'The Voice' Recap: Could Blake Shelton Win Again?

Cole Vosbury emerges as dark horse ahead of semi-finals

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Might there finally be a clear frontrunner on this season of The Voice? Because Cole Vosbury has had a pretty solid showing on the iTunes songs chart every week since viewer voting began (this week he's virtually neck and neck with Tessanne Chin, who's at the head of the class for the very first time). At the very least, he is the dark horse to keep an eye on – especially because he hails from three-time winner Blake Shelton's team. (Plus, there's the whole Duck Dynasty vibe he gives off with that broom-like beard.)

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While it looks like he faces an uphill battle as the last man standing on Team Blake, never underestimate the power of Middle America and the hardcore country voters.

Also never underestimate the power of placement, as the night's top six performances – where each contestant sang two songs: one dedication and one coach's pick – were an interesting case study in the lineup logistics of reality singing competitions.

Cole wound up with what is sometimes referred to as the "death slot" – the very first performance of a two-hour episode. While not as tried-and-true as the show-ending, vote-grabbing "pimp spot," the death slot has been known to get singers tossed. However, it could also theoretically be used to slow down contestants who are fan favorites but whom producers don't necessarily want to win. Remember the Swon Brothers from last season? They may have fallen victim to the tactic.

So, the producers could be trying to get Cole kicked off or at least keep him from winning – because nothing would be as bad for business as Blake winning four out of five seasons. But despite their best efforts, Cole still dominated the iTunes chart with his renditions of Hall and Oates' "Rich Girl" and James Morrison's "Better Man" (which he dedicated to an ex-girlfriend). Still, the producers could have a secret weapon on their side: Cee Lo Green, who proclaimed himself Cole's "co-coach" and gave the artist a glowing endorsement. But America seems to have no love for Cee Lo this season, so the declaration could turn out to be the kiss of death for Cole.

In another interesting move, James Wolpert was seemingly maneuvered into the pimp spot at the last minute, despite the initial lineup dictating that Jacquie Lee would close the show.

Consider this: Because each contestant sang two songs, there were two rounds of performances. The order in the first round was Cole, Tessanne, Matthew Schuler, Will Champlin, James and Jacquie. The second round followed the exact same order – except James and Jacquie switched spots. Any number of things could have prompted the change, including the fact that Jacquie ended the show last week. But considering that's a pre-determined factor the producers were well aware of, it seemed like a last-minute move.

Could the switch have been made because James was sick and didn't sound his best, as coach Adam Levine pointed out? We may never know. But his performances of Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" and the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" dragged the bottom of the iTunes chart. In fact, he came in dead last among the contestants. The pimp spot, however, could provide him with the votes needed to stay in the race. Of course, there's always the tiny chance he'll be the exception to the rule, opening the door to reality show anarchy.

If James does stick around, Christina Aguilera's Schuler could be in some serious trouble because only one person is getting booted ahead of the semi-finals – and he narrowly missed getting the pink slip last week when viewers voted on Twitter to save him. While his renditions of One Direction's "Story of My Life" and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" were solidly good, he didn't knock it out of the park the way he did with "Hallelujah" a few weeks ago. And that's really what he needed to do in order to insure his safety. "It will be so sad if anything took you away, but thank you for the experience," coach Christina said as if expecting the worst.

Also possibly in trouble is fellow Team Christina member Lee, who dramatically stomped and wailed her way through Aguilera's "The Voice Within" and especially Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby," which inexplicably ranked high on iTunes even though it was comically over the top. Adding to the melodrama was coach Christina heaving her distractingly oversized clown boobs up onstage to re-enact how Jacquie threw down her mic stand, just so she could say, "She left her heart on the stage!"

Middling out but most likely safe (although you never know on this show) was last week's frontrunner Champlin, who stepped aside so slow-but-steady fellow teammate Chin could move on up the ranks. So, the other big question on elimination night is: could Team Adam pull off the unthinkable and see all three contestants come through unscathed again? It's quite possible. At the same time, even the Sexiest Man Alive's luck has to run out at some point.

But enough of our assumptions and conspiracy theories. Tell us: How important do you think placement is on The Voice

Previous recap: Cee Lo Green Reaches the End of the Road

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