by Lyn Jensen
As The Voice moves through its voting rounds, the judges do double duty as coaches. Blake Shelton always ends up with a country-flavored team, and Adam Levine’s team varies between talent with classic mainstream appeal and some misfit outside-the-box types. The remaining teams always seem to favor R&B and mainstream pop. This season, those teams are coached by Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera.
1. Kimberly Nichole of Team Christina: Usually Adam and Blake have the strongest teams but this season, Christina does. As one of her front-runners, Nichole has to offer an outstanding performance every week, and she does it again here. Her song assignment is an Etta James oldie, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.” Guest advisor Mick Ronson notes the song and singer are in this area of “kind of” rock and “kind of” bluesy and soulful. For the up-tempo climax of the song, he advises mixing in a punky Ramones-like approach. (“A Ramones-y approach!”) The resulting performance is flawless. Hosting the show, Carson Daly interjects that the bar has been set very high. Pharrell says that on a scale of 1 to 10, “you reinvented 10.” Adam adds, “Lights out … These conversations have to get real serious about you winning this.”
2. Joshua Davis of Team Adam: Along with guest advisor Dave Stewart, Adam’s trying to coax his front-runner Davis into his higher register on “Hold Back the River,” a James Bay song. When the resulting performance goes into crescendo, the effect is a little like Bruce Springsteen. “A completely different look and vibe tonight,” comments Blake afterward. “Harder than you’ve ever been pushed.” Adam, though, apparently has some misgivings because he missed the “beautiful warm and fuzzy tone” of previous performances.
3. Hannah Kirby of Team Blake: This uninhibited teen Texas rocker, who’s here because Blake kept her, has done well with rock and not with anything else. She shouts (appropriately) her way through Tears for Fears’ eighties hit, “Shout.” She probably did enough to make top eight, but she’s not going to win this season, not against competition like Kimberly Nichole and Meghan Linsey. The judges are encouraging, however. Christina says, “You really rocked it!” and Pharrell adds, “You make every song your own.” Blake brags, “You’re a freak of nature! How can you give it all and still talk? You’re not going anywhere!” If that’s so, Blake may want to heed the advice of Reba McEntire, who last week compared Kirby to Dolly Parton. Since she faces such formidable competition, she may as well try something like Parton’s “Nine to Five” if she’s around another week.
4. Meghan Linsey of Team Blake: Linsey may be Blake’s best chance to win this season. Daly announces the Nashville veteran is “bringing the bayou to The Voice.” She picks a Louisiana swamp pop-rock song, “Home.” It’s a hard-charging bluesy Cajun country-rocker by Marc Broussard. Blake says, “Meghan definitely has that New Orleans sound–she needs to bring it out.” Blake’s guest advisor is a veteran Nashville producer, Scott Hendricks, who’s familiar with Linsey’s career. He says, “Who knew she could sing like this until this show?” The judges are enthusiastic about the result. “The best performance you’ve done on the show yet,” Christina raves, adding, “I was blown away!” Adam adds that he was glad to hear a song by the “underappreciated” Broussard. He then adds, “Not only your best performance, it threw you all the way to the top.”
5. Koryn Hawthorne of Team Pharrell: Hawthorne was Pharrell’s choice to keep. She takes Ed Sheeran’s “Make it Rain” and turns it into an inspirational R&B belter, with her big soulful voice. By the time the song’s over, she’s clearly moved herself into the middle of the pack. Even Daly’s moved to comment, “It’s like you escape into your voice.” Blake praises the high quality of tonight’s performances with, “This isn’t the episode to slip up even a tiny bit,” then adds, “Welcome to the top eight.” Christina adds, “Your best performance yet–you brought out that Old Soul quality.” Pharrell finds the performance to be an inspiring one with appeal to Christian voters, even though the song’s not specifically Christian.
6. Deanna Johnson of Team Adam: After Johnson was in the bottom three last week, Adam knows he has to move his team member away from the Christian songs he’s been assigning her. This week he tells her to do something bold with Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Guest advisor Stewart, formerly of the synth-pop Eurhythmics, suggests approaching the song the way Eurhythmics might. Johnson sings it adequately but shows herself to be the weakest vocalist left in the field. This year’s competition is crowded with rockers and a psychedelic song is likely to lose her the Christian vote. Christina gently points out Johnson’s vocal stumbles with, “That sounded pretty challenging.”
7. Rob Taylor of Team Christina: Taylor and Johnson are plainly the two weakest singers left in the field. Taylor goes back to seventies’ old-school R&B, selecting Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” For the first portion of the song, he holds off hitting showy, gimmicky notes and just sings (and plays piano). Then he goes into his unpleasantly shrill falsetto and becomes his own worst enemy. Pharrell actually appears to like the showy gimmicks. commenting about how the singer can go all the way up through an octave. Christina likes his piano-playing.
8. Corey Kent White of Team Blake: For perhaps the first time in Voice history, Team Blake’s country singer isn’t a front-runner. White’s got a breathy smoky voice–the kind speech experts might call “aspirate.” Unless he’s coached to make it an asset, it’s going to turn into a liability. He’s picked a classic George Strait song, “Unwound.” (The hook is, “The woman that I wrapped around my finger just a-come unwound.”) Blake says the song needs to become “Corey’s version,” to make it “more up-tempo, a rock edge.” He advises the singer to “put that guitar down,” play to the girls, “go out and grab a few hands.” Strangely the judges sound less than impressed, which is rare. Blake spends considerable time discussing a minor vocal flub. To move up to the front, White’s going to need something dramatic and haunting–maybe Alan Jackson’s “Midnight in Montgomery,” about an encounter with the ghost of Hank Williams.
9. Sawyer Fredericks of Team Pharrell: Somewhere between teen heartthrob and coffeehouse folksinger, that’s the territory Pharrell’s precocious front-runner inhabits. Fredericks likes the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” because, he says, “I’ve never been through this [love] but I can connect to it.” He plays up every word, giving the lyrics a prominence they’ve never had before. “Awesome as usual!” praises Christina. Pharrell raves, “That big voice! From zero to sixty in three seconds!” then adds, “We need more sixteen-year-olds in this country like you.” I’d add that it’s astonishing how this season The Voice has discovered so many brilliant teen singers, including Fredericks, while Idol could find no one that came even close.
10. India Carney of Team Christina: Nichole is one of Team Christina’s front-runners, and the other is Carney. She closes the show with a big showy R&B ballad. Daly introduces Carney as, “the passionate pop singer with a challenging voice.” Her song choice is “Run to You.” (It’s a Whitney Houston belter, nothing like Bryan Adams’ song of the same name.) She says she wanted to try the song again, after she sang it during a Lion King audition–and was rejected. Like some of the other singers tonight, she’s changing her style a little. It’s not the best song for her but it enables her voice to show both power and tenderness. Adam declares the Broadway show types who rejected her were idiots, and Pharrell likes her “crazy, crazy notes.”
When there’s so much talent on display, I vote for half the field: Sawyer, Corey, Linsey, Kimberly, Joshua. The two weakest singers left are plainly Rob Taylor and Deanna Johnson. I predict neither squeaks by into next week.