"The Voice" Season 6 inched one episode closer to the long-delayed Live Playoffs this Tuesday, when the show staged its not-live Playoffs with Adam Levine and Shakira's semifinalists.
Ten singers sang, six singers advanced, two hours passed. Overall, this was a more compelling episode than last week's Team Blake Playoffs, and for the most part the right contestants made it through — with the possible exception of one promising newbie.
Let's get to the recapping, shall we?
Kristen Merlin – Oh hi, Kristen, nice to see you again. It's been a minute. Seriously, I can't recall a singing-show contestant who's received a more schizophrenic edit than Kristen has this season. She was totally pimped in the Blind Auditions, but after that she all but disappeared, with both of her battles inexplicably getting the montage hatchet job. I was beginning to wonder if something had gone awry for her during the Battle Rounds that had justified such a fodder edit. Well, Kristen sure didn't seem like fodder doing Carrie Underwood's "Two Black Cadillacs" in Monday's Playoffs. She sounded awesome, she had oodles of attitude, and she looked like a star (albeit not a typical star). I just find this woman so interesting, such a unique and needed voice for the country market (with crossover potential). Even the panel's resident country expert Blake Shelton was impressed by Kristen's performance — which was a good sign that she'd be getting some more deserved screentime very soon.
Deja Hall – Amusingly, Deja was the second contestant of the night to do an "American Idol" alum's song, taking on Jordin Sparks's "Battlefield." But to quote the song, Deja didn't seem to know what she was fighting for, and she definitely didn't start a war. There was no need for anyone to go and get their armor, because Deja played it way too safe — singing with no passion, no power, no spirit. I know Jordin was only a teenager herself when she competed on "Idol," but Jordin always sang with an authority and assertiveness beyond her years. Sweet Deja, conversely, came across as an amateurish teen — talented, but just not ready for prime time. Shakira should have let Deja go home in the last week's Battle Rounds and kept the more experienced Ddendyl instead.
Tess Boyer – "The Voice" has probably already felt like a battlefield for this twice-stolen contestant. Tess the underdog started off on Team Usher, then moved to Team Blake before settling with current coach Shakira; she's basically the female version of Will Champlin in this regard. (You know, Christina Aguilera would have loved Tess; if Christina had been a coach this season, Tess would've been Team Xtina from start to finish.) Anyway, Tess has had to fight every step of way this season, and she put up a very impressive fight this Monday doing "Human" by Christina Perri. "I'm only human," she belted unconvincingly, because she showed off an actually quite superhuman diva voice. This was exactly the sort of performance Tess needed to give in order to stay on a team, for once.
Patrick Thomson – Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble" was a wonderful song choice for this gravelly-voiced folkster. For the first time this season, Patrick didn't seem like a good-time guy or some yacht-rockin' novelty contestant. He infused the bluesy ballad with palpable emotion and even kind of reminded me of one of my favorite contestants from last season, Cole Vosbury. Adam told Patrick this was his "finest moment." Usher and Shakira said they could finally see what type of artist Patrick truly is. Shakira wasn't Patrick's original coach (that would be Adam), but it seemed likely that she'd realize how smart she'd been to steal Patrick, and that she'd keep him around.
Dani Moz – Actually, Shakira was going to have a real tough decision here. I'd assumed that Dani was a fodder contestant when her first audition was montaged, but her Monday "Edge of Glory" performance was a revelation. Who knew this girl was so, well, glorious? Sitting at her piano for a stripped-down rendition of the Springsteenian Gaga anthem, Dani delivered THE Team Shakira performance of the night — full of heart and spleen, blood, sweat, and tears, etc. Shakira even went gaga and jumped to her feet when Dani hit the money note. And just like that, Dani went from also-ran to frontrunner. Now I wish I could go back in the NBC vault and watch Dani's full Blind Audition.
So when it came time for Shakira to make her decision, it was clear that Deja was the team's weakest link, and Dani the strongest. Everything else, though, was a bit of a toss-up. I would have gone with Dani, Kristen, and Patrick, for a diverse team; Shakira went with Dani, Kristen, and Tess. All three ladies deserved to advance, but I will miss Patrick; it was ironic that he'd just sung, "I've been saved by a woman," and then the woman on the coaching panel didn't save him at all. I think Patrick was just beginning to come into his own on the show. However, I am pleased that Kristen made it through and will at long last have the opportunity to show America what she can do.
Delvin Choice – Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" is a classic, of course, but I wish that Delvin, one of this season's coolest and funkiest contestants, had performed something more modern and less smooth-jazzy. I also wish he'd brought back his old "lobster roll" hairdo; I miss it, and I think changing his hair to that braided Soul II Soul style has had a bit of a Samson-like effect on him. That being said, he sang the Al song nicely, with some lovely phrasing. Delvin did more than enough to advance to the Live Playoffs, where hopefully he'll take some artistic risks — with both his music and his hairstyle. I agree with what Usher said Monday: With the right song choices, Delvin could be a real Season 6 threat.
Jake Barker – Jake is an inexperienced and somewhat unpolished singer (especially by "Voice" standards, since this show is always full of plants and pros), but he's always seemed like a star to me. This Monday, he bravely took on his own coach's song, Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved," right in front of Adam, and he sang it with ease. There were shades of Daley, Sam Smith, Daniel Merriweather, and of course Justin Timberlake here — a cool blue-eyed soul thing going on. It was easy to imagine this crooner making hit pop records. And when Adam himself praised Jake for "putting his own spin" on the Maroon tune, that seemed like a very good sign.
Kat Perkins – I was dismayed when Kat beat out my favorites (and supposedly Adam's favorites) Dawn & Hawkes in last week's Battle Rounds — and I still think in that particular instance, Dawn & Hawkes were robbed. But this week, Kat really did come to battle. She did Journey's "Open Arms," people. When a contestant does Journey in any singing competition, he/she really means business. This was a flawless, soaring vocal on a very, very difficult power ballad. Blake called it "Open Lungs"; I say it's time to open the voting lines, already. After delivering one of the best performances of the Playoffs so far, this lady could be a contender.
Morgan Wallen – I don't know why Morgan covered a country song, Florida Georgia Line's "Stay." Did he not want to stay on the show? He'd never identified himself as a country artist before, so this felt like too drastic a switch-up. He sang the song capably (with a few minor pitch issues), but following Kat's tour de force, this was underwhelming. With his likable personality, rugged-but-boyish good looks, and distinctive growl, I'd pegged Morgan as a frontrunner this season, but after this, he was the contestant who seemed a bit like fodder.
Christina Grimmie – Despite having one of her battles montaged earlier this season, this YouTube sensation has still seemed like one of this season's favorites — and she got the "pimp spot" this week for her performance of Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up." It was a bold and belty effort, but a little child-starry, and when she went for the big notes, she sounded borderline-unpleasant. Christina needs to learn that sometimes, less is more. I think she did what she needed to do to get to the top 12, and I am sure her pre-existing fanbase will keep her in the game for a while…but I am starting to wonder if there's a reason why one of her battles wasn't shown in full. Christina may not be a consistent contestant.
When it came time to choose his top three, Adam remembered that this show is called "The Voice" and went with the technically strongest singers: Delvin, Kat, and Christina. This was understandable and perhaps unavoidable, but in the process, he dumped his two cutest boys, the contestants who'd likely get the most votes. I can see why he cut Morgan, who started off the season strong but unfortunately faltered this week, but I wish he'd given Jake a chance. I truly think Jake could have blossomed under Adam's tutelage and gone very far.
So there you have it. On Tuesday night, Team Usher's five semifinalists will compete, three will advance…and then, finally, we will have our top 12! See you then.