The Voice Semi-Finals Recap: Which of the Top 9 Performed Like a Perfect 10?

THE VOICE -- "Live Semi-Final Top 9 Performances" Episode 2516A -- Pictured: Serenity Arce -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

For The Voice’s Top 9, the finish line was in sight during Monday’s Semi-Finals. Only one thing stood in their way: er, Monday’s Semi-Finals. Which of them sang their hometown dedications like they were finale-bound, and which of them performed like they should already be rehearsing their Wildcard Instant Save numbers? Read on. Let’s discuss.

Josh Sanders (Team Reba), “White Horse” — Grade: B+ | Before tackling Chris Stapleton’s hit, Josh described the number as being everything that he loves about country music cooked up in a crockpot. On stage, the Kannapolis, NC, native let that love shine through. His performance was full-throated and pitch-perfect, less rough-’n’-ready than polished-’n’-ready. He didn’t even have to sing again, I figured. This was more than enough to get him into the finale. Still, I couldn’t argue with the mate with whom I was listening: “That was great. I’ve never been so bored in my life.”

Madison Curbelo (Team Dan + Shay), “Time After Time” — Grade: B- | Inspired by Season 1’s Javier Colon, Madison dedicated Cyndi Lauper’s classic to her Westfield, Mass., hometown. And Madison’s rendition was mostly lovely but also — am I crazy? — weirdly rushed. Love her and her voice, but this felt like a four-minute performance that was a lot less than it could’ve been because it was sped up to get started and finished in two. “That song never would’ve been a hit if that had been the original version,” my mate said. Eh, again, can’t argue. This was fine but not at all “special.”

Bryan Olesen (Team Legend), Nathan Chester (Team Legend) and Maddi Jane (Team Chance), “Just Like Heaven” | In the first of the evening’s rando-trio performances inspired by the movie If, the contestants brought three different flavors to The Cure’s oldie, none of which went down easily. Glad I decided from the start not to grade these, but this was not an auspicious beginning. Bryan oversang, Nathan struggled to meet the song’s oomph requirement (and you know I adore him), and Maddi was pitchier than the player on the mound at a baseball game.

Serenity Arce (Team Chance), “We Can’t Be Friends (Wait for Your Love)” — Grade: C | The 17-year-old chose the acoustic version of Ariana Grande’s ballad for her dedication to Jupiter, Fla. And when she started singing, I wasn’t sure that her gamble was paying off. She sounded lovely and really showed off how lilting her vocals could be. But this didn’t feel like the kinda performance that was going to make viewers sit up and exclaim, “She has my vote.” As she went on, pitch issues arose, and she never got that “OMG! Wow!” moment, either. I suspect she’ll be in trouble Tuesday.

Josh Sanders (Team Reba), Karen Waldrup (Team Dan + Shay) and Tae Lewis (Team Dan + Shay), “Forever Young” | Tasked by If star John Krasinski with showing off their imagination, the country threesome possibly imagined that their distinct styles blended well together. In reality? Sadly, not so much. This wasn’t quite as big a train wreck as the last three-et, but it was hardly a smooth ride. It felt like a bunch of voices that didn’t go well together battering into one another. (Like, literally, harmonizing seemed to be out of the question.) The standout, if there was one? Karen.

Maddi Jane (Team Chance), “Greedy” — Grade: C | Sending Tate McRae’s single to the Windy City, Maddi started off pretty strong, but the minute she began moving around, her vocal got hella thin. Her performance was fun to watch, sure — the kid knows how to work a stage — but unless she was slowing down for a nice, long note, she generally let herself down. “That was insane,” her coach said afterward. But what was really insane was that he meant that in a good way. It is possible to sing well and dance — Chris Blue and Kennedy Holmes proved it — and this was not that.

Nathan Chester (Team Legend), “Try a Little Tenderness” — Grade: A | Nathan’s dedication to his hometown of Chicago was another perfect song selection. On Otis Redding’s classic, he dished out an incontrovertible reminder that he isn’t a star, he’s a star and half. The charisma on this guy is seriously immeasurable. And that voice? If it’s heaven-sent, heaven’s gotta be missing it, because it is beyond divine. My one complaint? As so often happens in the Lives, the band sometimes overwhelmed Nathan.

Serenity Arce (Team Chance), Asher HaVon (Team Reba) and Madison Curbelo (Team Dan + Shay), “Fix You” | WTF did I just watch? Whether inspired by If or not, it was creepy as hell to see a dancer accosted by a giant teddy bear (teddy mouse?) on a bedroom set. Like, could any of you pay any attention to the singers? I think Madison was my favorite of the three, but I can’t be sure. I’m busy having pre-nightmares.

Bryan Olesen (Team Legend), “Against All Odds” — Grade: C- | Ahead of Bryan’s performance, I had a bad feeling about his dedication of Phil Collins’ hit to Lincoln, Neb. In rehearsal, it was sounding… let’s say worrisome. And when it really counted? Oof. It was so far off the mark that I almost forgot that I ever liked this song. I’m sure Bryan is a delightful person, but his performances tend to come off so cheesy, they leave me wanting wine and crackers with them. Good luck with that Instant Save. “We all loved it,” John said afterward. Speak for yourself, dude.

Karen Waldrup (Team Dan + Shay), “Stay” — Grade: A | The Mandeville, La., native’s coaches challenged her to show more vulnerability on Sugarland’s ballad. In short, she nailed it. Karen didn’t just sing the living daylights out of the heart-tugger, she gave a performance on that stage that bodes well for a future in acting. After a lotta mediocre Monday, she was a real treat. “You wore your heart on your sleeve,” Shay marveled. Extra impressive since her dress had been sleeveless.

Asher HaVon (Team Reba), “Irreplaceable” — Grade: B | Ahead of his performance, Asher told us that Selma, Ala., had taught him about overcoming the obstacles presented by adversity. But could he overcome the obstacles presented by Beyonce’s smash? For the most part, yes. The big problem with this number was that it didn’t give Asher enough opportunities to really show off. When they presented themselves, he took advantage of them, but this definitely was not the best showcase of his talents.

Tae Lewis (Team Dan + Shay), “Amazed” — Grade: B+ | Closing out Monday night, Tae sent Lonestar’s ubiquitous ballad to his Goldsboro, NC, hometown. “Thank you,” I could well imagine Goldsboro replying. His rendition was solid and gave him a whole lotta room to show off the versatility of his supple voice. “That was an iconic performance,” Dan exclaimed. I wouldn’t go that far, but I did suspect that it was good enough to keep him from having to sing for the Instant Save again.

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