Thirty-seven years from now, when retired broadcaster Carson Daly writes The Complete History of The Voice: Seasons 1-84, there will be no mention of this Tuesday’s episode.
Because while Season 10’s Live Playoffs, Night 2, may not have been the worst live episode in the history of the show that re-launched Cassadee Pope’s career, it might’ve been the most forgettable.
No one stood out — well, except for Christina Aguilera, wearing leather half-gloves that made her hands look like Ninja kitties and spitting stealthy venom at her old rival Adam Levine. (Exhibit A — This doozy about Team Adam’s Shalyah Fearing, a bombastic teen he stole from Xtina: “I’ve never seen [Adam] actually work with an artist of your caliber!”)
Oh, Xtina, never change! (And please come back for Season 12 — with Patti LaBelle occupying the chair to the far left, K?)
As you contemplate the Patti-for-Adam swap (c’mon, let’s try it out for one season!), let me jump straight into letter grades for Team Adam and Team Pharrell’s singers (check out my grades for Teams Blake & Xtina here).
TEAM PHARRELL (in order from worst to best)
Caity Peters – Adele’s “I’ll Be Waiting” — Grade: D | I’ll be waiting, too, ’til the day I can forget this catastrophic vocal collapse from a contestant whose Knockout Round performance had me thinking she could be a potential Season 10 dark horse. The moral of the story: Let’s ban Adele tracks from reality singing competitions — starting right this second.
Moushumi – Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” — Grade: C- | As he does a little too often, Pharrell concocted an arrangement that strained to differentiate itself from the poppy original, and the lack of rhythmic and melodic framework left Moushumi drifting aimlessly and nervously for 90 seconds, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity… only more depressing.
Emily Keener – Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” — Grade: C+ | Emily’s got a pretty tone, and — seated at the piano — showcased decent pitch, but so what? There was no heat, no playfulness, no sense of regret or wistfulness or life experience in the teenager’s rendition of a song that’s built on a foundation of looking back with a little perspective. Sure, Pharrell deserves some blame for choosing it, but ultimately, Emily’s the one more likely to see her Voice prospects fade as a result of the ho-hum cover.
Lacy Mandigo – Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” — Grade: C+ | Lacy benefitted from scoring one of the week’s best tracks — a nostalgic (but not done-to-death) trip that showcased the muscularity of her tone and her ability to work the stage. But on a night that was supposed to be all about stripped-down performances (according to Carson, anyhow — I heard no such thing), Lacy kept getting drowned out by the band, and the harder she pushed, the more flat and nasal the performance became.
Hannah Huston – Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” — Grade: B- | Getting the end-of-episode pimp slot had me assuming Hannah would continue her rise as the Eve Harrington to Alisan Porter’s Margo Channing — but, no. Hannah’s affected jaw-wiggle on the big notes and her imperfect riffs on the final chorus sent her back to the middle of the Season 10 pack — and there ain’t no way she can fix it until she’s back on stage and fighting when Top 12 week gets underway.
Daniel Passino – Bruno Mars’s “When I Was Your Man” (Bring-back artist) — Grade: B- | Daniel had fewer botched notes than any other member of Team Pharrell — even with that highly questionable falsetto portion of the bridge. Nevertheless, there was an iciness to the delivery, a sense that he wasn’t singing from a place of deep heartbreak, but rather, feeling just a little blue about a gal who didn’t call him back after the second date.
TEAM ADAM (in order from worst to best)
Nate Butler – Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” (Bring-back artist) — Grade: C- | All I’ll say is that Adam’s “Bring Back” should’ve been reserved for Mike Schiavo or Malik Heard — and not further squandered by handing Nate the impossible task of trying to make a limp slice of ’80s A.M. radio fare into something fresh. Alas, he’s just not vocalist enough to tackle such a stern task.
Laith Al-Saadi – The Beatles/Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” — Grade: C | Dude’s guitar skills were hard to fault, but his scream/sing-by-numbers approach to the vocal was a pale facsimile of Joe Cocker’s rendition, without the necessary abandon and palpable heartbeat required to make you feel it.
Caroline Burns – Kodaline’s “All I Want” — Grade: C+ | I wasn’t a fan of Caroline’s earlier work this season, but her lilting tone was used to decent effect on the verses here. Still, I remain utterly flummoxed why Adam chose a track with the refrain “take my body” for a wide-eyed teenage girl, especially when she seemed to have little to no connection to the words coming out of her mouth.
Brian Nhira – Sia’s “Alive” — Grade: B- | There were some rough patches in Brian’s final runs (and a total lack of dexterity that derailed the quick sing-speak portion of the pre-chorus) that played like an ambitious figure-skater face-planting on a quadruple leap. But Adam was right: It’s unlikely he’ll ever again have to tackle a more challenging vocal line than “Alive” — and on a subpar evening overall, the guy scored some points for making two thirds of the performance sound pretty solid.
Owen Danoff – Family of the Year’s “Hero” — Grade: B | This was a pretty sleepy song choice for Owen – being a “singer-songwriter” type doesn’t mean you have to abandon tempo and urgency, does it? — but he delivered it with his usual brand of kind-eyed folkster beauty. I’d like to see his coach push him to rearrange out-of-left-field tunes into acoustic lullabies — it’d give him the element of surprise he’s currently lacking — but there’s no way he won’t or shouldn’t advance come Wednesday night.
Shalyah Fearing – Beyoncé’s “Listen” — Grade: B | The coaches and in-studio audience responded to Shalyah’s booming ballad like they’d seen the skies part and a winged pegasus swoop down from the clouds carrying a rainbow in its teeth — and in the midst of a night of spotty vocals and middling intensity, that’s probably how it felt. (I mean, they can’t pause their DVRs and go to the fridge during the boring parts, am I right?) From my couch, though, I heard a vocal more notable for its unbridled passion, its sense of emotional purpose, than its actual technical merit. There were more than a few flat notes and vocal wobbles as Shalyah barreled her way through the number, but I felt it deeply and enjoyed it quite a bit. I just hope she listens back in the morning and realizes she needs to work on her technique — since no one on the panel bothered to do so. Oh, speaking of coaches, did you catch Xtina’s not-so-subtle shade to Adam as she spoke to the young diva he’d stolen off her team? “I’ve never seen [Adam] actually work with an artist of your caliber!” Way to dis 10 seasons of his proteges, girl!