The Voice Live Playoffs are still two weeks away, but on Monday, as the Knockout Rounds came to a close, Blake Shelton was already predicting Season 20’s finale result. And for once, he wasn’t bragging and talking a big game like some puffed-chested, swelled-headed WWE villain. Interestingly, he predicted that the winner would actually be a contestant from his onscreen rival Kelly Clarkson’s team: his mullet-twin, Kenzie Wheeler. However, in a parallel Voice universe, Kenzie could’ve won it all for Team Blake.
“I have one question: How incredibly mad were you at me for blocking you from getting on Blake’s team?” Kelly laughingly asked Kenzie during Monday’s rehearsals, referring to Kenzie’s four-chair Blind Audition. “I mean, he was my first choice,” Kenzie answered sheepishly but honestly. Later in the episode, Kelly even confessed to Kenzie, “I watched you in rehearsal, and I was like, ‘Oh no, he’s like a real Blake fan, and I just totally took that dream away!’”
But Kenzie seemed perfectly pleased to be on Team Kelly — especially when Kelly compared him this week to George Strait, the ultimate compliment coming from a proud Texan like her. It was only Blake that seemed to still harbor hard feelings, and Kelly loved to see it. “I can’t wait for Blake to hear that and be like, ‘Yeah, you suck for blocking me,’” she gloated, after witnessing Kenzie’s swaggering, stadium-worthy rehearsal of Luke Combs’s “Beer Never Broke My Heart” — a performance that had grinning guest Mega-Mentor Snoop Dogg making his own prediction. “There’s gonna be a whole lot of women screaming in the front row,” Snoop told Kenzie.
In the ring, 22-year-old Kenzie, sort of a baby Blake, did such a solid job that Blake immediately hopped up onstage to get a better peek at Kenzie’s widow’s-peaked mullet. “I gotta say something here. You’re probably gonna win this show … and that haircut’s gonna be trending. And I wanna be in on it,” declared Blake, as he contemplated regrowing his own infamous ‘90s bi-level haircut. Coach Nick Jonas additionally praised Kenzie for “bringing the party,” to which Blake quipped, “The party’s in the back!” But then Blake more seriously declared Kenzie “the real deal” and noted, “We can joke about the hairdo and all that, but you’re a talented SOB. … What a shame it is that Kelly blocked me.”
Kelly admitted that she felt a little bad about claiming Kenzie for herself — but that she’ll very quickly get over any residual guilt once Kenzie wins Season 20, of course. (Kelly has always taken special delight in beating Blake with country music contestants, which she has done twice before, with Chevel Shepherd and her recent recording partner Jake Hoot.)
That being said, I would have really loved to see Kenzie’s Knockout Rounds opponent, Avery Roberson, advance to the Playoffs too. Kelly pitted these two country singers against each other because they supposedly “filled the same lane” on her team, but Avery, who was also a four-chair contestant, had absolutely his own vibe and his own take on the old-school-country breakup-song trope. Yes, perhaps he brought the mood down in the room, following partystarter Kenzie, with his somber cover of Chris Young’s five-hanky weeper “Tomorrow.” That sequencing was just weird. But Avery was an authentic storyteller (Kelly even compared him to Tim McGraw), and he drew me in with his quiet, connected, stoic presence. I personally preferred his crying-in-yer-beer country approach over Kenzie’s “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” and it broke my heart a little to see him go. Maybe if Avery had grown out a mullet between the Battles and Knockouts, he might’ve had a better shot — but Kenzie, as Blake pointed out, definitely was the more marketable of the two.
Season 20’s first true test of marketability, however, will come in two weeks. Four saved contestants, one from each team, competed for America’s vote in the Four-Way Knockout showdown that ended Monday’s episode, and at the start of Live Playoffs on May 10 (following next week’s unnecessary “Road to the Lives” clip show), host Carson Daly will reveal those results. In the meantime, these were all the final Knockouts of Season 20:
TEAM JONAS: Rachel Mac vs. Zae Romeo
Rachel, a one-chair contestant and the youngest singer on Nick’s team, wanted to prove she has depth and range by taking on Jewel’s emotive, histrionic “Foolish Games.” Nick called her “one to watch” and even compared her to his old Camp Rock pal, master balladeer Demi Lovato. But despite trying to take Snoop’s direction to “end with more of a bang,” Rachel’s performance, while pretty, was more of an overall whimper. I wanted more raw pain and ache from her, especially since she revealed that she tapping into the childhood trauma resulting from her mother’s abandonment.
Meanwhile, while I wasn’t thrilled with four-chair contestant Zae’s drastic rearrangement of BØRNS’s already-perfect “Electric Love,” which sucked out all of the song’s glitter-rockin’ T. Rextacy stomp and bomp, I did appreciate the unexpected song choice. And Zae owned his choices, owned the stage, and performed like a bona fide pop star. This was one contestant who proved he really was in his “own lane.”
Zae received much less rehearsal screentime this week, which I’d hoped was because he simply needed a lot less coaching to fine-tune his performance — not because he was fodder, destined for rejection. It seemed hard to believe that Nick would not choose Zae after this, but Nick has made a lot of terrible decisions this season, and so he made another one, picking Rachel because she’s a “dark horse.” Seriously? Luckily, Kelly — who’d called Zae “incredible” and praised how he “lost himself” in the moment — realized “Nick really messed up” and that it was a “no-brainer” to save Zae. If Kelly doesn’t win with Kenzie, she might with this guy.
WINNER: Rachel Mac / STOLEN: Zae Romeo moves to Team Kelly
TEAM LEGEND: Rio Doyle vs. Zania Alaké
These were two dynamite ladies with the common home city of Detroit, but differing in age and experience. The teenage Rio picked the age-appropriate Julia Michaels song “Issues,” while single mom Zania took on Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman.” Both performances had their challenges, and their high points, but clearly this was Zania’s Knockout to lose.
Snoop Dogg and John Legend warned Rio to work on her enunciation and vocal control, especially in the tricky staccato verses, and she took that direction well, probably because of her theater training. That training served her well in other ways, as she “sold that song,” as John put it, approaching it like an actress. She made a lot of bold staging choices and had a lot of fight in her. My main gripe about this performance was that it was very copycat vocally; this didn’t sound all that different from the Julia Michaels original.
Meanwhile, Zania, digging deep into the hurt stemming from her split from her middle-school sweetheart and the father of her children, made the Gladys ballad her own. The result wasn’t as modern as Rio’s performance, but it was a Mary J. Blige-level tour de force. Blake noted that it was “great timing for this moment,” going into the Live Playoffs, and John told Zania, “Snoop is going to be so proud. … You just established herself as a force to be reckoned with.”
WINNER: Zania Alaké
TEAM BLAKE: Connor Christian vs. Cam Anthony
I am surprised this Knockout wasn’t montaged, with most of Connor’s footage left on the cutting-room floor and Cam’s left intact (a la Matt McAndrew in Season 7). Connor’s lackluster cover of Five Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” did not warrant more than five seconds of air time. His diction was so mushmouthed, I almost wondered if he’d forgotten the words, and he didn’t belt and go for it when I expected or wanted him to. After this performance, Nick passive-aggressively and semi-shadily suggested that Connor front a band, while John flat-out told him, “This wasn’t your best vocal work today.”
Cam’s “Feeling Good,” however, was some of the best vocal work of any contestant this season. I didn’t think I’d ever want to hear this song on any singing competition ever again, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Cam made the bold and risky decision to sing the entire verse a cappella, but he nailed it, and Kelly said that was “really smart and competitive.” And his scatting at the end was a whole mood! There was no contest here. Nick called this performance “flawless and creative and kind of bizarre… you tapped into something that was just otherworldly.” Said Blake of this no-brainer verdict, “He’s just a star.”
WINNER: Cam Anthony
TEAM JONAS: José Figueroa Jr. vs. Raine Stern
OK, so this was a montage — and it was featuring Raine, who’d been such a favorite of Nick’s after her promising first audition that he’d saved her in the Battles despite her weak performance. Apparently this performance by Raine, of John Mayer’s “No Such Thing,” must have been even weaker, because it was barely shown. José’s “Break Every Chain” also got a brutal, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it edit, but he did seem to easily overpower Raine, and we’ll get to hear more of him in the Playoffs.
WINNER: José Figueroa Jr.
TEAM KELLY: Gianna Zoë vs. Anna Grace
Anna’s radical indie-pop remake of the Band Perry’s “If I Die Young,” inspired by her own brush with death as a teen, was the “right move,” according to Nick. Snoop and Kelly thought she might be holding back because she was afraid if she really let go, she’d start crying and ruin her performance. Kelly, a famous onstage crier, assured Anna that it was OK to be vulnerable onstage. I do think Anna’s performance was still too serene and controlled, but it was quite lovely, especially the falsetto moments, which Kelly described as “spiritual.”
Gianna's “Glitter in the Air” had a similar feel, but Gianna definitely allowed herself to lose herself more in the moment. Kelly called her “more of a competitive vocalist,” and Snoop exclaimed, “You just passed the P!nk challenge!” This was majestic. Blake told Gianna, “There’s nothing you can’t do … the sky’s the limit.” But Blake must have been really excited that Anna did a country song (albeit in a very non-countryish way), because after Kelly unsurprisingly picked Gianna, he swooped in to steal Anna — and in the process diversify his team of “all dudes.”
WINNER: Gianna Zoë / STOLEN: Anna Grace move to Team Blake
FOUR-WAY KNOCKOUT: Emma Caroline (Team Blake) vs. Devan Blake Jones (Team Jonas) vs. Carolina Riall (Team Legend) vs. Savanna Woods (Team Kelly)
Emma probably never should have been saved in the Battles. Her vocals were still nice enough here, but her stage presence hadn’t improved, and her “Neon Moon” performance was still stiff, dead-eyed, and lacking in fire. Devan had the performance thing down, at least, but his “Sign of the Times” sounded in too high and key, and the vocal struggle was real, which was surprising. I'd previously predicted he'd win, but now I was not so sure.
And so, it really came down Carolina’s “Anyone” and Savanna’s “Black Hole Sun.” Carolina’s choked-up Demi Lovato cover was a revelation, much better than I’d expected, and it was the sort of “save me” performance that gets votes. Savanna’s Soundgarden cover wasn’t nearly as operatically rockin’ as the version Casey Bishop did on American Idol a couple weeks ago, but after her cutesy, quirky delivery in the verse which didn’t quite work, she let it rip in the chorus and redeemed herself. She was definitely most interesting contestant of these four, but we will find out in two weeks who captured viewers' interest. See you then.
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