Trae Patton/NBC
Ariel Kay
December 08, 2015 AT 03:58 PM EST

The Voice will declare this season’s winner in just one week, and by now you’d think we’d know what to expect from our nine remaining artists. But during the Semifinal performances, many singers made surprising choices — both for good and for ill.

The Top Nine kicks off with Barrett Baber, who I’ve been thinking of as a finale shoo-in for weeks now. But his chances are looking a little less certain after his unsteady take on Ella Henderson’s “Ghost.” When Barrett first announces he’ll be singing this soul-pop record, I’m excited at the possibilities. On paper, it sounds like a great choice to surprise viewers who’ve grown used to his particular style over many weeks. (And how could anyone not be hooked by Barrett’s promise to make the song “swampier”?) But in practice, the performance doesn’t quite come off. “Ghost” has rhythm and real broken-hearted power behind its lyrics. Barrett can’t muster the energy to deliver a version that will inspire iTunes downloads, and the song ends up looking like an odd fit for him.

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Shelby Brown, who sings next, has never been a frontrunner. Last week, I even said the announcement that she’d made it through felt melancholy because there’s so little chance of her getting to the Top Four. I still believe that (Twitter votes don’t lie), but if there was ever a performance that could carry Shelby to the finale, it’s this one. She chooses to sing “Even God Must Get the Blues” by Jo Dee Messina. At first, she’s fretful over choosing a lesser-known song (and I’m nodding along with that fear). But her anxiety is unnecessary, because “Even God Must Get the Blues” is a fantastic song choice for her. I get a Carrie Underwood vibe as she gives herself over to the raw emotion of this number. Normally, I’m not a fan of melodramatic ballads, but Shelby sings the pants off this song. Whether or not she moves forward, she just gave herself the biggest boost she possibly could have.

After Shelby comes Team Gwen’s Jeffery Austin. I’ve been pulling for Jeffery since Auditions, and this was his moment to clinch his position in the finals. Unfortunately, there was no clinching. The glorious stream of musical excellence I expected to burst forth from Jeffery’s lips did not come. Instead, his performance of Cher’s “Believe” was one of his worst of the season. I was interested to hear what he’d do with Cher, an underrated diva in today’s music culture and on The Voice. Once Gwen said Jeffery’s arrangement sounded like Elton John, I was fully on board. But his “Believe” was missing all the subtlety and finesse we’ve heard from him before. It sounded overwrought. Jeffery wants this so badly (and if he moves on, he’ll certainly deserve it), but tonight that desperation sounded like screaming, particularly at the song’s peak phrase, “I don’t need you anymore.”

NEXT: A season highlight

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