The second half of the top 20 — the members of Team CeeLo Green and Team Christina Aguilera — performed on "The Voice" on Tuesday, hoping to please America and their coaches and make it to the top 12.
In a sort of deja vu moment, Aguilera kicked off the show with a performance, as she had the night before. This time, though, she abandoned the previous evening's flash and dazzle and turned in a stripped-down (to use one of "The Voice's" go-to descriptions), though vocally lush, performance of "Say Something," on which she has teamed with A Great Big World. The song and Aguilera's vocals were restrained, captivating as a whisper, haunting as a lost love, exquisite. Alas, its perfection threw into sharp relief the mediocrity of some of the evening's subsequent performances.
Amber Nicole — whose older sister, we learned, was once former "Voice" coach Usher's vocal coach — kicked off "Team CeeLo Hour" with a shouty rendition of Season 3 "Voice" winner Cassadee Pope's "Wasting All These Tears." By tackling a country-inflected song, she'd hoped to show her versatility, but the coaches could barely look beyond one big off-pitch note. There was a fair amount of "you look beautiful tonight" empty flattery and some debate over whether the note had been sharp or flat. Blake Shelton, who had been Pope's coach, said he had a hard time listening to anyone else sing the song. Aguilera was the most forgiving, saying that, after missing the note, Nicole had come back and "nailed it."
For longhaired military vet Jonny Gray, Green picked "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by the Verve, hoping to deliver a message voters could connect with. Both Adam Levine and Aguilera found it perhaps a bit too restrained at the beginning, but liked the way Gray loosened up toward the end. Green, though, thought the relatability of the song combined with the "sincerity" of Gray's voice made for the perfect musical "marriage."
Green assigned gospel-inflected Tamara Chauniece "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, in part, he said, because Chauniece was a "strong-willed young lady," whatever that meant. Chauniece showed herself to be a strong vocal performer as well. "You had your best performance at the best time," Levine told her. Green called her energy "electric."
Switching things up a bit for his high-kicking rocker Kat Robichaud, Green selected a song he hoped would show her softer side: "She Keeps Me Warm" by Mary Lambert. He said he wanted her to be "totally committed." In fact, Robichaud was so into the moment that she hugged a random audience member so closely everyone assumed the woman was a member of her family. In fact, she was a complete stranger. "I just love her," Robichaud said of the woman she'd never met. Levine and Aguilera, both apparently startled, said the random stranger hug might have made up for the lack of Robichaud's trademark unbridled rock-and-roll energy, what Levine called her "seventh gear." Green celebrated the "unconditional love" he said Robichaud exudes.
Green saved his most compelling contestant for last, assigning the adorable and supertalented Caroline Pennell, whose sincerity and vocal purity seem to have increased along with her confidence as the competition has progressed, the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends." "I'm looking for her to charm the American audience and give them all cavities by being so sweet," he said. She certainly charmed the coaches. Levine said it was the first time she'd shed all vocal influences and sounded "purely" like herself.
Shelton offered a peculiar confession: "I don't know what it is about Caroline, but I could literally be getting an amputation and if somebody was playing her music and she was singing, all I'd be thinking about would be cotton candy." So mesmerizing was Pennell, he said, that she "could be singing about killing people and I would have been up here wanting to skip around the stage."
Mercifully, Shelton resisted the urge to prance and it was on to Team Christina. That's not to say we were done with CeeLo Green for the evening; Aguilera's first singer, Josh Logan, tackled Green's "Crazy." Logan shed his usual hat to reveal a pate as bald as Green's, but gave the song his own spin, grabbing his guitar and changing up the cadence of the lyrics. Green said he was "flattered," even "honored," to have had his song covered, but he sounded put off by the results. As a "part-time rapper," he said, he "wrote that song like an MC a little bit." Consequently, it could get "a little wordy," so "you have to be specially trained to do it." Then Green offered Logan a meager, "Great job, OK?"
Levine thought Logan had made the song too "complicated" with all his runs. But Aguilera didn't agree, saying her team member had succeeded in making the song his own.
Team Christina's Olivia Henken also branched out from the expected, leaving her country stomping ground to tackle a pop hit, Katy Perry's "Roar," and fared better, blending power and tenderness to give the dynamic performance her coach had been aiming for. Shelton said he was "surprised at how well a country voice works on that song," adding that the risky move had paid off.
Stephanie Anne Johnson, a Team Christina member who also spent time on Green's team, sang the classic "Georgia on My Mind," embracing an opportunity to take an old favorite and "make it fresh." She said she was "going to treat this performance like it's going to be my last," but maybe it won't be. Green said it showed a whole different side of Johnson. Levine complimented the way she "opened … up" the song. And Aguilera praised Johnson's versatility and vocal "richness."
Aguilera's final two singers offered a one-two power punch, bringing a somewhat ho-hum evening to a rousing conclusion. Matthew Schuler, he of the fastest ever blind audition four-chair turn, proved more than his ability to tackle pop music with his rendition of Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball." He proved he really and truly has what it takes to be a full-on star.
"It looks like a wrecking ball hit the other coaches," Carson Daly observed as Schuler wrapped up his showstopping performance. "I hate you so much. You make me sick," Green said petulantly. "I hate how much I love you."
Levine said he shared Green's pain, noting that Schuler had every element it took to be a true performer. "It makes me angry," he said, but added, "You light a fire under me to make my team even better. Everything you exude, everything you were showing us on that stage is exactly what you need to take this thing all the way."
"Forget you, man," Shelton said.
"They don't like you because they love you," Aguilera said. "You came in like a wrecking ball and you smashed it."
You might have thought Schuler's performance would be the evening's capper, but then Team Christina's Jacquie Lee, who is but a girl of 16, came in and ripped the competition open with a fierce, pitch-perfect rendition of "I Put a Spell on You."
"Oh, my God, Jacquie. Dang." Green stuttered. "That was the absolute best. Count on me to be biased about my team, but that was the best." He told Lee, "You are most certainly the future."
"I don't care how old you are," Levine said. "That was just crazy."
We'll find out what the voters think of the performances on Thursday. In the meantime, which 12 singers would you like to see advance?
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