With ages ranging from 15 to 56, and vocal styles from singer/songwriter and rock to country and Christian, it was a night of incredible diversity.
Thanks to a super-sized “This Is Us” premiere, “The Voice” got shaved to only an hour this week, and it was a surprisingly subdued affair.
To sum it up best, the top performance of the night didn’t even happen tonight. Since we didn’t get Desz’ pick at the close of Monday’s show, we included her again tonight so we could see which team she chose, and none who came after her could match her.
That’s not to say Desz is the best singer the competition has this season, as she wasn't even the best singer Monday had to offer. It’s also not to say that tonight was filled with terrible singers, because even our lowest ranked performance had a lot to recommend -- and they landed a team.
Maybe it’s best summed up by saying that tonight was about the growers, those artists who are diamonds still firmly in the rough, with a lot to learn to find themselves and their true artistry.
It also featured a nice diversity with a singer/songwriter, an indie rocker, a wailing Christian singer and a genuine R&B star from the 1980s coming back for a second shot at stardom. That was our oldest contestant, at 56 years old, while the night’s youngest (at 15) actually took on Mariah Carey!
At first look, it may not seem like the Season 19 winner is in this batch, but these are the types of artists who sometimes take a little coaching and blow everyone away in the Battle Rounds. There is a lot of raw talent ahead -- with an emphasis on the raw.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, John Legend and Blake Shelton. And just for fun, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are.
(“Behind Blue Eyes,” The Who- 29, Cooper, TX) Van made the big move to try and kick his career to the next level by moving to Nashville only to be hit with the one-two punch of a tornado and Covid --- so that shuttered those plans. Instead, he focused on his songwriting and musicality.
There was a tremulous quality to his start, but also a subtle gravel that gave him a very cool sound. It was a little lacking in control in those lower parts. And when he kicked it up a gear, it stayed cool but didn’t quite have the punch we wanted to match his visual presentation.. He lost his note entirely at the end there after shaky pitch moments throughout, but he could be interesting if he was honed properly.
Result: Gwen, Blake turn -- TEAM GWEN
(“I’ll Be There,” The Jackson 5 [as performed by Mariah Carey] - 15, Sacramento, CA) Larriah’s biological father abandoned her and her mother, but as she explored music she one by one discovered a remarkable nine more siblings that he’d also abandoned. So while he didn’t stick around, it forged a bond between all of them, and offered them family through that connection.
Vocally, Larriah was a little too ambitious with this track as she could not come close to Mariah’s range, but she managed to rearrange it better to suit her. She definitely needs some coaching, though, to help her push her chest voice (maybe find her head voice) to expand what is definitely a gifted instrument. It has a very nice texture, it just needs some polish on it.
(“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye [as performed by Donny Hathaway] - 56, Tulsa, OK) This is an interesting case, as Tony is effectively a one-hit wonder from the ‘80s, reaching number two on the Billboard charts back in 1987 with “Pour It On,” as part of a band with his brothers. He clearly has plenty of knowledge and experience with performing, but does he still have it?
Vocally, he was buttery smooth but we were surprised that he stayed mostly in that one pocket. In fact, when the song even asked for him to really belt it out and maybe shoot for another octave, he didn’t and it sounded like he was straining already at his upper limit. That’s what kept Kelly’s back turned, and the rest stayed put as well. It was solid, but not remarkable enough.
Result: NO CHAIR TURNS
(“Falling,” Harry Styles - 19, Teaneck, NJ) We love that Season 2 winner Jermaine Paul’s daughter helped convince Olivia to audition for “The Voice,” simply by signing her up behind her back. Sometimes the shy need that extra push to believe in themselves enough to go for it, and this is what worked for her. It’s remarkable (if true) that this is one of her first public singing experiences, as she had a lot of command and cool confidence up there.
There was a beautiful cry in Olivia’s voice that really worked well on this song. On top of that, she had such beautiful control in the notes she chose, and the runs she explored. We suspect the fact she kept that range more limited is why Kelly and Blake didn’t turn as there was no big wow moment that could make you see her wider potential. But she could be a surprise.
(“Never Alone,” Tori Kelly & Kirk Franklin - 23, Nashville, TN) Payton really had an interesting voice, high and sharp (not out-of-tune sharp), but with a piercing strength on that end. She really knows how to use it, too, making it a little surprising that no one was jumping on her when she started showing off her range and her runs. The lower register, which was less remarkable, must have scared them off. But it’s the fact that she has such a unique sound that could help her stand out in the competition, so she’s lucky Blake was a last-second pounce.
Result: TEAM BLAKE
(“Cowboys and Angels,” Dustin Lynch - 28, Yuma, AZ) Tanner had to grow up in a hurry at ten years old after his mother became addicted to prescription opioids (a drug no longer prescribed). He basically had to step up and try to take care of the family, with ‘90s country as his escape.
He seemed to be putting a lot of stock in this audition, and that anxiety and nerves got the best of him very early on, but he quickly recovered and settled into a truly authentic country sound. It was a bit lacking in power and push, but those are things that could be taught. We did expect a little more from him after all he’s been through, though, in being able to tell this story, and obviously that missing element is what kept Blake from turning..
(“Fire and Rain,” James Taylor - 27, Lincoln, NE) Kelly is always looking for that range, but Sam was really pleasant with that singer/songwriter vibe that James Taylor has mastered. While there wasn’t quite as strong an emotional connect as we would have liked, he did have a very silky, smooth delivery. He’s a different type of artist for this show, but with the right songs, he could really resonate and connect with an audience.
Result: Kelly, Blake, Gwen turn -- TEAM BLAKE
Desz (cont. from Monday)
(“Unbreak My Heart,” Toni Braxton - 30, Houston, TX) What a heartbreaking story, though it actually catapulted her into music. At 11 years old, Desz’ mother heard her singing in the car and told her she wanted her to sing that same song at her funeral. Not only did Desz not know she could sing, she certainly wasn’t thinking about her mother dying. But a month later, she did.
Now, every performance is for her mother and she went full tilt into music, getting scholarships, singing opera and gigging for a decade up to becoming a part of Kanye West’s Choir. After touring the world with him, she was ready to pursue her own career and her own spotlight.
All that pain and all that glory came together in an incredible vocal that only built through the audition. What’s amazing is she was getting chair turns without hitting huge notes or going as high as we expected her to until toward the end (that last one got Blake). What’s remarkable is that she was that strong, but you could still see how much better she could be.
Result: Kelly, John, Gwen, Blake turn -- TEAM KELLY
“The Voice” continues Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.