8:42pm PT by Ashley Lee
'The Voice' Recap: Top 5 Double Up for Semifinals, Usher Sings 'Good Kisser' (Video)
Following last week's triple elimination, The Voice sped straight into its semifinals, putting the top 5 onstage with two performances each: one chosen in dedication to loved ones and one selected by their coach.
After Usher's kickoff performance of his latest single, "Good Kisser" -- complete with his signature slides and a ton of sweat -- and Carson Daly's quick (and TRL-esque) clip and chat with Transformers: Age of Extinction's Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz, the top 5 performed for their penultimate week of the season, triggering a rant by Adam Levine, a deady, dead-end compliment from Shakira and a laugh from Blake Shelton on who will win it all. Here's how it happened:
Kristen Merlin finally did it -- she picked season-six guest mentor Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead," the very upbeat fist-pumper/headbanger/sassy-country track we've been waiting for that not only showcases her personality, but also her marketability. Levine considered it an example of how far she's come (though we think she's just been keeping it in her back pocket until now), and Shelton said that his wife usually performs the song with a ton of anger, while Merlin wore a spirited (and possibly devious) smile. "You're like, pow! Two different approaches. But it was really good."
Shakira then asked Merlin to tackle Jewel's "Foolish Games," and despite the swaying, rhythmically challenged audience she was performing for, Merlin executed the moving performance -- from beginning to end -- by maintaining incredible restraint and, she noted afterward, an emotional tie to the song. "That's the most connected I've ever seen you be with a lyric," said Shelton, while Usher applauded Shakira's strategic song choice.
In dedication to his family, Josh Kaufman went with John Legend's "All of Me," sentimentally staged alongside black-and-white photo frames atop a piano -- which wasn't actually played. Instead, the song's key was raised and completed with different instrumentation that definitely distanced Kaufman's cover from Legend's original. Shakira said that he's "milking" his skillful ability to reach the audience with soulful love songs, and Levine noted that his former singer serves him "a weekly serving of humble pie." Shelton called it beautiful and powerful: "There's no question that you're going to be in the finale."
Usher chose OneRepublic's "Love Runs Out" for Kaufman to not only showcase his hit-making potential, but also probably to plug in-house songwriter Ryan Tedder's latest release (especially since he hasn't reaped much of his Voice promotional perks thus far). Whatever the motive, Kaufman was proven to be friendly to all the Tedder genres, and he put his grit on so many high notes that the crowd's applause drowned out Levine's opportunity to comment. "When he does a song, it's like he's got the song by the throat -- you just have so much control and so much command onstage," said Shelton. "You're a natural-born killer singer, man. You really are."
Levine had Kat Perkins stretch her versatility by going pop -- or what she called "operatic rock" -- with Sia's "Chandelier," complete with a slew of actual chandeliers (naturally) and smoke, and a few new blonde streaks to match her coach's new 'do. Shelton said that the recently saved contestant does everything right -- "I don't know of anybody that's been on the show that capitalizes on these opportunities like you do" -- and Shakira thought it was smart that she added her own style to the ambitious singer-songwriter track.
Perkins then chose to sing Idina Menzel's "Let It Go" from Frozen, in dedication to the kids she babysat before auditioning for The Voice. It's an inherently repetitive song with no peaks and valleys -- once it ramps up, it never lets up -- so it's really just a matter of taste. Usher said the ambitious song is one that everybody loves "no matter if they are two or eighty -- it was a classic performance...you killed it." Shakira admitted it was an unexpected pick, but said, "I think America at this point knows that you can rock out, but also you are more universal than that," and Shelton commented that he loves how Perkins ends her songs with a signature sendoff of some sort.
Levine opted for Christina Grimmie (also equipped with fresh blonde streaks) to push her uniqueness with Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," complete with a vocoder to allow her to harmonize with herself live (a common practice in the YouTube-performer community). It was hidden away briefly as soon the lantern-lit choir appeared behind her, as she performed a section a cappella. And then another part with a piano. And then closed via vocoder. With so much going on, Usher admitted that "in the beginning, I was a bit disconnected -- it was a great risk...until you actually started to sing without the vocoder," and he felt connected again. Shakira said she was nervous about the vocoder as well, but that she did enjoy it. Levine then waxed poetic that he's sick of not sending a Voice winner into the real-world stratosphere: "I don't think we want to sit here and do karaoke. We want to surprise people, we want to impress people, we want to make people uncomfortable a little bit so that hopefully they can embrace some music they've never heard before."
Grimmie then went with fun.'s "Some Nights" as a tribute to her entire hometown -- after recovering from a few unsupported notes, she kicked a few phrases up an octave and flooded the studio with black lights and balloons but stayed relatively formulaic on this track's vocals. "I think you just won The Voice," Shelton joked of the decorations. "I liked the hell out of that!" Usher called it an amazing make-or-break moment and a preview of her post-Voice career-- "This is somewhat of an indication of what your concert would look like." But then Shakira dropped one of those dead-end comments that every Voice singer dreads: "Regardless of what happens here, you have so much to offer. You should continue to do what you're doing, because you're so creative."
Jake Worthington sang Waylon Jennings' "Good Ol' Boys" in honor of his best friends, and he kept the energy up on the toe-tapping track despite being stationed behind a microphone stand while playing his guitar. The performance felt like that of an expert, not of an 18-year-old aspiring country singer, and definitely not of a returning Voice auditionee. Usher noted that such a performance could nab Shelton another country-singing championship ("That big note you had at the end...you completely sold me on country in that moment," he said), and Levine again praised Worthington as an authentic representation of country. (At this point, that's a pretty empty comment, Levine.)
Shelton had Worthington close the episode with "Heaven" by Bryan Adams and Jason Aldean. He struggled with his voice a bit during rehearsals, but once onstage, he didn't let his troubles cloud his consistency and, in usual Worthington fashion, championed the stripped-down track. Levine was happy Shelton had him sing "took you into pop town," and Usher commended him for powering through his vocal issues and still delivering a solid performance that's outside his usual genre.
The Voice continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
What did you think of the top 5's double performances? Who's in danger of elimination and will soon be begging for the Twitter Instant Save? More important, let's play a game: How many covers were originally performed by guest mentors? (No, really, it's an amount worth counting.) Sound off in the comments below.
Watch Usher perform "Good Kisser" below: