'The Voice' Season 9 Recap, Review: Knockout Rounds End with Big Pharrell Steal
The knockout rounds of The Voice came to a close on Monday night (Nov. 2) after just three (long) episodes. For the final episode of this installment, you would think that the show would really pull out the big guns with some of the best performances of the year. And, while everyone was solid, there was nothing that like blew my socks off. And for a year that has a decent amount of talent, that's a little odd.
Rihanna continued to slay in her role as a mentor. And, while the jokes between her and Blake Shelton got a little old, she really proved that she has the capability to teach others her craft. ANTI may never actually come out, but we do know Rihanna is a tried and true professional, thanks to The Voice.
But, how were the teams rounded out? With only one steal left from Pharrell, the stakes were high. Let's run it down.
James Dupré, "Sure Be Cool If You Did": Oh, I see someone who was trying to aim for a steal from Blake Shelton... Team Adam's James Dupré also returned to his country roots for this performance of Shelton's hit "Sure Be Cool if You Did." His vocal isn't terribly interesting. He hit all the right notes but he lacked both a big moment and any sort of palpable stage presence. Even Shelton said it was a "laidback" song choice. He couldn't show off his dynamics, unlike Shelby, and that seems to have done him in.
Shelby Brown, "Jesus Take the Wheel": Shelby Brown is a country singer who has yet to fully show that side of herself on The Voice (though her audition song "Stars" by Grace Potter walks the line). So, she decided to showcase this Carrie Underwood classic. Her struggle on this show is not her vocal - she has the range and a beautiful throaty tone that is perfectly suited for her genre. Her issue is confidence. But she cut through that for one of the biggest performances of the knockouts thus far.
Who technically won the knockout? Shelby Brown was "swinging her sword and chopping heads off," according to Pharrell, and there's something to that. She really reached and went for the big notes, and it paid off. She secured the final spot on Team Adam.
Who should have won the knockout? Shelby had the bigger moments and the bigger stage presence, even if she had some nerves at the top of the track. James Dupré just kept it a little too small. Adam made the right pick.
Mark Hood, "Stand By Me": Oh, a standard song on Team Pharrell. What an odd occurrence! Mark Hood is used to having big, dramatic moments in his performances, so choosing this relatively cool song could have been a killer. But, he injected more personality into his short minute performance, changing keys and dynamics at any given turn. Sometimes, these performances play off as a little boring, but this song was anything but that. Was it a little too much? Sure. But, Mark gave it his all.
Siahna Im, "Back to Black": Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" is a big, mature song for tiny 15-year-old soul singer Siahna Im, but she decided to go for it. I mean, listen, no one will ever be Amy Winehouse, but Siahna's tone just didn't fit this song and most of the notes felt at least a little off-key. It wasn't as on the nose as it should have been at this point in the game.
Who technically won the knockout?: Mark Hood's showmanship and his huge display of everything his voice can do helped him go over the edge and stay on Team Pharrell. Plus, he picked an old school song. Pharrell's old soul cannot turn that down.
Who should have won the knockout? Siahna is a really unique person and performer, but she just didn't nail this performance the same way Mark did. Pharrell made the right choice, though The Voice will miss that unique space that Siahna occupies.
Jeffery Austin, "Turning Tables": Jeffery Austin ain't scared of no thang. He auditioned with Sam Smith and now he's tackling the biggest vocalist of out time, Adele. He connected to the song (like we all do) because it came out when he was going through a bad breakup. Gwen and Rihanna had to help him tap into the emotions of the song and have him channel those into the performance element. The end result was simple and pretty, a good take on a modern classic song. He didn't take any massive chances, instead, he relished in the small moments.
Kota Wade, "Barracuda": The key to nailing a performance on The Voice is to offer up something big and surprising. But, you need to show it off only occasionally. For her performance of Heart's "Barracuda," Kota Wade started at 11 and never really strayed from a big ol' belt. While it was engaging, the dynamics weren't there. This was just LOUD AND BIG. She stretched a few notes to places they should not have gone, but this showed that she has big ol' rock potential.
Who technically won the knockout? Jeffery Austin has room to grow and he really showed off the emotions of his Adele song. He won the knockout because he was just able to show off more technical skills than Kota could.
Who should have won the knockout? I'm more interested in Kota, but Jeffery had the better performance here. Gwen picked correctly, and even if the show is a little more boring for Kota's departure, Jeffery has a better chance to go farther.
Nadjah Nicole, "A Woman's Worth": It's not easy to take on an Alicia Keys song, but Nadjah Nicole was up for the challenge. She took this already-jazzy song and jazzed it up even more, decorating the melody with runs and new dots of expression that made this performance unique. Mix her smooth as butter vocals with a relaxed and 100 percent confident performance, and you had one of the most stunning performances of the night.
Emily Ann Roberts, "Cowboy Take Me Away": In the rehearsals, Emily Ann Robert's take on Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away" had me worried - she was probably one of the whiniest singers this side of the Mississippi. But, she shed that tone for the actual knockout performance and delivered something more up to par. She really felt the emotions of this song, and while her vocal was solid, there was nothing particularly memorable or mind-blowing about this at the end of the day. I had to rewatch this performance twice just to get any sort of opinion, and that's never a good sign, especially as one moves in to the live shows.
Who technically won the knockout? Let's be real, at the end of the day, Blake's strength as a coach is working with country artists. It was just an easier pick for him to work with Emily Ann Roberts than it would have been for him to work with Nadjah Nicole.
Who should have won the knockout? How was Nadjah not stolen? Unless there was some funky editing (like The Voice has been known to do) and Pharrell had already used his steal by the time this knockout went to the stage, there's no reason why he shouldn't have scooped her up. Nadjah had the better performance and she should have been moved on. Unfortunately, though, she was just stuck with a coach who didn't know what to do with her.
Evan McKeel, "Dare You to Move": To start off, this was a pretty lame song choice. While I get that Evan McKeel wanted to show off who he is through this song (a soft rock artist, apparently), this Switchfoot hit lacks a lot of things that potentially make for a good knockout on The Voice, namely, dynamics and big moments. But, he went for it anyway. After Pharrell and Rihanna told Evan to ditch his guitar, he was able to move around the stage and showcase some of his personality. Overall, this was like a B performance.
Tim Atlas, "Torn": First off, I haaaaate it when singers gender-swap a song. Just roll with the original lyrics, it's actually OK to do in a cover. No one cares or will think twice about your precious sexuality. Tim Atlas gender swapped his performance of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," and that was only the first little stumble in this performance. Typically, his unique tone helps him cut a bit above the rest, but Tim stumbled in the second half of this performance. His adlibs did him in and ended up being a little floppy.
Who technically won the knockout? Let's be real, neither of these performances were particularly exciting. But, Evan McKeel was more on the head here and was allowed to keep his spot on Team Pharrell.
Who should have won the knockout? I guess Evan? On an episode where some talented singers (aka Nadjah) went home, neither of these performances felt especially worthy of the lives.
Regina Love, "Midnight Train to Georgia": Regina Love has that sort of old school big, bombastic R&B voice that you don't often hear anymore. So, she took her old school vibe and tackled the classic hit "Midnight Train to Georgia." If people are worried about her age showing in this competition, the song choice did not help. Really, how will Regina operate in a 2015 musical landscape? Her range, talent and passion are huge, and I guess that's the most important thing at the end of the day. She blew Blake's hair back, for goodness' sake!
Riley Biederer, "XO": Beyoncé is a hard singer to take on, but Riley Biederer decided to take her recent hit "XO" and make it all her own. This song is the sort of hopeful hit that works well on a singing competition, and Riley showed off her range and sunny personality here. Her tone isn't nearly as unique or bombastic was Regina Love's, even though her performance similarly blew the roof off.
Who technically won the knockout? Well, the way The Voice edits its program made the stakes of this knockout really low. We knew this would end in a steal. So, Regina Love stays on Team Gwen, and she did so by having the bigger moment... but Riley's big moment was coming.
Who should have won the knockout? Because she was stolen back to Team Pharrell. Should she technically have won? Maybe? I'm not sure. They both showed up to play here. The point at the end of the day is, she gets to move on to the live shows, which will begin on Monday, Nov. 9.