“The Voice” Semifinals: Team Cee-Lo for the Win?

Carson Daly kicked off last night’s The Voice by basically asking Cee-Lo, “Isn’t it crazy how unbeatable your team is? How do you feel about killing all the other teams and seeing if America notices? Would that just tickle you, you sassy man? Spank your own ass! You’re the winner!” Duly noted, Carson, but the elite duo of Jamar Rogers and Juliet Simms had six other singers to spar with last night. Did they conquer just as much as Carson foreshadowed? Or did Christina Aguilera — dressed like a magician’s assistant who picks up extra tips as a JonBenet Ramsey impersonator — and her team take over? I rank ’em worst to first below.

8. Erin Willett (Team Blake): David Guetta’s “Without You” (feat. Usher)

Nooooooooo! Erin Willett, my chief source of saucy hand motions, volcano goddess moans, and Mae West stank on this show, really effing blew it. She blew it big and boring. First, she picked a song by David Guetta, and that’s hurtful. Then she confused and belittled America with her veering pitch, aimless wails, and skyward stares. I dug the final note, as I usually do with her performances, but I hated her self-conscious tearfulness. I don’t care that she’s lost every member of her family, or something. I don’t even care if she killed a random family and suddenly feels bad about it. Her performance shouldn’t be crybaby pageantry, and that’s all this misfired performance amounted to. Take us to the final four, Jermaine Paul. Ugh.

Grade: C-

7. Jermaine Paul (Team Blake): Journey’s “Open Arms”

Avid readers of my verbal bile will recall that I don’t listen to Queen or Journey because they aren’t cool anymore and douchebags ruined them. If Queen and Journey collaborated on a comeback single about getting douchebags to settle down, I’d resubscribe. But “Open Arms” is a cheesy, overplayed crybaby dirge, and as usual, Jermaine Paul attacked the song with no discernible sense of identity. He took the “Livin’ on a Prayer” route and just belted for nothing or no one. And worse, he effed with the song’s chorus and tried to be creative with the phrasing. Which is such a no. I’d prefer he leave over Erin, but we know that the lady viewership eats up Jermaine like a cheap Malt-O-Meal feast.

Grade: C-

6. Chris Mann (Team Christina): “Ave Maria”

If there’s one thing we count on, it’s that Chris Mann will always be the most unintentionally hilarious contestant on The Voice. Remember when he wept because our cruel world wanted him to “shrink his voice”? I wept too. In ecstasy. And now I’m back to my lachrymose laughter again, because Chris sang “Ave Maria” like the prissiest choirboy at prep school. Which, fine. Beat us down with the Il Divo tricks. I can handle it. All I can say is Chris is the kind of singer who is so positive he’s great that all I see in his performances is showboating, manufactured emoting, and uninspired grandeur. Which isn’t to say he’s talentless, because his instrument is a big, blunt magic flute. He should really sing at some semi-popular bishop’s funeral. But he’s not who should win this competition, ultimately, and I can only conclude that Chris’ gifts are mechanically impressive, but woefully (and hysterically) shallow. I’ve posted another photo from his chilly performance below. Also: Nice fake lighters, entire audience. You’re dead to me.

Grade: C+

5. Tony Lucca (Team Adam): The Heavy’s “How Ya Like Me Now”

Unfortunately, the deed is done: The most memorable thing about Tony “Magnanimous Mousketeer” Lucca is Christina Aguilera’s haaaaarsh evisceration of his performance — and character! — some weeks ago when she called him a one-note, under-talented, loser, no-good, litterbug, racist moron twerp (or whatever). Though he rebounded with a cheeky Britney Spears cover the next week, he’s back to seeming inessential today with his passable cover of the Heavy’s cocky jam. I mean, he had some swagger. Sure. He had some toothy attitude too. But he was playing a character onstage, and his freaky gyrations smacked of Eddie Murphy’s old SNL rendition of “Hot Tub.” The pitch was tolerable, but the twitch was not. And who were those two ladies writhing at his side? Appolonia and Vanity?

Grade: C+

4. Lindsey Pavao (Team Christina): Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”

You can tell that Lindsey Pavao is a hip and current artist because she has long, dark hair and a guitar. The ingredients are there. She’s Now-ey Deschanel, and her relevance won’t be denied. I’ll give the Katy Perry doppelganger props for bringing us the symmetrical face shapes and adequate mewing that I associate with 2012 Things I Don’t Care About But Others Might, but I thought she doubled up on clumsy vocal affect this time around. Far too much scratchy Erin Martin in her delivery, and not enough raw Juliet Simms. I suppose I should brace myself for Chris Mann’s inevitable triumph over Lindsey, but I’m kinda prepared for an upset. I mean, one female has to survive the voting round, right?

Grade: B-

3. Katrina Parker (Team Adam): The Fugees’ version of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”

Things we learned thanks to Katrina Parker’s salable rendition of the Roberta Flack/Fugees classic: Adam Levine considers Lauryn Hill “his favorite”; Christina Aguilera says that Lauryn Hill is “her favorite”; Katrina’s parents say that singing is LITERALLY like breathing to their daughter, which leads me to believe Katrina has some sort of jazzy asthma. Jazzthma. The strong balladeer cut to the bone on “Killing Me Softly’s” choruses, dredging up that longing and pain from the magnificent mid-’90s cover. She lost me a bit on the second chorus, where the performance drifted into unfeeling karaoke for a few seconds, but I thought this blend of soul and torch-singing suited Katrina well. She’s a no-b.s. vocalist. She’s not exactly thrilling, but she’s showing up, putting up, and selling it. A pretty qualified bronze medalist in this week’s proceedings, I’d say.

Grade: B+

2. Jamar Rogers (Team Cee-Lo): Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

Aside from the most memorable vocals, Cee-Lo’s team packs a critical X-factor that exactly everyone else lacked last night. From the minute Jamar took the stage, his defiant vocals and fist-pumping nerve perfectly matched the confessional tone of the lyrics. He owned the song, and the trick to his success is the following fact: The song WAS RIGHT FOR HIM. He didn’t pick it as a surly response to one of the judges (like Tony Lucca) or as an opportunity to showboat like a self-impressed brat (like Chris Mann). Jamar picked the song because he dug and understood the song, and that made for a compelling, spotless, and sincere performance. Wonderful.

Grade: A-

1. Juliet Simms (Team Cee-Lo): James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World”

First things first: Will you forgive me for not realizing sooner that Juliet is Brady Bunch alumna Susan Olsen? I’m broken up about it. Let’s coin her a few Cindy-related nicknames now. How about Gritty Carry-All? Hmmm. OK, that’s all I have.

I guess now’s a good time to note that Juliet SLAYED this song. Her performance combined the urgent caterwauls of her “Roxanne” performance but added an extra element of agony and defiance that was just captivating. It helped that she dressed like a Florence and the Machine understudy and conjured an ethereal vibe that weirdly complimented the song’s power. And that finale? Oh, that finale. It was a window-rattling climax out of a rock opera, and it surely stunned Christina Aguilera, who sang this song at the Grammys once upon a time. I used to think Juliet had the best performance of the season with “Roxanne” — now I’m pretty positive she has the top two covers of the season. Come on, fickle-ass lady-supporting voting bloc. Get this girl to the final four! Or else my Cindy Brady curls will fray like old wires.

Susan “Cindy Brady” Olsen

Any differences in your rankings, kids? Because that would honestly surprise me.