Monday’s The Voice top 11 show was packed with power-singers who made each performance look easy — almost too easy, as might’ve been the case with one contestant, Wendy Moten. that I’ll recap later. But even though another diva, Team Legend’s Jershika Maple, nailed her number like a pro, she admitted that she struggled during this fan-themed evening, when the viewing audience assigned her Lisa Fischer’s almighty “How Can I Ease the Pain.”
“The fans picked a classic R&B song that plays into her strengths, but this song is pretty difficult,” noted Jershika’s concerned coach, John Legend. “Lisa Fischer’s range is incredible, and there's some really high notes that will push Jershika to her limit.” John therefore advised his team member to tap into the anguished emotion of the Quiet Storm ballad, and of course Jershika rose to challenge, delivering a stellar tour de force that was all class and seemed straight out of the 1991 BET Awards. She never let the audience see her sweat, as the saying goes — but after she received a standing ovation from the coaches, she confessed that this performance had actually left her secretly stressed.
“They said Jershika was nervous backstage,” host Carson Daly revealed, to which Jershika straight-up exclaimed, “I almost threw up, y'all! I never had that happen before!”
Well, if this is how Jershika performs when she’s on the verge of hurling, she’ll surely be unstoppable — and on her way to the Season 21 finale — once her nerves are fully under control. “Your vocal runs are so special and specific to you, and cool as hell. Oh my God, you're incredible! [John] was right — the coaching, with the pain, that was such a good note for you, because when you’re pained, we're there with you,” raved Kelly Clarkson. “I saw on the B-roll, the package they were rolling, that [John was] trying to talk to you about how to connect to this lyric and feel the pain. But all I know is you made me really happy. It was one of the most enjoyable performances I've seen in a long time,” added Blake Shelton.
So, one contestant will go home on Tuesday’s live results show — and Jershika probably won’t feel the urge to vomit then, because I believe she will be safe. But as I said, there were so many brassy belters, all really going for the brass ring, this week, that I fear some of them may cancel each other out. Let’s review Monday’s other 10 performances, and make some predictions...
Wendy Moten, “Freeway of Love” (Team Blake)
I loved the styling and overall vibe of this neon-lit retro performance — in this case, I felt like I was watching the 1985 Soul Train Awards. But Wendy, a veteran professional backup singer who’s been doing this for decades, is so “flawless,” as John put it, that she might lose her impact — especially this week, when she sang in the death spot. “Everything is perfect. It could be taken for granted, because it seems so effortless coming from you. I want America to be clear: What she's doing, almost no one on the planet can do like Wendy can do,” John stressed. Blake assured his star team member that she’d already reached “icon status," telling her, "You're performing like a legend.”
Girl Named Tom, “More Hearts Than Mine” (Team Kelly)
This family trio admitted that they don’t consider themselves to be a straight-ahead country act, but apparently that is what Voice viewers want from them. Girl Named Tom should listen to those fans, though, because this Ingrid Andress song was a perfect fit. Their sweet, quiet-is-the new-loud delivery made them stand out on a night of belters and showboaters, and resident country expert Blake approved, assuring them, “I heard you saying you felt a little bit maybe out of your comfort zone or you were nervous about it, but it feels like home to me.” Coach Kelly praised the family band for being “ready to work” and “ready to go outside your box,” raving about how quickly they arranged their harmonies despite being unfamiliar with the song. “Y'all are so talented,” she gushed.
Holly Forbes, “Alone” (Team Ariana)
This Heart power ballad was a big, big song to take on, but of course Holly could handle it. “It's not that often I look down here and see what the artist is going to sing and go, ‘Oh, she's going to kill that.' I knew way before you started that this was going to be epic,” said Blake. And unlike the overly polished Wendy, Holly let the audience see her effort — in the best possible way. There was a rawness, an edge, an element of turmoil. “I feel your commitment to every song. Your heart is so involved in every note you're singing. I can feel it,” said John.
Lana Scott, “I Hope” (Team Blake)
So, here was Lana, the only country contestant left on The Voice this season, doing a modern country hit by the only artist to truly break out from American Idol in recent years, Gabby Barrett. Lana definitely exuded the same sassy, spitfire quality as Gabby, surprisingly. She usually croons sweet, pretty tunes, so didn’t know she had this in her. I certainly didn’t know that she could be this fierce. She had exactly the right attitude, and as Ariana Grade observed, she “never sounded better” and was a “perfectly packaged, ready-to-go country pop star.” Blake proudly and rightly declared this Lana’s best performance yet, saying, “What a great time to have a breakout moment on the show.”
Joshua Vacanti, “The Show Must Go On” (Team Legend)
Doing Queen is even a taller order than doing Heart, and while I appreciated how completely over-the-top this number was — an epic spectacle bordering on ridiculous, but in a sublime and fearless way — I do fear this performance could be polarizing. Freddie Mercury is just sacred and untouchable for so many singing-show fans (and so is Adam Lambert, for that matter). But I commend Joshua for just going for it, potential backlash be damned — from his grand entrance standing on top of a grand piano, to his big finish with that knee-drop flourish. Blake thought the fans selected the perfect song for Joshua to serve up some drama, and Kelly quipped, “I don't know what kind of career you want to have, but if somebody listening right now can make a Broadway show he's starring in so I can come see it…” I too am unsure of what sort of career awaits Joshua after The Voice, or if he will stay on The Voice much longer. But there is no doubt that he is extremely gifted.
Jeremy Rosado, “Reckless Love” (Team Kelly)
Picking one of the biggest Christian songs of the past decade, by Cory Asbury, was a smart move from the fans, who apparently had grown tired of Jeremy’s old-fashioned, American Idol Season 2-style balladry. Jeremy actually wants to record Christian music after The Voice — a wise career path that could set him up for success a la Koryn Hawthorne or Jordan Smith —and his was definitely his most emotionally invested performance yet, once that demonstrated what kind of records he could make. John said he seemed “perfectly in his element” and “so passionate and committed.” I think this show’s conservative voting audience will adore this.
Gymani, “Diamonds” (Team Kelly)
As I mentioned, there were many power-singers tonight vying for votes, so Gymani may be at risk, especially since she was up for elimination last week. But her sophisticated, elegant cover of Rihanna’s sultry hit — picked by the fans because she did it on her YouTube channel several years ago — certainly showcased this dynamite lady at her brightest. “I think you did a great job making it your own and honoring it. You yourself are shining like a diamond,” said Ariana.
Jim & Sasha Allen, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” (Team Ariana)
For weeks now, I’ve been wondering why this father/son duo has outlasted may other superior singers. And I still think it’s their time to go. But I will say that son Sasha is a much better singer than his dad Jim, and their harmonic blend pales in comparison to Season 21’s other family act, Girl Named Tom — so maybe Sasha just should have auditioned solo. After tonight, I think his father has been dragging him down, because this CCR cover was Sasha’s best vocal yet. However, Ariana noted that their bond is “way beyond parent and child” and “absolutely incredible,” so perhaps it’s their admittedly heartwarming and important backstory — that of trans son and supportive parent — that has kept them in the competition this long.
Paris Winningham, “Use Me” (Team Blake)
We’ll always have Paris. At least I hope we will, but this vocal titan should not be going anywhere after this awesome performance. Daym! Paris was burning tonight, absolutely on fire, exuding swagger and sweat, playing off his two backup singers like Isaac Hayes at the Oscars, and hitting high notes that probably could be heard all the way over in France. He was my favorite of the night. "Many of us would have paid money to see that,” said John. I know I would. This really should have been in the pimp spot, because Paris was a very tough act to follow.
Hailey Mia, “Elastic” (Team Kelly)
But there was one more act Monday, and this 14-year-old did an unexpectedly awesome job of maintaining Paris’s momentum. Doing a stripped-back piano-and-cello version of Sia’s operatic angst anthem, Hailey pulled off her greatest moment of the season and became this season’s not-so-dark horse. “You're so good at this that it was kind of hard to see you sad! We all love you so much, and you did so good on that song that it was actually, literally so powerful that I got wrapped up,” said a completely convinced Blake. “You can make the finale,” Kelly proclaimed.
So now, it is prediction time. On Tuesday, after the public vote is revealed, the bottom two or three contestants — Carson didn’t specify — will perform for the Instant Save. I predict the at-risk artists will be Wendy Moten, Jim & Sasha Allen, and, if there’s a third, either Gymani or Joshua Vacanti. And if that’s the case, get ready for a Wendy-vs.-Joshua/Gymani showdown of epic proportions, or a Wendy-vs.-Allens landslide victory. See you then.
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