THE SWON BROTHERS
After fumbling last week with two hokey "Hee Haw" performances, this week the Swons returned to the heartland rock that made such an impression at their first audition (when they covered Tom Petty). The Team Blake duo's first song choice, Bob Seger's road-weary touring anthem "Turn the Page," was absolutely inspired. It tapped into their whole musicianship thing (of the five contestants left, they're the only ones who consistently play instruments), and it expanded their audience while still pleasing their core country base. Hey, classic rock worked for Terry McDermott, so it could work for these guys. If the Swons make it to next week's finale, this is what they should be doing: countrified covers of Boston, Journey, Aerosmith, et al. Adam Levine gave them a "Swon salute." Usher called this "a great way to kick off the show." Blake Shelton, their coach, said, "I'm so blown away. This sets the bar really high for tonight." Good job, Swons.
After rocking out for their first number, the brothers mellowed out for a piano performance of Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song." This had the potential to go the cheesy, dated route, but you know what? It actually worked. Why? Because the song showcased the duo's biggest strength: their harmonies, which I always thought had a pleasingly '70s vibe. Usher said, "You're making us love and understand country in a way that's really great." Adam, surprisingly a major fan of this sentimental Loggins song, thought the Swons did an "incredible rendition." Blake said this was "the biggest night that [the brothers] have had on 'The Voice.'" Will the Swons, who've already gone way farther than any other duo in "Voice" history, be the first twosome to make it to a "Voice" finale? Anything is possible. Right now, it seems like all of America is swooning for the Swons.
"I Will Always Love You" was a tough song for Sasha to take on (one of the all-time hardest songs to sing, according to Adam), but I was certain that this season's resident R&B powerhouse, a woman who's sung backup for the likes of Alicia Keys, would be able to handle it. So what happened? It sounded like she flubbed the first line, and that knocked down her confidence so much that she almost couldn't recover. Or maybe the fact that she'd dedicated the ballad to her children got her all choked up, and maybe that compromised her vocals. It was only when Sasha got to the swelling, dramatic chorus that she impressed at all. And yes, she did impress. But was it too late? Or too little? Maybe. Adam told her she did an "incredible job" and "looked like an angel"; Shakira, her coach, called this "so pure and so beautiful"; Usher seemed sure that this performance would keep Sasha in the competition. I believe Sasha deserves to be in this season's finale, but this certainly wasn't her best performance of the season.
Sasha showed the sassy side of her personality with her second song, Donna Summer's "Bad Girls," and this wasn't bad at all. While I think Sasha pushed the dancing-pop-starlet shtick too far last week with her Pussycat Doll-ish "Before He Cheats," this uptempo performance had just the right amount of sizzle and sex appeal. And the fact that she was able to handle a Summer song was pretty impressive. Host Carson Daly noted that the screaming crowd seemed "overwhelmingly entertained." Adam said she was "amazing." Usher gave Sasha a standing ovation. Shakira proudly told her, "You have become this phenomenal performer." This was a strong performance, but unfortunately, I don't know if this old-fashioned song will inspire many viewers to hit up iTunes. And since iTunes downloads are so crucial to "Voice" success now, that means Sasha might be in trouble, as talented as she may be. (Side note: Either way, can I get one of those Lite Brite-style "SASHA" signs for my office? Come on, NBC prop house, hook me up.)
Danielle, the youngest Season 4 contestant at age 16, looked sophisticated tonight with her sleek hair and glam gown, but that was the only growth I saw from her here. There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought Danielle was a lock for the win, but now, I'm worried if she's plateaued, and if voters at home will actually heed her musical plea to "Please Remember Me." Danielle handled the Tim McGraw ballad with her usual ease (and got an endorsement from the McGraw man himself), but I was unmoved. This performance was technically "proficient," as Adam put it, but it lacked gravitas. The coaches, of course, all loved this. Usher and Adam called Danielle "amazeballs." Blake, her coach, asked incredulously and rhetorically, "How is that [performance] possible?" I have no doubt that Danielle is mega-talented and has a huge future (and most likely a huge record deal) ahead of her. She'll probably make it to the finale, too. But I am starting to doubt that she will win.
Next, Danielle did "Who I Am" by Jessica Andrews, in front of a backdrop of photos of her looking even younger and more adorable than she does now. Cute overload! Now, this was definitely a winning performance that should please Danielle's core fanbase: apple-cheeked and apple-pie-wholesome, pure pop-country, family-friendly, and performed directly to her beaming, sobbing Bradbery relatives in the front row. For all the hype that "The Voice" is edgier and hipper than its rival show, "American Idol," it is still a mainstream program on a major network, and let's face it, this is the sort of stuff that sells. This was also a song that the naïve young contestant was finally able to emotionally connect with, which was a plus. "Everyone around me is crying," said Carson. Usher said, "That is why you are still here." I agreed. If Danielle does a performance like this next week, maybe she really can win, after all.
I always thought Adam was an aggressive competitor who wanted to win this show, so I am not sure why he gave his own remaining contestant, Amber, a song that Shakira said "needs to be added to Adam's list of nightmare songs." Katy Perry's "Firework" is reaaaaaallllly hard to sing. Even Katy can't actually sing it. Adam admitted that when he informed Katy that he was planning to give the song to Amber, she said, "Are you nuts?" Amber definitely struggled here, and she veered further away than ever from her country roots — something that could really hurt her. Blake said he was saddened that Amber wasn't singing country this week, although he eventually said he was drawn in by the undeniable "power of her voice." Amber does have a fantastic voice, but this song didn't showcase it well, nor did it show the kind of real-life recording artist she'd probably like to be after "The Voice" is over. Maybe Adam really is nuts.
Amber's second song also wasn't country, although her rendition was slightly countrified. It was actually a cover of Maroon 5's "Sad." I think Adam's song choices might have been an attempt to broaden Amber's audience and differentiate her from Blake's all-country team, but I am not sure if this was a shrewd move so late in the game. The way that Season 4 has played out has indicated that country music is very popular with "Voice" viewers, and with last week's eliminated country singer Holly Tucker's votes up for grabs, this could have been the time for Amber swoop in and clinch those votes. And I don't know if this was the song to make that happen. That being said, Amber did a great job with it. "The fact that you can make one of Adam's songs sound that beautiful? That's doing something," joked Blake. "Congratulations. I'm really blown away," said Usher. Adam told Amber, "You sang it better than I did, and did it justice." I just hope for Amber's sake that her vocals were enough to impress viewers…including those viewers who previously enjoyed her country covers. But I think this "Sad" singer might be a sad singer on Tuesday's results show.
In case you needed any more evidence that Michelle is awesome, for her first song she did "Clarity" by Zedd. Her supercool song choices never disappoint. Unfortunately, I didn’t think this was her best vocal (she got pretty shouty and strainy in parts), which was a mild disappointment. But when she started pumping her fist to that anthemic rave-tent chorus, I couldn't resist raising my fist and raving right along with her. The woman definitely knows how to perform. Adam once against declared his undying love for Michelle. The hypercompetitive Blake acted annoyed that she didn't mess up. Usher, who fought for Michelle to do "Clarity," praised her artistry. I don't think this was her finest performance (besides the minor vocal mess-ups, this song didn't allow her to emote as much as she usually does), but in terms of relevance and hipness, Michelle was definitely the winner of the night with this.
Usher was literally declaring Michelle the winner after her show-closing performance of "Time After Time," a song that put Season 1 winner Javier Colon on the "Voice" map and allowed Michelle to showcase her trademark vulnerability. (Ironically, Michelle's vulnerability is her greatest strength, if that makes sense.) This was a perfect song for Michelle. Michelle had a major moment earlier this season with another Cyndi Lauper song, "True Colors," and Cyndi herself is having a moment this week, sweeping the Tony Awards on Sunday with her musical Kinky Boots and touchingly performing "True Colors" during the Tonys' "In Memoriam" segment. So this worked on so many levels. Adam, Javier Colon's former coach, said Michelle "took the song to the next level…dramatic and amazing." And a beaming Usher declared, "You're perfect the way you are. You are proof that you can be whatever you want to be, just believe. You are medicine for the whole world…You're the winner." I hope Usher is right. But Michelle is already a winner in my book.
So now, it is prediction time. And this is so tough. An argument could be made for all of five of these contestants, and saying goodbye to two of them on Tuesday will be painful. I think the only two that are more or less shoo-ins for the finale, barring any shocking last-minute upsets, are Danielle and Michelle. Who will snag that final top three spot? I actually think it will be the Swon Brothers. They played well to their fanbase (unlike Sasha, who swung wildly from one extreme to another, and Amber, who sang no country), and let's face it, they're both WGWGs. It's crazy to imagine vocalists as stellar as Sasha and Amber going home on a single results show, but then again, the amazing Judith Hill and Sarah Simmons both went home on the same night just two weeks ago. The competition is just that stiff this season.
Tune in Tuesday to find out if I'm right…and to check out performances by past "Voice" alums Tony Lucca, Terry McDermott, and Nicholas David, too! See you then.
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