The Voice Live Playoffs have finally arrived for 20 artists who survived the Blinds, the Battles and the Knockouts. We'll have two evenings of Live Playoff performances during which you, America, will vote for your favorite artists and performances. No doubt the contestants have spent the last couple of weeks training with coaches Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine, but hopefully everyone got a little downtime before the circus of performing live overtakes their lives from now until someone is crowned the winner of The Voice season 8.
We're live blogging The Voice Playoffs as Team Blake and Team Pharrell take the stage, so make sure you refresh your browser page every 10 minutes or so to keep up with our commentary. Feel free to join in on the conversation in the comments section below and I will do the same.
The Artists Most Likely to Go Home First
Every artist who has made it this far is gifted, but only 12 will advance to the next round. That means eight of these artists will give their last solo performance in the Playoffs. At this stage in the competition, evaluating performances gets increasingly difficult -- sometimes even painful -- but everyone begins to fall into one of three categories of artists: those most likely to go home first, those who could still surprise us, and those who are the most serious contenders already.
For the Live Playoffs, for various reasons, I'm predicting the following artists will receive the fewest votes from viewers and therefore be sent home: Brian Johnson, Lowell Oakley, Rob Taylor, Deanna Johnson, Kimberly Nichole, Nathan Hermida, Joshua Davis and Hannah Kirby. Those who could still surprise us are: Sarah Potenza, Caitlin Caporale, Lexi Davila, Koryn Hawthorne, Sonic and Tonya Boyd-Cannon. Finally, the ones who are already blowing our boots off are: India Carney, Sawyer Fredericks, Brooke Adee, Mia Z, Corey Kent White and Meghan Linsey. During the results show, we'll see if America agrees.
Team Blake and Team Pharrell are on Deck for Night 1
Carson Daly starts off by letting us know what we can expect for the evening. Two teams will perform in this episode hoping to get your votes. First, we've got Team Blake and Team Pharrell followed on Night 2 by Team Christina and Team Adam. At this time, each team has five players, of which only three will advance to the Top 12. Let's get started!
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 Perform "Sugar"
Sporting a Pinky Blinders hairstyle, Adam takes the stage with his latest hit, "Sugar." What can I say? It's a live performance and the first ever on season 8 of The Voice, so people are pretty happy. Adam's black pants pockets are full of tennis balls and other toys as usual, and we're off to the races.
Carson announces that the performances in this round will be stripped down. In other words, the accompaniment will be minimal in comparison to what we've seen so far this season. The focus will be on the artists' vocals. That sounds awesome, Carson, but it doesn't hold true for every performance of the evening.
Sarah Potenza Performs "Free Bird"
Carson says Sarah Potenza will be the first contender on deck. I love this gal, though I wish she'd let us see those sparkly beautiful eyes without the distraction of her signature white frames.
Sarah makes a forceful statement about who she wants to be as a performer right off the bat. What says southern hard-rock better than this homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd? Sarah starts out mellow in a fringy and distracting white leather jacket. Halfway through the number, she lets her Janis Joplin flag fly and goes to town. What happened to the music being stripped down, though? It's difficult to hear and understand her words in that second half. The performance is okay, but not outstanding.
Caitlin Caporale Performs "Best Thing I Never Had"
This long-legged New Yorker has chosen this Beyonce standard. Her voice is as beautiful as she herself is, but I prefer her performance of "Warrior" in the Knockouts to this one. She overshoots some of her high notes by a hair, but it doesn't detract much. She does the song justice and the coaches think she could be a real threat to the other performers.
Hannah Kirby Performs "I Feel the Earth Move"
Though she's never had a boyfriend, despite the fact that she's a beautiful and unique woman with lots of fire under the hood, Hannah has no trouble whatsoever convincing us with this performance that she's felt the earth move under her feet. Her performance is fun and active. She says the full Hannah has yet to be released. Well, if she's gonna release that side of herself, now is the time to do it. This Carole King song keeps Hannah in her mid-range. If she makes it to the Top 12, we need to hear more of her upper range or at least more vocal variety.
Lowell Oakley Performs "Jealous"
Pharrell advises Lowell to get the hell out of his head and stinkin' relax. He's a handsome guy, but his song choices and his clothing scream uptight and conservative. Until now, he hasn't been able to break out of that vanilla persona he projected on day one. This performance of Nick Jonas' hit song is the loosest we've seen him so far. Is this the first time we've heard his falsetto? I can't remember, which kinda means his previous performances were forgettable.
Mia Z Performs "Ain't No Sunshine"
Mia is up next and the expectations are high. With Mia Z, we are sure to get a killer performance. Her incredible range and her perfect pitch can't deliver anything less. Hopefully, she has chosen a piece that will feature the expected vocal gymnastics and catapult her to the front of the line moving forward. She's also got this growly, soulful, bluesy texture to her voice that sneaks out once in a while and sets her apart from other vocalists with wide ranges.
Now, see? That is what a stripped-down performance is supposed to sound like -- focused on the vocals. Her performance isn't as dynamic as I was hoping, but she kicks major ass with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."
Koryn Hawthorne Performs "How Great Thou Art"
There's something womanly about Koryn's voice. She reminds me of Aretha Franklin, the most original and natural female vocalist in history. Koryn starts out with hands shaking like crazy, but it's not reflected in her vocals. Her performance is powerful, emotional and spine-tingling. For the first time of the night, I get tears in my eyes. What a perfect song choice to truly highlight this woman's ability. America has to send Koryn forward after this; you just have to. Blake calls it already and welcomes her to the Top 12. This is the first song from the Playoffs that I will be downloading from iTunes.
Corey Kent White Performs "To Make You Feel My Love"
Blake has chosen "To Make You Feel My Love," which may be too high for him to perform successfully. The performance is very mellow, but something is missing a little bit. Adam calls it; there could have been some greater build-up and diversity perhaps. America loves cute young singers with a little cry in their voices, so Corey is probably safe, though his previous performances were more impressive.
Brooke Adee Performs "Love Me Like You Do"
Blake gave indie performer Brook Adee this Ellie Goulding song, which she admits is one step out of her comfort zone because of its wandering vocals. Well, we'll see what the coaches think, but I think she does an impressive job with this song. There's something a little Amy Winehouse-y about Brooke. I can't put my finger on it, though. I find her lower register interesting, but I prefer when she slides back up to the higher notes.
Meghan Linsey Performs "Love Runs Out"
Meghan is a favorite of mine, but the clips of her practice concern me. She sounded flat in her first vocals, so my fingers are crossed hoping The Voice producers are just trying to psych us out.
As suspected, Meghan is not at all flat in her eventual performance. She pretty much kicks the shit out of that song. The audience continues screaming while Christina tries to comment. Blake again says this was a Top 12 performance. Did she knock out two of her teammates like she needs to in order to advance? Man, this is going to be a tough call, people.
Sawyer Fredericks Performs "Trouble"
Sawyer is the youngest artist in season 8, but you'd never know it. The kid's got the pimp spot, unsurprisingly. His vibrato is fantastic. Sawyer pours his soul into this Van Morrison-y performance. Sometimes he chews, swallows or just doesn't finish his words, but maybe those familiar with the lyrics automatically hear what's not there.
There's a moment when I think Sawyer forgets the words to the song, but no one says anything during the coach comments. One of his verses is incomprehensible as well. I found the Ray LaMontagne video to compare. LaMontagne does have a couple lines packed with too many words, but LaMontagne's version is much cleaner than Sawyer's. But who cares? Sawyer does an excellent job. Not my favorite of his performances, but it should get him into the Top 12. At least I sure as hell hope so.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)