Fans of Matt McAndrew, like me, were cheated as his segment was shortened down to 30 seconds. It's hard not to jump to the conclusion that his opponent must have really laid a giant atonal turd on stage and there was no question who the winner was. If that's not the case, then The Voice owes Rebekah Samarin a huge apology because that's the assumption their cutting her out of the episode left, not to mention relegating her to montage status for each of her performances. If you want to see Rebekah's performance, she has it here on Instagram. If you want to hear more of Matt's take on Train's Drops of Jupiter it'll cost you a mere $1.29 here to get it as your very own.
Blake Shelton put his two retro country crooners, Alison Bray and Taylor Brashears, up against each other. Alison was the one who had come back after failing to turn any chairs in her first blind audition. This time, she and her matching platinum blonde teeth and hair were saved from two-time disappointment when Blake turned his chair around. Alison was not a standout this season and had continued along during these early rounds more by default than by any memorable performances.
Taylor Brashears completed the talented Taylor trifecta on this season and had made a strong showing with a three-chair blind audition turn around twanging her way through a convincing version of "You Ain't Woman Enough." But she was part of the worst battle round pairing when she and her opponent showed that neither was woman enough to tackle a Linda Ronstadt song. Taylor won that round for being less atrociously bad than her teammate, but she had a lot to prove.
Alison strutted around and belted out the Dixie Chick's "Sin Wagon." She had attitude and command of the stage, but still her vocals fell short. Taylor gave herself the ultimate gift, taking Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" - the song, like "Mad World" or "Hallelujah," that instantly makes you sound good whether or not you an sing. Hell, Billy Corgan made it sound good. Taylor could have rested on the strength of the song, but she actually put her heart into the performance, having her strongest vocal in the competition, and made Blake's choice a very easy on.
Next up was Gwen Stefani. She pit lantern jawed Ryan Sill against Beth Spangler. Ryan was one of the few artists to have the right reaction to seeing Taylor Swift as their guest mentor, admitting he was about to pee his pants. But despite his excitement, during the rehearsal he was solid. He has a perfect voice for radio and can easily tackle any of the music coming out these days. He's a little too clean cut and earnest and probably should develop a little edge, but there's no doubting his vocal talent.
Beth Spangler was a recent addition to Team Gwen, having been rescued after her tough battle round loss to Mia Pffirman. Beth has a great voice, lots of power and a great tone. But there's something missing, it's a bit bland and disconnected. I don't see performer when she's on stage. I won't sink to saying it's the kind of voice you'd hear on a cruise ship, but let's just say her screechy performance last night was "Too Little Too Late."
I want to dislike Ryan just because he's so God-darn fresh faced and boy band-ian. But his take on "Miss Independent" (sadly, not the Kelly Clarkson song) was spot on. He has an amazing range and doesn't miss a note. He's Justin Bieber without the douchiness. And he's a great person to have on your team as he really listens to the advice and applies it on stage. I'd like to see him get a neck tattoo or a nose ring before the live shows, just to mess with everyone.
Pharrell Williams was up next and he put two former Team Gwen members - Jean Kelley and Melnik Zergabachew - head to head. Jean had lost her battle against Sugar Joans and was then fought over by both Pharrell and Adam. Jean has an exceptional voice and it was a shock when she lost in the last round. Melnik has an interesting look and style, but there is nothing current or marketable about his singing. This was not a close race.
Melnik brought his Reggae sound and distractingly swinging arm to "Could You Be Loved" and it was a typical Melnik performance. Boring, flat, uninspired, He has a nice voice, but nice isn't goig to cut it,. Not tonight. There's really not much to say.
Then Jean came up and destroyed, killed, mutilated, ripped apart the stage. She chose the "beautifully sad song" "Chandelier" by Sia. During rehearsals, Taylor Swift sat mouth agaipe, eyes wide open, in awe of Jean's emotional performance. Her response, "Oh my god," said it all. It was a game changer. On stage, Jean was even better. Raw, vulnerable, touching. It was the easiest choice of the night.
The next knockout was only slightly less lopsided. Adam Levine put what-decade-are-we-in Blessing Offor up against young, James Taylor lookalike Chris Jamison. Blessing would have been a great pick had The Voice aired fifteen years ago, but now he looks like he should be leading the band, not trying to get his big break. His style of singing was outdated twenty years ago. Chris has a bit of an accent, something with how he forms certain words that can sound sloppy when he's singing. I wasn't terribly hopeful for this round, especially when I heard that someone was doing (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay, a song almost as old as I am!
Blessing, probably did not make a lot of points with Taylor Swift, choosing John Mayer's "Your Body is a Wonderland." But the awkwardness was ignored, helped perhaps by the fact that he completely ditched the original and put his own spin on the song. The little "hehs" and "huhs" Blessing throws in at the end of every line is really distracting to me and sounds like something from a revival meeting and it leaves me waiting for him to ask for an "Amen."
Chris was surprisingly good tackling the Otis Redding standard. He had some really good runs, some nice adlibs. He also showed great range. I can't explain while his twist on the original felt fresh and dynamic while Blessings sounded so old, but I was captivated enough to actually consider shelling out money to buy his studio version. Chris is a sleeper in the competition, he hasn't been on the radar before last night. But he's got a good trajectory going.
Blake was back with a tough knockout choice, the battle of the high schoolers - Grant Ganzer against Reagan James, We had a sixteen-year-old who looks like he went through puberty between rounds against a preternaturally mature fifteen-year-old who exudes confidence and poise. They both have the chops, but they're miles apart as far as stage presence and "readiness."
Grant did a great job with "Apologize." True, it's almost in the "Landslide" category of a song even I could make sound good, but Grant sold the emotion (it helped that he looked like he was going to throw up during his performance) and nailed the notes. Once his stage presence and belief in himself catch up to his vocals, Grant will be a force to be reckoned with.
Reagan James is already the complete package. She has the looks, the talent and the self-assurance of someone who's been doing it for fifteen years, not someone who's only been on the planet for that long. She sang "Hit 'em Up Style (Oops!)" by Blu Cantrell and it was a standout performance. She's a front runner in this competition.
The last battle of the night was an odd couple pairing of Reggae singer Anita Antoinette competing against country rocker Craig Wayne Boyd. This was Anita's second go-around on the Voice, having failed to turn around any chairs back in Season 3 and she was back with a vengeance. She has a great look and strong voice and her style is reminiscent of Gwen's No Doubt era. Craig has started on Team Blake but had lost his battle of the three named country singers to James David Carter. He was lucky to be taken by Gwen who decided to do an less than extreme makeover to bring his style into this century. Getting him to jettison the fringe jacket and lop off a few feet of hair was a move in the right direction.
Admittedly, Reggae is not everyone's bowl of ganja. There's a Mexican restaurant near me that plays Reggae music and I either wolf down my food or get it to go to avoid listening to Bob Marley and everyone who thinks they're Bob Marley. So considering I'm not a fan of her genre, I thought Anita did a great job with "Rude" by Magic! She has a strong voice and really commands the stage. And she's great at channeling real emotion into her performance, Not surprisingly, Gwen picked her.
But all was not lost for Craig. We were already tipped off that Blake was hoping to get Craig back on his team and as this was the last performance of the knockouts, we knew where this was was going. Craig did a serviceable version of "Can't You See" by the Marshall Tucker Band. I'm not a big fan of his vocal idiosyncrasies and cringed every time he sang, "can't you sheee." All male country rockers who sound like that and look like him are starting to blend together for me and I'm looking for something different, like someone with clear pronunciation. And no facial hair. Maybe in a blue serge suit. But for rock fans, beggars can't be choosers and it's great having someone with musical knowledge from the early 70s Allman Brothers/Black Oak Arkansas/.38 Special era. Blake got his boy back and he was mighty happy. And maybe I'll get to hear a Creedence Clearwater Revival song next week. That would make me happy.
So there you have it, the knockouts are over and the teams are set. Next week we start the live shows. Here is how the teams break down.
Team Adam: Chris Jamison, Damien, Matt McAndrew, Mia Pffirman, Taylor Phelan
Team Gwen: Anita Antoinette, Bryanna Salaz, Ricky Manning, Ryan Sill, Taylor John Williams
Team Pharrell: DaNica Shirey, Elyjuh René, Jean Kelley, Luke Wade, Sugar Joans
Team Blake: Craig Wayne Boyd, James David Carter, Jessie Pitts, Reagan James, Taylor Brashears
These teams are about as evenly matched as can be (putting aside that Team Pharrell is hanicapped by being Taylor-less). Gwen may have the overall strongest team, Pharrell the weakest, but I can see Matt or Taylor from Team Adam, or Reagan from Team Blake, lasting till the end. Should be good!