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…