7:10pm PT by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
'The Voice': Song Choice Matters on First Night of Knockout Round
The Knockouts kicked off on The Voice tonight, with season 11’s key advisers, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, joining to help prepare the remaining artists for this next stage of the competition. Coaches Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus and Adam Levine again had to make tough decisions as they determined who would stay and who would go. Artists who advance from this round will perform in the high-stakes Live Playoffs in a couple of weeks. Each coach only has one steal this round.
The first Knockout performances came from Team Blake. Shelton had Josh Gallagher and Sundance Head go up against each other because he said both are the most likely to be heard on country radio, and he thinks whoever prevailed should have that lane to themselves going into the Live Playoffs. Head opted to sing Cyrus’ “The Climb.” “Your pitch is so fantastic” McGraw said during Head’s rehearsal, but he warned him that his timing could sometimes get “screwy.” Hill encouraged him to just play guitar without a band. Gallagher, meanwhile, decided to sing “My Maria” by Brooks & Dunn. “He’s got to nail it” Hill said of the song's falsetto. “Josh has chosen the mother of country songs,” added Shelton.
Gallagher was the first up, and Cyrus was impressed when he hit the high notes. It was a solid country performance, and Keys noted afterward that it was “super fluid” and easy for him to churn out that performance. But Head left a bigger impression with his original cover of Cyrus’ ballad. “I love that it was just you on guitar” said Keys, making it clear that Hill’s creative guidance led him in the right direction. Both are reliably strong country singers, but Head showcased more creativity and risk-taking. Shelton picked Head as the winner, and Levine wasted no time in stealing Gallagher for Team Adam, using up his only steal of the round.
Team Alicia was up next. “There is a kindredness between soul and country music,” said Keys, adding that McGraw and Hill understand that connection. She paired Kylie Rothfield with this season’s only duo, Whitney & Shannon. Rothfield, who recently recovered from a vocal hemorrhage, decided to sing her own sultry rendition of “Hound Dog.” She showed a strong sense of musicality in her rehearsals, and both advisers were impressed. The sisters chose to sing “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz, explaining that they emotionally connect with the lyrics. “They’re very good at identifying what works for them,” said Keys. Hill echoed one of season 11’s recurring sentiments: that Whitney and Shannon sound like one voice when they sing, perfectly in tune with one another.
Rothfield was up first, accompanying herself on the guitar and giving a soulful and gritty performance. She had the more interesting song choice. The coaches were taken off guard by her stellar performance. The sisters delivered a lovely performance, but it didn’t really feel as special as Rothfield’s. They’re undeniably talented, but it would have been more interesting to see them take on a more challenging song. “I don’t think you can go wrong here,” said Shelton. Keys noted that all three are unexpected in their artistry. She picked Rothfield as the winner.
Team Miley’s Ali Caldwell and Lauren Diaz were up next. Caldwell chose to sing “No Ordinary Love.” “I can literally leave my heart and soul on this stage,” she said of her song choice. “She completely made this song her own,” Cyrus said during her rehearsal. Diaz picked “Rise Up” by Andra Day, which she called her “life song.” McGraw encouraged her to really tell the song’s story when singing, while Cyrus gave her tips for putting more power behind the vocals. “Just be you,” said Cyrus.
Diaz sang first, and she had some breathing issues at the beginning, but overall it was a powerful and emotional performance with a strong narrative. She’s an impressive vocalist, and the coaches praised her singing abilities. Caldwell was up next with her rendition of “No Ordinary Love” by Sade. Caldwell was effortless and confident in her performing, nailing her runs and also connecting with the lyrics on a deep emotional level. She indeed left her heart and soul on the stage, leaving Cyrus with a tough decision to make. “To say that you could win this thing would be an understatement,” Levine said about Caldwell, but he added that Diaz was stronger on the emotional front. “I’m drenched in sweat,” said Cyrus. After the commercial break, her decision was revealed: Caldwell will continue on to represent Team Miley in the Live Playoffs.
The next Knockout performances came from Team Adam. Dave Moisan, who used to be on Team Alicia before Levine stole him during the Battle Round, faced Simone Gundy. Moisan chose “Like I Can” by Sam Smith, which he said makes him think about how much he loves his wife. Hill and McGraw said they could see him thinking too much, but he improved a lot after working with them. Gundy chose “Midnight Train to Georgia,” noting that she connects with the song’s message about love. McGraw said that she has strong singing instincts and seems natural when performing.
Moisan was a bit more natural than usual in his performance, but he still lacks the true star quality that Gundy undeniably possesses. There was something a little too polished and produced about Moisan. Gundy, meanwhile, gave the more vocally and emotionally complex performance, working the audience and showcasing impressive runs. Keys praised Moisan’s beautiful voice but added that she didn’t think it was the best song choice. Levine appreciated both of their approaches to the Knockout Round, but he picked Gundy to continue to the Live Playoffs. It was the obvious choice.
Team Alicia’s next matchup was young artists Courtnie Ramirez and We McDonald. Ramirez was on Team Miley before Keys stole her after the Battle Round. She chose to sing “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce for her Knockout song. She admitted that the song is not like anything she has ever done on the show up to this point, but said it represents the kind of inspirational music she hopes to make. Keys helped her shape the phrasing and dynamics in rehearsal, and McGraw helped her with her breathing. McDonald chose to sing “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige because she said she used to sing it with her mom whenever either of them was having a bad day. Hill and McGraw were blown away by McDonald’s unexpected voice, as everyone has been this season. Hill was moved to tears during her rehearsal.
Ramirez was up first, and her performance was both vulnerable and powerful. She had command over those low notes and really got to show off her range. It was her most memorable performance of the season so far. But it’s tough to stand out when up against McDonald. There truly isn’t anyone else like her in the competition, and her vocals are mesmerizing. Shelton praised Ramirez’s voice and presence and noted that neither artist should go home. “These are two 17-year-old girls,” Keys emphasized, asking the audience to stand on their feet and scream for both artists. “I’m really in awe of both of you,” she said. Keys joked that she wanted both artists to be the winners. But she ultimately went with McDonald. Levine said he would have stolen Ramirez if he still had a steal left.
The last Knockout matchup of the night came from Team Adam. Levine pit Jason Warrior against Riley Elmore. Young crooner Elmore chose to sing “Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Buble, which was a good fit for his tone and style. Levine encouraged him to really focus on his performing skills. Warrior picked “I Want You” by Luke James in order to show his R&B side. Hill was blown away by Warrior’s tone and how high he could go. She helped him figure out how to come back down from that high part, strengthening the vocal structure of his cover.
Elmore went first, delivering yet another performance that proves he’s a seasoned artist for just being 16 years old. He was more confident and present in his final performance than in his rehearsal, and he hammed it up for the audience. But something about him feels a little gimmicky. Warrior’s performance, on the other hand, rang with authenticity and effortless charm. His song choice highlighted his strengths, and it was a great performance to end the episode on. Shelton said Warrior got lost in the moment in a good way. “I would probably go with Jason,” he added. Elmore is impressive, but Warrior has the complete package. Levine went with Elmore though, saying that he’s unlike anyone else they’ve ever had on the show. Shelton used his Knockouts steal to scoop up Warrior and carry him through to the Live Performances.
The Knockout Round continues tomorrow. What did you think of tonight’s performances?