During the final Voice episode before the show goes live, the remaining singers had just one chance left to impress their coaches. Unfortunately for several of the more unique contestants, the coaches all played it safe this time.
Team Adam’s two remaining country singers, James Dupré and Shelby Brown, faced off in the first Knockout of the night. Well, Shelby considers herself country, but this is actually the first time she’s gotten to perform squarely in that genre. She chooses “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood to show off her chops. (Shelby also first sang this song for her third-grade talent show — and lost. This is her chance to redeem herself from her elementary school defeat.) “Jesus Take the Wheel” is a smart pick that allows her to do just that. Shelby debuts a sweeter, more intimate side to her voice, even though she’s still bringing serious power with her performance.
James says that being on Team Adam forces him to stretch himself as an artist. But his Knockout song, “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” by one Mr. Blake Shelton, isn’t a stretch at all. James might be playing the long game and hoping for a steal from Blake if Adam doesn’t pick him to move forward. But if that’s his angle, James is out of luck: Blake already used his steal. Blake actually remarks that “Sure Be Cool if You Did” is a pretty laid-back choice for the Knockouts — code for kinda boring, especially considering James is up against Shelby. James has a solid sound, but he doesn’t connect with the audience, and he doesn’t, as Rihanna puts it, have a “spark.” Adam picks Shelby to move on.
That means the latest version of Team Adam is complete. He’s taking Keith Semple, Blaine Mitchell, Jordan Smith, Amy Vachal, and Shelby Brown to Lives.
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Next comes an unexpected pairing from Team Pharrell: lovable pipsqueak Siahna Im versus the exuberant Mark Hood. They both perform classic R&B, but these two could not look more different. Mark decides to go old school again for his Knockout and sings Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” He declares he’s trying for a more toned-down approach this time, and I wonder if that’s a wise move at this point. I also wonder if Mark’s stage antics are beginning to distract from his vocals. He updates “Stand By Me” (as much as a 55-year-old song can be freshened up) with riffs and a spin move at the end, but it’s not his most thrilling performance.
Siahna picks a great song to show off her soulful voice: “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse. The low key and melancholy tone fit her well, though it’s impossible to imagine any adorable 15-year-old having the life experience to relate to Winehouse’s tortured lyrics. But despite the better song choice, Siahna still falters. She doesn’t hit all her notes, and she doesn’t seem as alive on stage as we’ve seen her in the past. Adam says Siahna is still one of a kind, but Pharrell make a tough call and keeps Mark in the competition.
Gwen then pairs off her two soulful rock singers (as she calls them) Jeffery Austin and Kota Wade. On no planet is Jeffery a rock singer, but he still delivers serious heart to his performance of Adele’s “Turning Tables.” If nothing else, Jeffery has proven he’s more than willing to challenge himself with tough songs: He sang Sam Smith for his audition. He brings his own interpretation to a very well-known record and shows off his knack for clever runs.
Kota, on the other hand, really is a rock singer. She decides to take on Heart’s “Barracuda,” calling it the “ultimate embodiment of female rock and strength.” Rihanna and Gwen both caution Kota that this vocal might be too much for her. But then Kota lets out her full belt, after which no one considers questioning her abilities again. That belt gets used for almost the entire performance. While it’s powerful, it also doesn’t give Kota any room to grow. You’ll never be bored by a Kota Wade performance, and The Voice needs at least one singer who’s bringing that in-your-face energy. But it’s not going to be Kota Wade this season: Gwen decides to keep Jeffery on her team.
NEXT: A Voice hopeful Blake is convinced he’ll hear on the radio
Blake’s final Knockout is between the only R&B singer on his team, Nadjah Nicole, and his youngest country performer, Emily Ann Roberts. Emily Ann chooses to exhibit her the bluegrass side this round by singing the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Her voice is still bright and lovely, and the extra flavor of the genre works in her favor. But when compared side-by-side with this season’s frontrunners, she doesn’t have that same captivating quality for me.
Like Kota and Jeffery, Nadjah picks another impressive song: “A Woman’s Worth” by Alicia Keys. If Nadjah is to continue, this has to be the song that sends her to the next level. She certainly delivers her best vocal performance yet. Although she never moves from behind the mic, her body language exudes confidence, like she’s really found her niche. Her rich sound comes from deep inside her; then she seamlessly switches into an endless run that reaches up to the highest part of her falsetto. She’s good. But Blake makes a surprising choice and keeps Emily Ann on his team. He explains that he chose the younger talent not because he thinks he could hear her on the radio but because he thinks he will hear her on the radio.
Carson then announces the winner of the one montaged Knockout, between Team Blake’s Zach Seabaugh and Chris Crump. Zach is moving on, and Team Blake is now complete: Ivonne Acero, Barrett Baber, Morgan Frazier, Zach Seabaugh, and Emily Ann Roberts will all compete in the Lives.
Team Pharrell’s final Knockout is between powerhouse Evan McKeel and the more understated Tim Atlas. Evan takes on a song as big as his voice, Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move.” He starts out accompanying himself on the guitar, but Rihanna and Pharrell quickly make him abandon it. Note to all Voice coaches: Not everyone who wants to play while they sing is “hiding” behind their instrument. Maybe the guitar would have helped Evan’s performance. He’s one singer who certainly doesn’t worry about nerves on stage, but his theatrics can come off as inauthentic. Still, there was nothing wrong vocally with his performance. He still has an impressive range and a strong intuition for dynamics. He’s a very safe bet to bring to the Lives.
Tim, on the other hand, is still a bit of an enigma. His audition was montaged, so we first heard him sing during the Battles, when Pharrell stole him from Team Gwen. Tim is the kind of low-key artist whose style doesn’t revolve around big notes or jaw-dropping runs — though, in his own way, he’s as much a showman as Evan. Tim’s appeal lies in his singular, raspy tone, which he puts to good use on Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” Gwen calls it “ear candy,” and I’m keen to hear more. But Pharrell feels differently, and he chooses to keep Evan instead.
The very final Knockout comes from Team Gwen’s two Battle steals, Regina Love and Riley Biederer. Regina decides to go with a classic, “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips. In the past, she’s had trouble refining her sound and showing off more than just raw power. This time, she’s able to deliver a vocal that’s tender, before building up to her sledgehammer of a belt. No one can say Regina is lacking for personality or drive. She wants this, bad, and she’s giving it her all.
Riley gives herself a big challenge by choosing to sing Beyoncé’s “XO.” But she’s smart, too: Riley knows she can’t compete with Queen B, so she mixes up the record enough to make it her own. Riley has the most swag of anyone on The Voice, and she makes the audience believe she’s already a bona fide pop star. Her sultry voice has an Ellie Goulding quality I’d like her to explore more. But when it comes down to it, Gwen says she can’t ignore what Regina did to the room and gives the oldest singer in the competition the final spot on her team. That leaves Pharrell to chime in with his final steal, securing Riley back on her original team.
Going into Lives, Team Gwen is now represented by Braiden Sunshine, Korin Bukowski, Viktor Király, Jeffery Austin, and Regina Love; Team Pharrell’s got Darius Scott, Madi Davis, Mark Hood, Evan McKeel, and Riley Biederer.
- Blake’s bald jokes were becoming a familiar part of his shtick, but he couldn’t keep it up: There wasn’t one mention of Dr. Evil or any other bareheaded icon this entire episode
- Farewell Rihanna. I will miss your insightful advice to the contestants and your clever putdowns of Blake. Perhaps you could be persuaded to take up a more permanent position on the show next year?
- Riley Biederer becomes the seventh singer ever to be stolen two times on The Voice. Just like Morgan Frazier and every other twice-stolen singer, save one, she returned to her original coach