Well, here we finally are. No more insta-eliminations, no more last-second saves, no more super-pointless Christina Milian braying "Heyyyyyy Carson!!" in the Sprint Lounge. (Oh wait, there's still plenty of that last one, actually). We're up to the point of deciding the four finalists who will be representing each of the four coaches, respectively, and it's going to be time for both the coaches and America to make some impossible decisions. But before we start talking about those, here are an even number's worth of things that happened in the first episode from the penultimate week of The Voice.
1. Mr. Purrfect Stand Up. A couple of episodes without his beloved white feline evidently left Cee Lo Green a little lonely, so he repped for Purrfect with his t-shirt, a black canvas with a heart-shaped picture of his partner-in-crime on it.
Here's hoping that Purrfect makes a surprise appearance in the finals, preferably as the special guest vocalist in an all-coach performance of "Build Me Up Buttercup."
2. CARSON DALY FACE. Blake Shelton and Carson had the following exchange at show's beginning:
"What's it going to take for someone to represent Team Blake in the finals?"
"Well, one [contestant] is gonna have to do better than the other, Carson."
This, of course, resulted in The Face.
C'mon, Carson, what did you expect? Some questions don't have any answers but sarcastic.
3. The coaches finally made a Godfather reference while reviewing Tony Lucca. It's shocking that it took this long, and really, would've expected Adam Levine to be the coach to break the seal on it. But instead it was Cee Lo who stuck out his jaw, scraped his chin and started talking in the Marlon Brando cotton-mouth voice while discussing Tony Lucca's performance of The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now?" Appropriate, perhaps, since it seems all but certain that after his fine-but-unspectacular performance, Tony Lucca will be sleeping with the fishes after tonight's elimination.
4. Erin Willett dreamed of a country-rock David Guetta. When I heard that Erin would be performing "Without You," there were about a half-dozen different songs with that title that flashed through my head before the David Guetta and Usher song came to mind. Still, she did a fairly good job of fashioning the Guetta/Ush dance anthem into something Tim McGraw would've been proud to call his own, though her performance on the song was a little spotty. It's been a few weeks since we really got a slam dunk performance from Erin—her Stevie Wonder was the last one I remember being unequivocally positive about—and though the coaches refuse to call her on it for some reason, I doubt she'll be getting another chance next week.
5. Christina Aguilera got her team back to basics. No, not the Xtina album Back to Basics—though how great was "Ain't No Other Man," really?—but with her song selections for team members Chris Mann and Lindsey Pavao, Christina accented the things that made them cool in the first place. Adam Levine finally got his wish—no, not the one about Blake and Miranda splitting up, the other one—when Chris Mann performed opera standard "Ave Maria," a typically beautiful and powerful rendition. At the other end of the spectrum, Lindsey got her best song choice of the season to do her quirky singer-songwriter thing with in Bon Iver's "Skinny Love," giving a performance just as stunning as Chris', in a completely different way. I honestly have no idea where either Christina or America's final affections will lie between these two.
6. Have we ever talked about how reminiscent Lindsey Pavao is of Kristen Stewart? Because if tonight is Pavao's last night on Voice-Earth, we should probably get that out there at least once. If you were casting The Voice: The Movie, it wouldn't even be a contest. (For the record, Chris Mann would be played by Adam Scott, and Christina Aguilera would be played by Snooki in her dramatic breakthrough. Sorry, Christina.)
7. Eli Manning tried to be funny. Manning showed up with Jason Sudeikis in a Voice-themed commercial for this Saturday's SNL, where he'll be guest-hosting. "I want you on my team for SNL!" declared Sudeikis. "Now Kristen Wiig's gonna try to steal you, but if you go with her, she's gonna make you wear a dress on the show." "Oh, that's hilarious!" replied Eli. "Kristen!!" It's so cute how he thinks he's Peyton.
8. Katrina Parker was underrated for so long... ...that now she's actually probably a little overrated. The coaches loved her performance of The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly"—and thank you, Cee Lo, for making the Roberta Flack shout-out so I don't have to get pedantic about it here—and somehow, Katrina always looks twice as pretty each week as she did the week before, but some nice closing notes aside, I just wasn't sold on her "Killing Me Softly." Despite Christina's insistence that Parker was "a star," and despite her comments last week that Katrina should ignore anyone making comparisons between her and a certain contemporary artist, I don't see her as much more than an Adele clone, and as good as her "Jar of Hearts" performance was, I think her song choices and performances since then have been underwhelming at best.
She'll probably make it in over Tony Lucca as the Team Adam rep, but I don't see her as a contender in the finals. And geez, Christina, we get that you're a Katrina fan, but do you really have to keep sticking it to Tony while praising her? "I know that probably the obvious, predictable choice for Adam would be swayed towards Tony," she said while evaluating Parker's performance. "But I'm telling him, take a look at Katrina Parker, because she's a star." Is this all Christina's long-delayed revenge for that time Tony took the last cookie on the Mickey Mouse Club catering table 20 years ago or something? Damn.
9. Juliet Simms made things reeeaaaaal tough for Team Cee Lo. For pretty much the entire series, this thing has been Jamar Rogers' to lose—the cute, likable, versatile, super-talented singer with a tragic backstory that he really doesn't even need to be a front-runner in the competition. And that didn't even change with his performance last night, a predictably powerful, note-and-pitch-perfect rendition of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," with an updated arrangement that saved the song from being a safe or trad-sounding choice. He would've needed to slip for anyone to have a chance of dethroning him as the show's front-runner, and he didn't slip at all last night.
And yet. His Team Cee Lo competitor, Juliet Simms, might've somehow, someway, found a way to make this a game. Credit to Cee Lo for even giving her a shot at it with his song choice, James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World"—a song that vocally rates at least a 99 out of 100 on the Degree of Difficulty scale, meaning that if she nailed it, it would've been more impressive than anything Jamar could've done with "If You Don't Know Me By Now," a 75-80-ish song. And nail it she did, easily one of the best performances we've heard all season, and one that brought the coaches and audience to their knees. "That's as loud as it's ever been in this room, ever," commented Carson of the audience response. "You murdered it," was Cee Lo's simple, sincere evaluation. (The folks at home agree—Juliet's "Man's World" is currently #6 on iTunes, by far the highest-charting single of the season.)
Will it be enough to take down Jamar? Well...
10. PREDICTION TIME! Here's what I think happens tomorrow night.
Katrina Parker over Tony Lucca on Team Adam. The coaches prefer her, the iTunes-downloading public prefers her, and Tony just didn't do enough this week to sustain the juice he got by covering Britney last week. "If this doesn't work out, you and Adam can definitely start a Britney Spears cover band," sniped Christina after Tony's performance for some reason. Not a bad idea, really.
Jermaine Paul over Erin Willett on Team Blake. Erin just hasn't done enough the last few weeks, while Jermaine has remained consistently impressive with his performances, laying Journey's "Open Arms" to respectable waste last night. I disagree with Blake's assessment of his team's likely finalist as being "the guy to beat" in this competition, but it seems fairly certain that he's gonna be Blake's guy regardless.
Chris Mann over Lindsey Pavao on Team Christina. This one hurts me a little, since I think that Lindsey's last two performances ("Please Don't Go" and "Skinny Love") were her two best of the competition, but I just think that Chris' style is more translatable to a mass market—odd to say about an opera singer, but I believe it to be true. Lindsey has a shot at going on to a Regina Spektor or Florence-type career on her own, but I can't see it being as the winner of The Voice's second season, unfortunately.
Jamar Rogers over Juliet Simms. I just think that in a competition between arguably the show's two most talented vocalists, likability is gonna win out, and Jamar is just a more compelling figure than Juliet. More than anyone else in recent Reality Music Competition memory—maybe dating all the way back to Adam Lambert—you look at Jamar, and you just see flashing lights, screaming fans and big-time endorsements. He's got it, and no matter how good Juliet was last night, she just doesn't have it in that same way. But man, if there was ever a team to add a last-second Wild Card slot for this show...it's just tragic that a bland talent like Katrina is gonna get in over someone as electric as Juliet or Jamar. Either way, Cee Lo's gonna be in a smiling mood this time next week.