Cee Lo Green is back. Not just next season, but now. The erstwhile “The Voice” coach returned for a guest stint Monday night to help coach Team Shakira, while her original guest mentor, Joel Madden, is away coaching on on “The Voice” in Australia. And though Cee Lo only had two contestants to help out with, his presence was felt.
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So we’ll start with Team Shakira:
With Sasha Allen, Cee Lo took a balladeer and turned her into a pop star. With Kris Thomas, he helped a swaggerless guy bring a little sex appeal. With Cee Lo, it’s never really about the singing—it’s about the style and the stage presence, and for both Sasha and Kris, just being in Cee Lo’s space gave them confidence and style they had been lacking.
It didn’t hurt for Sasha that she had a fantastic song that is stuck in everybody’s head right now, Emeli Sande’s “Next to Me,”—and that she sang it with verve and youthfulness and was just adorable in a way she hasn’t yet been. Adam Levine and Blake Shelton in particular were thrilled that she decided to go uptempo for once.
Kris Thomas, on the other hand—though he certainly brought some of that swagger Cee Lo suggested, he still can’t shake a cheesiness factor he’s been carrying around with him for weeks now. Kris did Miguel’s “Adorn” and made it sound like a disco club hit from the ‘70s. Adam and Usher both felt like he was too much in his head. “I can feel you thinking,” Adam said. Shakira, whose hair looked like she stuck her finger in a socket shortly before showtime, tried to defend Kris, saying he was nervous and that is ok. Usher said he never mentioned Kris being nervous and Shakira brushed Usher off. So Usher went and hid behind his chair. It wasn’t much funnier than it sounds, but Carson Daly seemed to be enjoying himself.
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Also with only two contestants left was Team Usher:
He started with his male model, Josiah Hawley. Usher keeps giving Josiah moody guy songs, and this time it was Coldplay’s “Clocks.” So, when Josiah’s on, the only way I can be objective is to not look at the TV. A continuation of Blind Auditions, if you will. And when I don’t see Josiah, he is really not very good. This was probably his worst vocal, and there was nothing original about the whole performance. But then towards the end of the song, I look up, and there’s that gorgeous face, and suddenly he sounds like angels. Shakira tells him that song, for anyone but Coldplay, is “mission impossible.” Adam points out that there were times Josiah seemed uncomfortable. And Blake complained that the song had too few lyrics. But Usher, still enthralled by Josiah’s winning smile, said he would “continue to nurture that voice.”
Michelle Chamuel closed out the night with another Pink song. This is really getting ridiculous. Michelle has got to be able to sing anything other than a belligerent ode to self-confidence. In this case it was “Just Give Me a Reason.” It was probably her best vocal yet. Even though her voice doesn’t ever seem to have much dimension to it, it was incredibly clear. And I was also glad that she saved her Gumby squat for just one climactic moment—a squat that Blake said he would not be able to sing through. “If I squatted down like that, it would be expletives.” Usher thought it was “the performance of the night.” I beg to differ.
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Maroon 5 kicked off the show with their single “Love Somebody,” and now I know what song is FINALLY going to replace “Moves Like Jagger” on that continuous loop in my brain.
Adam’s first contestant was Judith Hill, whom he basically forced to sing a Michael Jackson song against her will. She was worried that people would think she was just coasting on MJ’s fame, since she almost duetted with him before he died, and “The Voice” won’t let us forget it. But she definitely gives it some effort to make it her own, starting with a Fosse-esque jazz vibe, and what with her structural hair and all. By the end, she totally broke down the song, and it was pretty cool, as Judith tends to be.
Amber Carrington let her hair down for “Breakaway.” Literally. It was long, it was flowy, it was being blown all over the place by strategically placed fans, and her skirt was blowing it with. She took some of Sarah Simmons’s usual hippie vibe/look, which Sarah traded in for a whole rocker act.
Sarah chose her own song—Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best,” and slung her gravel and grit and dirt and whatever else you want to call what her voice does all over the audience, the stage, the TV. This girl’s voice is ridiculous, and so weathered. But though Sarah wanted to show a harder edge, she still has a Lillith Fair thing going on that she just can’t shake. Even if it was more Fiona Apple than Sarah McLachlan this time.
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Carson started off the show reminding us of Monday’s tragic tornado disaster in Oklahoma, which he called Blake Shelton’s territory. “It makes it hard to sit here and do this tonight,” Blake said, and then assured us his family was safe.
Then Holly Tucker emerged for the first number of the night with a Christian hymnal, “How Great Thou Art.” Holly is still so very pageanty, but and there’s no doubt her delivery of such a dramatic and spiritual song resonated for many who were feeling Blake’s Okie pain. (Also, just noticed Holly sounds a lot like Megan Hilty of “Smash,” no?)
Blake’s Swon Brothers, who are from Oklahoma, did “How Country Feels.” Only the next installment from them of songs a non-country person would never have heard before. They just keep doing what they are doing, and doing it well.
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Blake’s last performer was Danielle Bradbery. Guest mentor Sheryl Crow advised Danielle to be more connected to “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” like she was to everything she sang/wrote while she had breast cancer. Tall order for a 16-year-old, but Danielle gave it her best shot. Blake told Danielle to listen to Sheryl. “You’re my retirement, so I really need you to pay attention and do good,” he said in a charming moment of honesty and greed. Adam remarked that Danielle seemed like an old pro with Sheryl, and Blake said that there’s no need for her to hit us over the head with huge notes. No, but everyone will keep hitting us over the head about how young she is.
Best of the night:
Sarah Simmons sang the greatest; Sasha Allen was most improved; and Swon Brothers have the zeitgeist
Who’s in trouble:
Judith Hill’s freakout about MJ could land her in the bottom; if enough people looked away, Josiah Hawley was pretty bad; whether people looked away or not; Kris Thomas was the worst of the night