We’re four episodes in to The Voice‘s eleventh season, and there’s still no obvious favorite being prematurely foisted on us by producers like an unwelcome Christmas display popping up at the mall in late September. (Oh, Macy’s, I really didn’t need to explain to my kids today that it’ll be another three months before they see their Power Rangers action-figure collection fully completed.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to paint my face blue and start making like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, shouting enthusiastically about the FREEEEEEDOM of not having The Voice‘s latest incarnation become a coronation march before the Battle Rounds have even commenced.
But with fewer four-chair turns, a decided scaling back in relentless hype/sob-story exploitation and a coaching panel that gets more excited about artists finding the right team rather than their own team, I can’t help but get a little excited that NBC’s three-time Emmy winner for outstanding reality competition series seems to be on the brink of its most suspenseful season ever.
Imagine, for a moment, a Top 12 comprised of diverse, likable artists, any one of whom has the potential (and enough momentum) to earn the show’s confetti shower sometime in December? To lift a line from the Blackout Allstars, I’d like it like that. Sure, there are plenty of weeks – and plenty of potential manipulations — that could occur between now and the live shows, but for now I’ll hang on to my optimistism.
With that in mind, let’s rank the 10 singers from Tuesday’s Blinds in order of least- to most-promising (bearing in mind I’ll be back overnight to update this recap with more detailed performance reviews).
10. Josh Gallagher, “Stay a Little Longer” (Team Blake) | An hour after the episode ended, and I can’t recall a single detail — good or bad — about this audition, not without referring to my notes. I think dude had a beard? (Don’t quote me on that.)
9. Khaliya Kimberlie, “Dibs” (Team Miley) | Strikingly pretty teen who lives on an Indian reservation willed her way through the glory notes of her country jam — and earned my respect in the process. Still, there was an unformed quality to her tone that made me wish she’d waited three or four years before bringing her instrument to a national stage.
8. Simone Gundy, “I (Who Have Nothing)” (Team Adam) | There’s no denying Simone’s got talent – hmmm… maybe she should’ve tried out for NBC’s summer talent show? — but her rushed phrasing and hinky glory note on “window paaaaane” prevented her cover from coming anywhere near prior renditions of the Shirley Bassey classic that’ve made their way to singing competitions over the past decade. Adam and Miley fought pretty passionately over Simone, but she’ll need to be astonishing in the Battles to make me understand why.
7. Austin Allsup, “Wild Horses” (Team Blake) | I appreciated Austin’s quiet-storm take on the opening verse and the Eddie Vedder vibrato in his tone. Still, the one-chair turn could’ve thrown in a few lightning bolts or claps of thunder — vocally speaking — if he’d wanted to establish himself as a must-advance proposition in the Battles.
6. Michael Sanchez, “Use Me” (Team Alicia) | Another one-chair turn — and a late one at that — and I’m not quite sure why. Sure, Michael could’ve/should’ve tempered his soulful growl with some more tender tones, but he stayed right in the pocket of the song’s tricky tempo and never really hit a bad note in the process. If that’s not enough to spur a wrestling match between two or more coaches, I’m not sure what is.
5. Aaron Gibson, “Losing My Religion” (Team Miley) | Raise your hand if Aaron’s gorgeously gruff spin on an ERM classic gave you shades of American Idol‘s Phillip Phillips. I loved how Aaron brought out the mournful quality of the lyrics, and the way his artistry percolated to the surface even in the midst of the bright lights and high pressure of the production.
4. Darby Walker, “Stand By Me” (Team Miley) | I’m not sure if Darby intended to so deliberately channel Florence Welch with her highly stylized take on a Ben E. King chestnut, but I’ll admit I was momentarily taken aback by the similarities. On her own merits, though, Darby’s ehtereal upper register and husky wall of lower notes were undeniable.
3. Nolan Neal, “Tiny Dancer” (Team Adam) | He may not have turned a single chair in Season 10, but Nolan more than redeemed himself by getting Adam, Blake, Alicia and Miley to all hit their buttons as he wrapped his charcoal-smoked tone around an Elton John ballad, then added a few hair-metal flourishes to boot. Dude is really solid — and fits the profile of contestants who excel when the voting rounds begin.
2. Gabriel Violett, “Treat You Better” (Team Alicia) | Former star of Broadway’s Spring Awakening came thisclose to being too polished with his cover of a Shawn Mendes hit, but there was genuine passion in his sparkly clean delivery — and as much range as we’ve heard on The Voice stage this season.
1. Halle Tomlinson, “New York State of Mind” (Team Alicia) | As Blake (!) noted, Billy Joel’s Hudson River travelogue often gets overbaked. Halle, though, took the tune out of the oven at the perfect moment, putting a slurry stank on the verse that was far beyond the 18-year-old’s tender years. She managed to diplay enough tonal textures in 90 seconds — combined with a professional polish – and could be tough to beat, provided producers never again show footage of her childhood stint on Barney & Friends.