'The Voice' Season 9 Recap, Review: Live Shows Start with Underwhelming Turns and a Twist
So, this is the live shows on The Voice, huh? On Monday night (Nov. 9), season 9 kicked off its longest portion with Adam Levine's and Gwen Stefani's teams. And while there were little glimpses into the potential of this year's pack, overall, this was a very underwhelming evening.
In its ninth season, The Voice has decided to shake things up by allowing each coach to pick one eliminated artist to bring back to the show. While The Voice cited having its best talent ever, it seems like the producers noticed big time iTunes sellers like Ellie Lawrence and Nadjah Nicole were gone, and that only hurts the show's brand.
While that's a nice twist in an increasingly tired format, the biggest story of The Voice season 9, however, that coaches Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton have started dating in the wake of their respective divorces, was left totally ignored. It was a little awkward to not acknowledge the big elephant in the room.
Blaine Mitchell, "Never Tear Us Apart": Adam Levine has been calling Blaine Mitchell his Michal Hutchence for a long time, so for the first live show, it's no surprise that he gave him an INXS cut. This song choice was really just OK. Blaine's voice fitted this song well, but it didn't really have anywhere to go vocally. He did what he could with it, throwing in some runs and a high note or two, but there was nothing there to WOW the audience. For the first performance of the night, it was just OK.
Regina Love, "Hello": There has never been a hit as big and immediate as Adele's new song "Hello," so it's a tall order for anyone to cover this soon. That task was given to Team Gwen's Regina Love. It was not a wise song choice. Adele is already slaying this song live, and while Regina has a big gospel voice she struggled to reach the biggest heights of this track and maintain control. She did well in the opening verse, with a small rasp that was gripping and subtle, but the chorus was a big old flub when she should have shined.
Keith Semple, "To Be With You": Team Adam's Keith Semple worried that by performing this Mr. Big hit (which you know whether or not the title immediately resonates with you), that he is pigeonholing himself by doing that sort of big '80s rock thing. He's not totally wrong - Adam is aiming him to be a one trick pony. Like Team Adam's first performance of the night, this was a pretty dull song choice. Keith didn't really ever get in to the groove of this song and just sort of settled in the middle. Also, letting the background singers really carry the chorus was a boring choice.
Shelby Brown, "You're No Good": Shelby Brown has a nice, strong country tone and her rasp makes her unique. Once again, fourth song in a row, this was a boring song choice. The Voice needs to move away from these middle-of-the-road tracks. But, for her first Team Adam live show, Shelby's vocals sounded the most solid and engaging of all, but it felt like she had a problem connecting to the message of this Linda Ronstadt song. She threw her arms in the air and smiled, and it felt a little off. But, this was solid enough during a top of the show that was otherwise underwhelming.
Korin Bukowski, "Adia": Korin Bukowski has done her best when she's been able to show her vulnerable side, so this Sarah McLaughlin song choice could have worked really well for her and harken back to her big moment with "Samson." However, her nerves got the best of her - did anyone else notice that she kept peeking over to her left to look at Coach Gwen? The result was something that was pretty, but simple and stiff. I think instead of spending a lot of time on her haircut, Gwen Stefani should have focused on Korin's confidence. She needs a big ol' dose of it.
Ellie Lawrence, "Ex's and Oh's": Ellie Lawrence's performance of "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" is one of The Voice season 9's most-downloaded performances, so it makes sense that Gwen Stefani would bring her back. (Plus, Ellie's love of Gwen properly feeds her ego.) Ellie properly showed off her sassy personality, which she had previously struggled with, but this song felt a little too casual to show any big range or have a massive moment, which The Voice almost demands. And while her voice sounded a little hoarse, this was the first thing that felt actually enjoyable to watch on stage. With the big backing of her coach and her name recognition, Ellie should definitely be fine.
Jeffery Austin, "Say You Love Me": Jeffery Austin of Team Gwen has previously proved that he's down to take on big vocals, so this Jessie Ware song is a good choice. And, for a show that demands a build-up and big note to help wake up a sometimes bored audience (hi!), Jeffery got the first one of the night. He injected some real soul and passion into this performance, and his high note in that sort of gospel part of the song was gripping. The coaches were wowed and Jeffery definitely has potential in this competition. He's just suited for The Voice.
Braiden Sunshine, "Everything I Own": Wow. This wasn't a very good vocal, was it? Braiden Sunshine of Team Gwen is the youngest contestant on season 9, and his inexperience showed in full force here. He couldn't connect with the vocal nor could he finish a full phrase without running out of breath. Maybe he couldn't connect because he couldn't see... (Will someone please stand up for this kid and give him his glasses while he sings? #StopGwen.) But this was a bad performance. And, does anyone get tired of the coaches always playing nicey-nice? Adam had to apologize for given a sugar-coated criticism. BLERGH.
Amy Vachal, "The Way You Look Tonight": Amy Vachal was a hot steal for Adam Levine, who scooped her up in the knockout rounds from Team Pharrell. She's been citing her old school influences the entire time on this show, so Adam offered her up this Frank Sinatra classic. Her vocal was hushed and effortless, which was nice to hear, but this performance lacked any real personality. She could have jazzed it up with any sort of nod to the camera or something beyond a little sway. There was just no emotion and no dynamics. Instead, she just felt like someone singing in a Brooklyn coffee shop.
Viktor Kiraly, "All Around the World": So, Gwen Stefani is just really bad at picking songs, right? That's where we're at in this point of the show? An old school, slightly dated R&B tune. Given, Gwen tried to give this song a D'Angelo style makeover for 2015 and to help make it Viktor Kiraly's own. To a certain extent, that worked, but the framework is just so cheesy that it didn't help out that much. Viktor took his short performance and decided to load it with as many runs and vocal turns as he could. So, from a standpoint of showing off what he can do, he did America well. He'll be fine for this show.
Chance Pena, "Barton Hollow": Chance Pena is Team Adam's comeback kid, and he decided to take on The Civil Wars' "Baton Hollow." This song did well to show off the richer side of Chance's vocal, but some of this performance felt like he wasn't performing a song but acting in a play. His tone just didn't feel fully authentic - it was weird. Chance kept on top of this song and did everything that he was supposed to, but maybe this was just a funky song choice. I don't know what kind of artist he's trying to be from it, which can be a problem when your team is about to get cut in half.
Jordan Smith, "Halo": Thank goodness for Jordan Smith. This night was filled with underwhelming and just straight up bad performances, but he rounded out the show for Team Adam with this stunning performance of Beyoncé's "Halo." Jordan opted to show off the lower side of his range, and he did it well. This performance was simple, pretty and just big enough to cut above it all. Jordan has a real chance to win this thing - he's a phenomenon that The Voice needs.