Third up on the night's bill is Madilyn Paige, Blake’s teeniest contender with a pretty big voice in a pretty small package. Wow, I kind of sounded like Carson right there for a hot second. Madilyn is delightful and I would definitely vote for her for student council, but I don't know how right she is for this competition.
Madilyn picks Zedd’s “Clarity” (featuring vocals by Foxes), and it’s a really, really, REALLY unfortunate choice. The disconnect between Madilyn’s sweet voice and the spastic light show going on behind her is painfully distracting. I mean honestly, imagine if you replaced Sandra Bullock with Colbie Cailat and had her sing "Hey Jude" during one of the asteroid attacks in Gravity. Madilyn is the type of artist who benefits from a stool, a spotlight and a mic stand, not a Studio 54 light show run by the hyper astronaut from The LEGO Movie. Madilyn sounded great, sure, but it was almost as if she was singing a totally different song from the backup. On her debut alum, she would never sing a song like this, so why would she choose this arrangement of this song for this crucial moment in the competition? Sigh.
Blake couldn’t be more confident of his steal, he says, but then he tells Madilyn, “I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” Now, anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a sentence that starts with “I’m not gonna lie to you” knows that some bad things are coming, like “I’m not gonna lie to you, I accidentally erased this week’s episode of Castle” or “I'm not gonna lie to you, they didn't have guac.” So Blake's not gonna lie to Madilyn—there’s just no way that the end of the evening bodes well for her.
<plug>For the record, I’d also like to take this time to point out that if you like the song “Clarity,” you must listen to Foxes’ single “Holding Onto Heaven,” which I’ve been obsessed with since it last winter.</endofplug>
Fourth on the slate is Jake Worthington. Some of you felt that I grossly underestimated Jake by putting him at #10, and hey, I understand—he’s adorable and talented, and I had trouble placing him on the preliminary list, as I wasn’t sure how he’d fare with America’s votes. After tonight, I have no problem admitting I’m wrong, because Jake is certainly deserving of a much higher spot on the power list, slowly but surely.
What’s already working for Jake is that he knows his sound and exactly what kind of artist he wants to be (others like Audra or Madilyn, for instance, don’t appear as sure). The song he picks sounds like every country song ever, but it works for him, because why wouldn’t it? He’s engaging the crowd, he’s singing his ditty, he’s strutting around stage—everything's working. Jake's is a solid performance and one that exudes confidence, a trait direly needed both on The Voice and in life.
Shakira doesn’t even dabble with technical talk for Jake, saying, quite simply, "You're a star." There’s some light banter in which Jake is sweetly self-critical (but only because Usher gives him the chance to be) and it proves that Jake’s got the personality AND humility to go far in the competition. Blake says he’s the real deal, and Jake is visibly moved, which causes Blake to be visibly moved, and Jake's dad to be visibly moved, and everyone’s basically visibly moved and there’s just no way Jake won’t be around for weeks at this point.
For the complete opposite of Jake, we go to the closing act, Sisaundra Lewis. Yes, she’s amazing. Yes, she worked with Celine Dion. Yes, she sort of looks like Susan Powter. But I know some folks are already tired of Sisaundra, and I’m still holding onto the train, albeit ever so loosely. Too much confidence can be a detriment (and anyone who says “my craft” can get real aggravating) so Sisaundra needs to recognize now that the key to her sticking around is keeping it humble. In many ways, she’s the anti-Jake, knowing exactly how incredible she actually is and barely masking that knowledge.
The song she picks is “New York State of Mind,” and lo and behold, Sisaundra gets to enjoy the pleasures of a simple piano set-up (why couldn’t Madilyn get this same treatment for her neon seizure-fest?). But hell, Sisaundra could sing with a nuclear bomb going off in the background and she’d still demand attention. Her performance is basically, unsurprisingly, unexcitingly spectacular. I mean, it’s perfect. Flawless. It could do car commercials in Japan for how flawless it is. But did we expect it wouldn’t be?
Could Sisaundra be too perfect? I believe in an earlier episode this season, I wrote off the notion of Sisaundra being "too good" as silly, but now it’s becoming all too possible. The praise from the coaches is layered on to Sisaundra like a sweet buttercream, and Sis does her best Scarlett O’Hara as she deflects and demurs, pretending to be surprised that she’s getting such lovely praise. Sisaundra doth protest too much, methinks. There's a certain disingenuousness to her acceptance of the flattery, like when Catherine Zeta-Jones won a Tony Award and looked shocked for way too long. (Also, did Sisaundra flat out FROWN when Adam said her jazzy rhythm was behind the beat?)
I anticipate some harsh truths will arise when the live shows roll around and Sisaundra learns that she’s not as beloved as I thought she was. I still think she's a major frontrunner, but now I'm seeing the flaw that could be her downfall. And my, how quickly my tune on her has changed with just one playoff performance.
It’s finally ELIMINATION TIME, and all five contestants stand shoulder to shoulder like some Bizarro world version of A Chorus Line. Blake picks the artists he’s going to keep, starting with Sisaundra and Audra. Is there any suspense here to suggest that Jake won’t be the third? No, there’s not, even as Ryan and Madilyn plead their cases to move forward. Even if Jake wasn’t a lock, his last-chance plea would put him over the edge: he talks and I tear up like I’m watching Sally Field sob over dead diabetic Julia Roberts. Blake chooses to keep his protégé Jake (proteJake?), sending Ryan and Madilyn back home and making Jake, Sisaundra, and Audra the first three performers set for the live shows.
Fortunately, the first round of playoffs leave us without any glaring boo-boos (unless the loss of Ryan and Madilyn has sent you into such a seething rage that you can't even read this recap without fuming right now). We move on to next Monday’s showdown with two more coaches—can you handle the heat, America!? THIS IS
THUNDERDOME THE VOICE!