Technically, every week is Challenge Week for The Voice’s contestants, right? From the Blind Auditions all the way through to the Finals, they’ve got to deal with everything from conquering their stage fright to remembering their lyrics. But Monday’s episode threw extra obstacles in the path of the Top 10, tasking them with tackling numbers that would force them to face some vague difficulty or other. Which of them were able to leap the hurdles that they put in front of themselves, and which were looking like they might be the two vocalists eliminated Tuesday? Read on…
Kyla Jade (Team Blake), “This Is Me” — Grade: N/A | Before hitting the stage with this showstopper from The Greatest Showman, Kyla talked about hateful comments she’d read about her looks, and insecurities that she had growing up that clearly still plagued her; in rehearsal, she even broke down in tears. Once she hit the spotlight, she sang like a woman possessed, channeling all that emotion into a performance that I only wished had been as thrilling vocally as it was to behold. But after seeing how much the number affected her — at one point, she couldn’t even sing anymore, she was so overcome — I couldn’t bring myself to grade her harshly. Not Kyla’s finest moment but arguably her most memorable — and, as Blake suggested, likely her ticket to the Top 8.
Kaleb Lee (Team Kelly), “Boondocks” — Grade: B | Accepting the challenge of adapting a song by a quartet for a solo act, Kaleb took to the stage with a pretty-great take on Little Big Town. He still didn’t strike me as Mr. Personality — perhaps that’s why he’s had such trouble connecting with the audience; we don’t sense a ton of there there — and his vocal faltered at one point when he made the mistake of interacting a smidgen too much with the crowd. (Clearly, he learned nothing from Austin Giorgio’s performances, which so often suffered when he got more concerned with bopping around than singing.) Still, this was as solid as the broad side of a barn.
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Jackie Verna (Team Adam), “Love Triangle” — Grade: B+ | Confession (which I’m sure will come as no surprise whatsoever): When the coaches go on and on about how much their teams have grown week to week, I usually roll my eyes. But I can’t do that when Adam praises Jackie, because I actually do hear her getting more confident every time she walks on stage. Here, she rose to the challenge of telling a story through a song by covering Season 2 contestant RaeLynn, turning out a rendition that was, for the most part, so polished that she sounded like she already was the country star she wants to be. She should be fine Tuesday; I even downloaded this, I liked it so much.
Rayshun LaMarr (Team Adam), “Grant Green” — Grade: B | “The challenge for him is just gonna be to entertain,” Adam said before Rayshun tackled Mr. Jukes feat. Charles Bradley. But I’m not sure that’s actually any kind of a challenge at all for Rayshun. On stage, he did what seems to come so very naturally to him, and didn’t merely perform the song, he made a whole scene of it. Seriously, I could no more take my eyes off of him than I could my ears (so you’ll forgive any typos that may occur in this review, won’t you?). Didn’t know (or particularly like) the song, but if there was anything more that Rayshun could have done to make an impression, I can’t imagine what it is.
Spensha Baker (Team Blake), “Red” — Grade: C+ | Prior to going on stage, Spensha said that her Taylor Swift cover would be a challenge for her because she’d never sung anything like it before. Mm, OK. These “challenges” are getting hazier and hazier. Regardless, Spensha’s stripped-down version of the hit was mostly lovely, spirited and soulful. Blake called it, as he so often does, her best performance yet. I begged to differ. It was by no means “bad,” but she often gave the impression that the song was driving her instead of the other way around, and she ran into a patch of pitchiness that not even her fantastic big notes could make me forget by the time I was writing out this review.
Jackie Foster (Team Alicia), “Gravity” — Grade: A- | Pre-show, Jackie discussed with her coach her desire to show off her softer side. Then on stage, whoa. Abandoning the rock-goddess posturing and make-sure-they-hear-you-in-the-parking-lot vocals that have typified her performances, Jackie sang Sara Bareilles with a vulnerability that was utterly disarming. There’s no way she shouldn’t be safe Tuesday. Her performance was exceptional — controlled, moving and so intimate, it would’ve been easy to think she was singing right to you. “I was totally riveted,” said Alicia afterward. Pretty sure she wasn’t the only one.
Britton Buchanan (Team Alicia), “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” — Grade: A- | Britton said before hitting the mic that his challenge in covering Tina Turner was going to be stripping away the classic’s ’80s sheen. (As if an ’80s sheen is a bad thing!) Personally, I missed the hooky-ness of the original, and thought Britton might have taken a liberty or two too many with the melody. But his rearrangement did provide a better showcase for that rich, mature-beyond-its-years voice of his than have some recent selections (“Small Town” in particular). And he sounded hot enough on those verses that his vocals could have been smoke rising off of a flame. Forget the Semi-Finals, Britton’s a lock for the Finals.
Christiana Danielle (Team Alicia), “Ain’t No Sunshine” — Grade: A | For weeks now, I have wanted to love Christiana. I’m crazy about the way she reinterprets super-familiar songs, often teasing out of them deeper meanings while she’s at it. Trouble is, her vocals have been so hit-and-miss that I’ve often been more anxious about her performances than eager for them. Here, my nervousness wasn’t justified whatsoever. She stared down her self-doubt by performing the classic with a sultry confidence, boundless creativity and vocals that were so strong, I couldn’t help but wonder why the heck she doesn’t sound this good every week. And, as Kelly noted, the way Christiana moved, her “body’s like a living, breathing orchestra.”
Pryor Baird (Team Blake), “My Town” — Grade: A | For my money, Pryor is Season 14’s most dependable performer. If we strike from his record that disastrous rendition of “9 to 5” — and I’ve certainly tried to erase it from my memory — he’s never had an “off” week. (If at this point you’re just not feeling his sandpaper vocal style, I don’t reckon anything is gonna get you on board.) Again Monday, he came, he sang, he conquered, this time cleaning out the tumbleweeds from between our ears with a take on Montgomery Gentry that was so passionate, I thought that it might have stolen away enough of the country vote from Kaleb Lee to leave him in T-R-O-U-B-L-E Tuesday. (Oh, and before you say it, yeah, yeah — I realize it seems like I’m giving out a lot of A’s tonight. What can I say? It’s the Top 10 — they’re supposed to be A-quality. I can’t be too sorry if I think they actually are.)
Brynn Cartelli (Team Kelly), “Fix You” — Grade: C- | Before her performance, Brynn explained that her challenge was to make Coldplay’s hit her own. (Wait, isn’t that the challenge they face with every cover? Every week?) On stage, Brynn sang with an openness that almost made me feel guilty, like I was breaking into her diary or something. Unfortunately, she also sang with pitch problems that made me feel worse than guilty, like I wanted to quicker-than-FedEx her some Auto-Tune software. Brynn’s popular enough that I doubt she’ll be in the bottom on Tuesday, but this wasn’t the quality of performance that made her so popular.
So, which singers did you think conquered their “challenges” and which did you think deserve to be singing for a Save Tuesday? Vote in the polls below, then hit the comments.