Being first up is never great. Unless you give the performance of a lifetime or strip naked on stage no one will remember you by the end of the show when voting opens. Team Gwen's Ryan Sill was in the unfortunate first up position and, if that weren't bad enough, he did an uninspired, by-the-numbers, totally forgettable rendition of "I Lived" by One Republic. So unless the rest of Team Gwen recently travel to West Africa and are stuck in a 21-day quarantine, that's probably the last we'll see of Ryan.
I'm a huge fan of Team Pharrell's Jean Kelley and looked forward to her lasting a long time in this competition, but she made two rookie mistakes on the first night of the live playoffs. One, she changed her look. I know the show is called "The Voice" not "The Look" but let's be real. Image is important as is branding, so if you're the curly red haired singer you don't suddenly become the straight haired ash blonde with too much eye makeup. Second, she didn't balk when her coach saddled her with an obscure, schmaltzy song, "Piano in the Dark" by Brenda Russell. She did her best but instead of coming off emotional and real, she came off as theatrical and rehearsed.
The first great performance of the night was from Team Pharrell's Elyjuh René. I will admit (especially since I said in it a blog post that's only a week old) that I was shocked when Pharrell picked Elyjuh over Taylor Phelan during the knockouts and thought he'd been wearing too small a hat for his head and it squeezed all common sense out of him. But Pharrell was right and I was wrong. While Taylor faltered on night one, Elyjuh brought the house down on night two. He sang the crap out of "Latch" by Disclosure (feat. Sam Smith, since the show can never get enough Sam Smith). One point off for the "C'mons" during the song, but aside from that one glitch he showed an amazing range and ease on stage
Bryana Salaz was up next for Team Gwen. She sang "Amnesia" by 5 Seconds of Summer and while she did a solid job, it was hard not to equate her performance with the talent competition of a beauty pageant. Her voice is rich and powerful in her lower register but strains when she goes for the high notes. The sweet Veterans' Day shoutout to her dad was the best part of her time on stage. Unlike her past cover of Demi Lovato, which was filled with sincerity and passion, this seemed too studied.
If there's any song that should be retired from singing competitions, "Let's Get it On" by Marvin Gaye has to be at the very top. Pharrell assigned Blues singer Luke Wade the Motown classic, I suppose to play to his style of choice. But to me, it just showed the difference between someone who sings Soul and someone who feels it. Luke sings all the right notes in exactly the right time, but it doesn't move me at all. By the way, Luke it's "baby" not "bibbee." And as for his moves at the end of the song? You're no James Brown, either, dude. Get up off your knees, you look silly.
Kudos to Gwen for giving Anita Antoinette a non-Reggae song to sing. "All About the Bass" by Meghan Trainor may be a really annoying, repetitive, meaningless earworm of a song, but at least it's something different for Anita. Love her stage presence, love her moves, love her attitude, pretty much everything but the banana pants . Her vocals are still not the best and I can't see me ever downloading a song of hers, but at least she's moved up on my list from "why is she on the show" to "I'll be sad to see her go."
Pharrell gave Sugar Joans one of the best songs to sing ever written. I may balk at the hoary old songs that some of the judges have dug out of obscurity for their unwary contestants, but "Say a Little Prayer" by Burt Bacharach/Hal David is one of the most melodic,beautiful songs ever written. It deserves the title" classic" and if you haven't ever heard Dionne Warwick's original, take a listen. If you clicked and listened, you now know what was wrong with Sugar's performance. No heart, no passion, no genuine feeling. Just a lot of screeching to hit notes out of her range.
I can't fairly evaluate DaNica Shirey's take on Joni Mitchell's "Help Me." That is one of my all time favorite songs. If DaNica didn't sing it exactly the same as the original, I would hate it because she dared draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa, if she did a copycat version, I would hate it because no one can be Joni Mitchell. So she had a tall order. How'd she do? I'd give her a C. I did indeed not love her take on the verses, the little changes were not good choices. But her take on the chorus was different and I loved it. I still think she has the best voice on the show, but she needs to work on arrangement and melodic choices.
Because it had been so long sing someone sang a Sam Smith song, Team Gwen's Ricky Manning was up next to sing "Lay Me Down" by,,,Sam Smith Ricky continues his upward trajectory and had another really strong performance. Love his voice, in full voice and in falsetto. He really has a great instrument and has total control over it. Next he has to work on his performance - he's still not fully connecting with the crowd, I hope he has the chance to stick around long enough to learn how to work the stage.
The pimp spot tonight went to Team Gwen's Taylor John Williams who sang "Stuck in the Middle" by Stealers Wheel. For any cinephiles, that of course is the song playing during THAT SCENE in Reservoir Dogs that is seared in our brains for all eternity. For music fans, Stealers Wheel lead singer Gerry Rafferty is also known for some great solo hits, including one of my absolute favorite romantic songs, "Right Down the Line." But back to Taylor. Shocker, he was great. This guy is so consistent. He has it all, the look, the attitude, the performance (silly dance moves for the win), and the voice. He took a forty year old song, switched it up, played around with it, and made is relevant and very cool.
1. Taylor John Williams
2. Elyjuh René
3. Ricky Manning
4. DaNica Shirey
5. Anita Antoinette
6. Sugar Joans
7. Jean Kelley
8. Luke Wade
9. Bryana Salaz
10. Ryan Sill