After Adam Levine and Usher's teams competed Monday night in the first Live Playoffs episode of "The Voice" Season 4, on Tuesday it was time for Blake Shelton and Shakira's contestants to give it a go. The episode started off oddly, when Blake took his all-country team to a karaoke club to rehearse, which wasn't exactly the best way to change public belief that all singing shows are basically glorified karaoke. But hey, who wouldn't want to hang out with Blake Shelton at a karaoke bar? That sure sounds like an awesome night out to me.
Once the contestants from both teams finally got onstage to compete, some of them actually were pretty awesome, while a couple really did seem like run-of-the-mill singers one might see at the local karaoke hut on any given Tuesday. Here's how the eight hopefuls comprising Team Blake and Team Shakira fared:
Garrett Gardner - On Monday, Shakira had scolded Usher for "setting the bar too high" for one of his contestants (when he assigned Cathia a Whitney Houston song). But then here she was, less than 24 hours later, making Garrett sing a beloved peace 'n' love anthem by a revered dead Beatle! Garrett certainly had his work cut out for him doing John Lennon's "Imagine," because if he messed this one up, it'd be total blasphemy. (As Adam put it: "It's one of my favorite songs, but it's one of my least favorite songs for other people to do.") Overall, I think Garrett, who admittedly isn't the strongest singer of the season, handled the situation pretty well. I appreciated the raspiness of his voice ("the beast that comes out," as Blake worded it), and how his vocals went from a whisper to a scream as the song built. It was also smart of Shakira to have him play piano--even if the technologically, visually, and/or verbally challenged Usher called it a "computer"--because if Garrett wants to differentiate himself in the competition, that's one way for him to do it. The other way is for him to keep rocking things up, because there really are no other rock 'n' roll males left on the show, unless you count Josiah Hawley (which I don't, really). This was hardly the best vocal of the night, but there's something special about Garrett (and, as Blake pointed out, he ain't bad-looking), so I think he'll definitely make the top 12.
Kris Thomas - When Kris first auditioned, everyone heard his high-pitched voice and mistook him for a chick. (Everyone except me, at least. I always thought Kris sounded like a dude.) So maybe Shakira was trying to help Kris re-establish his masculinity by having him sing Bruno Mars's "When I Was Your Man." At first this seemed like a great current song choice--as opposed to, say, the schlocky Phil Collins ballad that another young R&B singer, Vedo, was forced to sing the night before. But it soon became apparent that "When I Was Your Man" was absolutely the wrong song for Kris's voice. He was pushing way too hard, and the result was jarring and at times unpleasant to the ear. And though I admired how much he dug into the song emotionally, unfortunately all that chest-beating and show-boating came at the expense of his vocals. It was all passion, with little control. Adam told him, "You were no nervous. I felt the tension a little bit." Shakira praised Kris, but most of her compliments seemed to be about how he's this nice, upstanding young man with a heart of gold, as opposed to him being a great singer. "I can't help it; I like the good guys to win," she shrugged. That's a nice sentiment, but I just don't think this good guy is good enough to win "The Voice." We'll see.
Karina Iglesias - Karina has branded herself as this season's token rocker chick, but last week, Shakira said she thought the rock genre was too limiting. So this Tuesday, instead of giving Karina some Pat Benatar or Heart, Shakira nudged Karina out of her rock box and had her do…some Al Green. "Let's Stay Together" could have been a disaster for Karina, but hey, rock 'n' soul singer Tina Turner once covered it, and Karina channeled a teeny bit of Tina with her own version. She completely pulled it off, and suddenly Shakira seemed very wise for selecting this song. And you know who didn't seem so wise? Adam, who was Karina's original coach before he sacrificed her to Team Shakira in the Battle Rounds. True, he chose frontrunner/golden child Judith Hill over Karina back then, which was somewhat understandable…but he should have never pitted Judith and Karina against each other in the first place, and he admitted the error of his ways this Tuesday. "You were not stolen from me; I foolishly gave you up," he sighed, as Blake rubbed it in and laughed at him. I think Shakira could really have the last laugh here, though. Karina might go farther than Adam or anyone else ever expected.
Sasha Allen - Adam was feeling even more embarrassed when Sasha, another contestant Shakira poached from him in the Battles, absolutely slayed the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." ("Ha ha ha! ADAM GAVE HER UP!" cackled Blake.) This was the performance of the night: classy, sexy, fiery…just pure diva power. Judith actually ought to be scared of Sasha, because over the past two weeks, Sasha has been stealing the show…and stealing a bit of Judith's thunder in the process. Like fellow pro Judith, Sasha--a former backup singer for multiple superstars, including "Voice" coaches Usher and Christina Aguilera, if Wikipedia is to be believed--knows how to combine technical skill with emotional grit. (Not an easy thing to do, as the above-mentioned Kris Thomas proved.) And that makes Sasha a real force to be reckoned with. "I feel we are in front of one of those moments we all signed up for. You have one of the best voices I have ever heard--not just on this show, but in my life," raved proud coach Shakira. "Everybody who just saw that fell in love with you," said Blake. I think those people who fell in love with Sasha are going to vote for her in droves.
Holly Tucker - During rehearsal, Holly whined self-pityingly to Blake about how she's "not a model/Barbie" type, so she never thought she could make it as a singing star. It seemed like she was fishing for compliments (at least that's how the show's edit made it seem), but she didn't need to do that. Besides being a perfectly attractive girl that country fans would readily accept, she clearly has talent and a massive voice. I just wish she'd been able to channel the tiniest bit of the anguish she expressed during that insecure rehearsal conversation into her performance of "How Do I Live." The broken-hearted breakup ballad is supposed to be about someone who literally thinks she will die if she loses her one true love, but Holly's performance was just dead--totally devoid of passion or pain. I was impressed with her ability to hit the high notes, but other than that, I didn't feel much at all. The judges all claimed to love this, but I think a flat performance like this will get lost in the shuffle, and voters will forget about Holly.
The Swon Brothers - The Swons may be not doing anything country fans haven't seen or heard before, but I have a feeling country fans will still adore these guys and want to see and hear more. They're fun, they throw a big ole party every time they hit the stage, and they have the confidence of a couple of hat-act pros who've already played a few CMA and ACM telecasts (and have maybe won a few CMA and ACM trophies). Basically, a "Swoncert" is always a guaranteed good time. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's down-home knee-slapper "Fishin' in the Dark"--a song that Adam and Usher hadn't heard before, but that most core country fans love--was an inspired song choice for these boys. "Holy crap, those guys just did 'Fishin' in the Dark' on the freakin' 'Voice,' man!" hollered a very excited Blake. As Adam put it, this was "soooooo Blake"--which means all the country diehards who tune in to "The Voice" just to watch their main man Shelton will totally be Team Swon.
Justin Rivers - Okay, so this is the contestant that Blake picked in the Knockout Rounds over the divine Savannah Berry? That decision last week boggled my brain, and after watching Justin do Diamond Rio's "Meet in the Middle," I still have no further clarity on this matter. Blake claimed Justin could be "one of those dark horses people didn't see coming," but…I just don't see it. This performance was beyond generic--not terrible, but not at all memorable. With all the country talent on this show, I'd like to think/hope that country-loving voters out there will throw their support towards any of Blake's other team members. Will Justin get the votes just because, frankly, he's a good-looking all-American boy from the South? That's probably what would happen if this were "American Idol," but "The Voice" is a different show, so we'll see.
Danielle Bradbery - Danielle, at age 16, is the youngest contestant on "The Voice" Season 4, and also the least experienced. She claims she'd never performed for anyone before going on the show, which is VERY hard to believe given her natural onstage poise. The older and more seasoned contestants, even the ones who've performed with Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys or have had past record deals, should be very afraid of this pint-sized powerhouse. Danielle just has that thing. She's as comfortable onstage as good-time guys the Swon Brothers, as poised as Sasha, and as country-cute as Holly. She's a star in the making. Her cover of Pam Tillis's "Maybe It Was Memphis" was exquisite, and all four judges were floored. Shakira borrowed one of Blake's popular catchphrases and declared, "Holy crap!" Adam told Danielle, "You're coming along so quickly, you terrify me!" Usher said, "This is definitely the beginning of a very long career." Blake even called her "one of the most important artists who's ever been on 'The Voice.'" I don't know about that, but I do think Danielle is the total package, and I do think she's Blake best bet at a third consecutive "Voice" victory.
So now, it is prediction time. On Wednesday's special results show, all four teams will be whittled down to three members each: two voted through by America, and one saved by each coach. For Shakira's team, I think Sasha and Garrett will be the top two, and then I am hoping that Shakira will choose Karina for her third contestant…but she has such an obvious soft spot for Kris, it's possible that she will save him instead. As for Team Blake, I think Danielle and the fun-loving Swon Brothers (one of only two duos to make it to the Live Playoffs in "Voice" history) will be the top vote-getters; Blake will hopefully save Holly, who deserves another shot, over Justin as his pick.
Tune in Wednesday to find out if I'm right! See you then.