her “sassy” side with Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.” The charmingly awkward contestant did the best she could, but likely didn’t do quite enough to keep her out of the bottom two again this week. Williams said the production had “framed” Bukowski’s performance, adding that he felt like it was her “moment.” Stefani seemed startled by her own team member, saying Bukowski had unexpectedly upped her game.
Amy Vachal (Team Adam): Vachal and Levine tried to again showcase her creativity by taking artistic license with an unlikely pop song – this time “Bye, Bye, Bye” by ‘N Sync, a childhood favorite of Vachal’s. It was smooth and silky, if a bit subdued. Stefani said the performance made her fantasize about what Vachal’s tour could be like – where she took “top songs” and flipped them to make them her own. Levine patted himself and Vachal on the back for figuring out how to “maximize” the “creative capacity” of the show and asked that viewers reward them by voting for Vachal.
Jordan Smith (Team Adam): Breaking out his usual hyperbole for Smith, whom he said was “literally” one of the best singers “in the world,” Levine assigned him a great song that has been woefully overused on singing shows, including “The Voice”: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Even the other coaches seemed aware that things with Smith had gotten a bit hackneyed. Shelton admitted it got “kind of boring” to keep saying “the same stuff” about Smith week after week. Williams managed to call Smith’s singing “effortless” and “touching.” Only Levine seemed in the mood to enthuse – of course he did -- saying he “literally” got “chills” whenever he heard Smith sing and crediting him with lifting people with his voice. “Every single time I hear you sing, it’s an experience,” he told Smith.
Zach Seabaugh (Team Blake): Seabaugh swiveled his hips and exuded handsome confidence as he performed Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Honestly, when this high school football player is in his element, it’s lots of fun to watch him do his thing. Levine quipped that it was a “shame” Seabaugh had “no confidence” (before the Maroon 5 singer creepily hollered at the screaming young girls in the audience to “shut up” – ugh!). Again Shelton tried to right Levine’s listing ship. “We hear applause all the time,” he told Seabaugh. “I don’t think we’ve ever heard the likes of the screaming.” He said it was Seabaugh’s “best performance” and added that he expected to see the female-fan favorite in the finale.
Madi Davis (Team Pharrell): The gleamingly talented 16-year-old singer took Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and made it about “girl power” – a blow against those who would keep young women down. (Take that, Adam “shut up” Levine!) Her gorgeous performance brought both her own coach and Shelton to their feet. Levine called it “weird,” “cool” and “really beautiful.” Stefani said she’d love to hear what sorts of songs Davis would write. Shelton said he was ready to buy the song on iTunes, prompting Williams to urge everyone to do so.
Barrett Baber (Team Blake): With his intimate, passionate rendition of Conway Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down,” an anthem about deep, long-lasting love he dedicated to his wife, Baber provided a welcome counterpoint to Stefani’s performance of “Used to Love You,” a song about her recent divorce. Levine called it “so genuine,” “so real” and Baber’s “best performance so far.” Shelton predicted it would make the iTunes top 10 and told Baber it was – you guessed it – “the best you have performed on this show so far.”
I’m thinking things are not looking good for Bukowski -- and that Sunshine, Vachal or Brown will join her in the bottom two. “Best performances so far” will only get you so far.