The Top 12 performances feature both slips and standouts

By Amanda Bell
November 15, 2016 at 01:18 PM EST
Tyler Golden/NBC

The Voice

S11 E17
  • TV Show

No matter how you feel about the results of last week’s election (ahem, for the purposes of this article, we’re only talking about The Voice‘s first live rounds), you gotta admit the resulting Top 12 is an interesting bunch. Tonight, they once again lay it all on the line in hopes of currying some favor with audiences — and, once again, there are a few surprising slips and even more surprising standouts along the way.

Here’s how the second, less-rushed round of lives went down, followed by a few predictions for tomorrow’s eliminations.

Sundance Head (Team Blake)

“My Church” by Maren Morris

With his crocodile teeth-studded rancher hat and thick beard braid on display, Sundance Head is doing his best Charlie Daniels impersonation on more than just the performance level. The Team Blake favorite turns up the notch on his southern style-o-meter even more — with a light show that should be preceded by more warnings than a roller coaster, no less.

Darby Walker (Team Miley)

“Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones

Look, if I’m being honest with myself and everyone else, Darby Walker has been on my list of need-to-go competitors for a while now — she’s gotten much too far on a played-out impersonation routine where others with more individual talents have been cast aside. Garth Brooks, however, was brought to tears just by talking to her, and tonight it’s clear she’s trying something new to convert some more Team Miley voters into her corner, now that the rescue bids are all dried up.

This isn’t a song you’d expect from her (note: Miley chose it), and it gives her a chance to show off more of her full voice, with some lovely Joni Mitchell moments of falsetto that feel organic and enjoyable instead of excessive. As Blake Shelton puts it, “it kinda shreds and gets raspy [with] more character and passion.” All of that is true, and the song still fits neatly within her wheelhouse without being a “rinse and repeat.” Is it too little too late, though?

NEXT: A rare miss may cost this singer a lot…

Christian Cuevas (Team Alicia)

“The Scientist” by Coldplay

Last week, Christian Cuevas’ decision to opt for a more soft-rock approach to playing up his power pack was a winner — his take on “Yesterday” was probably the best performance of the night, even on an episode that included literally everyone else left on the show. Tonight, though, he reaches way too far outside his comfort zone and finds himself in something of a disaster, where his range is concealed by random squeals and runs that have no place here. Suddenly he sounds like he belongs onstage at a high-school prom during that early hour or so when nobody even wants to dance — a rare miss for him then. Cuevas’ voter base is probably strong enough to pull him through based on prior showings, but tonight won’t have anyone new reaching for their devices, that’s for sure. Hey, as the song says, “Nobody said it was easy …”

Sa’Rayah (Team Alicia)

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi

Billy Gilman (Team Adam)

“The Show Must Go On” by Queen

Billy Gilman seems to get the benefit of the coaches’ doubt no matter what he does, and never has there been more proof of that than tonight. Ordinarily, his notes are masterfully on-key, and he manages to find his own unique spin to place on whatever supernova icon’s number he’s chosen this time. Tonight, though, the speed-up-slow-down pacing of the number has everyone confused, especially Billy. An accidental cutaway to Adam Levine’s scrunched-up face represents all of us and our utter confusion over what becomes a completely uneven performance. Gilman has talent, no doubt, but this song was a major setback — and a surprising one, considering the full-voice powerhouse panache Freddie Mercury embodied seemed like an ideal fit for his pipes and pizzazz. Not so much. He’s got enough hype to help him coast through this round, but if he’s not more careful and deliberate with his performances — because, again, it’s not just the song choice that failed him, but the arrangement and execution — he might not get as far as he hopes.

NEXT: Is this the new frontrunner?

Austin Allsup (Team Blake)

“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” by Aretha Franklin

How about Austin Allsup, everybody? It was only a few weeks ago I thought this guy would be a goner, and lo, he’s gone and turned himself into a serious contender for this whole shebang! Seriously, though, there was a time when his swampy rock-twang thang was getting old, but now that he’s been mixing up the song choices — while still finding stylistic ways of sticking to his own audial aesthetic — he’s really starting to run away with this thing. If you ask me, based on what he went up against last week and tonight, he may just be the most cogent and ready contender in this whole competition. His ease and ability to glide right into his own persuasion, no matter what, is admirable and certainly elevates him to a level above some of the others he’s currently up against.

Wé McDonald (Team Alicia)

“Take Me to Church” by Hozier

Wé let the nerves of the initial live rounds get to her last week, which was odd because she’s otherwise been solid throughout the competition. Tonight, she attempts to rekindle that near-spiritual effect her tones have had upon those who’ve listened to her before, by following Sundance Head in a Sunday sermon of a song on the stage.

As with his rocky road, though, many parts of the gutting power of the original are lost along the — dare we say it? — as she seems to struggle to keep her low notes at the baritone baseline that have made her such a jaw-dropper so far. When she does allow in a little falsetto, she kind of puts the “false” in that term because it doesn’t feel authentic — is there a third layer of Wé’s sound she’s been hiding from us all this time? Is there a singing version of that pixie-like speaking voice she always stuns with? I tell you what: I’d be more interested in giving that a chance than to hear her struggle to stay on the level she was working tonight.

Aaron Gibson (Team Miley)

“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” by Father John Misty

Aaron Gibson has now coined his style “alternative rock” — a highly accurate description — and after he and Miley manage to pluck this song out of absolute oblivion and make it a sing-along-with-able jam, I’m kind of signed, sealed, and delivered onto Team Aaron Gibson now. You know why? The guy doesn’t miss. He knows he’s a redux of the entire jam band generation, and he doesn’t care. He’s still pleasant to listen to as he growls all “Godzilla”-like (Blake Shelton’s choice of simile, natch), and he’s a lot more composed and consistent than his competition right now, so many points for that.

Courtney Harrell (Team Blake)

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith

Sigh. Courtney’s got a bad case of the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” syndrome. Even though Blake rightly rescued her from no-vote doom after last week’s initial round of lives, she’s probably not done enough to turn her voter luck around tonight. She’s been in this business for ages and never got the chance to sing for a crowd, but this might be the end of the road for her on The Voice, guys.

Like Sa’Rayah, she’s drawing from the classic-rock collective tonight in an effort to drum up some new audience interest, but the painful pitchiness of her delivery makes me wish she’d just stuck to something she actually knows and likes to sing. This…wasn’t it. The fact Alicia Keys can only muster up a compliment to her clothing choices when asked about the performance is a pretty good indicator of how the coaches felt about what they’d just heard.

NEXT: Did they save the best for last?

Josh Gallagher (Team Adam)

“Why” by Jason Aldean

Love him or leave him, Josh Gallagher has proven he’s a consistently solid country-music cover artist on this show — whether that will transpire into him being able to promote his own songs remains to be seen, of course, but he’s done good work with what he’s been given. Tonight, he manages to show off a little more of his personality by breaking into an emotional moment after celebrating a month of his new marriage, and it certainly served to humanize the man with the big beard. Blake admits he may have made a mistake letting the guy go, and Garth’s convinced Josh is the guy to walk away from this thing with a record deal. The question is: Are you sold on him yet?

Ali Caldwell (Team Miley)

“Did I Ever Love You” by Leonard Cohen

Ali Caldwell should’ve been chosen as tonight’s closer. She does a beautiful (albeit a little dramatic, with all the red roses in play) rendition of the late, great Leonard Cohen favorite. Ali feels like the kind of singer who could heal a room with her clever runs and authoritative drawbacks. Unlike so many others this evening, whatever brokenness she has on the stage is believable and lovely, and doesn’t feel like a failed effort to adapt to something wrong. She might not have been an early pick for this season’s dark horse, but if she keeps playing it cool and collected like this, she might just find herself in the finale yet.

Brendan Fletcher (Team Adam)

“Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers Band

You might recall Adam saved Brendan at the tail end of last week because, he says, there’s still something he’s doing on the stage Adam connects with. Tonight, Blake Shelton lays out exactly what that is: He’s doing pretty much same thing as Aaron Gibson…only with a lot less volume than his seasonal counterpart. No matter how many strobe lights or hippity hops he throws into the visual element of the show, the fact is he’s honestly very hard to hear whenever he sings — his tones are so low, they sound like a kitten’s yawn even when he’s clearly screaming at the top of his lungs. What gives?


  • Team Adam — Billy Gilman, Josh Gallagher, Brendan Fletcher
  • Team Alicia — Christian Cuevas, Wé McDonald, Sa’Rayah
  • Team Blake — Sundance Head, Austin Allsup, Courtney Harrell
  • Team Miley — Aaron Gibson, Ali Caldwell, Darby Walker

Top 11 Predictions:

  • Despite falling surprisingly flat, Christian Cuevas and Billy Gilman are probably safe for the next round.
  • Austin Allsup and Josh Gallagher will be among the first to get called through to the next round, and Sundance Head will be up there in numbers as well. It’s apparently a good season for country fans, y’all.
  • Wé McDonald and Ali Caldwell will also be voted through, but Courtney Harrell and Sa’Rayah might be in the bottom two after tonight.
  • Brendan Fletcher or Courtney Harrell will go home.

Episode Recaps

The Voice

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.

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