"The Voice" Season 5's first Knockout Rounds — that final phase of the competition before we at long last get to the live shows — took place this Monday. And while the episode featured some elements of awesomeness (several '90s hits, a couple of Kelly Clarkson hits, and the introduction of one Steal per coach, which added an extra layer of intrigue), there were disappointments as well. Two promising young contestants inevitably fell by the wayside, and I'll be missing them in next week's Live Playoffs. One Steal per coach is not enough!
Here's what went down in the Knockout Rounds this Monday:
TEAM XTINA: Amber Nicole vs. Josh Logan
Amber was a (deserved) surprise winner in the Battle Rounds over Timyra-Joi, since her first audition was never shown in full. Meanwhile, Josh, a veteran of the mid-2000s Mark Burnett production "Rock Star: Supernova," had seemed like a frontrunner from the beginning. This one was going to be interesting.
So Amber came out and killed it on her song choice, Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best," a total diva showcase if there ever was one. She had sass, spunk, oodles of character and confidence, and she even had her coach Christina Aguilera rocking out in her red chair. Why wasn't Amber's audition ever shown? I want to see it. I bet it was great.
Josh followed with Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." It was a real vocal workout for sure, and he certainly nailed the tough song. But I wasn't living for it; vocally, he may have impressed, but I wasn't excited by his performance. I felt like I'd seen moments like this on "The Voice" many times, and that 17-year-old Amber was more fresh and fun, the total pop package.
Christina, of course, picked Josh. Sigh. I don't quite get his appeal. Thankfully, Amber didn't need to worry, as she continued to morph from montaged underdog to frontrunner herself, when both CeeLo Green and Blake Shelton went in for the Steal. This was a little surprising — after all, this was only the first Knockout of the episode, and like I said, each coach only gets one Steal to play with — but it was no surprise that Amber chose to join Team CeeLo. And I bet Amber will continue to surprise "Voice" viewers, and Xtina's loss will be CeeLo's gain.
STEAL: Amber moves to Team CeeLo
TEAM CEELO: Kat Robichaud vs. Monika Leigh
When I saw this pairing, I just knew Monika was a goner. With her quiet, low-energy personality, she'd be no match for the vivacious Kat — plus, Monika had been stolen from Blake in the Battles, so it was likely that CeeLo would be more loyal to Kat, who'd been his contestant since literally the first audition of Season 5.
For her song, Kat chose Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," because apparently she likes that "ballsy female angsty rock" thing. Huh? I thought she was into that glam-rock thing. I like Kat — a lot — but I didn't really like this. She was trying way too hard, to the point of being scary, with her psycho-ex-girlfriend kookoo-eyes and her half-shouting of the song. Man, who broke up with this girl? He better file a restraining order, stat. My point is, it was all too much, and it was alienating, and if this had been a performance during the Live Playoffs, I don't think it would have earned Kat many votes. If she was going to get all theatrical 'n' stuff, a Queen song might've been more entertaining.
On the other end of the spectrum was slow-burner Monika, doing a bluesy version of Ray Charles's "Hit the Road, Jack." Monika seemed stiff and uncomfortable onstage — almost like she knew that she was supposed to be sultry and sexy, but she didn't really want to go there. However, towards the end, she started to bring a little fire.
Still, it was all too little, too late. Of course Kat won this one. Monika hit the road. I do think CeeLo made the right decision here, but going forward, I'd like Kat to be less of a jagged little pill on the live shows.
TEAM BLAKE: Holly Henry vs. Nic Hawk
Ouch. This one hurt. I loved both of these contestants going into this Knockout, and I was already hoping and praying for a Steal — but I was worried, since it seemed the coach most likely to steal either of these quirksters, CeeLo, was already out of the running due to his previous Amber-poaching. Why did Blake do this to these kids? Or more importantly, to me?
Holly chose Radiohead's classic "Creep," a perfect song for her awkward/ethereal indie-shut-in aesthetic, but a very hard song to sing. And truth be told, she didn't sing it perfectly. There were pitch issues. But you know, Thom Yorke never sang it perfectly either, and he's the crown prince of awkward/ethereal indie shut-ins. I think on this particular song, it's OK to be a little rough, a little squeaky, a little damaged, as long as you express the emotion in the song. Which, Holly did. But, still, I worried.
Nic was next, with the genius idea to cover Christina's own "Genie in a Bottle." Man, this round was so totally '90s! Nic turned the song into a funky neo-soul jam and performed the heck out of it. Seriously, this man was born to perform. His vocal wasn't perfect either, but it was distinctive: His voice could easily be picked out of a room of 100 aspiring singers. This performance, basically, rubbed me the right away.
"I don't think there's a better display of two artists who have a vision of who they want to be," declared Blake, without further explaining why he'd so foolishly pitted these two supposed visionaries against each other in the first place. And then he picked Nic, "one of the most unique and entertaining personalities on this show." Darn right, he is. Go Nic! But I was dejected to see Holly go, literally. No one stole her. Suddenly her "Creep" line, "I don't belong here," rang true. Sad trombone. I will miss that girl.
TEAM ADAM: Ashley Dubose vs. Tessanne Chin
Oof. This one hurt me, too. It would be a massive loss to Season 5 to see either of these dynamite ladies — two of the strongest divas on Adam Levine's team — leave before the live shows.
Ashley didn't make things any easier with her ridiculously misguided song choice. Train's "Hey Soul Sister"? Really? Ashley explained that she wanted to show a more fun and playful side to her personality. Girl, this is THE KNOCKOUT ROUNDS, only one week away from the Live Playoffs. This ain't the time to be cutesy and light-hearted, this is the time to bring it. Especially if you're up against a powerhouse like Tessanne Chin.
Ashley's Train cover was sweet and enjoyable, and she came across as bubbly and adorbs — but the ho-hum song didn't really give her any place to go vocally. It certainly wasn't an adequate showcase for what Ashley can really do. As Christina put it, Ashley "did the best she could."
And then…Tessanne sang.
Tessanne really went for it, doing a bona fide battle anthem, "Stronger," by the queen of all singing competitions, Kelly Clarkson. She nailed every note and held nothing, absolutely nothing, back. At the song's end, she received a standing ovation. Obviously, Ashley was toast.
However, based on her past performances, Ashley was a very Steal-worthy contestant, and I think if she'd picked a better song this evening, she might have impressed enough to get either Christina or Blake to hit their buttons. Song choice, people, song choice! Ashley learned that lesson too late, and she was on the train (pun intended) back home.
TEAM BLAKE: Briana Cuoco vs. Shelbie Z.
I went into this round with mixed feelings about Briana. I thought her audition was actually borderline-terrible, and I'd assumed that she'd only gotten on the show due to her famous sister, "The Big Bang Theory's" Kelly Cuoco. But then, in the Battles, Briana was surprisingly good, and she started to make a name for herself. However, I'd found Shelbie to be consistent throughout the season, so it still looked like she'd have the edge…even if she doesn't have a relative starring on TV's number-one sitcom at the moment.
Keeping with the night's '90s theme, Briana went with No Doubt's breakup ballad "Don't Speak," and she really struggled through it. Those bad vocal habits and pitch problems that had plagued her in the Blind Auditions were back in full force. She almost sounded like she was being strangled in parts, and the bridge was really iffy. This was not a big bang, more like a big bust.
Conversely, Shelbie owned Carrie Underwood's "Last Name." Sure, she had a few bad performance habits herself, some cheesy posturing picked up from the pageant circuit — but vocally, she was totally on. She also sold the song with an outsized personality to match her big voice.
Blake said Shelbie "flat-out outsang" Briana, making it obvious that this was one of the easier Knockouts to judge. No one stole Briana. The girl had potential, but in the end, having a famous sister will only get a singer so far.
TEAM ADAM: Grey vs. James Irwin
In keeping with the evening's Kelly Clarkson theme, Grey did "Already Gone," and while I still found her personality a little lackluster, and I still had trouble figuring to exactly what kind of artist she wants to be, I couldn't fault her vocal. The girl can sang. This was a lovely, nearly note-perfect performance (there was one rough spot), and I think if her coach Adam could coax out her natural rasp a little bit more, she could be interesting.
James's cover of the Script's "Breakeven" was nice, but it was difficult for him to really stand out with this oft-covered midtempo ditty. I was rooting for him, but this just didn't seem to be enough (especially since he shied away from the falsetto in the chorus). Adam didn't think it was enough. Nether did the other coaches, as James was not stolen (even though Blake seemed to be a big James fan). I felt bad for the guy, since this was his second go-'round on "The Voice" and he'd come so far, but it was unignorable that he'd been outsung by Grey.
TEAM XTINA: Destinee Quinn vs. Olivia Henken
And, in keeping with the Carrie Underwood theme of the night, Destinee sang "See You Again," a tearjerker dedicated to two of her relatives who recently passed away. I was rooting for Destinee, too, since I found her to be the more interesting and less cookie-cutter country girl in this pairing...but as soon as she opened her mouth, it was obvious that Destinee's destiny wasn't continuing on "The Voice." She absolutely could not handle this vocal, and by the chorus, it was downright painful to listen to her. We would not see this girl again.
Olivia's song choice, "You're No Good" by Linda Ronstadt, was cool, but her delivery was so hokey and unoriginal. She's no Carrie Underwood either, although it's fairly obvious that's what she wants to be. However, Olivia won this round by default, because her vocal was solid (and actually listenable). I still think she will be fodder in the Live Playoffs, but we shall see.
TEAM CEELO: Cole Vosbury vs. Jonny Gray
Boooo. Another pairing between two contestants that I really liked. Booooo! Fortunately, some bad editing in the pre-commercial promos had already tipped viewers off that a Steal would get used on one of these two, so I could relax, pass the popcorn, and just enjoy the last few minutes of the show.
Cole took a risk by covering the somewhat obscure "Let Her Go" by Passenger, but after making his first impression on "The Voice" singing the "Jeffersons" song, it was crucial that he prove he's not just a good-time novelty act. And this was the perfect song to do that. The gentle ballad showcased an entire different side of Cole, and his voice sounded gorgeous and tender in a way that, well, couldn't really be discerned when he was belting out a silly '70s sitcom theme. I worried if this would be enough, when Jonny was going with a very well-known and much-loved song by a band you may have heard of called the Beatles. But I thought this was a winning performance, from the first raspy note to that final falsetto.
Jonny's "We Can Work it Out" was very vibrato-y, almost goaty. I'm not sure if he worked it out. I'm not sure if it was the right song for him. Vocally, Cole was surprisingly the victor here. But performance-wise, Jonny was just so frickin' cute. It was impossible not to like the guy.
THANK GAWD THERE WAS A STEAL.
"I don't care who CeeLo picks, I'm taking the other one!" Adam announced — which was probably a mistake, as it got Blake's competitive juices a-flowin'. And sure enough, after CeeLo saved Jonny (not a bad decision, based on Jonny's overall body of work so far) and Adam buzzed in to steal Cole, Blake whacked his button as well.
Despite that "there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friends" line that Jonny had just warbled, a lot of fussing and fighting ensued. Adam begged for Cole to choose him, and honestly, it seemed like Adam genuinely, passionately wanted Cole more. But then Blake tossed off some line about helping Cole "discover who he is as an artist," blah blah blah yada yada yada, and he won Cole over. In the words of "That '70s Show's" Kelso, burn!
STEAL: Cole moves to Team Blake
Tune in Tuesday for another two-hour Knockouts show (with Steals still in play for Adam and Christina), to find out which 20 contestants will be moving on to the Live Playoffs! See you then.
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