First, NBC poached two of Idol’s biggest stars, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, to be coaches, and every Monday and Tuesday night soon became one giant drinking game: Taking a sip every time either Kelly or J.Hud mentioned that they had once competed on a “show like this” without ever uttering the word “Idol.” (Actually, don’t try that as home, lest you become drunker than Blake Shelton before the first commercial break.)
Then, last week, The Voice enlisted Keith Urban, who served as an Idol judge for Seasons 12 through 15, to be Blake’s Battle Rounds mentor. Now, this week, none other than Keith’s Season 12 co-star, ex-Idol judge Mariah Carey, served as the Knockout Rounds’ key adviser. (What’s next? Kara DioGuardi showing up in a bikini to mentor the Live Playoffs? Bass-playing Randy Jackson sitting in with Paul Mirkovich and The Voice house band?)
Of course, in the past, Mariah made no secret that she hated her one-and-done Idol season — despite taking home a reported record-breaking $18 million. And she barely earned that eight-figure Idol salary, as she mostly rambled nonsensically and/or looked as if she would have preferred to be just about anywhere than two seats away from her nemesis, Nicki Minaj. It should be noted that on Fox’s “Farewell Season” Idol finale in 2016, Mariah was the one judge that didn’t take part in some way — and she later dissed the show every chance she got, calling it a “bleak experience,” “hell,” “the worst experience of my life,” and “like going to work with Satan.”
Mariah avoided alluding to Idol during her Voice guest spot Monday. (Sorry, no there was no drinking game this evening.) And she did seem a bit more engaged — or at least not like she was in hell, working with Satan. She even teared up during contestant MaKenzie Thomas’s lovely rehearsal of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” although not enough to mess up her makeup. The contestants all freaked out just being in the diva’s presence. But whatever NBC was paying Mariah, she still wasn’t earning that paycheck. We didn’t get the shady, tea-sipping, boy-backup-dancer-flanked Mimi of recent New Year’s eves (which would have at least been entertaining), nor did we get the sort of sage singing advice one might expect from a five-octave, five-time Grammy winner whom Adam Levine hyperbolically declared “the queen of all shows.”
Past Voice key advisers like Taylor Swift and Rihanna have done a better job. Randy Jackson or Kara DioGuardi would have done a better job.
Anyway, on Monday, the remaining 32 contestants began competing for spots in The Voice Season 15 Live Playoffs. Each coach had one Steal, along with yet another new Voice gimmick: one Save, which allowed them to keep both opponents in an especially competitive Knockout pairing. Here’s what happened:
Team Adam: Keith Paluso vs. Tyke James
Mariah got uncomfortably flirty with the Nelson brother-like Tyke, thus demonstrating his heartthrob appeal. But Adam complained that Tyke’s “Ring of Fire” cover was “goofy” and needed more “heft.” Conversely, Keith’s soulful, sexy rendition of Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing” was hefty, hefty, hefty. Kelly and Jennifer were practically jumping out of their red chairs for him. Perhaps Keith was the secret Season 15 heartthrob all along. Tyke toned down the sing-songiness for his live performance, adding a sense of urgency and danger I did not expect from the sweet, flaxen-haired hippie. Therefore, I understood why Adam picked Tyke, even though the audience seemed surprised. But then, Adam used his Save on Keith. Then, Kelly happily used her Steal on Keith. Keith opted to go with Kelly, not wanting to be Adam’s sloppy seconds. Now that was some good TV!
Winner: Tyke/ Stolen: Keith moves to Team Kelly
Team Kelly: Kymberli Joye vs. Zaxai vs. Natasia GreyCloud
Cody Ray Raymond had to leave the show for “personal reasons,” thus leading to this rare (and very competitive) three-way Knockout. This was a tough call for Kelly. Kymberli’s gospel-inflected, super-confident interpretation of Zedd & Maren Morris’s “The Middle” was the work of a consummate professional, like something from the BET Awards. Natasia’s “Tennessee Whiskey” was growly and gritty, like something from the CMT Awards. And Zaxai’s falsetto-laden “Cruisin’” was silky-smooth, like something from the Soul Train Awards. All three deserved to advance. And guess what? All three did! Kelly used her Save on Zaxai, and Blake used his Steal on Natasia. That was also good TV. And this means there will be more good sangin’ in the Playoffs.
Winners: Kymberli and Zaxai/ Stolen: Natasia moves to Team Blake
Team J.Hud: MaKenzie Thomas vs. Mike Parker
MaKenzie, a self-described Mariah fangirl, impressed during the Battle Rounds with her performance of Mariah’s “Always Be My Baby,” and she impressed her idol this week. She took a risk doing her Bee Gees cover with just one jazzy, easy-listening guitar, but it was the perfect, intimate way to highlight her angelic voice. Conversely, Mike’s risk — doing the Script’s “Breakeven,” a song outside his usual genre of R&B — did not pay off, even though it was a creative arrangement and he did make the song his own. Jennifer just could not deny the power of MaKenzie’s pipes — and Mariah’s tears, of course.
Team Adam: Radha vs. Reagan Strange
Speaking of risks, Radha took a big chance doing the Mariah Carey version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” which Mariah sternly noted is “a tough song to sing.” Radha hit all the Mariah dolphin-whistle notes, but her excessive, goaty vibrato and shrill tone were unpleasant to the ear. Reagan’s cover of the Calum Scott version of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” was much more unforced and unfussy. Her pure, warm-buttery tone was lovely. This was a total Knockout, so it was no surprise that Adam chose Reagan. What was surprising was that Adam saved Radha. I think he could have, and should have, let her go.
Winners: Reagan and Radha
Team Blake: Katrina Cain vs. Funsho
Katrina was one of my favorite contestants this season, wowing me with exquisite, emotional covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” But she kept insisting that both of those songs were actually outside her wheelhouse and that she identified as an “electropop” artist. Well, she may want to rethink that classification, and not just because Blake had no idea what electropop is but because for her Knockout performance, she did the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” and, well, she let me down. It was underwhelming and bland, while Funsho really earned it with the Weeknd’s “Earned It.” He blew the coaches away and blew Katrina out of the water. Poor Katrina went from frontrunner to cannon fodder in the space of a few minutes, all because of one ill-advised song choice.
Team J.Hud: SandyRedd vs. Patrique Fortson
Onetime Season 2 American Idol also-ran Patrique totally regressed to his old-fashioned Idol ways by covering Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” aka The Asteroid Song. But I can’t say he didn’t sing it well. He sang it really well. If he had performed this on Idol in 2003, he might have made it a lot farther. SandyRedd, on the other hand, came across as contemporary and exciting with Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” the perfect song choice for her rock ‘n’ soul style. She also looked like a superstar in those Pretty Woman thigh-high boots and red wrap dress. This woman brought the drama. Of course, Jennifer could not choose, so she used her Save on SandyRedd. Wow. Hardly anyone went home tonight!
Winners: Patrique and SandyRedd
Team Kelsea: Lynnea Moorer vs. Ele Ivory
Don’t forget about the Island of Misfit Toys! That’s what I call the forgotten fifth team coached by Kelsea Ballerini, featuring rejected contestants competing online for a spot in the Live Playoffs. Yes, I actually went on YouTube after Monday’s televised Knockout to watch this pairing. I appreciated Lynnea’s modern song selection, Troye Sivan’s “My My My,” but her delivery was wobbly. Ele was shrill in parts, but I appreciated her piano playing on Selena Gomez’s “Back to You,” and she had more personality and edge. I think Kelsea made the wrong call here.
Come back Tuesday for more Knockouts and more Mariah.
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