The Voice‘s season 11 knockouts are now complete, and while there have been some serious letdowns leading up to this point, tonight’s third round illustrates the exact problem with the show’s bracket-style slim-down procedure. Sometimes, neither of the contestants really deserve to advance to the lives, while in other cases, both do. As a result, we end up with a Top 20 that doesn’t quite shape up the way it should, and it’s up to voters to whittle down those outliers in the live rounds while crossing our fingers that some of the unfairly pardoned would-be favorites get a callback from the coaches.
Here’s how tonight’s final knockouts round played out.
Team Blake: Austin Allsup vs. Gabe Broussard
It’s easy to develop a soft spot for young Gabe Broussard for his friendly face, bright demeanor, and decent amount of potential, but let’s be real here: There is no competition between these two tonight. Before the knockouts, Austin Allsup was dangerously close to typecasting himself as a yawn-worthy honky-tonker with no imagination, but even then he still had the edge over ho-hum Gabe. So when Austin manages to defy all expectations with his genre-blending, house-torching take on Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” it’s just a bonus for his fanfare potential in the live rounds.
He manages to imbue a little swamp into the tune, at Tim McGraw’s suggestion, opening up the number with echoes of Jace Everett’s bayou-ready True Blood theme song. Then he slips in some Robert Plant-approved rock-run screams and gives Steven Tyler a run for his breath-control money at the tail end. Altogether, it’s a riveting effort at proving he’s more than one-note, and it works. By comparison, Gabe Broussard’s high-school-talent-show-level lack of pitch precision during Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” is a drippy wash.
Winner: Austin Allsup
Team Miley: Darby Walker vs. Maye Thomas
If this competition was called The Voice Sound-Alike, Darby Walker would march right to the finish line with her uncanny Florence Welch impression, but even without that moniker marker, this running impersonation gag is still SOMEHOW pushing her right on through on The Voice. It’s a head-scratcher, too, because her uninspired choice of Florence + The Machine’s hit “Shake It Out” seems to be pure necessity, and despite what everyone’s saying about her having a unique or distinct voice, all I can hear tonight is Flo 2.0. And it’s all her fault for once again making the obvious choice of an F+TM song. Head, meet desk.
But Maye Thomas isn’t any better in that regard. She’s apparently schooled in the Gwen Stefani goth-rock game — her take on Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” sounds like a No Doubt cover of the song gone wrong. And because Maye practically gives it away, and Darby’s cover was so much more on the nose, the latter wins it and advances to the Top 20. It’s a mismatch with some of the others who are getting through — and even more so against some of those who aren’t — so if she comes back with a F+TM song in the lives, she’s finished. Count on that.
Winner: Darby Walker
NEXT: The upset of the season?
Team Adam: Brendan Fletcher vs. Nolan Neal
Let’s pour one out for Nolan Neal right now, because this is why the show’s playoff-style system is unfair. Growl. Adam rightly points to this as his most difficult decision yet, as he’s dealing with two dudes who would both appeal to that dental office-style soft-rock channel with their approachable tones — and no, that’s not a ding on either of them. Quite the opposite, actually.
Nolan Neal manages to turn Steven Tyler’s “Love is Your Name” into a fully consumable Phil Collins ballad, while Brendan Fletcher draws from Van Morrison and Edwin McCain’s vocal stylings to give the Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine” some smooth new life. Nolan arrives as the impact performer of the night, based on his enthusiasm and upper-register control, but it’s obvious why Adam might pick Brendan as his long-game player — he’s multi-talented and handsome and seems to put the “it” in intrigue. To borrow Blake’s phrasing, “Nolan treated this like what it’s called — a knockout round,” but Adam’s convinced by Brendan’s veil of vulnerability. Since life is unfair, Nolan has to go home now. It’s the upset of the season so far, if you ask me. In other news, he completely deserves to be the comeback kid for Adam during the lives, please and thank you.
Winner: Brendan Fletcher
Team Alicia: Michael Sanchez vs. Sa’Rayah
There are so many competent divas on deck this season, it seemed almost foretold Sa’Rayah’s soul factor would overshadow the playful quirkiness Michael Sanchez has going on with his glasses and vest shtick, but that was not the case. His groovy take on Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us” was bolstered only by his full-bodied vocals and pure energy, and apart from a few clamorous misses at the end, it was great.
That said, Sa’Rayah didn’t hold anything back tonight, either. Faith Hill feels like she’s working some Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin with her sound, but she’s also got that husky resonance of Toni Braxton circa the “Unbreak My Heart” era with her performance of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” There are some breathy moments, sure, but I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. For what it’s worth, Michael Sanchez is miles ahead of, say, Darby Walker — but again, that’s just how this thing works sometimes.
NEXT: The steal that had to happen…
Team Blake: Dana Harper vs. Karlee Metzger
Karlee Metzger started her career on The Voice on a strong note, but tonight she exposed pretty much all of her weaknesses. Whereas Dana Harper opted out of a pitch fit for a more subdued, melodic turn of James Morrison’s “You Give Me Something,” Karlee threw all her dice on the ground with a disjointed version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Invincible” and proved she was anything but the titular adjective of her song choice.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m rendered as speechless as Tim McGraw was during her rehearsals, but Dana’s definitely trying to set herself apart from the crowd with a more subdued approach to big numbers, and Karlee just paled in comparison. Blake’s decision was made easy by Karlee’s failure to find substance in what should’ve been a gripping moment on that stage tonight.
Winner: Dana Harper
Team Miley: Aaron Gibson vs. Josh Halverson
I’m just gonna say it: It’s Team Josh Halverson all day right here. He’s the most original and committed competitor so far, and he’s a definite dark horse for the finals if he keeps up this level of intensity and style.
Aaron’s got that Phillip Phillips husk factor down to a science at this point and would have Dave Matthews enthusiasts proudly flickering their lighters all night during his concert, if he had one. His performance of Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” is technically on point, and he makes sure we all know, once again, that he’s totally ready to jump on the Ben Harper bandwagon if and when he gets the call. But Josh is tapping into some depth and honesty that commands a room with so little effort, and the fact he ~sung~ to Alicia Keys enough to earn her steal after Miley lands on Aaron is no surprise. After all, Alicia is all about feelings and vibes and such, and this man has character to spare up there.
Winner: Aaron Gibson
Steal: Josh Halverson to Team Alicia
Sophia Urista defeated Josette Diaz with her rendition of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and we can only imagine why because for some reason, we don’t get even a taste of what her competitor threw down. What we did hear was Sophia dropping a clincher belt obviously impressive enough to push her through to the lives, so make of that what you must.
- Team Adam — Riley Elmore, Billy Gilman, Brendan Fletcher, Simone Gundy, Josh Gallagher
- Team Alicia — Wé McDonald, Christian Cuevas, Kylie Rothfield, Sa’Rayah, Josh Halverson
- Team Blake — Sundance Head, Dana Harper, Austin Allsup, Courtney Harrell, Jason Warrior
- Team Miley — Darby Walker, Ali Caldwell, Sophia Urista, Aaron Gibson, Belle Jewel
A few predictions for the live rounds:
- Darby Walker is going to pick another Florence and the Machine song, and I’m going to stab my TV repeatedly when she does. Meanwhile, Aaron Gibson is going to play “Ants Go Marching” or “Home,” at which point my TV will die altogether from the abuse.
- Christian Cuevas and Sundance Head will take turns destroying the sound system and cancelling each other out.
- Billy Gilman will coast through to the Top 12 — he’s got the comeback story of the season with his former child-star status on constant tap.
- Wé McDonald will continue to have everyone dusting off their chins when she’s done.
Coaching ribs of the night:
Adam (to Blake): “Seriously, when did you last win? Was it in the ’90s?”
Miley: “I think even more in here than I say out there.”
Blake: “Is that possible?”
Adam: “That just blew my mind.”
Miley: “The only person who wants me to shut up even more than you guys is me.”