Like Christina Aguilera executing a run during a contestant’s rehearsal package, or Blake Shelton spiking the comedic volleyball in Adam Levine’s face (over and over again), The Voice‘s Alisan Porter is pretty much perfect.
And Monday night, as she detonated a vocal bomb shaped like Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold,” she seemingly left a barren wasteland (think Mad Max: Fury Road, without any cast members) where the Season 10 competition used to be.
Still, as Blake Shelton begged Alisan to make some mistakes, wondered aloud if it was boring to be so good, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will viewers’ infamous desire to see a “growth arc” — which, granted, has been prominent on American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance than The Voice — somehow derail Alisan’s momentum? Could Coach Xtina’s relative toughness (in comparison to her fawning counterparts) cost the former Curly Sue star the title? (Note: Xtina was the only one not to give a Standing O to Adam Wakefield tonight.) Or is it possible that a couple of upstarts are already performing at such a high level that Alisan’s crown would be available for the snatching following even the slightest misstep?
I’ve seen stranger things happen — remember when Jermaine Paul beat Juliet Simms, Tony Lucca and Chris Mann (not to mention Jamar Rogers) in Season 2? But one thing is clear: There’s a clear delineation forming between wheat and chaff in Season 10, and I suspect we’ll have a few weeks of easy eliminations before any results-night sweat forms on the brow of Alisan (or Adam W. or Hannah or Emily).
With that said, let me offer my letter grades and reviews for this week’s performances:
Mary Sarah – Carrie Underwood’s “So Small” — Grade: C- | Adam described this as “a very unique version” of the inspirational country anthem, which led me to believe that either, a. he’d never heard the song before, or b. he was throwing subtle shade, seeing how Mary’s was like reasonably OK karaoke, with more strident, less rounded high notes. Meanwhile, Pharrell’s whole critique — focusing on whether or not Mary imagined she could make it to The Voice live shows when she worked at Boot Barn — made me think he’d missed the Nashville vet’s backstory about recording a country duets album with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys and more. Maybe dude’s planned break from Season 11 is coming at just the right time?
Laith Al-Saadi – Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Grade: B | Laith’s not the most surprising artist of Season 11 — if he (or rather Adam) really wants a shot at winning, they’d flip an out-of-left-field ditty into his preferred blues-rock wheelhouse — but his gruff authenticity fit his song selection quite nicely, even if his guitar solo got a little muted in the aggressive sound mix.
Daniel Passino – Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” — Grade: C- | Daniel was a surprise standout of the Live Playoffs, but he regressed badly this week, delivering cheesy choreography that, by comparison, would make The Carlton look like Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, and then ending the performance with a series of falsetto runs that collapsed like an overbaked soufflé.
Emily Keener (pictured, above) – Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” — Grade: A- | There was one weird moment in Emily’s performance — following a big vocal run — where she grimaced and gulped and had me worried she was about to make history as the first Voice contestant to vomit on live television. Luckily, the horrors passed, and were quickly erased by a lovely, lilting vocal that might’ve sounded at home on ’70s AM radio alongside Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. Pharrell needs to drag her – quickly — into 2016, and apply her singular skills to something more recent (to avoid the “she’s not current!” criticisms that are sure to come). But for now, Emily’s looking like a solid bet to be with us at least through early May.
Nick Hagelin – Blake Shelton’s “Mine Would be You” — Grade: D | For at least half of Nick’s performance, I thought I’d accidentally woken up during a Friday night showing of 48: Hours Mysteries, with the case focused squarely on the suspicious disappearance of Nick’s gaspy, featherweight vocals, wrapping with a violent and bloody crime scene in which (eventually) no note of Blake’s country hit was left unpunished.
Adam Wakefield – Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine” — Grade: A- | “Somebody at home needed to hear that message,” cooed Pharrell, at the end of Adam’s organ-driven and gorgeously heartfelt “Soulshine.” And while there’s part of me that knee-jerk rejects such sappy mentality from any panelist on a reality singing competition, in this case, Pharrell mmmmaybe had a point. Adam’s southern-rock grit has so much soul behind it, that he’d probably sound like he was testifying even if he covered LMFAO.
Bryan Bautista – Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” — Grade: B- | Bryan’s Battle and Knockout Rounds were so flawless, I had myself half-convinced he could be The Voice’s first major radio star. But “Kiss From a Rose” was like a bouquet you buy at the supermarket at 50 percent markdown on Feb. 16. Bryan shed certain words and notes as easily as past-their-prime roses shed their petals. The gorgeous falsetto ending helped restore a little luster to the spotty vocal, but dude (and his coach Xtina) need to do work on accuracy, emotional investment and, generally speaking, more interesting song choice if Bryan wants to have any shot at the finale.
Owen Danoff – Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” — Grade: C+ | Adam was beyond excited about Owen’s mid-performance walk across the stage, which left me flummoxed, considering that the soft-spoken soul singer looked as awkward executing the move as an Obamacare poster at a Ted Cruz rally. Add the weird “birthday candles” backdrop and Owen’s strain as he tried to wring added emotion out of a song to which he didn’t seem particularly connected and it’s hard to see this Blind Auditions front-runner in a season-finale light anymore.
Alisan Porter – Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold” — Grade: A+ | Alisan navigated Demi Lovato’s rangey ballad with equal parts moxie, expertise and effortlessness. Taking the performance from a whisper to a shout, extending her run on the word “caaaan’t” into a tidal wave of emotional release, and even pausing for dramatic effect to add an exclamation point on the moment, Alisan once again kept up her end of the bargain in a season where exec producer Mark Burnett seems determined to get Xtina the show’s first win by a female coach. And, frankly, Alisan is performing at such a high level that I struggle to be mad about it.
Paxton Ingram – Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself” — Grade: F | Poor Paxton got stuck with an utterly insipid song and a sparse, shapeless arrangement that left his thin, reedy voice exposed like a hairless cat in subzero weather. The whole performance was so mumbly and out of tune, it made me discover my still unprocessed feelings of rage against Blake for choosing Paxton as his Save last week, instead of the far superior Joe Maye or even Katie Basden. See what happens when coaches make their decisions based more on friendship than talent? Blerg.
Hannah Huston – Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” — Grade: A- | What the heck was with Adam’s critique about Hannah’s “alien soul” vibe — which he tried to pass of as a compliment, but which sounded more and more like a putdown as he rambled on? I loved the way Hannah lost herself in the ditty, tossing off ends of certain lines with casual grit, while never losing the explosive “woman in love” vibe of the lyrics or her grasp of pitch. The pinstripe pantsuit and the confident, lioness-level stage stalking only added to the excitement — making me think Hannah is one of the few remaining artists with the chance (and the skills) to keep Alisan on her toes.
Shalyah Fearing – Patti Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain” — Grade: B | Oh, how I wish Shalyah was still on Team Xtina or Team Pharrell. Because while the teenager has unbelievable vocal horsepower and a delicious sense of musical abandon, she doesn’t yet possess the complete technical prowess to pull off some of the monster runs and belty notes she’s attempting. And I’m just not sure Adam has the interest or the know-how to fix what’s ailing her. That said, the kid could go pretty far on heart alone — and flaws and all, she’s still in the top half of the Season 10 pecking order, no matter how you slice it.
Should Be Bottom 3: Paxton, Daniel, Nick (Paxton going home)
Will Be Bottom 3: Paxton, Daniel, Mary (Paxton going home)
What did you think of The Voice Top 12 performance night? Who ruled? Who should/will be at risk? Take our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!