The stragglers have (mostly) left the building.

By Amanda Bell
May 01, 2017 at 10:47 PM EDT
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC
S12 E21

The Voice is very, very close to being at the point where everyone who’s left is decent enough to deserve to advance, leaving it to voters’ tastes to decide the rest. That’s how you really know we’re past the halfway mark of this season’s journey: As of tonight, there are only one or two holdovers who seem ripe for the toss.

Here’s how the top 11 performances rang out, with some predictions for the top 10 to follow.

Stephanie Rice (Team Alicia): “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who

Last week, Stephanie Rice promised that she’d cut loose and let audiences see another side of her if she got voted through, and tonight, she makes good on that vow. But she also plays it safe in three out of four verses of this dreary number dedicated to the same refrain that’s gotten her this far. This week, she’s obviously feeling it, though, so when she does escalate from her whispery growl to a full voice and back down again, it’s a smooth enough transition. I can’t find much to hate about it, seeing as she got to have a little rocker-chic fun and still stay true to those husky tones that make her good to begin with. Also? Kudos to her for always playing with the arrangements. But is it enough to keep her in the game? We’ll see.

Aliyah Moulden (Team Blake): “Take it Back” by Reba McIntire

Well, this song couldn’t be more appropriately named because at about the 10th, “Wah! Take it back!” that’s exactly what I wanted Aliyah Moulden to do. It’s no secret that her monotone commitment to max volume is not my cup of tea, but this has to be the worst performance yet, which says a lot. The only inflection she ever offers is some awkward screaming thrown in throughout — no, Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire would not watch this and beam with pride, except over the fact that her version was so much better. Yes, Aliyah’s got a steady voice and strong notes, but scream-singing doesn’t sell albums, and I’m not hearing anything in this performance to convince me she’s The Voice. Next.

TSoul (Team Blake): “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith

Alicia Keys hits the nail on the head when she tells TSoul he should have just stayed at the piano for the whole performance tonight because for those few initial moments when he was on the keys, he was doing something special. The subdued, showmanship-free connection allowed him to travel between notes like it was as easy as breathing. As soon as he stood up, though, things started to fall apart; by the time he lay down, it was a ramshackle mess. I want to root for TSoul because he seems like a genuine artist who has some real vocal skill to back up his energy, but he really does need to button up his performances a little bit if he hopes to get much further in this competition.

Lilli Passero (Team Adam): “Town Without Pity” by Gene Pitney

Lilli Passero does have that Broadway stage affectation going for herself, so this song was a pretty inspired match for her tonight. Kudos to Adam Levine for, in his words, cracking the code on what we needed to hear from her. Somehow, she manages to make this song sound like something straight out of a James Bond intro theme, and it definitely works for her. This is by far her most collected and convincing showcase yet, as she leans into those moody old-timey rhythms that allow her full voice to stay tightly on key the whole time without venturing too far outside of her comfort zone. And to her credit, when she is challenged to reach for some trickier notes, she holds her own. More of this, please.

Hunter Plake (Team Gwen): “All I Want’ by Kodaline

It’s no secret that hearing Hunter Plake sing has been the highlight of the season for me. He’s had occasional misses, sure, and there are even a few notes of his performance tonight that don’t quite land. But overall, he’s one of the most developed and consistent students in the class right now. Every note is deliberate; he knows how to make a performance the full-circle package; and, most importantly, he commits to the vocals above all else, which helps because, ya know, he can actually sing. Gwen Stefani is right to let him make his own decisions here because he knows who he is as a singer.

Vanessa Ferguson (Team Alicia): “Diamonds” by Rihanna

We should start giving out awards for the most accurate coaching commentary of the evening because Alicia Keys is on point tonight again when she makes this remarkable off-the-cuff speech to Vanessa Ferguson: ‘The capacity and the dynamic and the power of your voice is just unmatched. And for you to own that in a way that’s unassuming, it’s so refreshing. You’re not out here like ‘look at me’… This song was a message to yourself not to forget that you are this incredible diamond.” Yes to all of that. Because it’s true. No one seems to understand the power of Vanessa Ferguson’s voice, presence, style, and readiness more than herself. Her confidence is contagious, and she’s just got it. Tonight’s song isn’t her best — that might always be that moment unforgettable mastery she threw down in the knockouts — but it’s still another solid entry for her season portfolio.

Lauren Duski (Team Blake): “Somewhere In My Broken Heart” by Billy Dean

It’s easy to understand why everyone’s left fawning over Lauren Duski after this performance. The best parts of her honey voice come through at just the right moments throughout — from the whispered intro to the head-voice belts that bring out her more metallic tones. My only complaint is that we didn’t get to hear enough of her fuller notes because, man, they are pretty. Blake’s right; she’s a shoo-in for the country music scene.

Mark Isaiah (Team Adam): “How to Love” by Lil Wayne

Sigh. I think it’s really time we stop saying that Mark Isaiah is doing something new with every single song he sings because, to my ear, he’s doing the exact same thing every time, no matter what genre he’s drawing from. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a one-lane traveler, of course, but we don’t need to be beaten over the head with this false narrative that he’s somehow revolutionizing himself week to week. As for the performance tonight, it’s mostly fine. He gets a little nasally and kitschy at times, but there’s a moment when he stands up from the chair to take it to town and delivers on a high-impact ending that should see him through this round.

Jesse Larson (Team Adam): “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man

To my ear, it takes Jesse Larson a full minute to find his mojo in the midst of this hauntingly low-toned number, but once he does, it’s pretty great. He’s definitely good for groove music like this, where it’s not about blaring out some stand-out moment to prove yourself but rather capturing some kind of feeling and putting a soundtrack to it. We already knew coming into tonight that he could handle tunes that live on swagger and dynamism, so for him to draw it back and introduce us to another piece of his vocal palette is refreshing.

Brennley Brown (Team Gwen): “River” by Joni Mitchell

There’s a reason both Lauren Duski and Brennley Brown have made it this far. They might occupy the same space in music, but they’re equally intriguing to listen to. Tonight, Brennley Brown makes the wise decision to turn to a song that’s well outside of her age range and preferred genre to prove that she’s just as versatile and gifted as she’s seemed to be when she’s in her comfort zone. She’s got an undeniable understanding of her own instrument. Her emotional, competent delivery is spot on with this one. (That sound you heard after she was done was me sobbing like a baby. Okay, not really, but close.)

Chris Blue (Team Alicia): “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge

Walking into rehearsals, Chris Blue knew he was expected to serve up a very tall order when it came to this song — which is possibly the most imitated and yet inimitable song of all time. But despite the challenge, he manages to sprinkle in his own personality here and there with some funky scratches and physical riffs in the otherwise classic delivery. He’s been a contender since the beginning, when he snagged the very last open spot in the blind auditions, and tonight he does nothing to jeopardize that stature, even if it’s not his most organic performance of all time. Extra credit for that lava lamp backdrop and the matching red suit, too.

Final standings:

  • Team Adam: Mark Isaiah, Jesse Larson, Lilli Passero
  • Team Gwen: Brennley Brown, Hunter Plake
  • Team Alicia: Vanessa Ferguson, Chris Blue, Stephanie Rice
  • Team Blake: Lauren Duski, Aliyah Moulden, TSoul

Predictions for the top 10:

As much as I like Stephanie Rice, I’m not sure her performance stands out in any significant way compared to the rest. And seeing as she’s been in the bottom rung before, when Alicia Keys had to save her from elimination, it’s not clear if she’s developed enough of a fan base to carry her through.

Also, TSoul’s performance had its ups and downs — quite literally speaking, what with that ridiculous lying down thing he did — but compared to his contemporaries, it might draw less enthusiasm from voters than the rest.

Aliyah Moulden. She’s gotta go, y’all. Case closed.

I say Aliyah Moulden and Stephanie Rice end up in the bottom two, with Stephanie Rice squeaking out a victory in the save-me vote.

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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