Here we are, in the semi-finals of The Voice season seven. After last week's shocking triple elimination, five men: Damien, Chris Wayne Boyd, Taylor John Williams, Matt McAndrew and Chris Jamison. Despite beating out thousands of other aspiring professional singers, these dudes only semi-showed up.
You see, when contestants on The Voice find their groove, they seem to stick to it. Taylor goes for his weird acoustic spin on pop, Damien finds soulful ballads, Matt goes for popular "alt" rock, Craig is all about that country and Chris is blending R&B and pop with his falsetto. The setlists and song choices at this point are no real surprise. Damien does Adele? Chris does Nick Jonas? YA DON'T SAY.
But, this week, each man went a little outside his comfort zone, be it gospel, an uptempo melody or something a little unfamiliar to The Voice's audience - and unsurprisingly, it didn't work all the time. But when it did (see Craig Wayne Boyd, Taylor John Williams), it made for some big moments.
Until The Voice throws in its big ol' twist with the returning performer, let's analyze the true top five with the good, bad and the so-so.
Matt McAndrew, "Make It Rain": Yet gain, Matt McAndrew has hit his sweet spot. He shines best with a mid-tempo soft rock anthem with a bit of grit and tons of gusto behind his vocal. We've seen it before with "Fix You" and "Take Me To Church," and it's back again this week with Matt's cover of Ed Sheeran's "Make It Rain" cover. It was a logical choice. The bluesy tune brings out the best in Matt's gritty side and it also allows for him to stretch his range. Like, well, basically everyone else, though, this song was pretty tried and true for Matt. Did he do well? Yes. But it was just such an expected choice that the performance felt a little tired.
Taylor John Williams, "Blank Space": Taylor John Williams has a talent for taking something music fans already know and turning it on its head, which he did tonight with former The Voice mentor Taylor Swift's latest No. 1 hit "Blank Space." As this creepster is wont to do, he took the pop track and turned it into a haunting acoustic melody, thus making the song all his own. Unlike his take on "Falling Slowly," Taylor, ahem, tailored this song to fit his own vocal capabilities and range perfectly. It was a true standout moment on an otherwise lukewarm semi-final.
Chris Jamison, "Sugar": It was really just a matter of time until Chris Jamison performed a Maroon 5 song. His coach is Ada Levine, after all, and the band's blend of R&B, rock, pop and a falsetto vocal falls very much into what Jamison is bound to do. The fact that Levine is a songwriter to get cuts on those iTunes sales probably didn't hurt the choice, either. Regardless, it was actually a nice choice. Chris's falsetto did hit it in the chorus, and he was able to maintain momentum and carry it through, which was probably no small feat.
Craig Wayne Boyd, "Workin' Man Blues": Man, Craig Wayne Boyd is just crushing it on The Voice. Unlike some of his fellow top five contestants, Craig has proved that he can do the ballad ("Walk The Line"), the rock band raucous thing ("Take It Easy") and, now, the old school honkytonk thing. He's versatile and flexible within his genre, which is far more than Matt McAndrew or Damien can say. In this take on Merle Haggard's "Working Man Blues," Craig was all attitude and power. He's a true bandleader and country music star, and he shows it week after week.
Damien, "I Don't Want to Wait": OH MY GOD. Damien is finally reaching into mid-tempo singles and he's doing it with this '90s classic. After ballad after ballad, Damien pulled out this Paula Cole single from the archives, and well, maybe he should have stuck to the slow burning hits. In the chorus, it felt like Damien was running out of volume and steam, right when it counted for him to really blast off with his vocal. He also seemed really all over the place, raising his arms around the stage, getting breathy and missing notes left and right.
Matt McAndrew, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For": This song was very much in the rotation of what Matt would do, so the choice was no real surprise. What was a surprise was how much he struggled to make it through. Is Matt sick in some way? Because, man, he could not hit a single note, no matter how much he reached. His vocals in the chorus were particularly strenuous and really just painful to listen to. The coaches praised Matt's ability to give 100 percent throughout an entire performance, but the thing was he didn't. Maybe he should tone it down for the verses so the highest points of the songs aren't a pain to hear.
Chris Jamison, "When I Was Your Man": Chris Jamison has a killer falsetto, so why couldn't he hit the high notes in Bruno Mars's "When I Was Your Man?" After weeks of falling into the common Voice trap of singing the same sorts of songs over and over again, it was nice to imaging Chris breaking out of his box. But like Damien, it didn't work so well when he did. Maybe his chest voice can't go as high, maybe he was under-rehearsed, but the actuality of the situation is that Chris was just not a good closer for this show.
Craig Wayne Boyd, "The Old Rugged Cross": Craig Wayne Boyd continued to prove that he can do it all for his second performance. He's done rock and soul and ballads, and now he's going gospel. With an orchestral background, Craig sounded like a true old country soul. It's shocking how versatile he is, despite being so grounded in country. Unfortunately for moments of this performance, Craig felt a little flat - and he's not one to normally fall off key. But, with two strong performances, which he really sold, he feels like a clutch for the top three.
Damien, "She's Out Of My Life": Obviously, it's incredibly difficult to take on Michael Jackson. Nobody will ever doubt or deny that. But, when it comes to this season of The Voice, Damien can pull it out well. His rendition of the lesser-known 1979 single was full of beautiful emotion - at times, it felt like Damien was near tears. He can pull off the ballad better than anyone else on this show, and he did it yet again here.
Taylor John Williams, "Falling Slowly": Taylor John Williams is the weirdo singer-songwriter on The Voice, kind of unlike any other contestant on major music competitions such as this, and he turned it down a notch this week with a cover of The Swell Season's "Falling Slowly." The song was a little out of his range on the low end, with Taylor struggling to hit the hushed parts of the song. When the chorus came, however, Taylor was more than capable of powering through, and that is where he finally shined.