Absolutely fabulous showman Colton Smith has been one of this season’s most dynamite contestants (his wardrobe choices alone -- from flowing Mrs. Roper caftans to Pepto-pink Nick Rhodes tuxedos -- have made him must-see TV). So the LaBelle soul/disco classic "Lady Marmalade" seemed like a perfect fit for what Colton’s coach, Blake Shelton, called his “swing for the fences” style. But unfortunately, during Monday's Knockout Rounds, Colton swung and missed.
Sure, Colton brought energy and sass to the stage, playing to coaches so well that he even had Kelly Clarkson up out of her red chair and boogie-ing in earnest. But then he lost his way, unable to hear himself. It wasn't clear if this had anything to do with the hearing issues he’s struggled with since childhood. But whatever the situation, he handled it like a champ. However, by the song’s end, he was distractedly yanking out his in-ears, seeming defeated -- and it looked like he'd be going home, his hopes of being an actual Voice champ dashed.
To be honest, Colton’s Team Blake Knockout Rounds opponent, elegant country crooner Kirk Jay, probably could have won this round under any circumstances. His pitch-perfect, velvety vocals positively soared during his heartfelt piano performance of Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know” (inspired by a recent breakup); Adam Levine later called Kirk a “unicorn” and even predicted he’d be in the finale. But interestingly, all of the coaches focused on pep-talking poor Colton rather than praising frontrunner Kirk.
“Even through that storm that you were in, trying to hear yourself, you really were a standout human,” Kelly assured Colton. “We saw you struggling, but even after that, when you were watching Kirk, you got lost in the song and you were singing, going above and beyond to not let it bother you after it was over. It was inspirational, and it was really, really noteworthy,” said Adam. “Even though there were the moments where I could tell, ‘He can't figure out where the center pitch is’… you held it together. I want you to know how much confidence I have in you,” said Blake. And Jennifer -- who’d been Colton’s original coach, before Blake stole him during the Battle Rounds -- said, “It may have been difficult to watch Kirk perform after you had difficulties in your performance, but my friend, you were still a professional. So if I were you, I wouldn't count myself out just yet.”
Blake of course picked Kirk… but then, the sympathetic Jennifer stole back Colton. “I never wanted to let you go to begin with. Your journey has never really been easy here, but nobody's journey is ever easy. Nothing is ever a walk in the park, and you don't always have to be perfect,” she said. She later explained to host Carson Daly, “Even when he had struggles while he was performing, that passion shined through. That's a performer. And he deserves to be here. Handled it like a pro.”
I’m not entirely sure if Colton deserved to stay, considering that my favorite contestant of the whole season went home Monday (read on for more on that). But Colton is unique, fearless, and entertaining -- so I suppose we need him, since this season is shaping up to be the dullest in Voice history. I'll be rooting for Colton in the Live Playoffs, which commence next week. Here's who else will be joining him:
Team Kelly: Chevel Shepherd vs. Sarah Grace
Despite Chevel’s personal fondness for her song, the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” (her brother is in the military), I felt a disconnect between her and the lyrics. This was a bit school-pageanty. However, Chevel is young and sheltered, only 16, and she showed tons of potential. What she lacked in life experience and true grit she made up for with her pure, pretty tone.
Sarah went for the grit and the gusto with Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a big song for such a little girl. (Sarah is 15!) The X Factor USA Season 1’s precocious preteen Rachel Crow proved years ago that a youngster can dig into this bluesy, blustery breakup ballad like this -- but Sarah’s performance was emotionally flat.
However, Kelly saw enough potential in both girls -- choosing Chevel, but using her Save on Sarah. Song selection will be key for both contestants moving forward.
Winner: Chevel / Saved: Sarah
Team Adam: DeAndre Nico vs. Jake Wells
Well, this sucks. I’ll just cut to the chase: Jake, the most interesting contestant of an otherwise uninteresting Season 15, went home Monday. True, his cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” may have been imperfect; it was an ambitious choice, with a lot of idiosyncratic Chris Martin high notes that Jake couldn’t quite reach. But the piano-playing, gospel-influenced singer-songwriter -- a sort Damien Rice-meets-Miguel type (who was once described as “Brad Pitt meets Kurt Cobain”) -- still brought something special to the competition.
DeAndre’s R&B-ified rendition of Hunter Hayes’s “Wanted” was interesting in its own way, and his vocal was technically far superior to Jake’s. But DeAndre’s performance was old-fashioned, very American Idol Season 3, so I still think Adam made a mistake here. Jake is an artist, and he could’ve been this season’s Hunter Plake. I wish this Knockout could’ve ended with a Steal or Save.
Team J.Hud: Anthony Arya vs. Kennedy Holmes
Every season has a singer-songwriter hippie kid born in the wrong decade. And this season, that kid is 15-year-old Anthony. His laid-back, granola-crunchy guitar cover of Jim Croce’s “Operator” could not have been more opposite from 13-year-old theater kid Kennedy’s professional performance of P!nk’s “What About Us,” which Jennifer worried was “almost too polished” and not vulnerable enough.
Musically, Anthony was more in line with my personal taste, but the low-key Croce tune didn’t allow him to stand out or showcase any range, and he didn’t have the urgency or raw passion of, say, Season 8 winner Sawyer Fredericks. It didn’t take much for Kennedy to blow him out of the ring with her mighty pipes and anthemic song choice. However, in future performances, I’d like to see Kennedy get out of her head and let loose.
Team Adam: Delaney Silvernell vs. Steve Memmolo
Delaney definitely swung for the fences with Kesha’s "Praying." And she didn’t miss. This is a big song that requires a big voice and a big attitude, and she came out of nowhere and delivered. Conversely, wedding band singer/Ben Affleck lookalike Steve’s performance of Allen Stone’s overdone singing-show staple “Unaware” was competent, but hardly compelling. I don’t understand why Adam picked Steve, unless he thinks Steve’s heartthrob image will be enough to get votes.
Team Blake: Chris Kroeze vs. Michael Lee
Blake was already saying during rehearsals that he wanted to use his remaining Save on either Chris or Michael, so this was no cliffhanger. I couldn’t blame Blake, however. Chris’s own arrangement of Cam’s "Burning House" was gorgeous, and his raspy delivery was raw and vulnerable. Then Michael brought the raucous, butt-kicking Bo Bice vibes on “Whipping Post.” Both contestants proved themselves Playoffs-worthy. Blake jokingly flipped a coin to choose between the two, but we all knew these guys weren’t going anywhere. (Side note: If I’d been force to choose, I would’ve gone with Chris.)
Winner: Michael / Saved: Chris
Team Kelsea: Lynnea Moorer vs. Wyatt Rivers vs. Ayanna Joni
Don’t forget about the Island of Misfit Toys! That’s what I call the forgotten fifth team of rejected contestants, coached by Kelsea Ballerini. I’m not sure it’s fair that in a season when people like Jake Wells and Delaney Silvernell have gone home early, two singers whose Voice journeys haven’t even been televised will advance to the Live Playoffs -- and I don’t think those contestants have much chance of getting votes next week. But for what it’s worth, those two contestants are Lynnea (“In My Blood”) and Ayanna (“I Put a Spell on You”). Wyatt, we hardly knew ye.
Winners: Lynnea, Ayanna
Come back Monday for the Live Playoffs, when hopefully everyone -- including Colton Smith -- will bring their A-game.