Season 8 of “The Voice” on NBC is finally heating up as the preliminary rounds are over and we’re on to the live playoffs. Ten members of the top 20 performed their hearts out Monday night in the hopes America will send them through to the final 12.
It was coach Pharrell Williams’ birthday, and to celebrate, the show put five of his best team members up against five of rival coach Blake Shelton’s. The coaches went head-to-head as their artists left it all on the stage and left America with some of its toughest decisions yet.
Below is a rundown of all 10 performances from the first round of live playoffs.
Sarah Potenza (Team Blake)
Song: “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Potenza is one of the most unique voices in the competition to date. Her Janis Joplin approach to rock songs is pushing her through the competition at lightning speed. However, she bit off a bit more than she could chew last night by going after this monster rock anthem. She rubbed her own particular brand of rock 'n' roll on the track but, in the end, it just didn't soar.
It started very slow, which is a tough speed for her to operate at. Potenza’s is a voice that needs to be unleashed, not confined to a soulful melody. The song picked up significantly when the faster part kicked in, but it was too little too late. She opened the show with what turned out to be one of the weaker performances of the night.
Caitlin Caporale (Team Pharrell)
Song: “Best Thing I Never Had” by Beyoncé
Although she didn’t have a tough act to follow, Caporale shined in what was, hands down, her best performance of Season 8 thus far. A relatively low-key artist, Caporale took a difficult song and made it her own. She’s a very improvisational singer who was able to navigate the melody and keep the audience’s attention the entire time. Her vocals got away from her at times, but nothing that can’t be tightened up next week. She gave one of the better performances of the night. Still, there were several great performances Monday and a lot of the credit for hers has to go to her coach and the arrangement of the song. Caporale deserves to move forward, but she still has a bit to prove before she’s No. 1 material.
Hannah Kirby (Team Blake)
Song: “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King
OK, Hannah Kirby is, without a doubt, the most entertaining performer that this competition has. We can squabble over who is the better singer all we want, but no one in the competition right now can touch her on sheer showmanship. Her dance moves are eclectic to say the least and her vocals are enough to keep the audience entertained. Her former coach Pharrell commented on how she lets the lyrics move her body rather than the melody, which translates to a whole lot of fun. If entertainment value is to be factored into the competition, Kirby should win after Monday night.
Lowell Oakley (Team Pharrell)
Song: “Jealous” by Nick Jonas
After his performance in the Knockout Rounds, Oakley was told by the judges to work on loosening up. On Monday, he more than achieved that goal with his rendition of the Nick Jonas hit. He was taking the mic out of the stand, interacting with the audience and making bold choices with the song – and he did it all while navigating a falsetto that no one really knew he had. Blake Shelton even went as far as to call it worthy of fellow coach Adam Levine, which, given their rivalry, may or may not be a compliment. Although the backup band at some points drowned out Oakley's voice, he was closer to winning the competition than he was to going home.
Mia Z (Team Pharrell)
Song: “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
To cut right to the chase, Mia Z gave the most surprising performance of the night. Her tough but smoky voice navigated this song perfectly, and she knew it. She slowly paced every inch of the stage, engaging the audience as she went with a swagger that could only convey: “I’ve got this.”
At one point she practically got an applause break from the crowd. Shelton mentioned that, until now, she’s been the most underrated performer in the competition. Z threw a monkey wrench in everyone’s top choices by reminding America why she made it to the top 20 in the first place. While each performer was good, Mia put on a show worthy of a Season 8 winner.
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Blake)
Song: “How Great Thou Art” by Carl Gustav Boberg
In a night of music with great performance value, Hawthorne seemed like the first to really showcase great singing. While all the performers are talented, she took this moment to show off what a great singer can bring to a competition like this. She didn’t dance or move around the stage at all, but she did bring one of the most soulful and powerful songs of the night. While it’s not the type of thing she can do every night and still win the competition, she certainly put her best foot forward.
Corey Kent White (Team Blake)
Song: “Make You Feel My Love” as sung by Garth Brooks
There was a sad note to the performance by the show's only country singer. After White's win in the Knockout Rounds, his sick grandfather passed away.
“The good thing about artists is, we’ve got something to dump all that into,” his coach, Blake Shelton, told him before getting him started with a countryish rendition of the much-covered Bob Dylan song.
Similar to Hawthorne, White managed to put on a great and emotional show that really allowed him to connect with the sorrow he was inevitably feeling. When it was over, his father was shown in the audience clearly fighting back tears. Still, White was hard to gauge against the other performers simply because he is the only one confined to his particular genre.
Brooke Adee (Team Blake)
Song: “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding
Adee, a former high school band singer, took on a challenging song. She knew that she would have to rise to the challenge to get her voice in shape to handle the song, but she pulled it off flawlessly and, despite some questionable vocal choices, didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of her ability to show emotion. Coach Christina Aguilera said her face was too rigid and focused on what she was trying to sing. Still, the show is called “The Voice” and she’s certainly got a good one.
Meghan Linsey (Team Blake)
Song: “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic
Being a seasoned road performer, Linsey has experience on her side in a way that some of her younger and greener contestants do not. It showed last night as she put on the most crowd-beloved performance of the night. When she was finished, Aguilera couldn’t get her comments out because the audience was still cheering so much. Between Linsey and some of the other irons Shelton’s got in the fire, his team looks like it could go all the way once again this season.
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell)
Song: “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne
The night closed out in the best way possible with the unique voice of the youngest remaining member of Season 8. The 16-year-old Fredericks has made a name for himself by arranging some of the most creative covers the show has ever seen. This week saw him enter the studio and really impress his coach by directing the band and letting them know what he wanted. Williams was mostly impressed that he spoke about the song in terms of emotion and storytelling as opposed to colder more sterile industry terms. At the end of the day, Fredericks is just a small-town boy who wants to stand behind his guitar and sing good music. That genuine passion is something that cannot be faked and it’s something that no other performer in Season 8 can touch.
“The Voice” will continue with the Live Playoff Rounds Tuesday night and again on Wednesday. Voting is open until noon EDT Tuesday to keep any of the above players in the competition.