by Lyn Jensen
What are the coaches (judges) thinking? Season 12 of The Voice has now seen two nights featuring nine knockout rounds between singers, and on Monday night alone we saw at least five bad decisions, starting with the very first pairing:
1. Team Alicia, Chris Blue vs. Quizz Swanigan: Alicia says she’s pairing big bro against little bro, but I say pitting Swanigan, her 13-year-old Michael Jackson type, against 27-year-old Blue, is like sending a boy to do a man’s job. She’d have been wiser to pit Swanigan against another teen–Dawson Coyle or Anatalia Villaranda. Blue should’ve been matched against Vanessa Ferguson, Jack Cassidy, or even Coyle. Now for the performance: Blue sings Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Swanigan sings Nick Jonas’ “Chains.” Alicia keeps Chris Blue.
In the second bad coaching decision of the night, Gwen uses (wastes) her one and only steal on Quizz Swanigan, giving her three R&B vocalists. Now she can’t steal anybody else, no matter who becomes available.
2. Team Adam, Autumn Turner vs. Hannah Erye: In the third bad coaching decision of the night, Adam Levine matches powerful R&B singer Autumn Turner against the sparrow-like Hannah Erye, who appears to be the disposable person here. Turner’s big soulful voice adeptly handles the R&B classic, “Respect,” giving it a contemporary vibe. Eyre chirps out “Bleeding Love,” which is mostly meaningless to the over-30 portion of the audience. In perhaps the most bizarre decision of a night filled with them, Adam keeps Hannah Erye and nobody steals Autumn Turner. Maybe–it’s because Erye better fits the young ingenue type that’s popular on this show?
Hey, Gwen, if you hadn’t been so determined to steal Quizz Swanigan, you could’ve had Autumn Turner, who would’ve given your team more balance come the live rounds.
3. Team Gwen, Hunter Plake vs. Johnny Gates: “They’re both alt,” says Gwen Stefani, although she could just as easily say they both wear skinny jeans. Gates has a classic blues-rock voice and knows who he is musically. Plake has a soft voice and is still finding his genre–country, pop, rock, he’s in there somewhere. Both contestants pick songs with spiritual overtones: Plake sings “I Want to Know What Love is” and Gates sings Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” Plake appears to be the disposable person here–but all the judges prefer him, for inexplicable reasons. Gwen keeps Hunter Plake, maybe because she thinks he needs coaching. He is the kind of artist American Idol tends to favor but this isn’t American Idol.
Adam, Blake, and Alicia all decline to steal Johnny Gates.
4. Team Blake, Casi Joy vs. Felicia Temple: Blake Sheldon isn’t going to let his front-running country vocalist go, is he? It’s a strange pairing but–pairing two strong female vocalists of different genres is one of the least bizarre events of this evening. Casi sings “My Church,” a recent country hit for Maren Morris, and sounds typical country, nothing more or less. Felicia shows the bigness of her voice on the theme song from The Titanic. After Alicia hears the women sing, (even) she asks Blake, what in the world made him pair them? He comes back with, “All my pairings are that dynamic!” As expected Blake keeps his front-runner Casi Joy, who could win the season. Blake babbles about how he’s looking forward to the “old school” country Casi could do.
Nobody steals Felicia Temple, although she might have won a different pairing–say, against Aliyah Moulden or Caroline Sky.
5. Team Adam, Johnny Hayes vs. Josh West: Two of Adam’s best rockers enter this knockout, and one will be cut. Gates shows off his classic blues-shoutin’ voice on the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues.” West represents a more contemporary “rock nerd” type, as Adam puts it. However, West goes back to a classic rock sound, too, showing off a pure but biting tone on “Carry on, my Wayward Son,” the hit song for Kansas back in the seventies. Blake says he prefers West. So does Gwen, who calls his voice operatic. Adam keeps West, who in the past he’s compared to himself.
Nobody steals Johnny Hayes. Gwen had an interest in him originally, and if she hadn’t been so hot on Quizz Swanigan, maybe she could’ve grabbed up Hayes here. But she can’t, and neither Blake nor Alicia are interested.
6. Team Alicia, Lilly Passero vs. Ashley Levin: Bad coaching decisions just keep on comin’ when Alicia pairs Passero, who may be her best female vocalist, against Levin, a country singer Blake rejected. There’s some good TV storyline here–Passero’s chasing her Hollywood dream and Levin’s chasing her Nashville one–but the voice is what we’re supposed to focus on. It’s country vs. cocktail, with a twist both ways, but Passero’s plainly the better voice. Alicia wants Ashley to do some country soul (there is such a genre) so the country singer performs “Fancy,” copying Bobbie Gentry’s pop-country instead of Reba McEntire’s hardcore. Passero sings Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own,” bringing out the song’s boozy (“drunk” sez Alicia) cocktail-jazz side, and appears ready to host a one-woman show. Alicia keeps–Ashley Levin! Good grief, that’s enough to make Passero fans kick the TV!
Alicia babbles on about how much she wants continue to coach Levin and do more country soul but–thankfully Blake and Adam swoop in like superheros to save Lilly Passero. They have one of their most passionate arguments ever, but Lilly Passero chooses to go to Team Adam, where she gives him an advantage in the live rounds. Alicia perhaps figured her team was deep enough she didn’t need Passero–but she doesn’t need Levin either.
So that was Monday. How many missteps did the coaches/judges make Tuesday? Let’s find out! See below:
A. Team Alicia, Anatalia Villaranda vs. Dawson Coyle: One bad pairing can screw up a whole team, and Alicia’s now made three of them. She pairs two of her teens–but one is plainly the stronger vocalist. Villaranda is a tiny powerhouse whose vocals belie her years. Coyle hasn’t shown us much yet, and he’s still here only because Alicia–perhaps unwisely–put him on her team early in the battle rounds. Both singers make bizarre song choices–Villaranda goes Southern-Gothic with Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs,” a song that would appear to make more sense for Coyle. He rocks out with the Imagine Dragons hit, “Demons,” showing a bigger voice than he’s ever shown before, along with a Southern-Gothic side. (Think Nine Inch Nails or REM.) Blake suggests this may be the best performance of “Demons” The Voice has ever heard. Suddenly the outcome doesn’t look so obvious. Alicia keeps Anatalia Villaranda, though, despite Coyle finally showing us what he’s capable of.
Nobody steals Dawson Coyle, and Gwen’s hasty use of her steal looms larger.
B. Team Blake, TSoul vs. Enid Ortiz: If Blake doesn’t keep TSoul he’s crazy, but Ortiz is an intriguing singer who could go far if a bracket opened up. The match-up is basically Adele vs. Otis Redding: Ortiz sings Adele’s “When we were Young” and TSoul sings a half-forgotten Redding song, “These Arms of Mine.” Alicia comments afterward that she likes TSoul’s vibratto–but she prefers Ortiz. Adam offers rare criticism: TSoul sounded like Otis, Ortiz sounded like Adele but “I would’ve liked to hear you.” TSoul was a four-chair turn but only Blake was interested in Ortiz to begin with. Blake does the most sensible thing and keeps TSoul.
Nobody steals Enid Ortiz. Gwen and Adam have used their steals, Adam wisely, Gwen not so much. Blake can’t steal his own singer. That leaves Alicia, who passes.
C. Team Gwen, Aaliyah Rose vs. Brennley Brown: Gwen says she’s matching up two of her teens, two ingenues. Brennley’s 15 and country, but Blake cut her from his deep bench of female country vocalists. Aaliyah’s 14 and quirky, with Broadway/jazz/R&B flavors. (She reminds me of quirky Joey Cook, American Idol, season 14.) Pitting these two against each other might make more sense if Gwen hadn’t let Johnny Gates walk already. Aaliyah sings the contemporary hit, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” Gwen compares her to Rihanna (even though the song isn’t a Rihanna song). Brennley sings “Up the Mountain,” a Kelly Clarkson song, as a spiritual, and shows her youth, her purity, and her promise. Adam suggests, despite Brennley’s youth and inexperience, the year she holds over Aaliyah should be the deciding factor here. Gwen says, based only on what she heard in this knockout round, she’s keeping Brennley Brown.
Blake steals Aaliayah Rose. He didn’t use his steal for Johnny Gates, Dawson Coyle, Autumn Turner, or Johnny Hayes, but he’ll use it for this junior high kid.
So now Alicia’s the only coach left who can steal anybody, and there are by my count seven knockout rounds to go. We know she’ll steal from the last featured pairing, so we can tune in next week and watch six singers leave the competition, no matter what. This may be why recent years have included callbacks–but they should be handled differently. Perhaps a rule can be instigated that callbacks have to come from a pool where the judges have placed one (or two) discarded singers when the steals are almost exhausted, or something like that.