For tonight's live semifinals, The Voice changed the game a little bit. Rather than be forced to instantly eliminate a team member, judges were instructed to award each singer a percentage score to be combined with the results of America’s overnight voting to determine which four will progress to next week’s final round.
And the contestants pulled out all the stops tonight. We’re down to two people on each team. For half of tonight’s performers, tonight's performances would be their swan songs. Cee Lo instructed everyone to “Sing your ass off,” and did you catch his proud papa face when Carson asked him about Purrfect? Did you? That’s love right there. So was that T-shirt.
So, here are the final eight and a quick rundown of their performances:
Tony Lucca stepped away from the rock and roll persona we’ve come to associate with him, embracing a funkier sound with The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now.” Donning a tailored suit and a skinny tie that would make White Collar’s Neal Caffrey seethe with jealousy, he ditched the guitar for two eye-candy background dancers. It was a pretty radical departure from his previous Britney Spears cover, but still energetic and fun. It was a good choice to open the show with. All of the judges gave the performance favorable views, though to be fair, they pretty much fawned over everyone tonight. Carson Daly’s pitiful attempts to get Christina to OMG STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FREAKING MOUSEKETEERS so he could move on to Cee Lo and Adam was pretty amusing. The almighty censors muted an alarmingly large chunk of whatever Christina said back to him. Luckily, I have a vibrant imagination and a sailor’s vocabulary, so I filled in the blanks myself.
Katrina Parker donned her shortest skirt yet for a rather sexy rendition of “Killing Me Softly,” originally a Roberta Flack tune, but it was clearly Lauryn Hill who influenced Katrina’s performance. She really loves her '90s music, doesn’t she? I can’t argue with that. Cee Lo called it a “youthful spin” and Adam compared her to Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Hill, but ultimately conceded that more than anything, Katrina sounded like Katrina, and that’s a good thing.
Jermaine Paul dedicated his performance of Journey’s “Open Arms” to his wife. It was sweet. Apparently the first time she heard him sing was in an attempt to woo her. Aww. They’re cute. The performance itself was solid. The lighting crew on The Voice had their work cut out for them tonight because it seemed like everyone wanted to be backed by a crazy light show. Adam told Jermaine that he was no longer a mere background singer. I didn’t realize that being a background singer was some sort of shameful profession, but I agree, “It's Jermaine’s time to shine.”
Erin Willett went in a surprising direction, first by choosing to perform the David Guetta/Usher tune “Without You” and then by performing it NOT as the club-friendly original, but as an epic ballad instead. Starting out very simple and slow, she steadily built up to her signature powerful belting. It worked really well and despite the emotional maelstrom behind her performance, specifically the loss of her father after her acceptance on the show, she managed to hold it together until she finished singing, an admirable display of self-control that Blake readily commended her for. Christina called her performance one of the most original so far, and I have to agree, it was pretty fantastic to see a performance that so completely revamped the original version of a song and still WORKED.
It was nice to see Christina relinquish a little control and let both of her remaining team members stick to their comfort zones for what will turn out to have be, for one of them, his or her final performance on The Voice. While some might interpret it as a cop-out, I don’t think that was the case at all. Lindsey Pavao is a coffeehouse songbird and Chris Mann sings opera. They are comfortable in those roles and historically, have performed better in them, showing more confidence and ease on the stage when they were allowed to embrace their musical passions.
So, Lindsey Pavao picked up a guitar and sang “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver and...I think I might actually like her cover as much as the original. I know, I know BLASPHEMY, right? Her cover didn’t differ from the original as much as Erin Willett’s “Without You” did, but it strayed enough to make the song her own. She stood close to the mic and upped the tempo a bit to keep the audience awake. That was my initial concern when she announced her song selection, that the audience would fall asleep. I love the original, but it’s not exactly a toe-tapper.
Chris Mann gave America a preview of his inevitable adult contemporary Christmas album with “Ave Maria.” It was epic and pretty and the man finally looked comfortable on the stage. The chicks in the audience screamed and swooned, despite the fact that I can’t really picture anyone blasting “Ave Maria” in a high school parking lot. But hey, maybe I’m wrong. There were kids in my senior class who drove their tractors to school regularly, so, you know, maybe there’s a demographic of opera-loving teenagers out there somewhere who will get Chris Mann some regular radio play yet.
Jamar Rogers decided that it was time to introduce America to the kind of music he would make if given a recording contract and things got a little personal when he channeled soul singers Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, performing their song “If You Don’t Know me by Now.” Cee Lo called the performance “intimate” and “stripped-down” and straight-up had tears in his eyes. Jamar has often described the songs he performs as being meaningful to him, maybe even a little biographical in some way, and if that was indeed the case, then this was a fitting addition to his repertoire. Blake and Christina both complimented his decision to end the song on a low note, saying that it showed off his range and skillful command of his voice.
Adam declared Juliet Simms to be “the one to beat” following her cover of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown, but then again, he said that about Jesse Campbell too and look how that turned out. She easily has the coolest taste in music, though, and tonight she managed to find a satisfying balance between her signature belting and her pretty voice. This might just be the great successor to her amazing “Roxanne” cover that we’ve all been waiting for.
So this is it, one last round of eliminations before next week’s finals. Who are you cheering for?