When Kelly Clarkson returned to The Voice this Monday for her second night as a Knockout Rounds adviser, the original winner of the Show That Shan’t Be Named was the subject of a couple of tributes — like when one contestant sang Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” (Kelly’s breakthrough song on American Idol, Season 1), or when another covered Kelly’s own “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” But only one contestant made Kelly’s hazel eyes blue. Yes, Kelly actually cried, Paula Abdul-style, over a heartfelt performance by young Noah Mac.
While Noah’s cover of James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” wasn’t that sob-inducing — if you really want to cry a river, rewatch Kelly’s “Piece by Piece” on Idol last year, a performance so raw and powerful that I weep just thinking about it — the fact that Noah had Kelly welling up and yelling for future U2 and Coldplay covers bodes well for his future on The Voice. Below, check out his performance, along with a full recap of Monday’s Knockouts.
TEAM MILEY: Brooke Simpson vs. Stephan Marcellus
Brooke, a hyped contestant since the Blinds, took on the above-mentioned “Natural Woman,” and while she shied away from Kelly’s famous dogs-can-hear-from-outer-space money note, she had her own self-assured take on the sexy soul standard, serenading her supportive husband and showing off her previously unseen sultry side. Damnnnn. Brooke sounded like a natural woman indeed. Everything about this performance was flawless and easy-breezy. “Not only does Brooke have what it takes to be in the industry, I think the industry needs people like her. She’s so lovable on top of being an amazing vocalist,” Kelly raved. Kelly could have easily been talking about herself. This was high praise from one America’s sweetheart to another.
Stephan, a stolen former Team J.Hud contestant who barely turned even one chair after flubbing his lyrics during his audition, and the only man on Miley Cyrus’s otherwise all-girl team, was definitely the underdog here. His song pick, Shontelle’s “Impossible,” was about to prove prophetic. Although Blake Shelton did tell Stephan that he had “that X factor thing” (apparently American Idol mentions are strictly forbidden on The Voice, but references to other singing shows are fair game), and Stephan did showcase some flashy onstage moves, it did not bode well when Miley passive-aggressively told him, “Your voice was enough to overpower [your] mistakes” as he struggled with the song’s switched-up melody lines. He fared decently (and remembered all his words!), but as Jennifer Hudson noted, “At the end of the day, this show is called The Voice, and that there girl [Brooke] right there, she got a voice!”
Stephan has a good attitude about it all, knowing that he was lucky to have made it this far after his “rocky” start. As for Brooke, Adam Levine told her, “See you in the finale.” He may be right.
WINNER: Brooke Simpson
TEAM BLAKE: Anna Catherine DeHart vs. Mitchell Lee
This showdown was so generic, it may as well have been sponsored by Sam’s Choice. In one corner we had Anna, who I barely remember, doing a competent but uninventive and passionless version of Faith Hill’s “Breathe.” It was a challenging and ambitious song pick that earned Blake’s praise, but I can’t give Anna an A for effort (I’ll grudgingly give her a B-), because her performance was not memorable. There was no sparkle, no sex appeal. She wasn’t keeping the Faith.
And in the other corner we had woodworker/dental school dropout/graphic designer/aspiring Nashville star Mitchell, still helping Edwin McCain accrue royalties with the tired old “I’ll Be,” a song that was already dated back when Kelly was competing in American Idol’s Hollywood Week in 2002. Kelly described Mitchell’s tepid rehearsal as “foreplay” — i.e., without any payoff or climax — and while that sex-on-the-brain comment may have been partially motivated by Mitchell’s hunky good looks, I think she was right. Neither of these performances were truly, um, satisfying.
Adam got critical (something the Pollyanna-ish coaches on this show rarely do) and told Mitchell he had “some pitch moments that lasted a little too long,” but of course Blake went with the contestant who “can handle this thing better” — i.e., the hot guy who’ll court the all-important frustrated-housewife demographic. We will see how far Mitchell’s cute face will get him once he’s competing for votes alongside the likes of Brooke Simpson, however.
WINNER: Mitchell Lee
TEAM J.HUD: Jeremiah Miller vs. Noah Mac
Jeremiah once again trotted out his “sob story” about having to miss a crucial high school wrestling tournament in order to appear on The Voice. So? That’s his sob story? Janice Freeman is a single mom who survived cancer. Esera Tuaolo spent years as a closeted gay man while playing in the NFL. Who cares that Jeremiah had to stick to a strict training-season diet of tuna fish and egg whites? Sheesh.
Anyway, obviously it wasn’t teen pop singer Jeremiah’s wrestling tales than made Kelly Clarkson cry. No, it was another teen, Noah, who caused her to tear up during rehearsals. Honestly, Jeremiah should have just quit right then and there and headed back to his wrestling match.
Jeremiah’s cover of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was a too-obvious, on-the-nose choice, and he sounded flat and emotionless, with none of the Biebs’ swagger. He might do all right in a boy band (he probably should have tried out for ABC’s Boy Band, come to think of it), but he’d be the boy who gets stuck in the back, not the Timberlake-style star. I don’t think Noah’s “The River” was as amazing as Kelly did — there were some pitch and breath-control problems — but his performance was passionate, and let’s face it, his hair was fabulous.
“This was my favorite performance because I got a thing for Elvis and you do the whole Elvis swag, and that gets me every time. The hair came down and it was a cool thing. There’s something really rock ’n’ roll about your performance,” gushed Miley. Added an increasingly shady Adam: “I turned for you, Jeremiah, and look, you’re a great singer — but you have this guy Noah over here. Noah, you’re a superstar.” As for Jeremiah’s chances, yes, it was too late to say sorry.
WINNER: Noah Mac
TEAM BLAKE: Kathrina Feigh vs. Keisha Renee
If only Alicia Keys had been a coach this season, Kathrina’s cover of “Girl on Fire” might have given her an edge. I was surprised by this “scrappy” (Adam’s adjective) little fighter with the tiny body and big, big voice. I didn’t know she had that sort of fire in her. Her performance was old-fashioned, yes, and she didn’t bring anything new to the song, but I couldn’t help but admire Kathrina’s hunger and spirit. She had the eye of the tiger, and it was obvious that she really wanted this.
Keisha’s “I Hope You Dance” was another overdone and clichéd song choice, but Keisha made it sound fresh and totally her own. She showcased a beautiful warm tone, excellent control, and emotion that, unlike Kathrina’s more shouty moments, never seemed desperate or forced. “You have so much strength in your vocals, but you’re also such a thoughtful performer. Every lyric that you sang meant something, and you made sure we understood how much it meant to you,” said Blake. It was pretty obvious how this one was going to go, and Blake made the right decision. But at least Kathrina fought the good fight.
WINNER: Keisha Renee
TEAM ADAM: Dylan Gerard vs. Jon Mero
Montages during the Knockouts are rare, and while they don’t always spell doom for the surviving contestant (Matt McAndrew’s Knockout was montaged in Season 7, and he made it all the way to second place), they’re usually not a good sign. Did Dylan tick off the producers so much that they decided to leave his entire performance on the cutting-room floor? Or was Jon’s disco-fevered “Blame It on the Boogie” such corporate party cheese, producers wanted to allot it a bare minimum of screen time — and even keep it off YouTube? I don’t want to blame it on the “Boogie,” but I sure wish I knew what happened behind the scenes.
WINNER: Jon Mero
— Jon Mero (@jonmero) November 7, 2017
TEAM MILEY: Moriah Formica vs. Whitney Fenimore
Whitney didn’t make much of an impression on me in the Blinds, but her Battle Rounds duet of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Adam Pearce made me take notice of the sleeper contestant. The self-described Americana singer settled easily into the Stevie Nicks witchy role. It’s a shame, then, that for her Knockout she went with Train’s sappy and snoozy AOR/MOR ballad “Calling All Angels.” Something by Sheryl Crow (to whom she was compared by Blake) or another roots-rock lady like Lucinda Williams, KT Tunstall, or Shelby Lynne might have showcased her pleasantly twangy style. Whitney did her best here, but the Train song did not do her talents justice, and it looked like she’d soon be on a train home.
Then again, Moriah the badass rocker-grrrl teen (described as a “rock goddess” by Miley) has been unstoppable on this show, so Whitney may have been doomed from the start, regardless of song choice. After previously singing tunes by Heart and the Guess Who, Moriah finally went modern this week with Kelly’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and that was a wise move. While I was annoyed by Moriah’s tendency to let her possibly-not-even-plugged-in electric guitar dangle uselessly from her neck like some sort of oversize fashion pendant — this is a talent show pet peeve of mine in general — her performance was ferocious and fearless, and she nailed every note, which is not easy to do with any Kelly Clarkson song.
“Whitney, the clarity of your voice was shocking to me, and I was able to understand every word that you sang, and it was a great pitch, but Moriah really went for some of the bigger, higher stuff, and it’s just hard to deny how fierce of a performance that was,” said Blake. “Moriah, it’s your presence. It’s your voice. It’s your attitude. I think, for 16 years old, not only do you have an incredible voice, but you’ve got the perfect head on your shoulders to represent rock music,” said Miley, before she made her obvious decision. Adam confessed that he would have stolen Whitney, but since he’d used his one Steal on country singer Adam Cunningham last week, it was not meant to be.
WINNER: Moriah Formica
TEAM ADAM: Adam Pearce vs. Emily Luther
What a totally weird and random pair-up. Clearly Levine was running out of options by this point in the competition, to pit a longhaired Led Zeppelin cover band frontman against a theater-trained jazz chanteuse. One was definitely more of an engaging entertainer, while the other had technically pristine vocals. I’ll let you guess which was which!
In rehearsals, Adam L. told Adam P. to ditch his guitar — which seemed odd, but then again, Moriah’s guitar was superfluous, and last week Dennis Drummond proved that playing guitar, even playing it very well, doesn’t guarantee a win. But I thought Pearce looked lost and uncomfortable onstage without his six-string. Doing Deep Purple’s hoary old “Smoke on the Water,” he paced in restless, nervous circles. I just wanted him to stand still and focus on his vocals for a damn second! Luckily, he redeemed himself at the end with an impressively Dio-esque high note that practically had J.Hud throwing shoes. “Did you hear that note?” she howled. Oh, yeah. I heard it. Everyone heard it. Dogs in outer space heard it!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there was Emily’s classy, controlled take on P!nk’s “Glitter in the Air” — an “extremely poetic song,” crooned in a floor-length Grammy gown. This definitely was not rock ’n’ roll. Adam Levine cautioned Emily that her performance was “almost too perfect,” and he was right — she can be dull and conservative, and seem way older than her 24 years, with none of P!nk’s grit. But there was no denying that she gave the most note-perfect, professional, polished performance of the night.
Adam L. went with Emily, although he pointed out that she could use a little more of Adam P.’s looseness, swagger, and “mojo.” And apparently so could Team Miley, because Miley — after excitedly pumping her fist to the opening bar chords of Pearce’s performance — surprisingly stole Adam P., who will remain to rock the Playoffs after all.
WINNER: Emily Luther / STOLEN: Adam Peace moves to Team Miley
Come back Tuesday, when the Knockouts end, and Kelly Clarkson possibly sheds a few more tears.