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'The Voice' Season 7 Recap & Review: Top 8 Show Up with Stunning Performances as Gwen Stefani & Pharrell Debut "Spark the Fire"

by Carolyn Menyes   Dec 1, 2014 22:10 PM EST

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It's hard to believe, but season seven of The Voice is starting to wind down. Last week, the top 10 gave some of the worst performances of the season. So, if these kids want to seem worthy of the top five or, god forbid, even winning this show, they needed to show up. Luckily for them, they did. From the best of the best (Matt McAndrew, Craig Wayne Boyd) to those who are just somehow holding on (Ryan Sill, Luke Wade), everyone was better than usual, making this show feel truly legitimate.

Away from the competition, Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams finally got a chance to do what they came on The Voice to do: debut some new Stefani solo music. They knocked out a new hip-hop track "Spark the Fire," which features nothing but pure sass from Stefani. Away from her reggae tinted single "Baby Don't Lie," "Spark The Fire" is all 'tude, with repetitive lyrics and plenty stomping beats.

Yeah, it's a hit.

The top eight also joined with Nick Jonas and a gospel choir for a mostly a cappella performance of "Jealous" (which Chris Jamison performed just last week). Led by the stellar former Jonas Brother, the top eight were really like third fiddle, blending in with the choir. It was a totally fine and unique take on the anthem, though it's a wonder why they changed the lyrics from "sexy beautiful" to "crazy beautiful." Can they not say "sexy" on The Voice? Was it the gospel choir's recommendation? Have we all just been listening wrong the whole time?

Away from the genius of Pharrell and pop music, the top eight performers really showed up to The Voice this week. After the must lukewarm show last week, where only Craig Wayne Boyd was particularly good, each contestant stepped up his or her game, and it was refreshing to see.

Let's look at the good, the bad and the so-so singers this week, before things are whittled down to the top five:

The Good:

Matt McAndrew, "The Blower's Daughter": I've never been on the ol' Matt McAndrew train; he's always seemed a bit overrated on The Voice, but sometimes, he can show his true colors as a talented artist, and boy, did he do that tonight. After an evening full of teases about a highly emotional performance, Matt's take on this classic Damien Rice song was just as perfect. Now, the raw material itself is fairly stunning, and Matt and Adam were smart enough not to tinker with it too much. Matt didn't get quite as whispered as Rice does on the original, instead opting to show more of his power than his dynamics. But, it worked. It was simple, pretty and really, truly heart-wrenching. After weeks of saying that this competition feels like Matt's to lose, this performance really proved it.

Damien, "Someone Like You": It's hard to tackle Adele. Like the other great artists in musical history, she's someone that is basically impossible to stack up to. But, Damien is another great, capable of doing not just any Adele song, but her emotional sucker punch, "Someone Like You." Damien and coach Adam Levine were smart enough to not just take on the 21 song straightforward and they switched up some of the vocal patterns and runs. This made the song all Damien's own and gave him his own big moment on The Voice. And it was about time, too.

DaNica Shirey, "These Dreams": Goodness gracious, this girl can belt it. After stunning consistently every week, DaNica Shirey took on another power ballad this week: the mega-Heart hit "These Dreams." It was a truly beautiful showing, with DaNica hitting every single note straight on, giving the right amount of wave and vibrato on the longer drags. Standing atop a golden staircase in a gown with a train down to the floor, DaNica looked fittingly lovely for such a gorgeous vocal showing. The only downside to not only this performance, but to DaNica as a whole, is that she really feels like a one-trick pony. She can do an R&B ballad version of "Creep" and "I Need Your Help" and "I Have Nothing," but can she do, literally, anything else? Does she have commercial viability? I want to see something else from her, or else I'll get too bored with another ballad, no matter how perfectly it's done.

The Bad:

Ryan Sill, "Open Arms": We're giving The Voice's cheesiest contestant one of the cheesiest ballads of the '80s, giving him a leather shirt and a fog machine. Ick. The rehearsal footage between Ryan Sill and his coach, Gwen Stefani was pretty painful - with flubbed runs and strained high notes aplenty. Ryan's actual performance was a bit improved from his time with Gwen, but not as much. This is a guy who has a really nice tone - I will give him that - but he just has zero range. Ryan has done his best when he's performed small and quiet songs, so a power ballad is just not within his wheelhouse; he just can not and did not get the momentum going to carry himself through the chorus, and it was really painful to hear him try. More so than a weak vocal showing, Ryan's performance felt contrived: changing trees and fog machines... like, really? Someone needs to keep the tweens of Twitter and send this guy home.

Luke Wade, "Holding Back the Years": Oh. Luke Wade has thus far been a shining star on The Voice, but this was just not his week. Maybe it was the obscure Simply Red song choice, but there was something truly lacking from his take on "Holding Back the Years." As Blake Shelton pointed out in judging, there isn't a whole lot going on in this song - just some thin notes and a little pretty melody. Luke did what he could here, but he never really got out of the mechanical mode and he definitely never 100 percent connected with the music, which he's typically been very good at doing. Last week, this would have been good enough. But in the top eight and with a night of performances as strong as what we've seen from Damien, DaNica Shirey and Craig Wayne Boyd, this just could not hold a candle.

The So-So:

Taylor John Williams, "Royals": Taylor John Williams is typically a wonderful performer, with his haunting blend of indie rock and blues making for some of the most memorable moments of The Voice season seven. This week, he finally tackled a Lorde song, giving her "Royals" a total makeover. The arrangement was definitely bluesy, with a little folk element and even some soul thrown in for good measure. It was almost a little too off-putting, and I'm still not sure how to process it, even after taking notes. This also wasn't Taylor's strongest vocal performance. He wasn't so offkey like Ryan Sill and he wasn't boring or anything - he was just the epitome of OK. At this point, he really needs to show up and stun, and this was just too bizarre for words.

Chris Jamison, "Sexual Healing": Chris Jamison gets this season's trophy for most improved. After faltering a bit in the first round of live shows, this Team Adam standout has really come in to his own. He did it before with "Jealous" and he's back this week with Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." This song is a little, erm, blatant, but Chris was able to get lost in it, not only selling the sexuality but moving comfortably in the melody. He was a little abrasive in approaching Gwen Stefani, which made me feel a bit of cringe and coach Adam Levine looked a little too into this performance. But, it's all a show, and I'm always down to watch Chris own it.

Craig Wayne Boyd, "Take It Easy": "This show is yours to lose; you need to get out of your comfort zone," Blake Shelton told Craig Wayne Boyd during rehearsals. This was the thesis statement for Craig's performance of the Eagles' "Take It Easy." Last week, Craig just slayed The Voice with a down tempo performance of "Walk the Line," so he had a lot to live up to. Instead of churning out another country ballad, the lone Team Blake member standing took a chance by turning it up. As always, Craig's voice was as rich and milky as ever, with his deep country tones resonating lone after his words left his mouth. The problem with this, however, was that the whole song felt like it was garbled. You guys, Craig has some major enunciation issues. But, despite that, he still managed to show that he can be a bandleader and a country rock star, which is what he's being tailored for. A solid showing from one of the show's frontrunners.

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