Can Caroline Pennell bounce back after needing an instant save to stay alive last week?
Can Pennsylvania singers Matthew Schuler and James Wolpert continue their run of impressive performances?
And can Cole Vosbury really challenge for a fourth straight title for Team Blake?
Those will be among the story lines tonight as the Top 8 take the stage on The Voice.
Follow along for song-by-song grades.
Meanwhile, for my latest rankings of the singers, head here.
And for a look at which contestants have the largest Twitter followings, and which contestants have gained the most followers since the live shows began head here.
1. James Wolpert (Team Adam): A couple of weeks ago, during a conference call interview, the lad from Lancaster said he’s been missing the seasons in Pennsylvania and the land of whoopie pies. He might have to miss them a while longer if he keeps performing like he has been. He was tops on iTunes three weeks ago. His performance of “Mr. Brightside” was underrated. And last week’s version of “Without You” was the show’s third most popular, trailing only Cole Vosbury and Matthew Schuler … and leading everyone on Team Adam.
So, James is going to open tonight by singing “Somebody to Love” by Queen. He says his girlfriend arranged the song for him when he was in an a cappella group in college. We open with a full chorus surrounding James, looking classy decked out in a black tux. OK, that was just a lot of fun. I mean, we have James “Mr. Nerd” Wolpert strutting around the stage in a tux singing about going crazy. And he went crazy with some of those vocals, whether he was standing on top of the piano or stomping out into the audience. He nailed a couple of incredible glory notes. Now that’s the way to start the show. You need a performance that’s going to be remembered if you’re performing first. Mission accomplished for James. If I had one complaint, it’s that the chorus was sometimes a bit loud, drowning him out just a wee bit early in the performance. The judges? They all give James rave reviews. Grade: A-
2. Tessanne Chin (Team Adam): Here’s hoping Adam gives Tessanne something more current to sing on tonight’s show, because “If I Were Your Woman” — dating from the 1970s — wasn’t a mega-hit with viewers in spite of a darn impressive vocal from Tessanne. I bumped Tessanne up to number two in my Top 8 rankings because she’s been consistently impressive. Including when she sang current hits, like Pink’s “Try” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”
Tessanne is going to sing No Doubt’s “Underneath It All.” Tessanne calls the song a chance to embrace her culture plus dabble in her fun side. “We’re going to have a big old party,” she says. Perhaps, but I’m a little concerned that this song isn’t going to show off Tessanne’s vocal fireworks the way they deserve to be shown off and need to be shown off given the fireworks some other singers are going to bring to the stage tonight. The last minute of that performance was no doubt the best. Another fun performance, but we’ll have to see how the fans at home react. Adam calls the song “tailor-made for her” and says the song helped tie America and Jamaica together. Christina says the performance got Tessanne back to her roots. Grade: B
3. Caroline Pennell (Team Cee Lo): I’m not sure what was up between Caroline and coach Cee Lo Green last week. Caroline sang a song of her own choosing — “Leaving on a Jet Plane” — and when she was finished, Cee Lo came awfully darn close to criticizing her performance during a rambling critique, implying she can do better. Newsflash: Coaches never criticize their own singers on The Voice. Heck, they barely criticize other coach’s singers. But Caroline can do better. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was too sleepy, and she needed an instant save to make it into the Top 8.
Caroline is hoping she can find a moment, and she’s hoping a song from left field — totally unexpected — can provide that moment. So she’s taking on Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over.” Vicci Martinez slayed this back in Season 1. The verdict: Three performances in, that’s my favorite song choice of the night. Worlds better than the songs Caroline sang in the last two weeks, and more vibrant than, perhaps, anything we’ve seen Caroline do on the show. My guess is Caroline just bought herself another week with that performance and her fans will download it like crazy. Really confident performance, too, from someone who had every reason to be a wee bit nervous entering this week’s show. Grade: B+
Now, a special group performance of “One Day” by Tessanne, Will Champlin, Cole Vosbuy and Ray Boudreaux. OK, that came off as a little disjointed, but at least we heard the big voice from Tessanne that was in hiding during that earlier performance.
4. Cole Vosbury (Team Blake): I watched it again this afternoon, and Cole’s rendition of “To Be with You” still sounded like a mistake, with his vocals disappearing for long stretches of the chorus while the background singers carried the tune. But none of that mattered to Voice fans. They made Cole’s song the most popular of the week on iTunes. For the second time in the last month. I’m not sure how you reconcile that with the fact that Cole has the fewest Twitter followers of the eight remaining contestants.
Cole is going country with a Vince Gill song, “I Still Believe in You.” Cole says country is a big part of the musical lineage that has gotten him to this point; his grandmother, for instance, used to be a country performer. And Cole is delivering a heartfelt performance, and probably his best vocal in three weeks. So, over the course of three weeks, he’s done R&B, rock and country. I don’t quite get Cole’s appeal, but Blake stands at the end of the song, saying Cole is a lock to be around for a while and that he “did country proud” and showed off all the nuances of his voice for the first time. He gets compliments from Christina as well. Grade: B–
5. Matthew Schuler (Team Christina): After getting to close last week’s show, and doing so in fabulous fashion, Matthew will be one of the performers we hear from early tonight. That can be a precarious prospect for some contestants. It shouldn’t be for the West Chester University student. In fact, I’d label him “most likely to make the finals.” In one of the latest Voice videos, colleagues name him first in terms of “school spirit.” Matthew’s version of “Beneath Your Love” was the second most popular in terms of iTunes downloads last week.
Matthew just turned 21 and he’s singing “It’s Time” by the Imagine Dragons. Matthew says the lyrics line up with everything he’s feeling right now and who he wants to be as an artist. Hmm, this might be a bit bigger production than what we just saw from Cole and Blake. Matthew’s doing more choreographed movements on stage than he has to this point. Here’s the problem, the vocal is suffering as a result. The first 90 seconds or so of that performance was pretty rough vocally. Matthew’s voice soars at the end, but even then, he seems a wee bit sharp compared to the pitch-perfect performances we’ve come to expect from Matthew. Perhaps a bit too much production on a show where the focus is supposed to be the voice. Grade: C+
Now Caroline, Jacquie Lee, James and Matthew will sing “Lego House.” Not a big fan of each singer taking turns singing one line at a time, but the ladies certainly stood out on that performance, especially Caroline and her distinctive sound.
6. Will Champlin (Team Adam): Adam took the risk of having Will introduce a new song — John Newman’s “Love Me Again” — to a U.S. audience on last week’s show. It didn’t work as well as when Cole introduced us to Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” which is probably the impact Adam was looking for. But Will turned in another solid performance, and the guy who has been saved three times now finds himself among the final eight.
Will has decided to sing Etta James’ “At Last.” Not an original song for a singing show, but an unexpected number for a male singer. Will is looking for something people will remember. Well, if they don’t remember that, it won’t be because the vocal was lacking. Will caught fire at the end of that performance. I mean, his voice absolutely soared. Now, will the song be an iTunes hit? Hmm, not sure about that. Christina, who says she knows the song well, gives Will high praise for his performance. Adam, of course, loved it, too. Grade: B+
7. Ray Boudreaux (Team Blake): If you look down the list of remaining contestants and ask yourself who most needs a breakout moment tonight, your eyes might settle on this 25-year-old from Louisiana. As for consistency, Ray has that down. In the last three weeks, his songs have landed at 39, 37 and 38 on iTunes when voting ended. That’s almost uncanny. On the other hand, only two remaining singers — Jacquie Lee and Will Champlin — finished below him a week ago, and they’ve both enjoyed bigger moments than Ray has to date.
Ray is singing “Give Me Some Lovin’.” Blake wants Ray to showcase himself as an entertainer with this performance. At first blush, I like the song choice. Ray opens the song surrounded by a bevy of beauties singing background. Here’s the problem, it took forever for that performance to get out of first gear. The vocal wasn’t special until the huge notes right at the end. And the song isn’t the type — backed by that vocal — that will catch fire on iTunes. Ray might find himself in trouble tomorrow night. That might have been my least favorite vocal from Ray since the live shows began. Grade: C+
8. Jacquie Lee (Team Christina): The New York Daily News ran a nice piece on The Voice teens over the weekend in which we learned that Jacquie Lee almost didn’t audition for The Voice because of a bad experience with The X Factor a couple of years back. In short, they told Jacquie Lee to come back when she got rid of her braces. LOL. Now she’s starring on The Voice while … well, is anyone watching The X Factor. The key this week: Christina needs to let Jacquie Lee get back to being a tiger on stage.
Christina has Jacquie Lee singing “Who’s Loving You Now” by The Jackson Five. And a week after Christina declawed her kitten with a slow song, she’s encouraging her to let loose on stage. This is a big opportunity for Jacquie Lee to establish herself as a front-runner again. One heck of an opening note. Forget that, one heck of an opening. A cappella no less. Damn, girl. How can she possibly be just 16? No declawing the kitten tonight. Jacquie Lee is all tiger. Wow, Jacquie just slayed that song and turned in the vocal of the night. She held that final note forever. She even kept that smile of hers in check. Well, at least until after the performance was over. She brings Christina to her feet. She should have brought everyone in the crowd to their feet. Cee Lo’s comment: “It’s like you swallowed an old lady.” It was a compliment, folks. Jacquie sings beyond her years. Grade: A