The first live results show of The Voice Season 21 took place Tuesday, and it also happened the first-ever live results show for new coach Ariana Grande — who didn’t seem quite prepared for the pressure. While veteran coaches Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and especially Blake Shelton are of course accustomed to making tough elimination decisions on the spot while task-mastering, time-keeping host Carson Daly breathes down their necks, newbie Ariana literally broke into panicked tears when Carson asked her to save one of her at-risk team members.
So, on Tuesday, the top two vote-getters from each team automatically advanced, then each coach was forced to pick just one additional contestant (from each team’s remaining three) to bring to the top 12 round. After that, Carson revealed one artist from each team who’d get the chance to compete for a 13th wild-card spot. When it was time to read Team Ariana’s results, Carson announced that America had voted through father/son duo Jim & Sasha Allen (a jaw-dropping surprise, considering that their stilted “Hey Jude” was arguably one of the worst performances of Monday’s top 20 Live Playoffs show) and powerhouse Holly Forbes. This meant that Ariana could only save one of her remaining pop divas who’d apparently split the vote: Ryleigh Plank, Bella DeNapoli, or Raquel Trinidad.
“I know how tough this is for you. We can see the emotion on your face,” noted Carson, as Ariana’s eyes welled up.
“I don't know how this possibly could have happened,” gasped Ariana, dramatically choking back sobs. “I just… I mean, everyone is equally… I don't have any idea what to say. You're all so brilliant — incredible vocalists and human beings. I will be here as a friend and mentor for you; I'm a FaceTime away. I love you all so much and respect you forever. Oh my God, this is hell! I love you so, so, so, so much…”
“…OK, take a breath,” the stoic Carson advised.
Eventually Ariana made the absolutely correct — if agonized — decision, and she saved my favorite contestant of the entire season, Ryleigh (who I’d predicted would make the top 13 via the public vote, after her dynamite Monday performance of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight”). Bella then moved on to sing for the Instant Save, which meant Ariana had to bid a quick, tearful farewell to Raquel, a girl with real star potential who’d unfortunately thwarted her chances this week with a pitchy cover of Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why.”
As for the night’s other results, for Team Kelly, America voted through family folk trio Girl Named Tom (another surprise, as I’d found their “Creep” performance Monday emotionless and underwhelming) and heartfelt balladeer Jeremy Rosado. Kelly then smartly saved soul diva Gymani, while 14-year-old pop prodigy Hailey Mia moved on to the Instant Save round and thirtysomething mom Katie Rae immediately exited the competition.
For Team Legend, the viewers at home picked R&B dynamo Jershika Maple and theater kid Joshua Vacanti (the latter result being another surprise). John saved another one of his mighty divas, Shadale, while gritty singer-songwriter Samuel Harness went on to sing for the Save and David Vogel went home. I’d assumed that David’s swarthy good looks and fluffy Chris Cornell hair would make him a favorite with lady voters, but I got that prediction totally wrong.
And finally, for Team Blake, obvious frontrunner Wendy Moten, for whom Blake seriously went to bat at the end of Monday’s show, sailed through, along with churchy belter Paris Winningham. It was a shock that Lana Scott, literally the only country singer in the entire top 20, didn’t make the cut, but of course Blake had her back. That put teen Elvis wannabe Peedy next in line to sing for the Save, while unfortunately one of the most interesting singers of the season, Libianca, got the boot. (Like I said Monday, Libianca was probably always too cool for The Voice.)
Ariana was seemingly still recovering from the trauma of having to choose between her existing contestants when she got some good news. For this season’s 13th wild card spot, a previously eliminated Season 21 contestant had been given another chance, via a pubic Twitter vote, to compete in this week’s Playoffs — and that turned out to Team Ariana’s singing nurse, Vaughn Mugol, who’d actually been cut way back during the Battle Rounds. So, at the end of Tuesday’s results show, Vaughn got a shot at redemption, singing against Samuel, Bella, Peedy, and Hailey for the Instant Save.
Of these five, Samuel, one of this season’s most compelling storytellers, impressed me the most with his pained and present performance of Lewis Capaldi’s “Before You Go,” his finest effort yet. Songbird Hailey’s cover of Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” was also lovely, but it was so sweet and understated that I feared she’d get lost in the shuffle. Meanwhile, Bella once again made a terrible song choice with Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”; as was the case with Monday’s ill-advised “The Sweet Escape,” it was too fast-paced and wordy, so she was out of breath before she even got to the chorus. As for Peedy, he did dial down the cheesiness just a smidge on “Stranger in My House,” but ironically, his lack of hammy Branson antics only made it easier to notice how vocally lacking he was compared to his competitors.
And that left Vaughn, who really went for it with the ramped-up drama of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down.” But unfortunately for him (and for Ariana), he didn’t win the Save — that honor went to Hailey, so my fears for Hailey’s chances were clearly unfounded. Ariana seemed to take this particular setback in stride, however, perhaps comforted by the fact that at least Vaughn finally got his big moment. He’d deserved to at least make it to the Knockout Rounds in the first place.
And so, now we have our top 13. It’s not going to get any easier from this point onward, but hopefully as Ariana settles into her coach duties and into her big red chair, she’ll get used to having to say some bittersweet goodbyes in the coming weeks.
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