Well, my fellow American citizens, we all know that we have a very contentious, very controversial voting situation on our hands this historical week.
I am, of course, referring to The Voice Season 11’s top 20 Live Playoffs. What did you think I meant?
In all seriousness, though, the all-important first public vote of this Voice season took place Monday, in one unprecedented whirlwind episode — presumably because viewers would be too preoccupied with a certain other important public vote to tune in for a regularly scheduled Voice results show on Tuesday night. So NBC tried something new: real-time voting, real-time results, and 20 contestants whittled down to 12 (two singers per team chosen by America — or at least the East Coast of America, or Americans savvy/invested enough to download the show’s voting app — and one saved by each coach), all in less time than it takes to rip off a hanging chad.
My name is Lyndsey Parker, and I don’t approve this message. Um, I mean I don’t approve of this format. I admit that it was breathlessly exciting — actual appointment television in an age of Netflix and DVRs — and filler-free, without even any coach critiques. And while I’m often hard on Carson Daly, I will note tonight that he demonstrated a Ryan Seacrest level of competence and professionalism, keeping everything running smoothly. But the show was still rushed and messy, and it put West Coast viewers (or more specifically, contestants with predominantly West Coast fanbases) at a severe disadvantage.
“This is happening too fast! I can’t wrap my head around this… This literally sucks so bad,” Blake Shelton proclaimed at one point in the show, speaking for all of America (and Amurica). But, what’s done is done. There will be no recount. So let’s just get to the recap, because we have a lot of performances to cover.
Christian Cuevas, “Yesterday”
Christian’s sweet, simple version of the Beatles’ classic — just him on a stool with an acoustic guitar — was a surprisingly low-key kickoff to what was supposed to be an explosive live TV spectacle. It was a sort of the quiet before the storm. Yes, it was a nice, tasteful version, with his unadorned voice front and center — but would it be enough?
Kylie Rothfield, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
At first I was excited about Kylie’s Stones song choice, because her bluesy “Hound Dog” cover had been so badass. But this time, I didn’t get total satisfaction from Kylie. She got off to a shaky start, and while I still saw the fire in her eyes, I could hear the frog in her throat. I think the fast pace of this new format threw her off, and she never quite recovered.
Wé McDonald, “Home” (from The Wiz)
This was a brilliant song choice. There’s been renewed appreciation for this ballad since The Wiz Live! — and Wé would have made a great Dorothy, come to think of it. This wasn’t the best vocal I’ve heard from her — a few of her notes veered on sharpness — but she was incredibly confident, working the stage and camera confidently and naturally. She was a little Wiz kid, and she brought it on “Home.”
Josh Halverson, “Cupid”
I give Josh a lot of credit for making Sam Cooke’s doo-woppy classic his own, turning it into some growly Phillip Phillips jam. Those diction issues, though! Still so distracting. He looked and sounded like he’d just woken up, and I kept wondering if he’d forgotten the words. I think he had the potential to be one of this season’s most interesting contestants, giving the sort of performances I might actually download and listen to in real life, but this was too amateurish to stand out on such a busy night.
Sa’Rayah, “I’d Rather Go Blind”
Anyone who covers this Etta James classic on any singing show ain’t playin’. They come to win. And that’s what Sa’Rayah did. This was pure dynamite. This was Mary J. Blige-at-the-BETs, Jennifer Hudson-at-the-Grammys realness. The only thing stankier than Sa’Rayah’s stankface was Alicia Keys’s stankface. Alicia looked genuinely shocked and utterly thrilled, watching this.
So my top three were Wé, Kylie (mostly based on past performances, admittedly), and Sa’Rayah. But that’s now exactly how it turned out. And just like that, two of the cooler, more indie-leaning contestants of the season were gone. Poof. I do understand why the Team Alicia vote went the way it did. But I wonder if Kylie and Josh would have done better under normal, less insane Playoffs circumstances.
WINNERS: Christian and Wé voted through by America; Sa’Rayah saved by Alicia
Dana Harper, “Maneater”
Oh-whoa here she comes, ruining my favorite Hall & Oates song. The woman was not wild, ooooh. I wish Blake had told her, “I wouldn’t if I were you,” when he found out Dana planned to turn H&O’s sassy new wave classic into some bland dinner-theater ballad. OK, is that enough Hall & Oates puns for you? I’m just trying to find the humor in this dreary, tepid, totally un-fun performance.
Austin Allsup, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”
Austin is such a pro. This was an Opry-worthy rendition of Waylon Jennings’s outlaw-country classic. I felt like this was some lost footage from this past Wednesday’s CMA Awards. Maybe we’ll see Austin at the CMAs one day. I think he has what it take to win.
Jason Warrior, “One Dance”
Jason was a revelation this week. I had no idea he had this him. Doing one of the few really contemporary songs of the night — which was very smart of him — he totally embodied his surname. After going through two Steals and three coaches before the Playoffs even began, he must’ve known he was at risk, but he wasn’t going home without a fight. So he gave it his all. He bent his back. He dropped to his knees. He sang his face off. He got all up in coaches’ faces, and sang their faces off, too. He gave one of the greatest performances of the night, and proved he deserved to still be in the competition — and in the top 12.
Sundance Head, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
You know, when Austin Allsup, is at the CMAs one day, he very well may be competing again against Sundance. The onetime American Idol contestant was giving me some Chris Stapleton realness on this retro Keith Urban tune, and as much as I’d enjoyed Austin’s performance, I actually liked Sundance’s true grit even more. If only one country act could go forward on Team Blake, I’d pick Sundance. (Oh, but come on, who am I kidding here? Since when has there ever been a dearth of country contestants on Blake’s team?)
Courtney Harrell, “It Must Have Been Love”
I love me some Roxette and the Pretty Woman soundtrack in general, but this wasn’t so pretty. Courtney looked pretty, sort of channeling Solange’s ethereal vibes from this past weekend’s SNL, but her usually powerful and booming vocals were so quaky, shaky, and thin tonight. The whole performance felt unfocused and awkward. Courtney is so talented, and was so fantastic in the Knockouts, but this song choice was a mistake. When she sang, “It’s over now,” it seemed all too prophetic.
My top three for this round were Jason, Austin, and Sundance. America, of course, had no problem with two country singers being on the same team, and voted for the latter two. But what Blake did next had me wondering if he’d been spiking his ever-present Starbucks coffee cup again. How could he not choose Jason, after that phenomenal “One Dance” tour de force? Was it just down to loyalty, since Jason had only been on Blake’s team for about five minutes? Blake was right earlier: This really sucks.
WINNERS: Sundance and Austin voted through by America; Courtney saved by Blake
Sophia Urista, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”
I thought this song choice would be a disaster. It wasn’t! It was actually awesome. Pure glamour. Sophia looked like a Prince protégé in her spangled disco onesie and fierce asymmetrical hair, and she walked onto the stage like Diana Ross sashaying into Studio 54. The woman seriously needed a velvet rope draped across the front of the stage. The Rod Stewart song really suited her sultry, androgynous rasp, too. Yes, Sophia, I do think you are sexy! And I hoped America would think so too.
Darby Walker, “Those Were the Days”
I appreciated the leftfield song choice by 1960s Beatles associate Mary Hopkins, but I felt the same way about this performance as I did about Darby’s Battle Rounds rendition of “Brand New Key”: It was affected, self-consciously precious, actress-y, and just too hippie-dippie. Everything about this, from the ‘90s Drew Barrymore stick-on flowers in her hair to her fake-Florence-Welch vocal gimmicks, annoyed me. I usually adore quirky girls on The Voice, but sometimes the quirk just doesn’t work.
Aaron Gibson, “‘Round Here”
Aaron’s stoic charms and quiet strength on this show have intrigued and drawn me in, whether he’s covering R.E.M. or providing the foil for Sa’Rayah’s theatrics in the Battles. But this Counting Crows cover was a little too on the nose. There wasn’t anything very creative about it. It wasn’t a go-for-broke performance, and for me, it got lost in the shuffle. (Spoiler alert: America disagreed with me.)
Belle Jewel, “Runaway”
No, Belle didn’t do the Bruno Mars song. Or the Bon Jovi song. She did Del Shannon, y’all, and she made it cool. To be honest, I preferred her performance before she sped up the song, when it was all slow and smoky and torchy, like something out of a David Lynch movie. Belle was like a modern-day Lesley Gore, with little bits of all my favorite TV talent show quirky girls of the past: Siobhan Magnus, Melanie Martinez, Joey Cook. I feared America wouldn’t get Belle and wouldn’t give her the votes, but hoped Miley Cyrus would see her as a kindred spirit and keep her around.
Ali Caldwell, “Times Have Changed”
Ali has been a frontrunner since the Blinds, and she didn’t lose that status with this Irma Thomas barnstormer. She was a bit old-fashioned, yes, but still sexy and sassy — and slaying. Ali’s professional experience showed as she delivered one of the standout performances of the night.
My top three were Sophia, Belle, and Ali, but I knew only one of them — Ali, duh — was a lock. What surprised me was the fact that Aaron got through on America’s vote with a snoozy, soundalike performance. I suppose I should never underestimate the power of a dyed-in-the-plaid WGWG. I also underestimated Miley, sadly. She could taken a risk — and this is a girl who usually loves to take risks, mind you — and gone with an outlier like Sophia or Belle. But instead she went with the “mini-me” who got all that pre-Olympics preview screentime, Darby. I think Miley took a wrecking ball to her team with this decision.
WINNERS: Aaron and Ali voted through by America; Darby saved by Miley
Brendan Fletcher, “To Love Somebody”
I questioned Adam Levine’s decision to save Brendan over presumed frontrunner Nolan Neal in the Knockouts last week, but now I am so glad he did. If he hadn’t, we would not have witnessed Brendan’s lovely Bee Gees cover tonight. What a heartfelt, honest, organic performance — the perfect song paired with the perfect singer. Brendan just might be the dark horse of Season 11.
Simone Gundy, “Diamonds”
I steadfastly believe that this Rihanna song should have been retired from all singing shows after La’Porsha Renae slayed it on the final season of American Idol. I almost think Rihanna should retire it from her own setlist — that’s how iconic La’Porsha’s version was. Simone did a solid job with this, but it was not at a La’Porsha level. This felt anti-climactic to me.
Josh Gallagher, “Colder Weather”
Once again, Josh gave a competent but not particularly thrilling or original performance (of a predictable Zac Brown Band song). Season 11 already had Austin Allsup and Sundance Head, two more interesting male country singers who bring more to the table. Do we really need Josh, too? (Spoiler alert: America apparently thinks we do.)
Riley Elmore, “Luck Be a Lady”
I keep waiting for Riley the teen crooner to Bublé-ify or Sinatra-ify a modern song. But instead he just sings, well, Bublé and Sinatra songs. At age 16, he’s probably just to young and green to get that creative; he’s still figuring out his artistry. Anyway, Riley started off strong when he was seated, but got thrown off when he walked through the audience. He didn’t have any swagger — more like stagger, amirite? I never understood Adam’s fascination with this kid. Riley isn’t as revolutionary and original as Adam insists.
Billy Gilman, “Crying”
And bringing it all home in the pimp spot was this season’s golden boy/comeback kid. The Roy Orbison weeper was the perfect song choice for Billy, hitting the sweet spot between his country background and his pop aspirations, because let’s face it, Billy will never totally get the Nashville twang out of his country-trained voice. Billy didn’t quite go for the high notes at first, holding back in the chorus, but the a cappella intro was a wowing, and he had a glorious big finish that all but ensured his placement in the top 12. (Spoiler alert: He made the top 12.)
My top three were Billy, Brendan, and by process of elimination, Simone. Billy was a lock, but then Josh the bro-country dude got through. I assumed Adam would save Riley, so it was a pleasant surprise when he went with Brendan instead. I think Adam made the right decision. Riley was not ready for prime time.
WINNERS: Billy and Josh voted through by America; Brendan saved by Adam
So there you have it. There were some disappointments on Monday’s show, but we all have more important things to worry about and other things to vote for this week, so let’s move on. There will be no results show on Tuesday, but I’m sure you’ll all be glued to your TV sets nonetheless. I’ll see you guys next Monday, when The Voice resumes its usual two-night schedule and Garth Brooks mentors the top 12.