The Voice recap: 'The Playoffs, Night 1'
Team Jennifer and Team Blake make their picks for the top 12
If nothing else, The Voice sure does manage to put on the most eclectic concert series anyone would ever expect to hear in one sitting each week. From swamp country crooners to church-worthy gospel singers to gnashing rock chicks, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy.
Tonight, the remnants of Team Jennifer Hudson and Team Blake Shelton vie for the coveted final three spots on each team before we head into the live rounds, and there are quite a few surprises — for better and for worse.
Let’s walk through how the playoffs pay off for these two teams tonight.
Jennifer Hudson’s first year on the American version of The Voice has already been filled with interesting choices, but tonight, her best options present themselves to her pretty clearly.
Holy mackerel, can this man sing. Jennifer Hudson knows what Davon Fleming is capable of — evidently even better than he does — and assigns him a song that’s probably nearer and dearer to her heart than most: “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls, the movie that won her an Academy Award. Davon’s been good all season. Solidly, consistently so. But tonight, his coach is obviously trying to nudge him from solid contestant to frontrunner. This is a bold melody for him to approach. And Jennifer is right to trust him with it, because it certainly accelerates my appreciation of him.
Davon starts the song with subdued, almost breathy tones and progresses into some beautiful belts — it’s like we’re all riding an escalator into a past generation of groove music. His control is impressive, and even those moments when he doesn’t hit the expected note are powerful enough to work. He could stand to dial it down about two notches with the runs, but it’s still a top-notch showcase, and it’s hardly any wonder why the opposing coaches are left stunned and jealous of Jennifer Hudson.
All season, Hannah Mrozak has, for me, done just enough to slip through each round, but tonight’s performance isn’t quite as convincing as the rest. Singing Kesha’s “Learn to Let Go,” Hannah leans into some serious Leona Lewis tones, but it feels like a generic version of that radio sensation.
She’s still got a nice pop-rock sound at points, especially when she veers away from cry singing, but she mostly stays at full tilt, which is already old about 30 seconds in. It might be her lack of connection to the song, but the emotionlessness of this routine is obvious and off putting.
Oh man. Lucas Holliday has been a fun element of this season for sure — his enthusiasm and energy are certainly infectious, and, yes, he’s got some soul that might not be expected of him at first glance. But tonight…I’m sorry, but it’s so bad.
Why Jennifer Hudson decided to assign her comeback artist here to Prince and the Revolution’s “The Beautiful Ones” is beyond me, because it’s an absolute mismatch. Somehow, Blake Shelton is left with goo-goo eyes for Lucas after the performance, but to my ears, he does nothing but butcher the thing from top to bottom. His whisper tones in the intro are excruciatingly forced, and his attempt to riff with squeals and low-note grabs to spice things up is counterproductive. That said, I’m going to blame it all on the song selection here because Lucas has certainly shown that he’s gifted and can jive with other music.
There’s a lot to like about what Shi’Ann Jones manages to accomplish with her performance of Ariana Grande’s “Tattooed Heart.” There’s a decadence to her voice that’s a reminder of all the easy-listening R&B we got from the likes of Toni Braxton and Monica in the ’90s, and yet there’s also some courage to her note runs that harkens back to Mariah Carey in the Daydream days.
Jennifer Hudson, of course, hears and sees a lot of herself in Shi’Ann Jones, which is why Jennifer has always been so patient with her. But with so much ache and force teeter-tottering throughout her showcase, Shi’Ann is really laying out a buffet of her gifts and hoping her coach will find something to her liking. Luckily for her, Jennifer hears enough to know that she’s got something worth working with in Shi’Ann’s skill set.
Up until tonight, I never really realized how much Chris Weaver and Davon Fleming have in common, and now that they’ve performed in such close sequence, it’s pretty clear which of the two is readier for this level of the competition.
While Chris’ take on Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” is filled with his strength and satisfyingly coarse voice, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Unlike Davon, who methodically moved from one octave into another and back again, Chris hits the precipice of his vocals and lingers there the entire time. There’s no doubt he’s got talent and so much heart, but against Davon, it’s unexpectedly underwhelming.
I feel like every time we hear Noah Mac sing, he sounds just a touch different than ever before. That’s certainly true of tonight, as he tackles Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” with an absolute crescendo of a performance that begins with some maddeningly soft (and let’s be honest, reaching) low tones and ends with him losing all abandon and rocking right on out with the sticky street rhythms of this contemporary classic.
The first verses are not impressive, but there’s something much more authentic about what he puts into the rest of the song, introducing a new growly mojo to his stage presence. It makes me want to hear much more of that from him. What begins as a yawn ends in a head bang, and I’ve got to respect that.
- First Jennifer Hudson chooses Davon Fleming to stay because, as she points out, he has definitely showcased his fitness for this competition.
- Then, she lands on Noah Mac as her second wave-through because she’s convinced he can “play both sides of the coin” and bring both an entertainment factor and a solid vocals.
- Last but not least, she opts for Shi’Ann Jones to stick around because Jennifer has has considered her a daughterly figure from the get-go, and she’s shown enough raw potential here to prove that she can be coached into improvement.
- That means we’ll be saying goodbye to Hannah, Lucas, and Chris.
Credit where credit is due: Blake has been taking some chances on non-country artists this year, and it’s really been paying off for him. Although some members of his remaining squad practically eliminate themselves through poor performances tonight, what he’s left with is a pretty strong little trio indeed.
Red Marlowe’s been nothing if not consistent throughout the season so far, but tonight actually gives him a chance to try something just new enough to stand out. Sure, Vern Gosdin’s “Chiseled in Stone” might not be the kind of song to get every audience member mouthing along to the lyrics, but it’s just familiar enough to be warm and inviting, and it’s twang-free enough to be very near to mainstream for modern country fans.
Red’s got some strong Willie Nelson notes coming through in tonight’s showcase, fitting for his particular subgenre of deep, old-school country. This is his most convincing delivery of the season so far, if you ask me, even if he’s still a bit boring in his key choices at times.
My apologies for forgetting Chloe Kohanski in the predictions list last time. Truly. Because, yes, Chloe’s rendition of “Landslide” during the Knockouts was sublime. If anyone has developed an impressive portfolio of performances this season, it’s Chloe.
For the playoffs, Blake Shelton doesn’t stray far from her safe zone and chooses the Cyndi Lauper song, “Time After Time.” Chloe manages to make it even more calm than the original and doesn’t take too many chances by straying far from the source material. Thanks to that, we get to hear her organic, tempered, lovely tones come through…time after time…but about three repetitions in, it starts to drag. Wisely, though, she tacks a sick power note onto the tail end of the tune and clenches it. Chloe is the kind of singer you just want to hear more from. As Blake might put it, “I’m a fan.”
It’s honestly a little bit of a shocker to me that Blake decides to bring back Natalie Stovall as his comeback artist because her knockout performance was so lackluster that it seemed like sending her home would be an easy break for him. But not only does he give her a second shot in the playoffs, he also hands her double duty of having to play her fiddle in Garth Brooks’ already cumbersome love anthem “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”
The song is busy all on its own, so adding in her instrumentals and weird dance moves means Natalie can hardly catch her breath before she’s back at the mic, sounding more nasal and unrehearsed than ever. Hey, maybe Blake just brought her back to make this round’s cuts easier on him.
It hurts to say this, it really does, but Esera Tuaolo definitely makes the biggest mess of the night. There’s pretty much nothing nice I can say about what he does to LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live.” Esera is incredibly likable, he approaches the stage in earnest, and it’s easy to want him to do well. But this song is just too big for him in every respect.
While he seems to thrive in that happy beach vacation vibe, he just cannot deliver what he needs to make a rendition of this massively emotional number work. To be fair to Blake Shelton, this song was first popularized by someone who was still a teenager at the time, so experience isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for performing it, but with Esera’s particular range, he could spend a decade practicing and never be the right fit.
When we first learned that Mitchell Lee would be singing “Heaven” by Bryan Adams, I literally typed out a four letter word preceded by “holy” that perfectly described my enthusiasm, but…that was a premature reaction to the news. While I was hoping this might be his moment to break away from those “folk-rock jam sessions in the college courtyard”-style expectations that he’d built up so far this season, it’s just too much for him tonight.
That said, he does deserve some credit for not getting exposed quite as badly as Lucas, Esera, and Natalie, thanks to some clever rearrangement that collapses in all the notes that would have stretched his reach beyond repair. But he never takes it home, and when you’re at a cutthroat moment like this, you have to deliver something truly convincing to keep going. Pity.
This freaking woman. Can I go ahead and pre-order her album already? Keisha Renee is the real deal. She can sing anything and make it all her own. Tonight, she handles The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge” like she wrote it all for herself, and I’ve still got goosebumps.
Her voice is classic and transformative at the same time. She’s got those choice runs and escalations that separate her rendition from the original, but there’s so much authenticity in her delivery that it’s easy to forget any other version of this song exists anyway. Keisha Renee might just be the surprise of the season if she can keep pulling this off. Jennifer’s right: She does merge gospel and country music in a way that’s been talked about very often on this show, but rarely accomplished. She’s got it, and she makes it look effortless, too.
- After her absolute gut-punch of a performance (not to mention last week’s work) even Blake can’t help but choose Keisha Renee to stay first. She’s his star, and he knows it.
- The writing’s pretty much on the wall that Blake won’t let Red go without a fight, so it should surprise exactly zero people that he’s going to stick around a bit.
- Blake might’ve been leaning toward keeping Mitchell around longer, since he’s kinda-sorta in his wheelhouse, genre-wise, and he has that good-old-boy appeal, but Chloe Kohanski has done more than enough to secure her spot. He admits he’s surprised that a stolen contestant has become such a must-have for Team Blake, but it’s also the right call.
- That means we’ll be saying goodbye to Natalie, Esera, and Mitchell.
- Team Adam: Anthony Alexander, Emily Luther, Jon Mero, Addison Agen, Adam Cunningham
- Team Miley: Janice Freeman, Brooke Simpson, Ashland Craft, Moriah Formica, Adam Pearce
- Team Jennifer: Davon Fleming, Shi’Ann Jones, Noah Mac
- Team Blake: Keisha Renee, Red Marlow, Chloe Kohanski