NBC's reality hit "The Voice" calls them the "knockout rounds" for a reason. With the first group of pairings decided on the shows for Monday and Tuesday, a few early favorites have already exited the competition. And with a couple of dark horses gaining on the remaining frontrunners, this ninth season's live shows promise to be among the series’ most exciting and least predictable. Will coach Pharrell Williams repeat his championship or will Adam Levine or Blake Shelton return to the top or will Gwen Stefani prevail for the first time?
With that in mind, here’s my rankings for this week’s knockout winners (and steals) and how they compare against the competition. Comment below whether you agree or disagree.
12. Barrett Baber (Team Blake)
With his cool performance of “Colder Weather” this week, Baber took out a solid competitor in Blind Joe, but his reserved and calm style may ultimately hold him back from striking the right chord with the voting audience. He’s got a great voice and charming looks, both of which can take him far, but he’ll need a truly memorable performance soon if he’s to stand out in the pack.
11. Korin Bukowski (Team Gwen)
Though the judges complimented Bukowski's ability to command attention with just her voice, my guess is that audiences won't gravitate toward her reserved, stand-with-the-mic performance style for very long. Korin has a great voice, enough to get her through the judges selection rounds, but her true test will be winning over the public votes.
10. Keith Semple (Team Adam)
Semple took on a huge risk when he chose to sing a song as big as "I Want to Know What Love Is," and for the most part he pulled it off, winning his knockout against a formidable opponent. Where Keith may struggle is in over-performing because I think his voice shows its weaknesses as he loses control in the movement on stage. It'll be interesting to see if his next song choice is something a little more understated.
9. Ivonne Acero (Team Blake)
Returning to the show after not making it through the blind auditions last year, Acero has the kind of story that reality TV audiences. But to win she’ll need to bring a consistency to her performance level that she lacks so far. The song “Part of Me” was great for her this week, so if she continues to pick contemporary songs in her range she could become a real contender.
8. Viktor Kiraly (Team Adam; Stolen by Team Gwen)
After winning him in a 4-chair turn-around, Adam may have made the biggest mistake as a coach when he paired Kiraly against the unstoppable Jordan Smith this week. He then cut him, so Team Gwen picked him up in a steal. Viktor showed remarkable range and control in his performance of “If I Ain’t Got You,” and the ability to tackle powerful, well-known songs is a major talking point.
7. Madi Davis (Team Pharrell)
My candidate for “dark horse of the season,” Davis went head-to-head with Amy Vachal in what was one of the most difficult matches to call. Guest mentor Rihanna said it best during Madi’s practice sessions when she noted that her voice almost takes on two different personalities in the song. It's that kind of versatility that will keep Madi’s performances not only interesting, but unpredictable and possibly show-stopping.
6. Blaine Mitchell (Team Adam)
Heading into the knockouts, one might have pegged twin sisters Andi & Alex as frontrunners to win the show. Now they’re out, due in large part to Mitchell’s well-received performance of “Hold Back the River.” Referred to as a genuine “rock star” by Adam, Blaine seems to have what it takes to compete against other powerhouse contestants and leave his own mark on the competition.
5. Morgan Frazier (Team Pharrell; Stolen by Team Blake)
Making a strong case of precedent for Frazier, Blake referenced his past winner Craig Wayne Boyd. He let go of Boyd in the battle rounds that season, only to get him back with a steal in the knockouts. With Morgan, Blake could possibly take that path to a win again. Morgan came into her own this week, finding confidence on Team Pharrell with Rihanna's advice before delivering a very solid country performance.
4. Braiden Sunshine (Team Gwen)
With a new and approved hairstyle from Rihanna/Gwen, Sunshine blew both the crowd and the judges away with his classic rendition of “Feeling Good.” With the judges commenting on how far Braiden has come in such a short amount of time, he now goes into the live shows. It will not only be with a new look, but also fresh confidence and the kind of transformation narrative that keeps the voting audience intrigued week-to-week.
3. Darius Scott (Team Pharrell)
Scott did something this week that most singers on reality competition shows can't do — taking a well-known, but hard-to-connect-to song like "On Broadway" and making it really engaging. His dynamic voice and bold song choices make Darius a serious threat (perhaps a long shot at this point) in the next few weeks, especially if he can follow this up with a stellar first live show.
2. Amy Vachal (Team Pharrell; Stolen by Team Adam)
Though she lost her knockout round, Vachal secured herself a spot in the live shows with the huge endorsement of a two-button steal from both Adam and Blake. Adam has lobbied hard for Amy since the begining, stating that he regrets not being able to choose her in the blind auditions (his team was already full). After a brilliant performance of “A Sunday Kind of Love” last night, she’s finally on his team due to a lack of good judgement by Pharrell. Now we wait to see if he can make her the champ he says he can.
1. Jordan Smith (Team Adam)
Used in a lot of the promos, commercials and “still to comes” for the episodes, Smith might be the most buzzworthy singer in the competition. Since his stunning performance of “Chandelier” in the blind auditions, Jordan has left the judges speechless and his commanding voice has been unstoppable when up against anyone else’s. He should have no problem in the first couple weeks of the live shows.
What are your thoughts about our rankings for the first knockouts. We offer these same 12 surviving artists below in a poll for you to vote over the next few days. Who tops your own list? Comment below or sound off on "The Voice" every week in Gold Derby's reality TV forum.
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Photo courtesy of NBC.