During the final night of The Voice Season 21 Knockout Rounds Monday, Team Legend power-singer and single mom Shadale belted Shontelle’s “Impossible,” explaining her connection to the triumph-of-the-spirit ballad. “There was a point in my life where my dreams did seem impossible. Growing up, it was an unsettling feeling to see my parents struggle. We were always moving. Eventually, we became homeless. In that time, music was my safety blanket. This song is about being in a situation that you thought you would never be in. When I sing this song, I think about that little girl and all the times that I wanted to give up and I chose not to.”
Once Shadale got onstage, she let all that raw passion and pain come through, so much so that her proud coach, John Legend, compared her to the almighty Mary J. Blige. “[Mary] really talks to the audience and talks about her struggles that she’s been through, and you feel her emotion coming through everything she does. And I think that’s what we felt today. I think, vocally, you gave your best performance that you’ve given. And the thing that made it break through was the emotion,” John told Shadale.
But the coach to which Shadale really broke through was fellow single mom Kelly Clarkson, who also had a rough childhood. Kelly said through tears that she was “shook” by Shadale’s performance. “It’s such an important thing in the Knockouts to show us who you are and what you’re feeling, and at the very end, I was like, ‘What?’” Kelly gasped, dabbing her misty eyes with a tissue. “It’s really hard to tap into your emotions and still be able to carry the song, and I know at the very end, you got very emotional. It was just such a perfect song choice, and I obviously connected to your message.”
Shadale herself seemed about to break down as she shared this intimate moment with Kelly, clasping her hand over her mouth, but held it together and remained stoic as she took in the coaches’ praise.
Shadale’s Knockout opponent, fringy-frocked show-woman Samara Brown, did a solid, if surface-level job, with Tina Turner’s “The Best,” but a dry-eyed Kelly said she “missed the hurt and rasp” that Tina is known for, and the song title proved not to be prophetic. John’s decision was clear, and he picked Shadale, who was, well, simply the best. “Shadale made every coach feel everything she was communicating. She won this Knockout by being connected to the song, and I’m very curious to see how she taps into that in the following rounds,” he gushed.
While Shadale’s victory was no shocker, literally every other Knockout result of Monday’s episode was surprising. These were the other curveball-filled performances of Season 21’s final Knockout Rounds:
TEAM BLAKE: Carson Peters vs. Lana Scott
Lana’s cover of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” was pretty and quirky, and the “most Lana” performance of the season, according to Lana herself. Ariana Grande loved her “gorgeous country-pop voice”; John praised the “piercing quality” of this “songbird”; and Kelly even compared Lana to Pam Tillis, saying her voice “cut right through.” But still, I thought a dark horse like Lana would be clobbered by four-chair darling Carter, a pro-level bluegrass fiddler who first played the Grand Ole Opry at age 7 and is even pals with Ricky Skaggs. I certainly figured Blake Shelton would be in heaven listening to Carter’s song choice, “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait, which Blake said “shows you how deep his roots run in country music.”
But while Carter brought something unique to the table with his musicianship (this was the first time he’d actually played his fiddle on The Voice), his multi-tasking may have compromised his vocals. (“There were just moments when the notes needed more breath support,” John noted, while Kelly thought Carter staying so much in his upper register was “a little weird.”) And maybe the song choice was just too sacred of ground. (Kelly said covering Strait was “a big deal,” and Blake admitted it was “a tall order.”)
Lana definitely showcased more heart and soul, and no one was more surprised by this than Blake, who confessed to her, “Up until right now, you’ve kind of flown under the radar on the show.” But he made his decision “based on what happened right now,” and while it was a “heartbreaker” for him, he chose Lana. He even said he believed Lana had a clearer path to the finale than any other country singer of Season 21! This verdict was just the first of many Monday surprises.
WINNER: Lana Scott
TEAM ARIANA: Bella DeNapoli vs. Katherine Ann Mohler
Bella’s cover of Sia’s “Chandelier,” inspired by a dark and despairing time in her life when she gave up on music after her girl group fell apart, was competent, but I was underwhelmed. The power in was lacking — Mega-Mentor Ed Sheeran’s advice to be more “explosive” at the starts of the chorus sadly went unheeded — and then when she did try to go for it at the end, she went off the rails a bit. Still, Bella did pull off a few “wow” moments. Sia is not easy to sing.
Katherine, however, was a revelation doing her dad’s favorite song, “Poison” — yes, the Bell Biv DeVoe pop banger — in her own creepy alt-pop style. This was a big song-flip, which Katherine herself acknowledged as “definitely risky.” She made it “very dark, very eerie,” like something from an American Horror Story soundtrack sung by Amy Lee, and it was one of the most exciting and daring Voice performances in ages. I assumed the risk would pay off, even if John wasn’t so sure (he wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, but he praised Katherine’s boldness). Cover queen Kelly was for sure impressed, calling this “such an artistic cool move” and telling Katherine, “You made it more cinematic.”
I feel Ariana should have rewarded Katherine’s bravery and creativity, but in another shocker, she went with the safer bet: her fellow Italian diva Bella. Blake was the only coach with a Steal left in play, but of course he didn’t use it on Katherine, because he didn’t even known the original “Poison” — and therefore had no idea just how much Katherine had twisted the song to make it her own.
WINNER: Bella DeNapoli
TEAM KELLY: Jeremy Rosado vs. Xavier Cornell
Jeremy, a former American Idol contestant, pulled a page from the old-school Idol playbook by doing a gender-flipped take on a Whitney Houston power ballad, “Run to You.” Jeremy joked that taking on such a challenging song by one of the greatest vocalists of all time was “either great decision or a bad decision,” and Ariana said it was the “tallest of orders,” but Ed said it was a “genius stroke.” I do think this was a technically near-flawless performance, and, like Kelly, I appreciated Jeremy’s “masculine perspective.” But overall, it was an old-fashioned performance.
Conversely, 17-year-old Xavier’s cover of “Falling Slowly” from Once wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of heart and vibe, effectively tapping into both his theater-kid roots and his singer-songwriter style. My only complaint was he said this was the first song he ever learned on guitar, but he didn’t play guitar tonight, oddly. But he had what Blake called a “wild factor that’s so fun to listen to” and “really cool tone that would stand out on the radio,” and even without his guitar, he seemed emotionally connected throughout. This performance really resonated with me.
But Kelly, noting that she’d been impressed by how Jeremy can sing in any genre (one of his earlier performances was a Rascal Flatts song), made her decision based on overall “scope”— and she chose Jeremy. Once again, I was disappointed and surprised. If she’d based her decision on solely this week’s performances, I have no doubt that Xavier would have prevailed.
WINNER: Jeremy Rosado
TEAM BLAKE: Peedy Chavis vs. Berritt Haynes
This Knockout was not shown in full, and I could see why. Berritt’s cover of All-4-One’s “And I Swear” was wooden and awkward (what a weird song choice for this pop-rock singer-songwriter), and teen Elvis impersonator Peedy was still annoyingly hamming it up with his ‘70s Vegas cosplay and pelvis-thrusting Ed Sullivan-meets-Gong Show moves on “Unchain My Heart.” Well, at least Peedy was confident and sold the song and seemed to be trying (albeit trying too hard), so I understand why he advanced. But it was perhaps the biggest shock of the night when Blake declared that Peedy was his “bold prediction for the finale.” Seriously?
WINNER: Peedy Chavis
TEAM ARIANA: Jim & Sasha Allen vs. Manny Keith
Jim and Sasha’s “Home,” by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, was an adorable pick for a father/son duo, and their performance was warm and inviting. Kelly called their onstage chemistry a “magical thing” and said, “You’ll hopefully inspire families to be a little more close-knit.” And Blake, of course not knowing the song, told them “Home” sounded “like something you guys would have written.”
But Manny was the revelation here. Doing “Golden” by Harry Styles in a royal purple suit that Harry himself (or even Prince) would covet, he exhibited “the best stage presence of the season” according to Ed, even dramatically dropping to his knees at the end of the number. He gave it his all, like he was singing for the Instant Save on a Live Playoffs results night, and his dynamic performance instantly erased all memory of the Allens’ laid-back, strummy “Home” from my short-term memory. “You put so much of your body into the performance, and it just felt so joyful,” John raved.
And then… Ariana picked Jim and Sasha. Like I said, there were a lot of head-scratchers tonight.
WINNER: Jim & Sasha Allen
TEAM LEGEND: Paris Winningham vs. Jershika
I was flummoxed all evening that Blake wasn’t using his Steal on any of the above-mentioned worthy contestants, but I suppose it’s because he knew that this evenly matched Knockout, the last of the season, was fast approaching. Jershika’s cover of “Inseparable” by Natalie Cole was a classy and classic performance, exuding joy. (She took John’s direction well when he advised her to be less calculated and just let the song flow.) But Paris’s “Tennessee Whisky” was just a bit more raw and passionate, a real take-us-to-church tour de force. Ed’s advice to strip that song back and “make Paris’s voice the star” was enough in itself for Ed to earn his NBC paycheck. The coaches all looked awestruck by the fiery result.
“Either one is magical, and I am so mad I don’t have a Steal!” said Kelly of these two contestants. Ariana also said both “next-level” performances had left her “drained emotionally” (in a good way). And then… John picked Jershika. Again, this would not have been my prediction or choice. But of course, Blake was ready to swoop in and save the day — and save Paris. “He sang a country song for God’s sake!” he quipped.
WINNER: Jershika / STOLEN: Paris Winningham moves to Team Blake
While Monday was packed with perplexing verdicts, there are four Season 21 contestants — Samara Brown among them — that will get another chance to compete in next week’s Live Playoffs, via a public Twitter vote. And once again, this is surprising. Each of the coaches chose one eliminated singer for a wild-card spot, and interestingly, both Kelly and Ariana chose artists who lost their Battle Rounds several weeks ago. Along with Samara repping Team Legend, the other second-chancers are Team Blake’s teen football girl Hailey Green, Team Ariana’s singing nurse Vaughn Mugol, Team Kelly’s soul dynamo Aaron Hines. I’d go with Aaron here, followed by Hailey, but we will have to wait till next Monday to find out who’s joining the top 20. See you then.
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