No one's perfect tonight, but there does seem to be a breakaway in play

By Amanda Bell
April 30, 2018 at 11:14 PM EDT
Trae Patton/NBC
S14 E21
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At this point, we can pretty much all agree that this season of The Voice has been a bit tedious, right? Sure, there are some singers who seem to be progressing in a big way (especially so tonight, for a couple of them), but there have also been a lot of uneven moments and a general directionlessness in the song selections.

This time, the show hands the keys to each contestants’ fans to see what they think their favorites should be performing, and it’s a marked improvement for almost everyone involved, as far as fit goes. It’s still a little hard to see an endgame taking shape for this season, though, since so few have been consistently good. For now, we’ll just have to take this thing week by week and see how it all shakes out, because right now it’s pretty much anyone’s game and no one’s all at once.

Team Blake: Pryor Baird
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger

Pryor Baird has never really had a problem finding songs that are in his wheelhouse, but thanks to fan requests, he may have found his most fitting piece yet with this amorous anthem. Blake Shelton wisely advises his charge here to try and change it up, offering America a softer side of the season’s scratch king, and lo, he manages to pull it off quite nicely in the final moments, breaking away from that razor rock side that’s so singly defined him so far for a more tender spot that’s especially appropriate, given the theme of the song. It’s still a signature Pryor Baird bag, of course, but it’s the best one yet, to my ear.

Team Adam: Sharane Calister
“Hero” by Mariah Carey

For a lot of people, Sharane Calister has been the surprise standout. Even so, though, saddling her with a peak Mariah Carey song is … a little ambitious. To her credit, she tackles the song without hesitation, finding some value in singing this number on the same night that her twin sister can attend and make the lyrics ever truer for her on a personal level. At first, she comes at it with a softer, almost zen persuasion, and it works. If you can’t reach Mariah’s level, create your own, it’s as simple as that. But that approach also presents some moments that are simply devoid of the kind of fervor we need, and she ends up having to punch for the sky in the second half. What results is a confusing, unfamiliar rendition that’s only good in spots.

Team Kelly: Kaleb Lee
“T-R-O-U-B-L-E” by Travis Tritt

If Kaleb Lee’s looking to distinguish himself from Pryor Baird — which, um, he probably should, lest they risk canceling each other out — going all-in on a twee country favorite like this is as good a way to do it as any. Apparently, this is a song that’s been in his musical repertoire since childhood anyway, so that’s an unexpected feather in his cowboy hat, and he can definitely keep pace with its breakneck lyrical speed. The problem is, despite how jaunty the tune is, his rendition is so rote as to be rendered boring, except in that last line belt where the fact that he nails it is probably a dealmaker in and of itself. Overall, this is well played and should resonate with anyone who would sing along with something like this.

Team Alicia: Jackie Foster
“Love Reign O’er Me” by The Who

Apparently, Jackie Foster has her own well-established fanbase called the “JackPack,” and they know her well enough to have requested this rock ballad for her rather than, say, something mainstream audiences may know. It’s hard to know whether this’ll work out in her favor, because not only is it not the kind of number people know by heart, but she also changes the original. This is slow and dry, and I’m not sure she’s bringing forth as much intensity as she thinks she is. Alicia Keys literally cheers for her, rah-rah-rah-style, when it’s all said and done and swears this is the best capture of her true style, but I’m not sure that latter comment is a compliment. We’ll see what the JackPack thinks of this effort come results time.

Team Adam: Jackie Verna
“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter

If I were a gambling woman, I’d bet this’ll be the most-downloaded song of the night for two reasons: (1) It’s just old enough to be the kind of tune you’d want to listen to in a slightly updated format, and (2) she does well enough with it to earn some serious interest in her recorded version. Jackie Verna starts out in her very unique, high head voice, which turns out to be a great match for the number. There are a couple of awkward spots where she dives into her chest voice and doesn’t seem quite as comfortable matching the notes from there, but the real problem is that the arrangement of the song rips away all musical interludes that might make such a transition a little smoother for her. ’Cause otherwise, this could be great.

Team Blake: Kyla Jade
“Sweet Baby Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone)” by Aretha Franklin

Blake Shelton is right. Kyla Jade is starting to threaten to run away with this season. Unlike a lot of the others, who seem to have given us everything they’ve got already and are just trying not to screw it up, Kyla Jade is actively getting better. A big part of that is the fact that she’s getting more and more comfortable in her own skin, which means she’s able to lay into the kind of supportive swagger that makes her delivery that much more lush. This is energetic, technically sound, transportive to a different era, the works. There’s not much better she or anyone could’ve done with this. She’s one of the rare few who’s been on a fully upward arc, and if she can keep that up, she might be the closest thing we have to a frontrunner right now.

Team Alicia: Christiana Danielle
“Umbrella” by Rihanna

It’s good to know people because Alicia Keys had to get Jay-Z’s permission to let her contestant perform this song on the show, per fans’ request. And like many of Christiana Danielle’s performances this season, there are some good moments, and there are some confusing pieces as well. She’s at her best when she’s able to deliver a decisive performance, instead of a patchwork of tones like this — from a few solid high note inserts to some weird whispery bit in the final verse — so this is not her most convincing showcase. At all.   

Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli
“You and I” by Lady Gaga

Hmm. On the one hand, this is not your prototypical Lady Gaga number, so there’s bound to be some streaming interest in this tune, which means it’s sort of a smart choice. On the other hand, there’s just not much to the song, which leaves Brynn Cartelli in a song-long struggle to keep it from being a lifeless broken record. It’s also a little too low for her in some spots, but in the context of the evening overall, this is pretty middle-of-the-road.

Team Adam: Rayshun LaMarr
“Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding

Rayshun LaMarr is in an undesirable situation right now, knowing he was in the bottom two last week and had to fight his way back to this point. Although recent history (see also: Adam Cunningham) has proven that being relegated to the bottom two isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all of a contestant’s career on this show, the odds still aren’t favorable. But you couldn’t tell any of that from Rayshun LaMarr’s sunny disposition in both the pretaped footage and his live performance. If anything, he seems even more hyped and determined to put on a good show for everyone, and while there’s not a ton of tenderness to be found in his actual stageplay, there’s plenty of spirit and tonal acuity. Adam predicts he’s just elevated himself from the bottom two to the tippy top tonight, so we’ll see whether he’ll have to sing tomorrow night again or not. Perhaps without D.R. King to directly compete with, he’ll have better luck gathering an audience of voters.

Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan
“Perfect” by Ed Sheeran

Ah, young love. Tonight we get a little gossip as we learn that Britton Buchanan and Livia Faith became a couple after meeting the blind auditions, and now it’s hard not to imagine what a teen dream duet from those two might be like. For now, though, we’ll have to make do with his almost-unplugged rendition of this overplayed, well-known love song that he seems to be coming at with an almost Righteous Brothers-esque vibe going on in rehearsals. Once he hits the stage, there’s something pretty personal about him dropping the guitar for a change, and while his vocals do seem a little rawer than usual this time as he very noticeably misses some notes, this is mostly enjoyable.

Team Blake: Spensha Baker
“Better Man” by Little Big Town

I really, really like this song choice for Spensha Baker because we really do need to hear something with a severe emotional bent to be able to understand all that heart she’s obviously working with. And while the intro is choppy, as Blake Shelton warned her in their barside rehearsal session, she still has a lovely vocal temperament. Her notes are never quite perfect, and that’s been a problem for singers of her stature in the past on this show, but when she does hit the right notes, there’s a gooseflesh-inducing power to her performance because of how genuine a person she seems to be. It’s hard not to root for her.

Predictions:

Assuming Rayshun LaMarr is able to break the traditional repeat trend that tends to plague alums of the bottom two, I think we might just see Christiana Danielle and Jackie Foster facing off for the save-me vote. Jackie’s delivery was nowhere near the power play she probably hoped it would be, and Christiana’s delivery was so scattershot that it’s hard to imagine many people being overly impressed, especially with her being preceded by Kyla Jade in one of her finest moments of the show. Head to head, I’d give the edge to Christiana, though, and say Jackie might be sent packing tomorrow night.

TEAM STANDINGS:
Team Adam: Sharane Calister, Rayshun LaMarr, Jackie Verna
Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan, Jackie Foster, Christiana Danielle
Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli, Kaleb Lee
Team Blake: Kyla Jade, Pryor Baird, Spensha Baker

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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  • 04/26/11
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