On Monday, also unofficially known as 4/20 Eve, Snoop Dogg began his much-hyped stint as The Voice Season 20 Knockout Rounds’ Mega-Mentor. And it was nuthin’ but a “V”-thang, with all the hijinks and hilarity that one would expect from the one and only D-O-double-G — from the cold open featuring Blake Shelton attempting to drop it like it’s hot, to the impromptu “G’z and Hustlas” jam session with Paul Mirkovich’s house band.
But the coaches made it clear that the Doggfather was super-serious when it came to his credentials. “Snoop knows every song ever written and recorded; he’s just got a Rolodex in his mind,” said Nick Jonas, while John Legend noted, “He is so influential and has been so iconic for so long.” And Kelly Clarkson, returning to the Voice set after missing the Battle Rounds due to illness, seemed the most excited of all, exclaiming, “Snoop Dogg! I can’t even believe my life!”
And there were some serious onscreen Snoop moments too, when the zany-but-tough rapper softened and even nearly shed a couple of “thug tears” during diva contestant Pia Renee’s rehearsal. “Yes, Lord, I’m holding this tear back!” he hollered. But the real emotions and tears came from Kelly, mostly — although Snoop was clearly moved — while working with Team Kelly balladeer Corey Ward.
Corey took a risk by doing Kelly’s hit “Already Gone” (albeit the Sleeping at Last version, according to the lyric sheet Kelly used to dab her eyes). Doing a song by one’s own coach often backfires on The Voice, but Corey’s passionate, vulnerable, indie-rock delivery had Kelly — who's had a tough year due to her public and messy divorce from Brandon Blackstock — fanning her eyes and choking back sobs. “When I wrote ‘Already Gone,’ I wrote something where I thought, ‘OK, it doesn’t have to work out.’ And hearing [Corey] sing that to me in my life now — are you, like, smacking me in my face with my message? It’s interesting when you write something and don’t feel something till years later,” Kelly mused.
“He just put a chill on my arm. Look, Kelly! I don’t get chills from men! Man, what was all that about?” Snoop gasped. More seriously, Snoop later pointed out to Corey, “When you can get the songwriter to lose emotional control, that’s when you’re doing your job, brother.” Kelly agreed Corey had executed that job perfectly, and said hearing another vocalist pull off such an exquisite rendition of her own tune was “the coolest thing songwriter can experience.”
So, unsurprisingly, Corey won his Knockout against Ryleigh Modig’s “Use Somebody.” Said Kelly, rhetorically: “When he came out singing that song better than me, how do I not pick that artist?” But this outcome was a shame, because both contestants were skilled storytellers as well as vocal gymnasts, and were arguably the two most interesting members on Kelly’s team. And Ryleigh had also done stellar job, taking Kelly and Snoop’s direction to incorporate more “little intimate things” and “moody vibes” into the Kings of Leon stadium song and making effective use of her distinctive vibrato.
Kelly, dismayed to see either contestant go home, admitted, “At this point, I’m trying to get the other one stolen.” Well, Kelly got her wish, when the news of Ryleigh’s possible elimination was met with a very quick and very rare triple-Steal. The spoiled-for-choice Ryleigh decided to join Team Legend, and thus, all was well on The Voice once more.
Below are the other Snoop-assisted Knockout Rounds from Monday night. Read on to find out if anyone was pitchy, Dogg.
TEAM BLAKE: Ethan Lively vs. Jordan Matthew Young
“And you thought Snoop and Martha Stewart was a weird combination!” Blake joked as Snoop joined him in the rehearsal room. But Snoop actually loves country music, especially old-school fare — he’s worked with Brad Paisley, Kris Kristofferson, even Willie Nelson — so he was downright giddy over this Battle. And so was Jordan, who declared Snoop a “genius.” Jordan, not being a strictly country artist (he fronts a rock band back home in Austin), saw Snoop as a bit of a multi-genre kindred spirit, and he tried hard to heed Snoop’s advice to bring more of a “psychedelic hippie” spirit to his cover of the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels.” But I was underwhelmed by Jordan’s performance. First of all. the song choice was too on-the nose; it has been covered on singing competitions a lot recently, and while it was very much in Jordan’s bluesy wheelhouse, I wish he’d gone with a less typical Crowes song. (I recall being delighted when Caleb Johnson belted “Sting Me” on American Idol Season 13, for instance.) Second, I expected a performance dedicated to Jordan’s friend, who died due to drug abuse, to be less smiley and more of a gut-punch. And finally, the Crowes’ Chris Robinson is pretty much untouchable as a frontman, and Jordan didn’t have a fraction of Chris’s swagger. This performance probably would have been more fiery if Jordan had had his band with him.
Ethan, a 17-year-old with an old soul whom Snoop called a “perfect example of what country music should be,” then did “Help Me Hold On” by Travis Tritt. Ethan also tried to take direction from Snoop, who told him “conversation beats demonstration” and instructed him to add an onstage “talking element” to the song, a sort of Kenny Rogers “Gambler” twist. Ethan didn’t wow me onstage either, but I do think his performance benefited from Snoop’s advice. When Ethan lapsed into a bit of a slurry rap, the audience audibly erupted in delighted applause.
While making his “heartbreaker” decision, Blake compared Ethan to Trace Adkins and Josh Turner and said “no one takes up that lane” this season, and he expressed jealousy over Jordan’s “raspy, gravelly thing.” Ultimately he went with the singer he believed was “ready for this right now”: 34-year-old Jordan. I can’t say Blake made the wrong choice, but I don’t think Jordan is quite the rock star I thought he was (though he sure does look the part), and despite his years of bar-bad experience, Jordan will need more coaching to go far on the Live Playoffs.
WINNER: Jordan Matthew Young
TEAM LEGEND: Pia Renee vs. Ciana Pelekai
Bubbly Ciana “came out swinging,” as Nick put it, with “‘Cuz I Love You,” and all of the coaches admired her determination and competitive spirit. I knew Lizzo’s hit would be a good showcase for Ciana’s vivacious personality, but aside from its big, gauntlet-throwing a cappella intro, I didn’t know if it would be the best overall vocal showcase, especially against a powerhouse like Pia. But as John noted, who better to advise Ciana about “rapping with melody” than the Doggfather himself? Snoop noted that he considers his flow to be just “singing while talking,” and gave Ciana tips on how to “put some Snoop on it.” And that she did. Kelly noted a “lack of air” in parts, but I thought Ciara did an impressive job shifting between the song’s rapped and sung sections. My only issue with this performance was it just nearly impossible for Ciana to make Lizzo’s signature song her own.
Pia’s mother died right before the Season 20 Battles, an understandably “very challenging” ordeal for the 38-year-old. Pia dedicated “What the World Needs Now” to her late mom, and this time, it was Snoop’s turn to weep. “You make me feel like Whitney was up there. I had to open my left eye to see if Whitney was up there,” Snoop confessed, blinking back his left-eye tears. Nick made the same Whitney Houston comparison later, after Pia’s technically perfect, beautifully controlled Knockouts performance. I also don’t think this performance was very original, but this show is called The Voice, and Pia demonstrated she has one of the greatest voices of this season. We all knew this Knockout would be a total knockout, but kudos to Ciana for putting up a good fight.
WINNER: Pia Renee
TEAM JONAS: Dana Monique vs. Keegan Ferrell
This Knockout also seemed unfairly stacked and preordained: Nick’s first recruit of the season, a diva with the guts (and lungs) to take on the almighty Tina Turner, against his most recent recruit, a stolen Team Blake contestant, known for gentle and mellow performances. Poor Keegan must have known he was doomed. My guess is the only two reasons producers didn’t montage this Knockout was to maximize Snoop’s screentime — and the dynamite Dana’s screentime too.
Dana was no joke tapping into a “girl-power kind of vibe” during her electric rendition of Ike & Tina’s “Nutbush City Limits.” Nick and Snoop warned her to choose her moments and “not be at 11 the whole time,” but really every moment that Dana was onstage was pure fire. This was some classic Merry Clayton stuff — Dana seemed like she could be onstage with the Rolling Stones, and John told her, “You should be doing this on all the biggest stages.” Kelly compared Dana not only to Tina but to Aretha and Aerosmith. Dana was only a two-chair turn in the Blind Auditions, but she earned a four-chair standing ovation from the coaches tonight.
Dana may have struggled with doing too much, but laid-back pop singer Keegan had the opposite problem: He didn’t do enough. Nick warned him that he needed more “moments to pop” and more “sparkle” during his cover of the. Temptations’ “Just My Imagination,” and Snoop said he needed to be “sangin’, not singin’,” yet Keegan still held back. The song choice was even inspired by Keegan’s admitted shyness (he has trouble being assertive when dating). But honestly, I don’t know if there’s anything Keegan could have done to survive after having to follow Dana; Kelly said as much, actually. So, I suspect Keegan was fodder all along.
WINNER: Dana Monique
TEAM LEGEND: Victor Solomon vs. Gean Garcia
Victor also did a Temptations classic, “My Girl,” which apparently was John’s parents’ song. John was thrilled, as was a dancing and grooving Snoop, to be hearing more Temptations this week. Snoop ordered Victor to make him “hear it like I never heard it before,” a tall order for such an oft-covered Motown standard, but Victor, true to his first name, really did a winning job here. The church-trained singer with a strict religious upbringing only recently started performing secular music, but he really seems to be coming into his own on The Voice. He was feeling this! His vocals were rich and buttery, and he was sexily and swaggily working the stage like Usher or Keith Sweat.
Conversely, Gean, a stolen contestant originally on Team Kelly, was a proverbial deer in headlights doing “Afterglow” by Ed Sheeran. While he definitely had the more unique voice of these two (John loved his “singer-songwriter individuality,” and I thought his high, crisp, almost genderless tone cut through the room), he lacked consummate entertainer Victor’s natural ease and charisma. Somehow, Gean managed to seem too laid-back and nervous at the same time, and he failed to make the linear performance “more climactic” as Snoop had advised. And so, as the dad-joking Blake put it, the victor was Victor.
WINNER: Victor Solomon
TEAM BLAKE: Pete Mroz vs. Andrew Marshall
This was another seemingly uneven pairing, with Blake’s old bandmate from 25 years ago, Pete, singing against stolen contestant Andrew, who just joined Team Blake last week. But it turned out that 45-year-old Pete’s advantage wasn’t his previous connection to Blake, but his overall life experience.
Of course, that’s not to say that 21-year-old Andrew, a leukemia survivor, didn’t have a lot of life experience to draw from. He dedicated his cover of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up” to an ailing friend he’d first met in the cancer ward, and Snoop told him, “Just picture the beauty of your friend hearing this song.” However, with that backstory, I expected this performance, while impeccably sung, to have more heart and just more oomph. It all felt very surface-y to me, but that was probably down to Andrew's aforementioned lack of experience, at least when it comes to being onstage.
But as Pete had cautioned, “Don’t count the old man out!” His cover of Lewis Capaldi’s “Before You Go” — a song he wisely chose to prove he can be “classic but also current,” and dedicated to his late father — was truly lovely. As Blake noted, Pete “stepped up to the plate” when it came to the verses’ syncopated, rappy elements (Snoop expertly coached Pete in that area). But what actually made this performance so compelling, and, as Kelly said, “something really special,” was Pete’s innate ability to connect and go deeper and harness emotion — just as he did during last week’s Battles with “Have a Little Faith in Me.”
Pete ended up winning this Knockout, of course, with Blake explaining, “I know he’s going to be able to handle these live shows.” But Andrew’s former coach, Nick, disagreed with Blake’s decision… and stole Andrew right back. This was a satisfying development, because many viewers (myself included) had thought that Nick was wrong to choose his pet team member Raine Stern over Andrew in the Battles in the first place, when it was obvious that Andrew had done a better job. But… was this Nick’s strategy all along? “I love it when a plan comes together,” Nick declared, devilishly rubbing his hands together like scheming Simpsons villain Mr. Burns. “I was just hoping that there would be a chance to work with Andrew again.”
WINNER: Pete Mroz / STOLEN: Andrew Marshall moves back to Team Jonas
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