Just when things have locked into a predictable rhythm on The Voice, the producers shake things up. At least that's what happened on last night's episode, where the judges got to perform, the rules were tossed aside, and along with them went a contestant who was an early favorite to win.
It's week three of the live episodes, and once again (we're informed) the stakes have never been higher. I'm going to go ahead and guess the stakes will never be higher next week and the week after that too, because that's how elimination shows work. In this case, the stake-height has risen because each coach must send home one artist after their team's final performance.
"I'm really upset right now," Christina Aguilera says, taking in the news. Blake Shelton is equally incensed. "If I knew who to kick for this, I'd kick them." Adam Levine disagrees with his fellow judges' outrage, though, seeing the advantage in keeping America's grubby mitts off the fate of his contestants. "Wouldn't you rather be the one who decides?" he asks.
More prominent than ever tonight is the show's ambitions to take over the Twittersphere, a magical place that lives inside each of our digital hearts. In addition to social media correspondent and reliably awkward conversation-maker Christina Milian's occasional recounting of who's trending right now, this week the contestants' Twitter handles are displayed onscreen during each pre-performance package. @RaeLynnOfficial is up first.
"Everyone's wondering – do you got a boyfriend?" Blake Shelton creepily asks the 17-year old sparkplug. She does not, it turns out. The self-described heartbreaker stomps through the rockified barn-burner "She's Country," an astute song choice for showing off some range within the country canon. It's uncomfortable to write about a 17-year-old being provocative on stage (see: Momsen, Taylor) but RaeLynn manages to pack some adult sexuality without being sleazy in the slightest. "You are a little badass," Xtina says. Cee Lo agrees, accurately adding that this was RaeLynn's best performance so far.
Next up is Jesse Campbell, singing Beyonce's "Halo" for his daughter. ("She's my saving grace," he says.) This back story bleeds into the foreground as his daughter appears prominently in the audience and with her father in giant gilded picture frames sprinkled around the stage, basically turning the set into the Campbells' living room. Jesse can go high in both voice and emotionality, and he wrings every last ounce out of the final notes. "I wasn't feeling the song choice until it kicked in," Adam says, but he praises the second half of the performance. Everyone else agrees. Interestingly, Xtina is reserved in her encouragement. Foreshadowing!
It's almost heartbreaking to see Jordis on stage as she realizes she is not hitting a home run with her performance of "A Little Bit Stronger." She looks as glamorous as a Disney princess in her gown, and she sounds just fine, but she never quite occurs out there. Right away, Xtina tells Jordis she looked beautiful (never a good sign!), but concedes that she prefers her "more intimate" earlier songs. Blake defends Jordis adamantly, though.
What's next looks at first to be a weird time-filler wherein Xtina teaches the team about the joys of "giving back," but ends up leading into the night's most bananacakes performance of all: Xtina's own. (Perhaps because Cee Lo didn't get a turn.) Xtina takes her team to Crenshaw High School to surprise the appealingly exuberant choir, who end up backing her on stage during her song "Fighter." Xtina looks like a playboy bunny with a disco-ball bra, and she brings plenty of shirtless males to sic on Blake. It's kind of a big mess, but undeniably entertaining.
Right in front of what looks like a manhole cover-busting blast of steam onstage, Ashley sings Jewel's "Foolish Games" with more than a little attitude. "Everyone seemed to enjoy it," Cee Lo says, passive-aggressively. Adam calls out Cee Lo's underwhelmed response but then lauds Ashley for being "the biggest surprise" on the show, which is a fancy way of saying he didn't want her initially. It would be a leap of faith to call Ashley safe from tonight's elimination.
Adam gets to perform next, doing a new Maroon 5 song called "Payphone" with Wiz Khalifa. It's always interesting to see the difference between onstage Adam and judge Adam. (Onstage Adam's moves are much more Jagger-esque.) As the band skews further into the clubby direction last year's Rolling Stones-referencing hit suggested, Maroon 5 is inexorably becoming "Adam Levine and the Maroon 5."
At the top of Erin Willett's segment, we found out that Blake's father passed away just a few weeks after Erin's father, binding the two together in commiseration. “You gave me an opportunity to shine through the darkest moment of my life," Erin tells him, and it's a touching moment. She riskily picks Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain," and manages to not get outclassed by the song, or outshone by the actual fireworks onstage. Adam mentions that Erin did well with the song's "phrasing." Blake goes further, though, pointing out, "Not everyone can do justice to an Adele song, but you did."
Lindsay Pavao is supposed to do a Rihanna medley, but then she has a last-minute change of heart and decides to do Katy Perry's "Part of Me" instead. While it turns out Lindsay kind of looks like Katy Perry (a fact which had previously escaped me), her performance isn't very memorable. None of the judges were familiar with the song either, which affected their enjoyment of it. "The big powerful notes got away from you," Adam says. He also slyly throws shade at the other judges by saying, "I don't wanna be that guy who says 'pitchy,'" which is a term that gets thrown around a lot here.
Team Blake assembles onstage next to sing a big country jamboree rendition of the Eagles' "Heartache Tonight." It looks like they're having a hell of a time, and the song sounds bouncier than ever.
Batting clean up on Team Blake is Jermaine Paul, who sings the underrated Phil Collins number "Against All Odds" while sitting at a piano that looks like it got caught in a paintball fight. He has a naturally great voice, so his extra vocal acrobatics seem like so much window dressing. A less-frills approach might have worked better, but that's hardly a complaint. In praising JP as a strong contender, Cee Lo announces that Phil Collins has a lot of soul for a white dude. "What the hell does that mean?" Adam asks, suggesting he secretly wishes someone would say that about him.
Chris Mann goes for Chris Martin, performing Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." It's a chance for the opera singer to show off what else he can do besides opera. The answer turns out to be "not Coldplay." His voice is way too sophisticated to wrap around stadium-ready whoa-oh-whoa-oh-oh's like these. "You look great!" Adam says straight away, which again is not a good sign. Surprise: Adam would prefer to hear the opera singer sing opera.
Xtina says she's glad he stepped out of his comfort zone and made the song his own, which seems like a suspicious overstatement.
When it comes time for the elimination, Xtina gives such a long, rambling preamble to her announcement (sample line: "I have seen growth from all of you, some more than others") that it's a genuine shock when she gets there, and it's Jesse Campbell. On the one hand, I have to respect her gangster in making such an unconventional and surprising pick, but damn, Jesse has been consistently great. WTF?
"I was waiting for one of you to not do a good job, and it just didn't happen," Blake says when it's his turn to make a cut. He smartly announces that he'll side with America's choice and kick off Jordis, whom he had to save on the previous episode. Meanwhile, I can barely digest this information because all I can think is: "Jesse? Seriously!?"
Tonight: Two more contestants will go home, and if last night proved anything, it's that nobody is safe.
Last episode: Lean Sixteen