The Voice‘s season 11 battles were pretty predictable, as the coaches seemed to cherry-pick songs to advance their favorites to the next round. The knockouts, however, are shaping up to be a different story altogether. Tonight, a trio of soul singers emerge as the immediate frontrunners when they easily diminish their competitors — with a little help from mentors Tim McGraw and Faith Hill — while another pair of would-be favorites gets sent home in a stunning decision.
Here’s how the knockouts went down in round one.
Team Blake: Josh Gallagher vs. Sundance Head
To kick off the knockouts on a strong note, Blake Shelton paired his team’s most qualified country singers to put on a guaranteed-to-be-good show. Love him or leave him, Josh Gallagher is a talented country artist, and he chooses to go the route of strict interpretation with a song he knows how to replicate better than his own right hand — that is, Brooks and Dunn’s “My Maria” — and turns in a performance that glides along on the octave-hopping melody just as soundly and assuredly as anyone else ever could. He’s the guy who already sounds radio-ready because he’s so similar to so many established artists of his ilk, but there’s still no denying there’s a place for him here.
On the other hand, though, Sundance Head is much more interesting to watch onstage tonight. His supple voice, authenticity, and original take on Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” has vulnerability and detailing that wins the day. Luckily for Josh, Adam’s impressed with his command of those high notes and tamps the steal button for him, counting himself lucky for the add.
Winner: Sundance Head
Steal: Josh Gallagher to Team Adam
Team Alicia: Kylie Rothfield vs. Whitney and Shannon
The surprise of the night happens quickly as harmony sisters Whitney and Shannon duke it out with lady-rocker Kylie Rothfield, who happens to be their closest friend on the show. Whitney and Shannon are at their best together and have proven themselves to be a little shakier and unsettled when apart. For their rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” Alicia Keys wants them to separate several of the notes — and just like the battles, it proves a detriment to their delivery.
Meanwhile, Kylie Rothfield’s interpretation of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” is oozing with intrigue — she opts for the “swampy” slash “nasty” version Tim McGraw and Faith Hill advise her to do — and she arrives as a Melissa Etheridge-style stage chick who can win a crowd over every time. It’s a little breathy and boring at times, but there’s no question she’s the better standalone talent — and a lot of people look to Whitney and Shannon’s battle opponent, Gabriel Violett, as an unfair castoff for the same reason. That said, the sisterly duo had an intangible quality that made them seem like surefire fan favorites in the making, so it’s surprising to not only see them lose, but also fail to score some steals.
Winner: Kylie Rothfield
NEXT: A terrible song selection costs one singer his spot…
Team Miley: Ali Caldwell vs. Lauren Diaz
Ali Caldwell and Lauren Diaz both have big voices and all, but the total apple-orange comparison between them becomes even more obvious when they’re stacked up against one another tonight. Lauren pulls from somewhere personal to take on Audra Day’s “Rise Up” and has a few great notes along the way, but she also drops out at inopportune times, resulting in an uneven performance that can’t hold a candle to what Ali’s able to do with her turn at the mic.
Ali’s choice of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” gives her a million scales to tread through with her “freight train” (Faith Hill’s word) of a voice, and while she’s not the most sensational standout of the night, she handily wins this particular knockout.
Winner: Ali Caldwell
Team Adam: Dave Moisan and Simone Gundy
The most cringeworthy moment of the first knockout round happens when Dave Moisan takes the stage with Sam Smith’s formidable favorite “Like I Can.” He might have impressed the coaches and earned his salvation steal from Adam thanks to his command of the high notes, but he’s very out of his league with this song selection — so much so, he’s even advised against hitting them when the number calls for it. How he gets to belt out the full number when so many others’ performances are obviously pared down is beyond me.
Simone Gundy, who now apparently goes by “Bubbles,” absolutely destroys Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” to the point it’s almost embarrassing Dave and Simone were paired together tonight. Faith Hill has compared Simone to Whitney Houston, and while that’s a lofty compliment, it’s not totally unearned here — this lady has some pretty exceptional vocal strength going for herself. That said, don’t discount Dave altogether just yet; he’s the Ryan Quinn of the season, and given that his terrible song selection has a lot to do with his spectacular flub tonight, Adam might see him as fit for the callback chance later in the season.
Winner: Simone Gundy
NEXT: Is this Season 11’s shoo-in?
Team Alicia: Courtnie Ramirez vs. Wé McDonald
Anyone Wé McDonald goes up against is at an automatic disadvantage: There’s something so rapturous about her booming near-baritone vocal strength that she’s nearly a guaranteed go-ahead for the finals (take that one to Vegas, trust). Courtnie’s no slouch, of course, and she even rings a few bells reminiscent of Alisan Porter in season 10 with her capable (albeit a little too-true to the mark) rendition of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy.” Compared to what Wé does with Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama,” though, Courtnie’s really got no shot. Wé is easily waving her own checkered flag each and every week. Tim McGraw’s face when he hears her voluptuous singing voice emerge after her tiny speaking tones is all of us, really.
Winner: Wé McDonald
Team Adam: Jason Warrior vs. Riley Elmore
Adam Levine’s got a thing for Riley Elmore’s throwback tones, and he compliments the kid for going with the “smart” choice of Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” as his knockout number, but really, it was the obvious decision and possibly even the only one. As well-developed as Riley’s Rat-Pack impersonation has become, he’s extremely limited to his comfort zone, and chances are he’ll have trouble finding music that fits his modality quite as well as this.
Jason Warrior, meanwhile, also has some timeless potential. His emotional and energetic performance of Luke James’ “I Want You” calls back so many of Motown’s finest moments and capitalizes on currency in a way Riley’s just can’t. Granted, he’s a little fast and loose with those errant high notes, but in the end it’s really only a credit to his enthusiasm. Adam’s still convinced Riley’s one of a kind, though — which is exactly the opposite of the truth — and chooses him. Fortunately for Jason (and all of us, really), Blake Shelton sees his potential for what it is and gives him a second steal. How it’s come to this, with him having to be saved not once but twice, is something of a humdinger, but at least Jason is still in it, which he absolutely should be.
Winner: Riley Elmore
Steal: Jason Warrior to Team Blake
Team Adam — Riley Elmore, Billy Gilman, Brendan Fletcher, Simone Gundy, Nolan Neal, Ponciano Seoane III, Josh Gallagher
Team Alicia — Wé McDonald, Christian Cuevas, Michael Sanchez, Belle Jewel, Kylie Rothfield, Sa’Rayah
Team Blake — Sundance Head, Dana Harper, Gabe Broussard, Austin Allsup, Courtney Harrell, Karlee Metzger, Bindi Liebowitz, Jason Warrior
Team Miley — Darby Walker, Ali Caldwell, Sophia Urista, Aaron Gibson, Maye Thomas, Josette Diaz, Josh Halverson
Tastiest coaching ribs of the night:
Blake: “I spent that knockout round trying to think like Miley and it scared the hell out of me.”
Blake: “I get it underneath my man boob, a sweat ring.”
Adam: “It’s called a moob.”