The Voice season seven continued its live shows tonight (Nov. 17), as the top 12 took the stage with songs they chose to best showcase their artistry. After last week's shocking elimination rounds, which saw favorites Elyjuh Rene and Taylor Phelan sent home, the remaining contestants hand picked by Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine had quite a lot to live up to... but did they?
After the first three performers? Heck yes.
Unwisely, the top 12 edition of The Voice began with three contestants who remain in the competition not by fan vote but by the saving from a coach. Though Sugar Joans and Jessie Pitts have been largely consistent up until this week, it seems like the pressire got to them, with strained vocals and missed connections. But nobody missed the mark quite like Ryan Sill, who surely made the songwriters of Duran Duran cringe with an offkey rendition of "Ordinary World."
After a rocky start, however, The Voice redeemed itself right until the very end, when Team Gwen frontrunner Anita Antoinette repped her homeland with "Redemption Song."
Until the results tomorrow night, let's look at the good, the bad and the so-so from the top 12. And note that even the "so-so" performers were way better than average.
Chris Jamison, "Jealous": Like Luke Wade, the best part of Chris Jamison's performance of Nick Jonas' "Jealous" was that it felt very true to him. Unlike the other three saved contestants (who started the show), Jamison feels like he should still be on The Voice. The falsetto in this song is no joke - it comes at you high and sticks around for a long time, but Chris pulled it off without a hitch, moving back into his chest voice seamlessly at the end of the chorus. He could have used a bit more energy in his actual performance, but in the end, this was a true highlight of Chris' time thus far on The Voice.
Luke Wade, "Thinking Out Loud": Aww, poor Luke Wade. His nerves got the best of him at the start of this tender Ed Sheeran song that he came in just two beats early. Aww. But, he picked it back up just in time like an old professional, something all of the coaches praised him for at the end of the show. When Luke was able to pick himself back up, it became clear that Sheeran was the exact right artist for him to cover. The emotion of "Thinking Out Loud" as well as the melody was so in his wheelhouse, that it all felt very natural. It's rare on a show like this to forget you're watching a cover - but this performance felt very real to Luke and true to who he is as an artist, and that's something that will only work huge to his advantage when it comes to votes.
Matt McAndrew, "Take Me To Church": Finally, I think I may get Matt McAndrew. After wowing the coaches and the voting American Voice viewers week after week with solid yet not wholly spectacular covers, this week, he finally turned himself up to 11 and really sold his cover of Hozier's "Take Me To Church." Performing atop an illuminated "chuch" staircase, this moppy haired, glasses-wearing wunderkind sold this performance with every fiber of his being. McAndrew was holding out and vibrating on the poignant "Amen" for as long as he could and blasting off into the chorus with an equal amount of rasp and passion, and it worked. He finally connected with me. Blame it on the magic of Hozier.
Anita Antoinette, "Redemption Song": A meaningful moment capped off the top 12 performance round of the live shows, with Jamaica's own Anita Antoinette taking on the ultimate Bob Marley anthem "Redemption Song." To fit in line best with her own range, Anita kicked this song up an octave, adding a feminine touch to it. She was clearly feeling the message of the song, connecting and raising a raised fist as she slowly walked across the stage. It was a simple, straightforward performance but captivating nonetheless.
Damien, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother": FINALLY. It's unclear whether the first three performances (Sugar Joans, Ryan Sill, Jessie Pitts) were just so weak that Damien felt amazing by comparison or whether he was really just that good, but this was the first shining moment of the show. Damien, a publically voted member of Team Adam, absolutely nailed this classic pop ballad. He was perfectly able to allow his notes to float through the air, adding in just the right amount of vibrato and run in each elongated moment without making it feel to excessive. The whole performance was simple yet captivating. Early in the night, it was easy to allow my eyes to wander from the screen, but Damien kept the attention all the while. A+.
Sugar Joans, "Take Me to the River": Sometimes there is an amazing singer, but that doesn't mean that they will connect with the audience. And therein lies the issue with Sugar Joans. Yes, she has an amazing voice, with a throaty rasp, power yet control in her volume and a cool edge - I mean, she has purple hair. But, that doesn't mean that she feels relevant or that she feels like she could win. And even though she's one of the strongest of the remaining 12 contestants on The Voice as far as raw talent goes, but she cannot pull it out for the audience. The coaches can champion her all they want, but she fails to connect and that is the problem. Her coach Pharrell's song choice wasn't prime for Sugar either. As Gwen Stefani pointed out, Sugar already sounds dated, so giving her a classic R&B tune won't drag her into a 2014 music industry.
Ryan Sill, "Ordinary World": OK, Adam Levine and Pharrell and Gwen Stefani can talk up Ryan Sill's take on the Duran Duran classic "Ordinary World" all they want, but that will not improve on the actual performance. Maybe my TV is just broken (it's not), but Ryan just could not nail this song. An '80s classic such as this one requires volume and depth and a rich tone, and those are not things that Ryan has in his wheelhouse. Instead, he came across as thin as ever, barely able to throw out any note 100 percent, nonetheless that high one at the end. Really, he was so offkey that I'm not even sure how to label that. Ryan hasn't always been this terrible, but he sure was tonight and that is no way to redeem yourself from a near elimination.
Jessie Pitts, "Don't You Worry Child": It's really unclear why The Voice decided to start with all of the saved contestants. Throughout the top of the show, it became increasingly clear why these singers weren't in the top nine in America's votes. Jessie Pitts, who has actually been relatively solid throughout this competition was pretty weak when taking on Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child." The octave of the song just didn't seem to suit her, as the melody sat mostly below what she is really comfortable and capable of doing. Even the higher notes were mildly flubbed - she just really seemed off her game tonight. The artistry was there, and Jessie was able to show off both her tender side at the piano and her more performance heavy side when the beat kicked in. Though, in the end, Jessie was still a little too reserved. Like her fellow saved contestant Ryan Sills, Jessie is in danger of going home.
DaNica Shirey, "Creep": DaNica Shirey really could just sing anything and nail it and move on to the next round of The Voice, which is exactly what happened with her R&B touched version of Radiohead's "Creep." DaNica wanted to be different and show off her versatility, and she did... until Pharrell came into the studio and added a bunch of funky drums. The arrangement of this version of "Creep" was just bizarre. I'm a bit of a Radiohead purist, so excuse me, but this whole thing just was very off-putting. That being said, DaNica sounded absolutely lovely. She could hold out the notes when need be, she could inject pain when need be and she could even throw in a little grit for good measure. DaNica is just raw talent.
Craig Wayne Boyd, "You Look So Good In Love": Craig Wayne Boyd is the last remaining country musician on Team Blake, a high honor considering Blake Shelton's reputation on The Voice and in the country music world. So, in an obvious way, Craig covered George Strait's "You Look So Good in Love." Craig's tone is much like a warm cup of cocoa, rich and deep and mily smooth. It's the kind of thing you just want to cuddle up in, if a voice were possible for snuggling. So, music and melody wise, this song was flawless. From a performance standpoint, Craig has room to improve; he wandered about the stage like a lost puppy, and he really could use an updated haircut. But, in the end, it's not so bad that Craig is the lone country voice.
Taylor John Williams, "If": Taylor John Williams is consistent and haunting, and there's something really magnetizing about his darkness. Hopefully, he's actually a happy person and not tourtured soul, because he always injects a layer of sadness and contemplativeness into his performances and he did it again with a take on Bread's "If." "If" is a slightly lesser known song, which helped Taylor captivate the audience on his own. He was always going to nail the vocals, and of course he did yet again. But it's his added layer of passion and rawness that puts Taylor over the top, and he rose there yet again.
Reagan James, "It Ain't Over Till It's Over": Blake Shelton kind of knows who Tyler, The Creator is, which is really all you needed to take away from Reagan James' pre-performance package this week. When the teenage R&B singer took on Lenny Kravitz's "It Ain't Over Till It's Over," it was hard to know what to expect, but it was yet another solid showing from Reagan. For being just barely 16 years old, this girl can reach a falsetto note just like the best of them, and she reached there again. Adam Levine complained that she was overly breathy and he chalked it up to nerves, but it feels just more like her tone to me, and it didn't distract from her pure, unadulterated talent.