Midway through “The Voice” Top 10 performance show on Monday night, Carson Daly said what we’d all been thinking.
“Something [is] going on tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” the host observed, as 16-year-old Koryn Hawthorne, of Team Pharrell Williams, finished singing a highly emotional version of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain.”
The crowd and coaches had erupted into yet another standing ovation – having already risen to their feet for Team Christina’s Kimberly Nichole and Team Blake’s Meghan Linsey. And they would rise again before the evening had ended.
“Some awesome performances on the show tonight,” Daly added, “that is clear by the energy in the room.”
Blake Shelton agreed. “This is not the episode of ‘The Voice’ that you want to slip up even a little bit,” he said. “These performances …”
No doubt about it, the evening brought numerous standout performances – thanks in part, perhaps, to the inclusion of some pretty accomplished producers in the rehearsal process.
Christina Aguilera’s team worked with Mark Ronson, who collaborated with Amy Winehouse and, more recently, with Bruno Mars on the hit “Uptown Funk.” Blake Shelton’s team soaked in advice from renowned country music producer and Shelton collaborator Scott Hendricks. Adam Levine brought in Dave Stewart, who in addition to his famous musical partnership with Annie Lennox as half of the Eurythmics, has helped to produce work by U2, Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks and Celine Dion. And Pharrell Williams and his team enlisted the help of One Republic’s Ryan Tedder, who has also worked with Adele, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce.
Whether those producers were the key ingredient in Monday night’s performance magic is hard to say. What’s clear is that magic was definitely in the air, though amid the stellar singers there were a few stumbles.
Here’s how the singing went down:
Kimberly Nichole (Team Christina): Nichole set the bar high from the start with a smokin’-hot rendition of Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me," showing off the bluesy soulfulness of her voice and strutting around the stage in her inimitable fashion. Williams said she’d “reinvented 10” on a scale of one to 10. Levine called it a “light’s out,” “crazy” performance and seconded Shelton’s declaration last week that Nichole could earn Aguilera her first “Voice” victory. Aguilera told Nichole she brought “the energy … every single time.”
Joshua Davis (Team Adam): Encouraged by his coach to take a risk, Davis tried for a vibe that was more Springsteen than Simon & Garfunkel with James Bay's "Hold Back the River." Alas, the guy with the most comforting voice in the competition never quite sounded comfortable in this performance. The coaches commended him on his effort to mix it up and show his range. Levine sounded somewhat apologetic, conceding that, while “in some ways” the gamble “didn’t pay off,” in “the most important ways,” it did because he had proved he could overcome a challenge and showed off his upper register.
Hannah Kirby (Team Blake): Kirby made a song choice that struck her coach as odd, Tears for Fears' "Shout," but she explained that she felt strongly about the song’s message about releasing your emotions. She certainly held nothing back in her performance, which was given a full militaristic production. Aguilera said Kirby was growing into a “superstar person” right before her eyes and complimented her on her smile, stance, singing and Janet Jackson-inspired look. Williams admired the way Kirby made songs her own. Shelton called her a “freak of nature” and assured her that she was in no danger of elimination.
Meghan Linsey (Team Blake): Linsey showed off her powerful pipes, passion and grit on Marc Broussard's "Home," again bringing the coaches to their feet. Aguilera, who carefully doles out compliments to the members of other coaches’ teams, enthused that the performance was “so killer,” saying Linsey had laid “it all out there,” completely lost herself and thrown her “heart on the floor.” Linsey’s vocals, Aguilera said, “were insanity.” Levine said Linsey had given not only her best performance, but had thrown herself “way up to the top” of the heap.
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Pharrell): This 16-year-old singer gave voice to her own deep song of struggle with Ed Sheeran's "Make It Rain." After the applause finally died down, Shelton told her he couldn’t imagine how she could have performed any better than she had and welcomed her to the top eight. Aguilera, Hawthorne’s former coach, said she had “embodied” the song. And Williams called the performance “inspirational.” “You came out here and you sang that song for your mother and your family and we all feel lifted,” he said, asking “everyone in the Christian community, the gospel community, anybody who needs any kind of lifting” to vote for Hawthorne.
Deanna Johnson (Team Adam): Johnson’s take on Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" showed off her rich vocal tone and strength, but also displayed the nerves that have previously affected her performances, marring a few notes. Mostly, though, her body – strolling around stage – didn’t seem to reflect any sense of urgency, which diminished the performance’s energy. The coaches kept their comments short. Aguilera asked Johnson how she felt (always a bad sign) and then commended her on her effort and look (another bad sign). Levine lowered the stakes, saying he was just happy that Johnson was still out there, giving it her all. Given that Johnson teetered on the brink of elimination last week, she may not have delivered the knockout performance she needed to stick around.
Rob Taylor (Team Christina): Taylor played piano, at least initially, on Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You," which he dedicated to the father who had influenced him, skipped out of his life and returned to it following his appearance on “The Voice.” Williams called the performance “masterful.” Aguilera said Taylor had shown his “vulnerability” and called his talent “so special,” “so rare” and “so important in this competition.” She was, she said, “so moved” and “so touched.”
Corey Kent White (Team Blake): The sole remaining country singer in the competition, White tried to take things up-beat – while still retaining his girl appeal -- with George Strait’s “Unwound.” Levine congratulated him on his consistent improvement, but Shelton looked concerned. Even though White had sung “incredible,” his coach told him, he had messed up the lyrics. “You didn’t get away with it because country music fans” know the words to the song, Shelton warned, but nevertheless said White had handled the flub “like a seasoned pro.” Whether country-music fans forgive White and remain on his side remains to be seen. Shelton seemed unsure.
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrrell): This appealing, charismatic 16-year-old sang the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris,” getting better as he went along. Shelton called him a “great singer,” with a “natural fader” that lets him get softer or louder as he chooses. Aguilera said Fredericks’ performance was “awesome as usual.” And Williams said he had “captured everyone’s attention,” calling him “different,” “special” and “rare.”
India Carney (Team Christina): Carney said the decision to sing Whitney Houston's "Run to You" for an audition for “The Lion King” on Broadway at one point had “backfired,” so she was worried about singing it again here. She gave a fine performance that seemed paler, perhaps, after the fireworks we’d seen from others in the top 10. The coaches were impressed, though. Williams admired Carney’s “crazy, crazy notes” and called her performance “beautiful.” Levine said the people who hadn’t hired her on Broadway were “idiots.” Aguilera said Carney had “conquered” her fear and slayed the song.
We’ll find out tonight what the voters think.