It's practically Sunday service as these singers pray for a spot in the finale

By Amanda Bell
May 14, 2018 at 10:49 PM EDT
Trae Patton/NBC
S14 E25
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It’s pretty rare that The Voice actually pulls off a theme, but tonight, it seems to happen accidentally. So many of the song choices tonight seem to center on church or social betterment and unity and revolutions. Maybe it’s the political mood of this moment, or maybe it’s a happy accident, or maybe it’s because these people know that half of them are going home and they want to say a little something to the watching world before they go, but whatever the reason, there’s a whole lot of messaging going down on the voice.

As for the singing? It’s hit or miss. The standout moments are close to epic, but there are some not-so-great moments that remind us just how uneven this season’s batch of hopefuls really are. Let’s walk through each of the performances and see where that might land us, prediction-wise.

Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli
“What the World Needs Now is Love” by Jackie DeShannon

She might be young, but Brynn Cartelli’s got a very mature attitude about making it to this moment. As she puts it, “I didn’t even think that I was turning a chair, so the fact that I’m here is awesome.” Tonight, she’s not just trying to convince us of her emotional advancement; she also wants us to know that vocally, she can hang with the rest of those left in this competition as well.

With a sultry, dreamy approach of this number, she’s able to lean in on those tones that do make her unique here. She’s not quite jazz or R&B but she’s also not rote pop, either. The gimmick here does get a little old about halfway through, though, so she tries throwing in some new growls and runs to break up the monotony near the end, which is clutch. If it’s not enough to get her to the finals, this is a fine performance to go out on.

Kaleb Lee and Pryor Baird
“Hillbilly Bone” / “Hillbilly Deluxe”

I’m b-b-b-b-bored. Okay, that’s a cheap joke, but it’s true. Admittedly, neither of these numbers being mashed up are on my regular playlist, so maybe Kaleb Lee and Pryor Baird have just put together a brilliant arrangement, and all the Hillbilly-themed song lovers of the world are just b-b-b-b-b-bowled over right now. What I will say is that the main reason I tend to hate these duets is that the singers usually cannot cooperate with one another to present one clean aesthetic, but with these two, it’s no trouble. They’re not carbon copies of one another — Kaleb is more general country crop, while Pryor is a sandpapery rock-ish singer — but they’re able to trade lyrics, lines, and even rhythms well enough to make this a cohesive, and even slightly entertaining showcase. Duets are still lame, but for a healthy portion of this one, it’s not totally terrible, even if still incomprehensible and repetitive to the point of yawn.

Team Alicia: Jackie Foster
“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake

Jackie Foster has tried the grunge rocker thing before on this show, and it was only so-so. It was enough to get her through to this point, of course, but her style selections have been giving me a serious case of whiplash, so I’m not going to try and pretend to understand her personality or why this particular song choice is a fit for her.

However, it is worth noting that this isn’t some diet goth impression going on here. She’s actually quite attuned to the nuances of this song and smartly draws the notes back enough throughout the open that when she does get to the point of the massive scream to close it, it’s a surprise, and a pleasant one. The third act is pretty pitchy all around, but she still has done something cool here.

Kyla Jade and Spensha Baker
“What’s Going On” / “Rise Up”

Yeah, okay. Here’s the rare exception to the rule about duets being pure tragedy because this is pretty magic. Not only do the songs combined here blend well in style and spirit, but Spensha Baker has also slyly found the song to suit her voice. Maybe country music isn’t her true lane after all? Sure, Kyla Jade risks being relegated to background singer status a bit here, but together, the two sound just lovely. I’m still not crazy about this format, but this is a rare win for this tradition.

Team Adam: Rayshun LaMarr
“Imagine” by John Lennon

It’s no secret that Rayshun LaMarr has the sunniest personality, so this song choice seems to have the glove fit effect for sure, especially after he upgrades it with his own modern gospel persuasion. He’s fighting an uphill battle, of course, having nearly gone home twice already, so the chances of him making it to the next stage are probably slim. And frankly, this one winds up sounding a lot like his prior performances, but if he wants to leave us with a message that’s very him, this a good lyrical vehicle for him to drive home with.

Team Blake: Spensha Baker
“My Church” by Maren Morris

This feels like one of those songs that’s really trying to be something transcendent but doesn’t quite get there, doesn’t it? Spensha’s coming off of an excellent duet showing, so by nailing this one, she really does have a shot at seeing this thing through to its final week…BUT. You knew there was a but. The but is that this song seems to strip her sound of the texture that made her voice so compelling just a few moments before. She seems to be having a blast, which is certainly worth something, but it’s frustrating to watch someone with her chops have to hover at level 10 for so long that her voice drops out again and again and again. She’s better than this ultra ordinary song choice.

Team Blake: Kyla Jade
“Let It Be” by The Beatles

Annnd we’re back with another Big Message song from the Beatles, and here again, we’re going full gospel with it. The key difference, of course, is that Kyla Jade’s voice sounds like a thick, slow-moving syrup instead of the hot honey Rayshun LaMarr was working with. The contrast is pretty amazing, really, and it only works to Kyla’s benefit. Whereas Rayshun seemed to be cheering up the crowd, she’s offering a teachable moment about grace and patience and restraint, and with the very choir-esque backup vocals in play, it’s delicious. My only complaint is that she does get a little carried away at the end with the screams, but there’s so much truth to her delivery here, it’s hard to get mad at it. With this, she seals the deal on her advancement to the next round for sure.

Brynn Cartelli and Britton Buchanan
“FourFiveSeconds” / “Can’t Always Get What You Want”

The best thing I can say about this is that Brynn Cartelli sounds an awful lot like Kelly Clarkson when she’s doing her infamous concert covers here tonight. Britton’s completely lost in this song and, despite some efforts to reclaim his cool guy persona, becomes utterly forgettable as soon as it’s over. Neither of them are winning here with this, but at least we can hear Brynn for the most part. This is why duets are almost always useless time-killers that should be abandoned by this show. Give the kids two smaller songs apiece at this stage and be done with this forced, hammy nonsense that rarely does anyone any favors (except, hi, “Smyla”).

Team Kelly: Kaleb Lee
“It Is Well with My Soul” by Audrey Assad

Whoa. This is actually very good. Perhaps it’s his personal connection to this song — he says his father walked away and wanted nothing to do with him as a child — or his comfort with the Christian soft rock genre, but hearing this, I can definitely imagine Kaleb Lee and his guitar here just like this, standing at the front of a room full of worshippers in one of those new-age nondenominational churches with the mod bands as people sway with their hands up, immersed in his soft delivery. It’s a good fit, and if he wants to distinguish himself from Pryor Baird, this is a good way to do it.

Jackie Foster and Rayshun LaMarr
“Believer” /”Radioactive”

You know what? This one makes sense. Maybe it’s because the songs are so alike in structure that they blend so nicely, or maybe it’s because Jackie Foster and Rayshun LaMarr recognize this charade for what it is and are abandoning all hopes of standing out here in favor of just having some fun with these throwaway minutes on-stage. They both hang with the rap-light lyrics and hit the right rocker anthem notes, and while it might not be showing off their finer strengths as vocalists, this is still one of the better group performances of the entire season. Who knew.

Team Blake: Pryor Baird
“Change the World” by Eric Clapton

At this point, I wish I just didn’t have to write about Pryor Baird’s singing anymore because it makes me feel unkind. In the rehearsal footage, we’re told that this is his favorite song that he’s done on the show, and I’m completely at a loss as to why. This is a great song, no doubt; it’s cheery, subtle, optimistic, and sweet…in Clapton’s voice, at least. In Pryor’s, though, it’s harsh and inflexible and grating. This song demands someone with nuance and variety in their voice, which makes it an incomprehensible mismatch for him.

Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan
“The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen

Britton Buchanan’s getting the closer spot, which is high praise for him, and he really needs the boost after that non-showing during the duets earlier. Apparently, he’s been wanting to sing some Bruce Springsteen for weeks, and the Boss finally came through for him. From his general presence on the stage, it’s clear how much he honors this music and wants to do it justice, but judging purely by his vocals, there’s something missing here. He seems to have a handle on the musicianship element, but his voice is just ho-hum, even after the backup singers crowd the stage to try and collectivize one more holy moment on this night of so many church sessions. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great, and with half of the contestants going home tomorrow, this might not be the wow moment Britton needs to keep in this thing. But, hey, at least he got to rep one of his idols either way.

Predictions:

I stopped counting Pryor Baird out a long time ago, but this might be the night it actually happens. His duet was fine enough, considering how terrible those things can be, but it was completely off-message compared to the rest of the night, and besides, there were two groups that did it way better later. While Kaleb managed to seize upon his moment with that religious number coming in at just the right time, Pryor’s solo was…irritating. I think he’ll finally go home for it.

I think Brynn Cartelli also goes home tomorrow. Her opening was well-meaning, but it dragged and only showed off a single card from her deck, and her duet was the worst of the night. Britton Buchanan will go home for similar reasons. The thing that might save one or both of these guys is carryover fan fervor.

Kyla Jade is going to the finals. There’s just no way she hasn’t earned that. Meanwhile, Spensha Baker might just find herself there, too.

I’m torn about Jackie Foster. On the one hand, I expected her to be sent home long before this, but on the other, her performances tonight were better than usual, and she does seem to occupy her own lane here. She’s no Chloe Kohanski — she has nowhere near the charisma of last year’s winner — but her solo and duet songs were both fun and spirited. She can’t win, but she might just advance.

Rayshun LaMarr will probably go home. He’s good and so easy to root for, but he failed to show us anything truly new of himself tonight, despite a very promising solo song selection.

I think the Top 4 will consist of: Kyla Jade, Spensha Baker, Kaleb Lee, and Jackie Foster or Britton Buchanan. But, again, this season has been so sloppy and strange, it’s still anyone’s game, even now.

TEAM STANDINGS:

Team Adam: Rayshun LaMarr

Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan, Jackie Foster

Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli, Kaleb Lee

Team Blake: Kyla Jade, Pryor Baird, Spensha Baker

Episode Recaps

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