Sometimes it pays to go into an episode of The Voice with low expectations — yes, even if it’s the Semi-Finals. After last week’s Live Playoffs saw (heard?) numbers originally performed by Corinne Bailey Rae, Ariana Grande and the Backstreet Boys massacred by since-eliminated contestants, I — and what’s that, you say? You, too? — lowered the bar ahead of Monday’s sing-off. But it turned out that for the most part, we hadn’t needed to. Read on, and we’ll discuss why…
Victor Solomon (Team Legend), “I Can Only Imagine” — Grade: B+ | In rehearsal, Victor shared how excited his mom was going to be that finally he was performing a gospel song. Hmm, and just when he might need a boost to make it to the finals. Coincidence? At any rate, Victor started off sounding fine but not extraordinary. He got more compelling, though, the more spirited the number became, unleashed charisma-plus and finished strong. That said, would any of us not have been grateful to have had Victor’s mic turned up a smidgen?
Jordan Matthew Young (Team Blake), “Rose-Colored Glasses” — Grade: B | Ha — speaking of calculated timing, Jordan went not just country but mega country with his Semi-Finals number — old school, no less. These contestants were not taking any chances in the home stretch. Interestingly, Jordan sounded imperfect in a way that made his take on John Conlee’s classic seem altogether authentic. Was it Jordan’s most dynamic performance? No, but it was solid, credible and enjoyable.
Cam Anthony, Corey Ward and Kenzie Wheeler, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” | On this three-way team-up, complete with 1970s styling, Cam and Corey stood out, the former radiating casual cool even in high-waisted bellbottoms and the latter squeezing more passion out of Elvin Bishop’s golden oldie than I’d ever imagined it having. As for Kenzie? He sounded OK, but his little shuffle reminded me of myself when there’s a really long line for the restroom. Pretty winning number, though.
Pia Renee (Team Legend), “Turn Your Lights Down Low” — Grade: A | OK, at this point I had to take back what I said about the contestants taking no chances Monday — Pia took a big gamble returning to her reggae roots a week before the Finals. That wasn’t nearly as surefire a gambit as going hardcore country or gospel. But damn, she sounded as good as she looked — and that hair! That outfit! She looked fantastic. Ultimately, this felt less like a singer competing on a talent show than a star performing on an award show. (Nick said so, too, but honest, I had typed it first. No, really!)
Ian Flanigan and Blake Shelton, “Grow Up” | Dunno about you, but I always like it when former contestants return to The Voice, if only because it’s often the only time I ever hear them again. And in this case, wow, Season 19’s third-place finisher sounded cool as hell, going from a throaty fog rising off a moonlit river to a thunderous roar.
Rachel Mac (Team Nick), “Human” — Grade: C+ | Interesting — Rachel rolled the dice in the Semi-Finals, veering from the relative safety of the country lane to tackle Christina Perri’s emotional number. Unfortunately, the result was a mixed bag. On one hand, it allowed Rachel to show off how easily she can modulate her voice. But on the other, she was so invested in the song that she kinda shook off technique to sound yelly-er than I think she could have meant to. (Not for nothing, but jumping up and down during a performance is rarely going to enhance a vocal.)
Corey Ward (Team Kelly), “Arcade” — Grade: C | Taking a stab at the first Eurovision Song Contest-winning number in 45 years to hit the Billboard Hot 100, Corey got off to sort of a rough start, like he was throwing vocal darts that kept just missing the bullseye. As the song went on, the raw emotion for which he’s known was front and center. But the performance felt all over the place, and not in an “I’m so caught up in the feeling, I can’t be precise” kinda way. I have a hunch Corey will be singing for the Instant Save again Tuesday.
Dana Monique, Victor Solomon and Pia Renee, “Shining Star” | On the second threesome of the night, the contestants harmonized beautifully and seemed to be having fun trying to outdo one another. But the one who really earned the distinction of “shining star” on their ‘70s cover was Pia, who definitely emphasized the fire part of Earth, Wind & Fire. She was having a hell of a good night.
Gihanna Zoe (Team Kelly), “Reflection” — Grade: A | As Gihanna rehearsed with her coach, Christina Aguilera’s Mulan ballad was sounding like the perfect choice for her: It allowed her to be a little theatrical and really belt, both of which she does exceedingly well. On stage, the high-school senior employed Kelly’s advice not to attack the song out of the gate but let it grow. When it did, Gihanna was stunning, delivering a vocal so massive, I’m surprise it didn’t shake the chandelier over her head. On an unrelated note: Was anyone else terrified that she was going to trip coming down those stairs in her gown?
Gihanna Zoe, Rachel Mac and Jordan Matthew Young, “Go Your Own Way” | Ah, well, guess it would’ve been too much to hope that all three group numbers would go down easy. Fleetwood Mac’s classic didn’t really suit any of the contestants. I think I’ve heard tighter harmonies eavesdropping on three different conversations at once. Well before they were done, I was ready for “Go Your Own Way” to just go away.
Dana Monique (Team Nick), “Leave the Door Open” — Grade: B | I worried at first about Dana performing a ballad in the Semi-Finals; after Nick had had to save her in the Live Playoffs, I figured her best bet was to go big and explosive. Then, as the self-proclaimed lover of love’s performance of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak went on, I worried at second and third, too; this was fine but not Dana’s finest hour. It lacked the energy and the capital-B capital-M Big Moment that I suspect she would’ve needed to advance, had teammate/competition Rachel not had such an off night.
Cam Anthony (Team Blake), “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” — Grade A+ | Sheesh. For sheer artistry, Cam can’t be beaten this season. Seriously, would any other contestant have the confidence, much less the chops, to pull off an a cappella intro? Absolutely captivating. And at that point, Cam was just warming up. He went on to deliver a rendition of Boyz II Men’s classic that was so gorgeous and heartfelt, it would’ve made you cry even if we hadn’t just endured 2020. I didn’t even want to grade him, I just wanted to applaud. Heck, it didn’t even sound like an exaggeration when Blake doubled down on his assertion that Cam is a superstar; for once, he was simply telling it like it is.
Kenzie Wheeler (Team Kelly), “He Stopped Loving Her Today” — Grade: B+ | “You know you’re gonna love this song from the first line,” remarked Kelly as Kenzie began rehearsing his MawMaw’s favorite number. And the George Jones classic was right up his alley. Not anything that we haven’t heard from him before, but that was probably smart — when it counts, do what ya do best, right? That said, Kenzie’s performance felt a little uneven; when he was “on,” he was right on, but when he was off, it was like, “Wait, did that sound right?” Still, he’s likely to cruise directly into the Finals.