Tonight Team Adam is facing off against Team Usher in the first live episode of season four. Three artists from each team will move forward – the two artists who receive the most votes, as well as one coach save.
Usher took his team to a boxing gym before their group performance. He’s dressed all his artists in black sweatsuits and bright red shoes. The only difference between the team and the coach is that Usher’s sweatshirt doesn’t have sleeves. Gotta let those guns breathe. They are performing Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold” All four artists are dressed in black and gold. That’s clever. It’s not the most compelling performance I’ve ever seen. Everyone sounds good, it’s just a little boring.
The first solo performance is Amber, performing “Stay” by Rihanna. I like this choice. Amber has a beautiful voice, but I’m not sure voters will pick up the phone for her. Forcing her out of her comfort zone is a smart move by Adam. This is a moody, dark ballad, and she’s handling the emotion really well. She’s incredibly controlled, measured and professional. There’s a subtle twang to it, which is really nice It’s a really strong start to the show. Adam gives her a standing ovation, and all the coaches are clearly impressed.
Josiah Hawley is singing “Starlight” by Muse. Usher wants him to use his guitar to really tap into his sexuality. I get the feeling Usher is conducting research with a group of 15-year-old girls, which is not the worst strategy in the world. Josiah is set up in front of a full band, creating a good concert vibe. Breath control was a focus in rehearsal, and you can hear a couple of moments where that seems to be a bit of a problem for him. Overall, though, he sounds good, and (possibly more importantly) he looks great. The coaches are all impressed. Shakira thinks it was his best performance, and Usher is thrilled with the result. I think it was fine.
Team Adam’s Sarah Simmons will be taking on “In The Arms of an Angel,” by Sarah McLaughlin. She’s dedicating the song to one of her best friends, who passed away suddenly last year. Much like Vedo last week, Sarah’s challenge will be keeping her emotions in check while she’s on stage. This performance was not what I was expecting. Rather than softening it, she’s added some grit to the sad, animal shelter anthem, which serves her really well. She definitely gets emotional, and in those more vulnerable moments, there’s a little bit of faltering. Still, by the end of it, she’s had a single tear rolling down her cheek, and the entire room is in the palm of her hand.
Cathia is singing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Oh boy. That’s a risk. Cathia has a crazy range, but it’s hard to touch a Whitney song, especially a hugely iconic one like this. In rehearsals, Usher makes Cathia waltz with him to help get in touch with the rhythm of the song. It’s cute. The performance starts strong, but when she gets to the huge, wailing portion of the song, she lets the notes fall off, instead of finishing them. She has some big moments, and this song is WORK to sing, but if you can’t rise to Whitney’s level, you shouldn’t touch Whitney – and in this case, she doesn’t meet the challenge. Shakira and Blake both wish she had a different song, but Usher stands by it.
Then there’s a performance of “Superstitious” by Adam and Usher. They sound great together, and the staging is lovely and the horn section is bananas, but the most notable part is the lack of reaction shots from Blake. Is someone getting a little jealous of this brewing bromance? Has Adam been bailing on the weekly bro dinner parties that I’ve been imagining since Season One? Is Blake starting to feel like a third wheel? Don’t keep those feelings inside, buddy. Get a journal.
Caroline Glaser is singing “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran. Adam is crushing on her so hard. He tells her not to be nervous, because she’s different from any of the other girls on his team. For the performance, she’s on a stool with her guitar, and it’s the first time I’ve really connected with her. She sounds great, it’s not overly affected like some of her other performances have been. It’s effortless and charming, and it’s a great song for her voice. Adam is happy with the performance. He thinks she’s the most unique, and that she doesn’t need to push through for a breakout moment, because her natural, subtle self is compelling enough.
Up next is Vedo, who has been assigned “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. Vedo doesn’t know who Phil Collins is and has never heard the song. Okay, well, now I feel crazy. Everyone knows this song! And Phil Collins?! Come on, Vedo! It’s Phil! Anyway, the performance is… confusing. He keeps saying “against the odds” instead of “against ALL odds.”. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever heard, and he tends to over sing and go sharp on the higher notes. Shakira is very unwilling to share her feelings, which makes me think she’s on the same page as I am. Adam said he did well, and Usher says he’s happy with it. I am still reeling over not knowing who Phil “composer of the Tarzan soundtrack” Collins is. Blasphemy.
Next it’s the Team Adam group performance. Adam’s pre-show bonding is a shopping spree. Naturally. Dressed in new duds, the ladies of Team Adam take the stage to perform Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out.” This is a great group performance. Amber probably shines the most in this, while Caroline seems to struggle a little in the solos, but it’s super fun and they sound amazing when they’re in unison. It’s is a huge contrast to the “Black and Gold” snoozefest from the top of the show.
Last performance from Team Usher is Michelle Chamuel. Can she turn it around for Ursh? She’s going to be singing “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper. In the rehearsals, Usher has her sing to her own reflection, which is equal parts touching and creepy. Right at the start, she pulls her earpiece out, presumably because of some audio issue. I’m not a professional, and I haven’t performed for a giant arena (YET…a girl can dream), but I’m pretty sure that means that she would have a pretty hard time hearing herself. That makes what follows all the more impressive. She sounds great. It’s sweet and subtle and beautiful and vulnerable. I’m a Michelle Chamuel fan, and so is Usher and the other coaches.
Last up is Adam’s powerhouse Judith Hill. She’s singing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Adam thinks Sasha Allen is Judith’s biggest competition, and he wants her to use this moment to shame her, basically. She starts the song under a single spotlight, a Capella. It’s a cool way to begin, and it definitely differentiates the performance. The performance is solid. Her voice broke a few times, but she handles the audience flawlessly, and she’s clearly a huge talent. The crowd goes insane. We’re running low on time, and Carson is sweating, so the critiques are short. To summarize, she killed it.
We’ll be back tomorrow with Team Blake and Team Shakira, and then on Wednesday for the Top 12 reveal. See you then!
Stand out performance: While Michelle really sold me with her unexpected, subtle performance, it’s hard to not give this one to Sarah’s emotional rendition of “In The Arms of an Angel.”
Coach MVP: As cute as the waltzing was, and as nice (or weird? still not sure) as the mirror was, Adam’s ladies all crushed it this week, and that’s largely thanks to his stellar song choices.