People say the darndest things on The Voice. Tonight’s Live Playoffs episode — featuring the members of Team Shakira and Team Blake fighting to make the Season 4 Top 12 — found host Carson Daly dropping this bomb mot: “It’s clear tonight that Blake [Shelton] doesn’t know where ‘the girl place’ is.” (Somewhere, someone at Parents Television Council HQ is firing off a strongly worded email.)
If that wasn’t enough, we had Blake blasting a fire hose of hyperbole at viewers by calling solid but hardly electrifying teenager Danielle Bradbery “one of the most important artists” who’s ever been on the show. (Whoa! Let’s slow down and see what young grasshopper does between now and June, okay?) And then there was social-media scourge Christina Milian excitedly suggesting that Sasha Allen’s daughter is probably more popular in school now because her mommy is on TV. Uff da.
I know, I know, I really ought to cut to the chase and talk about the night’s musical performances, but…well…I’ve got to confess to being a little disappointed in the overall product — especially because, despite the coaches’ unrelentingly positive feedback, no single act lived up to the level of Monday night’s breakout stars Amber Carrington, Michelle Chamuel and Sarah Simmons. Heck, I’m not sure anyone off Team Blake or Team Shakira did much better than Monday’s midpack players Caroline Glaser and Vedo.
But let’s get to the set list and letter grades! (Just to clarify, America will vote through two members of Team Blake and two from Team Shakira, then the coaches will save one of their two remaining “at risk” contestants.)
Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner — John Lennon’s “Imagine” | Was David Copperfield in the audience? Maybe that would explain how and why Garrett’s voice intermittently disappeared over the course of his performance. I know Shakira has a soft spot for the kid with the ring in his lip, but I’m confused why she’d saddle him with a song that’s been covered hundreds of times by stronger vocalists — and seems unlikely to get many iTunes downloads. (I mean, if you have John Lennon’s original, is there any reason you’d want Garrett’s? And if you don’t own Lennon’s, again, is there any reason you’d want Garrett’s?) Methinks Usher’s misspeak about seeing Garrett at the computer (as opposed to the piano) might have been a little bit of soothsaying. (Cue sad trombone.) Grade: C
Team Blake: Holly Tucker — LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live” | First, the good news: Holly proved she’s got powerful pipes, and that fierce green sequin-trimmed dress showed she’s not yielding the fashion lane to her rivals just because she has confidence issues over not looking like a Barbie doll. I wish, though, she’d channeled some of her pre-performance angst into her vocal. Because while Holly’s “How Do I Live” was technically proficient, it lacked any real emotional heft. With her big, empty glory notes, Holly gave us a warming tray when we needed a raging bonfire. And if Blake decides to clear a path to the final for his other young, blonde country artist, Holly might be in big trouble come Wednesday. Grade: B-
Team Shakira: Kris Thomas — Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” | To my ears, Kris encountered many of the same problems as Holly. Yeah, the guy’s got a natural gift, but a lot of his melodic choices felt like lace doilies on your great auntie’s end table: Frilly and dusty and ultimately unnecessary. Plus, Adam was right that Kris looked stiff and tense on the stage: He’ll need to really lay himself bare (emotionally) if he manages to survive into next week. Grade: B-
Team Blake: The Swon Brothers — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” | I know Grace Askew wasn’t 100 percent on pitch when she took on this duo in the Knockout Rounds, but seriously, Blake cut her to save these dudes? Yeah, their affable bro shtick is sweet, I guess, but their tone and delivery were as common as ants on a picnic blanket. I still can’t believe Adam is gonna have to send home one of his four fabulous women while these guys will probably advance to the Top 12. Universe, where is the justice anymore? Grade: C+
Team Shakira: Karina Iglesias — Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” | I must confess: I’ve got a weak spot for Karina’s jaw-trembling vibrato and her ALL CAPS brand of belting — even when her sense of rhythm ever-so-slightly fails her, and even when I’m forced to admit that she needs to infuse her performances with more dynamics. Like Shakira noted, Karina leaves everything on the stage — lungs, heart, kidney, spleen — to the point where it’s like The Voice had a crossover episode with Hannibal. And yes, I mean that as high praise! Grade: B+
Team Blake: Justin Rivers — Diamond Rio’s “Meet in the Middle” | I’ve never before heard the very middle-of-the-road “Meet in the Middle” — and I don’t care if I never hear it again — but that’s not to say Justin didn’t perform it with more heartfelt energy and enthusiasm than any other singer tonight. I know I wince every time a singer on a reality singing competition says something like “I just wanted to have fun,” but in this case, Justin really met that goal, and brought everybody else to the party, too. Not even the slight strain on his upper register or the gaggle of blandbots that surrounded him could stifle my enjoyment. Grade: B+
Team Blake: Danielle Bradbery — Pam Tillis’ “Maybe It Was Memphis” | Yes, yes, Danielle is going to cure the common cold and reintroduce classic country to today’s youth — at least if Blake is to be believed — but I think it’s a tad premature for Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift to ponder early retirement. No doubt Danielle has a grasp on pitch that’s beyond her years, but I felt like her stage presence was surprisingly tentative this week — maybe due to those painted-on, copper-colored jeans? (Note to stylists: Nobody needs to see a 16-year-old in any clothing — not even socks — that form-fitting!) That said, I did love Danielle showcasing her lilting head voice when the band backed off toward the end of the performance, but a little more plainspoken critique and a little less exaggerated flattery from the panel might actually help her chances going forward, no? Grade: B
Team Shakira: Sasha Allen — The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” | Sasha is yet another Season 4 hopeful with undeniable vocal ability. The problem with her “Oh! Darling,” though, was that it read like she was playing the role of passionate rocker rather than actually being one. Well, and that screaming final note which was definitely more American Horror Story than American Idol. The pimp slot and the judges’ effusive praise means there’s no chance she’ll go home this week (or the next, or even the one after that), but until she can tamp down the “look what I can do!” vocal grandstanding and really feel the music, I can’t see her taking home the whole enchilada. Grade: B+
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Night 2 of the Live Playoffs? Who was your favorite? Who’s going to be in trouble come results night? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!