The Voice Top 11 Performance Recap: Always Gonna Be an Uphill Battle

The Voice Alisan

It’s the cliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimb!!!

Oh, forgive me, fans of The Voice. I got caught up for a hot minute in the cauldron of delicious, melted, processed cheese of Miley Cyrus’ breakout hit — and wasn’t sure I wanted to get out.

But that is no way to start a recap. Or, as T.S. Eliot so poetically puts it — he is a poet, after all — “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”

What I’m trying to say, as I digest a less-than-perfect performance episode of NBC’s reality competition, is that it’s looking less and less likely that anyone’s going to beat front-runner Alisan Porter. As with so many Voice seasons, the outcome appears to have been trumpeted right from the season premiere. (See: Danielle Bradbery, Sawyer Fredericks, Jordan Smith, etc.) Heck, even Adam Levine this week underscored the idea that Alisan’s victory is an inevitability — and he’s not even her coach.

This doesn’t mean Alisan’s not a worthy champ — not at all. Nor does this mean her rivals Adam Wakefield and Hannah Huston and even Laith Al-Saadi wouldn’t wear the crown well. I’m just saying that since the outcome seems as set in stone as Donald Trump’s morning spray tan, we might as well bask in the journey, rather than the destination. Or, as Miley puts it, it ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side…

Oh, dear. Before this Voice recap turns into an existential tone poem, let me jump to my letter grades for the night’s performances — bearing in mind I’ll be back overnight to flesh this out with more detailed reviews.

Shalyah Fearing – Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” (Team Adam) — Grade: B- | Shalyah’s raw vocals are messier than a 5-year-old’s bedroom after a long day of play, and unfortunately, she’s not working with a coach who seems particularly interested in improving her technique. What the kid has in excess, though, is unbridled passion, and that’s something you can’t really teach.

Daniel Passino – Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” (Team Pharrell) — Grade: C | I know he was just following Pharrell’s advice, but I actually winced when Daniel reached out for a female audience member’s hand and grinned insipidly as he delivered a falsetto note that was a smidge out of his range. And yet in some ways, that off-kilter bit of theater was the most intriguing part of a lethargically paced, vacuously phrased bit of karaoke.

Paxton Ingram – Tasha Cobbs’ “Break Every Chain” (Team Blake) — Grade: B | Look, this deep into the season, I will confess that Paxton’s nasal tone is not my cup of French onion soup. But while this repetitive Gospel number got downright screamy in parts, the contestant who somehow got Joe Maye’s “coach save” was mostly in tune and incredibly invested in the lyric.

Owen Danoff – James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” (Team Adam) — Grade: D+ | You’d have to be a monster to not be moved by Owen’s dedication to a childhood friend who died while serving in the Marines. And yet from a purely vocal standpoint, Owen’s emotions sent his vocal down a dark and treacherous path, filled with flat notes, a botched riff on the final chorus and an unappealing tremulousness throughout. Despite a stellar audition, I’m starting to think The Voice might not be the right venue for this soft-spoken folkster.

Mary Sarah – Heidi Newfield’s “Johnny and June” (Team Blake) — Grade: B | The opening verse seemed like it was pitched too low for Mary’s comfort zone, but she hit enough pretty patches on the chorus that she ought to be a lock to advance to next week’s show. When that happens, though, here’s hoping she doesn’t get quite as much of a boost from the house band’s background vocalists — allowing us to determine with our own ears if she’s really got the goods to leave her Boot Barn job behind for good.

Alisan Porter – Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me” (Team Xtina) — Grade: B+ | After La’Porsha Renae’s reluctant rendition of the Lorraine Ellison/Bette Midler soul classic on Idol’s farewell season, I was hoping Alisan would find a deeper connection to the lyric. Alas, though, while she blasted a hole in the jam using her patented vocal dynamite, there was a coolness in her delivery that kept the desperation of the lyric at arm’s length. Combined with an arrangement that stretched her voice to the almost chipmunk-y upper reaches of her range, “Stay With Me” will rank as one of Alisan’s lesser Season 10 moments — even if it ranked among the episode’s better performances.

Bryan Bautista – Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” (Team Xtina) — Grade: C+ | I know everything’s gearing up for the Xtina-Alisan girl power finale, but what exactly is the “Beautiful” songstress doing with her handsome, charismatic, pop-soul artist? Not only did the arrangement on “Just the Way You Are” leave Bryan straining for most of the chorus, but it replaced the original’s unabashed sentimentality with an artificial smooth-jazz cheesiness. The sight of Bryan’s sister weeping in the audience over his dedication will probably spare him from a Bottom 2 singoff, but I still contend dude should be among the Season 10 front-runners, not a mere midpack player.

Adam Wakefield – Journey’s “Lights” (Team Blake) — Grade: B | Like his fellow front-runner Alisan (see my odds for every contestant in the gallery below, FYI), Adam came in at slightly under his personal par, while still finishing far enough ahead of half the field that his safety is all but inevitable. That’s a shame, really, since the idea of Adam stretching his artistry outside expected song choices is potentially thrilling. It’s just this particular track never really let Adam open up and deliver a gut-punch of soulfulness. The falsetto runs at the end were on point — albeit a little muted — and the pre-chorus breakdown was as thrilling as a Scandal cliffhanger. Next week, though, there needs to me more lyrical connection, more ownership of the stage, if Adam wants to keep chipping away at Alisan’s lead.

Nick Hagelin – John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (Team Xtina) — Grade: F | Can I substitute a stunned-face emoji in place of a review of Nick’s almost entirely out-of-tune performance? Granted, it wouldn’t tell the full tale of the way Nick’s voice kept getting swallowed by the band — or the limp tragedy of the da-da-da breakdown — but it would certainly be more humane, no?

Hannah Huston – Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Team Pharrell) — Grade: B+ | Was it just me, or did Hannah seem like she was on the brink of being overcome with emotion from the first note of her performance ’til the last? Nevertheless, she clung to the correct notes like an algae eater to the side of a fish tank, managing to make heartache the night’s prettiest emotion. I wish there’d been 15% less exasperation on the Nebraska schoolteacher’s face, but she may have more growth potential than anyone else in the competition.

Laith Al-Saadi – Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain” (Team Adam) — Grade: A- | Laith hasn’t been my fave this season, but his decision to go current with “Make It Rain” and the way he filled it with grit and pain and redemption, moved him several spots up my pecking order. Sure, the rousing chorus made maximum use of the bearded blues man’s growl, but he resisted the urge to overplay it, resulting in a nuanced vocal worth of the show-closing pimp slot.

Will be at risk: Daniel and Owen (Daniel going home)
Should be at risk: Owen and Nick (Nick going home)

What did you think of The Voice Top 11 performance night? Who ruled? Who should/will be at risk? Take our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!

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