Wait, shouldn’t it be a rule that Blake Shelton always winds up with the weakest team on The Voice?
After all, nobody (not even Usher) has quite achieved the country coach’s delicate balance of homespun humor, goofy self-deprecation, unflinching sensitivity and inoffensive bro-ishness — a combination that, more often than not, inspires Voice fans to vote Team Blake rather than Team “Whose Music Would I Actually Buy in Six Months.” Not that these things are mutually exclusive mind you, but still… if dude’s already got a head start, is it really fair for him to wind up with two of the biggest, most infallible voices in Season 6?
Then again, to paraphrase the great Tina Turner, what’s fair got to do (got to do) with it? With The Voice coaches now completely in charge of the selection process all the way to the Top 12 — nope, America doesn’t get to vote ’til April 21! — they’ll live (or get sent to the sidelines) based pretty much on their own taste and creativity. (More thoughts on that in the Reality Check video below.)
And anyhow, it’s not as if Blake made his choices based on performance alone. Sure, his first two picks turned out to be his two best vocalists, but Blake’s heart wants what Blake’s heart wants — which is why his doe-eyed, aw-shucks, country kid wound up in the Top 12 rather than the former-garbage-man-turned-modern-rocker (despite the former singer describing his own performance as occasionally “shaky” and “off-pitch”).
Without further ado, though, let’s get to letter grades and reviews for tonight’s performances:.
Letter Grades for Tonight’s Performances
Audra McLaughlin: Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing” — Grade: B+ | OK, so maybe Audra’s interpretation of the country classic was more “rent-to-own” than “total possession” — which is to say it didn’t veer in any significant way from the original — but her gargantuan voice and ridiculous pitch perfection cannot be denied. Better still, there’s an ease and a patience to Audra’s delivery that draws you in to the story she’s telling. I’ve heard “A Broken Wing” performed on lot of (aka too many) reality singing compeititions, but Audra really got me to focus on the lyrical content and the triumph-over-adversity message. [Insert your own "man, you oughtta see her fly" riff here.]
Ryan Whyte Maloney: Shinedown’s “Second Chance” – Grade: B | Like Shakira, I heard some intonation issues in Ryan’s vocal, but he hit the bulk of his marks with power and precision. Ryan’s bigger problem, to my ears, was the way he sacrificed any kind of emotional nuance in favor of rocker-dude bombast. The whole thing kinda felt like rinsing your plates and bowls with a firehose: It’ll get the job done, sure, but things might get broken in the process.
Madilyn Paige: Zedd feat. Foxes’ “Clarity” – Grade: C+ | Burning question: Was this Blake’s song choice or Madilyn’s? Because if the country coach was in the driver’s seat here, he essentially locked the vehicle’s doors and steered Madilyn’s competitive hopes directly into a cold, black lake about a mile off the interstate. Oh sure, the producers added a nice bit of vocal reverb at the ends of certain lines, and after some initial wobbles, the kid’s pitch wasn’t too off the mark. But with Madilyn’s face registering terror and her connection to the lyrics not registering at all, the only true “clarity” was that she was destined to finish the night in a fifth-place spot (out of, err, five).
Jake Worthington: Jake Owen’s “Anywhere With You” – Grade: B- | No one can argue that the kid’s a charmer. (Hey! I said no one can argue, so don’t even try to disprove the prior sentence!) I mean, Jake’s response to Usher asking how he thought he’d done — shaky at the start, a few pitch problems, “I did pretty good!” — was hilarious. Yet, while Jake did a solid job of locking into the lyrics and transmitting the starry-eyed romance of the lyrics, his command of the stage (the body language was very much “nervous fourth-grader giving a history presentation”) and of his vocals (hey, Jake himself admitted they were less than perfect) makes me wonder how much longer he’ll have Blake’s unwavering support. I mean, Shakira may not be able to be objective about Jake’s skill set, but methinks/mehopes voters are going to be more discerning.
Sisaundra Lewis: Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” – Grade: A | Voice. Face. Poses. Attitude. Magnetism. Everything. People keep saying Sisaundra just can’t win The Voice because she’s too old, she’s too perfect, she’s too intimidating. Phooey, I say! Yes, it’ll be a challenge for this Vocal #Beastmaster (™ pending) to show “growth” — and voters do love “growth.” But unlike some other big belters from seasons past, Sisaundra seems to have a better understanding of her stylistic strengths and a warmer personality, to boot. I loved how she started “A New York State of Mind” in the lowest part of her register, a deep rich and rumbling place that made me feel like I was looking out the window of a vehicle at the autumnal foliage (or some other such lovely vision). When Sisaundra finally got out of “tasteful diva” mode and howled, “It comes down to reality,” my fandom was set in stone. It comes down to reality, after all, that whether or not she triumphs in Season 6, our ears will collectively be the better for having undergone The Sisaundra Experience.
Advancing into the Top 12 (in order)
What did you think of Night 1 of the Season 6 Playoffs? Did Blake make the right choices? Who gave the best overall vocal of the night? Who got robbed? Take our poll, then sound off in the comments!