Here we go, America! The Voice‘s live rounds begin tonight with every one of the top 24 all crunched together into a two-hour set with nary a montage or production edit in sight. And while some are certainly more impressive than others in this high-pressure scenario, they each do their best to earn your vote into the next round.
The performances are blocked into team sets, with each coach believing that theirs contains the eventual winner. So, let’s take a look at how well everyone does tonight, shall we?
In the prepared footage, Blake Shelton says, “Each one of my artists… has what it takes to be a star. The other coaches better watch out for Team Blake.” Not that his track record doesn’t already speak for itself or anything, but he does seem to have at least two artists who are already ready to knock off some socks, yeah?
Michael Lee — “Every Time I Roll the Dice” by Delbert McClinton
Kicking things off on an intense note is Michael Lee, who proves that he can definitely handle an up-tempo number in a way that some of his contemporaries cannot. His rasp and gift for growls fit nicely with his obvious determination — except for a few spots when he’s rendered a bit inaudible by the bustling background music, that is.
Dave Fenley — “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” by Willie Nelson
Right now, Dave Fenley’s pretty much secured his place as one of the front-runners (if not the front-runner) in this competition, so all he has to do tonight is remind us of how easy it is for him to create an emotional atmosphere whenever he opens his mouth. While this number might be a little slow and understated at first, it allows him to dig into that same deep, smoky sound that’s made him such a star, so he’s done his job here.
Natasia Greycloud — “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande
Kudos to Natasia Greycloud for changing things up a bit by going with a hip pop number here, but this song might be a little too much for this type of live show performance. She’s got some nice textures to her voice and her head range is definitely impressive, but she seems to be stretching the limits of her reach in other sections, which makes this a very mixed performance. Coming in behind Dave Fenley would be intimidating for anyone, though.
Chris Kroeze — “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Although he likes to go into a screechy sound in the big notes, Chris Kroeze’s voice is so much more interesting when he’s playing in his unique mid-range, where he has a lot of softer dimensions to display. Otherwise, he sounds a little like he’s trying to do what Michael and Dave did with the gritty growls, and it’s a little underwhelming by comparison.
Funsho — “How Long” by Charlie Puth
Also appearing to emulate one of his teammates is Funsho, who follows the Kirk Jay playbook from the knockouts by bringing out his instrument and drawing back for a more muted and emotionally charged performance. It’s a smart move because he’s not the only R&B singer vying for votes tonight, so he needs to set himself apart, and lo, this does allow us to hear more of that honey-toned head voice of his.
Kirk Jay — “One More Day” by Diamond Rio
This guy is quickly becoming one of my favorites because he’s just so obviously into what he’s doing that the authenticity factor is off the charts. Kirk Jay does sound a touch shaky in the first verse here, but his rich and delightful twang is just so fun to listen to as he belts out what are clearly some of his down-home country music bops. This isn’t the kind of showstopper performance like he had last week, but he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the next round.
Kelly Clarkson boasts that her team covers a broad spectrum of genres, and for sure the strongest singers of her bunch are very, very different from one another. Whether that translates into a consecutive win or not remains to be seen, but she seems to have one candidate primed for the position.
Abby Cates — “Next to Me” by Emeli Sande
As lovely as Abby Cates’ tender tones are, this song choice is wayyy too busy for her, and she sounds off pitch and out of step with the song throughout the first half. To her credit, she does seem to realize what’s happening about halfway through and steps up her game, but there’s a moment when the background music fades away and she has a chance to steal the moment and run away with it, but she just can’t quite get there. I do blame the chaotic song choice here, but we’ll have to see if she gets another shot to pick something a little more suited to her style next time.
Keith Paluso — “Someone Like You” by Adele
This is team number three for Keith Paluso, so it’s make or break time, and the pressure of this night appears to have gotten to him. In theory, an alt-rock take on this pop-soul number might be the kind of innovation that gets everyone’s ears perked up, but he can’t quite seem to match key with the number early on and what follows is a very scattered, messy effort to make it work for at least half of his stage time. Once he finds the sound he’s been looking for — this growly, haunted take on the well-known piece — it’s a big improvement, but is it too late? We’ll see.
Sarah Grace – “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” by Sam & Dave
It really is hard to believe Sarah Grace is just a high schooler who likes the colors she sees when she sings the blues because her voice is definitely seasoned enough to hang with the best of the old school sob singers in that genre. This song is a little too redundant to really showcase her gifts, sure, but she’s got some legitimate poise there at the piano all the same.
Zaxai – “When I Need You” by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager
This is a good choice for Zaxai to make if he hopes to get people invested in his story as a singer. It’s pretty and delicate and well-known enough without being too overdone to bear. He also smartly pulls back on the playful stage play when he needs to concentrate on his notes — remembering this show is called The Voice and all — and he leans in on his sharper head voice when he needs to. There’s an old school affectation to his notes, and even his sartorial style is transportative, so even if he’s not the most talented singer, he’s playing it smart enough to stick around right now.
Chevel Shepherd – “Tell Me About the Good Old Days” by the Judds
She might be very young, but Chevel Shepherd certainly knows her strengths. Her full voice is piercing, but pretty, and she’s got a built-in air of nostalgia about her that makes this throwback country favorite a perfect match. She sounds like she was plucked right out of this era of music, and her pitch is pretty solid as well, considering how young she is. Nicely done.
Kymberli Joye – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a soulful singer tackle this song (see also: Janice Freeman and Jackie Foster), but few have done it quite like this. Instead of going full bore on the rocker aspects of it, Kymberli Joye doesn’t force herself into the scream-singing mold of the song and gives her own feel. It’s not what we’re used to hearing from her still, but it’s diggable.
Is Adam Levine right that “pound for pound” he has “the best team”? Well, yes and no. Collectively, they’re all strong singers, and he has no obvious weak links, so as a unit, his is the most well-groomed of the night. At least two even seem sure to make it pretty far in this competition, but we’ll still have to see if they’re finale-ready yet.
Steve Memmolo — “More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Staircase
How does this guy keep finding songs that are such exact matches for his personality? In the first few lines of this thing, there is a bit of lifelessness to his performance, but then he leans into the cartoonish showmanship that’s gotten him this far, and it’s surprisingly good stuff. In fact, considering his command of the chorus here, this is probably the most convincing vocal piece he’s had yet. And to think, they almost steered him away from being such a card.
DeAndre Nico — “Ordinary People” by John Legend
The seated storyteller vibe is strong tonight, employed also by DeAndre Nico here, who tackles a very tough tune and is mostly on the money throughout. There’s a nice wholesomeness to his sound, and even when his voice cracks, it kinda works. This one might’ve been a little out of his range in some spots, but he hasn’t foreclosed his future on the show yet either. (OT: Does anyone else think he’s a dead ringer for Muhammad Ali in his prime?)
Radha — “Dusk Till Dawn” by Zayn
I’ve not been so sold on Radha yet because I worried she was all power and no passion, but this song shows us something new of her. The number has a nicely measured pace to test her tones, and while Adam’s still right that her voice is “nine feet tall,” she’s showing us just a bit more nuance tonight.
Kameron Marlowe — “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Rodney Crowell
This is the performance Michael Lee wanted to give us. Kameron Marlowe’s steely, simple sound is totally radio ready, and he knows it. There’s an innate familiarity to his sound that should serve him well with voters.
Tyke James — “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
This is it. This is the exact lane of music Tyke James’ voice was built to travel in because here tonight he sounds just like Caleb Followill. Granted, he doesn’t punch us all in the face with the same power of the original, but his sandy voice is still well matched with this selection. He also seems to have consulted a stylist who advised him to lean into a hipster vibe, rather than his beach bum gear, because he looks like a poster boy for some ’90s grunge band, delightfully so. (This matters because as Carson kinda hints in the introduction, his renegade Romeo appearance might be a boon for his voting prowess at this stage.)
Reagan Strange — “Worth It” by Danielle Bradbery
Reagan Strange is at her best when she’s bouncing from note to note with that bubbly ease of hers, but this song gives us some new softer shades of her tones that are just as pretty. Just when it seems she’s reached the precipice of her range, too, she bursts right through it and proves there’s still a lot to hear from her. She makes it all look so, so easy, which is a testament to how strong a singer she really is.
Jennifer Hudson calls hers “the team to beat” because they’re all so different than everyone else in the competition. Whether that translates to audience interest is the big question mark right now, though.
Patrique Fortson — “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus and Chaka Khan
Tonight, the other fellas in the soul sphere have been playing it a little safer with their approaches, so it’s a good idea for Patrique Fortson to have some fun with his performance and show the vast range he’s got going on. His styling and groove are as on-point as ever, and he really doesn’t even break a sweat trying to reach his ridiculous high and low notes; there’s one run in particular during his performance where he glides through an entire scale without missing a beat. At this point, he’s just making sure we’re all entertained.
MaKenzie Thomas — “I Believe in You and Me” by Whitney Houston
Last week, MaKenzie Thomas leaned on a softer scale and managed to wow Mariah Carey and her coach, so I get why she’s trying to bring that back tonight. However, this is a song where she really needs to juice up the power behind her vocals, or at least alter the arrangement throughout, but instead what she delivers is a very by-the-book rendition that doesn’t quite get there with the emotional appeal of last time.
Franc West — “Apologize” by OneRepublic
This is a dangerous song to try to do in a live setting like this, but Franc West’s decision to dial it down just enough to imbue his very unique funk into the number is intriguing. His voice seems to get stronger and mealier every time he takes the stage, and here, he’s rearranged the notes in a smart way — even if it takes away some of the lyric’s impact when he doesn’t reach for those high notes, he makes up for it with that rounded, vintage sound that’s taken everyone by surprise this season.
Sandyredd — “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige
It’s a well known fact that Sandyredd has a lot of power and can belt like nobody’s business, so it’s probably a good thing she’s starting to explore some other aspects of her capacity than hanging out at level 10 all the way through. Sure, she still gets there with this one, but contrary to the lyrics, there’s still a lot of drama on display before she does so. She’s a cool mixture of Sade and Toni Braxton in the intro tonight, and I want to hear more of that, please and thank you.
Colton Smith — “Scared to Be Lonely” by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa
What is it with Colton Smith and the inaudibility issues? Here, he’s a bit hard to hear again because he’s got his lips pressed to the microphone for the first verse, but once he breaks away from the stand, things get slightly better. He still doesn’t seem to have the kind of confidence of character he displayed in the earlier rounds, and even when he busts out some bigger notes, he doesn’t sound very sure about it. There’s definitely some stiff competition on his team, so it’d be surprising to see him go much further with all of these setbacks, but we’ll see.
Kennedy Holmes — “Halo” by Beyonce
Tonight’s closer is Kennedy Holmes, who was an instant favorite early on after her blind audition but hasn’t quite mystified everyone as much since then. This time, though, she’s coming in with one of the most well-designed songs in modern pop, with a crescendo that can’t help but give people chills. I won’t say Kennedy’s notes are perfect, but she has to get some points for adopting the power and personality of this song very nicely, and her choice to end with a vulnerable falsetto line? A+.
Programming note: Tomorrow night, in addition to the results portion of the show, Kelsea Ballerini’s top two from The Comeback Stage — Ayanni Joni and Lynnea Moore — will be competing for a chance to advance as well.
Adam Levine – Tyke James, Radha, DeAndre Nico, Steve Memmolo, Reagan Strange, Funsho, Kameron Marlowe.
Blake Shelton – Michael Lee, Dave Fenley, Chris Kroeze, Kirk Jay, Colton Smith, Funsho, Natasia Greycloud.
Kelly Clarkson – Sarah Grace, Chevel Shepherd, Abby Cates, Kymberli Joye, Cody Ray Raymond, Zaxai, Keith Paluso.
Jennifer Hudson – Patrique Fortson, Kennedy Holmes, Franc West, MaKenzie Thomas, Sandyredd, Colton Haynes.
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