By Amanda Bell
December 03, 2018 at 11:09 PM EST
Tyler Golden/NBC
S15 E21
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We’re getting close to the end of The Voice‘s 15th season, so now’s not the time for anyone to choke, and yet … well, we’ve still got a few stragglers left in play, it seems. Tonight’s performances are very varied. We’ve got some artists who are ready to completely own their desired routes, others who’ve still got some kinks to iron out on the technical side, and others who are outright exposing their own weaknesses and thus readying themselves for the chopping block.

Let’s take a look at tonight’s round of performances, shall we?

Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer) — “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor

Is Kennedy Holmes safe enough for the semifinals to start experimenting this way? Coach Jennifer Hudson chooses this peppy jam because it allows her to pop and lock and have fun like any other 13-year-old might. Fair enough. It’s fun to see her excel at choreographed dance moves and show off how well she can maintain her breath amid all that stage play. If the idea here is to show us what she’d be like as a full-on performer, mission accomplished. However, we don’t get to hear as much of her vocal strengths as with previous performances, so Kennedy’s right that it’s a risky choice. She’s pretty much banking on voters to remember her competence with the big ballads, but attention spans are pretty short ’round here these days, so we’ll see if this is the right call or not.

Reagan Strange (Team Adam) — “Cry” by Faith Hill

In a word? Oof. Normally, I’m pretty sold on Reagan Strange’s uniquely sharp tones and ability to hop nimbly around her top range all song long. This time, even that’s not working though. Never minding the fact that for a good half of the song, Reagan’s simply unable to reach the low notes she needs — we are duly warned about that in the rehearsal footage, so let’s just ignore it for argument’s sake. Even the mid-range and falsetto pieces are way off. It’s pitchy and so zero-to-sixty that all power is lost in this adaptation. Combined with the attempts to whisper her way through the bottom verses, it’s not even close to good. The coaches have to resort to complimenting her for being so young and willing to take on a tough song instead of saying anything about her actual vocals tonight because, yeah, they know it.

Sarah Grace (Team Kelly) — “Amazing Grace”

This might be an unpopular opinion, but… why? Why did this happen exactly? Look, Sarah Grace’s vocals here are refreshingly good. She’s got that deep Moaning Myrtle vibe down to a science, and woo, she can handle that trumpet too! Without missing a single note even! But the effect of her piling the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” on top of the exact instrumental arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” is that I am left wondering why she didn’t just sing “House of the Rising Sun.” This all seems like a lot of effort to make something different that really doesn’t need to be. She can still be an ~artist~ and not have to turn songs into a patchwork quilt.

Kymberli Joye (Team Kelly) — “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”

Now, this is more like it. Here we have a singer who knows who she is and what she wants to do and, most importantly, how to do it without having to bring in all kinds of overproduction nonsense. Kymberli Joye’s take on this gospel number is about as pure and polished as she could make it, and she wisely holds back on the blistering belts to leave us with something honest and heartfelt. Her voice has never sounded more convincing — kudos to those fans who convinced her to finally just commit to this genre that she loves so well because this is a good fit for her.

Chris Kroeze (Team Blake) — “Callin’ Baton Rouge” by Garth Brooks

Blake Shelton is right. When it comes to Garth Brooks’ music, there’s a danger in not reaching for every familiar note, especially with a long-lived earworm like this one. Luckily for him, Chris Kroeze does as he’s told and makes sure to go for those bouncing beats, subbing in his more tender head voice for those snarly growls to make it happen. And while it’s a little awkward in the intro verse as the effort to honor the original is very obvious, it definitely reaches “barn-burner” status by the halfway mark. And that bit with him doing an instrument-off with the fiddler is fun as hell, too.

Dave Fenley (Team Blake) — “When You Say Nothing At All” by Keith Whitley

I don’t care if it is the most obvious route for Dave Fenley to take, hearty country music ballads like this were built for a voice like his. This isn’t a perfect performance by any means, but the material matches his rich, raspy tones so well that it’s completely effective and arresting to listen to him sing it. It is a little surprising (read: disappointing) that he still doesn’t have enough command of his instrument to go full throttle without losing his breath, but this is still the lane he needs to be on, and it’s good to hear him travel down it again.

DeAndre Nico (Team Adam) — “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars

Adam Levine wants to award his contestant bonus points for electrifying the room because he doesn’t think that comes through the screen. Doesn’t it, though? There’s definitely a moment in this delivery where DeAndre Nico evolves from dropping lyrics and fumbling with a few awkward oohs and ahhs to make up for the lost lines to owning his words and actually trying for a few of those rangier, Bruno-esque notes. Until then, though, the first half or so of this song is sloppy at best. His coach promised those who saved DeAndre from the send-home last week that he was gonna blow everyone away ’til the finale, but this is very standard fare.

Chevel Shepherd — “You’re Looking at Country” by Loretta Lynn

Like Kelly Clarkson, I also got a flashback to mid-’90s LeAnn Rimes during Chevel Shepherd’s performance tonight. There’s a gravitas to her grasp of the country aesthetic and her willingness to go there with the old school yodels and sway that’s highly reminiscent of LeAnn’s very young breakthrough moments. This song itself is a little kitschy and repetitive, but Chevel is the real deal while singing it.

Kirk Jay (Team Blake) — “Tomorrow” by Chris Young

This isn’t Kirk Jay’s most consistent performance of the season, but it ought to do the trick of getting him into the semifinals. As he says in the rehearsals, he wants to do these heartstring-tugging country ballads because that’s the music he identifies with most often. Indeed, he does seem to believe himself when he breaks into those feathery head tones of his while snaking away from an especially emotional lyric. There are some dull moments in this delivery, though — like Reagan, he’s having some trouble breaking through his vocal floor to match the low notes of the early verses. His talent and refreshing perspective are still strong enough to make him worth keeping around, though … at least for the Top 8.

MaKenzie Thomas (Team Jennifer) — “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion

Ah, MaKenzie Thomas. She just keeps getting better. At this point, there isn’t a diva whose music she can’t handle, so why not just keep sailing through these impossible anthems while making it look easy? She’s at her best when she leans into those more delicate original runs of hers, but she’s also got the power and self-possession to execute those more iconic moments of the number without flinching. If and when she gets a chance to put on a multi-song showcase, I’d love to see her go for something a little less obvious too, but for now, these well-worn emotional ballads are suiting her just fine.

Prediction: DeAndre Nico and Reagan Strange will at least be in the bottom three after this so Team Adam might be in trouble right about now. I’m also worried about Dave Fenley, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kennedy Holmes has some trouble keeping her momentum going after such a weird song choice.

TEAM STANDINGS:
Adam Levine – DeAndre Nico, Reagan Strange.
Blake Shelton – Kirk Jay, Chris Kroeze, Dave Fenley.
Kelly Clarkson – Chevel Shepherd, Sarah Grace, Kymberli Joye.
Jennifer Hudson – MaKenzie Thomas, Kennedy Holmes.


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