Like many live shows that aired this week, The Voice began on a somber note. Carson, the coaches, and the contestants all gathered for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Paris terror attacks. It was a brief but powerful occasion of somberness before a night of performances, both serious and lively, began.
First to take the stage is Gwen’s 15-year-old powerhouse, Braiden Sunshine. Gwen tell us that Braiden came in this week asking for a rock song after all that Bread and Bublé. She complies with Styx’s “Renegade.” I had hoped Adam had already used up this season’s ration of cheesy stadium anthems on Manny Cabo and Keith Semple, but alas, there was more prog-rock where that came from. A funked-up, bluesy jam would have served Braiden better and been more tolerable for the audience. “Renegade” demands an attitude big enough to fill the theater, and the kid doesn’t have that type of personality. Much of his performance fell flat, and I have to wonder if, again, that’s because Gwen is styling him into someone that he’s not. The difference between the way Braiden looks in rehearsals — curly mop, glasses — and the way he looks onstage — straightened hair, bare-faced — is the antithesis of the show’s “be yourself” mantra.
Next, the four coaches’ saves all perform in a row. First is Amy Vachal of Team Adam. Adam surprises me with his song choice for the first time in a long time: he gives Amy Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Immediately, this becomes way more interesting than anything Amy’s done so far, and she hasn’t even opened her mouth yet. A jazzy reinterpretation of a current hip-hop jam sounds exactly like the type of song that could go viral. But to take it to the next level, Amy has to play along. She has to acknowledge that this performance is a little tongue-in-cheek. Instead, she plays it completely straight and loses out on the fun of the song. Despite all that, it’s still her most affecting performance to date. She brings out an eerie edge lacking in the original, and she looks powerful on stage. My biggest gripe: She didn’t do the Drake dance!
Directly after Adam’s save comes Pharrell’s, Mark Hood, who sings “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. Mark says it’s time to show a different side of himself. This time, there will be no jumping around the stage or throwing every trick he knows at a song. His plan is just to give a meaningful performance. It’s his best strategy: Mark was the most controversial save last week, and he needs to prove himself to those who aren’t happy he’s still here. In that, he did not succeed. Without all the bells and whistles, Mark is still a good singer. But is he anything more than that? I felt no connection to his song, and I spent most of the performance imagining what wonders Darius Scott could have done with it instead.
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Then it’s Team Blake’s Emily Ann Roberts’ turn at the mic. Blake gives her a song that lets her get a little sassy — “Blame It on Your Heart” by Patty Loveless — and it’s the right choice, especially after last week’s slowed-down hymn. This song needs a really clear attitude: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” But Emily Ann is so sweet, even her most brazen vocals come off as more cute than mad. She could have pushed “Blame It on Your Heart” much harder. With her distinct bluegrass tones, Emily Ann has a sound that could take her far — but I don’t know if she has the vocal instincts or ability to back up her natural talents.
NEXT: Gwen creates a Mini-Me