“I believe the children are our future,” Whitney Houston once declared in “Greatest Love of All.” Well, I believe a 13-year-old child named Kennedy Holmes may be the future of The Voice Season 15. Because when she closed Monday’s top 11 performance show belting the classic ballad, it already felt like a grand finale performance.
And the fact that Jennifer Hudson — the diva who honored Houston at the Grammy Awards six years ago, the day after Houston’s tragic death — was Kennedy’s coach … well, that made this feel like a torch-passing, Grammy-worthy moment in and of itself.
“What Kennedy has that reminds me of Whitney is this natural ability to caress the notes,” Jennifer said Monday during rehearsals. “It’s so pure. She’s only 13, but she’s ready for the competition. She’s ready for a career.”
I’ve actually been critical of Kennedy, the youngest contestant this season — certainly not because of her J.Hud-endorsed vocals, which are among the most pristine, proficient and polished in the competition, but for her lack of emotional connection (which, to be fair, would be a challenge for any kid in the EIGHTH GRADE). I’ve always found Kennedy a bit too polished. But this week Kennedy connected, and she delivered. Though at moments it did feel like a Whitney tribute act, she did take some impressive creative liberties with her phrasing. And that spectacular, air-punching big finish was everything.
Yes, Kennedy’s coach took her to “Whitney school,” and the student passed with flying colors. Teach her well and let her lead the way, indeed. Many fans understandably already declared Kennedy the next winner or even “the next Whitney,” calling her “Whitney reincarnated” and demanding, “Give her the damn trophy right now!” Jennifer proclaimed, “I know mama Whitney is proud somewhere up there.”
Kennedy may have done Whitney proud, but the other retro-R&B standout of the evening, Team Adam’s DeAndre Nico, did Jodeci proud with “Cry for You.” His performance had me wishing The Voice would have a Slow Jam Night. The theme this week was “Fan Picks,” and damn, the fans got the pick totally right with this one. DeAndre’s velvety, buttery voice was perfect for the ‘90s makeout track. This was sexy. This was smooth. I’d never thought of DeAndre as a heartthrob before, but now I do. This was a next-level, nothing-held-back performance, modern and fresh but old-school at the same time. (Side note: Can DeAndre do some Miguel next week?) Jennifer couldn’t help but get into it. “Watching you was like watching a girl in the front row of a Jodeci show in 1993,” Carson Daly told her.
So we can assume that Kennedy and DeAndre are safe. But on Tuesday one contestant will go home. Who will it be? Let’s look at the night’s other performances and assess.
Dave Fenley (Team Blake), “Use Me”
I commend Dave for taking a risk with an outside-the-box — and actually beatboxed — Bill Withers cover. But the risk didn’t pay off. Dave seemed to be having fun, but in a cringey, drunk-dad-at-the-wedding sort of way. And when it comes to his beatboxing skillz, he’s no Blake Lewis. This performance even rendered Adam Levine speechless, and that’s probably not a good thing.
Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “Space Cowboy”
Chevel is also young — 16 — and some of her performances have come across as safe and teen-pageanty. But this heartbreaking ballad by CMA Album of the Year winner Kacey Musgraves showcased Chevel at her best. Her vocals were clean and sharp, but also pretty and soft, and she told the song’s story not just with that lilting voice but with her huge, Keane-painting eyes.
Reagan Strange (Team Adam), “Complicated”
This promising teen contestant, has — much like Kelly Clarkson — toed the line of country pop, covering Florida Georgia Line and Danielle Bradbery but also Robyn and Ed Sheeran. This week she went punk-pop with an Avril Lavigne hit, and my feelings about her performance are, well, complicated. The vocal was fine, but her stage presence was awkward and tentative. This song required more edge, more angst, less deer-in-headlights smiley-ness. How ironic, considering that I’ve always thought “Reagan Strange” would be a great stage name for the punk singer!
Kymberli Joye (Team Kelly), “Break Every Chain”
Religious songs have bolstered many past Voice contestants’ chances (Jordan Smith’s “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Chris Blue’s “Take Me to the King,” Craig Wayne Boyd’s “The Old Rugged Cross,” Meghan Linsey’s “Amazing Grace,” Koryn Hawthorne’s “How Great Thou Art,” Paxton Ingram’s “Break Every Chain,” etc.), so Kymberli, possibly fearing she was in danger, was smart to do Tasha Cobbs’s “Break Every Chain” herself this week. (Yes, it was “Fan Pick” week, but I am sure she or Kelly had some say in the matter.) Fortunately, Kymberli has a background in gospel and hopes to pursue a gospel career after The Voice, so the song suited her. She never seemed like she was pandering for votes as she took the show to church with this multioctave tour de force. If this were BET’s Sunday Best, she would already be the champ. I just hope America gets on board with this dynamite diva.
Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “Body Like a Back Road”
Sam Hunt isn’t exactly a vocal powerhouse, and this lightweight novelty tune is half-rapped. I therefore feared this song choice wouldn’t properly showcase Kirk’s magnificent pipes. But, as they like to say on singing shows, Kirk can sing the phone book. I prefer him in balladeer mode, yes, but his ability to dig into an uptempo song proved that he’s a versatile artist who could be a real country star. Sam Hunt wishes he could sannng like this.
Chris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Long Train Running”
I am digging Chris’s hairy ’70s vibe this season. The wocka-wocka guitar and boogie-rock beat here, paired with his gravelly growl, made for a groovy, loosey-goosey performance. I could totally see Chris playing Bonnaroo or Stagecoach. But I fear his jam-bandy Doobie Brothers cover could get lost in the shuffle this week. He seemed more like a member of Paul Mirkovich’s band than a star in his own right.
Lynnea Moorer (Team Kelly), “Consequences”
Lynnea is the torchiest, most modern contestant in the top 11, and while the method via which she made it there (the Comeback Stage) was controversial, she’s more than proved that she deserves to be on the show. This relevant, elegant Camila Cabello cover showcased Lynnea’s vulnerability and storytelling ability. I was riveted. I have a feeling the Comeback kid is going to have Voice viewers coming back for more.
MaKenzie Thomas (Team J.Hud), “Emotion”
MaKenzie is easily one of the best singers of this season, and this Bee Gees ballad (really the stripped-down Destiny’s Child version) didn’t change my mind about that. Every note was exquisite. I just wish she would bust out of her adult-contemporary rut already. She’s only 20 years old but seems 50 with her song and mother-of-the-bride styling choices. This conservative approach is working for her right now but will get boring before the finale comes around.
Sarah Grace (Team Kelly), “The Dog Days Are Over”
After Lynnea, Sarah is the coolest contestant left this season, filling the Addison Agen role with her graceful (no pun intended) indie/blue/folk performances. This was the perfect example of a contestant switching things up at the right time. The Florence & The Machine alt-rock anthem “from this century” was a departure from Sarah’s usual soulful style, but she brought plenty of soul to the proceedings and nailed the deceptively tricky vocal. After MaKenzie’s snoozy number, this was just the jolt the show needed.
So, my prediction for the bottom two are Dave and MaKenzie, although Chris might be in danger. As for which will prevail in Tuesday’s Instant Save sing-off, that will come down to performance order (the second singer always has the advantage) and song choice. Dave and Chris have the everyman charisma and country/Blake Shelton fanbase, but MaKenzie has the superior vocals, so this could be a real knuckle-biter. See you then.
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