Take it from a dad who popped more than the recommended daily allowance of mini Butterfingers during tonight’s Halloween festivities: You absolutely can get too much of a good thing.
Alicia Keys proved that point on the final night of The Voice‘s Season 11 Knockout Rounds — by pitting two of her very best singers in a duel to the death, with not a single “Steal” from a rival coach left in play.
One might argue — OK, OK, I might argue — that Alicia made the right decision by choosing Sa’Rayah’s sonic boom over Michael Sanchez’s gorgeous grit and groove. But how can we applaud any move on the big Voice chessboard that’s ommited Michael from the Top 20.
Aside from that egregious awfulness — plus some dubious wardrobe choices on Team Blake — it was a solid evening that added even more depth to the Season 11 roster.
So, with that in mind, allow me to rank tonight’s Knockout showdowns from least- to most-promising winner
— bearing in mind I’ll be back overnight to update this URL with more detailed performance reviews.
7. TEAM ADAM: Brendan Fletcher, “Soulshine” defeats Nolan Neal, “Love Is Your Name” | Yeah, he once again betrayed a tendency toward “I’m trying to pop a blood-vessel” histrionics, but Nolan’s muscular tone and undeniable passion made his performance vastly more interesting than Brendan’s pleasant bar-band cover. Maybe if Brendan’s number had come with a side of potato skins and a Blue Moon, I’d have understood Adam’s choice, but otherwise, this was yet another Season 11 misstep for the Maroon 5 frontman.
6. TEAM BLAKE: Dana Harper, “You Give Me Something” defeats Karlee Metzger, “Invincible” | Karlee pretty much handed the win to Dana when the final third of her Kelly Clarkson cover collapsed like a half-baked soufflé tossed into a meat locker. But while Dana’s vocal was indisputably tuneful and elegant, there was a laid-backness to Dana’s approach that turned her performance into pleasant background noise, rather than essential ear candy.
5. TEAM MILEY: Shown in Hard-to-Fully-Judge Snippet Form: Sophia Urista, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” defeats Josette Diaz, performance not shown | Did Sophia eat the last Pringle in Mark Burnett’s cardboard tube, or was there some other reason she was the sole Top 20 finalist of Season 11 to not have her Knockout shown in full? What I heard sounded pretty promising — Sophia’s not afraid to have her way with a melody — but can she overcome a lack of screentime once the voting begins?
4. TEAM MILEY: Darby Walker, “Shake It Out” defeats Maye Thomas, “Closer” | I loved Maye’s quiet confidence and kicky dance moves so much, I was ready to name her (and her slightly wobbly vocals) the winner over Darby’s creative but often imperfect attempt to come off as more than a Florence + the Machine copycat. Still, the undeniable power of Darby’s airy, helium-balloon-reaching-for-the-horizon upper register — and her determination to take melodic risks — could make her a threat, especially if Miley can scrub away the teenager’s overly rehearsed tendencies and unlock something more genuine lurking beneath the surface.
3. TEAM BLAKE: Austin Allsup, “Breakdown” defeats Gabe Broussard, “It Will Rain” | Austin is as solid as a coffee table made from reclaimed barn beams and painstakingly crafted by a Brooklyn hipster artisan. (Completely extraneous side note: Tell me I wasn’t the only one who loathed Sex and the City’s Aidan.) I liked how the Billy Bob Thornton lookalike showed a rockier side of his range without losing the genuine bite of his emotions. By comparison, teengaer Gabe sounded like a high-school talent show contestant who’d been lured into a false sense of greatness by an overly kind panel of professionals. Which, come to think of it, might describe him perfectly. Kid, you seem really sweet, but don’t miss your SAT prep course for a weeknight gig, OK?
2. TEAM MILEY: Aaron Gibson, “Die a Happy Man” defeats Josh Halverson, “Whiskey and You” (Josh stolen back by Alicia) | Aaron’s voice is like a cocktail made of equal parts truth, warmth and grit. I’m not sure whether voters will warm to him in the live shows, but his post-Voice career could be legit promising. Josh’s voice, though, works its way into your brain and your heart and your soul like melted butter into the nooks and crannies of an English muffin. His every whisper speaks of past pain and future hope and something that’s painfully real. That he lost in both the Battles and the Knockouts hints that The Voice’s behind-the-scenes folks need to do a better job at vetting the coaches’ pairings, but the fact that he’s scored Steals after both eliminations reminds me that Alicia and Miley and Blake (though maybe not Adam) are taking their jobs very seriously.
1. TEAM ALICIA: Sa’Rayah, “Ain’t Nobody” defeats Michael Sanchez, “Just the Two of Us” | Season 11 may have more than the usual amount of soulful divas, but Sa’Rayah brought such brute force, emotional intensity and pinpoint precision to her Chaka Khan cover — and then upped the ante with an octave-climbing pre-chorus — that I wound up throwing my note-taking pen at the TV set. (OK, I actually threw it to the left of my TV set, since I’m not about to shatter the most expensive electronic device in my house, but you get the point…) Plus, her on-stage moves were like the literal interpretation of Sheena Easton’s “Strut” — and I say that as high praise. It’s just a shame that Michael’s gorgeous groovealiciousness and wicked ad-libbing didn’t get rewarded with one (or even three) Steals. I mean, we’ve got Riley Elmore and Josh Gallagher in the Top 20, but not Michael? That’s as messed up as the outfits Blake’s style guru put on Dana and Karlee this week!
Individual Rankings Based on Knockout Round Performances
8. Brendan Fletcher, “Soulshine”
7. Dana Harper, “You Give Me Something”
6. *Sophia Aurista, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (*shown in snippet; difficult to fully judge)
5. Darby Walker, “Shake It Out”
4. Austin Allsup, “Breakdown”
3. Aaron Gibson, “Die a Happy Man”
2. Josh Halverson, “Whiskey and You”
1. Sa’Rayah, “Ain’t Nobody”