“I’ll shoot you an email, brother.” –Blake Shelton
The Voice’s Knockouts are the round where singers become performers and while tonight’s performances weren’t as overwhelming in quantity as last night’s premiere, the quality of season 8’s dynamic talent continues, and there was plenty of musical education to go around. I learned a lot tonight: according to guest adviser, Nate Ruess, a song has an arc and a climax just like a movie; Pharrell says you should, “treat your voice like a kite and the wind is the song”; only condition the tips of your hair if you want it to be as beautiful as Cody Wickline’s; and if you’re a country singer, always choose Team Blake. No matter what car salesman tricks Adam throws at you and no matter how many times Pharrell tells you that you are “other,” they are not going to look out for you the way that Blake will. Because if you’re good enough and he lets you go, he will steal you back, and if he lets you go because someone else is better, he will email you later, probably to get you a record deal and an opening act spot for The Swon Brothers within the week.
Heading into tonight’s hour, there are only two Steals left in play, and with one rolled out in the signature Last-Song-Save, I simply don’t know what the narrative angle of the next two Knockout episodes will be. Everyone knows that in Pharrell’s kite analogy, the Steals are the wind beneath The Voice’s wings. Will it have to find new wind to get two more episodes with only Christina’s Steal left? Will that wind be Nate Ruess and Adam Levine creating their own record label to sign insecure young ingénues and shape them into pop-rock goddesses? Will it be Blake squeezing more healthy hair tips out of his contestants? Perhaps Pharrell’s quest to become an actual monk?
I don’t know, I’m just glad Blake used his Steal as appropriately as he did tonight, so let’s get down to it…
TEAM BLAKE: Cody Wickline, “‘Til My Last Day” vs. Corey Kent White, “Live Like You Were Dying”
In a Nutshell: A classic country boy against a contemporary country boy, kind of like you split Craig Wayne Boyd in two.
The Performances: The coaches are pretty much always being hyperbolic when they say someone “could take this whole thing,” but I’m not exaggerating when I say Corey Kent White could probably win The Voice. Not necessarily because he’s my favorite artist going into the Lives, but just because he has “it.” And as he said himself, “If I get outsang, I get outsang, but I will never be outworked.” And he works hard tonight to not let the emotions of the song (his grandfather was in the hospital fighting for his life at the time) overwhelm him, and delivers a powerful performance with his signature rasp; possibly the only person who can sing, “I watched an eagle while it was flying” as earnestly as Tim McGraw is Corey. But sweet Cody is no less earnest and certainly as country as they come. Cody has a great country voice, and as Blake says, one unlike many others on the radio today, but it’s hard to go up against the ease with which you can imagine Corey on the radio… and the stage… and Tiger Beat.
Winner: Corey because he was able to turn real life into art, but Blake is still shooting Cody an e-mail.
TEAM ADAM: Deanna Johnson, “Listen to Your Heart” vs. Blaze Johnson, “You Found Me”
In a Nutshell: Don’t judge a book by its cover or its pitch, judge it by its potential.
The Performances: If Deanna had been up against someone else, I might question how many chances Adam is giving her to get over her insecurity. But I also think her tone and pop potential is undeniable, and I just don’t know how much room there is for Blaze singing The Fray in the Live rounds, even if his energy and commitment to the performance was fantastic. Adam was correct that his lower register, which we hadn’t really heard before, was a lovely surprise this round, but his voice doesn’t hold up to many of the others who made it through in the last round. Deanna’s voice, however, really is something special, if only she can harness that talent and hard work into just as dynamic of a stage presence. I didn’t think she seemed quite as nervous as the coaches did, and was surprised that a few of them gave the round to Blaze, but Adam was at least convinced enough by Deanna’s performance to listen to his heart…
Winner: Deanna, who Adam hopes is finally out of reasons to not believe in herself.
TEAM PHARRELL: Caitlin Corporale, Demi Lovato’s “Warrior” vs. Hannah Kirby, “Higher Love”
In a Nutshell: Can a powerhouse touch your heart?
The Performances: Typically, this would be a classic vocal prowess vs. stage presence (see above) round, but Caitlin and Hannah happen to possess both of those to varying degrees. Hannah is just… like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I laughed out loud at her practice and performance multiple times, but not because I was laughing at her, just because she is singularly entertaining to watch. It’s almost easy to forget that she sang the hell out of that song because I was so busy watching her perform. Nate tells Catilin, however, that her voice is always there, but she has to feel what she’s singing. Demi Lovato songs just happen to be 100 percent power, and an additional 100 percent feeling, so it’s hard to deny a voice like Caitlin’s, though it personally would have been more difficult for me to deny Hannah’s unique combination of dynamic personality and dynamic vocals.
Winner: Caitlin for her vocal power, but Pharrell assures Hannah that everyone believes in what she does…
“Yes they do!” –Blake Shelton with the STEAL
Did Hannah deserve her Team Blake homecoming? Are the Live Rounds shaping up as they should, or with so many evenly-matched Knockouts, are the judges making decision no Steal can get them out of?