8:29pm PT by Ashley Lee
'The Voice' Recap: Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams Perform for Top 8 (Video)
Two blondes made their debut on The Voice on Monday night: Gwen Stefani and a newly platinum Adam Levine.
"I don't have an explanation -- I woke up, I had the day off, and I thought I'd look like Shakira," he said of his new 'do. "I feel a bit like a futuristic cyborg, which I'm totally okay with."
Stefani made her NBC show entrance with a crew of female dancers in gold for a performance of her solo hit "Hollaback Girl," during which her fellow coach and the song's co-writer Pharrell Williams, with a new hat, came out to join her. "Two minutes ago I was giving birth, and now I'm standing here in front of all you guys -- it's incredible!" Stefani said after the performance.
Williams also performed his latest single, "Come Get It Bae" (on which he collaborated with Miley Cyrus, thus the patterned outfits on the producer and dancers), and Blake Shelton sang his new single, "My Eyes," with season-two Voice competitor Gwen Sebastian, who joined him in rehearsals to unofficially help the contestants, as did Maroon 5's James Valentine for Levine's singers.
But on to the contestants (aka the reason we're supposed to be watching this show). Each with boosted productions onstage, the top 8 fought for finalist spots that are rarer than ever, as Tuesday night will bring the first-ever triple elimination (because double eliminations with Instant Saves aren't enough, right?).
Here's how they handled the pressure:
Sisaundra Lewis channeled a gospel sound with Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," dedicating it to her mother, who was in the audience and watching her sing outside a church for the first time. With great command of the elevated stage, Lewis once again championed a demanding track, from start to finish, with plenty of energy. "If you ever open the school of Sisaundra Lewis, I'm sure the four of us would enroll," said Shakira, and Usher praised her ability to keep up with the heightened production value on the show.
Audra McLaughlin went with Rebecca Lynn Howard's power country ballad "Forgive." With simple visuals and a pianist behind her, she performed effortlessly, touting her usual high notes as her forte despite a slightly rocky start. Shakira said she loved McLaughlin's upper register, especially on long notes that she said went on forever. As much as we love her ballads, we're looking forward to hearing something more upbeat from her -- a sassy track that's become signature of female country singers.
Jake Worthington, though a bit under the weather this week, opted to sing Brooks & Dunn's "Hillybilly Deluxe." With a laid back yet palpable command of the stage -- and barnlike props and onscreen visuals -- the country singer had fun with the track. "Your performance was very frontal and very aggressive, and I've never seen that Jake before...you performed with the right attitude," said Shakira. Levine praised how cool and, again, authentically country Worthington was.
Usher took his only remaining singer, Josh Kaufman, to the studio where he's working on his upcoming album and let his contestant rehearse Bonnie Raitt's "I Can’t Make You Love Me" behind the glass. With just a pianist and a chandelier behind him, Kaufman brought the proper emotionality (and his usual bag of vocal tricks) to the performance, but he still isn't the most engaging singer to watch onstage. Still, Shelton said it was "as perfect of a performance as I've seen on the show," and Shakira commended his artistic taste and tone.
Also the last-remaining singer on a team, Kristen Merlin went with Lee Brice's "I Drive Your Truck," following her understated yet engaging ballad performance last week. Though her emotionality did at times mess with her pitch, she pushed through, as she did when her microphone gave out earlier in the competition. Shelton said she did a great job: "You just keep getting better and better every week, and Adam loves you so much, he copied your hairstyle!" Usher said, "Wherever you're heading in that truck, you're on the right track."
Kat Perkins took an artistic risk by adding a ton of rock to Daft Punk and Williams' "Get Lucky," complete with harsh electric guitars and, yes, fire, all of which nearly got the rhythmically challenged studio audience moshing. However, her arrangement leaked all of the relaxed fun from the hit track, replacing it with a dark mood that was inappropriate. Still, it was vocally sound, and at least it was interesting -- which is more than we can say about some of the other performers. Shakira loved how she stayed true to herself, and Usher pointed out the cheering audience.
Delvin Choice went with R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" (the winning song of season two's Jermaine Paul) and sincerely brought himself to tears during rehearsals. Onstage, with fog and a six-person choir, he stayed in the groove of the song while soaring on notes and again turned on the waterworks. A visibly bored Usher said "You've never seen a man fly until you see a man cry" and praised his song choice rather than the performance itself. That's never a good sign.
Christina Grimmie was challenged by Levine to rework Lil Wayne's "How to Love" (which was a big ballad success by Delilah on The Sing-Off a while back, which Levine must have missed), and though she was afraid of being a one-trick pony for two weeks in a row, she proved that it's a pretty good trick with the right song (and a glowing microphone stand for kicks). While she didn't channel the emotionality of her ballad, she focused more on hitting all the right notes, including a nice closing slide. Shelton called her a superstar, Shakira highlighted her high notes, and Usher suggested she try out hip-hop herself, given her song choices.
The Voice continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
What did you think of the top 8's performances? Who's in danger of elimination and will soon be begging for the Twitter Instant Save? Sound off in the comments below.
Watch Williams and Stefani perform below:
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