Christina came to play. But surely even Christina couldn’t have predicted going into the Live Playoffs just how dominant her team would be. Through the season thus far, Christina’s narrative has seemed destined to be what it has often been for her team in past seasons: A crew of technically amazing belters who either don’t connect enough or don’t stand out enough to imagine them anywhere in the current music landscape. But tonight, once again, I found myself thinking multiple times, “I want to hear that album.” The coaches—especially, Christina—have been much smarter this round about asking their contestants to show us who they are before trying to show us what they can do and that has led to performers presenting themselves as artists rather than just a fantastic voice (ironic, I know). The impressive thing about the contestants this season is that the best ones from each team are showing new sides to themselves every time they step out onstage.
That stands for the other three teams, as well; though Adam doesn’t seemed to have cobbled together the typically dominant team that he has in the past, he still had a stellar couple of showings tonight. The top moments from the second installment of the Live Playoffs made a few of the most exciting memories from last night seem but distant amateur memories. The best artists from each team seem to be discovering the performers they really want to be live onstage and what that’s giving us is a real competition. I don’t just want to see the Top 12 battle it out next week, I need to, because unlike many seasons, those finalist spots are up for grabs with many—many—a worthy contender.
TEAM ADAM: Tonya Boyd Cannon, “Take Me to the Pilot”
The best thing about Tonya’s performances is always her confidence. She’s completely comfortable onstage, which separates her from the younger or less experienced artists, but after three competent performances, it’s also made her a little predictable. At this point I feel like I know what a Tonya performance is like—and it is very good, don’t let me mislead you. All of the coaches couldn’t help but use the “took us to church” analogy on Tonya’s performance of one of Elton John’s more gospel-y songs, and it’s true… I find it hard to imagine her as a contemporary recording artist, but she should certainly be entertaining big crowds.
TEAM ADAM: Joshua Davis, “Budapest”
Joshua is the kind of contestant The Voice loves, and for good reason. He’s a total pro, with the stage presence to prove it; but Joshua’s voice is what sets him apart from former beloved contestants who were also fighting the good fight as working musicians with families. The judges aren’t exaggerating when they say there is something very special about his voice: It’s not just soothing, it’s emotionally effecting from the moment you hear it. The very current George Ezra song was a great choice if only for making me wonder what kind of music Joshua might write himself to suit his unique tone and talents if he was handed a record contract after all this is over.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Sonic, “I’m Going Down”
This was just an unfortunate showing for Sonic, who is so dynamic when she’s at her best, but got off to an off-key start tonight, which she couldn’t every entirely overcome. I love this song—everyone loves this song—and expected Sonic to do great things with it, but whether it was the noise from the audience, or a mix-up with the band, she was under the key for most of her live performance. As the judges noted, she did fight to get back on top of the vocal, which made for a few swelling moments and a fiery sort of connection to the song, but Sonic getting to the Top 12 will have to be based on past and potential.
TEAM ADAM: Brian Johnson, “At This Moment”
Brian has such a nice voice to sit back and listen to, and his style is so sweet and emotionally driven—somehow compliments like those always end up sounding like negatives on a show like The Voice, though. Brian has an old school air about his always technically proficient vocal style, and giving him a classic ’80s ballad at this leg of the competition probably didn’t do him any favors in setting him apart as an artist with a unique point of view. But he’s certainly an artist with a powerful range, confidence onstage, and endless vocal potential, and that’s worth hearing more from.
NEXT: An old pro shows a new side…[pagebreak]
TEAM CHRISTINA: Kimberly Nichole, “What’s Up”
And then there’s Kimberly Nichole. There needs to be a verb for simultaneously head-banging and crying because that’s what I felt like doing while marveling at Kimberly’s Linda Perry cover. Christina knocked it out of the park with song selections this week, not just because they were good fits for her artists’ voices, but because they were picks that asked more of her artists than perhaps even they knew they had in them. I was so thankful when Christina requested that Kimberly break out of her performer’s stance because she put her finger on the thing I haven’t been able to figure out that was keeping me from connecting to Kimberly. She’s a professional who’s been performing every night for years, and while that makes commanding the stage and audience effortless for her, prior to tonight, I haven’t felt like I was seeing things from her that she was doing for the very first time.
But tonight, Kimberly gave a performance that could absolutely never be replicated. Pharrell put it best when he said it was PER-fection. She was completely vulnerable to the story of the song, and rang every bit of anger, desperation, and hope out of it in her few minutes onstage. And don’t even get me (or Blake) started on the perfectly utilized tutu. Kimberly and her incomparable wardrobe is the one to watch.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Lexi Davila, “All By Myself”
I momentarily retract my compliments on Christina’s song selections for whatever judgment lapse resulted in giving teenage Lexi one of reality TV’s more tired power ballads. There was little evidence of the nerves that Lexi has showed in past performances, and to her complete credit, she connected to this song more than any 17-year-old should be able to. There were definitely some pitch issues, but also a few great moments once she got out from behind the mic that make me want to see Lexi and her newfound confidence perform something that could show more of her personality.
TEAM ADAM: Nathan Hermida, “Chains”
Whereas with Nathan, I just kept thinking that it was nice that this nice kid got a chance to get outside of his comfort zone and have the experience of performing onstage. The high schooler just isn’t quite ready for this level of performing yet. I was impressed with his crowd interaction and that he was able to get a little aggressive with the performance, but sandwiched between the drama of Kimberly and what’s coming up next, Nathan just didn’t quite have the emotional connection to get to that next level.
TEAM CHRISTINA: India Carney, “Hurt”
India is another one who I’ve been excited about in theory, but a little disconnected from in execution… and who gave a performance tonight that made it all make sense. First of all, good on Christina for handing over one of her most vulnerable songs for India to spread her wings and fly with. Second, good on whoever came up with the combination of India’s awesomely large hair, shadowy lighting, and tight close-up of just her face for the opening verse. That was the perfectly dramatic start to what’s becoming clear is India’s signature dramatic style. Pharrell equated the rises and falls in the emotion of her performance to watching a film, and while I don’t know if India was actually being vulnerable, or just playing the part of being vulnerable very well, I do know that it worked. The woman knows how to command the attention of an audience.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Rob Taylor, “Earned It”
And this is where Christina cemented her status as the dominant judge of season 8. It’s not that Rob’s was the best performance of the night, but this unveiling of a new side of himself made it clear that Team Xtina is where he’s meant to be. Rob’s vocal wasn’t perfect the whole time, but his range is incredible, and he almost seems to only just be discovering exactly how dynamic he is. The potential of his lower range coupled with what has always been an undeniable falsetto is very exciting. Not to mention the physicality of his singing that Adam so helpfully replicated.
TEAM ADAM: Deanna Johnson, “Down to the River to Pray”
Deanna, Deanna, Deanna… since her four-chair turn, Adam has been trying to convince Deanna to believe in herself as much as he does, and he’s been keeping her around for the past few weeks in the hopes that she would. And tonight, you could almost see the self-confidence washing over her as she finally got comfortable with what she has to offer the audience. Deanna’s tone is all her own, with a haunting quality that could adapt itself to so many different genres, and tonight, showed its potential in a melodic spiritual journey. She seemed thrilled to be onstage sharing a story, and I’m excited to hear more.
Did tonight reach even higher heights than last night’s Playoff opener for you? Now that you’ve seen all four, which coach has the strongest team, and does that team have the season 8 winner? It only takes one, after all…