Anything can happen on live, without-a-net television. And I theorize that it’s those unscripted moments — the ones that put the “real” in “reality TV” — that keep viewers tuning in to shows like The Voice after 17 seasons. One such moment happened on Monday’s top 13 Live Playoffs episode, when John Legend’s finalist Marybeth Byrd struggled to get through her teary performance. It was real, it was touching, and while I do not think she was pandering or strategizing at all, it likely secured her a place in the top 11.
Monday’s episode was dedication-themed, and Marybeth decided to honor her late grandfather with a heartfelt, and heart-breaking, performance of “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill. It was wise of her to go back to her signature country-folk sound, which she had disappointingly deviated from on last week’s top 20 show… but it was the personal story behind the song choice that made this Voice moment so special.
“This next performance is going to be challenging to get through,” Marybeth confessed. “The day before I flew out here, my grandpa passed away. I miss him every day. … I wouldn't be on The Voice if it wasn't for him showing me his love for music. … I can't think of a better way to honor his memory than to do what he wanted me to do since the day I was born. I know he has the best seat in the house for Monday.”
“I'm so proud of Marybeth for picking this song,” said John, as he encouraged her to power through her weepy rehearsal. “Some of those lyrics hit directly home. It's going to make it more powerful, but it’s also going to make it more of a challenge.” However, John advised her to “embrace the grief” and use those unavoidable, choked-up lapses effectively. “Marybeth is so poised. She has a real sense of who she is. she's not afraid of this moment.”
Marybeth definitely did her grandpa proud. She held it together for most of the performance, delivering a strong and unwavering vocal. At the very end, she crumbled, but the audience was with her, rooting for her — it reminded me of when Season 12’s Aliyah Moulden had a similar breakdown while dedicating Labrinth’s “Jealous” to her late father, which turned out to be one of the most magical and memorable moments of that season.
“I was just talking about that particular song today and what it meant to me through the memory of my dad, so I know how you feel trying to get through it,” said a sympathetic Blake Shelton. “I can't even listen to it sometimes, because it's so heartbreaking. Great job, sis.”
“We talked about how hard it was going to be to do this song, and what I told you then is what I'll tell you now,” said John. “You can share your grief with America, and they can see all the parts of you that make you who you are as a person, and who you become as a singer and musician. It's because of your grandfather in part, and America got to see all that. It was beautiful. What a wonderful performance.”
While Marybeth did what she had to do, vocally and emotionally, to advance to the next round, two singers will be going home Tuesday. Below, let’s assess the other 12 performances and make our predictions.
Joana Martinez (Team Gwen), “Get on Your Feet”
This was bit corny and dated, but it was a vivacious and confident performance, and a nice nod to the teen singer’s heritage. Joana riled up the audience and played the studio like it was an arena, though I do think all that moving around compromised her vocals in parts. For the most part, though, this was a fun, infectiously energetic way to kick off the episode. “I'm in shock,” admitted Gwen Stefani. “America, she really pulled this off. This is a very, very hard song to do. She's never been onstage and worked the stage like that; that's the first time she's ever done something like that. It's unbelievable. I don't think people at home know how hard it is to sing, dance, walk around, and get the crowd going.”
Ricky Duran (Team Blake), “You Are the Best Thing”
Ray LaMontagne’s twangy, skronky hit was a smart choice for this rock ‘n’ soul balladeer. There weren’t a whole lot of bells ‘n’ whistles to this performance, but it was polished and professional, and it felt classic, like something from The Ed Sullivan Show. I think it will play well with older voters. “Everything about the way you control the stage, the way you play, the way you perform, it feels like you were born to be there. You seem so natural in the place you belong,” said John.
Max Boyle (Team Kelly), “Unaware”
This song is in a super, super-high range, and I was concerned that Max would not be able to pull it off, as he sounded strained and really overdoing it in rehearsal. But Kelly advised him to judiciously choose his big moments, and he took that direction well. I was worried for nothing. “What a challenge you took up. It’s hard to do a song with that much falsetto, but you nailed those notes and you did it with power and charisma,” said John. “You have so much talent. You have the falsetto, you have the power of your chest voice, you have this intimacy you can't teach. It's such a gift. No one should really cover this song except for people like you that are superhuman. You did such a good job,” said Kelly.
Myracle Holloway Team Gwen), “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
Myracle somehow didn’t clinch the public vote last week, so she attempted to make a go-for-broke, go-big-or-go-home statement this week by covering the almighty Whitney Houston. But I am not sure if this did the trick. Myracle has proven herself in the past with emotive balladry, so a Whitney classic like “Saving All My Love for You” or “I Have Nothing” might have connected better with viewers than this. For the first time this season, Myracle delivered an imperfect vocal, and she seemed to lose steam by the end. Even Kelly noted it’s “a really hard song to sing,” just in terms of breath control, but thought Myracle did the job of a “champion.” I’m still rooting for Myracle… but she made need a miracle to not be in the bottom two this week.
Will Breman (Team Legend), “I Won’t Give Up”
I prefer this singer-songwriter in quirky mode, but that didn’t work for him last week (John had to save him), so doing this weepy dedication to his supportive mother will hopefully appeal to viewers who haven’t appreciated Will’s more eccentric covers. This was certainly a side of Will we have not seen, and he left everything he had on the stage. If this won’t save him, nothing will. “I gotta say, I was shocked last week to see you not be moved forward by America. I don't see that happening again this week,” assured Blake. “I wanted people to see you being more vulnerable. The passion, the emotion, the connection you showed to the song, it was really, really beautiful… that energy exuding from you was so powerful,” raved John.
Kat Hammock (Team Blake), “Danny Boy”
This pub-singalong staple was definitely an unexpected choice from the indie-pop singer. If this were The Voice Ireland, I’d say Kat was a shoo-in. But I found this dreary. The song draaaaaagged on, and Kat hit a bunch of clunker notes. This felt like a children’s recital number, not a top 13 Live Playoffs performance. I appreciated the sentiment (this too was a dedication to a grandfather), but this was a performance only a grandfather could love.
Katie Kadan (Team Legend), “I’m Going Down”
This. Was. A. Master. Class. If only Myracle Holloway has done something this. But even Myracle couldn’t have pulled off the miraculous show-woman-ship of a consummate entertainer like Katie. She owned the stage, and owned the night. I would buy a ticket to her Vegas show, or her one-woman Broadway show. Katie is a damn star. This was electrifying, and as host Carson Daly noted, there was “palpable excitement in the room tonight. That was something. That felt like the finale for a minute.” Said her proud coach: “That was the best performance we've seen this season by far. We have some amazingly good singers. Some amazingly good singers sang before you today. But we haven't seen anything better than that this season. That was incredible.”
Cali Wilson (Team Blake), “Butterflies”
I like Cali, but I still haven’t figured out what sort of artist she wants to be. I don’t know if she’s figured it out yet. But this is the direction she ought in go in. This breezy folksiness felt much more natural on her than last week’s Alannah Myles-esque bluesy wailing, and it was more modern too. This was a pleasant performance, and I probably would have enjoyed it even more if it hadn’t followed Katie’s focus-pulling tour de force. Said Blake, “Now that we've heard several different performances from you, that's your lane. It's that thing where you can play with your falsetto and then your full voice. When your full voice comes in like it did on the last chorus, it's shockingly powerful.”
Shane Q (Team Kelly), “My Wish”
Shane is just too old-fashioned for me. Everything, from his song choices to his delivery to even his styling, seems so American Idol Season 1. But hey, maybe that’s why Kelly likes him. There’s no doubt that the man is a proficient technician (Kelly said he’s the best vocalist of this Voice season, though some wonky notes at the end of this performance refuted that notion), but I can’t imagine ever buying an album or downloading a single by Shane. He will probably be safe this week, but eventually, safe just won’t cut it.
Hello Sunday (Team Kelly), “Mamma Knows Best”
The little girls once again chose a big, big song. No one can accuse them of being unambitious or lacking in confidence! They were a mess last week and in my opinion should not that won the Instant Save, but this week they got back on track with a fun and sassy performance that tapped into their lovable personalities and easy chemistry, and allowed the 14-year-olds to adorably work the stage. And, aside from a few imperfect notes, they handled the Jessie J vocal surprisingly well — no easy feat. “You two have always been so impressive, so creative, and so fun to watch, but I think you being on the brink of going home, something about it pushed you. This was far and away your best performance,” said John.
Jake Hoot (Team Kelly), “Danny’s Song”
Jake is the only straight-up country singer left this season, and shockingly, he isn’t on Team Blake. His genre alone might be enough to get Kelly back to the winner’s circle. But while this confident and controlled performance was a big improvement over last week and was sweetly dedicated to his cute daughter in the audience (which had Kelly “bawling”), it was still largely unremarkable. Generic country crooner like Jake compete every season, and while they sometimes make it to the finale, they rarely actually win.
Rose Short (Team Gwen), “I Turn to You”
Rose is the diva of Season 17, and though I wish she’s gone with a riskier song — last week’s Janet Jackson cover was pure fire, and much cooler — I couldn’t fault a single note of this. Her vocals were at a J.Hud Productions level (or Xtina level), and she even took some liberties with the adlibs to make the overdone song her own. This show is called THE VOICE, and that is what Rose is. She represents what this show is supposed to be all about.
So now, it is prediction time. I predict the bottom three that will sing for the Instant Save are Myracle, Kat, and Will, though Max (because of the relatively obscure song choice) and Shane could also be in trouble. Regardless, of those five, Myracle and Shane seem like the ones with the best chance of singing the sort of save-me song that will, well, actually save them from elimination. See you then.
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