“Let’s focus here,” Carson Daly says to the highly distractible judges on The Voice. At the top of the show, there is clearly something in the air. Christina Aguilera doesn’t look at the camera when she’s introduced, Adam Levine busts out laughing the first time he’s called upon, and after a typically rambly opening sentence, Cee Lo gets censored, yelling out an expletive. Only after Xtina starts working a Spanish hand fan and Adam makes a terrible pun is it clear exactly what was in the air: one of the judge’s flatulence. (Speculate on whose down in the comments.) (On second thought, please don’t do that.)
It’s amazing how quickly we move from fart jokes to life-and-death matters, but here we are. “You saved my life,” Jamar Rogers tells Cee-Lo before his performance. Apparently the Gnarls Barkley song “Just a Thought” was a source of strength for the HIV-positive singer during a dark time. Cee Lo seems genuinely touched. Then Jamar rips into Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” while wooden pallets straight from a New Jersey loading dock are ablaze in the background.
Considering Jamar’s disease and his commitment to the song, there’s an extra layer of poignancy to the lyrics, which usually sounds (to me, at least) like something an angsty teen wrote after his parents revoked car privileges because of a bad report card. Adam and Blake both compliment Jamar on being in good hands with Cee Lo, and the man himself couldn’t be prouder. “Jay-bird, I’m gonna pause for a second and let you listen to the love,” Cee Lo says, cueing the crowd to roar again. Not like they needed any prompting.
Next up is Katrina Parker (whose hair, it must be said, is gorgeous tonight), singing “Jar of Hearts” in the center of a giant pink outline of a heart. The familiar rasp of her voice is strong and consistent throughout a song with a lot of ups and downs. “That’s the first time I heard you sound like somebody different than everybody else,” Blake says, which I’m pretty sure is complimentary. This comment prompts Xtina to mention Adele once again. Adam then candidly admits that Katrina wasn’t one of his favorites at first, but now she is. “You have one of the best voices,” he says. “You’ve evolved so much.”
Carson dons a pair of Buddy Holly glasses and goes black-and-white for an Ed Sullivan-style intro you might recognize from such music videos as “In Bloom” and “Hey Ya.” Team Cee Lo then does “Dancing in the Street” from inside a giant television on stage. Cee Lo sounds right at home on this song, and it’s fun to hear him cut loose after appearing so restrained the last week or so. Later in the episode, he performs again with the reunited Goodie Mob, all outfitted in golden capes and the kind of armor kindergarteners might design for astronaut gladiators. They also have glowing mouthpieces that makes their teeth look as though they just chugged radioactive fluids. The song has a lot more singing than rapping, though, which isn’t typically what you’re looking for in a Goodie Mob song.
Because Matthai is singing “Like a Bird,” how could the ever-literal-minded set designers resist adding in some aerials for the performance? “I could’ve done without Captain America back there,” Blake Shelton says afterward, invoking one of the few superheroes who can’t fly. When Adam agrees, Xtina chides him for not being more involved in the production aspects of his team. “I didn’t truly feel like you connected with the song,” she adds. “It felt a little like it was force-fed.” Although her comment seems more like a dig at Adam than Matthai, the Indian princess’s performance wasn’t anything we haven’t heard from her before. Look for her to land in the bottom two tonight.
Amazingly, a stylist has yet to convince “Ladykiller #2” James Massone to take the effeminate headband off his head and destroy it. Wearing a spike-studded varsity jacket to over compensate, James croons sweetly through “Just the Way You Are,” while the stage setup seems to suggest he’s just climbed out of the window from a late-night tryst. “You sang that song great, but it just kind of laid there for me,” Blake says. Xtina adds that James’ last performance was similarly directed toward the ladies, and therefore same-y. They are not wrong.
Tony Lucca got ripped by his former Mouseketeer-in-arms, Xtina, the last time he performed. This time, he and Adam have whipped up “an idea so crazy, it might work.” They actually call it that, too, presumably because “harebrained scheme” got edited out? In any case, the plan is for Tony to belt out an adult-contempo rock version of “. . . Baby One More Time,” thereby acknowledging he sprang forth from the same well as both Xtina and Britney Spears. Although the judges give Tony passing marks, and the audience clearly approves, with a song choice so fraught with context, it’s hard to separate the intention behind the actual performance from the performance itself (which is just pretty good when it needed to be a knockout.)
Speaking of knockouts, Cheesa delivers one with a startlingly strong Whitney impersonation on “I Have Nothing.” Cheesa goes big big big when the song calls for it, and then nicely underplays the end where others might have blown it out. “I personally believe it’s time to start investing in and advocating the next power vocalist,” Cee Lo says. “I’m ready for our next female vocalist to be a woman. And this is a grown-woman song. Not this Auto-tune, Tinkerbell kind of thing. I’m talking about grown-woman, child-bearing strength.” Hear hear!
If you know only one thing about Pip, aside from the fact that he sings like a musical theater star and wears a bowtie, it’s that he gives good terror-face. He has plenty of chances to do so before his performance, too, as Adam reiterates how tenuous Pip’s position is on the show, given the instant elimination that’s coming. Sans bowtie for once, he sings Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” from the perch of a piano. One note gets away from him after a bold falsetto toward the end, but other than that he does fairly well. Adam praises the performance, but mentions that not everything went the way it could have. Uh-oh.
Finally, blonder-than-before rocker Juliet Simms takes the stage with dark wings that extend like opened closet doors to sing Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” like she was born to do it. She starts off low, then after the bridge she unleashes her formidable wail and never looks back. Tons of white feathers fall to the stage near the end. All the judges are into it – Blake especially, since the feathers remind him of duck season.
When it’s time for the instant eliminations, Cee Lo recites a speech from his phone before giving Boston mechanic James Massone the heave-ho. “I love him like an uncle,” James says of his now-former coach. “Uncle Lo, I call him.” A real uncle would have told him to lose the headband, though.
Next, it’s Adam’s turn. “This is a stupid thing we have to do, but unfortunately it’s part of the job,” he says, totally going back on his previous statements in support of the instant elimination. Adam talks through his decision briefly before announcing that he has to cut Pip loose.
If any movie producers are reading this, please consider my James Massone-inspired pitch for an Uncle Buck remake starring Cee Lo. Uncle Lo in 2013, please.
Tonight: Watch out, Tony Lucca and Matthai, for the end may be nigh!
Last episode: Going South