A few of the top six singers remaining on "The Voice" turned in their riskiest, most intense performances yet Monday night, in the hopes of buying themselves another week and another chance to win the title.
There was no time for that fast-dwindling clutch of singers — that would be Sasha Allen, Danielle Bradbery, Amber Carrington, Michelle Chamuel, the Swon Brothers and Holly Tucker — to rest on their laurels, and on Monday night, they each took to the stage twice: Once with a song of their choosing, once with a song of their coaches'.
And after last week's unexpected ouster of two Team Adam members who'd been presumed front-runners, coaches and contestants alike knew the stakes were high — even though only one of them would get the boot Tuesday.
First on-stage Monday was Holly Tucker, who took on Martina McBride's "When God-Fearing Women Get the Blues" at her coach Blake's behest.
"She's gonna have to get out there on the stage and absolutely set it on fire, and I think this song is gonna give her the opportunity to do that," Blake said.
As far as he was concerned, her performance, slinging more of the attitude she'd first unveiled last week, did just that. "That is by far my favorite performance from you," Blake said, though Usher admitted, "I did want to see more."
Next came indie-dance-pop singer Michelle Chamuel, whom Usher assigned the Brit-pop band Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know." The pair had grown close as Usher has helped Chamuel overcome some stage fright. "I don't feel like a coach anymore, man, I feel like a friend," he admitted in rehearsals.
On Monday night, Michelle gave the song her trademark treatment — beginning with her voice fragile and hushed, building into a crescendo and a belt and winning plaudits from all the coaches. "I think that's the sign of a really great artist," Adam said, "when you see them carve out their own spot in the universe."
The Swon Brothers followed with a pick of their own, the current country hit "Wagon Wheel" by Darius Rucker. Their coach Blake admitted that picking a current hit to cover was a risky choice, but he had faith. "These guys are incredibly talented with tons of charisma."
On-stage, the Swon Brothers may have been upstaged slightly by the gaggle of saloon girls gyrating across the elaborate Old West barroom set. But their spirited, thoroughly country take on the song won over not just Blake but also country neophyte Shakira, who attributed country's mainstream crossover to "artists as talented as you."
Following them came her own sole surviving team member, Sasha Allen, who opted to tackle the tall order of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," a song she said she'd always loved, thanks to her mother's influence. ("She's definitely the reason that I am in music, period," Sasha said of her mom.)
On a stage set up to look like a TV set bandstand in the '60s, Sasha crooned, then belted her way through the song — to the delight of her coach, who considered the risk in covering the Queen of Soul one well taken.
"Nobody could do that song except for Sasha, because you have this cinematic voice that just transports the audience for another place and time," Shakira said. "Thank you, girl."
As far as transporting audiences to another time…? Blake took a similar cue for his pick for his teen country prodigy Danielle Bradbery. Saying he loved introducing new audiences to classic country songs through the 16-year-old, he assigned her Pam Tillis' early '90s hit "Shake the Sugar Tree."
"You make my job easy, because your voice is so pure," he told her after her performance.
And Adam, for his last remaining team member Amber Carrington, likewise picked a throwback song — albeit one his young charge had never heard of. He assigned her the '80s metal band Skid Row's power ballad "I Remember You."
Her emotive performance earned Shakira's praise, plus her coach's. "I'm so happy that you represent my team, because you're willing to take those risks," Adam told Amber. Indeed, the song came after she's recently nailed country songs as well as — for the first time ever on "The Voice," according to her coach — an Adele song.
The Swon Brothers returned to the stage next, and this time, they were singing a song of Blake's choosing, though it was one they clearly were giddy to perform, too. That was Merle Haggard's anti-hippie, '60s backlash anthem "Okie from Muskogee."
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Blake insisted that his lone duo leave their own imprint on the song instead of just imitating the Bakersfield country icon who penned it. For a song so thoroughly dated, that may have seemed a tall order, but Monday night, the Swon Brothers handled it with aplomb, the coaches agreed. ("I don't think there's a song on this earth that Blake has ever wanted sung more than that one," Adam remarked.)
Fast forward a couple of decades, and a newer country hit was what Holly was set to perform, of her own choosing: Rascal Flatts' "My Wish." The song's plaintive tone — and the violinists sawing onstage alongside a fog-shrouded lighthouse — were befitting of the country singer's wholesome mien, and Blake praised her versatility after her bad-girl number just an hour earlier.
Michelle was next to perform, with a take on Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble." As if tackling a monstrous current hit weren't pressure enough, who should show up to rehearsals but Swift herself? Michelle — unsure if, star-struck, she were still supposed to keep singing for her guest — earned some of the star's gushing praise for the emotion she infused into the song.
Onstage, Michelle was a far cry from a Taylor Swift acolyte. Backed by a full rock band, the long-time band frontwoman looked, and sounded, right at home. Bringing the country-pop hit to a rock and roll fever pitch, she left the audience roaring and the coaches at a loss for words.
"I don't need to say anything — listen to these guys — it's unbelievable — stop it already!" Adam said. "I'm so freaking jealous right now," Blake said. "That was just so intense."
Adam's own Amber was back on stage next, this time with a song that she picked to go back to her own country roots, Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Picking such a classic was a risky move, but it was one in keeping with Team Adam's spirit of risk-taking.
She delivered the song with a modern approach that, coupled with her spiderweb-studded '80s-prom-style dress, made clear from the outset that she wasn't looking to ape the inimitable. And even country purist Blake admitted she had won him over, even if he did consider the song "sacred ground."
That wasn't it for country Monday night, though. The genre, heavily represented this season, got its last hurrah of the night with another performance by Team Blake's youngest member, Danielle Bradbery, who chose to sing Sara Evans' breakup song "A Little Bit Stronger." The 16-year-old didn't have much heartbreak of her own to draw on for inspiration, so she turned to her older sister's.
And with her rendition of the song, the teen broke through the cucumber-cool expression she's mostly held all season, showing more emotional range than she has in the past. Adam's praise: simply telling her she was "good to go."
Finally, for the night's last performance, Sasha was back with a song of her coach Shakira's choosing, the Carrie Underwood hit "Before He Cheats." In Sasha's hands, the hit turned from a country rave-up into a diva's anthem of vengeful paranoia. Sasha stalked gleefully around the stage, her big notes alternately growled and soaring, to the delight of the audience.
"There's more than one Sasha Fierce!" Usher quipped, and Sasha basked in the Beyonce nod. "You've got an incredible voice, and that was just really remarkable," he added.
"You just worked that stage like a star!" Shakira added, clearly thrilled and beaming like a parent. "Your performance was fierce from top to bottom."
With 13 fierce performances Monday by six of the competition's fiercest singers, that could make for a tough elimination process heading into Tuesday.
"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8/7c.