Monday’s Knockout Rounds on The Voice Season 12 featured several sad and/or shocking eliminations, including Felicia Temple (aka “Felicia Keys”), Johnny Hayes, and Johnny Gates, all of whom were Steal-worthy. So when Tuesday’s Knockouts commenced and host Carson Daly teased in his usual scream-y, spoiler-y manner that one lucky contestant would be stolen in a crazy last-minute twist (“WEEEEE’VE GOT A STEEEEAAAAAL!!!!”), I was more than ready for some must-see TV. Whoever could it be?
Granted, this much-hyped Steal was dramatic and climactic. Blake Shelton waited so long to whack his red button, the rejected contestant was practically halfway offstage and boarding a Universal Studios shuttle to the parking lot before she received her surprising reprieve. This made for good television in the short-term. But in the long-term? Not so much. This contestant was hardly more deserving of the Steal than some of the aforementioned singers we’ve already seen take that shuttle ride of shame — singers that, frankly, would have been better additions to the upcoming Live Playoffs lineup.
Let’s get right to it…
TEAM GWEN: Aaliyah Rose vs. Brennley Brown
Fourteen-year-old YouTube star Aaliyah got her first pre-Voice break when one of her Meghan Trainor covers received an endorsement from Ms. Trainor herself. Meghan also sent Aaliyah a good-luck video message when she tried out for The Voice. That’s why I think Meghan’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” was too safe and obvious a choice for Aaliyah’s Knockout performance. Come on, even professional Michael Jackson impersonator Quizz Swanigan, who initially auditioned with a Jackson 5 song, has branched out since then with Nick Jonas and Sia covers! But anyway, I think Aaliyah should stick with cutesy Meghan ditties like “All About That Bass” and “Lips Are Movin’,” because the more soulful and midtempo “Like I’m Going to Lose You” (originally recorded as an adult contemporary-leaning duet with John Legend) was way too big and mature for this pageant girl. Her lips were movin’, but I was not moved. Aaliyah’s performance felt very American Juniors to me.
But then there was 15-year-old Brennley, aka Danielle Bradbery 2.0. Or maybe 3.0. This girl is evolved, y’all. She is next-level. This youngster sure didn’t have any issues handling a big, mature material. Movingly crooning Patty Griffin’s (NOT KELLY CLARKSON’S, OK?) evangelical “Up to the Mountain,” Brennley did “what she was born to do,” according to Blake. Where on gawd’s green earth did this kid come from? She had almost as much soul as, well, TSoul. (More on him in a minute…)
So Brennley delivered what Adam Levine called a spectacular, ambitious “Grammy performance.” Meanwhile, Aaliyah’s girly vibe had been more, well, YouTube performance. Aaliyah looked deflated, sitting in the corner on her lonely stool. She knew she was going home.
Or [Carson Daly spoiler-y voice] was she???
As expected, Gwen Stefani did wisely save Brennley, who proved she’s got the goods to win this whole thing. But then Blake, bafflingly, swooped in and stole Aaliyah “because she’s got this incredible presence; she’s got this old voice to be only 14 years old, and it’s just fascinating to me.”
Um, all right, then. I am just fascinated that Blake would use his only Steal of the entire Knockout Rounds on a contestant who’s clearly not ready for prime time. (Another, much more famous teen named Aaliyah once claimed that age ain’t nuthin’ but a number, but in this Aaliyah’s case, she really does seem to be just 14.) If Blake wanted another teen — or if he had a producer nagging in his earpiece, reminding him that this lowered-age-limited season is supposed to be all about the kiddos — then Dawson Coyle (more on him in a minute) would have been a better bet.
Or Blake could have used his Steal earlier this week on either of the Johnnys, Gates or Hayes — seasoned singers (with country-rock leanings!) who definitely deserved second chances. Sigh.
WINNER: Brennley Brown / STOLEN: Aaliyah Roses moves to Team Blake
TEAM ALICIA: Anatalia Villaranda vs. Dawson Coyle
Yep, more teenagers! Not to sound mean, because these two are just a couple of crazy kids, but the possibilities for annoying-ness with this particular pair-up at first seemed huge. YUGE! The last time we saw Dawson, he was awkwardly jiving and sock-hopping his way through a cringe-inducing community theater version of “Walking on Sunshine” in the Battles. And Anatalia’s Energizer-Bunniysh hyperactivity just Never. Turns. Off. So I gritted my teeth and expected the worst.
However, Anatalia’s cover of Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadlillacs” was a pleasantly mature surprise. She had her usual spunk and fire, but she seemed more grown-up. There were actual dynamics, nuances, and shades of subtlety that Anatalia did not display during her previous manic performances of Bruno Mars’s “Runaway Baby” and Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope,” and she put her own spin on the Underwood song, switching it up from country-pop to pure pop. With this number, Anatalia showed real potential for growth.
Dawson also showed newfound maturity showcasing his singer-songwriter-esque side on Imagine Dragons’ “Demons.” I like Dawson so much more when he’s angsty and emotional (more like a typical IRL teenager, really) than when he’s trying to do some hokey Grease Live! dance routine to a Katrina and the Waves one-hit wonder. No, this wasn’t the best-ever Voice performance of “Demons,” as Adam claimed, clearly forgetting that his own Team Adam finalist, Will Champlin, did a pretty solid job with it in Season 5. (D’oh!) But, while Anatalia’s performance was polished, confident, and commanding, I found myself drawn to Dawson’s rawness, vulnerability, and less-is-more sensibility.
But Alicia Keys apparently thought more was more. “Dawson has everything going for him, but Anatalia is so capable, so powerful. I just knew this is her time,” she explained. Dawson was up the creek.
WINNER: Anatalia Villaranda
TEAM BLAKE: Enid Ortiz vs. TSoul
Enid was a one-chair turn, and she was montaged in the Battle Rounds, so she seemed like the under-est underdog that ever dogged — especially against such a spectacular singer as TSoul, one of Season 12’s finest. But then again, in her montaged Battle, Enid did beat out a four-chair contestant, Valerie Ponzio. So anything was possible here.
Enid went first, singing “When We Were Young” — the second time in the space of just a few weeks that she’d covered Adele. So yeah, this was another safe song choice. Enid did wring emotion from every word, and she oozed authenticity all over the stage (unlike the above-mentioned, much younger Aaliyah), but her performance was a little sloppy — almost like Adele doing tipsy karaoke. Then again, doing drunk karaoke with Adele would probably be the most fun thing ever, and this performance was a tad dreary, so never mind that analogy. What I am trying to say is, Enid had strong vocals, but weak execution.
And then, the moment the syllables “these ar…” left TSoul’s lips, Enid must have known that this was a total knockout. TSoul’s performance of Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine” was a MASTER CLASS before he even got to the chorus. It was perfection. The song built and built in drama, climaxing with a fantastic knee-drop, and it was pure theater. I practically expected the Time’s Jerome to come out with a gilt-framed mirror for TSoul to gaze into. I expected a stagehand to drape a James Brown cape over TSoul’s mighty shoulders. Adam may have complained that this performance was too soundalike/copycat (he had the same critique for Enid’s Adele tune), but I thought TSoul seemed like a star in his own right. And so did Blake. At least this time, Blake made some sense.
Come back next week, when the Knockout Rounds come to a close. Alicia is the only coach with a Steal still left in play, so let’s hope she uses it wisely. See you then.