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'The Voice' Season 8 Recap & Review: Top 5 Perform with Strong Showings as Koryn Hawthorne & Meghan Linsey Shine

by Carolyn Menyes   May 11, 2015 22:11 PM EDT

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The Voice season eight is in semi-finals mode this week, as the top five contestants took to the stage with one coach choice performance and one hometown dedication. Through these song choices, we got to see who the coaches believe that their artists should be and who they feel like they are.

The coach song choices, well, they weren't as stunning as the artist's choice, giving the top half of this show a boring sensibility that made me initially dread hour two. However, once we got to see how loved these singers are and see them return it on stage, that's when things picked up.

Before the contestants took to the stage we got a brand new and not at all taped two months ago performance from Nate Ruess, who rocked out to his lead Grand Romantic single "Nothing Without Love." For a mentor, Ruess was shockingly pitchy but you know, he's all about being grandiose and it worked as well as it could have.

But, for the contestants? Let's rank the 10 performances before the finalists are revealed tomorrow night, shall we?

(And, for the record, the top five performances were pretty much all equally great. This really is a talented batch of singers!)

10. India Carney, "Gravity": Maybe call me bitter from last week when India Carney barely nabbed the Twitter save over the far more interesting performer Kimberly Nichole, but man, was this a boring song choice. Sara Bareilles? Really? Yawn. India Carney, like her coach Christina Aguilera, has an insane vocal range, but unlike XTina, she knows when to scale it back... for the most part. She did that here (for the most part), keeping her runs and vocals in control. There was a point where India went way too crazy with it all but she settled it all back down. Though the vocal was fine, I don't know, India is just starting to grow tiresome. There are far more interesting people on this show with dynamic personalities and unique voices - and that's what it takes to make it.

09. Joshua Davis, "When I Paint My Masterpiece": Joshua Davis has never been amazing on the up-tempo songs, and relative to what he normally does this The Band classic IS up-tempo. Though he does his best when he's soft and tender, dedicating this song to his home city of Traverse City, Michigan, seemed to reinvigorate him and give him some new energy. Though Joshua was feeling this song choice, like some of the other song choices of the night, there wasn't a lot of room in "When I Paint My Masterpiece" to show off any crazy vocal talents. Where were the runs or the decorum or the sense of personality? At the end of the day, this was very middle of the road for the semi-finals.

08. Sawyer Fredericks, "For What It's Worth": In his song choices, Pharrell seemed to go for the message over what may have been more dynamic and vocally interesting performances for his contestants. "For What It's Worth" is very much in line with the kind of artist The Voice wants Sawyer to be... rooted in '60s folk and message with a lot of passion. But, like Koryn Hawthorne's "One," there wasn't a lot of room in this song for Sawyer to show anything. There's a notable boredom in the original vocals of this Buffalo Springfield classic and Sawyer mostly imitated that. He gave some decorum to the notes, but it wasn't anything that really showed a musical prowess. Sawyer does his best ("Simple Man") when he can be folky and emotional, and there was just no connection to the lyrics for this youngster.

07. Koryn Hawthorne, "One": I will maintain that week after week, Koryn Hawthorne is the dark horse of season eight. She has this really deep, rich and unique voice and more passion in her pinky than most people have in their whole bodies. She can be big and bombastic but not overly showy - which is important. I get that Pharrell wanted to convey a protest message with this U2 classic, and she did what she could with it. But the way her voice and passion comes out of her mouth does not match the way that Bono emits his emotions. And while "One" is a beautiful song and Koryn a beautiful singer, this choice didn't show her full range or her full passion or her full potential. Dare I say, it was boring? Which at this point in the competition puts her in danger.

06. Joshua Davis, "I Can't Make You Love Me": The show kicked off tonight with acoustic rocker Joshua Davis, who went deep into his comfort zone with this Bonnie Raitt song. The thing about Joshua is, he doesn't have the range of some of his competitors, he doesn't have the flashiness... and when he does try to show that off, well, he gets put into the bottom three and has to sing for the save. So, Adam smartly played to his strengths for this song choice, trying to tap into what America loves so much about Sawyer Fredericks with this emotional song choice. And because this was so in his wheelhouse, Joshua pulled this off perfectly. It was a nice, soft opening to the show.

05. Meghan Linsey, "I'm Not the Only One": Adam Levine was right in his critique, Meghan Linsey does always sing like it's her final night on stage. And maybe that's because she's been in a failed musical project before so she knows how difficult this industry can be... what do you have to lose when you give it all you've got? For her first performance, Meghan took on the Sam Smith single "I'm Not the Only One," which is only a recent song but already fairly played out on singing competitions. That being said, Meghan really put the dramatics into this performance, giving it her all, closing her eyes and clutching her hands up against a blank white wall. Even though she sold it, there was one point in the second chorus when she turned it up to 11, basically screaming the vocals. And instead of maintaining that, Meghan dropped back down, wasting a potential ~moment~. Otherwise, this was beyond solid.

04. Sawyer Fredericks, "A Thousand Years": Of all the things we've heard Sawyer Fredericks perform a straight up love ballad is not quite among them, but Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" is a beautiful song in general and a good choice for Sawyer, allowing him to pour his passion, emotion and vibrato into something that's vulnerable and simple in a different sort of way. With the backing of a ballerina dancer, this performance was really pretty and simple, with Sawyer's higher register being the star of the show. When he went low, well, he went a little flat, but for those 10,000 people that showed up for a mini-concert, I highly doubt that matters.

03. Meghan Linsey, "Tennessee Whiskey": Well, this was an amazing song choice for Meghan Linsey. Luckily for her, she has one of the biggest musical capitals in America, Nashville, to thank for her well of music. But, this George Jones classic has the perfect blend of R&B, soul and down home country to make Meghan break out and shine. She absolutely WAILED on this song, giving runs at just the right time and holding back at the just right moments. Meghan does her best when she can really, truly emote and she connected to these lyrics the best of anyone tonight, giving a breakout performance that could very well give her that much-needed country Voice vote.

02. India Carney, "Earth Song": So, India Carney's first song choice "Gravity" was beyond boring, so there was little to look forward to for her second performance... Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." That was, of course, until she opened up her mouth. This song choice was basically perfect for India, it was totally and completely ridiculous with runs that could go for days and miles and emotion that's nonsensical but passionate. Basically, "Earth Song" is the type of track that allows for India to go crazy without making her sound out of place. Mixed with her flowing red gown and the insane power of that wind machine, and you had one for the books. India has been in trouble the last two weeks, narrowly making it into the semi-finals over Corey Kent White and Kimberly Nichole in the Twitter save, but she redeemed herself here by making a real ~moment~. This. Was. Memorable.

01. Koryn Hawthorne, "Oh Mary Don't You Weep": Alright, after a slew of boring song choices on this semi-finals, Koryn Hawthone the elusive member of Team Pharrell brought it for her hometown dedication. Taking it back to God, where she always shines, she took on "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," with a stomping arrangement and determination well beyond her 17 years in her voice. This is how you decorate and a song and make it your own, fellow Voice contestants! And this is how you own the stage. Koryn has the support and confidence of a woman well beyond her teenage years and it's really empowering to watch. It definitely can feel like the Lord is on her side when she delivers a stunning vocal performance like this.

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