After all, with Blake, Adam and Shakira all racking up perfect scores in narrowing their teams from five artists down to three — or at leas that’s how I saw it — the prospect of a rage-free Top 12 rested solely on Usher’s broad shoulders.
Things looked pretty good, too, after producers put Melissa Jiménez (who chose a song that was three sizes too big for her voice) in the dreaded No. 2 performing spot. (Fun fact, Teams Shakira and Adam advanced artists No. 1, 3 and 5, while Blake went with 1, 4 and 5. So if you’re second in the lineup, you might as well take your dreams out to the Dumpster in a Hefty Cinch-Sak.)
In the end, however, predictability (a sad hallmark of Season 6) prevailed, with Usher’s four-chair turn (and NBC’s early promo child) Bria Kelly winning out over the clearly superior Stevie Jo (a one-chair turn who never received any mentoring with regard to his hairstyle).
On the plus side, though, under-the-radar T.J. Wilkins emerged as a serious Season 6 threat, while Josh Kaufman joined Tess Boyer in the race for Most Astute Steal.
Shall we get on with it and get to the letter grades for tonight’s perfomances? Yes!
T.J. Wilkins: Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” — Grade: A | I was unsure about T.J.’s charisma levels (and originality) going into the Playoffs — to be honest, my most vivid memory of him was his shiny blue jacket from the Blinds — but Usher’s peculiar “imitate a horn!” instruction brought out a heretofore unseen funkiness in the California music student. I loved the way he infused a little scat in the midst of the chorus, the risk he took in playing with the rhythms of this R&B classic and even those spot-on falsetto runs. To paraphrase the lyrics, I’ll tell him that I like it, ye-aa-ah.
Melissa Jiménez: Beyoncé’s “Halo” — Grade: B- | Why would I write this critique of my personal Battle Rounds dark horse to the tune of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”? The better question is, why wouldn’t I? And so without further ado… There were moments of gold and there were flashes of meh/ She was hoping for Top 12 but then her coach just said “eh”/ She tried a risky, sparse arrangement/ It’s too bad she just ran out of air/ M.J.! M.J.! Oh your head voice is sweet/ But your soft notes were beat/ Lost your spot on the show/ So on Twitter we’ll follow you now!
Stevie Jo: B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” — Grade: A- | I know pitch is king when it comes to reality singing competitions, and that’s usually the way it should be. But while Stevie lost some of his accuracy in the final third of his performance, his commitment to the groove and his ability to lose himself completely in the music had me absolutely captivated. Yeah, Shakira was correct when she twistily pointed out that Stevie “might’ve stretched for too long some notes,” but something about his approach made me feel like I’ll continue to dig and follow what this kid does in a post-Voice world. Usher may not have seen it that way, but with Stevie’s ouster, a little of Season 6’s thrill is gone, too.
Bria Kelly: Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” — Grade: C+ | I was genuinely surprised when Blake praised Bria’s restrained notes in the opening verse — since, to my ears, her intonation wobbled like a wonky restaurant table whenever she wasn’t full-on belting. (Thankfully, Usher noticed said shakiness, too, so it’s possible I’m not insane? Yes? Anyone?) Even worse for me, though, was the way Bria tortured almost every note in the last third of the Rolling Stones’ romantic jam. Yeah, she did hit most of her notes, but there’s something about Bria’s tone and her almost violent use of vibrato that pushes the teenage rocker into bleaty, unpleasant territory whenever she’s “Emoting With a Capital E.” It’s like, girl, c’mon, you’re only singing about wild equines, you’re not supposed to sound like they’re dragging you across rugged desert terrain. Sheesh!
Josh Kaufman: Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” — Grade: A | Yes, I got irked by Carson Daly pronouncing Josh as the “performance of the night” — prior to him singing a single note. But, yeah, OK, our hostbot was correct: Josh displayed so much range and texture, and managed to hit even the trickiest sequences of notes with such effortless, that I stopped taking notes on his performance and simply enjoyed it. There’s something about Josh’s vocals that reminds me a little of Billy Vera or maybe Dan Hill — one of those alternately gruff/smooth pop/rock/soul voices that could’ve easily fit on ’70s AM radio, and would really add something different if he cracked a modern-day playlist, too. If anyone’s going to challenge Blake’s powerful troika, Josh could be the one. [I pause here to put my brain back together after imagining a Josh-Tess-Sisaundra finale. Whoa.]
Advancing to the Top 12
OK, your turn. What did you think of the final night of the Season 6 Playoffs? Did Usher 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!