“No more steals, no more saves—just REBA.” That wasn’t the official tagline of the Top 12 Performances, but it could have been. Other options: “Peace, Love, and Reba”; “ain’t no party like a Reba part ‘cuz a Reba party don’t stop”; “your mom loves Reba McEntire, and so do you, because she’s freakin’ Reba McEntire and she’s the best” At a point where everything the superstar coaches have to say starts to blend together, it’s nice to bring one of the biggest cultural icons of multiple generations into the mix to shoot the artists straight about what it takes to give a captivating performance and make a cover your own.
We’ve reached the time in the season where the coaches are both out of compliments and still not down to really criticize anyone, so they just end up being speechless or saying that they’ve run out of ways to tell everyone how they’re the future of music, a one in a billion vocal talent, etc. And while this season is especially worthy of much of that positive praise, it was good to have our girl Reba around to shoot the contestants straight in rehearsals. My personal favorite: “I didn’t understand anything you were saying,” “Shouldn’t you smile?” and “You didn’t have a good time doing that, did ya?”
Oddly, on a night that seems so important—even though I swear Carson has told me that the power is shifting over to America eight different times at this point—the performances overall took a small dip, mostly in the way of a few baffling song choices. But the episode was also especially back-loaded, so where it started off a little generic, by the last two chart-worthy numbers, I was throwing my body around the living room in excitement…
TEAM BLAKE: Hannah Kirby, “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks
Adam pointed out that it’s easy to overlook Hannah’s vocal talent because of her dynamic performance style, but tonight, I felt like the very good vocal was getting overshadowed by Hannah being slightly overwhelmed by the larger production of the numbers in the Top 12. The song was a good fit for Hannah’s voice, but when you strip it down to an iTunes single, it wasn’t a cover worth buying if you already have the original.
TEAM ADAM: Brian Johnson, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” by Sting
Adam basically told Brian that Sting songs are nearly impossible to sing and then said, “Here, sing this Sting song.” But Brian actually sounded quite good on the cover (I also really liked his look tonight) and the coaches all say that you can sit back and relax when Brian comes onstage. It’s true that he’s a consistent singer, but with his proclivity for soft rock, I’m just not sure where he fits into the current music landscape as a recording artist.
TEAM CHRISTINA: India Carney, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier
After a big moment for India last week, this wasn’t as strong of a follow-up as it could have been. Christina wanted her to get gritty and “a little evil” with Hozier’s eerie hit, and while India threw a lot of passion at the performance, there were a few too many smiles to quantify it as gritty. India has a dramatic, stylized approach to performing that always makes her interesting to watch, but in combing that with letting loose toward the end of the song, she lost her vocal in a noticeable way.
TEAM PHARRELL: Mia Z, “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones
Mia Z, she of the whistle notes and freakish teenage poise, is the one Reba told she couldn’t understand anything she was saying. And Reba was right (duh). As much as Mia embodies what she’s singing, you often can’t understand her—I think someone needs to tell her to move the mic away from her mouth just a centimeter. But still, Mia has such presence on stage and a serious arsenal of range that she can pull out effortlessly. Pharrell likes that this week she set goals for herself and met them in every way in her performance.
TEAM ADAM: Deanna Johnson, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United
I’m not afraid to say that Adam totally biffed it on the song choices tonight. It’s one thing to have an artist sing a certain genre of song because it would suit their voice perfectly, but Adam had Deanna go from a gospel song last week to a contemporary Christian song this week that didn’t particularly suit her unique tone, and when she showed reservations about singing two religious songs back-to-back he told her no one really listens to the lyrics if you’re living the performance… or something. Is it so much to ask to just give this girl a Florence and the Machine song and see how she does?
NEXT: Don’t change the channel until the rock ballerina sings…[pagebreak]
TEAM PHARRELL: Sawyer Fredericks, “Imagine” by John Lennon
Reba is immediately pretty stunned by Sawyer’s voice, so I at least know I’m in good company in “getting” Sawyer. There is something so pure about his tone and delivery that makes the meaning of his performances perfectly clear—“Imagine” probably wasn’t the most innovative choice to show that skill off, then, but it did the job effectively. There was a moment where Sawyer’s voice kind of gave out, but he had everyone convinced that it was intentional, and the coaches note that his musical instincts are all natural, not something that can be coached.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Rob Taylor, “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Rob says that since coming on The Voice, he has discovered the artist that he wants to be thanks to Christina. His vocal wasn’t perfect tonight, and he has to master the middle ground between his falsetto and lower register, but it’s clear that he’s a performer who has really grown and developed in the time that he’s been on the show, and that’s an exciting thing to watch. “I Put a Spell on You” is no stranger to a singing competition, and Rob’s wasn’t the most unique rendition ever, but his energy and commitment might just push him to the next level.
TEAM BLAKE: Corey Kent White, “Why” by Jason Aldean
I’m not sure why this went so south. Corey is a capable singer and his very natural sincerity is always a selling point when he’s sung less upbeat songs, but it was hard to get past him being flat for much of this performance. Blake says when Corey hits the point that it all comes together—the attitude, the connection, and the vocal, I imagine—he’ll be a threat to win the show.
TEAM PHARRELL: Koryn Hawthorne, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson
Finally, after a lot of good-but-not-great performances, this is where the Top 12 took a turn. It’s hard to put a pin in Koryn. We’ve seen great from her, but we’ve also seen middling performances from her, and I think it all comes down to song choice. Koryn was ready to come out and deliver the message of this song to every person who didn’t vote for her last week, and boy, did she deliver with passion and resolve. I loved watching her step up and rearrange the song with Pharrell and the band, and her arrangement is what made the song feel so personal to her. Also, Reba said she fell in love with her, so no matter what happens, she’ll always have that.
TEAM ADAM: Joshua Davis, “America” by Simon and Garfunkel
Joshua singing Simon and Garfunkel seems a little on the nose, but also, Joshua was singing Simon and Garfunkel, so who cares. Adam tells him that to really win this thing, it’s probably going to require him to be uncomfortable and challenges him to sing without the guitar. Joshua is, indeed, a little uncomfortable with the idea, but he did it and, once again, filled the whole room up with his soothing but powerful style.
TEAM BLAKE: Meghan Linsey, “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town
I’m going to pull a Blake and say that I’m not entirely familiar with this Little Big Town song, but Meghan Linsey just made me a believer—a believer in the song, a believer in the sentiment, and especially, a believer in her. I’ve always known Meghan had a great voice, but tonight, something about her and the artist she’s trying to be clicked. I’m sure she had been straying away from performing country a bit because she’s already lived that chapter of her life, but it took a country song to show that Meghan’s sound and presence transcend country music because she can take a current country hit and make it sound like her very own genre-defying… Meghan thing.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Kimberly Nichole, “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals
Kimberly. Nichole. KIMBERLY NICHOLE! I don’t know if Kimberly will run away with this competition or not, but I certainly haven’t seen anything like her on a singing competition show in a very long time. Or ever. I was so excited last week to see Kimberly step outside of her persona and into the artist that she wants to be. She rocks. She rolls. She lives in that spotlight and isn’t giving it up until the band plays its last note. Kimberly took her time to let the song build and when she lets herself go, she goes all the way. Tonight, I truly felt like I was watching Kimberly perform at her own concert and just wanted to see more.
What did you think of the Top 12? Did the Coaches’ saves from last week prove their worth? Who are your picks for the Top 10? Have you been keeping up with the iTunes charts and what are they telling you about who this season’s real top contenders are?