'The Voice' Recap: Good Decisions and Gimmicks Hit the Top 8

Call and response, choreography or conversing with the audience? Yes, of course. But let's make the cultural gimmick a one-time thing, please.
Ray Boudreaux on "The Voice"

Now that The Voice has narrowed things down to the top 8 singers -- and yes, they’ve all proven they sing quite well -- every performance has to have more than just impressive vocals. This isn’t the stripped-down round anymore: Costumes and choreography are now at your disposal, ready to push you that much closer to stardom. As long as you seize the opportunity -- for better or for worse -- your performance has a little something extra. If you don’t, well, then it was just the best that you and you alone could do on that giant lit-up stage.

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Currently, Adam Levine is in the lead with three singers, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton are tied with two each, and Cee Lo Green’s team is narrowed down to one. Once Robin Thicke kicked off the episode with his new single, “Feel Good,” the top 8 took the stage for good and/or gimmicky performances:

Levine’s James Wolpert attempted Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” a song often covered by a cappella groups, like Wolpert’s did when he was at Carnegie Mellon University. Thankfully, Levine stopped him from over-embellishing the classic, sticking instead to Freddie Mercury’s phrasing and letting his long notes shine among a choir of Wolpert clones onstage. While his coach bragged that Wolpert could sing in Queen tomorrow (we’re not so sure about that), Shelton said, “It was dynamic, it was dramatic, it was a solid performance, and maybe the best I’ve heard you sing so far.” Aguilera said she felt like she was watching a Broadway show, and Green saluted the razor-sharp timing.

Tessanne Chin returned to her roots with the reggae influence of No Doubt’s “Underneath It All,” complete with original phrasing, accent-heavy rapping and an unexpected yet very welcome call-and-response conclusion. Green applauded how well she applied criticism from the coaches, while Aguilera said she'd finally heard something she was searching for, and got to know the singer much better. We loved the performance as well but don’t understand why these two coaches were praising Chin's inherent Jamaican-ness and asked her to show it more with Aguilera’s reggae rendition of “What a Girl Wants.” Her voice has proven to stretch farther than any region-specific sound, and she can seize the crown without relying on cultural gimmicks.

Green’s sole survivor, Caroline Pennell, took on Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” a wise reaction to her relatively monotone performance last week that put her in the bottom three. Though she never achieved the climaxes the song requires, she did change up the rhythm of the chorus and sell the track’s tender moments. However, it's never a good sign when the coaches start to say things like “You did your best” or “Win or lose, you’ve already won.” Not on this show, at least.

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After Shelton brought his singers with him to The Tonight Show to meet host Jay Leno, the mentor asked Cole Vosbury to sing Vince Gill’s “I Still Believe in You,” opting again for a stripped-down acoustic approach that calls out to the show's country fans. While we love the subtle approach, Vosbury remained standing in the same spot the entire time, not giving us much to look at in comparison to the other competitors. Maybe that will work to his advantage: Shelton applauded the vulnerable rendition of the track, and Aguilera, though she spoke in circles, said she liked the performance…we think.

Aguilera’s Matthew Schuler was assigned Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time,” which is very similar in sound to his blind audition song, Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup.” She brought in her choreographer for a military-inspired, percussive performance that floated in the sweet spot of Schuler’s upper register. And maybe it comes from making the top 8 or suddenly turning 21, but his stage presence was more charismatic than ever, while still genuine. Green said, “Continue to be yourself, because you’re doing a damn good job.”

Levine’s Will Champlin took off his glasses to take on his first classic: Etta James’ “At Last.” The song felt refreshed by a voice that wasn’t a female powerhouse, and while it was musically accurate and even surprisingly spontaneous (those were some seriously amazing riffs), we wanted more of the emotional connection that Levine was warning Champlin to prioritize. Maybe that comes from leaving his microphone stand every once in a while or changing up his facial expression to emote the song’s feeling of relief, rather than showing that he’s calculating the next note.

Since Shelton’s Ray Boudreaux did so well with the soulful, big band sound last week, he was asked to take on the Spencer Davis Group’s rendition of “Gimme Some Lovin’,” once again suited up for the quick rhythms and a hefty horn section. Boudreaux seized the bridge as an opportunity to comfortably converse and interact with the audience like an artist would when headlining his own concert.

Aguilera’s Jacquie Lee found herself challenged to let loose (aka stop smiling so much) for a performance of “Who’s Lovin’ You” by Smokey Robinson. She never let herself sink into any of the vocally “naked” moments that troubled her last week: Kicking off with an accurate a cappella introduction, she successfully channeled a much more passionate character onstage, one that matched her powerful voice. Levine commended her authentic, mature conviction, while Green simply said, “It’s like you swallowed an old lady!”

Throughout the episode, the top 8 also grouped for performances of Matiyahu’s “One Day” and Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House.”

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.

Twitter: @cashleelee