Well shit. It's been a relatively shock-free season thusfar on The Voice—some mild surprises here and there, perhaps, but no real jaw-droppers—but the recently imposed insta-elimination factor resulted in some tough decisions needing to be made, and one of them turned out to be quite the stunner. It was an absolutely packed episode even before that, with some dynamite performances from contestants and coaches alike, and more Christina Milian than ever before. Time's a-wastin', so let's get to it:
1. The coaches were not pleased about the insta-elimination. "I kinda felt like we were past this part of the show," Blake Shelton said about NBC's recent mandate that the coaches eliminate one of their contestants at the end of the show. "If I knew who to kick for this, I would kick them." As usual, Blake's "Am I joking? Probably not" demeanor resulted in some awkward silence, but Christina Aguilera agreed, albeit using less forceful language than her co-coach, and Erin even echoed Blake's sentiments from the Sprint Lounge later in the show.
Adam Levine stepped in to defend the rule, claiming that he prefers to have control over the situation rather than trust the general public's opinion, but ending up sounding like the kid in the corner of class who insists that just because the teacher's 15 minutes late to class, that doesn't mean it's OK to take an early recess. Whatever, narc.
2. RETURN OF THE COUNTRY. After about a six-week absence from the show, Nashville finally resurfaced on The Voice last night, as Blake had his country charge RaeLynn perform Jason Aldean's "She's Country," to rapturous reception from the coaches and audience. (I still don't get it with this girl—her Reba vocal affectations sound downright cartoony to me.) What's more, Blake also had rocker gal Jordis Unga take a trip down south with Sara Evans' "A Little Bit Stronger," though her performance was still more coffee shop than honky tonk. Both performances were well-received, and RaeLynn's Aldean rendition is even #40 on iTunes right now, leading to the obvious question: Why the hell have they avoided country on this show for so long?
3. Christina took the piss out of Blake. Before launching into her Team Christina-assisted performance of ol' Stripped hit "Fighter"—and that song's having a little moment right now, innit?—the X-Woman started with a few bars of her co-coach's country chart-topper "Hillbilly Bone," juicing things up by sending a couple male dancers Blake's way, picking at his tendency to bitch about the surfeit of "male strippers" on stage during the live performances. (She also threw a fistful of dollars at the dancers and coach, in case anyone was still missing the joke.) To his credit, Blake laughed and applauded Christina's ribbing. Prankster game recognize prankster game, suppose.
4. HEYYYYYYYYY CARSON. Oooh boy, Christina Milian. Pretty girl, but her efforts thusfar in the Sprint Lounge have been underwhelming, to say the least. Her contestant interviews are always uncomfortable and unenlightening, and her repartee with Carson makes Seacrest and Cowell look like Hepburn and Tracy by comparison. No offense to the Bluebird, but this really is the worst thing about social media—what the hell do we care what Voice-related topics are trending on Twitter during the show? We might need to start some sort of campaign to get every cell phone service provider except Sprint trending during next week's show—it's the only way to stop this madness.
5. Big final notes redeemed a couple performances. Jesse Campbell, the powerhouse soul signer oft cited as a front-runner in the competition, actually had a fairly tough go of it with Beyoncé's "Halo," the song's verses and chorus stretching his voice into uncomfortable territory and making it sound thin for the first time all season. But he went big at the end, ad-libbing some vocal runs on the outro and hitting at least one note that nobody else in the competition could possibly hit. I had hoped that the coaches would call him out more for really kinda flopping on the song proper, but he still got mostly raves, and it was hard to blame them for not being negative after that finish—"doing the Jesse thing," as Blake aptly put it.
Meanwhile, Ashley's performance on an Evanescence-like arrangement of Jewel's "Foolish Games" was actually very solid throughout, but it didn't get spectacular until the soaring note she hit on the final "breaaaaking my HEEEEEAAAAAAAAAARRRT!!!!"—and she had the smarts to pause for a second before finishing the song to really let the note sink in. "I think that the smartest decision made on season two of The Voice was Christina saving you a couple weeks ago," commented Blake. "It's amazing to see you progress, and the things that should be happening with somebody on this show, being coached, you can see it happening with you from week to week." He wasn't wrong.
6. My Adam Levine Crusade of Hate continued. My editor at Popdust accused me of being on the titular Crusade against Adam after a two-day span where I called him out for being Too Cool for Coachella and for his new single with Maroon 5 basically sucking. I actually like Adam—he's my favorite coach on The Voice, and more of his Maroon 5 hits are good than bad—but his performance of "Payphone" live on the show last night did little to change my opinion of that song, and mostly I just felt bad for the rest of the band that they were stuck performing this clunker—it certainly doesn't look any more fun to play than it does to listen to. In any event, the song is all the way up to #2 on iTunes currently, so evidently the Crusade of Hate isn't having that much of an effect. (Yet.)
7. You got anything to say, Cee Lo Green? The Ladykiller was absolutely checked out last night, saying, doing, and even wearing nothing of consequence. Every performance was "great," but described and analyzed so unenthusiastically that it always felt like there was a missing "but" at the end of his assessments. ("That was underwhelming," Adam even quipped after one particularly low-energy review.) The only minorly interesting thing he did all night was to comment after Jermaine Paul's performance of "Against All Odds" that Phil Collins had a "lot of soul for a white guy," which Adam felt obligated to feign offense at. Pick it up tonight, Cee Lo—without your unpredictable energy, the show's entire ecosystem gets thrown off.
8. Christina used her insta-elimination on...Jesse Campbell?? Woah. I thought it would be Chris Mann, whose operatic performance of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" was impressive but confusing, or Lindsey Paveo, whose job on Katy Perry's "Part of Me" was solid but uninspiring—and when Christina started harping on how some of her team was more open to advice than others, I thought for sure the cerebral, difficult Lindsey Pavao was headed for the block. When she called Jesse's name, everyone on stage seemed stunned—Jesse most of all—while even Adam looked incredulous that the guy repeatedly tabbed as the dude to beat was being sent home by his own coach.
So why Jesse? Well, if you want to judge it based solely on the night's performances, his was arguably the worst, though that might have been more of a function of a bad song choice than an off night on the mic. If you believe Christina, she made the call because she decided "to go with a team from here on out that I think has versatility and that I want to keep seeing grow in this competition," and by that logic, it's true that Jesse has kind of proven himself to be a sort of one-trick pony. But wow, even with all that, that's kind of like cutting late-'90s Mark McGwire from your starting lineup because all he does is hit home runs. Hope holding on to Chris and Lindsey is worth it, Christina.
9. Blake used his insta-elimination on Jordis Unga. "I was really hoping for somebody to come out here and not do a good job, or at least three of you excel beyond the other," said Blake before naming his elimination choice. "And it just didn't happen tonight." It's true—all four of Blake's contestants were about equally good, with no obvious dog in the bunch. If I had to choice in his place, I might have gone with Erin Willett's underwhelming job on Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain," but even that was still more of a Curse of Adele victim than an actual flop performance (and really, why, why would anyone continue to sing Adele in this competition at this point?), and Erin had been one of Blake's strongest earners to date prior to the performance.
Ultimately, Blake chose Jordis Unga, saying that he essentially used the fact that America hadn't voted for her two weeks ago as the tiebreaker in his decision. Tough luck for Jordis, who gave perhaps her best performance to date on the Sara Evans track, but probably had just a little bit too much catching up to do to the rest of her teammates, and didn't get the opportunity she needed to jump ahead of any of them. "I'm sad," related a tearful Unga after Blake revealed his decision. "I'm sad but I understand. I'm proud of what I've done here." As well you should be, Jordis.
10. I agreed with the coaches about these insta-eliminations sucking. I mean, I get it—more suspense, more intrigue, more of a reason to tune in, sure. But the thing that I like most about this show over a show like Idol is that it doesn't lose its head in the reality show machinations, and it generally fosters positive relations between the coaches and the contestants, and between both parties and the audience. Introducing the insta-elimination just creates too much tension, too many bad vibes—all I could think about during the episode was how no matter how much Christina and Blake worked with their teams, told them that they believed in them, they were still going to be killing the dreams of one member each at the end of the show. And in the end, both coaches (especially Blake) had to make an impossible choice that never should have been theirs to make. It's just not fair to anyone.
In short, I'm with you, Blake and Erin: If I knew who to kick for this, I'd kick 'em too.