For the first time in 12 seasons of “The Voice,” a fifth chair was added to the coaches’ dais for this week’s guest advisor Shania Twain. The country star worked closely with the artists in rehearsal as the Top 12 prepared for the season’s second live show and first elimination to be determined entirely by audience vote. Each coach brings four artists to the show this week, all looking to reach the top 10 on iTunes overnight for a vote multiplier that will help get them into the Top 11. On Tuesday night the bottom two artists will each perform live again for the “instant save,” where the audience will tweet in real time to instantly save one of them from elimination.
Alicia Keys and Gwen Stefani are fighting for frontrunner status with artists from both teams making up this week’s top five performances. Adam Levine and Blake Shelton will have to play catch-up if either is to add another trophy to their mantle this season. Below is my full ranking of the Top 12 performances, from best to worst. This ranking is strictly for Monday’s episode and not for the season overall. Agree or disagree? Let me know why in the comments!
1. Vanessa Ferguson (Team Alicia) – “A Song for You”
Am I a little biased because “A Song for You” is one of my favorite songs of all time? Probably. Is it just a coincidence that they saved Vanessa’s performance to close out the show? I don’t think so. Even as late as last week I was sleeping on Vanessa and did not see her as a legit contender for the win, but wow was I wrong. Not only did Vanessa look so gorgeous in that all white suit, but she also looked comfortable on stage, sounded in control of her vocal and was visibly moved by the song.
2. Brennley Brown (Team Gwen) – “Long, Long Time”
Like Shania and Linda Ronstadt (the artist she covered this week), Brennley straddles the line between country and pop music and has the ability to break the boundaries of each. This rendition tipped the scales toward country for sure, but it’s the kind of song and performance that speaks to more than just that niche audience and I think had the potential to win over a lot of new fans for her. I love that for the second time Blake expressed regret for giving Brennley up and allowing Gwen to steal her because she truly is one of the strongest competitors this season.
3. Chris Blue (Team Alicia) – “Love and Happiness”
I am so thankful that Alicia asked Chris to show the more tender parts of his voice this week because so far his vocals have been really big, loud and acrobatic. Because we’re talking about Chris here, the performance was still showy and there were a lot of tricks in his delivery, but without a doubt we got some softer moments that showed just how smooth and pure his voice is on its most basic level. Rightfully, Chris got an extended standing ovation from the audience and all five judges because this was easily one of the night’s most well-rounded and electric performances.
4. Hunter Plake (Team Gwen) – “Somebody That I Used to Know”
Hunter remains the one to beat because of his early dominance on iTunes, and this performance will keep him at the top of the pack because it speaks directly to his already large fan base. Hunter has tapped into the soft EDM trend that is currently taking over pop music so while he may not be the most exciting artist in “The Voice” history, I think he’s one of the most timely, benefiting greatly from being on the show at the right time. More than that, Hunter is believable as the artist he’s presenting on the show and everything he does speaks genuinely to his talent.
5. Stephanie Rice (Team Alicia) – “White Flag”
Alicia and Stephanie have done a really good job of picking songs that speak not only to who Stephanie is an artist, but also to who she is as a person. Dido is a great artist for Stephanie to cover, even if she’s never heard the song before! As intended, Stephanie broke the song down to its most vulnerable elements and gave a haunting rendition that remained small where it needed to and built to something big by the end.
6. Jesse Larson (Team Adam) – “Make You Feel My Love”
Shania’s advice for Jesse during rehearsal was for him to get “desperate” with the lyric, to really connect to the song and convey that to the audience. Though he gave us a great vocal tonight, I’m not convinced he fulfilled Shania’s task for him; instead I found the performance too glossy, as if he was just gliding over the words and not digging into them and letting them erupt like I think the song asks for.
7. Lauren Duski (Team Blake) – “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good”
I think it’s impossible for Lauren to give a bad performance and she’s probably one of the most consistent artists of the season. That being said, this week her song choice and show feels a little too safe. While it will surely speak to her audience, I don’t think it will win over anyone new and at this point of the competition that’s a necessary component to competition. Speaking to her defense, Blake made a compelling case for Lauren, calling her the country artist he’s been looking for each season and I think he’s right, she’s one of the series best. I just hope that she brings something more unexpected for her next performance.
8. TSoul (Team Blake) – “Always on My Mind”
In a night full of emotional performances, TSoul gave what was probably the most deeply felt. I love Blake’s decision to keep him off the piano for this one and instead have him live inside the song with a stool and a mic because that gave him a chance to let go and get lost. But the problem with highly emotional songs is that the vocal performance aspect can suffer and, for me at least, that was the case for TSoul here—the strength of his voice wavered a couple of times in a way that detracted from the overall performance.
9. Troy Ramey (Team Gwen) – “Free Fallin’”
I was shocked when Gwen had to use her save last week for Troy to get into the Top 12, and his performance this week proves that voters made a mistake by not voting him straight through. This week Troy presented something intimate and subtle, bringing a new melody to a popular classic song. I’m not that crazy about the screams he belted in the chorus (I prefer his voice on the more gentle verses), but it’s still a performance worthy of a berth in the Top 11. Luckily Troy is no longer in direct competition with a very talented Team Gwen and can proceed on his own merits.
10. Mark Isaiah (Team Adam) – “One Dance”
Of all the artists still in the competition, Mark has one of the clearest points of view in terms of what kind of artist he is going to be after the show. This week that could quite possibly be what saves him because it wasn’t the best vocal performance he’s had this season. He started pretty shaky and visibly nervous, only finally easing into the song once it picked up and he got to move around a little with the beat. Hopefully he’s done enough quality work in the last few weeks to build an audience that likes the songs he chooses and believes in where he’s headed in the future.
11. Aliyah Moulden (Team Blake) – “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave”
There’s always something special about younger artists taking on oldies like Aliyah did this week. It speaks to how universal a song’s lyric is for it to be understood and interpreted by new generations, but rarely do the performances of these songs in televised competitions translate into something fresh and vital. Aliyah gave it a really good effort — I loved seeing her versatility as a stage performer, at one point fronting a band and working a mic stand and later criss-crossing the stage with two backup singers following her lead. Aliyah has a lot of momentum from being voted through by the audience last week, but I suspect she may be singing for the save this week.
12. Lilli Passero (Team Adam) – “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”
Lilli got dealt a double dose of difficulty this week — first by beginning the rehearsal period sick in urgent care and second by having the task of performing an iconic Shania song in front of Shania. I’m not sure if it was her being sick or possibly nerves, but Lilli never felt in control of the song, sounding pitchy at times and spinning wildly around stage throughout. The coaches were pretty reserved and vague in their critiques (never a good sign!), but complimentary of her willingness to be so ambitious shortly after recovering from her sickness. Indeed, for that she earns respect and applause.
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