20. Caroline Pennell, “Anything Could Happen” (Team Cee Lo) | Yeah, I was charmed by the wide-eyed teenager’s giggle when she made eye contact with Cee Lo after his chair turned, and he was right that her voice “sounds like sunshine.” Still, there were some affectations in her phrasing he’ll need to quash if she’s going to be a true contender.
19. James Irwin, “Losing My Religion” (Team Adam) | Adam was spot-on that James started stronger than he finished, but I sensed some of his loss of focus was indeed related to the four-chair turn happening before his disbelieving eyes. Dude showed a lot of creativity turning REM’s classic into more of a rhythmic rock track, and took some risks with the melody that paid off like Facebook stock. The fact that he chose the one coach who seriously critiqued him makes me hopeful James is serious about improving his craft, too.
18. Cole Vosbury, “Movin’ on Up” (Team Cee Lo) | Cole’s may be a case of the contestant’s song choice — and former rocker-chick grandma — being more memorable than the actual vocal performance, but there’s no denying he’s got a legit sense of rhythm and cool. All together now: Fish don’t fry in the kitchen…beans don’t burn on the grill…
17. Justin Chain, “She’s Country” (Team Blake) | Like Olivia, Justin didn’t exactly shake up the formula of Jason Aldean’s original — OMG, I just remembered RaeLynn’s cray-cray rendition from Season 2! — but he hit every damn note square in the jaw, like a prizefighter looking for a quick TKO. I’m a little uncertain about his sculptural facial-hair situaysh, but I’m kinda looking for dude to keep the party rockin’ as the season progresses.
16. Timyra-Joi, “Girl on Fire” (Team Xtina) | I might be willing to root for Timyra just for another chance at seeing her mentor Leigh’s 27 lbs. of hair in action. But let’s be honest: The latter chica clearly knows a thing or two about vocals — seeing how Timyra demonstrated gale-force power without falling into the teen-contestant trap of muddying up the melody with too many runs. Is it too early to describe Timyra by saying, “This! Girl! Is! On Fiy-ahhhhh…”? (Probably.)
15. Destinee Quinn, “Cowboy Take Me Away” (Team Xtina) | I really dug Destinee’s lack of sob story, her cute floral tiara, and the mostly positive slant she took about being able to support herself as a musician (even though I would’ve liked a slightly more detailed explanation of Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding competition). Better still, though, Destinee’s Dixie Chicks cover was effortless and dreamy — and to my ears, didn’t really have the lower-register woes that Blake harped on. (Cassadee Pope’s early Season 3 performances, on the other hand… OK, OK, now I’m just being cheeky.)
14. E.G. Daily, “Breathe” (Team Blake) | I’ve never watched a Pee Wee Herman movie (You: “Strrrike one!”) or watched Rugrats (Me: “That’s more of a ball than a strike, right?”). So in a lot of ways, I’m probably E.G.’s ideal market: Someone who can focus fully on her singing, and not on any of the acting or voiceover work with which she’s made a living for several decades. I liked the shred in E.G.’s voice when she dug deep on the final chorus, and while yeah, there were a couple little wobbles in pitch here and there, “Breathe” is kind of like an Orca in a sea of country songs: Beautiful, but definitely big and scary. And the good news is that even if E.G. didn’t quite slay the beast, she didn’t get eaten alive by it, either.
13. James Wolpert, “Love Interruption” (Team Adam) | I may be exaggerating slightly, but I think I suggested this Jack White tune 147 times in my weekly “What Should the Idols Sing?” articles earlier this year. And yet while James’ fine musical taste made me predisposed to liking him, his explosive pop of gravel and passion on the second verse were the tools that sent all four coaches into a bidding war for the bespectacled college dropout. (Bonus points for showing off a fab vocab in his pre-performance interview, too.)
12. Kat Robichaud, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” (Team Cee Lo) | Dang, Kat’s voice is so gruff and gin-soaked, I wanted to pair it with a couple of olives and a whisper of vermouth, shake it with some ice and pour it into a martini glass. Admittedly, there were a couple of scream-type stumbles toward the end of the tune, but I liked how “Raspy McRasperson” (as Adam called her) executed a ferocious high-kick mid-chorus without ever pausing from her primary vocal task. Or to put it another way: She’s fierce, yo!
11. Matthew Schuler, “Cough Syrup” (Team Xtina) | Was it just me or did all four coaches hitting their buttons on the first line of Matthew’s song seem slightly fishy, like they’d gotten a heads-up that a Chosen One was in the house? (Sorry, that sentence was brought to you by the word “cynicism.”) Nevertheless, with Matthew’s warm tone and skill at breathing life into a lyric — as well as his inarguable pop-star looks — it’s kind of understandable why he might be a producer fave.
10. Preston Pohl, “Electric Feel” (Team Adam) | I loved the Bob Seger-y grit in the voice of this former member of Christian rock band StorySide:B — and the way he used it on the kind of funky electronic jam you normally wouldn’t hear on a reality singing competition. That final falsetto run showcased a possible Achilles Heel, and I’d be more optimistic if he’d gone with Cee Lo, but it’ll still be interesting to see what Preston does next.
9. Monika Leigh, “The Thrill Is Gone” (Team Blake) | I thought Monika was being set up for an early exit when she revealed she’d given up her dreams of music for a few years to take a steady paycheck at a Colorado hotel. (Come on…the general theme of this show for four seasons has been “give up your home, your organs and your personal happiness, but never your music!”) But then Monika opened her mouth and out came this languid, dreamy tone that dissipated into a sexy whisper on her lower register, and I thought, “If one of these chumps doesn’t hit his button…” Thankfully, all three male judges came to their senses, though I wish Monika had made her choice based on genre and vibe (Cee Lo) instead of simple flattery (i.e. Blake’s “I want to build my team around this girl”).
8. Juhi, “Mercy” (Team Cee Lo) | It’s possible I’m already a huge Juhi fan because she’s perhaps the first 16-year-old in reality competition history who publicly admitted she wasn’t 100 percent certain about her career path. “Should I really be doing this?” asked the kid who’s also mulling aerospace engineering as a possible alternative to rocking the mic. That said, Juhi’s “Mercy” was sensational — flirty without being cutesy (I loved the little squeak at the ends of certain lines) and rhythmically on point. Better still, Juhi’s claim that she wants to be like a combination of Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain hints at further, darker risks to come. And couldn’t The Voice always use further, darker risks? If Blake Shelton’s planning on songs like “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” this season, then please answer with a resounding “YES!”
7. Ashley Dubose, “Diamonds” (Team Adam) | Adam was spot on that Ashley’s voice cut through the air like a razor, her crisp diction and immaculate phrasing proving an absolute upgrade from Rihanna’s bleating original. It also helps that Ashley — despite making a living as a computer analyst, rather than a working singer — already has a video-ready sense of style, solid stage presence and a not-so-sobby story about working her tail off to pay the bills, raise her daughter and keep her music dreams alive. Not a hint of Gokeyism in the entire package — respeck!
6. Donna Allen, “You Are So Beautiful” (Team Adam) | I understood Xtina’s Gospel hand and Adam’s delighted writhing, given all the life experience and world-weariness this 54-year-old former background vocalist for Miami Sound Machine put into her performance. Moreso than any other singer in the Season 5 premiere, Donna’s mixture of restraint and attack, nuance and bombast, managed to make it seem like she was tackling a tune that had been written expressly for her. Contestants of a Certain Age haven’t fared too well in making it past Battles/Knockouts the last couple seasons, but if Adam can get past Donna’s lack of bro-ishness, he might discover she could be a magic bullet in his effort to stop Team Blake’s win streak at three.
5. Matt Cermanski, “Have a Little Faith in Me” (Team Adam) | Returning contestant caught my attention with a husky tone and a pretty falsetto, too — and Adam was right that the kid showed huge improvement off his prior Blind Audition. I just hope the judges ragging on his prior choice of “Teenage Dream” won’t discourage him from risky song choices going forward. Because wouldn’t you take 10 of Michelle Chamuel’s “Call Your Girlfriend” or Amber Carrington’s “Skyfall” over 15 “Shake the Sugar Trees” from Danielle Bradberry? (I know, I know…I’ll probably never recover from Season 4’s final outcome. I’m stubborn and ridiculous that way.)
4. Holly Henry, “The Scientist” (Team Blake) | As Adam noted, this Emma Stone/Jaime Pressly doppelganger has a soft, girlish tone that’s not at all short on brute strength — and both of those qualities were put to haunting effect on Coldplay’s beautifully mournful ballad. With her multi-instrumentalist boasting and her haunted loner eyes, Holly could easily be this season’s answer to Melanie Martinez. And if Holly’s beyond-adorable little brother continues dissolving in tears every time his sister rocks the stage, she could be rocking said stage well into the holiday season. (Hey, it’s a known “fact” that adorable crying relatives increase vote tallies between 10 and 15 percent!)
3. Michael Lynch, “Bailamos” (Team Xtina) | Irish white boy with very little rhythm in his feet tackling Enrique Iglesias’ ode to busting a move? It sounds like the kind of thing that would make Simon Cowell salivate with the anticipation of being able to sneer, “What the bloody hell was that?” over on X Factor. But in reality, Michael’s phrasing and tone were potent and powerful, even if his diction was maybe 10% too crisp for the track in question. Like Xtina noted, the guy with a love of the Spanish language started his cover with appealing simplicity, but proved a match for the “Dirrty” diva when she grabbed a mic and took him to Duet on the Holleration (population: two). Could she make him the Latin-infused Chris Mann? And would that be a good strategy? Discuss!
2. Jonny Gray, “All These Things That I’ve Done” (Team Cee Lo) | There was something about the former Air Force member’s deep, rumbly vibrato that was like an IV of tinglies going right into my veins. (Ugh. That sounds like something J.Lo’s going to say on Idol come January. Now I hate myself. And so do you!) But I digress… dude really feels what he sings — and never misses a note even when he’s neck-deep emotionally. If I could make one tiny suggestion to Jonny, I’d shed the goofy hat and the super long tresses immédiatement: Those shots of him with buzzed hair while her served in the Middle East were hotter than the 127-degree weather he had to contend with on his tour of duty.
1. Tessanne Chin, “Try” (Team Adam) | Show of hands: When Tessanne began to talk about her musical journey, how many of you initially thought she said she’d sung backgrounds for “Sergei McCliff,” not “Sir Jimmy Cliff”? (Please, please say it wasn’t just me!) Adorably confounding accent aside, though, Tessanne’s gale-force rendition of Pink’s gorgeous anthem was somewhere on the Voice scale between Judith Hill “What a Girl Wants” (aka “holy smokes!”) and Amanda Brown’s “Dream On” (aka “as good as it gets”). I just hope that doesn’t mean Adam will spend the season saddling her with dubious song choices that cause her to get booted before her time. (Uh-huh, I went there!)