The Voice Season 15 went live Monday, with a whirlwind episode so jam-packed with music -- two dozen performances in two hours! -- there was scarcely any time for coach commentary.
But here’s my commentary: It’s a crying shame that team quotas still exist at this stage of the game, meaning only three contestants per team will make it through when the top 13 are announced Tuesday. Why? Because there were way more than three Team J.Hud contestants that proved they deserve to move on -- and who definitely deserve to move on instead of one of the Kelsea Ballerini-coached “Comeback Stage” online competitors (who never even turned one chair during the Blind Auditions) who will be unfairly fast-tracked to the semifinals.
Yes, Jennifer Hudson’s team is positively teeming with shoe-toss-worthy talent this season, and if this week’s results were based on talent alone, Team J.Hud would dominate the top 13. Adam Levine’s team would possibly not even be represented at all.
Team J.Hud's SandyRedd, Franc West, Colton Smith, and Patrique Fortson were among my favorite Monday performances, so when the votes are tallied Tuesday, I will be unavoidably disappointed. Each team will have two contestants voted through by America, plus one contestant saved by each coach; then, one of the Comeback Stage contestanrs will unfairly snag that 13th spot.
But before all that, there’s a lot to unpack. So let’s look at the top 24 performances -- starting with Team J.Hud -- along with my reluctant predictions.
Patrique Fortson – “Ain’t Nobody”
Patrique did not come to play. He came to slay! This may have been old-fashioned (he did, after all, compete on American Idol Season 2), but he exhibited such charisma and fearlessness -- it takes guts to rock a sequin-appliqued Coffee Talk caftan and gold jazz shoes alone -- that his coach was nearly throwing her own shoes.
MaKenzie Thomas – “I Believe in You and Me”
Wow, doing Whitney the first time out? Like I said, Team J.Hud is the most competitive team of Season 15. This time, Jennifer really did toss her footwear at the stage. I just hope if MaKenzie, who is only TWENTY YEARS OLD, makes the top 13, she does something more modern and youthful on future episodes.
Franc West – “Apologize”
Franc brought that “make a song your own" creativity that was missing from many other performances this evening; he is quickly establishing himself as the most interesting and risk-taking contestant of the season. His fiery rock ‘n’ soul OneRepublic cover sounded, well, like a Franc West original.
SandyRedd – “No More Drama”
Oh, the irony. This mighty performance offered tons of drama! Sandy showed up in a Handmaid’s Tale scarlet cape, nailed the master-class Mary J. Blige vocal, and burned the stage to the ground. She was easily the best performer of the night, and the best performer of the entire damn season. I want more drama from her, week after week.
Colton Smith – “Scared to Be Lonely”
After a misfire when he could not hear himself last week, Colton completely redeemed himself with this exquisite, emotional Dua Lipa/Martin Garrix ballad. Colton has been a dark horse all season, and he will sadly probably go home Tuesday due to those stupid team quotas. But he earned his place in the top 13 with this tour de force.
Kennedy Homes – “Halo”
My main complaint this season with the note-perfect Kennedy is that she is too perfect, too theater-schooled. I still think she hasn’t quite broken through, but she is only 13. And let's face it, at age 13 I was playing video games in my bedroom and barely earning an allowance. So I will cut her some slack. There’s no way this prodigy not making the semifinals.
Prediction: Kennedy and SandyRedd get the popular vote; Jennifer saves Franc.
Michael Lee - "Every Time I Roll the Dice"
This was a solid vocal, in a Fabulous Thunderbirds sort of way. But the performance was deer-in-headlights in a not-so-fabulous way. Michael is fodder, and I think he knows it.
Dave Fenley – “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”
This was a heartfelt, low-key performance that may sadly fly under the radar (no pun intended), but Dave’s near-a cappella intro was soulful and effective.
Natasia GreyCloud – “God Is a Woman”
Natasia brought the drama and the power notes, and she smartly appealed to different demographics by taking a very current Ariana Grande song and making it sound like Pat Benatar or Alannah Myles.
Chris Kroeze – “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
This was first Team Blake performance that grabbed my attention Monday. Chris has a distinctive, crisp, just all-around pleasant voice, sounding modern and classic all at once.
Funsho – “How Long”
This funk-folk Charlie Puth cover was fresh and cool. On a team packed with country-rockers, Funsho stands out, and he could turn out to be Team Blake’s most valuable Season 15 player.
Kirk Jay – “One More Day”
But of course, this amazing Alabama country crooner is Team Blake's current frontrunner. He impresses week after week. Kirk’s classy Diamond Rio cover wouldn’t be out of place on the CMA Awards airing this Wednesday night.
Prediction: Chris and Kirk get the popular vote; Blake saves Funsho.
Abby Cates – “Next to Me”
This was competent, but forgettable. It may have been too mature a song choice for this plucky pop teen. However, Abby wins the Best-Dressed Award of the evening for her amazing, Chloe Kohanski-worthy leather onesie.
Keith Paluso – “Someone Like You”
Overdone Adele ballads are ill-advised on singing shows, and Keith did struggle with this song, which was a little too big for him. But he had a few lovely, vulnerable, real moments. At least he seemed genuinely connected to what he was singing.
Sarah Grace – “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”
OK, I did not expect this churchy Sam & Dave soul workout from this 15-year-old (who notably failed with her Etta James cover last week). This was sublime. And Sarah earns bonus points for not abandoning her musical instrument halfway through her performance, which is what most contestants do. Could Kelly Clarkson win for a second consecutive season with a teen girl prodigy? After witnessing this, I say... maybe.
Zaxai – “When I Need You”
Zaxai brought the neo-soul heartthrob vibes with this falsetto-embellished interpretation of a Leo Sayer soft-rock classic. This was finale-ready. It was even BET Awards-ready. It was one of the best vocals of the night. So once again, it's a shame that Zaxai may go home Tuesday.
Chevel Shepherd – “Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)"
Chevel took on the sentimental tune that arguably helped Danielle Bradbery win Season 4, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice. This performance was nice, and the studio audience and coaches seemed to love it, but I found it pageanty and dull.
Kymberli Joye – “Radioactive”
I was pretty sure I never wanted to hear this Imagine Dragons song on any singing show ever again. But I’ll make room in my iTunes/brain for Kymberli's epic version. This pro really knows how to cover a song -- building the intensity, never oversinging, and always brilliantly choosing her moments. And man, she sure had some moments! That rock ‘n’ roll wail at the end was everything.
Prediction: Sarah and Chevel get the popular vote; Kelly saves Kymberli.
Steve Memmolo – “More Today Than Yesterday”
It took all my willpower not to skip the fast-forward button on this snoozefest. Actually, I felt like I’d hit a rewind button back to American Idol Season 1. Nothing about this was cool. It's back to the wedding-band circuit for this smarmy dude.
DeAndre Nico – “Ordinary People”
Taking on the elegant piano ballad by future Voice coach John Legend, DeAndre also had an old-fashioned, easy-listening vibe -- but unlike Steve, he nailed all his notes, plus he showed actual passion. I don’t note if DeAndre is extra-ordinary enough to win, but this performance was likely enough to squeak him through to the top 13.
Radha – “Dusk Till Dawn”
This pop singer’s rapid, goaty vibrato continued to grate -- and while she was doing a modern song by Zayn, this still somehow felt old-fashioned. And I still do not know why Adam saved Radha during the Knockout Rounds.
Kameron Marlowe – “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”
Finally Team Adam showed up to compete! True, we don’t really need Kameron this season, when Team Blake has the country-rock thing pretty much covered. But Kameron is charismatic enough to give Blake Shelton’s contestants some stiff country competition.
Tyke James – “Use Somebody”
For years, Kings of Leon famously refused to clear their songs for singing shows like The Voice and Idol. After this disaster -- with its shouty delivery, mushmouthed diction, and overall whiff of desperation -- KoL may yank their catalog from TV once again. Tyke may have had the long Followill-brother hair, but that was about all he had going for him.
Reagan Strange – “Worth It”
With an awesome name like hers, I’m still waiting for Reagan to do an ‘80s punk song. That’s probably not going to happen. But Reagan showcased some powerful pop pipes on this Fifth Harmony cover.
Prediction: Kameron and Reagan get the popular vote; Adam saves DeAndre.
Phew! That was a lot! Tune in Tuesday to find out who makes the lucky top 13 -- and who isn't so lucky.
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