The Voice Season 17 went live Monday with the top 20 semifinalists, seven of whom will go home on Tuesday’s live results show. But if Kelly Clarkson was correct in her bold prediction, quirky folk singer Will Breman won’t be going anywhere. Will isn’t on Kelly’s team — he’s John Legend’s contestant — but after Will’s gender-flipped standout performance of Taylor Swift’s “Style,” she was “stunned,” according to host Carson Daly, and she told Will, “You just won The Voice… like, you won it all. That was crazy.”
I sincerely hope that Kelly was right. Will is quickly shaping up to be my favorite contestant of the season — one of the few singers in the top 20 who takes creative chances and is never predictable or old-fashioned. Many singers on Monday disappointingly stuck with safe moldy-oldies and pandering karaoke balladry, but the adorakble Will, as always, threw himself into a fun, fearless performance — scatty, jazzy, and wacky, but never gimmicky. There’s truly never been anyone like Will Breman on The Voice.
John, who won last season his first time out, just might have a chance for a repeat victory with this likable guy. “I am so lucky to get to work with you,” he told Will. You are so musical. You are so inventive. You have such charisma, such personality. And you are a true artist. It's a joy to watch you perform.”
Not all of the contestants’ performances were so joy-inducing. Many of them were plagued by the sound and pitch problems that have unfortunately become all too common at the start of every Voice season’s Live Playoffs. Others went with odd song choices that did them no favors. But a few of them did have… wait for it… great style. Let’s run down the rest of the top 20 performances, and then predict which 13 hopefuls will advance to the next round.
Ricky Duran, “Small Town”
Ricky gave a note-perfect performance, as usual, but his midtempo John Mellencamp song wasn’t exactly a vocal showcase. I don’t think was enough to make an impression, especially since Ricky sang first.
Cali Wilson, “Toxic”
The slowed-down-Britney shtick has gotten old by now — and let’s face it, Alex & Sierra did it best on The X Factor ages ago, long before it became a singing-show cliché. Somehow this blues-rock performance managed to be turgid and try-hard at the same time. It was way too Alannah Myles/“Black Velvet” for my liking, and it was a letdown after Cali’s stellar “Wicked Game” performance in the Knockouts. Cali did bring some fire at the end of the song, but overall, her momentum was slowed.
Gracee Shriver, “American Honey”
This was a smartly chosen, age-appropriate song, delivered with confidence and competence, coming across both current and classic. It wasn’t a mind-blowing or game-changing effort, but it was the best Team Blake performance, and therefore enough to get her to the top 12. Gracee gets extra points for having her performance switched up at the last minute (she was originally supposed to play guitar) and handling the situation like a pro.
Kat Hammock, “God Only Knows”
I imagine this will be a polarizing performance. On the one hand, I loved Kat’s song choice, her styling, and the ethereal way she floated through the audience. But sometimes her angelic breathiness became breathlessness; she took some borderline-blasphemous liberties with the Beach Boys’ melody; and overall, this felt a bit sleepy. That being said, Kat is one of Season 17’s more interesting and unique contestants, so I am rooting for her. But I wonder how far she can go, given her limitations and acquired-tastiness.
Ricky Braddy, “Roll With It”
Ricky brought some upbeat energy and power vocals, and he worked the crowd like a pro, but I really wish he’d gone with a more modern song. This corny performance felt a bit too B.B. King’s Club/Universal Citywalk for me.
Rose Short, “What Have You Done for Me Lately”
Janet Jackson doesn’t get covered much on The Voice (the last time I recall was Chris Blue’s phenomenal “Rhythm Nation” in Season 12), but then again, not everyone can deliver a performance as thrilling as Rose’s. This was sexy, sassy, and a ton of fun, and it had Kelly up out of her red chair, spazzing and dancing. Covering Janet was a risk, but hopefully it will pay off. After Team Blake’s mostly ho-hum numbers, Rose gave the episode a much-needed shot of adrenaline.
Kyndal Inskeep, “10,000 Hours”
This stool-seated, heartfelt, less-is-more performance really drew me in. Kyndal is always so earnest, so pleasant, such a calming presence. I agreed with John when he told her, “You have such a beautiful tone, that golden tone that you have. I love your vibrato; it sounds distinct. I don't think anyone else sounds like you.”
Joana Martinez, “You Can’t Stop the Girl”
This teen prodigy, a total natural onstage, delivered another strong, smoky vocal that reminded me of Jordin Sparks, Jacquie Lee, or Jessica Sanchez. The audience was loving it, and I predict she will go far — maybe even to the finale.
Myracle Holloway, “Get Here”
This was an extremely safe and old-fashioned song choice — I mean, Kelly’s Season 1 American Idol opponent Justin Guarini sang it SEVENTEEN years ago — but Myracle does excel doing ballads, and she was classy and elegant tonight. She actually reminded me of Idol Season 1’s Tamyra Gray. I just wish she’d done something bolder and fresher and cooler.
Jake Haldenvang, “Turning Tables”
This was an interesting choice for the season’s token rocker. Of course, he didn’t even come close to Adele’s vocal range, but I did appreciate his willingness to tackle a song outside of his wheelhouse – he and Will have that in common. It was an uneven performance, but it was at least a memorable one, and there were some pretty and haunting moments. I’d like to see more of what Jake can do.
Shane Q, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”
Seriously? This shlocky, dinner-theater song choice wasn’t even American Idol Season 1 – it was Star Search Season 1! Shane’s performance was pitchy as well. Shane once seemed to be a frontrunner — at least according to Kelly — but I think he peaked too soon, and this performance will spell his doom.
Hello Sunday, “Hello”
Here’s another contestant that peaked too soon. While this teen duo’s audition was a discordant mess, they unexpectedly soared in the Knockouts, with a spectacular and in-sync performance that moved mentor Taylor Swift to tears. This week, though, the girls regressed — so maybe last week was just a fluke. Once again, they were shouty and shrill, and their harmonies were messy. Maybe it is finally time to say goodbye to Hello Sunday.
Damali, “You Say”
This performance was a bit nasal in parts and too churchy for my tastes, but Damali has a distinctive tone, a commanding presence, and a believable storytelling quality. This wasn’t my favorite performance of hers, but she probably did enough to advance. We will see.
Max Boyle, “Falling Slowly”
OK, now this was gorgeous. Wonderful song choice, elegant stage presence, expressive and emotional delivery, gorgeous falsetto, full-on Harry Style vibes… Max, whom Kelly rightly called “gifted,” was the total package. I’d love to see him in the finale with Will.
Jake Hoot, “You Lie”
The country crooner had a pleasantly rich and robust tone, but his performance lacked energy, and the arrangement was not creative at all. Still, Jake is the type of contestant who’ll go far with voters. Heck, if he were on Team Blake, he’d probably even make the finale.
Khalea Lynee, “Love Like This”
This was a BET Awards-worthy performance from this sophisticated lady, glamorously retro in a totally-‘90s way. She already seemed like a star. John told her, “You carry yourself with such grace.. You make everything look so easy and sound so easy. It just flows out of you.”
Alex Guthrie, “If I Ain’t Got You”
Alex’s smooth, soothing, warm-honey vocal could make him one of Season 17’s dark horses. His rich, rangy, soulful baritone was perfectly suited to this emotional Alicia Keys classic.
Marybeth Byrd, “Love Me Like You Do”
Marybeth convincingly put her folksy spin on Ellie Goulding’s pop hit, but her performance went off the rails once the band’s big production came crashing in. If Marybeth advances, I hope next week she gets back to the alt-country fare she does best.
Katie Kadan, “Always Remember Us This Way”
Katie the wild-eyed show-woman did what she had to do to prove that she’s a multi-faceted entertainer. I appreciated that she toned down the campiness and razzamatazz and showed she can be serious and tender – without sacrificing her personality – and that she stayed at her keyboard the entire time instead of discarding it like a superfluous prop by the middle of the second verse. This was magnificent, and it was a great closer to the night.
So now, it is prediction time. On Tuesday’s results show, America will votes eight artists (regardless of team affiliation) through to the following week. After that, the coaches will each choose a contestant, and then the remaining artists from each team with the highest overnight vote will compete for the 13th spot in a live Instant Save round. Got all that? It’s a lot to process [EDIT: I am not sure if team quotas are in place, since this show keeps changing the rules], so I will stick to predicting the top eight, which I think will be Will (I sure hope so!), Katie, Joana, Max, Kyndal, Gracee, and both Jakes. (I may be totally off here, since only one of those contestants is coached by the popular and unstoppable Blake Shelton, but that’s what my gut is telling me.) I am hoping, however, that the other five, one way or another, will include Myracle, Rose, Khalea, Kat, and Alex, as it would be a shame to see any of them leave the competition this soon.
So, brace yourself for some sad goodbyes and Twitter outrage, and see you Tuesday.
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