Song by song grades as The Voice goes live
Up until now, the coaches have had all the say in the outcomes on The Voice.
Tonight, the live rounds begin. And so does fan voting.
Five contestants remain on each Voice team. By the end of the week, the number will be cut to three.
The singers from Team Adam and Team Blake take the stage this evening. I’ll be live blogging throughout, grading each performance as it happens.
This year, iTunes downloads that land in the top 10 gain a bonus of five votes per download.
Shelbie Z., 21, Jasper, Alabama: Country artists and artists singing country have done well on The Voice over the past couple of seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how the public receives Shelbie Z. She has the county sass, the big voice and the stage presence to do very well. Last week, she sang Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name.” And if Blake spent more than 10 seconds deciding the winner, it took him too long. And the big news — Shelbie is newly married.
Shelbie has picked Reba McEntire’s “Fancy” and says she wants to redneck it up and make it rock-country. Shelbie is showing off her big, booming voice again. No way the house band is going to bury that. And she ends with a glorious glory note. In between, the performance was good but not sensational. Her voice got lost a bit on a couple of the verses. Shelbie gets bonus points for her stage presence, especially with the pressure of opening the show on her shoulders. Grade: B–
Nic Hawk, 26, of Dallas, Texas: Nic defeated Holly Henry in the knockout round, which probably wasn’t the best coaching decision Blake Shelton has ever made, considering the following Holly attracted after her triumphant blind audition. Meanwhile, Nic said he’s getting along fabulously with his “silver fox” of a coach. He’s performed “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” “Domino” and “Genie in the Bottle” to get this far.
Nic is going to perform “Blurred Lines.” And Blake jokes that they might try to get Miley to provide a guest twerk. Please, no. I wasn’t thrilled with Blake’s decision to oust Holly Henry and keep Nic, and nothing about this vocal is making me change my mind. No doubt, Nic is quite a character. Sometimes hilarious. But this show is called The Voice, in case anyone needs a reminder. And Nic is killing this song. And I don’t mean slaying. I really mean killing. As in I don’t want to hear that again. Previous voice characters (Cody Belew, anyone) have delivered great vocals. Blake’s critique: “I can’t think of anything else, besides boobs, that you could have thrown into that performance.” Grade: D
Ray Boudreaux, 25, of Lafayette, La.: Don’t be surprised if Ray switches it up sometime soon. He’s performed three straight fun, upbeat tunes and says he’s anxious “to show off my softer side, my more intimate side.” Of course, what he’s been doing has been working fine. He’s been one of the most impressive male performers through three rounds. Last week, he sang “Hard to Handle” to defeat E.G. Daily in the knockouts.
The guy who had never sung in front of more than 400 people pre-Voice, is going to perform “Home” — the Marc Broussard, not the Phillip Phillips — song. Again, Voice, turn down the band. Another solid performance from Ray, who shows what the voice is all about. His voice was buried by the band early on, but Ray got stronger as the performance progressed. Christina says she felt he was connected like never before and loved his bluesy sound. Ray should have just nailed down a spot in the top 12. Grade: B–
Austin Jenckes, 25, Duvall, Wash.: Austin says he’s gone up against a good friend (Brian Pounds) and a roommate (Brandon Chase) in winning the last two rounds. He was particularly pleased during the knockouts when Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green pronounced that they’d become fans of his over the course of the competition. “That just blew my world,” Austin said in his Top 20 video.
This could be special. Austin is going to sing “She Talks to Angels” by the Black Crowes. Love the match of singer and song choice. And Austin’s voice cuts through loud and clear from the first note, something that’s happening for the first time tonight. My only complaint about that performance might be that Austin tried for too many moments from the word go rather than building to a big climax. But Austin turned in a heartfelt vocal that drew well-deserved praise from the judges. My favorite so far from Team Blake. Grade: B
Cole Vosbury, 22, of Shreveport, La.: Cole’s looking forward to putting on a bit longer performance in the live rounds. “I put on four-hour shows. To go out and sing 90 seconds is sorta a weird experience,” he says. But a week ago, the guy who considered himself something of an underdog on The Voice made every second count. His version of “Let Her Go” by Passenger was the best-selling song from The Voice on iTunes.
Cole will sing Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” saying it’s a great singer-songwriter song. The only concern: This show is about moments, and I’m not sure where Cole is going to create moments on this tune. It turned out to be a fine rendition of the song, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. But Cole gets high praise from the coaches, including Blake, who says he could win the whole thing. With better song choices, perhaps. Grade: C+
My picks for the top 3: Austin Jenckes, Ray Boudreaux and Shelbie Z.
James Wolpert, 22, Lancaster, Pa.: The Lampeter-Strasburg grad is going into the live rounds determined to redeem himself after what he considered a sub-par performance in the knockout round. And he’s dedicating this week’s performance to his knockout round foe, Juhi, who he said had become like a little sister to him, making last week’s victory somewhat bittersweet. James is one of just three four-chair turn recipients still alive in the competition.
Interesting. James is going to sing Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” And he’ll be playing guitar for the first time on the show, saying he’ll feel clothed that way. He’s going for a stripped down sound after singing Boston last week. I wasn’t in love with the opening, but wow did James’ voice soar toward the middle of that song. Dang, if the guy was looking for redemption, he earned it in the last 30 seconds of that performance. He’ll likely score points with the off-beat song choice too. Blake’s reaction: “You can’t be a geek and be that awesome.” Grade: B
Grey, 25, Jacksonville, Fla.: Grey says she thought she “was crazy” to go to the cattle call auditions for Season 5 of The Voice in New York. Now she’s one of the 20 contestants still alive. She pulled an upset in the knockout round, besting James Irwin, who had turned four chairs in his audition. Her biggest challenge in the live round is that she’s a female pop singer. So she needs to outshine Tessanne.
Adam is having her sing Paramore’s “Still Into You,” saying he wants her to take the stage with a rocker’s bravado. Grey seems to have managed the bravado. But I’m not sure this song was a great match for her vocally, because Grey has sounded really pleasing every time we’ve heard her sing. And that wasn’t the case tonight. Her voice cracked at one point, and I doubt it was intentional. The pitch seemed slightly off and she seemed to struggle to keep up with the rapid-fire lyrics. Oh, well. Grade: C–
Will Champlin, 30, Reseda, Calif.: Will says The Voice has been “a hell of a roller coaster rider for him.” Little wonder. He failed to win in the battle or knockout rounds. But he performed well enough to be stolen both times. Now he’s back on Team Adam, where he started. “I feel like I’m going to give every performance like it’s my last and leave it all out there on that stage,” he says in his Top 20 video.
He’ll sing “Secrets” by One Republic, and he’s going to play piano for the opening of the song. Well, we got a little of everything during that performance. He starts off soft at the piano, gets to his feet and marches across the stage to deliver a couple of big glory notes, then returns to the piano for the finale. Adam says Will has been bounced around like a yo-yo and that it’s surprising because he deserves to be here “as much as anybody.” He calls it the performance of Will’s life. I wasn’t quite that excited, but Will certainly did enough to keep himself in the running for a spot in the top three from Team Adam. Grade: B–
Preston Pohl, 26, Hallettsville, Texas: Given his raspy tone, folks wonder if Preston eats cigarettes on a daily basis, he joked during a recent conference call with the media. In truth, he doesn’t smoke. He does play guitar, a skill he’s anxious to display on the show sometime soon. But for the first night of the live round, he was hoping to find a song “that explodes,” he said in his Top 20 video. Preston defeated Lina Gaudenzi in the knockout round.
Preston will perform “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B. Here comes that signature rasp. So we’re going to have Preston, one of the most impressive male singers so far, rap. Not sure about this song choice at all. Preston sounded slightly off at the start of the song, the rap did nothing for me, then he seemed to be oversinging the final verse. Blake says he’s “blown away.” I might have missed something. I still think Preston belongs in the Top 12 based on how well he’d done before tonight, but that wasn’t his best. Grade: C
Tessanne Chin, 28, Kingston, Jamaica: In her Top 20 video, Tessanne says she felt like a hamster on a treadmill in terms of her career until The Voice came along. My guess is she’s on the fast track to the Top 12, barring a major stumble tonight. She’s done a brilliant job with song choice so far. A prime example came last week when she showed off her big voice on “Stronger,” besting Ashley DuBose in a match between contestants who turned four chairs in the blind auditions.
And Tessanne gets the honor of closing the show, which means The Voice is anticipating something special. She’s singing “Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff, a guy for whom she has sung background vocals. OK, brilliant opening. I think we’re seeing and hearing why Tessanne is closing the show. I don’t love the song, but you don’t have to love the song to appreciate what Tessanne is doing with the vocal. Dang, that was spot on from the opening note to the final note. Great power. Great range. That was, without doubt, the vocal of the night on The Voice. Grade: A
And who should advance on Team Adam? Tessanne, obviously. Preston, more on what he did prior to tonight than based on tonight. And James, because the guy from south central Pa. bounced back very strong after a sub-par knockout round.