And the winner of this Knockout Round is… obvious!
Indeed, even if you were severely distracted during the final six-and-a-half* head-to-head showdowns of The Voice‘s tenth season — organizing your tax receipts or folding laundry or contemplating the reasons for Adam Levine’s cotton candy-hued tresses — the mismatches were screamingly obvious.
Carson Daly tried to misdirect with his standard-operating “You’ve got a tough choice in front of you” platitudes. And Blake, Pharrell, Xtina and Adam played their roles by hemming and hawing and apologizing as dramatic music swelled behind them. But it was clear that not even one of Pharrell’s patented Jedi mind tricks — saving his lesser vocalist in the hopes the real victor might receive a steal — was a possibility.
(*Oh, I mention six-and-a-half because for the third straight round this season, contestant Katharine Ho got reduced to the dreaded montage treatment — this time only being mentioned as the vanquished rival of Caroline Burns, with not even a note or two of her performance making the telecast. Did Mark Burnett catch her backstage mocking the ratings for his canceled A.D. series, or was her cruel fate utterly random?)
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With that said, allow me to count down this week’s Knockouts in order from least- to most-promising:
7. Team Xtina: Kata Hay – Reba McEntire’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” defeats Joe Maye – The Weeknd’s “Earned It” (Joe stolen by Blake) | Kata was definitely more in tune than in her prior performances, but her enunciation made her less intelligible than an adult character in a Peanuts cartoon, so what was the point, really? I think Xtina likes the rowdy country gal, and needing some Live Playoffs cannon fodder, figured she’d give her one more week on the teevee. I’d have given the nod to Joe, but his overwrought efforts to rock out the latter half of “Earned It” approached “pass a gall stone” levels of uncomfortable.
6. Team Adam: Caroline Burns – Christina Perri’s “Human” (shown in snippet) defeats Katharine Ho (not shown at all) | Eh, what they showed of Caroline’s performances sounded OK, but nothing about it screamed “potential winner,” either.
5. Team Adam: Laith Al-Saadi – Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” defeats Jessica Crosbie — Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” | “You both gave solid performances,” said Xtina, but I’m pretty sure her eyes were screaming “Hated it!” (She tries to keep it sweet, but girlfriend’s honesty always finds its way to the surface.) Laith definitely deserved the win over Jessica (whose pretty tone couldn’t trump her deflated-balloon energy level), but to my ears, maybe he shouldn’t have taken Adam and Miley’s suggestion and switched to a higher key. There were more than a few notes that his voice threatened to give out.
4. Team Adam: Brian Nhira – Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” defeats Nate Butler — “Let’s Stay Together” | I know I sound all Negative Nelly tonight, but not many of the advancing singers stand a chance against last week’s Knockout winners. Case in point: Brian. Dude’s got a voice that can go from zero to 60 so quickly, he could probably score an endorsement from BMW. But his emotional approach remains too paint-by-numbers to get me to truly invest.
3. Team Blake: Mary Sarah – Loretta Lynn’s ” You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)” — defeats Brittany Kennel — Shania Twain’s “Still the One” | I can’t really fault Mary on pitch or stage presence — there’s clearly a reason she came thisclose to being a breakout country star a few years back. But dare I say her throwback country vibe is already wearing a wee bit thin? If she wants to connect with the voting public, she needs to make sure her artistic POV reads entirely authentic, and not like a gimmick. I’d love to see her tackle a modern pop song in her retro-twangy style — just to show some versatility — or, better still, tear down some of her performance walls and show us a little vulnerability. She lucked out, though, when Brittany (so great with her Battle Rounds “The Chain”) fell apart on her Shania cover like a granola bar in the bottom of a grade-schooler’s bookbag.
2. Team Pharrell: Caity Peters – Sam Smith’s “Leave Your Lover” defeats Abby Celso — Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” | I only heard two contestants on this telecast who could give early faves Curly Sue, Adam Wakefield, Hannah Huston and Tamar Davis some serious competition, and Caity’s one of ’em. My natural instinct was to roll my eyes when Pharrell waxed poetic about Caity moving spirits or mountains or something he heard in yoga class, but dammit, dude was right. Caity’s emotional investment in the lyrics was even more impressive than her effortless and appealingly unique lower register. Poor Abby, on the other hand, aimed for a jazzy twist on Hall & Oates but that strategy proved as misguided as Rick Santorum seeking campaign donations at a Human Rights Campaign event.
1. Team Xtina: Bryan Bautista – Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” defeats Trey O’Dell — OneRepublic’s “I Lived” | Could Mark Burnett maybe institute one more steal this season? Because with Bryan’s scorching reggaeton twist on The Biebs, he’s now joined Alisan and Tamar as must-haves in the Season 10 Top 12 And with the very, very good Ryan Quinn, as well as Kata, under Xtina’s guidance, that increases the chances of a soul-crushing elimination during next week’s Live Playoffs. Bryan’s performance not only showed creativity, but showcased a magnificent range of swooping full-voiced glory notes, praise-hands emoji-inducing falsetto and a ridiculously sexy, hip-swaying demeanor that got me thinking the dude could be a legit pop-breakout success in a post-show environment. Hey, there’s only a week left of Idol, so The Voice kinda sorta has to pick up hitmaking duties now, doesn’t it?