Ohhhhhhh… I got to go! I got to go! I got to go! I got to go!
Oh, sorry, is this recap on? I got caught up — like a Kylie Jenner at the flash of a paparazzo’s camera — by so many of The Voice‘s Monday-night performances that the couch dancing and Gospel-handing off-key caterwauling have been in effect for two straight hours, with no end in sight.
I won’t! Let you! Close enough to hurt me…
Don’t judge. I know deep down you feel me. Season 9’s been a little snoozy — well, that is if you don’t count official Knockout Rounds advisor Rihanna and her technical sharp-shooting/stage-presence workshops. But over the final two hours of TKOs, artist after artist took back the wheels of their own destinies and sang like they truly, madly, deeply wanted to win.
JESUS TAKE THE WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLL… TAKE IT FROM MY HANDS… (I swear on a stack of Bibles, I don’t even like that song!)
Before this recap gets any more ridiculous, let me put the mic down and rank the final round of Knockouts in order from least- to most-promising (bearing in mind I’ll be back in an hour or so with more detailed performance reviews):
6. Team Pharrell: Evan McKeel, “Dare You to Move” defeats Tim Atlas, “Torn” | I’ve enjoyed Evan all season — and I still think he’s a real contender — but his “Dare You to Move,” while in tune, dared me to shut my eyes and take a 3-minute nap. Dude keeps trying to be a rocker, but his particular gifts tell me he’s more of a soul man. Tim, on the flip side, picked the better tune, but his voice sounded completely worn out by the mid-way point, making the outcome a foregone conclusion.
5. Team Pharrell: Mark Hood, “Stand By Me” defeats Siahna Im, “Back to Black” | Wait, I thought Mark heard Rihanna’s advice to hold back on the dramatics ’til the latter half of the song? Instead, he went full cornball right from the opening verse, and then amped up the unnecessary ad-libs in the final refrain. He’s got a nice, gruff tone and (in prior performances) proved his charisma, too, but a stop-and-spin move in the middle of a Ben E. King cover? He’s gonna have to do better if he wants a spot in the Top 12. Siahna’s Amy Winehouse cover, meanwhile, can be most honestly/cruelly summed up by one of the many lines she croaked into the mic: “I died a thousand times!” Oh, child, we all did.
4. Team Blake: Emily Ann Roberts, “Cowboy Take Me Away” defeats Nadjah Nicole, “A Woman’s Worth” (GAH! Nadjah deserved a steal, too!) | I’d probably have given the win to Nadjah, who brought real huskiness and an adult-level sensuality to the stage that stood in stark contrast to Emily Ann’s wide-eyed romanticism. But Emily-Ann’s honey-sweet tone and fearless attack of the melody were rock-solid, too (although Blake needs to teach her that raising one arm toward the sky doesn’t not necessarily signal emotional connectedness). It’s a shame there’s not room for both of these gals in the Live Playoffs, but all Voiceaholics know that’s just the agony of the process.
3. Team Adam: Shelby Brown, “Jesus Take the Wheel” defeats James Dupré, “Sure You Be Cool if You Did” | I got a little stressed out by Shelby’s sluggish pacing on the opening verse — it’s a wordy song, and she made it feel doubly so — but that might’ve just been nerves. Once her voice opened up on the chorus, we got glorious muscularity offset with fluttering delicacy at the top of the kid’s range. She’s going to need some legit coaching — and some song choices with greater edge — but she’s still a serious contender. James, for his part, was fine. But when Blake himself calls one of his own jams “a little laid back” for the Knockouts, you know you’re not advancing.
2. Team Gwen: Jeffery Austin, “Turning Tables” defeats Kota Wade, “Barracuda” | I’m not going to mention Kota’s overly ambitious, intermittently unlistenable attempt to unleash her inner Ann Wilson. Let’s instead lavish praise on Jeffery’s rich, multifaceted instrument. There’s a lushness to his glory notes that’s like Sam Smith without the whininess, but he can also infuse a phrase with gravel and growl that’s unexpected for a blue-eyed soul crooner. Most importantly, though, the guy knows how to finesse a lyric, make you feel the ache in every syllable he releases. Here’s hoping his lack of hype thus far will leave viewers feeling as if they’ve discovered their own hidden gem — rather than passing him over once voting begins.
1. Team Gwen: Regina Love, “Midnight Train to Georgia” defeats Riley Biederer, “XO” (Riley stolen by Pharrell) | If there’s a voice strong enough to lift a car and rescue a trapped child, that voice belongs to Regina. She was really good in her Blind Audition and her Battle Round, but took it to a completely different level tackling Gladys Knight’s greatest hit. The rumbling depths of her lower register threatened to stir up trouble in the San Andreas Fault, the manic passion of “I got to be with him” was so pronounced, even Blake looked ready to testify. This was world-class saaangin, and even if it’s not your preferred genre, there’s no denying that it was A+/best in show/go-directly-to-the-Top-12 stuff. Which isn’t to say Regina will automatically outfinish Riley in Season 9. While I didn’t love the faux reggae inflections the teenager brought to “XO,” she still managed to impress me with her enviable range and keen sense of rhythm. There’s something slightly Kelly Clarkson-ish about the kid’s bubbly demeanor and quiet confidence — which might not be a bad look as The Voice continues in its quest to generate a household-name-level champ.
Shown in montage: Team Blake: Zach Seabaugh defeats Chris Crump