'The Voice' Season 9 Recap, Review: Top 10 Perform as Madi Davis Rises, Braiden Sunshine Falls
The Voice's top 10 finalists performed on Monday night (Nov. 30), and after a few live playoff weeks of middling performances, there was a slight resurgence this week. People who had previously faltered rebounded thanks to smart song choices and a renewed sense of confidence.
While there are still a few skunks in the mix, thanks to the show's slow one-by-one elimination format (until the eventual slaughter next week), this was a relatively enjoyable two hours of competition, even if Braiden Sunshine still sucks.
Jeffery Austin, "Jealous": Jeffery Austin has the cards stacked for him last week, with a stunning remake of the relatively well-known "Dancing on My Own" and the final performance spot. With that, he still only reached No. 27 on iTunes and came in the middle of the pack. This week, he had the opposite going for him: the dreaded opening spot and a relatively unknown song, Labrinth's "Jealous." This could have put him in totally hot water, but he made the most of these three minutes. His voice was perfectly sultry, emotional and deep. It felt as though Jeffery was really attached to the meaning behind this song and he poured his heartbreak into it all. He likens a lot of comparisons to Sam Smith, and once again, those aren't totally off base.
Emily Ann Roberts, "She's Got You": Emily Ann Roberts has etched herself a nice little niche on The Voice: she's the country girl who knows her genre's roots, appreciates them and is looking to bring them back to the mainstream. In an age of bro-country, this feels very welcome and refreshing. Emily Ann has a pretty voice, there's no denying that, and she brought that here. But, this song is all about loneliness and heartache, and she didn't fully seem to connect to that message. Even as the high notes hit and her low notes showed lots of control, the effort fell a little flat without the sadness. But, don't mistake that critique for a bad performance.
Braiden Sunshine, "Radioactive": Braiden Sunshine may be the youngest contestant on The Voice, but he's not the only teen. Emily Ann Roberts, Madi Davis... they're both in high school too and know who they are as artists. Either Braiden is unsure if he wants to be a crooner or rocker or if his coach Gwen doesn't know what to do with him other than cut his hair. (Hey Gwen, there are other ways to coach someone other than mess with their look!) But, this performance of "Radioactive" fell so flat both in its notes, emotions and arrangement that I don't even want to talk about it anymore. It's like Braiden didn't even try to pack a punch in this. He didn't do the breathing thing and he only sort of tried to hit the high notes in the chorus. I've heard "Radioactive" a lot, it's one of the songs in American Idol's Hollywood week songbook, and this is far and away the worst I've ever heard it. Honestly, if Vote for the Worst still was around, I'd give them mad kudos for keeping Braiden around this long.
Shelby Brown, "Go Rest High on That Mountain": Adam had a huge misstep last week when he gave his lone country singer Shelby Brown Lady Gaga's over-covered song "You and I." So this week, he allowed Shelby to do a song close to her heart: "Go Rest High on That Mountain," which was played at her grandfather's funeral. This tribute to her grandpa felt much more in her wheelhouse, and Shelby's connection to this song showed in her performance, which was throaty, high-soaring and simply very pretty. As she led a church choir, she sounded more like Carrie Underwood than ever before. This could be the big rebound that Shelby needs - not only does she have a sappy backstory for this song choice, but she also can tap into the deep country block and gospel block of The Voice. A win-win for us all.
Korin Bukowski, "Same Old Love": When Gwen unfortunately dyed Korin Bukowski's hair platinum blonde in an attempt to make her a mini-me daughter, she took away Korin's confidence and je ne sais quoi. So, as sick as I am of Gwen's constant makeovers, it was so nice to see Korin back to brown. Her confidence and sass was back in full force, and she traded in her soft tones and meek mannerisms for something powerful. I didn't know Korin was even capable of singing this loud and proudly, and instead of looking like Gwen Stefani, she channeled her coach's rock star persona and voice, which is a better thing to have. Korin may still be in danger - she was a coach save and has failed to connect with America - but if she does go out this week, she's doing it with a vengeance.
Amy Vachal, "Bye Bye Bye": Amy Vachal continues to makeover pop songs with a jazz flare, but this week she decided to tap in to '90s nostalgia with NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye." This is the sort of shtick that could get old week after week, but this doesn't really get old. Adam is a smart coach, and he knows how to arrange a song that will get an audience's attention and a good amount of iTunes downloads. This take on "Bye Bye Bye" may not be as exciting as her "Hotline Bling" cover two weeks ago, but it is unique and fun. Once again, Amy failed to connect to the emotions of this song or the cheekiness of covering it - kick up the spice a little notch, girl! Don't be afraid to perform these songs with a wink. It's what makes something like Postmodern Jukebox so fun to watch when Amy can get a little bit sleepy.
Jordan Smith, "Hallelujah": It's funny because just earlier in the day before watching The Voice, I had a conversation about how over-covered Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is. And, lo and behold, predictable coach Adam and the guy The Voice wants to win so badly, Jordan Smith, took on "Hallelujah." As annoying as all of the Jordan praise and pandering is, there's no denying that he has the voice of an angel, so this was very pretty. The way that Jordan dipped up to the end of each of his phrases was really very special. Will this be a "Hallelujah" cover for the ages like Jeff Buckley? Well, no. But, this will keep Jordan as the frontrunner of The Voice season 9 for sure.
Zach Seabaugh, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love": Team Blake's Zach Seabaugh covering Queen? Call it crazy, for sure. He's no Freddie Mercury by any stretch of the imagination - the easiest thing to call out is that Zach lacks the range by far. But, what Blake wanted to show off here were all of those Elvis Presley comparisons. I mean, how many hip shakes and little foot bounces did Zach do here? This is the closest Blake could get to tapping into all that "Hound Dog"-ness without having Zach straight up cover "Hound Dog." This lacked the organic feeling of Zach's "Brand New Girlfriend" cover from the first week of the live playoffs, but it was still a pretty fun watch.
Madi Davis, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun": Hey Amy Vachal, you're not the only singer on this show who can totally remake a song and make it work! Madi Davis can do it too, and she did so here with Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Unlike Joey Cook from last season of American Idol, who played this song straight and went home for it, Madi tapped into a sort of feminist take on this '80s hit and stripped it down to its bare bones. It was incredibly effective. Madi has a simply stunning voice and she decorated all of these notes with the sort of emotion that one wouldn't expect from such a seemingly carefree song. Madi is the lone singer left on Team Pharrell, so maybe she's getting extra attention, and it's paying off if we get something as unique and beautiful as this.
Barrett Baber, "I'd Love to Lay You Down": Barrett Baber wasn't quite himself last week with his performance of "Delta Dawn," so he tapped into the simplicity and emotions that helped him to break out on The Voice in the first place by going old school with this Conway Twitty track. He simply sat on a stool with his acoustic guitar and sang, no frills needed. This helped him to connect in a way that was missing last week and his voice really shined. I love his throaty tone and the way he is able to nail a smile in his tone. By being back to form, Barrett is back to a good position on this show.