With one more hurdle to get through before hitting The Voices live stage, the season 12 contestants are in for a furious fight as they head to the knockouts in hopes of surviving one last one-on-one bout (or earning one of the precious steals in play with the coaches).
And tonight’s first round is a doozy. Not just because Blake Shelton is back at it, doing his worst to take Adam Levine down a peg or two with his “2013 wants its faux hawk” back disses, but because the calls are tough to make, and the coaches might not always be picking the right guy or gal to advance.
Here’s how the first round of knockouts went down. Ding ding ding!
Team Alicia: Chris Blue vs. Quizz Swanigan
If The Voice producers wanted to start the knockouts round out on a storied note, this was the perfect pairing to do so. Chris Blue was the very last contestant to make it through the blinds, snagging Alicia Keys’ one remaining spot with his undeniable range and making the other coaches jealous for her rewarded patience. Meanwhile, Quizz Swanigan is the youngest contestant to ever grace the stage of this show, at just 13 years of age. They’ve both got lovely tones, although Chris’ experience has afforded him a much more impressive range, and it shows in the performances.
His rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” is flawed, but in an interesting way. He draws back on the tempo of the tune to make it his own and throws in his own mega-falsetto riffs and energetic dance accompaniment that makes his performance exciting and unique. Meanwhile, Quizz does his darnedest to electrify the stage in his own way, and against someone else, he might have a shot at winning this bout. But Chris’ dynamics, in Alicia’s words, “tore up the whole building,” so he had to win. That said, Gwen Stefani’s decision to steal Quizz for her team wasn’t undeserved. He was definitely on it tonight and should continue so we can see if he ever does hit those high notes he’s been reaching for all this time.
Winner: Chris Blue
Steal: Quizz Swanigan to Team Gwen
Team Adam: Autumn Turner vs. Hanna Eyre
Is this an upset? Kinda. It’s not that Hanna Eyre isn’t good. She is. But she’s also operating squarely within her super small comfort zone, while Autumn Turner seems to have more to offer. On the other hand, as Gwen Stefani points out, Autumn’s made a terrible song choice by plucking Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” for rendition tonight because (a) everyone knows that song through and through and can’t stand to hear it any other way and (b) even if she does do it technically correctly, imbuing the diva intangibles that Aretha brought to the beat without looking and sounding like a cartoon is a tough science. And she certainly doesn’t do anything special with it.
Hanna, on the other hand, picks Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” which is recognizable enough to play to the common ear without feeling overdone (at least, not currently), and she nails it. Even in her pitchier moments, she doesn’t break her vocal trajectory, so she comes off as powerful and competent to the coaches, and they unanimously push her for the W. Autumn just didn’t prove what she needed to prove tonight, it seems, even if she is arguably the singer with the most potential of the two.
Winner: Hanna Eyre
Team Gwen: Hunter Plake vs. Johnny Gates
Hunter Plake is quickly becoming my favorite singer of the season because his vocal instincts are so, so authentic and lovely. Tonight, he takes Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” and makes it his own. Yes, there are still comparisons aplenty available with him - he’s somewhere in the Freddie Mercury-meets-Nate Ruess area of the vocalist realm - but what makes him more than an audio doppelganger is the fact that he just rolls off every note like it’s easy, and it always sounds just delightful and exciting. With others singers, the tendency is to listen for minor mistakes in what might otherwise be a rote performance, but with Hunter, it’s the opposite - it’s exciting just to listen for what he’ll do with it. He’s got a “voice” that can make good on this show’s title, and I’m already vetting this dude to make it through if he keeps up with this magic.
Johnny Hayes puts on a nice show, too, with his take on Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” He’s got that Aerosmith growl-scream thing down to a science. But he just doesn’t have the same resonance with every note the way his competitor does. Even so, let’s be real here. Any ’80s power ballad lover just had to have a good time listening to both of these guys do their things tonight. That was fun.
Winner: Hunter Plake
Team Blake: Casi Joy vs. Felicia Temple
Rage! That’s all I can feel after seeing Felicia Temple get sent home after that performance. RAGE. Look, Casi Joy has chops, no doubt about it. Her confidence and vocals are pitch perfect for her genre of choice. But this it the second time Felicia Day has been unfairly placed second in one of these bouts, and this time it sticks, so nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope.
C’mon, the woman stood on that stage and delivered a song that would instantly make the blooper reel for most singers, and she nailed every note. Like Gwen Stefani and Alicia Keys, I got physical chills after hearing her do that just now, and with Casi Joy, she earned a rhythmic foot stomp or two at best. Felicia earned a second steal, if not the win, tonight. Cue the Titanic weeps for this miscarriage of reality show justice.
Winner: Casi Joy
Team Alicia: Johnny Hayes vs. Josh West
Maybe I need to get my ears or TV speakers checked because as charismatic and sweet as Josh West seems to be, Johnny Hayes sounded like the more competent performer tonight. Maybe it’s just because, as Adam Levine points out, Josh picks a song that is incredibly difficult to do at full voice - Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” - while Johnny sticks to a much more approachable number with the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues.” One way or the other, though, Josh seemed to be running on fumes about halfway through, while Johnny made it look easy breezy.
That said, Josh did start out with the requisite vulnerability in the opening and ended with the “eleven” power pack that Adam wanted him to, so it’s not the biggest letdown of the evening that he’s chosen to stay while Johnny’s sent packing. Not by a mile.
Winner: Josh West
Team Alicia: Ashley Levin vs. Lilli Passero
It’s always funny what kind of performance is going to get the coaches tamping their steal buttons, isn’t it? Someone might have felt that Felicia or even Autumn earned the chance to stick around tonight, but it seems their history of being stolen prevented them from earning that distinction another time. But to give it to Lilli Passero after this yawnfest? Why.
There’s no doubt about it: Ashley Levin wins the round. That’s a no-brainer. Her rendition of “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry makes her a dead ringer for Reba McEntire at times, while she coasts into some rocker thing that’s a little disjointed but still real all the while. Meanwhile, Lilli Passero’s sleeper performance of Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own” is literally the most forgettable showcase of the evening, and yet, somehow, she earns steal bids from both the fellas, Adam and Blake. She ultimately decides to sign up for Team Adam because he believes her to be a potential winner in the making, but he really has to be basing that assessment on something else because this was a dud, through and through.
Winner: Ashley Levin
Steal: Lilli Passero to Team Adam
- Team Adam: Mark Isaiah, Jesse Larson, Josh West, Malik Davage, Hanna Eyre, Davina Leone, Lilli Passero
- Team Gwen: Joshua “JChosen” Hunter, Stephanie Rice, Brandon Royal, Troy Ramey, Aaliyah Rose, Brennley Brown, Hunter Plake, Quizz Swanigan
- Team Alicia: Anatalia Villaranda, Jack Cassidy, Vanessa Ferguson, Chris Blue, Ashley Levin, Dawson Coyle
- Team Blake: Lauren Duski, Aliyah Moulden, Casi Joy, Enid Ortiz, TSoul, Andrea Thomas, Caroline Sky