Team Xtina isn’t faring so well with the new elimination standards, eh? Another week, another two eliminations, and another one of Xtina's ranks sent home, leaving Dez Duron as the sole representative from Team Boring-but-Attractive. Only one team member in the top eight? Ouch.
But that’s the beautiful thing about the new rules—this year’s top performers are truly the best of the best among this season’s contenders. In the past, lip service was always paid to the need to “build the strongest team,” but with each team having a guaranteed spot somewhere in the top four, the final rounds have often felt anticlimactic, with the eliminations leading up to the reveal of the top four fraught with outrage over weaker singers advancing while clearly more-talented competitors were eliminated simply because someone on their team had to go home.p> With that said: Sylvia Yacoub? Really, America? While her performances have always adhered to the standard Team Xtina Snoozefest Formula of relying on dazzling good looks, the ability to hit high notes, and a habit of playing it “safe” with Top 40 music selections to make up for the lack of personality, Yacoub has always seemed, to me, like a shoo-in for the semifinals. She is a great singer, and her insistence on using the piano that one time, even though Coach Christina waffled, stuck with me.
Unfortunately, the sudden piano-love might just have contributed to Yacoub’s downfall (point Christina). It was an odd decision considering her song choice—sassy Alicia Keys song “Girl on Fire” and seemed to stifle the potential energy she could have brought to the stage. What a bummer, though—she was the Xtina team member I was rooting for.
Also sent home this week was perpetual bore Bryan Keith of Team Adam, who attempted to channel some residual Superstorm Sandy feels with “New York State of Mind.” Blah. I’ve been waiting for that one.
Here’s how I think everyone else stacked up:
8. Cody Belew (Team Cee Lo)
Blake Shelton was confused by Belew’s leather-and-chains-laden cover of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” pointing out that this was the guy who auditioned with a Dolly Parton tune, and that the complete 180 of his stage persona was a bit jarring. I, too, was confused. Belew has made it this far on a steady parade of solid country/rock and classic covers—why did he choose now to don an Adam Lambert Halloween costume?
7. Trevin Hunte (Team Cee Lo)
Oh man, this one hurt. Look, Hunte’s Usher cover was fine, it just wasn’t of the same amazing caliber as his performances usually are. Coach Cee Lo was apprehensive about Hunte's decision to mix things up with “Scream,” cautioning his mentee not to confuse the audience. Hunte was insistent, citing the concern that the audience forgets that he’s only eighteen years old. I’m not entirely sure why his age is so important; it’s not like we’re voting for the best teenage singer.
6. Dez Duron (Team Xtina)
Dude! Better. Way better. Dez Duron takes the prize for "most improved over the course of the season"; his cover of the jazzy broadway classic “Feeling Good” was sexy and fun.
5. Terry McDermott (Team Blake)
McDermott’s “Summer of 69” cover was solid in the way all of his performances are. I’m just wondering when we’ll start to run out of classic rock tunes for him to pick from.
4. Nicholas David (Team Cee Lo)
Team Weird Beard! Backed by a full gospel choir and brandishing his piano-playing skills, Nicholas David gave what is, in my opinion, his best performance to date. While Sylvia Yacoub occasionally seemed constrained by the piano, David has embraced it, managing to convey energy and enthusiasm to the audience (as opposed to Yacoub’s signature sheer terror). Keep being awesome.
3. Amanda Brown (Team Adam)
Every time Amanda Brown performs, I’m struck by the absurdity of Cee Lo Green’s decision to cut her loose during the battle rounds—and apparently so is he, considering the graciousness he show's every single time he evaluates her performances. Brown’s cover of Grace Potter’s “Star” showcased her vocal range nicely. I wouldn’t mind something a little more energetic in the coming weeks, though. This is the second time we saw Brown essentially stand in one place the entire song.
2. Melanie Martinez (Team Adam)
Martinez has come so far. In rehearsal footage, she fretted over the quiet nature of her voice and how it might stack up against those of powerhouses like Brown and Pope. It’s a valid concern. Quiet doesn’t always equate a lack of power, but it can come off that way. In her cover of the White Stripes' “Seven Nation Army,” Martinez made up for the lack of belting ability with a seductively mature growl. I love a good growl.
1. Cassadee Pope (Team Blake)
Well, Blake finally let Pope sing a ballad, his wife Miranda Lambert’s “Over You,” and it was just as lovely and refreshingly mature of a performance as I’d hoped for. Despite the emotionally charged nature of the performance (“Over You” was originally written about Shelton’s late brother, and Pope dedicated the performance to her late great-grandfather in the rehearsal montage), Pope maintained her composure and gave a phenomenal performance.