Good luck choosing your Top 10, America, because, frankly, I’m not seeing a legitimate straggler in the Top 11 right now. Not after tonight. This is a rare set when everybody brings something impressive to the stage, making it difficult to single out a particular contestant who doesn’t deserve to go forward. As Carson Daly puts it, “What a night for music.”
Here’s what went down during tonight’s Top 11 performances.
Ali Caldwell (Team Miley)
“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
It’s a little ironic Ali Caldwell’s tune of the night is all about surviving the rigors of a day job when she’s so clearly preparing for a life well outside any kind of office space. Miley Cyrus decides to match the singer with one of her godmother Dolly Parton’s most memorable numbers — a choice following a nudge by fellow coach Adam Levine that last week’s performance proved Ali might be a good fit for something country. Tonight, Ali does not waste the opportunity the song presents her to show us something new from her skillset.
Her peppy, go-get-’em rendition of the cheery anthem shows off the full scale of her vocal range and proves she’s not just some run-of-the-mill R&B artist. And let’s face it: Her flapper dress is a full-package dream. Ali’s been emerging as one to beat this season, and tonight she’s done nothing to hurt her chances of making it far in this competition. Well played.
Sundance Head (Team Blake)
“No One” by Alicia Keys
Sundance Head is an unapologetic Alicia Keys fanboy, and tonight he confirms he’s not just a fan of her song as originally performed — but that he can absolutely transform it into something different altogether and still, somehow, equally as lovely. His rendition of her “No One” isn’t as rich with supple crescendos as the sitting coach, of course, but he does manage to make the anthem sound like it’s always been a country-music classic. In other words, if you’ve never heard the song before tonight, you’d fully believe it was always from that genre’s catalog.
What’s more is Sundance manages to remind everyone in the studio — and at home — that he’s definitely the most uniquely “himself” country singer left in this competition. Alicia, in particular, is pleased with what he’s done: “Songs are so powerful, and you just made me listen to my song in a whole new way, in a way that I personally need right now,” she says in high praise. That’s about as solid a compliment as they come, folks.
Aaron Gibson (Team Miley)
“Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails
Aaron Gibson knows as well as anyone his stint in the bottom two last week means he’s got to step up his game in a big way if he wants to make it any further in this competition. Tonight, he tries to add a new fold to his public profile by tackling a song requiring him to reach deeper than ever. “Hurt,” which was also covered by Johnny Cash (and is getting a bit of a pop-culture revival, thanks to the trailer for Logan), is a tough jam because it doesn’t rely on just showy vocals — there has to be some true gravity felt by the artist to convey the number’s dark message. Aaron handles that fully with his no-smiles, steely-eyed resolve at the mic, and Adam’s right: The song is an excellent match for his particular sound. Even if it’s not the typical feel-good beat of the evening, it’s a pretty gripping live performance indeed.
NEXT: Prepare for the goosebumps…
Courtney Harrell (Team Blake)
“What I Did for Love” by A Chorus Line
Courtney Harrell has had a brush or two with the exit sign during her journey to the Top 11, so this time she’s reaching way back in time to recreate a number few from the millennial generation are likely to know — but one that allows her to emote all of the dreamy stage gifts she’s got to share. There are some choppy moments, to be sure, but overall she emerges as a competent performer who’d be a fine fit for the Broadway stage as well as a concert hall.
Josh Gallagher (Team Adam)
“Drunk On Your Love” by Brett Eldredge
Josh Gallagher’s sound may be a dime a dozen in the country-music world, but his consistency has been key to his success on this show so far, and you know what they say about “If it ain’t broke…” Tonight, he decides against baring his soul the way some of his performance predecessors have, and to be honest, the change of pace comes at an opportune time. Adam credits him with having the most sensational presence as far as fan interactions go, but all that prancing around does take a toll on his voice towards the end as he starts to sound a little strained. Otherwise, it’s as much a crowd-pleaser as anything else he’s done so far.
Billy Gilman (Team Adam)
“All I Ask” by Adele
Adam was correct to be unconcerned about saddling Billy Gilman with a second Adele number because this time, it’s the right one. He’s always been a vocal pro, no doubt about that, but there has been something lacking from him in the way of commitment to the musical message at hand. That’s…not a problem for him tonight.
Not only is his rendition of the song technically astute, but he’s also tugging at all the feel strings with his near-to-tears emotional investment. In place of the happy-go-lucky golden boy is a man who’s singing his heart out to summon up some serious gooseflesh, and that’s exactly what he accomplishes tonight. Bravo, Billy.
Christian Cuevas (Team Alicia)
“Rosanna” by Toto
It’s hard to dislike Christian Cuevas because his voice is robust and capable; he’s also obviously just a sweetheart. His proposal to his girlfriend after last week’s show documents that much and gives everyone a drop of much-needed happy juice in times like these. He tries to double down on that enthusiasm for good vibes by performing a number that should get everyone’s feet tapping, and while he resorts to some screeching at the end, it does service to lighten the mood of the evening. Is it a show-winning performance? Hardly. But it’s probably enough to ensure he’ll make it to the next round at least.
NEXT: Another stunner emerges…
Austin Allsup (Team Blake)
“Turn the Page” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
At this point, we kind of know what to expect when Austin Allsup takes the stage because he doesn’t miss the brassy mark he’s set for himself. His sound is clean and earnest and, to my ears, makes him worthy of a name change to Austin Awesome. His twangy take on anything produces instant ownership of whatever song he’s singing, and in recent weeks, he’s proven he’s a force to be reckoned with, as far as preparedness for this level of musicianship is concerned. His rendition of “Turn the Page” is nowhere near as supple and moody as what Metallica did with the song, but it does hit a few of the same familiar moments of resonance. As Blake puts it, Austin’s “just a badass dude.”
Darby Walker (Team Miley)
“You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
Darby Walker has earned a lot of criticism during her time on this show, but the fact is she does have her own unique gifts to bring to this stage. Never is that more obvious than when she manages to go from full ghosty-anthem girl in one moment straight into her lofty falsetto the next — without missing a breath or a beat. If we were just listening to the bookends of this song, I’d say it was pretty perfect, but she does lose her way a bit in the middle and devolve into a scream-singer. Altogether, though, she had me believing in her every word, and as someone who’s not always been on the Team Darby train, that says a lot. She really sold it with that last dreamy line, to be honest. More of that, please.
Brendan Fletcher (Team Adam)
“The River” by Bruce Springsteen
Blake Shelton hits the nail on the head when he coins Brendan Fletcher a born storyteller vocalist after what he pulls off tonight. Adam does a great job picking a song that is laser-focused on his particular range but doesn’t expect him to blow us away with strength or dynamism. He was told to enjoy singing this song before he hit the stage, and from the cheap seats it sure seems like he did. Plus, he sounded warm and fuzzy and comforting and all the things. He hasn’t always won my adoration, but he did this time. A+ job on this one, all the way around.
Wé McDonald (Team Alicia)
“Love on the Brain” by Rihanna
This. So much this. Look, Wé’s an extremely talented young woman, but over the past couple of weeks, she’s had a few missteps. Tonight, though, she hones in on what she knows and does so well — and completely murders it. How is this girl only 17?!
Frankly, her pairing with Alicia Keys has served her well this week because, for much of the song, her coach’s signature style is written all over what she’s doing. Not only does she kind of sound like her show mentor in some moments, but she carries the same rich soul and decadence that’s made her such a legend in the music world. If she keeps this up, she might just walk right into the finals with Billy Gilman, because this is impressive beyond her years…beyond anyone’s years, really. Clap clap clap clap.
- Team Adam — Billy Gilman, Josh Gallagher, Brendan Fletcher
- Team Alicia — Christian Cuevas, Wé McDonald
- Team Blake — Sundance Head, Austin Allsup, Courtney Harrell
- Team Miley — Aaron Gibson, Ali Caldwell, Darby Walker
Predictions for the Top 10:
I’m honestly a little stumped. Momentums have shifted enough this season already that Aaron Gibson isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be on the chopping block this week (see also: Courtney Harrell and Darby Walker being voted into the Top 11 after being rescued from elimination). Even if he was, he did enough tonight to earn some fans.
That said, if Adam’s right — and it’s not just about vocal skills at this stage in the game, but rather the emotional impact of any given artist’s performance — then it’d seem like Christian Cuevas or Josh Gallagher might be primed to go home tomorrow. Theirs were the least gut-wrenching of the evening, but then again, they’ve also got some serious fanfare in their corner coming into tonight, so that seems highly unlikely.
Even though I’m not sure she deserves it, I’m going to predict Darby Walker goes home. If anyone only caught the middle of her song, they might be less enthusiastic about her future on the show, so that’s all I got.
Tastiest coaching ribs of the night:
Miley (to Josh Gallagher): “You’re the only one in here more drunk than Blake, so good job.”
Blake: “I’ll challenge that.”