What more could possibly go wrong? As I tuned in to Monday’s episode of The Voice, that was the thought bobbling around in my otherwise empty head. After Chance the Rapper eliminated Kala Banham and Jamar Langley on Night 1 of the Playoffs (read the full recap here), I figured Night 2 would be smooth sailing, at least comparably. But was it?
Keep reading, and we’ll discuss not only the performances but whether Kelly Clarkson and Niall Horan managed to follow in Blake Shelton’s bootsteps to keep the right contestants.
D. Smooth, “Location” — Grade: A | On his Khalid cover, Kelly’s Playoff Pass artist wasted no time reminding us why his stage surname is “Smooth.” But he had other tricks up his sleeve, too. He smartly built his performance up to a crescendo, then broke it all the way back down to really show off of his rightly confident vocal. Not for nothing, but you know a singer can tell that he’s nailing it when he pulls the kind of stunt that D. did at the end, waving the mic under his mouth to create a cool, wobbly effect.
Cait Martin, “Alone” — Grade: C+ | Well, credit where it’s due: Cait can for sure sing really loudly. But a winning performance requires more than just the volume being cranked to 11, and her take on Heart’s classic (with a nod to Celine Dion along the way) felt mostly yelly. Which I know the song calls for. It’s just that her quieter moments weren’t memorable enough to leave the overall impression that this was good. Impressively loud? Yes. Impressively good? Nope. Even Kelly admitted that Cait had sung better in rehearsal.
Neil Salsich, “Have a Little Faith in Me” — Grade: B+ | Taking on John Hiatt, Neil, whom Kelly stole from Blake, delivered a beautifully nuanced performance. First, he showed off the softer, sweeter side of his vocal. Then, he hinted at the firepower that he was holding back (for the moment, anyway). And finally, he let loose the growl that makes you look up from your chips to see “Who is that?!?” and the personality that went such a long way toward elevating the number from technically excellent to pretty memorable.
ALI, “Never Alone” — Grade: B+ | Singing Tori Kelly/Kirk Franklin for three lost loved ones, ALI was the vocal equivalent, honestly, of sunshine. Like, if you could pour that performance in a glass, it would be straight-up lemonade, refreshing and sweet with just enough tanginess to make it interesting. Is ALI the best singer in the contest? Definitely not. But her sound is unique and appealing, and man, does anybody on the show this season twist up a run more crazy-coolly?
Holly Brand, “Bring On the Rain” — Grade: A | Even just rehearsing her Jo Dee Messina number, Holly reduced her coach to tears. She was so good, in fact, that Kelly started pulling back the trickery (like the whistle note). On stage, Holly’s vocal was as flawless as her makeup, clear as a bell and just saturated with feeling. Having heard Kelly’s whole lineup, I was guessing that Holly and D. Smooth would be her picks for the Semifinals.
Ross Clayton, “With or Without You” — Grade: C | Encouraged by his kids to tackle U2’s mega-hit, Ross should have, uh, maybe said no. On paper, it seemed like a great combination of number and artist. But on stage, Ross never looked (or sounded) comfortable; it was like he’d been given permission to make the smash his own… and hadn’t entirely known how to take it. The coaches were crazy about his performance, but I suspect if viewers had been choosing who made the Semi-Finals, Ross wouldn’t have been among them.
Gina Miles, “Wicked Game” — Grade: A | “Hell, yes,” Blake exclaimed as the soft-spoken 19-year-old was giving him, me, all of us (?) goosebumps with her beyond-haunting and emotional rendition of Chris Isaak’s classic. It was flat-out mesmerizing. And more than that, it was technically stunning, floating as it did back and forth between heartbreaking high tones and autumn-cool low ones. Gina even landed what for my money was the evening’s most spectacular long note. Still think Team Blake’s NOIVAS is gonna win the whole shebang, but damn, this kid is terrific and then some.
Tasha Jessen, “Here” — Grade: B+ | How Tasha didn’t run out of breath on her Alessia Cara cover, I’ll never understand. She sang with a forcefulness that demanded attention and an intensity of feeling that spoke volumes about how deeply personal the lyrics are to her (as a Pakistani-American who has often had a sense of being an outsider). Ironically, since I thought this was really good, the coaches were more full of quibbles with it than any other performance Monday night — and even Tasha seemed to agree that the song had gotten away from her!
Michael B., “The Joke” — Grade: A | Ooh! Goosebumps on top of goosebumps! Michael didn’t just sing the living daylights out of Brandi Carlile’s LGBTQ+ anthem, he made his performance so personal that it wasn’t just thrilling to hear, it was profoundly moving to watch. When he was finished, Kelly was so beside herself that she raced over to him for a hug. At this point in the evening, I was guessing that Niall would advance him and Gina.
Ryley Tate Wilson, “when the party’s over” — Grade: B+ | Solid, solid song choice. Billie Eilish’s ballad was perfect to play up the sensitive side of Niall’s Playoff Pass artist. It even kinda worked in the 15-year-old’s favor that his voice cracked at one point; what could be more vulnerable? But, as strong and emotionally resonant as this performance was, I’d still have put through Gina and Michael. Ryley’s really good, but the other two are just better. (Then again, the crowd did go nuts for him.)
SAVED | D. Smooth (Team Kelly), Holly Brand (Team Kelly), Ryley Tate Wilson (Team Niall), Gina Miles (Team Niall)
ELIMINATED | Neil Salsich (Team Kelly), ALI (Team Kelly), Cait Martin (Team Kelly), Ross Clayton (Team Niall), Tasha Jessen (Team Niall), Michael B. (Team Niall)
Your thoughts on the Top 8? Any decisions Monday that made you go, “Huh?” Vote in the polls below, then comment away.