First up was Taylor Brashears, playing to her strength belting out a sassy Dixie Chicks' song, "Long Time Gone." It's always risky taking a song with a title like that in a competition show as you want to give bloggers like me an easy oneliner like, "after this performance, Taylor will be gone for a long time from this competition." But I'm not lazy. I'll say, to be kind, that she lived up to expectations - she's fun, confident and, as Blake noted, ornery. She started the song playing the fiddle like it was her Opry debut and she looked cute as a button. But somewhere along the way, she forgot about her voice, which left the performance a screeching mess. She also seemed to lose the beat halfway through. It was breathless, in a "I need to do cardio" not an "I'm feeling it" way.
Next was Team Adam's Chris Jamison singing "Don't" by current Brit obsession Ed Sheeran. Chris has an ease on stage that makes him fun to watch. Chris has solid, but not dynamic, voice. I don't know if it was his mic, or the mix, but it was hard to hear him at some points in the song. He looks good and moves well and this type of song suits him well, but there was nothing memorable about the performance.
Then it was Team Blake's Jessie Pitts' turn with "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler. Remember when the summer Olympics were in LA, when the first Ghostbusters came out, when we were all wearing padded shoulders? Of course you don't, that was thirty frigging years ago, when this song came out! And it's not an oldie but a goodie, not a classic oldie, just a slightly dated, totally grating song. Why, Jessie, why? Who hurt you? It was Blake's choice? Oh, well, then nevermind.
Now, after sharing just how much I hate the original, I have to say that Jessie did a great job by NOT being faithful to the original. I enjoyed her breathy, gentle, slowed-down take on the song. It was delicate and sweet until a few wonky notes at the end brought it down a peg.
Since I was going back and forth between The Voice Live Playoffs and the final table of the WSOP Main Event, the next song fit my evening well - "Two of a Kind Workin' on a Full House" by Garth Brooks. Team Blake's James David Carter has a good voice and delivers a straight forward, serviceable performance. Nice little twang, nice yodels. But there's nothing new or interesting here. I don't feel that there's a big gaping hole in country music that only he can fill. This is supposed to be about discovering undiscovered talent, not giving a platform to someone interchangeable with dozens of others doing the exact same thing around the country. I can see this anywhere - I don't go to those places for a reason.
God only knows why Adam Levine picked this sickeningly sweet, dated song for the talented Matt McAndrew. The Beach Boy's "God Only Knows" sounded old fashioned when it came out in 1966. To put that into perspective, The Beatles released "Tomorrow Never Knows" that same year, a trippy, sexy, song with Indian influences and an unusual drum beat that was unlike anything playing on the radio. So, I hate the song choice. I hate this song more than I hated Matt's battle round song "Yellow" by Coldplay. The highest compliment I can give Matt is that he made me love "Yellow" and not totally despise "God Only Knows." It was helped, too, by the fact that he sang to his teary-eyed, proud mom in the audience. I hope next week he gets a better song... and never again scats.
Best performance of the night so far was Team Blake's preternaturally talented Reagan James. She sang Colbie Caillat's "Try" and before reviewing her performance, let's contemplate that tomorrow is her 16th birthday. That mesmerizing, self-posessed performance was by a 15 year old. Let that sink in and try not to question your wasted youth. So the fact that she exudes so much confidence on stage is shocking, until you realize that she has a real gift and she knows it. She gets down to business, sitting, strumming for the first half of the song, letting her quirky voice pull us in. When she started moving around stage, she lost a little accuracy and strayed off a bit (sounding winded). But perfection is overrated. She has a great sound and makes even a relatively bland song really pop. And you can't keep; your eyes off of her.
What's happened to Taylor Phelan? I don't know if it's because he's been passed around from coach to coach, but the guy who burst into our consciousness with one of the best blind auditions ever has never equalled that first performance. Last night he had a great song, right in his wheelhouse, "Cool Kids" by Echosmith. But the here we go's and awkward exultations to the crowd to sing along were really distracting and diminished the performance. Worse, his voice was straining for much of the song. He has so much promise but he may not last much longer if he doesn't get back on track. Don't get me wrong, there were glimmers, some notes here and there that reminded me what pulled me in originally. But the move from a performer singing what he felt to singing for votes has not been a good one.
Damien was up next for Team Adam, singing "I'm Not the Only One" by Sam Smith. Damien, and his coach, knows what he can do and what he should sing. Great song choice, great performance. Powerful, emotional, captivaing. He's what Chris Jamison should aspire to sound like. Damien has a great range and has so many tools available to him, from his beautiful falsetto to his well-controlled vibrato. It was the first knockout performance of the night. No breathlessness, no nerves, no amateur hour. It would have been easy to confuse Damien with a guest artist and not a contestant.
When did Mia Pfirrman come on the show? She was not at all on my radar (yes, I know, I've blogged about her, but she wasn't that high on my list) and I had zero expectations going into her performance tonight for Team Adam. She took on Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" and she was. She attacked that song and gave us the first diva moment of the night with a note that she effortlesly beat into submission. She has great power and yet was still smart enough to also show a softer, delicate side. She was the surprise of the night.
Last up was Team Blake's Craig Wayne Boyd singing "Some Kind of Wonderful" by Grand Funk Railroad. If you thought I hated that Beach Boys song, you should have checked my blood pressure when I saw that this was the song Blake had saddled him with. It's such a grating, annoying mess of a song. And Craig has this affectation where "kisses" becomes "kishes" that drives me to distraction. But I have to give it to Craig. He sang the hell out of that song and worked the crowd like a pro. He was cute (thanks to his Gwen makeover) and smiled, made eye contact and shook hands, bringing his energy and sense of fun to the stage. He sold that performance.
So here's the deal. My favorite bromance - Matt and Taylor P, aka McPhelan - fizzled, while the artists I'd barely noticed - Damien, Mia and Craig - soared. The award for most consistent goes to Reagan, who was and remains one of my favorite singers. I was disappointed with Taylor Brashears and James David Carter and pleasantly surprised with JessiePitts.
Rankings for the evening?
1. Reagan James
3. Mia Pfirrman
4. Craig Wayne Boyd
5. Matt McAndrew
6. Jessie Pitts
7. Taylor Phelan
8. Chris Jamison
9. James David Carter
10. Taylor Brashears