THE VOICE Recap: What the HELL just happened?!

Good day, b-rollers, and welcome to The Voice! Does the title of today’s recap concern a) Christina Aguilera’s inexplicable sudden death decision, b) Christina Aguilera’s inexplicable wardrobe choice(s) during her group performance number, or (c) all of the above? Read on to find out! And oh, you guys, there’s so much to talk about. Settle in.

But first: A quick apology for skipping last week’s results show recap. It is a terribly busy month in the life of b-roll, and that got lost in the shuffle, so mea culpa, folks. On the upside, singer/model/obnoxiously oblivious contestant Erin Martin was voted out last week! Nice job, AMERICA. I knew you had it in you.

Anyway, we begin tonight with more of those swooping wide shots that make me think that The Voice technical team got some cranes and ziplines and decided to have some fun at our expense. Carson Daly – who should either visit Ryan Seacrest’s tailor or button his dang suit jacket – welcomes us to the live quarterfinals (part 1), in which Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton’s remaining contestants will sing live for us, and in a a twist, the mentors will eliminate one of the contestants at the end of tonight’s show. (SUDDEN DEATH! But kinda not really.) But Carson reminds us that for those who remain, our votes are crucial! He doesn’t really explain why; the ratio of AMERICA’s choice to judges’ whimsy is still kind of vague, and has just been shifted again.

Meanwhile, a few notes from the judges’ introductions, which are freaking endless: Adam has chosen a shirt that doesn’t button right up his windpipe, which I applaud; Cee Lo is wearing a tee shirt and mardi gras beads, so sure, okay; Christina has applied blue eyeshadow with a paintball gun; and Blake Shelton looks exactly the same as every other week. When discussing the elimination, Adam (potential control freak) eloquently states that he loves the change since the judges get to decide, Blake and Christina (for whom the situation is more immediate) think that it’s a terrible hardship, and Cee Lo is simply confused and sings a Wham! medley (fine, he doesn’t do the last part). Ladies and gentlemen, your mentors!

As we finally move into the performances, allow me to report that if tonight’s episode of The Voice were a doctoral thesis, its title would be “On the Nose: Subtlety as an Overrated Virtue.” For example, our first contestant, Blake’s young little Miranda Lambert doppleganger RaeLynn, will be singing a song called “She’s Country.” Now, I didn’t expect her to dig into a Mary J. Blige joint, but honestly? (Sighing.) Okay, fine. RaeLynn again pairs a short puffy dress with cowboy boots and struts around the stage – just a tad too seductively for a teenager, I dare say – but she whips the crowd into a frenzy and her vocals are pretty spot on – gritty, growly, on pitch. It’s a pretty impressive performance, and I have no doubt that RaeLynn will soon be performing on all of those country music awards shows that pre-empt The Good Wife once a month or so (spoiler alert: I don’t watch them). The judges adore it, of course, and there’s no way that RaeLynn doesn’t sail on through to the semi-finals, or the Final Four, or whatever the hell comes next here.

Before we get to our next contestant – because there will be a LOT of filler tonight, friends – we get an appearance from Christina Milian, who looks like she forgot to take the giant curlers out of her hair, but apparently this is an intentional look. She interviews several of the female contestants, who giggle nervously. Let’s just move on.

Our next contestant is Team Xtina member Jesse Campbell, for whom Christina has chosen Beyonce’s “Halo.” In the rehearsal footage, I note that this arrangement seems way too high for him, and we will get back to this, but not before he talks about being homeless, and his daughter sleeping on his chest when they lived in a car. (Just a news flash: If you’re a mega-talented singer who’s led a relatively uneventful life, stay away from reality television. They’re not interested.) Anyway, Jesse will be dedicating this song to her. He then walks onto the live stage, which is scattered with huge picture frames, each of which features a picture or video clip of Jesse’s daughter, and half of his performance is spent not on Jesse but in close-up on his daughter in the audience. It is so overwhelmingly manipulative that I pause the DVR to gasp in some fresh oxygen. Oh, and the vocals: The song is, in fact, too high for Jesse, and while he’s a hell of a singer, it turns into a screamathon, which ends with a zoom into a picture of Jesse and his daughter bathed in heavenly white light. I really hope this isn’t overpraised because of the heavy-handedness, but guess what? It totally is. The judges love this with the glow of a thousand halos, and Adam even calls Jesse a frontrunner, while Blake says that you’re not going to find anyone to say this wasn’t a great performance. Waving my hand in the air! Call on me, Mr. Shelton! I agree that Jesse is unbelievably talented; I’d just prefer to see a song choice that better showcases it.

Anyway, our next contestant will be Jordis Unga, who has apparently shed all of her anxiety because she survived the elimination round. She will sing Sara Evans “A Little Bit Stronger,” a quiet, pared down little number that will give us a chance to hear “Jordis the singer, not Jordis the screamer,” says Blake, who just wildly praised screaming. And I think Jordis does quite nicely at the singing; while not as tender or thoroughly felt as her “Wild Horses” performance, her voice has a nice shading. That being said, my mind wanders a bit during the performance (the main derailment of my attention: “Why is the stage set up to look like an abandoned psychiatric hospital?”), though she picks up steam and recaptures my attention towards the finale. The judges – this will surprise you – love it, although Christina has an awesome trick where she praises a performance without striking a facial expression that denotes “pleasure.” It’s a kind of regal indignation that I’d actually like to master. To the mirror!

Up next – more filler. Xtina takes her team to Starbucks – hey, big spender – to discuss philanthropy, then they visit an area high school to invite the choir to perform with her team on The Voice. (Sure.) The MVP of this reel is the choral director, who ought to win an Oscar for her “Oh my God, NO WAY!!!!” reactions even though a camera crew has been filming her choir rehearsal. Runner up is the chorus member who says, “This will be my first time on national TV!” and has clearly set herself some lofty future expectations.

And now we segue into the live performance of Xtina/Team Xtina/Philanthropic Choir brought to you by Starbucks. To begin, Christina walks out in the least amount of clothing she can wear without receiving an FCC violation. (In one funny moment, though, she sets two half-naked male backup dancers on Blake, as payback for all of his stripper references. Well played.) Anyway, she then begins to sing her hit “Fighter” and takes off a small denim shrug jacket – honestly, she somehow managed to remove half of a non-existent outfit – and performs in a Christina Aguilera concert for a good 90 seconds. Where are her team members/Starbucks chorus? Oh, there they are! Each contestant gets a six second snippet of the song, and the choir comes out at the very end. It’s a fun number, but that was basically the Christina Aguilera show. Then again, when isn’t it?

Anyway, back to reality with another Christina Milian interlude! Good God, this will be four hour episode. Let’s skip ahead.

Our next contestant is Ashley De La Rosa, who will sing “Foolish Games” with a rock edge. I like Ashley – like RaeLynn, she boasts a stage presence well beyond her years – but I wish she’d waited a bit longer to get some seasoning, because her pitch needs some work. She can belt and she can whisper, but doing both at once seem to cause some wobbles. But she’s beautiful and talented and genuinely feels every song she sings, so she’ll be fine. Someday. Maybe not quite today though. But every judge loves it! Of course they do.

And now for a special guest performance from Maroon 5! I love the use of the word “guest” when Adam Levine is on the show every freaking week, but whatever. Anyway, we get four minutes of Adam close-ups and singing, so I’m really quite okay with this.

Moving on! Erin Willet – who blew me away with her unexpected “Living for the City” two weeks ago – talks about losing her father during the competition, and again, I sympathize but we know. (We do, however, get an amazing picture of Blake Shelton with a mullet during her rehearsal footage. WORTH IT.) Erin talks about not fitting into the industry then decides to sing Adele – oh, irony – but I am immediately skeptical. We talked about this last week, correct? NO ADELE, NOT EVER. Anyway, her version of “Set Fire to the Rain” is solid but unspectacular, and is punctuated with bursts of sparks from the back of the stage. (Do the Voice producers ever ask each other, “Is this too heavy-handed?” until someone replies, “Nah, screw it!” Or do they just plow forth unquestioningly, like it’s God’s will?) Erin gets critiques like, “You sang your heart out” (which does not equate to “You sang that well”), so the first non-raves of the night. Adam reminds her to work on phrasing, which is terribly constructive! Keep doing that, please.

Meanwhile, a useful tip for contestants: On this show, people can vote by downloading the music (which is genius), and if you want me to download your song, make it memorable. Would I download Erin’s version of “Set Fire to the Rain” when I could have Adele’s? No. I would not. Consider.

Carson introduces our next singer, Lindsey Pavao, by saying that she is “learning to be fearless!” Oh, okay. Why? She announces that she’s doing a Rihanna mash-up (uh…) but switches to Katy Perry’s new song “Part of Me,” which contains some big notes that may be beyond our little Lindsey. Christina tells her that the performance needs more strength and dimensionality, which apparently translates to “a s***-ton of eyeliner and two guys holding the microphone for you.” (Lindsey goes a little overboarding on the staging, methinks.) She starts off pretty well, on pitch and everything, but her big belting notes sound like primal wails without any musicality. I like Lindsey’s quirky voice, but I wish that she’d take on songs that are a bit more in her wheelhouse; I’d buy her album, but not her Katy Perry covers, know what I mean? Cee Lo mentions that he’s never heard the song – did he skip the Grammy’s? – and then Adam seals my everlasting love by saying, and I quote directly, “I hate being the guy that says ‘pitchy,’ because that’s stupid.” Dear Adam: MARRY ME. We’ll get along fine. (It was pitchy, though.)

Next up, Christina Milian brings us back to the social media lounge – again – by saying, “We’re doing so good!” and telling contestants “You guys did incredible!” You know who is not doing good/incredible? Fans of grammar and the English language. I need a cocktail.

Our filler continues, though: Blake’s team will sing “Heartache Tonight.” Without a self-congratulatory reel or anything? Nope, we just cut straight to all of the contestants and Blake, sitting on stage fully clothed, singing away and having a ball. It’s kind of like if Glee were a CMT show; Blake even throws to Jordis with a happy, “Sing it, Jordis!” And I am bowled over that this performance is about a group of singers having fun, singing a song together and sharing the stage, with the mentor just one of the crew. If this Team Christina/Team Blake was like a Twilight Edward/Jacob situation, I would be Team Blake all the way.

Our next contestant will be Jermaine Paul, who has chosen “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. Is Cee Lo selecting the songs for Team Blake now? Jermaine will also sing for his children – who will, I’m sure, be shown in multiple close-ups throughout the performance – and says “lyrically, it just makes me think of everything.” There may be a lot going on in this one. Anyway, he begins a capalla in front of a pink/shiny/kinda tie-dyed piano (poor, spinning-in-his-grave Mr. Steinway) and basically brings Phil Collins to church. It’s actually a pretty great rendition; while a little over-the-top at times (such as when he stretches “now” into six syllables), but unlike Jesse, Jermaine never seems to lose control of the vocal. The judges love it too, although the highlight of the critiques comes when Adam starts his by saying, “When you’re married to a version…” and I hear my roommate start giggling and respond, “I know, I heard it too.” (Say it aloud, you’ll get it.)

Chris Mann’s turn! Opera man – not the Adam Sandler version – will be doing Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which is kind of sweeping and, on the surface, a good choice. Chris also compares performing on The Voice to stripping onstage, which I’m not opposed to him doing. The song opens with lots of supermodel backup dancers who appear to be playing the violin (until I confirm at the end of the song that these are, in fact, props rather than real violins, I honestly think, “Sweet Jesus, you put out a casting call in LA and there’s nothing you can’t find.”). It’s fine and perfectly entertaining, but it doesn’t blow me away. Nor does it blow Adam away, who wished to see some actual opera (right, that would’ve gotten the kidz speed dialing), but his mentor Christina loved it, so of course it was perfect.

That’s it! We’re done with the performances and onto eliminations. First up is Team Christina, and I’ve gotta figure that this is between Chris and Ashley, though I’d be okay with Lindsey going home too (she’ll never cut her, she’s enamored). Christina babbles on so long that I actually yell aloud, “OH MY GOD, PICK SOMEONE!” And yet, her monologue is only half over. Dear God. Anyway, after going with her gut, and doing what’s best for her team, she lets Jesse Campbell go. Wait, what?! The guy they all love and think is going to win this? The guy who wasn’t nearly as good as they said tonight but is still crazy talented?! WHAT?!?! Even poor Jesse is shocked into near silence. (Okay, I’ll go ahead and say it: Is this because the rest of Christina’s team is all young and pretty? In terms of raw talent, Jesse was the best she had. Just saying.)

Blake’s turn! Because Christina babbled endlessly, Blake has to zip through his elimination, and he goes with America’s vote (from two weeks ago?) and sends Jordis home. It’s a pretty good rationalization – and one that Adam and Cee Lo will almost certainly use next week – but Erin was the weakest link tonight, and deserved the axe, which fell like lightning because we are out of time.

So, back tonight for more people going home! How many? Is there more singing for your life and stuff? Anyone know? Carson, any thoughts? I guess we’ll find out together! ‘Til then, b-rollers.

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