Kelly Clarkson was only 19 when she auditioned for the first season of American Idol — not much older than the two final Team Kelly contestants, 16-year-olds Gracee Shriver and Damali, who competed during Tuesday’s The Voice Season 17 Knockout Rounds. Kelly struggled to choose between the two very different singers — country girl Gracee, who put a Patty Loveless-like, strummy spin on the Wreckers’ breakup ballad "Leave the Pieces,” and dark-indie-pop stylist Damali, who dedicated her raw, brave, and soulful cover of Demi Lovato’s “Sober” to a family member who is battling addiction.
“I just know it's an important moment for you. I get it. I was a teenager in a competition. It's such an important moment. I wish I had a crystal ball,” Kelly agonized when the moment of reckoning — “forever the hardest decision I've ever made on this show” — arrived. She stalled for time and even begged host Carson Daly for “10 seconds with me and the Lord.”
“You're both really good,” Kelly told the girls. “Damali, you have this Annie Lennox thing for me. And Gracee, God, you're so original. You are both fantastic. It's like a young Mariah and a young Dixie Chicks, both things I grew up on and love. And this was a really, really hard one for me. And I have never twisted this ring on my finger so hard, because I really do love both of you. I am so nervous!”
Damali, in my opinion, was the clear winner here — and it seemed Kelly thought so too, because Damali’s performance actually brought her to tears. But Kelly was still torn, and her tears flowed anew when Carson finally forced her to choose. But ultimately, she chose wisely, and she went with the more compelling and original Damali.
But soon Kelly was shedding happy tears, when Blake Shelton used his one Steal to recruit Gracee, a natural fit for his team. Gracee and Damali wept with joy as well, thus bringing the Knockouts to a feel-good conclusion. Aw.
Let’s look at the rest of this season’s Knockout Rounds, then assess where the teams stand going in next week’s top 20 Playoffs.
Team Legend: Marybeth Byrd vs. Preston C. Howell
Fifteen-year-old crooner Preston gave a great audition with his modernized take on the Great American Songbook, but when he went off-brand in the Battle Rounds with “Fire and Rain,” he fizzled. (He should have never advanced over Mendeleyev, really.) Preston got back in his lane this week with Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” but his fire still wasn’t entirely relit. Despite Taylor suggesting that Preston flirt with the audience (which he did, to some effect, especially with Gwen Stefani) and keep things swinging and fun, his performance felt tepid and tentative. He’s just a kid, really, and I think the pressure got to him.
Meanwhile, Marybeth went with a much more vocally challenging ballad, the Melissa Manchester-esque (Melissa Mancunian?) “All I Ask” by her idol, Adele. I can’t claim that she was at an Adele level, but the 18-year-old Marybeth delivered another strong, confident, and mature performance that proved just what a difference three years in age and experience can make. Preston is obviously talented, but he probably should have waited a couple more seasons to audition.
Team Blake: Zach Bridges vs. Ricky Braddy
As both Blake and Ricky noted, covering John Legend’s songs on this show is always a big risk. But, as evidenced by Ricky’s brief tenure on American Idol 10 years ago, when he was an early/robbed favorite, he is the kind of singer that can pull it off. His rendition of John’s "So High," dedicated to his boyfriend, was an old-fashioned performance, but some might call it timeless, and every note was powerful and pristine.
Country singer Zach also made a risky pick with Garth Brooks’s “The Dance,” a song so beloved and well-known that there was no way he could top it or make it his own. Kelly noted that he didn’t stray from Brooks’s version at all. I thought he might still prevail, because he did a solid enough job and, well, he is country (which Ricky is not). But I am glad that Blake didn’t let genre affect his decision, simply going with the superior singer.
Team Gwen: Myracle Holloway vs. Calvin Lockett
I am sorely disappointed that this Knockout wasn’t shown in full, since Myracle has been one of my favorite singers of Season 17. She impressed with her cover of Tevin Campbell “Can We Talk,” though it was much more light-hearted and upbeat than her usual heart-on-sleeve balladry. Calvin’s performance and mentoring session with Taylor, on the other hand, were not shown at all. Why? Did he tick someone off? Did he completely blow it onstage and embarrass himself? (He was montaged in the Battle Rounds too, interestingly.) We will likely never know what happened. All we know is Myracle is moving on to the Playoffs, which was probably a done deal anyway. I look forward to seeing more of her very soon.
So, now Team Blake has Gracee Shriver, folk singer Cali Wilson, teen prodigy Kat Hammock, and the rock ‘n’ soul Rickys (Duran and Braddy). Team Gwen has Myracle Holloway, long-haired blues-rocker Jake Haldenvang, indie stylist Kyndal Inskeep, R&B diva Rose Short, and teen pop girl Joana Martinez. Team Kelly has Damali, teen duo Hello Sunday, country dude Jake Hoot, balladeer Shane Q, and indie artist Max Boyle. And finally, Team Legend consists of Marybeth Byrd, soul sensation Khalea Renee, quirky mavericks Will Breman and Katie Kadan, and singer-songwriter Alex Guthrie. These are pretty strong teams – definitely stronger than they were at this stage of the game during the past couple of seasons – but right now, I’d say John is the coach to beat. He may be on to a repeat victory.
Watch this space, and tune in for the Playoffs next Monday.
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