'The Voice' Recap: Final Performances Go Original

As show nears end, it sets itself even further apart from 'Idol'

Lewis Jacobs/NBC
Javier Colon performing on 'The Voice'
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How is this show almost over? On American Idol we'd still be at the point where someone is dressed like an armadillo and someone else seems homeless, and someone even more disconcerting is demonstrating the properties of his homemade Transformers suit. But here we've landed at the last week of The Voice, and it seems like we only just met the contestants. Now we're supposed to judge their voices without knowing how many family members of theirs died in house fires? Can something so straightforward last another season?

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Already, some charms are fading. The joint-judge show-opener, for instance, is, like a kid in half an armadillo costume, sad. Last night Cee Lo, Adam, Blake and Xtina dragged their asses across the stage with Bowie's "Under Pressure," boring and disjointed, like they were all simultaneously reading off a teleprompter. Luckily, Carson scraped some good out of the song choice, debuting his segue-de-resistance: "The pressure is everywhere."

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The challenge of the night was for each contestant to sing an original song penned by an industry veteran, plus an additional song with their respective coach. These original songs knocked their Idol precursors out of the water (right into a Sandals resort!), most notably Javier's "Stitch by Stitch" and Dia's "Inventing Shadows," which are destined to take faster than either Bev's "Lovesick" or Vicci's "Afraid to Sleep." These were radio-ready singles, not daring perhaps, but not pandering either, with darker messages than the usual Idol God-and-country fare. Dia's plea to a pessimistic lover had the most atmospheric promise until four guys in hats starting gyrating in shadow profile behind her for no obvious reason other than the word "shadow." It was literal in the worst possible sense, a close cousin to the left-hand/right-hand pointing spree of dearly-departed Xenia. There's no way Father Blake isn't somehow to blame.

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Aside from guest performances by Pitbull and Ne-Yo, who dropped the line, "Money like Seacrest" (next year: "Money like Daly...not Richard"), and Brad Paisley, who was instantly emasculated when Blake hulked onto the stage to join him, the night's highlights were the sections Carson told us to ignore while voting: the coach/contestant songs. Christina and the relentlessly cheerful Bev sang the very famous "Beautiful," by the very famous "Christina Aguilera" (presumably as a tie-in to the "Smash" promo that featured the song, but still), Adam and Javier glided sexily through MJ's "Man in the Mirror," and Cee Lo and Vicci dressed themselves in mohawks and capes for an unbelievable take on Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield," in which the line, "we are young," translated into dueling armies of agile kid dancers. Tricked out in spikes like some kind of video game villain, Cee Lo led a gang of boys not much shorter than himself against Vicci and her tribe of lost girls. Like Blake's direction to Xenia and Dia, this was a literal interpretation. And yet, it was also so much more.

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