“There’s nuthin’ like blood harmony,” The Voice Season 23’s Mega-Mentor Reba McEntire declared Monday, when Team Chance’s “total package” sister trio Sorelle entered the audition room to prepare for their Knockout Round performance against soul singer Tiana Goss.
And truly, there has never been nuthin’ like Sorelle in all 12 years of The Voice.
The siblings’ effervescent, intricately arranged, expertly executed cover of the Jacksons’ “Blame It on the Boogie” — a song that Kelly Clarkson said she would have never imagined for them, but had actually been their “go-to karaoke song” for years — was one of the most original and revelatory performances I’d ever witnessed on the show. Their coach Chance the Rapper had predicted this breakout moment would be “crazy,” in the best possible way, and he wasn’t wrong.
Even jaded, lame-duck coach Blake Shelton, in his 23rd season, was astounded by Sorelle’s tour de force, finally using the word “literally” correctly, for once, as he marveled: “They literally sound like they’re being Auto-Tuned as they’re singing live. It’s almost impossible to sound that perfect.”
Meanwhile, Tiana’s stripped-down, slowed-down, semi-acoustic version of Ariana Grande’s “God Is a Woman” simply dragged. To be fair, it was bound to be a comedown after Sorelle’s joyous burst of energy and creativity. However, it didn’t help matters that Tiana seemed to have no idea what this super-sexy seduction song was about and dedicated her Knockout performance to… her mom. Chance even advised Tiana during rehearsal, “Um, maybe read the lyrics, and make them mean to you what it means in this moment.” But that didn’t work.
So, Chance of course went with the act “completely blew him away” —and blew Tiana right out of the water. Afterwards, his fellow rookie coach Niall Horan predicted, “Chance has got Sorelle in his back pocket — and that could be dangerous.”
These were the other Knockouts from Monday night:
TEAM NIALL: EJ Michels vs. Michael B.
This was a matchup between underdogs of sorts — Michael B., a one-chair turn, and EJ, a stolen contestant — now performing on a level playing field. But while these “two big, rangy, dramatic singers who can do it all” came into the competition with similar vibes, they went totally different routes for this Knockout.
EJ, a nothing-if-not-diverse singer who’d in the past covered Adele and Smokey Robinson, surprisingly went with the moody “Trip Switch” by relatively obscure (by Voice standards) U.K. indie-rock band Nothing But Thieves. He picked the song to show more attitude, and gave what Blake called a “huge performance,” although I still wasn’t convinced that he’s a true rocker (even though, ironically, he did once front an actual successful rock band, Foreign Figures). However, I was impressed by EJ’s operatic abilities, which reminded me of Remy Zero and Shudder to Think and prompted Matt Bellamy comparisons from Niall.
Michael, a “pop singer with unbelievable drama to his voice,” was more subtle doing Shawn Mendes’s breakup ballad “When You’re Gone.” It was a challengingly wordy song, but as Blake noted, Michael managed to “stay in the pocket” and was “solid all the way through.” Kelly called this a “great avenue” for Michael, and apparently that avenue is leading right to the Live Playoffs, because Niall picked Michael. But I think the real winner of this Knockout was Nothing But Thieves, because Kelly announced, “I’ve never heard of that song [“Trip Switch”], but I will be covering it soon on a talk show near you!”
WINNER: Michael B.
TEAM CHANCE: Magnus vs. Jamar Langley
These old-soul throwback crooners both delivered stunning vocals, but one was more original than the other. Doing “Ordinary People” by veteran Voice coach John Legend, Magnus had a storytelling quality, believability, and steely eye contact that impressed Reba in rehearsal, and he had runs that Blake said sounded like sexy saxophone solos. But as Kelly noted, it was “hard for him not to sound like an imitation of John,” and she “couldn’t get the John Legend thing” out of her head.
Meanwhile, Jamar’s cover of childhood hero Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” — a “babymaking” classic that he said “suits my style to a T” — was fully his own, with some Nile Rodgers-esque disco/lounge guitar that Kelly said actually complemented his vocals. (Sometimes guitar-strumming contestants use the instrument as a crutch, and their playing detracts rather than enhances.)
Chance found this decision “incredibly difficult” — so much so that he asked the off-camera producers, “Can we go to commercial break for a bit?” and, despite being a new cast member, he apparently already wielded enough power to have this wish granted. But once the episode resumed, Chance went with the more interesting singer: Jamar. I don’t think this was actually a difficult decision at all.
WINNER: Jamar Langley
TEAM BLAKE: Grace West vs. Neil Salsich
This entire Knockout was — to borrow a phrase from Neil himself — “such a freakin’ blast!” Everyone loves Dolly and the Doobies, so when Grace did Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” (“I’ve been singing this since I could sing!”) and Neil took on Michael McDonald and company’s “Takin’ It to the Streets” (“a gospel song disguised as a rock song”), it was bound to be a fun 'n' sassy good time.
Grace was what Blake called “the real deal, man” on her delightful Dolly cover, during which she ditched the “safety net” of her own guitar but still pulled off a confident performance that showcased her playful side. But Neil’s epic Doobie Brothers cover — during which he rocked an eggplant-colored blazer and slightly reminded me of Taylor Hicks’s purple-jacketed breakout “Streets” moment from American Idol Season 5 — was a better vocal showcase overall.
However, it was hardly surprising when Blake, who is retiring after this season, stated, “I’m going to go out how I want to” — and picked the “old-school country” crooner, Grace (who’d been his last recruit of this season during the Blind Auditions). However, he did say, “You guys both deserve to be here,” so thankfully Kelly, who’d just praised Neil’s “captivating energy,” used her Steal. “I think [Neil is] sneakily one of the best singers in the competition,” Kelly said, vowing to assign this “so cute” showman a Billy Joel song in future episodes. I really hope she gives Neil something that can show off his outsized personality, like “Big Shot.” I think he actually has a real shot.
WINNER: Grace West / STOLEN: Neil Salsich moves to Team Kelly
TEAM NIALL: Jerome Goodwin III vs. Ross Clayton
Gospel/soul singer Jerome seemed to pick a winning song with the Lewis Capaldi weeper “Someone You Love,” and Reba was “fascinated” by the roundness of this skilled singer’s tone. However, the 20-year-old didn’t heed Reba’s advice to connect more to the song’s actual meaning. Onstage, Kelly observed that Jerome “seemed to have a wall up,” and Blake thought he seemed to “still be putting the song together” in his head.
Meanwhile, soft-rocker Ross did a song by a band I don’t recall ever getting the cover treatment on any singing show, Steely Dan. “Dirty Work” did mean a lot to Ross — he dedicated it to his late father, who was a fan — and this was obvious. And it made all the difference, resulting in a conversational yet connected performance. I’m glad Ross prevailed, because I’ve been a fan of this swaggy dude ever since he showed up at the Blinds looking like a ‘70s action movie/porn/rock star. He’s just a star, period.
WINNER: Ross Clayton
TEAM KELLY: Holly Brand vs. Rachel Christine
Pairing these two “powerful singers” in the hopes that they’d both “raise their A-game” during an especially competitive Knockout, Kelly created a true TV moment. Holly, doing the LeAnn Rimes version of Patsy Cline’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (one of the first songs she ever sang as a bluegrass-loving child), not only got to deliver “a different kind of moment than what I’ve been showing,” but also a wow-worthy a cappella intro, the “really cool party trick” of her previously secret yodel, and a “Minnie Riperton/Mariah” whistle note that nearly shattered the NBC soundstage’s light fixtures.
“Dark horse” Rachel then got “back on the radar” for the coaches, by doing a dramatic version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” inspired by her rock-frontwoman mother. As she channeled her mother’s “Stevie Nicks vibes,” this was a mom dedication that actually made sense, unlike Tiana's.
Holly seemed like the obvious victor here, but Rachel deserved credit for fighting her way back into the competition after being such an underdog all season. Kelly, who was a dark horse/underdog for much of her own American Idol season 20 years ago, even said that she related to Rachel. Kelly still picked Holly, but she was so overjoyed when Blake stole Rachel — “the last Steal of Blake’s Voice career,” host Carson Daly noted — that she ran over to Blake’s chair and hugged him. This was a surprise, since Rachel isn’t a country singer, but I am glad the Blake recognized Rachel’s raw talent.
WINNER: Holly Brand / STOLEN: Rachel Christine moves to Team Blake
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