Even with the standard coaching from their red-chair-sitting superstars and additional guest mentoring from an all-powerful producer, the Top 10 contestants mostly seemed to be put out on their own to sink or swim this week. The Top 10 is a make-it-or-break-it time when the diamonds in the rough show their shine, the frontrunners cement their status, and the middle of the pack quickly become the next up on the chopping block. There’s nothing the coaches can do to change that, so they asked almost all of their performers to go out there and bare their souls, and that resulted in a much larger disparity of talent in the Top 10 than we’ve yet seen from this group as it’s gotten smaller and smaller.
This season there simply haven’t been too many low lows, but there were some middling middles tonight… and then there were the highs. Oh, did we reach some heights tonight with a few of these contestants, some of them barely in legal possession of a driver’s license. And as much as those performances were appropriately praised, with the Top 10, the coaches are apparently finally ready to get a little critical when their artists don’t perform well. I mean, no one even skirted around the idea of saying anyone did poorly, but lyrical flubs were pointed out, mistakes in risky song choices were considered, and, when in doubt, outfits were complimented.
When The Voice starts rolling out the big guns as far as production is concerned (that was a lot of backup singers and sassy violinists!) the people who are really ready for primetime reveal themselves, especially when they have some of the top producers in music—Mark Ronson for Team Christina, Scott Hendricks for Team Blake, Dave Stewart for Team Adam, and Ryan Tedder for Team Pharrell—helping them out behind the scenes. As Carson said at one point, “There’s something going on tonight,” and while it wasn’t going on all night, it was going on occasionally, and I’m ready to see more.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Kimberly Nichole, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James
In seems almost inappropriate to open the show with Kimberly Nichole because who could possibly hold up that standard? The woman is sheer command and confidence—she was wearing a white applique and mesh jumpsuit, for goodness’ sake! Etta James is more soul and less rock than we’ve seen from Kimberly in a while, but her performance is still totally her. Her vocal had so many different levels, and this performance shows that even when she’s not in her lane, she elevates everything she does. Kimberly just is the lane.
TEAM ADAM: Joshua Davis, “Hold Back the River” by James Bay
And then there are some artists who maybe don’t need to mess around with trying out other lanes. Many people have enjoyed Joshua’s soothing tones and emotional connection throughout the season, and weren’t really begging for him to take vocal risks that he probably wouldn’t if he was making his own album. Adam even admitted that the risk didn’t pay off in every way, but he says the mission to show that he can handle his higher register—an argument only Adam seemed to be clamoring to settle—was successful.
TEAM BLAKE: Hannah Kirby, “Shout” by Tears for Fears
Hannah was excited to “let it all out” on this song, but Hannah always kind of lets it all out; more so what ended up happening was a huge production that made this performance seem even more ’80s rock than its original rendition. That’s a voice that Hannah’s big, powerful (and truly impressive at times) voice lends itself well to, but as Ryan Tedder later pointed out, there are ways to make very decade-specific songs more current, so that it’s easier to imagine the performer in the current music landscape. I just can’t quite get there with Hannah, though I always enjoy hearing her let it all out—and watching her dance it all out.
TEAM BLAKE: Meghan Linsey, “Home” by Marc Broussard
As someone who isn’t familiar with Meghan’s country career, it’s almost impossible for me to imagine that she hasn’t always sung exactly as she does now. Her soulful style is just so honest and lived in. Tonight, in what Christina deemed her best performance yet, some of that might have had to do with her personal connection to this song about growing up in Louisiana. I’m glad to hear from Blake that Meghan’s self-assuredness behind closed doors is growing to match the confident performances she gives onstage, but I might also like to hear something a little less… intense from her at some point.
NEXT: Gird your hearts, Koryn is singing Ed Sheeran…[pagebreak]
TEAM PHARRELL: Koryn Hawthorne, “Make It Rain” by Foy Vance, as covered by Ed Sheeran
Well, wasn’t this just a middle-of-show performance to end all other performances ever? Koryn has had impressive performances, and her voice is frequently technical perfection, but tonight, everything clicked into place and then got on a rocket ship and blasted into outerspace. Pharrell has said a few times of Koryn that she plants herself onstage, sucks up the energy through her body, and puts it back out into the audience, and nowhere has a Pharrell-ism ever made more sense than that theory applied to Koryn’s performance tonight. Her emotional connection to this song about struggle, and hope, and change, and her ability to convey that to the audience goes so far beyond a good voice. How all of those coaches kept from shedding tears is beyond me because I was moved to pieces.
TEAM ADAM: Deanna Johnson, “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane
The instincts that Koryn has at just 17 years old can’t be taught, but letting go enough to connect to the real spirit of a song and share that with the audience can be learned with time. I understand the potential that Adam has seen in Deanna, or rather, I hear it. Her vocals aren’t always perfect, but her tone, and hints of an exceptional range, really are something special—or rather they will be. Adam says he’s just happy to have seen her confidence grow, and I’m plenty happy for that, too, but I’ll be happier to keep my eye out for her in five to 10 years when she’s really had the time to grow into performing, perhaps not on national television.
TEAM CHRISTINA: Rob Taylor, “A Song for You” by Donny Hathaway
It’s hard to even remember the Rob Taylor who originally auditioned for The Voice; he’s shown so much more of himself now. The days of Rob just being a crazy capable falsetto are long gone. He’s shown that he can nail ever part of every octave that his voice is capable of, and just about every one of those was in this Donny Hathaway song. Rob (or Christina) does have a tendency though to go for songs that make him push his range back and forth too quickly and that can lead to breathing and control issues. I’d like to hear him do something a little more understated soon.
TEAM BLAKE: Corey Kent White, “Unwound” by George Straight
Corey is cute, not just in looks but in persona; he has a nice voice to listen to with just a little something different to it; and he has serious love for his chosen genre. That is enough to make you a star in the right hands. But it’s not enough to make you a top contender on this season of The Voice. Singing this George Straight song does bring out a slightly edgier side of Corey vocally (his rasp is really endearing), but he’s going to have difficulty keeping standing out in this sea of women who could sing the phonebook and make you feel it.
TEAM PHARRELL: Sawyer Fredericks, “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls
The same things could be said of Sawyer at times, but Sawyer has also dominated the iTunes charts in this season—there is something special in that 16-year-old. And I’m afraid this wasn’t exactly the song to show that specialness off. If the entire performance had been like the last 20 seconds, it could have been up there with the best of the best tonight, but as it was, this song choice showed a bit of a learning curve on staying in control of and emotional vocal.
TEAM CHRISTINA: India Carney “Run to You” by Whitney Houston
And we ended the night with a nice message: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. India tried out for The Lion King with this song a few years ago, and Whitney did not win her any parts that time. But this time, her dramatic and energetic performance at least probably earned her a part in the Top 8. Whitney Houston songs are almost always going to be a bust as far as making the original your own goes, bit India hit some truly impressive notes, and as always, delivered plenty of vocal drams, and with a little less vibrato than usual this time.
What did you think of tonight’s Top 10 performances? Did the future Finalist set him or herself apart from the future Twitter save contenders? And if so, who’s leading and trailing the pack?