Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY
Leading up to Monday's semifinal performances on The Voice, we had a lot of questions: Will the ladies pick the right songs (we're looking at you, Sasha Allen)? Will the country acts prove themselves (ahem, Swon Brothers)? Will Usher's new single be any good (and is his ankle OK)?
Fortunately, we learned the answer to the last question right away. Usher opened the show with his new Pharrell-assisted song, Twisted. In his paint-splattered suit, he sounded and moved pretty much like you'd expect Usher to. His funky performance, complete with a dance break (looks like his ankle was fine), lit up Twitter. "I'm happy I could do it for you guys," said an immodest Usher after the song.
So what about the top five artists? Here's how we label them and their pairs of songs:
Most fiery: Swon Brothers (Turn the Page by Bob Seger; Danny's Song by Loggins and Messina) Team Blake
"Fiery" describes the pyrotechnic display behind Zach and Colton Swon's emotional performance of Turn the Page. The song inspired Adam to come up with a "Swon salute" (he made his hands look swan necks) and made Usher call the song "incredible." It could also describe the brothers' hometown fans that presented the duo the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Rising Star Award and dubbed this week "Swon Brothers Week." After the brothers (mostly Zach on lead vocals and piano; Colton was on backup vocals) sang Danny's Song, it was easy to see what fired the fans up. The harmonies were solid. "You're making the world understand country," said an impressed Usher. (In response to the earlier question: They did a good job of proving themselves.)
Most over-the-top: Sasha Allen (I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston; Bad Girls by Donna Summer) Team Shakira
There's no denying that Sasha Allen has an incredible voice. So why all the extras? There was so much smoke for Sasha's performance of I Will Always Love You, Carson quipped, "I think Snoop Dogg is about to perform." For Bad Girls, there was a giant SASHA sign and a group dance routine, complete with lap dances for the coaches. "The private show I had here was rather entertaining," said Usher. But when you focus strictly to the vocals of I Will Always Love You -- "one of the two hardest songs to sing," according Adam (the other song is the national anthem) -- and of Bad Girls, Sasha sounds fantastic. "You made Whitney's fans proud," said Coach Shakira. "You started in this competition as a voice... you have become this phenomenal performer." (But no, that doesn't mean those were good song choices.)
Most creative song choices: Michelle Chamuel (Clarity by Zedd; Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper) Team Usher
Michelle squatted her way through the electronic song Clarity and throwback tune Time After Time. Her energetic stage presence made the songs work, and those falsetto notes needed no auto-tuning. (But the crowd's shrieking response was not easy on the ears.) Adam was speechless. "I don't know what else I can say, other than 'I love you.'" Shakira said, "You are without a doubt one of my favorites... a permanent crescendo." Coach Usher, to whom Time after Time was dedicated, said, "You're the winner."
Best coach reaction: Danielle Bradbery (Please Remember Me by Tim McGraw; Who I Am by Jessica Andrews) Team Blake
Pick a country song with a killer chorus, and Danielle will do a great rendition of it. It's science. This pair of songs -- with plenty of big notes -- was no exception. After Tim McGraw, in a pre-taped segment, wished Danielle luck, she owned his song. Usher's reaction? "Amazeballs." For Who I Am, she went into the stands and sang with her parents. Cheesy? Yes. Adorable? Yep. Did it sound good? Of course. "You are such a little star," said Shakira. "Talking about your singing is getting to be redundant," said Blake. "That right there is why you're still here," said Usher.
Biggest gambles: Amber Carrington (Firework by Katy Perry; Sad by Maroon 5) Team Adam
After Katy Perry wished her well via video, Amber took on the "nightmare song" Firework, as Shakira described it. Though there were plenty of firework images behind her, the performance didn't electrify the stage. On the other hand, Sad, originally sung by her coach, didn't need all of the fanfare to ignite the crowd. Just Amber and a mic onstage made a good argument for why she should still be in the game. Her performance was the only chill-inducing one of the night. "I'm really blown away," said Usher. "You sang (Sad) better than I did... it makes me so happy," said Adam.
Who's making it to the finals? Find out Tuesday (NBC, 8 ET/PT).