The Voice – Top 12 Performance Recap

We’re down to the nitty-gritty! The judges have done their jobs (some better than others, COUGHBLAKESHELTONCOUGH), and now they can just sit back and engage in awkward banter with Carson Daly!

This year, I’m going to be updating my rankings each week, based on who I think is most likely to win. Going into this week, here’s how the list looks:

12. Garrett Gardner (Shakira)
11. The Swon Brothers (Blake)
10. Vedo (Usher)
9. Josiah Hawley (Usher)
8. Kris Thomas (Shakira)
7. Holly Tucker (Blake)
6. Amber Carrington (Adam)
5. Danielle Bradbery (Blake)
4. Michelle Chamuel (Usher)
3. Sasha Allen (Shakira)
2. Judith Hill (Adam)
1. Sarah Simmons (Adam)

#10. Vedo – “Rock With You”

Usher’s got Vedo singing a slow, groovy jam this week. I agree with this choice! He takes the stage wearing a leather jacket and with an impressive commitment to working the jazz hands. There’s a mid-song dance break and everything. Vocally, I still don’t know about Vedo – I don’t think he was one of the four best R&B singers this season, and Kris Thomas has been better than him every week. However, I enjoy this song choice a whole lot more than his usual sad ballads. I prefer groovy, dancing Vedo to weeping Vedo. So that’s something!
#7. Holly Tucker – “Broken Wing”

If there was a way to gamble on whether Holly Tucker would sing a slow country song each week, I would be a very rich man. Here she’s got a little Martina McBride number that at least isn’t as downtrodden as Holly’s usual fare. Holly can really sing – comparing her to the every-shaky Vedo is laughable – and she’s more engaging here than she’s been at any point this season. I still don’t consider her a serious contender to win the season, but she’s poised to move up in the rankings.

#12. Garrett Gardener – “I Want It That Way”

In his rehearsal, Garrett opens a story with “There was this one time…” so you know he’s cool. Shakira’s got him singing a Backstreet Boys song, so that’s great. But don’t worry you guys, he’s totally rocking it out! Well, kind of. Okay, not really. This is what I’d call a nice “talent show performance”, meaning that it would PROBABLY win your average high school talent show. But on ‘The Voice’? I’m gonna have to take a hard pass, Garrett.

#1. Sarah Simmons – “The Story”

Whoa whoa whoa. In the interview, Sarah revealed that she was in a RAP band?!?! Does footage exist? I’m totally derailed. On stage, I think Sarah starts off trying a little too hard to make the slow part of the song interesting. But once she hits the meat of the song and gets her trademark growl going, she’s golden. She really pushes it hard and it pays off so nicely. All the judges praise the song choice, and rightly so – that was a great match-up between song and singer.

Most importantly, I am 100% confident that no other singer in this competition could even TOUCH that song. Don’t sleep on how important that is – Sarah has a unique skillset as a performer that really makes her stand out. This song choice provided a perfect forum for her to do just that. A fantastic performance.

#11. The Swon Brothers – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

The Swons have chosen a George Jones song to pay tribute to the recently-departed country singer. I’m interested in how they’ll sound with a stripped-down arrangement: one Swon on piano, the other on guitar. The heavier one is well-established as the better singer of the two, and does a MUCH better job with the first verse. Look, I’m a sucker for this kind of performance, so I enjoyed that quite a bit. Definitely my favorite Swon Brothers performance this season.

#3. Sasha Allen – “Alone”

Shakira continues to be phenomenal in working with her contestants, making a really smart distinction between pop music and Broadway for Sasha, who was singing “Alone” too much like the former. Does Sasha follow her advice? Somewhat. No one will ever accuse her of not pouring her emotions into her performances, that’s for sure. That was a big-time vocal. I do think she went a bit over the top, but as Usher points out, the song kind of calls for that.

The difference between Sasha and Judith Hill is that Judith can easily shift her intensity up or down depending on what the song calls for. Sasha is always set on max. That stuff flies on ‘American Idol’, but ‘The Voice’ tends not to award that kind of singer.

#9. Josiah Hawley – “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved”

Josiah’s going acoustic this week, which is interesting because he’s had his most success with rock material. Josiah’s biggest question mark is his voice and his ability to connect with songs, so this is a bit of a dicey proposition for him. Sitting on stage on a stool with just his acoustic guitar, this is a much more intimate Josiah, one that women of the audience surely appreciate. Adam’s right – this was a lot better song choice for him, and he looked much more comfortable than with the rock stuff. I think this was the best Josiah performance to date. Here’s hoping he continues down this path.

#5. Danielle Bradbery – “Wasted”

Blake continues to give his country singers pure country songs, which makes sense. He’s pushing Danielle this week with a Carrie Underwood song, presumably because she’s at no risk of going home even if she’s shaky. But “shaky” and Danielle don’t go together, because she’s been universally good this season. That continues here, and while the song doesn’t have any particularly memorable moments, Danielle delivers another rock solid performance. Shakira calls Danielle a “16-year old Margaret Thatcher”, so…there’s that.

#2. Judith Hill – “You Got a Friend”

Oh, a solo piano performance of a Carol King sing? Sure thing Judith, do your thing. I can barely even type while watching this because I’m 100% transfixed by Judith here. As opposed to Danielle’s effortlessness, Judith was absolutely burning some calories here, and it paid off. A terrific, understated performance that only Judith could pull off. That’s about as good as it gets, folks.

#4. Michelle Chamuel – “Call Your Girlfriend”

Michelle continues her streak of adorable nerdyness in rehearsals, but she’s got a tall task this week living up to last week’s breakout performance. The lineup isn’t helping here here, because most singers wouldn’t look great compared to Danielle and Judith. Her dance moves are quite enjoyable, and she does her thing – there’s definitely room in this competition for both powerhouses and pop/indie singers like Michelle. That said, I can’t help but feel that this was a little bit lightweight. Not Michelle’s fault though, and not a big problem. I continue to enjoy Michelle every week.

#8. Kris Thomas – “I’ll Be There”

Big week for Michael Jackson on The Voice! I say it every week, but I love Kris Thomas. I’d rather see him performing jaunty R&B stuff than straight-up crooning, and he does have a couple of rough patches. But Kris’ upper register wins out, as it tends to do. If he sticks around, I think Shakira really needs to hammer down better song choices for Kris. When this season began I thought he had a niche, but recent song selections have me feeling not so confident. I’m glad she’s so supportive, and I’ve enjoyed Shakira’s coaching this season, but I don’t think Shakira has the first clue how to handle Kris, and it’s hurting his performances.

#6. Amber Carrington – “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”

Amber batting clean-up for the night! She earned it with last week’s performance, which by all counts won the week on iTunes. This is a major factor going forward, because Carson reveals that the iTunes votes will once again be multiplied by 10 for top-10 finishes. Amber chooses a slow country ballad to devote to her mother, and really belts it out. She is very, very good. Huge country presence on ‘The Voice’ this season, and I’m having a very hard time ranking Danielle vs. Amber. Could they be the frontrunners? iTunes sales this week will be our first indication.

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  1. Your two strongest and most on-point comments:
    “The difference between Sasha and Judith Hill is that Judith can easily shift her intensity up or down depending on what the song calls for. Sasha is always set on max. That stuff flies on ‘American Idol’, but ‘The Voice’ tends not to award that kind of singer.”
    “When this season began I thought he had a niche…I don’t think Shakira has the first clue how to handle Kris, and it’s hurting his performances.”

    What was odd to me was that I wasn’t into Michelle though. I’m tired of her doing that kneel-down dance and opening and closing one side of her jacket. Her dance moves need major work. This is the first week she didn’t impress me.

    I just can’t get into Kris at all. I know you like him, but a man singing a song to a woman in a feminine voice just sounds all off to me. And I’ve been very vocal on Twitter about how much I can’t stand it when people sing Michael Jackson songs. If you’re not MJ, don’t do it. The only two people who have been able to pull it off are Chris Brown and Usher, and Usher sang a song WITH Michael Jackson standing next to him so clearly he gets a co-sign. I would rather hear Judith sing an MJ song, but that’d be too predictable.

    As for Sasha, y’know, she kinda reminds me of Jennifer Hudson. I never voted for J Hud on “American Idol” because she seemed to depend on those big notes and it got old after awhile. I really feel like Sasha would’ve been better with Usher because she doesn’t seem to have any personality. She sings. She smiles. And her eyes go back to that same blank stare and polite smile until she walks off stage.

    I just can’t get into Sarah Simmons the way you do but I’m also not a fan of Adele so that probably tells you where my tastes lie. But anyway, I like reading your analyses.

    • Thanks!! I suspect my one-man Kris Thomas bandwagon is about to crash into a wall, based on this morning’s iTunes results. I wish he’d sing Frank Ocean songs rather than Michael Jackson songs – I think that’s where his niche is, and it’s sad that he’s going to exit the show without having found it. Sarah is definitely not for everyone, but I really appreciate that she’s not just belting out big songs every week and instead singing (mostly) contemporary stuff. With Sarah I never feel like I’m at a singing pageant or Broadway musical, which is very important and why I’m starting to really sour on Sasha Allen. I agree on Michelle, she’s fun and I like her but this week wasn’t her best.

      I know you’re a country music fan, so I’ve got a question for you: How do you handicap Danielle vs. Amber (and you can throw Holly in there if you want).

      Thanks again for reading! And I’m sorry I didn’t mention Usher’s arms :)

      • I wish there was some way to send myself an alert if you ask me a question or respond. Unless I keep coming back to old blogs, I have no clue you responded to me. I just realized it right now.

        Sarah: You make a great point. She doesn’t go for predictable. That’s why I wanted Sasha to go on Usher’s team so badly. I knew she sang better than Shakira so there was really nothing Shakira could offer to her. Usher sings high notes the same way he takes his jacket off — effortlessly. She needed a singer who was bad enough to sing with Michael Jackson and still be a heartthrob. That’s the reason I’ve never voted for her. She’s still boring as hell with a nice voice.

        Kris Thomas vs Frank Ocean: Have you heard “Channel Orange” in full? Frank Ocean does so much mumbling on that CD that I don’t think would really fit Kris. Ironically enough I feel like Cee-Lo would’ve been a better coach than all four of these people because Cee-Lo would hit a high random note for no reason and then go back to a normal voice. Kris seems to be from a different era. He sings like David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks. Hitting those high notes is fine but he doesn’t know when to come out of them and as a woman, I don’t want to hear a guy sing an entire song in a lady’s voice.

        Michelle: I still like her but she needs new dance moves. She was really good when she started stomping to the beat of the song but that awkward squatting and opening one flap of her jacket just makes her look goofy.

        Danielle vs. Amber: I’m not on the Danielle bandwagon. She sings too many songs that she hasn’t really experienced and it always comes across as a bit “off.” Amber always makes me forget her and then she’ll belt out a note (like last night) and I go “Whoa whoa whoa, I’m voting for her.” I love country but if I’m being completely honest (and totally sexist) my CD and radio listening is 98% male. I’m so ashamed. The type of women country singers I listen to are the ones with that folksy been-there-done-that sound, which is the reason I was pulling for Grace so tough. I just didn’t like that last song she did and was very disappointed. But Amber’s original “Good Girl” audition is stomping dirt on every single thing Danielle has performed in my very not-so-humble opinion.

        • I meant 98% male for country. When it comes to jazz, R&B, pop and hip-hop, it’s 50/50.

  2. I was very entertained by your tweet that you can tell 80% of “The View” audience is female. And with that said, I think Usher’s arms deserved a line in your review. I’m just saying! I know it won’t happen but next to Judith’s beautiful piano performance and Josiah surprising us all with that acoustic performance (the best I’ve heard him yet, and he stopped doing that weird toe-heel dance), Usher’s arms were the best part of Monday’s show for me!

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