This Tuesday, "The Voice's" controversial Knockout Rounds continued, as did my ongoing frustration with the coaches' puzzling decisions. After Adam Levine and Shakira let go of some truly promising contestants on Monday night, I was hoping Tuesday's Blake Shelton and Usher would make wiser choices…but seriously, some of their choices were even worse.
All around me, my Season 4 favorites were being cast aside like Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green's old wigs. Savannah Berry! Jess Kellner! Luke Edgemon! Grace Askew! All gone, gone, gone--as the winner of a certain other singing competition might say. It was enough to make me curl up in a fetal position in one of those big, comfy red chairs and despondently suck my thumb, wishing all this "Voice" insanity and inanity would just go away--or at least wishing that these Knockout Rounds had Steals. Or Saves. Or Wild Cards. Or something!
Sheesh. Well, at least a few strong contestants did make it through to next week's top 16 Live Playoffs. Here's how Tuesday's Knockout Rounds went down…
Savannah Berry vs. Justin Rivers
Savannah became a frontrunner the minute she auditioned, while Justin's Blind Audition and Battle Round were montaged this season. So Justin seemed to be going into this Knockout at a disadvantage. No wonder he flashed an "I'm totally screwed" grimace when he found out that Savannah would be his Knockout opponent. Interestingly, both "country with a pop twist" contestants went full-on teen-pop with their song choices: Savannah did a countrified version of Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me," and Justin covered Miley Cyrus's "The Climb," a song I would love to never hear on any singing show ever again. I especially don't need to hear Justin Rivers' version ever again. Savannah really did her own thing with her tune; I loved that she was playing guitar, and I loved how her voice was so full of grit. "You display as much straight-up artistry as anyone I've seen on the show," said Blake, and I had to agree with him. Justin's "The Climb," conversely, was bland vanilla fluff that made Miley's original seem positively punk-rock. His vocals were solid, but there was nothing distinctive or artistic about his performance. Even without considering the two singers' extreme screentime discrepancy, it seemed clear who would emerge victorious in this case. Right? Um, WRONG. Blake let Savannah go instead, in a major upset. I was hoping that when Blake said "Justin" had won, he was referring Savannah's Justin Bieber cover. But he wasn't. My poor brain is still boggling over this bad, bad call.
Holly Tucker vs. Luke Edgemon
Luke, a former "American Idol" contestant and "Glee" Warbler, was my favorite on Team Blake (and he was my favorite on Team Shakira, before Blake stole him). So I was worried. Two patterns had already been established on "The Voice" this week: the coaches were foolishly pitting their strongest contestants against one another, and frustratingly few of my favorites were surviving these Knockouts. I was already mourning Luke's early exit before he even got onstage--especially once I saw what a great job Holly did. The girl sounded like an Opry pro. Still, I rooted for cool Luke, whose soulful, yacht-rocky, slow-jammy Katy Perry cover was so unique and unexpected. Adam loved Luke's performance…but unfortunately, Adam didn't have the ability to steal Luke once Blake predictably ditched him. I was sad, but not surprised. I had no reason to assume that Blake would choose a jazz-handy pop/rock maverick who sang a gender-flipped "Teenage Dream"--and wasn't even one of Blake's original team members--over a (very good) traditional country girl who covered Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying." Sigh.
Danielle Bradbery vs. Taylor Beckham
This "so cute, but so deadly" showdown was one of the most obvious Knockouts to call. It truly was a knockout. Danielle's song choice, Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel," was predictable, but she sang it like a real country Idol. Taylor's cover of Rihanna's "Russian Roulette" was more of a risk, but unfortunately, it was not a risk that paid off. She sounded groany and froggy in the verses, whiny and nasal in the choruses, and basically horrible from start to finish. Only a few big glory notes were semi-impressive, but they were not enough to make for an overall glorious performance. Blake probably would have picked Danielle no matter what--Taylor was a Steal, and Blake has a history of never keeping his stolen contestants--but he made the right decision by keeping Danielle. (Danielle looked shocked, but she was most likely the only person in America who was.) Danielle could be the next Taylor Swift, with the right guidance. Don't mess this up, Blake!
Grace Askew vs. The Swon Brothers
After Midas Whale got cut in Monday's Team Adam Knockouts, and the Morgan Twins didn't make it past last week's Battle Rounds, the Swons were Season 4's only hope that a duo might finally get to the live shows. (UPDATED EDITOR'S NOTE: This would be a "Voice" first since Season 1's Thompson Sisters, not to be confused with the much more awesome Thompson Twins.) But then I found out that the brothers would be competing against…my favorite female contestant of this season, bad-ass Memphis rebel Grace. So I had to root against the duo, sorry. Grace doing "I Can't Stand the Rain" by Tina Turner was just too cool, even if her mushed-mouthiness kept it from being her best performance. I didn't mind the Swon Brothers' pleasant (if generic) cover of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," and I would have preferred them to make Blake's top four over, say, Justin Rivers. But not over Grace. But of course, Blake messed this one up too. Grace did not survive under pressure. So now a duo has finally made the live shows. But at what cost? AT WHAT COST????
WINNER: The Swon Brothers
Josiah Hawley vs. Jess Kellner
Both contestants picked pretty cool, and suitable, songs for this Knockout: Josiah went with Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," and Jess did James Morrison's "You Give Me Something." Based on song choices alone, I thought Jess might have the advantage: The Amy original was always more about personality and unique phrasing than sheer vocal power, while the more challenging James song had a big, soaring chorus that could really coax out the coolness in Jess's rich, buttery voice. Sure enough, Josiah's cover (a rocked-out, masculine version, intended to "bring out his bad-boy side") was entertaining, but Jess's performance, while admittedly imperfect, was the one that gave me goosebumps. Adam even said it was the best he'd heard her sing. But of course, Jess--unlike Josiah--is not a Dylan McKay-lookalike male model who constantly flashes an advanced-modeling-class Blue Steel at the NBC cameras. Usher, a male heartthrob himself, must have realized the voting-block-galvanizing power of Josiah. So he picked…yes, Josiah. Another really bad call. Good looks will only get a contestant so far on "The Voice." Doesn't Usher realize that Dez Duron only made it to eighth place last year?
Audrey Karrasch vs. Michelle Chamuel
It was the ex-model vs. the nerdy-girl. Uh oh. Would this be another Josiah/Jess situation? I had nothing against Audrey (until tonight's disaster, I liked her), but my heart was rooting for the lovably adorkable and undeniably interesting Michelle. Audrey picked Lil Wayne's "How to Love," an admirable stylistic risk, but she tried to do too much with it and ended up shouting and straining throughout much of the song. The result was one of THE worst "Voice" performances I could recall since Beat Frequency were still competing in Season 3, or since Erin Martin in Season 2. I'm still astounded by how drastically Audrey unraveled here, after such a promising start this season. Michelle sang Pink's outsider anthem "Raise Your Glass," and while her performance was also manic, in Michelle's case, that was part of her charm. And her vocals were on point, even when she was running all over the stage like an Olympic hurdler. She PERFORMED. ("It's like someone told her, right before she got onstage, that she'd won the lottery," observed Blake.) Michelle owned the round, and practically owned the entire night. Thankfully, Usher made the right decision this time. Michelle Chamuel for the win!
VEDO vs. C. Perkins
VEDO had one of the sobbier sob stories since Season 2's Erin Willett: His mother was dying of cancer at the time of the Blind Auditions (but she came to his taping anyway), and she has since passed away. It was hard not to root for a guy with a story like that. But let's get real: At this crucial stage of the competition, even the saddest backstory and a heartstring-tugging song choice (in VEDO's case, "Everything I Do, I Do It for You") wouldn't be enough. C. Perkins elevated the mood with the sexy, uptempo, Michael Jackson-sampling Chris Brown song "She Ain't You," but his overeager attempts to rile up the crowd and work the stage distracted him and took away from his vocals. This would have been a fine performance in a real-world concert setting, but not in the Knockouts, a time when he really needed to showcase his vocal ability at its best. VEDO's Bryan Adams cover wasn't much better vocally, but it was clear he connected with the song emotionally. Honestly, I would have eliminated both of these guys and brought back Jess. I understood why Usher picked VEDO, of course, but if VEDO is to survive the Live Playoffs, he needs more than just a sympathy story. His vocals have to improve.
Cathia vs. Ryan Innes
This was the most random/opposite pairing of the night: a Latina pop starlet and a gruff middle-aged bluesman. These two weren't even like apples and oranges; they were more like apples and, I dunno, sardines. They were just the two leftover contestants, so they were by default forced to square off. Cathia did "Mr. Know-It-All," ignoring the number-one cardinal rule of singing competitions ("Thou Shalt Not Cover Kelly Clarkson"). Ryan did one of the most tired and overdone singing-show songs ever, Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be," which I don't ever want to hear. Cathia's performance was a seemingly under-rehearsed mess, but it was still way better than Ryan's. Ryan's performance was like drunken karaoke, or like "American Idol" Season 2 fodder. I wasn't impressed by either performance. I didn't really care who won. This was a terribly anti-climactic way to end the episode, and I could not believe that one of these contestants was going to make the top 16 over Team Usher's Jess Kellner. But of these two, Cathia was the lesser evil, so Usher made the right decision under these less-than-ideal circumstances.
I have to say, looking at this season's top 16 compared to Season 3's top 20 (five contestants per team, not four, advanced to the Live Playoffs last season), Season 3 was much stronger and much more interesting. (Season 3 of "The Voice" is basically the equivalent of "Idol's" Season 8. Best season ever.) I can only dream what Season 4 might've been like if Tawnya Reynolds, Jess Kellner, Warren Stone, Shawna P., or especially Midas Whale, Luke Edgemon, and Grace Askew had made the cut. But all hope is not lost for "The Voice" Season 4, because each team has a couple real contenders. And in the end, all it will take is one. Only one singer can win Season 4.
Until next week's Live Playoffs, when America will finally have a say, here is my own say: my rankings, revised since last week, from my favorite team to least favorite, with the individual contestants ranked within each list…
The Swon Brothers