10:10pm PT by Ashley Lee
'The Voice' Recap: Song Choice Champions and Cripples Top 10
Any alum of The Voice will tell you the same thing: Fight for your song choice. If your coach -- whether it's Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green -- assigns a cover that you're not comfortable with, say something. Don't just hope it all comes together when it's time to tape the live show, because, as tonight showed, such is not always the case.
After kicking off the episode with an ensemble performance of The Mowgli's “Say It, Just Say It,” the top 10 took the stage to try and avoid another double elimination. Here’s how they did:
Shelton asked Austin Jenckes to tackle The Outfield’s “Your Love,” complete with a subtle intro, tricky key change mid-song and a climactic, scream-worthy ending that brought Jenckes to tears, especially with his family in the stands. The other judges praised his range and effective conclusion, but Levine wished that he could just hear Jenckes' “gravelly tone” a bit earlier in the song.
After a joint yoga session, Aguilera assigned Jacquie Lee a more vulnerable version of Zedd’s “Clarity,” free of the constant belting that’s gotten her this far (the same approach Aguilera herself took when she recently debuted a duet with A Great Big World). Initially, Lee was uncomfortable with what Green called the “nakedness” of the rendition, and she struggled with pitch and changes to falsetto. But she regained her footing with the bigger notes later on in the song. Shelton had no problem saying he preferred more powerful song choices and approaches for Lee. “I know we have to show different dimensions of an artist … but gosh dangit, I want to see Jacquie do some Aretha Franklin or something.”
Levine gave returning team member Will Champlin the very recent release from John Newman called “Love Me Again” (a British track that hasn’t yet rocked America). While the song had all the right elements for Champlin – the rhythmic introduction on the piano, plus a chorus with long notes that fit right into the sweet spot of his register – we’re wondering if U.S. viewers will applaud the song choice, like the singer's father, Chicago band member Bill Champlin, did in the audience. “I feel like you came into your own in this performance,” said Aguilera of the performance, while Shelton praised Champlin's vocal accuracy.
Green’s sweet Caroline Pennell used her unique indie pop phrasing on John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and successfully added the bittersweet emotions she was hoping to convey about her experience in the competition. Her coach did critically state that he wants her to vocally open up more in the future, but Levine appreciated the artistic choice to communicate something real to the audience.
Shelton coincidentally assigned Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” to Cole Vosbury, who has loved the song since childhood. Opting for accompaniment on an acoustic guitar over a grand piano -- a “smart move,” said Levine -- Vosbury personalized the track with his gritty tone, soliciting nothing but praise from the judges, as always.
Levine’s Tessanne Chin went for Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman,” full of soulful standout moments and sassy stage presence. “I heard your Jamaican accent come out when you sang for the first time in the beginning, and I loved it!” said Aguilera, who then said she’d love to hear different dynamics from the singer, asking her to pull back during strategic moments in the future (even though that wasn’t best for her contestant, Lee). Still, the performance demonstrated Chin's ability to be a entertaining character as well as a strong vocalist.
Shelton’s Ray Boudreaux suited up for Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing” and played the acoustic guitar while a horn section swayed behind him. “Out of everyone here, I feel like you’ve shown the most growth,” noted Aguilera, who appreciated that he’s championing his blues wheelhouse. Green loved Boudreaux’s authenticity, while Levine, who was just reaching for something critical to say, added that he could be a bit more present and visually entertaining onstage.
Levine challenged James Wolpert to update Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” -- a track with an incredibly demanding chorus. Wolpert sustained each long note so well that we’re okay with the fact that he was too focused on them to emote much onstage (despite performing with a cool microphone that Levine said was a nod to Freddie Mercury). Aguilera called him a clean vocalist with both raspy and pure dimensions, adding that “at the end you went a little astray with the pitch, but you had me the whole time.”
Green’s Kat Robichaud -- who was saved by Twitter’s Instant Save last week -- returned to her glam-rock roots with a theatrical performance of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” She opened the song by playing the piano, then navigated her way through a slew of masked backup dancers who later carried her on top of the instrument. Though she occasionally seemed vocally distracted by all the action onstage -- we thought she would champion the anthem as well as her covers over the previous weeks -- Green called the performance “immortal” while Levine said, “This was finally the Kat that we were all waiting to see.”
After his yoga session, Aguilera’s Matthew Schuler thought of his future wife -- whoever she is -- while singing “Beneath Your Beautiful” by Labrinth and Emeli Sande. The powerhouse performer effortlessly transitioned from a subdued introduction to a climactic bridge filled with genuine yearning. “Finding that future wife? Not gonna be a problem for you, man!” said Levine. “This was no less than amazing, which is what you always are.”
What did you think of tonight's performances? Which singers deserve to advance, and which should be sent home? Which coach will lose all of his or her singers first? Sound off in the comments below.