The Voice recap: 'The Knockouts Premiere'
The coaches' decisions are starting to get tougher
The Voice‘s knockouts are upon us, which means we’re starting to get to that key point in the competition where there are few, if any, outliers left. The decisions will only become tougher and tougher for the coaches and, eventually, voters at home.
Let’s take a look at the first group of contestants to make it to the playoffs.
Team Blake: Adam Cunningham vs. Esera Tuaolo
Adam Cunningham and Esera Tuaolo might not seem like the most predictable pairing of the season, since they’re almost nothing alike in style or sound, but they are surprisingly even-steven when it comes to inducing goose bumps.
Adam’s rendition of Chris Stapleton’s “Either Way” is pleasantly intimate, sans the full band, and showcases his salt-of-the-earth vocals and ability to elevate a romantic moody number into something compelling. Meanwhile, Esera Tuaolo’s take on “Superstar” (the Luther Vandross version) has its imperfections and flowery moments but also successfully showcases his grip on the soul scene, with some surprising note runs that make it his own. Both are effective at evoking emotion, though, so while Esera might get to keep his place on Team Blake due to the fact that he’s not like anyone else on that team, Adam Levine is happy to steal country crooner Adam for his team.
Winner: Esera Tuaolo
Steal: Adam Cunningham to Team Adam
Team Jennifer: Lucas Holliday vs. Shi’Ann Jones
Lucas Holliday arrived as quite a surprise for the coaches this season, but when Jennifer Hudson dubbed Shi’Ann Jones the daughter she would hope for, it made her practically unbeatable.
It doesn’t help matters that Lucas’ rendition of Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is” is uneven, and all that swagger that he normally has behind his run game is noticeably absent. Instead of authenticity and attitude, all that’s on display here is effort. He’s still got that cool bluesy sound in spurts, but his attempts to slip in some falsetto aren’t landing the way they have in past performances. Meanwhile, Shi’Ann comes out with a similar number of run reaches for her version of “Who’s Lovin’ You,” but there’s a little more honesty to it. Sure, she’s still not a perfect singer, but she has come a long way already. And when she is on point, she’s got that Toni Braxton-style smoothness with some of Jennifer Hudson’s own brand of power punches, so she’s a shoo-in to stick around on this team. I don’t see her going all the way, but she’s certainly done enough to earn her pass this time.
Winner: Shi’Ann Jones
Team Adam: Addison Agen vs. Dennis Drummond
The more I hear Addison Agen sing, the more I want — nay, need — to hear. She’s got a voice that’s both familiar and completely new at the same exact time. From her soft, supple opening sound to the haunting resonance of her full voice, we don’t even need to know this song (Labrinth’s “Beneath Your Beautiful”) to enjoy it — which, when it comes down to an artist trying to sell records, is pretty much the goal. As Adam himself puts it, her voice “makes [you] feel like everything’s going to be okay.” Yes, it is a comfort, and she can consider me a customer for her first album, that’s for sure.
At the same time, Dennis Drummond isn’t exactly a failure tonight. Sure, he’s not besting Jimi Hendrix or even Dave Matthews with this comparably subdued performance of “All Along the Watchtower,” but his guitar skills are solid, and he’s certainly hitting the right notes. But it’s just no comparison to what Addison can do, which makes this one of the easiest decisions of the evening.
Winner: Addison Agen
Team Miley: Janice Freeman vs. Karli Webster
At first, Karli’s decision to sing “Blue Bayou” is a little bit of an eye-roller; wouldn’t it be more fun to hear her work a less moody anthem by someone like, say, Alison Krauss or Lee Ann Womack? But as she gets further into those sullen notes, it’s completely intoxicating. She misses a few notes near the end and isn’t quite as confident as normal, but she’s still a strong singer, one from whom I’d love to hear a holiday album.
That said, Janice Freeman is a force. It’s so, so nice to hear her finally settle in on a song that’s custom built for her — and get to do so solo this time, sans the scream-singing accompaniment from the battles. She’s sultry, she’s confident, she’s a blast. Her low tones are built with this kind of molten snare that is simply undeniable, especially with this song, Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down,” where attitude and a sense of self-worth are just as important as a competent note reach. It’s just a shame no one’s got a steal to spare for Karli here, because although she wasn’t as convincing as Janice, she’s still worth hearing more from.
Winner: Janice Freeman
Team Jennifer: Davon Fleming vs. Eric Lyn
Coming into this round, my money was on Eric Lyn to succeed over Davon Fleming because while Davon is an incredibly solid singer, Eric’s voice is so much more unique. But boy was I wrong. Because while Eric still has that honey songbird sound going for him, his performance of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is so uneven and off key that it’s almost hard to listen to in some spots. Sure, his gifts and uniqueness are still very much there, but raw talent can only take someone so far when the delivery is so disjointed.
By contrast, Davon Fleming’s rendition of “I Can Only Imagine” is both technically and emotionally powerful. Even as he reaches the highest points of his register, there’s a cool strength beneath each note that’s incredibly impressive. Like Blake Shelton says, he “transform[s] the room.” Eric might have the education and training behind him, but being a church leader has clearly given Davon some soul that he can bring to this stage, and it’s a downright game-changing performance.
Winner: Davon Fleming
Team Miley: Ashland Craft vs. Chloe Kohanski
Well, Miley did predict this one would be a squeaker.
After the battles, I wondered how Ashland Craft would be able to continue finding songs in her particular niche of the country music genre, but she has put any doubt about her flexibility to rest tonight. Tackling Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” is the perfect choice because not only does it give her raspy grit another vehicle to speed away in, but she’s also able to haul all that Southern steel into new territory with this number. Ashland transitions effortlessly from growls all the way to yodel yells and back again without pause. It sounds like hyperbole when people say a contestant can make it to the finale, but if she keeps bringing all this brass to different genres like she has tonight, it might just be true.
But then here comes Chloe Kohanski with a performance that makes good on the title of this round of The Voice. Her achy rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” proves she’s got great pitch, and even her pronunciation choices are interesting. Her voice is like a combination of Alison Mosshart and Katy Perry; her smoky tones are sprinkled with sweet footnotes throughout the song. It’s easy to see why Blake Shelton and Jennifer Hudson line up to steal her from second place. I honestly didn’t know she had this in her. Well played, Chloe. Well played indeed.
Winner: Ashland Craft
Steal: Chloe Kohanski to Team Blake
- Team Adam: Dylan Gerard, Hannah Mrozak, Adam Pearce, Anthony Alexander, Emily Luther, Jon Mero, Addison Agen, Adam Cunningham
- Team Miley: Janice Freeman, Brooke Simpson, Ashland Craft, Moriah Formica, Whitney Fenimore, Stephan Marcellus
- Team Jennifer: Chris Weaver, Shi’Ann Jones, Davon Fleming, Jeremiah Miller, Noah Mac, Katrina Rose
- Team Blake: Mitchell Lee, Esera Tuaolo, Keisha Renee, Red Marlow, Anna Catherine DeHart, Kathrina Feigh, Megan Rose, Chloe Kohanski