You know what's a very unfair setup for The Voice? The team element. On Monday night (Nov. 9), the first episode of the live shows rolled out 10 terrible performances and two good ones. This episode, which featured Blake Shelton and Pharrell's teams, had the opposite problem. Everyone showed up to the occasion.
The powerful night was highlighted by one of the return twists courtesy of Team Pharrell and a series of creative arrangements and good song choices. But, let's get right in to it...
Darius Scott, "Love Lockdown": Darius Scott was in dangerous territory of becoming a singer stuck in Pharrell's standards territory, so it's nice that he got he flexibility to make over this Kanye West track with a jazzy little rendition (though the steel drum was a little odd). He put his all into this performance and nailed that aspect of it. However, he had a few sour notes and a mildly nasal tone in the chorus that couldn't make me a 100 percent fan. Overall, though, this was a decent start to night two of the live shows.
Ivonne Acero, "One of Us": Team Blake's first showing of the night didn't feature the most exciting song choice for Ivonne Acero. Joan Osbourne's "One of Us" settles in the midtempo and doesn't have a lot of vocal gymnastics for a hopeful singer to play with. But, Ivonne did what she could with this. Her confidence was nice to see and her tone was strong and proud, but this was really just OK at the end of the day.
Morgan Frazier, "Lips of an Angel": Did you know there was a country version of this Hinder song? Me neither, but now I do, and that's what Morgan Frazier and Blake teamed up for. This worked far better than it looks on paper; Morgan has such a pure country tone and it really worked well in the high portions of this song. She fell a little flat on the very lowest notes but that was easily overpowered by everything else she had going on. Morgan could easily get the country voting block with this one.
Evan McKeel, "Overjoyed": So, like, remember when Evan McKeel auditioned and at the end, Pharrell asked him to sing a little bit of his favorite Stevie Wonder song, "Overjoyed?" Yeah, well, we got it again, but now its in a full form. Pharrell knows how to work that vote for his audience (and those iTunes downloads). Evan is clearly comfortable with this song and has performed it before, but maybe he was a little too well rehearsed. As all of the coaches pointed out, his stage presence and movements felt very calculated and more like high school musical theatre than a professional musician.
Madi Davis, "Songbird": Madi Davis is a very honest, earnest performer, and as her coach Pharrell is quick to point out, she's wise beyond her 16 years. For her live debut, Madi took on the Fleetwood Mac classic "Songbird," and she gave this song a simple, straightforward and stunningly pretty performance. She was really invested in the emotions of it all (even tearing up afterward) and hit every note. She didn't have the sort of loud and proud moment that the Voice audience gobbles up typically, but this was still a stunner.
Celeste Betton, "Something in the Water": Remember when Celeste Betton was eliminated and sang one last time for the coaches? Well, that wasn't a thirsty attempt for a save (apparently) but it was a prayer. And, God answered those prayers because she is Team Pharrell's returning singer. And, she blew this Carrie Underwood gospel hit out of the water, so maybe there is something in the power of prayer. Every moment of this performance was powerful and charged with something big. As Carson Daly pointed out, she was singing like she never wanted to leave the building again, and she probably won't have to for quite some time.
Zach Seabaugh, "Brand New Girlfriend": Zach Seabuagh has really only ever been OK for me thus far on The Voice, but that didn't really matter until tonight. And, with his take on this Steve Holy song, he proved where his strength is. Zach is all about that old school country and a deep baritone range. His performance had that classic country cheesiness to it, with Elvis-like hip shakes and a sense of swagger and confidence that is bordering on overdone. But, Zach just made it all fun, all while delivering a solid vocal.
Riley Biederer, "Should've Been Us": Riley Biederer is a Voice contestant with something to prove. She's been a double steal and that's sort of beaten her down. But, she decided to come back with a vengeance and tackled this Tori Kelly song on Team Pharrell. Riley was able to showcase two sides of her voice, a sultry low register and a blasted high register. It was dynamic and enjoyable, though at the end of the day, there isn't anything remarkable about Riley's tone.
Nadjah Nicole, "Upside Down": When The Voice announced that it would allow each coach to bring back one eliminated contestant, there was no wondering who would return for Team Blake: it was always Nadjah Nicole (and Blake even revealed this was all a part of his plan). So, for her triumphant return, Nadjah performed Diana Ross' "Upside Down," and it was, frankly, OK. Nadjah idolized Diana Ross growing up, so she's clearly comfortable in this song, but she didn't have enough of a chance to show what she can do. Nadjah is more interesting than this, and in a night with stacked performances, I'm not sure if this will be enough.
Emily Ann Roberts, "In the Garden": Like her fellow Team Blake member Morgan Frazier, Emily Ann Roberts has a beautiful, simple country tone, and she showcased that through her performance of the classic song "In the Garden." There wasn't an excessive amount of flair to this one - just the right amount, honestly - and this performance was captivating in its simplicity as she paid homage to her grandfather. Is it enough to live up to her teammates? I'm not sure. But, it was pretty.
Mark Hood, "What Do You Mean": Oh, we got an R&B twist on this new Justin Bieber single from Mark Hood. Honestly, this was a nice change of pace, because Mark had previously only done really old school songs. Mark has problem scaling it all back, and now I see why, during his opening verse he sounded insanely generic but once he pumped up the energy, he started to pop. I'm not so sure how great of a fit this was, because while Mark was really in to this performance, he never quite seemed to connect vocally. Team Pharrell is really stacked, so it'll be interesting to see where this fits in.
Barrett Baber, "I Drive Your Truck": So, Veteran's Day is tomorrow, and Barrett Baber is tapping in to that emotional vote with this Lee Brice song. "I Drive Your Truck" is a tall glass, and Barrett filled it up about 75 percent of the way. His vocals were strong and in tune to the basic emotions of this song, but he failed to commit all of the way. The coaches felt the opposite way, but it didn't connect for me. I think he could have tapped into something good though, we'll just have to wait and see.