And then there were 12. In Night 2 of The Voice’s Live Playoffs Tuesday, viewers, along with coaches Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine, took a break from playing Chris Blue’s sublime “Love On the Brain” cover on a loop — or is that only me? — to send packing another six contestants, and at long last, reveal which singers would be competing as Season 12’s Top 12. Who scored, and who bored? Read on…
Brennley Brown, “Fly” — Grade: A (saved by America’s vote) | “You’re my only girl — you’ve gotta go big!” Gwen told her lone female singer in rehearsal. And damn, did Brennley ever listen. Her performance of the Maddie & Tae hit was gorgeous and emotional, and built to a crescendo that they had to have heard on Mars. Even former coach Blake had to admit that he’d made a mistake dropping her.
Johnny Gates, “Hands to Myself” — Grade: B+ (eliminated) | Adding his familiar rasp to the Selena Gomez hit, Gwen’s eminently likable comeback artist made the song sound even naughtier (which I mean as a positive — duh). By the time he was done reminding us how raucous polished could sound, he’d made a pretty compelling case for why he shouldn’t have been eliminated in the first place. Was it staggering? No. (The song didn’t really allow for that.) But was it rock-solid? Hell, yeah.
Troy Ramey, “A Case of You” — Grade: B+ (saved by Gwen) | Delighted that his coach had chosen for him the Joni Mitchell classic — his late dad had been a fan — the indie-soul singer gave a lovely, introspective performance and even got over his nervousness to break out his falsetto (which was spot-on). This was probably the best we’ve heard from him and kinda brought to mind the understated charm that has taken Lauren Duski so far. Good stuff — thoughtful, vulnerable, memorable.
Quizz Swanigan, “My Girl” — Grade: A- (eliminated) | The eighth-grader was served pretty much the ideal song for him in The Temptations smash, and he returned a rendition that was so sweetly soulful — and so confident to boot — that it felt downright timeless. I know, I know — haters gonna hate. But the kid has charisma to spare, and while his voice can’t compare to, say, Chris Blue’s — Chris is from another planet vocally — Quizz. Slayed. This.
JChosen, “Nothing Compares 2 U” — Grade: C (eliminated) | Sheesh — Gwen definitely gave J a challenge when she assigned him the killer Prince ballad (most famously performed by Sinead O’Connor, least famously by the fab Family). And his version certainly had a lot of heart. But it wasn’t going to stand the test of time, and I doubted it was going to usher him into the Top 12.
Hunter Plake, “Elastic Heart” — Grade: A (saved by America’s vote) | The first Voice artist to hit the Top 30 on iTunes twice before the Live Playoffs, Hunter utterly owned Sia’s smash, taking it from whispery-soft to howlingly loud. It didn’t hurt that, whether it was just detachment, reserve or nerves, he also exuded cool. Gwen called his performance “unbelievable,” but having heard him before, I didn’t just believe he’d be that good, I kinda expected it. A real contender.
Johnny Hayes, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” — Grade: B+ (eliminated) | Adam’s comeback artist — having auditioned twice, only to finally make it onto the show, get cut and return to the contest — left it all on the stage in his last chance, adding fancy footwork to his vocal fireworks. Unfortunately, the song — is it just me? — didn’t seem to afford him the opportunity to really let loose the way we know he can. So really, this B+ is more for the song than Johnny — he needed a tune on which he could go wilder.
Hanna Eyre, “Skyscraper” — Grade: D (eliminated) | The self-described wannabe R&B/pop artist sounded iffy right out of the gate — not an auspicious beginning (especially since we knew she could deliver). From there, jeepers — she sure tried hard. But it came off a whole lot more yelly than singy. Adam called the teen “the sweetest human being,” and maybe she is. Nonetheless, this was a train wreck.
Josh West, “More Than a Feeling” — Grade: D- (eliminated) | Adam said in rehearsal that Josh had a classic-rock voice, but I’m not sure that even this Boston gem would have become a classic if Josh had sung the original. He was off — and we’re talking way off — before he even got to the first chorus, and great hair-band hair does not a better singer make. Suddenly, Hanna’s performance was sounding a whole lot better by comparison.
Mark Isaiah, “All Time Low” — Grade: B- (saved by Adam) | Adam’s would-be teen idol looked the part but fell a little flat on the initial choruses. His coach wanted to go with the Jon Bellion song to keep his artist from coming off predictable, but the downside of this selection was that it didn’t give Mark — who can sing — a chance to show off. Even Adam seemed to realize it, pleading for votes as if he knew he’d screwed up.
Lilli Passero, “It’s Too Late” — Grade: B (saved by America’s vote) | Ah — the Carole King classic seemed like the perfect choice for Lilli in rehearsals. And on stage, eh… it seemed surprisingly less ideal. Lilli sounded mostly solid, but this wasn’t the kind of star-making performance that I always expect from her. She didn’t sound like the “world-class singer” Adam called her (and that I think of her as), and all of a sudden seemed like somebody Chris Blue or Brennley Brown could defeat a whole lot more easily.
Jesse Larson, “Sir Duke” — Grade: B- (saved by America’s vote) | Psyched to get to do a song by his idol, Stevie Wonder, Jesse looked like he was having a blast, and his guitar-playing was, as far as I could tell, on point. (Truth be told, I can barely play a CD player — what do I know, right?) But the overall impression Jesse left was that he was kinda like your funky uncle having a good time at your family reunion. Fun but not exactly earth-shattering.
So, who did you think gave the night’s best and worst performances? Biggest surprise? Disappointment? Hit the comments.
Launch Gallery: <i>The Voice</i>: The 10 Singers Likeliest to Win Season 12