The talent that has shown up to the Live Playoffs this season of The Voice is pretty outrageous… if they can’t get a star out of this group of artists, then this show is probably doomed (and destined to still air eight more seasons, anyway), and we’re only halfway through the group of 20 finalists. Blake and Pharrell’s teams performed tonight, Christina and Adam’s will perform Tuesday, and two artists from each team will be eliminated according to America’s votes and the coaches’ save on Wednesday. At some point during the coach’s critiques, Christina said there wasn’t a weak link in the bunch, and while that wasn’t entirely true by the end of the night, there were so many strong links it began to feel unfair that 40 percent of them will have to be voted back to their jobs in customer service and struggling solo careers on Wednesday.
But them’s the breaks, and even though I’d be interested to hear the records that many of the artists performing tonight would put out if they won—two of them, 16-year-olds—the Lives are where the good are separated from the great, the great from the freakish. It’s also time for the judges to do their Live shows thing: That means Christina doing her damndest not to slip into season 1 Christina (condescending compliments—a thing!), Blake using his time wisely to tell us what we need to know about his artists to make us vote for them, Adam being the only coach that ever offers criticism but always following it up with, “but I don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t listen to me,” and Pharrell’s unending wisdom being ever so slightly subdued by the pressure of critiquing talented people on live television.
The sheer amount of power rolled out in just the first three contestants was pretty overwhelming, so let’s get right down to it…
TEAM BLAKE: Sarah Potenza, “Free Bird”
All of the judges had something to say about Sarah’s song choice, and while none of it was negative, it is difficult not to think throughout the entire performance, “Wow, she went with ‘Free Bird,’ huh?” I agree with Adam that it was cool to replace the guitar solo with her dynamic vocal, and I loved when she took the stage and let the fringe of her white leather jacket fly. Sarah’s performances always tell a story—that story can sometimes be overwhelming, but it’s always effectively moving. Her coach wanted everyone to know that it was her choice to swing for the fences with the song choice and, obviously, he thinks she nailed it.
TEAM PHARRELL: Caitlin Caporale, “Best Thing I Never Had”
Caitlin has a fantastic voice. Her pitch and power are so effortless that I expect her vocal to be perfect, and then I start to expect something more. While her confidence is much improved tonight and Pharrell was proud of her for enjoying doing what she loves to do onstage, I also didn’t feel like she was channeling any particular emotion from herself to the audience in this very emotional song, as much as just being generally emotive. The pipes are there, and the presence is getting there, but Caitlin still has room to grow in her ability to connect before she takes on Beyonce again, and I’d be up for watching that growth happen.
TEAM BLAKE: Hannah Kirby, “I Feel the Earth Move”
Hannah, on the other hand, is practically possessed by the emotions of a song when she sings it, as evidenced both physically and vocally in her performance. Blake wants to make sure that people don’t overlook how perfect her vocal is, and it’s true, actually listening to Hannah’s voice can become secondary to everything else that she’s putting out while she’s onstage. Her performance tonight takes a little while to settle into itself, but I have a feeling Hannah is the type of artist who would be better served by a two-hour set that gives the audience time to get on her emotional level, than the two minutes we’ve been getting to take in all her Hannah-ness (or fearlessness, as Adam called it).
TEAM PHARRELL: Lowell Oakley, “Jealous”
The coaches do their fair share of posturing in their plethora of screentime, sure, but their words can also be powerful. And once they said that Lowell was being too calculated in his performance last week, it was difficult for me to wipe the slate clean this week. When Lowell first started in on the Nick Jonas number that’s pretty far outside of his comfort zone, you could see every wheel turning in his head, but he seemed much more comfortable once he got out from behind the mic and moved around a little. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of his better vocals, but his falsetto earned a few post-performance catcalls.
Pharrell’s random life advice to take to the bank this week: “He’s too worried about acceptance—he’s got to get on the side of ambition.”
NEXT: Make way for the teens…