Turn around, bright eyes: A compulsively watchable top 11 'Voice' show

Lyndsey Parker

The ladies continued to shine this week on The Voice, from Janice Freeman’s “Shine” to Addison Agen’s refreshing “A Case of You” to Chloe Kohanski’s blindingly brilliant “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” But Noah Mac also burned brightly on “Electric Love.” All in all, Monday’s top 11 show was another stellar episode in what is surprisingly shaping up to be one of the best Voice seasons ever. Let’s recap.

Janice Freeman (Team Miley)

When I first learned that Janice would be singing “Shine” by ’90s B-listers Collective Soul, I conspiracy-theorized that Voice viewers were trying to sabotage the poor woman. (This week, for the first time in the series’ history, fans voted for the songs contestants would sing.) Surely this would be a worse case of song-choice sabotage than even Adam Levine’s decision to have Adam Cunningham cover “Against All Odds” last week, right? Wrong. Because, against all odds, Janice turned this dreary grunge-lite tune into a sweaty, funky rock ’n’ soul workout, all while looking like the alien love child of David Bowie and Grace Jones in a silver tuxedo jacket and sparkly thigh-high space-socks. While the song didn’t tap into her pain and raw emotion like “Fall for You” or “The Story” did in previous weeks, it was awesome to see her get out of balladeer mode and kick some alt-rock butt. She made me remember why her audition of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” had caught my attention in the first place.

“It’s crazy; I didn’t even like that song that much until you sang it,” said a slightly shady Adam Levine, who clearly feels the same way about Collective Soul as I do. “That’s amazing, that you’re able to transform my opinion of a song that I actually know really well. You just are not normal. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.” Said Miley Cyrus: “I’m going to start crying because I am so proud of you. I really do believe that there is a light shining down on you tonight that gave you all the strength you’ve always had.”

Red Marlow (Team Blake)

It’s interesting that when fans had a say in the song-selection process this week, for Red they didn’t choose a feel-good, down-home, foot-stompin’ number like last week’s uptempo Shenandoah song. Instead, they voted for the stripped-back, storytelling fare that the “country to the core” Red does best. (“It’s a cool perspective to know how the public views you. They want to hear you do a ballad. A Garth ballad,” note Blake Shelton.) Garth Brooks’s “The Dance” was a smart choice — so good going, Amurica! While this wasn’t Red’s best performance of the season, he did “tenderize” the tune nicely, showing a softer side that offset his big, boisterous personality. I predict he’ll have some impressive iTunes numbers this week. And if he wants to keep climbing the iTunes chart, he and Blake should heed America’s advice and give the people what they want — more heartfelt country balladry like this.

“How powerful it is when you can silence the crowd, the way you stood there and commanded the room. … It shows that you are owning the moment and you’re drawing them in. And that’s what shows your star power and the power of music,” said Jennifer Hudson. “The reason you’re such a great storyteller is because you sing with pure simple honesty, and man, you can’t fake that. Everything that you sing, we know comes from your heart,” said Blake.

Shi’Ann Jones (Team J.Hud)

I’d predicted Shi’Ann would be in the bottom two last week, and while she escaped elimination despite her low iTunes chart ranking (outside the top 100), I think her number might be up this week. Once again, the admittedly talented but very green 15-year-old showed her age and inexperience doing “Listen.” Yes, yet another Beyoncé song, and another Dreamgirls song — hardly firsts this season. Everything about this performance was odd and off — although, to be fair, it was not poor Shi’Ann’s fault that the director sat her down on a weird Forest Gump park bench atop an Astroturf lawn and in front a bunch of floral screensavers that looked only slightly more high-tech than Flying Toasters. However, it’s unclear why she spent about half of her performance sitting stiffly on that bench, which was a pretty underwhelming presentation. And once she finally stood up, things got pageant-y, fast, and her voice grew increasingly shouty and her enunciation more garbled. Even her trademark voice-break, which has lent some of her past performances character, didn’t work. This was not good.

“Unbelievable. I don’t know who’s more proud, your dad or your coach,” said host Carson Daly. My guess would be Shi’Ann’s father, actually, but all of the coaches appeared impressed. Jennifer called Shi’Ann “an old soul,” and Miley called Shi’Ann “a total princess,” raving, “Sometimes it’s hard to find that realism and texture and [someone who] believes in what you’re saying. I just believed every word that you said.” I guess Miley didn’t have as much trouble understanding Shi’Ann’s mushmouthed diction as I did tonight.

Adam Cunningham (Team Adam)

After his ill-advised Phil Collins cover nearly got him kicked off the show last week, this week Adam the C was back to his signature sound. “How lucky am I to be singing a song by Tom Petty? I’ve got that classic rock sound, I’ve got that Southern country sound, and this song is the perfect combination of the two,” he said with relief, when he found out he was doing “American Girl.” This was an unfussy, workmanlike performance, hardly the standout of the night, but it was solid and not a cringeworthy disaster, so it was a major improvement from last Monday. His tendency to mistake volume for emotion still got the better of him, as he was half-shouting the song by the end. (Red was the better country storyteller of the night; it didn’t seem like Adam C. really grasped the pathos of Petty’s heartbreaking Heartbreaker lyrics.) But at least he seemed comfortable onstage.

“I was surprised last week when you were in the bottom two. I would be shocked, though, if this week if that happened, because you not only performed with a lot of energy, but you delivered more the kind of vocal that shows that you deserve to be in this competition till the end,” said Blake. “This was a big moment. We had to figure out how to kind of crack the code and get you out of a place that you didn’t belong in the first place. … I think you gave them even more than you needed to tonight,” said Adam L. We shall see. There is hope for Cunningham, but I suspect his momentum may have already slowed and that greater stars have already emerged this season.

Brooke Simpson (Team Miley)

Per Miley’s suggestion, Brooke, a full-blooded Native American from the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, paid tribute to her heritage this week by giving P!nk’s “What About Us” a tribal feel with a drum circle of tom-toms. “It’s going to be about all the tribes out there that don’t get the attention,” Miley explained. The effect sounded more Coldplay/Bastille than Native American to me, but

I appreciated the sentiment and intention, and Brooke’s voice was of course spectacular (P!nk songs are not easy to sing). However, unfortunately, her performance was too smiley and placid. I missed the fire and ferocity of her “Man’s World” and “Praying” numbers. I had expected more personality from such a personal performance, and even when Brooke did emote, the effect was too Broadway.

Adam disagreed, saying, “That song, whatever it means to [P!nk], you were able to take it in this scenario and apply it to what your story is, who you are. That’s a special ability.” Miley concurred, saying, “I’m the pop star sitting here, and I don’t even like pop music half the time. I don’t even like my own pop music most of the time. … So in the beginning I always fought back about doing mainstream music, because when something is on the radio and people know it so well, it’s hard to make it your own. But you did it perfectly this week.”

Davon Fleming (Team J.Hud)

Davon did another Whitney Houston song earlier this season (“I’m Your Baby Tonight,” in the Battles), but apparently his fans enjoyed that, because they voted for him to do “I Have Nothing” this week. I would have liked for him to try something a little more current … but since Davon is one of the few contestants this season (or any season) that can do Whitney justice, and he specializes in flipping female R&B ballads (note his previous excellent covers of Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé), I couldn’t really be mad about the choice. I knew he’d pull it off. Starting soft and subdued, Davon’s falsetto drew me in, as did his facial expressions — this is one contestant that really knows how to work the camera. He gives good face. He also gives good voice, because when he finally got to those power notes, he nailed it. This was shoe-toss-worthy.

“You’ve been one of my favorites in the competition. Your singing is incredible. As a coach from an opposing team, you have been a huge thorn in my side, also, because I don’t think anybody else in the competition sings with so much dynamics,” said Blake. Adam said it was “impossible” and “a miracle” that Davon was able to handle this song, and Jennifer added, “It is not easy for a male vocalist to sing a female song. … The way you sing and the level you sing on, I don’t think it could get any higher. I feel like the competition needs this, and the music industry needs this.”

Ashland Craft (Team Miley)

Last week, Ashland and Miley struggled to choose between Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” and the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.” They ultimately went with the former, but apparently America disagreed, because this week fans voted for Ashland to sing … yep, you guessed it, “Chicken Fried.” But, sadly, the result wasn’t much more memorable than last week’s “Delta Dawn.” Everything about this performance was clichéd, from the lyrics about cold beer and broken-in jeans, to the bad county fair stage set decorated with bales of fake hay, to the pandering ad-lib “This one goes out to small towns everywhere,” to Ashland’s red/white/blue fringed Hee Haw outfit. And the performance was actually more ho-hum than Hee Haw, as this song was hardly an effective showcase for Ashland’s vocal range. Was Ashland trying to out-country Red Marlow? If so, it didn’t work.

Adam thought it did work, telling Ashland, “I think that there was something about you doing a little more straightahead thing” and claiming he liked that this wasn’t a big, “crazy-yelling” performance. Miley pulled a page from Paula Abdul’s judging playbook and devoted about 90 percent of her commentary to Ashland’s outfit. “We’re going to talk about Ashland, but can we talk about the fringe? Can we talk about the bedazzled fringe, everyone? It’s just too good!” she raved. That fact that Ashland’s own coach said hardly anything about the performance itself was not a good sign.

Addison Agen (Team Adam)

James Wolpert had a moment with Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” in Season 5, but now this song totally belongs to Addison. (Well, of course, it belongs to Joni, but you know what I mean. No one else should ever cover it on The Voice after tonight.) Adam may have been right when he said Addison “was born to sing this song” and when he predicted that her recording would go “top five or all the way.” (Addison was the only contestant to crack the iTunes top 10 last week, by the way.) From the moment Addison opened her mouth, I knew this was going to be special. She conveyed so much — with her eyes, with her phrasing, with every honey-sweet golden note — delivering a simple, beautiful performance. Nothing felt forced or fussy. It just felt real. It was perfect. I could drink a case of Addison Agen. She’s addictive.

“That is a 16-year-old Addison Agen representing Team Adam. I mean, a great performance is a great performance is a great performance. Sometimes we say, ‘Shi’Ann, you’re 15,’ or ‘You’re 16!’ But great is great,” said uncharacteristically enthusiastic host Carson Daly. (Was that some Shi’Ann shade Carson was throwing?) Jennifer said, “You are gifted. Like, your voice is like your DNA; only you’ve got it. … I can’t wait for it to be on a record, so I can hear it over and over and over again.” Added Adam: “I think this performance of this particular song was the full recognition of what your talent is. This is the perfect moment to have shown it, because you move me. You inspire me and you inspire everyone that you sing to. I think that this is potentially the winner of this show, but more importantly, I think it’s one of my favorite voices I’ve heard in a long time.”

Keisha Renee (Team Blake)

Last week, country-crossover singer Keisha countrified a Gladys Knight classic, and it was her most effective and authentic performance yet. I’d hoped she continue down that road, but America instead voted for her to do “It Matters to Me” by Faith Hill. Oh well. Keisha can sing just about anything — she’s the technically finest singer among the top 11 — so her Faith cover hardly made me lose faith in her, of course. But this was staid and old-fashioned; I wish she’d cut loose a little more. I prefer Keisha when she’s breaking the mold and confounding the public’s expectations about what a country artist should or could be.

“I think you’re going to see yourself very high up on the charts again this week. … When you’re a Faith Hill fan like I am and you know someone’s going to sing it, you say, ‘No one’s going to do it like Faith, because it’s embedded into my brain.’ But it was amazing. All those notes you found made me love this song so much more. I’m going to download it,” said Miley. “It’s hard enough to find songs for people, and with Keisha you’re always thinking, ‘OK, what singers can we find out there that’s got a big enough voice? Has it got to be pop or whatever?’ Keisha is always the first one to say, ‘No, Blake, I want to do country.’ Let me tell you what: You just delivered a solid, solid country song.” We will see if this is the Keisha Renee that America really wants; Miley and Blake could be right.

Noah Mac (Team J.Hud)

And the night wrapped magnificently with my two favorite indie kids, starting with 17-year-old phenom Noah, who stayed up all night creating an entire orchestral arrangement on his laptop for his dark, deconstructed cover of “Electric Love” by BØRNS. I’m surprised America picked this relatively obscure song, but hey — good going again, America! I loved what Noah did with this track. At first, I didn’t think his slowed-to-a-crawl arrangement and mournful delivery would work with such an effervescent alt-pop festival favorite, but it worked. Oh, how it worked. There was a snow-covered-volcano vibe to this performance, all icy demeanor and slow-burning intensity — and it was epic, and so current and cool. Noah’s talent truly is lightning in a bottle.

“It was a really smart, really cool, modern thing that happened up here. I love seeing that. I love seeing someone push it a little bit, especially on this show. Kudos. You did everything right tonight,” said Adam. “You were electric. You owned that stage. You took every inch of your opportunity to show the star you are, that I know will be at the top of the charts and in this competition. No one can tell me different. You are already there,” said Jennifer.

Chloe Kohanski (Team Blake)

Turn around, bright eyes … and feast those eyes on the coolest performance of the night. And the coolest thing about it wasn’t even those seemingly Salvador Dali-inspired glass tears affixed to Chloe’s face! (Sorry, but Ashland’s bedazzled fringe ain’t got nothin’ on Chloe’s press-on unicorn tears.) “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was the ideal vehicle for Chloe’s raspy, rangy, classic-rock voice (fans have been tweeting her to sing it all season long), and she poured her entire self — blood, sweat, and glittery tears, body and soul — into this goose-bump-raising performance. She was so passionate, in fact, that she was crying real tears by the song’s fantastic finish. Wow. When Chloe belted, “Forever’s gonna start tonight,” it sounded like she was singing about her own career. This was a star-making moment.

“You represent all the original, free-spirited, freaky, do-what-you-want, do-who-you-are people. I’m in that club,” proclaimed Chloe’s former coach, Miley, who must be seriously kicking herself by now. “I know everybody has their different opinions about who’s the frontrunner in this competition, but I just want to say that, ladies and gentlemen, Chloe just set the bar. The bar’s up there. You can’t reach it,” decalred Blake. Yes, if there is any performance this week that can overtake Addison’s “A Case of You” on the iTunes chart, it will be Chloe’s standing-ovation-garnering tour de force. Total eclipse of the competition, amirite?

As for who will be in the bottom two, I predict it will be Shi’Ann Jones and Ashland Craft … with a possibility that Adam Cunningham will be up for elimination instead of Ashland, because historically and statistically, that’s how it usually works out with previously Instant-Saved contestants. As for who will go home, that will come down to song selection, but I have a feeling that Shi’Ann will go for the sort of mighty fight song that scores votes, so she could prevail.

Tune in Tuesday to find out if I’m right! See you then.

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