Sharpen the axe! Ahead of a dozen (!) eliminations Tuesday, the 24 remaining contestants on The Voice all performed Monday night in hopes of continuing on to
Maelyn Jarmon’s coronation as the winner of Season 16 the Top 12 (well, 13, since next Monday, the show will be adding to the mix the winner of The Comeback Stage). Which of the contenders sounded like they were in the clear, and which sounded like they were in trouble? Let’s discuss…
Rod Stokes, “Midnight Rider” — Grade: B | At the beginning of his performance, Rod’s gravelly voice gave me big-time Pryor Baird vibes. And I liked the way he hurled every note out of his throat like he was trying to launch a ball over an extra-tall fence. The song, though, didn’t really go anywhere or allow him to show off a whole lotta range. So, in the end, he came off like a potentially great vocalist who’d given just a very-good performance. He needed a “Holy crap!” moment.
Matthew Johnson, “Ordinary People” — Grade: C | When Matthew stepped into the spotlight, he started singing so smoothly, I wanted to lie down and take a nap in the notes; they were that silk-sheet-like. As the number went on, Mr. Personality remained mostly good, but hit a pitch problem now and then, and didn’t have as easy a time of going big as some of his rivals in the R&B lane were sure to. I also feared that his botched kickoff to his falsetto had almost certainly put him in line for elimination Tuesday.
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Rebecca Howell, “Wild One” — Grade: C+ | There was something muted about this performance by the singer that Kelly called her “dark horse.” It wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t really pick up steam until she got to the second verse. And shouldn’t there be some — any? — element of wildness to a cover of a song called “Wild One”? It wasn’t at all the slam-dunk that it should have been — and probably needed to have been — since she was competing with another country gal just on her team, never mind Blake Shelton’s.
Presley Tennant, “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” — Grade: C+ | Though known for her bombastic vocals, the 16-year-old started off singing in a soft, controlled fashion before building up to the growly roar that’s made her a favorite of her coach’s. And she definitely has range, but she again struck me as someone with a more powerful voice than she could completely keep in check. So the overall impression that she made was that she’d given a performance that was as sloppy as it was passionate.
Abby Kasch, “I Got the Boy” — Grade: D | I’ve been bewildered for some time now as to what Kelly’s fascination with Abby is. The coach keeps saying that Abby’s a strong country singer in the Tanya Tucker vein, but that seems like a terrible diss of TT to me — and it seemed even more insulting after this flat-as-a-pancake performance. Not to put too fine a point on it, but… blech.
Jej Vinson, “Love Lies” — Grade: C | Considering how impeccable Jej’s vocals usually are, I could only assume that he couldn’t hear himself Monday night. He had enough pitch problems for two contestants. Even when he was hitting the notes, his performance often felt desperate to me. Like, I wanted to stop listening, because it was just plain uncomfortable. Luckily for him, he’d already garnered enough of a following that I suspect he’ll still make it into the Top 12.
Lisa Ramey, “The Weight” — Grade: B- | In my heart of hearts, I was rooting hard for Lisa, partly because I know the show tends not to favor singers out of their teens, partly because I really think she has it in her to be great. Here, her experience and polish showed — she put on a confident, energetic show. But I was afraid that it hadn’t been enough of a “Wow!” to win over voters more drawn to the youngsters.
Jacob Maxwell, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” — Grade: D+ | On the other hand, some of the youngsters in the competition are as mediocre as poor Jacob. True story, by the way: I was literally typing the words, “For the most part, this wasn’t painful to listen to, certainly not as painful as I feared it would be”… when it got painful. Not as bad as his disastrous Police cover during the Battles — yeah, I still have nightmares about that — but pretty bad all the same.
Jimmy Mowery, “Young Blood” — Grade: C | I’ve soured on Jimmy over the course of the competition. I still think he has potential, but he just doesn’t know quite what to do with his big voice. Here, he had an ear-catching, raw quality to his vocals, and he managed to sound pretty good, especially considering how much bouncing around the stage he did. He just didn’t sound like a star, or even a Top 12 contender.
Celia Babini, “The Chain” — Grade: B | I went into this performance with fingers crossed. Celia had been one of my favorites from the Blinds but had kinda fallen apart in the Live Cross Battles. Her Fleetwood Mac cover was much stronger than that Cross Battles mishap; not perfect but significantly closer. And it had kind of a raging energy that swept me along with it. Nevertheless, I feared she’d be in danger; like last season’s awesome Sarah Grace, Celia sounds older than she is, and that often doesn’t play well with viewers/voters.
Maelyn Jarmon, “Falling Water” — Grade: A- | Ha. No matter how iffy an episode is, it seems like we can count on Maelyn to hit the stage sounding like a superstar guest vocalist rather than a contestant. Monday, she dazzled with not only the strength but the purity of her vocal. She had a smidgen of trouble with her lower register, but was thus far so much better than anyone else we’d heard, they might as well have declared the contest over right then and there.
Shawn Sounds, “Higher Ground” — Grade: A- | On the other hand, Shawn is pretty freaking awesome. The guy is a born showman, for one thing. I mean, he is so much fun to watch, he makes it tough to look down at this recap to see whether I’m typing words or just random letters. What’s more, his voice is like an 18-wheeler at the top of a hill with its brakes off — it just goes, goes, goes, picking up speed as it does. I didn’t love this song selection, but charisma machine Shawn made it work.
Kalvin Jarvis, “Mine” — Grade: D+ | When Kalvin started singing, I thought this was going to be the kinda rare R&B slow jam that I really liked. But then he went a little off the rails on the chorus. From there, he went from sounding pretty good to sounding flat to sounding borderline bad. Oh, Kalvin. This was not what I was hoping for either for or from you after that solid showing in the Live Cross Battles.
Betsy Ade, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” — Grade: C | Though this was way better than Betsy’s performance in the Live Cross Battles, and was so rock-‘n’-roll that at one point she threw her guitar off the stage, I couldn’t see it getting her through to the Top 12. It was fun and energetic, and seemed true to Betsy’s badass vibe. But it wasn’t vocally thrilling or so memorable that I figured I’d be referring back to it in recaps seasons from now. “Remember that time Betsy Ade threw her guitar?” Nah.
Mari, “Work It Out” — Grade: B | I kinda love everything about Mari, it turns out — the funky look, the voice that’s always better than I remember it. She’s like a hip Velma from Scooby-Doo. All that said, though, Mari’s number was plagued by audio problems and melodically… I’ll go with challenging. Mind you, I’ll be the first to say I’m probably just not cool enough to “get” this song. And regardless, Mari’s vocals and stage presence were solid.
Domenic Haynes, “Love Is a Losing Game” — Grade: B- | Whoa — could the cameraman have gone in for any tighter a closeup than he did during Domenic’s Amy Winehouse cover? I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I love Domenic’s voice. He always sounds like he’s been emotionally beaten up — which I mean as a compliment. But this struck me as all over the map, like it wasn’t entirely sure what style or emotion it was going for. I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t get it.
Andrew Sevener, “Boots On” — Grade: A- | I’ll be damned — I can’t even remember Andrew’s Blind Audition, but I’m pretty sure at this point he’s my favorite of all the country artists still in the contest. Even when he’s standing stock still on the stage, he has so much swagger in his voice, I’d swear he was rocking from one end to the other. This was just a total blast — powerful voice so confident, it wouldn’t even think of faltering; energetic; rollicking. In short, awesome.
Selkii, “Iris” — Grade: D+ | Seriously, WTF has happened to Selkii? After a promising start on the show, she’s kinda fallen apart. And by “kinda,” I mean “completely and totally.” This was messy, pitchy and just generally not pleasant. We know she has a good voice, but we sure as hell didn’t hear much of it here. D for disappointing.
Oliv Blu, “The Girl From Ipanema” — Grade: C- | I wish Oliv had sounded as delightful as she looked on stage. Her styling and demeanor were total jazz goddess. And she has a smile that’s so bright, they don’t have to bother with all the fancy lighting on the stage when she’s performing. Unfortunately, she sounded way off here — and not in that “Yeah, but that’s jazz for ya” kinda way. It was a bummer of a mess.
Gyth Rigdon, “I Wanna Be Loved Like That” — Grade: B- | Talk about poised! Gyth was so still during this performance, it was like he was willing us to lean in and pay closer attention to every syllable that he sang. And it worked — I did. I wasn’t crazy about the goat-like quality of his vibrato, but there’s no denying the dude is a find. He oughta sail through Tuesday’s eliminations without breaking a sweat.
Kendra Checketts, “Bad Guy” — Grade: C- | Having recently joined the cult of Billie Eilish — I’m borderline obsessed — I feel uniquely qualified to say that this started out pretty meh. Kendra’s voice just didn’t suit the singularly stylish song. When she started rocking out, making it her own, things improved — Kendra does have a big voice and managed to keep hold of the reins for the most part. But I still suspected she’d be heading home Tuesday.
Carter Lloyd Horne, “Heartbreak Hotel” — Grade: C | Not sure an Elvis cover was the best possible song choice for Carter. Where he shines tend to be numbers that play to the strength of his weathered, lived-in voice. As it was, this wasn’t bad, but it didn’t sound so uniquely “him” that I thought it would make him stand out from the pack the way that he needed to. It also lacked the energy and oomph that would’ve made me run back to the couch from the fridge if I heard it. Not that I’d ever leave the couch during The Voice, but you know what I mean.
Kim Cherry, “Waterfalls” — Grade: D+ | Oh, Kim, Kim, Kim. Much as I adore her anything-goes vibe, I couldn’t get past how pitchy she was throughout much of her TLC cover. And sorry, but the fact that she’s nerdy and raps doesn’t make her so magically special or interesting that she should stick around in the contest over (much) more polished vocalists.
Dexter Roberts, “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You” — Grade: B | Dexter looked and sounded so comfortable on stage Monday, it was almost like watching a preview of what it was gonna be like next season when he returned as Season 16’s winner. Only I didn’t think he would be the winner. Gyth has a lock on the intimate-country lane, and Andrew easily out-rocks Dexter. Solid, yes, but not the best of the bunch. Top 12 for sure, though.
So, what did you think? Is Maelyn unbeatable? Could Jej pull it off? One of Blake’s country artists? And who do you suspect will be going home Tuesday? Vote for the contestant you’d eliminate below, then hit the comments.