The Voice Live Playoffs (Night 1) Recap: Which Four Singers Made the Top 12?

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You know it’s a jam-packed episode of The Voice when there’s not even enough time to remind us yet again of each contestant’s heart-tugging backstory. And such was the rare case with Monday’s first of three consecutive nights of (hurrah, again) Live Playoffs. Not only did all 24 of the remaining contestants perform, but by the tail end of the two hours, our real-time votes had been tabulated, and the most popular singer from each team was given the good news that they’d be advancing to the Top 12. How did my previously-revealed picks fare? So far, I’m three for four. Read on to find out which vocalists were Top 12-bound and which would be back on stage Tuesday or Wednesday to try, try again.


Alexa Cappelli, “It Hurt So Bad” — Grade: C | I don’t really know what to make of Alexa. Last week, I wanted to see her tried and convicted of murdering an Elton John song, and this week, her Susan Tedeschi cover had me thinking, “Aw, she’s not so bad.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t so good, either. Between her inconsistency and her tendency to seem like she’s trying way too hard, I suspect this will be her last week on the show.

Kaleb Lee, “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” — Grade: C | It’s a risky proposition, doing a song as simple as this Patty Loveless tearjerker at a point in the competition when your team is being cut in half. And it’s especially risky that when your straightforward approach is, as Kaleb’s was, at best a watered-down Red Marlow impersonation. He needed to give us a “wow”; this was more of a “meh.”

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the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsTish Haynes Keys, “Nothing Left For You” — Grade: B | In the Knockouts, Tish was a blast. Her performance was a little sloppy, but it was a blast. Monday, she went all serious on Sam Smith. However, in doing so, she also took better control of the lethal weapon that her voice can be, resulting in a performance that allowed her to show off not only how big a vocal she could deliver but also how searing and impactful her vocals could be.

Brynn Cartelli, “Unstoppable” — Grade: C+ (advanced) | This Sia number might as well be Brynn’s theme song; the confidence with which she belted it certainly made it seem apropos. Except for one unfortunate fact: This wasn’t her best-ever performance by any means. Though it was impressive the way she navigated a melody that would’ve done in a lesser singer (Alexa, for instance), she got a pitchier and shoutier than anybody could’ve wanted.

Dylan Hartigan, “Come Pick Me Up” — Grade: F | Ugh. No. Just no. This performance was so atrocious, it made me cringe the way that I suspect Ryan Adams would at the thought of one of his songs being performed with boy-band mannerisms. It was so atrocious that it made me long for the song stylings of Mark Isaiah. Horrific.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsD.R. King, “Home” — Grade: C+ | On his Marc Broussard cover, D.R., as he always does, pulled out his mega-force vocals, only here, the impact was arguably greater than, say, on his Knockouts performance because the song didn’t require him to go full force from start to finish. A few notes, including that big one at the end, made me go, “Ew,” but given what a so-so start the night was off to, he was sounding pretty decent.


Drew Cole, “Man in the Mirror” — Grade: C+ | For my money, it’s a tall order to take on this Michael Jackson classic without sounding so cheesy that I’d consider spreading you on a cracker. But I’ll be damned — Drew managed to mostly avoid falling into that trap by giving the King of Pop’s hit a gospel-and-granola bent. Not a train wreck but pretty saccharine and definitely not his most memorable performance.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsMia Boostrom, “Baby I Love You” — Grade: B+ | About the last thing I expected from Mia following her jazzy game-changer in the Knockouts was a hard left that took her so far into Blake territory that harmonicas were involved. But the move was as smart as it was surprising — she slayed her countrified Aretha cover, packing into it so much soul that I yelled out the song’s title at the TV.

Jackie Verna, “Tim McGraw” — Grade: B | Wisely staying in the country lane in which we’ve discovered that she sounds so at home, Jackie turned out a lovely, warm-as-a-summer-day take on Taylor Swift. There were moments that I thought, “Hmm, was that off?” But I’m pretty sure that was just a byproduct of live sound mixing. Top 12 for sure.

Rayshun LaMarr, “Overjoyed” — Grade: B- | Rayshun really came alive for me with his go-big-or-go-home rendition of Alicia’s “Fallin'” last week. So it was disappointing to hear him sounding fine, but not extraordinary, this week. Given the way he had to fiddle with his earpiece, he might’ve been having trouble hearing himself. I suspected he wouldn’t be too thrilled when he later watched the show and heard himself, either.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsSharane Calister, “Never Enough” — Grade: A- (advanced) | If I didn’t know how insignificant I was, I’d swear that this showstopper of a performance had been designed solely to make me feel like an idiot for leaving Sharane off my Top 12 predictions list. (And yes, I do feel like an idiot.) There were a coupla pitchy spots, yeah, but Sharane sang with a power that threatened to short out my TV’s speakers.

Reid Umstattd, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — Grade: C | Since Bono ranks awfully high on the list of singers it’s awfully hard to be compared favorably to, I feared that Reid had bitten off more than he could chew with this U2 cover. And alas, I was right. Reid wasn’t a disaster, but he was vocally flat and, frankly, boring as hell.


Austin Giorgio, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” — Grade: C- | Eesh. I know I’m in the minority liking Austin’s Rat Pack shtick, so it really pained me to hear him fall as flat as a pancake. It wasn’t Dylan Hartigan-level bad, but it sure wasn’t good. And he still hadn’t learned that if he moves around too much, it screws up his vocal.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsPryor Baird, “I Was Wrong” — Grade: A | Pryor’s a machine. The guy just doesn’t seem to hit clunker notes, like, ever. Never chokes. Never falters. He’s sometimes struck me as cocky and a bit fake, but when you can growl out a ballad as sexily as he did this Chris Stapleton number, I don’t guess that much matters, now does it?

Kyla Jade, “How Great Thou Art” — Grade: A (advanced) | Seems a little early in the game for Kyla to be breaking out the gospel. But if she hadn’t already been a shoo-in for the Top 12, this sure as hell would’ve done the trick. She was so flawless as the song started that you could’ve convinced me that I was listening to a recording. And that lower register — jeez!

Gary Edwards, “Finesse” — Grade: B- | While I wasn’t worried about Gary handling this Bruno Mars party-starter vocally, I was worried that his historically reserved personality might prevent him from really selling the number and, with it, himself. On stage, he wasn’t bad, per se, but it felt a little bit like watching an adorkable nerd have a great time on Karaoke Night.

Spensha Baker, “I Still Believe in You” — Grade: C | After Spensha struggled to keep her emotions in check during her Knockouts performance, I was really rooting for her to get it together this week. I thought she could be the country-soul singer that Keisha Renee wanted to be. Unfortunately, this performance was so pitchy, it belonged on a baseball field, not on The Voice stage. Bummer.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsWILKES, “Brother” — Grade: B- | Country-tinged rock like this fits WILKES like a saddle does a horse, and in this performance, he even enunciated quite a bit. The audience went nuts when he hit his big, wild note, but it sounded to me like it had been a bit of a misfire. Not an earth-shattering performance, but it really didn’t need to be. He already seemed like a lock for the Top 12.


Johnny Bliss, “América, América” — Grade: C+ | I love Johnny, so I really wanted to love his Luis Miguel cover. I did not love it. He fell apart a little bit toward the middle, moving around more than was advisable if he hoped to deliver a solid vocal, and falling into a pitchy patch that probably cost him a letter grade. Lucky he’s so damn likable.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsKelsea Johnson, “You Know I’m No Good” — Grade: B+ | Kelsea remains to me the Season 14 contestant who comes off the most “ready,” the most like she’s already a star, with her own style and persona ready to roll. And vocally, she’s got it going on. I mean, to get even me, a big Amy Winehouse fan, to hear in her memorable lower register one of the late singer’s hits as if for the first time… that’s impressive.

Terrence Cunningham, “How Come U Don’t Call Me” — Grade: A- | Whatever luster Terrence lost for me with his all-over-the-place rendition of “Tell Me Something Good” in the Knockouts, he regained with his Prince cover. Here, though yeah, he still pulled out every single vocal trick in his (extensive) book, he did so a whole lot more strategically. And his falsetto — damn, it’s something else.

the voice recap terrence cunningham wilkes playoffsJackie Foster, “Never Tear Us Apart” — Grade: B | Ripping a page from Chloe Kohanski’s 1980s playbook, Jackie tackled INXS with a fierce abandon, letting soar vocals big enough and impactful enough to start landslides. Though she was a little pitchy at times, and a little shouty, this was a performance that overall yelled “rock star.”

Christiana Danielle, “Hey Ya!” — Grade: D | As shticks go, I love Christiana’s — her way of reinventing songs. But shtick alone is not enough. Here, though she creatively slowed down and stripped down Outkast, she so completely lost control of her vocal that a singer I think is pretty terrific landed herself in disasterville. Super disappointing.

Britton Buchanan, “Some Kind of Wonderful” — Grade: A (advanced) | I’m sorry, but this kid is as much fun as a yard full of puppies. But he isn’t just a sweet guy with a great voice, he’s a sweet guy with a great voice that, as he did on this Grand Funk Railroad cover, he wields with the same precision that a surgeon does a scalpel. I’ll say it right now: He’s going to the finals.

So, were you surprised by any of the singers who advanced? Who did you think gave the night’s best performance? Vote in the poll below, then hit the comments.