With The Voice headed into a particularly cutthroat homestretch that thins two contestants from the pack of 10, people are just bringing it, and not just in the hyperbolic lip-service way that typifies those reality competition b-roll clips about leaving it all on the stage and how there are no second chances. It’s hard to say who brought it the hardest this week: while Cody Belew’s leather-daddy Beyoncé revue was a total OMFG, no one roped it in quite like Cassadee Pope. She began as emo cheesemonger and is transforming, week by week, into the person who’ll get called when Carrie Underwood isn’t available for the national anthem at major-league sporting events. Last night she sang “Over You,” a song her coach Blake Shelton c0-wrote with wife Miranda Lambert about the death of his brother. (Lambert sang the song on her album Four the Record.) Cutaways to Shelton brought home the pure heaviness of it as he fixed his eyes on Pope and tried not to cry. The girl has America’s heartstrings in the grip of her impeccably manicured hands. She brought such emotion to her performance you almost forgot she was wearing a wedding dress pantsuit.
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Coach: Cee Lo Green
Man, Team Cee Lo was all surprises this evening. Belew showed America just what he fantasized about for himself laying awake at night as a boy on the farm, an environment that perhaps goaded him all the more toward fabulousness. Cee Lo “supported his vision,” and co-helper Jennifer Hudson made “who farted?” faces, but damn Belew showed us what he could do with Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” He found a setting that highlighted his range and a costume that split the difference between Tom of Finland and Janet Jackson circa Rhythm Nation. Xtina complimented him diva to diva. Spectacular. Nicholas David’s wrists are like a rainbow display of Etsy-grade yarn handicraft, and his tie last night was a deep ochre – his look is immense. He did Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” with gospel choir backing. The applause from a teenage crowd was more thunderous and sustained than you’d think; he may stay in this competition longer than anyone expects. Trevin Hunte did an uptempo number to remind people he is a teenager, full of life, and so he sang about a woman’s pleasure and partying with Usher’s “Scream.” He had the power notes, but Usher has been the kiss of death this season and also, Hunte’s not gonna win on club hits. He got an audience ovation, but he doesn’t have that dancing guy/Imma-do-you energy needed to work that angle, which kinda bumps him off that “winner” pedestal and makes things that much more interesting – especially if he gets cocky because he thinks winning is a lock. Belew could well shimmy his way up to the finals and there are only so many Michael Bolton songs Hunte can sing.
Coach: Blake Shelton
Though Team Blake has less real estate, so to speak, with only two players, Pope is gonna be damned if she doesn’t make it to the final four. While her voice and image are wholly generic, she does sentimental songs and big emotional plays, which make for good TV and easy votes; she knows what she is working with and just how to work it. Her teammate, affable Scotsman Terry McDermott, got an updated song choice this week in “Summer of ’69,” but his onstage wariness seems like it might send him home tomorrow. He is distinct, but there is not a tremendous story to grab on to or much to connect with.
Coach: Christina Aguilera
Is Dez Duron really going to win on being a Twilight generation update on Bobby Darin? When he smiles into the camera and licks his back molar and blinks slowly, it’s obvious he could come out and hum Kenny G’s “Songbird” and his fan base will still go nuclear on the vote lines. He did a big-band take on the Nina Simone version of “Feeling Good,” a song that changed his life. If he wanted to do life-changing Nina songs, he shoulda gone with “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Well, there’s always next week. Coach Christina’s praise seemed a little over the top for her girl Sylvia Yacoub, who might be getting lost in the shuffle, despite being quite good on a merely serviceable song choice with “Girl on Fire.” Aguilera knows that keeping Yacoub on par with the loins-driven fanbase of Duron is going to be a challenge. She shouldn’t beg: it stinks of desperation.
Coach: Adam Levine
Team Adam is rolling low this week because despite having three contestants in the game it seems like Bryan Keith and Melanie Martinez both have a shot at going home soon – perhaps soonest, in Martinez’s case. Her problem seems to be that no one can pigeonhole exactly what type of weirdo she is, so there she is, making like she’s going to cry to get a dramatic turn out of White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.” Why hasn’t anyone given her Lana Del Rey songs, or found something that fits her voice? Keith traded on post-superstorm Sandy sentiment with “New York State of Mind,” which verged on an impression of Billy Joel – not exactly vote-bait. Keith tilts so old-man-songbook that he’s perilously close to the same angle that Dez Duron is working. His sweatin’ to the oldies routine makes him seem a couple generations older he is. You can sense his elimination coming on something like “Mack the Knife.” Amanda Brown killed with another Grace Potter tune, “Stars,” and showed she could just as easily be doing Beyoncé ballads for the win, but she is doing her own thing. What will she sing next? Heart? Prince? ONE WONDERS!
Classic Christina move of complimenting herself in the guise of complimenting someone else: Telling Cassadee Pope she looks like a lotus herself, perhaps reading Pope’s billowing curtain-y train as a reference to Xtina’s comeback album which came out last week. Like, in case you forgot already.
Sign that wardrobe might be having a little too much fun with Cody Belew: The one short sleeve of Belew’s chained, chainmailed, fringed and studded leather jacket looked like it was fashioned by a vet tech to keep Belew from licking his stiches.
Best hyperbolic Cee Lo bon mots: “Gospel is my blood type,” and “I felt like a child in the presence of my maker,” to Nicholas David. “You are the variety that is the spice of life,” to Melanie Martinez.
Previously: Team Cee Lo is ‘Stayin’ Alive’ on The Voice