Television's #1 unscripted series The Voice returns with the Top 12 live performances. The competition continues to get tighter and tougher as we head toward the finale in May. In preparation for this event, the 12 winning artists from the Live Playoffs spent a grueling week practicing with their coaches Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton. Joining the coaches and aspiring artists was country music Hall of Famer and 2015's Most Awarded ACM Female Vocalist of the Year Ms. Reba McEntire. Wow. Talk about star power. I can hear her famous twang in my head right now singing "Little rock, I think I'm gonna have to slip you off." Good times.
So, if you were with us for the Live Playoffs
, you experienced the transformative power of real-time competition. At about this time every season, the wheat is separated from the chaff and some artists crack while others shine with a brilliance that sets them apart like Kimberly Nichole and Deanna Johnson. Then you have delightful surprises like Brian Johnson and Koryn Hawthorne's performances or Hannah Kirby's save in the results episode. Bazinga!
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We're live blogging every episode from now until the finale, folks, so make sure you refresh your browsers every 10 minutes or so. After each performance show, we'll also provide you with performance rankings
as well as a predictions article by on of my colleagues so we get several different view points -- that keeps it interesting for us as well as for you guys out there in TV Land. Please feel free to agree, disagree, rant, whatever it takes to get you through. We enjoy the back and forth as much as you guys do.
Who are the Top 12?
In case you were asleep or on a different planet when the results of the Live Playoffs aired, let me bring you up to speed. America voted to keep Corey Kent White, Meghan Linsey, Kimberly Nichole, India Carney, Joshua Davis, Deanna Johnson, Sawyer Fredericks and Mia Z. Each coach got to save one of the three remaining artists from their team, resulting in the addition of Rob Taylor, Hannah Kirby, Koryn Hawthorne and Brian Johnson to the Top 12. If you're more of a visual person, here's our slideshow to flip through:
Everything's Coming Up Reba
Wow. I just can't say anything but ... wow. With 35 #1 singles and more than 56 million albums sold to her credit, Reba has 56 million reasons to look down on the rest of us slobby couch potatoes, but she does the exact opposite. Blake says she's got a down to earth heart of gold and you know he ain't lyin'. You can tell by the way she speaks and interacts with the artists that Reba's what we call "the real deal."
Hannah Kirby Performs "Edge of Seventeen"
Hannah screams when she lays eyes on Reba. Hannah's mother freaks out even more than her daughter and it's kinda funny. I've always wondered how I'd react if I saw my celebrity crush on stage just waiting to talk to me. Hm. But, where was I? Oh yes ... Hannah.
Hannah hits the stage with lovely lush lashes framing her beautiful eyes and black fringes swirling around the bottom of her dress. Hannah's performance is on the hairy side of screechy at points, but she is working the song and it's a solid performance. By the way, am I the only American who just now learned the name of this song?
Is it even worth mentioning what the coaches say at this point? They aren't judging, saving or choosing between team members any longer. Their job is to advise and encourage, so of course everything they say will be glowing. Their comments to Hannah are a perfect example of this.
Brian Johnson Performs "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"
Brian talks about how difficult it was to read negative comments posted online about his performances. Social media provides a mask to hide behind, which, for some people, allows them to drop their decency filter. This has taken a toll on Brian's confidence. He credits his wife with holding him up and keeping him focused for tonight.
Brian gives a solid performance. It's one he can be proud of, without a doubt. With only two on deck so far, it's hard to tell who will be America's Top 10, so we'll have to wait to see what everyone else brings.
India Carney Performs "Take Me to Church"
India chooses a rock number for her live performance. I'm not a fan of this Hozier piece having only first heard it when Matt McAndrew introduced it in season 7's Top 12. Despite being a McAndrew fan, this song didn't do much of anything for me.
India gives "Take Me to Church" the meaning it was intended for. With Reba and Christina's blessing, India took this song to the dark side. She has the sideways glances that hint she might be able to spin her head all the way around if she wanted to. I half expect her tongue to be black and forked when she opens her mouth. As clean and sweet as this woman is, she delivers a stellar performance that brings out her dark side without making us feel like we've been to hell. Instead, we got a big piece of India heaven.
Mia Z Performs "Miss You"
India and Mia at the front end of this night's event makes me wonder who they are saving for the pimp spot. These are two of the strongest artists of the 12. Okay, we still have Sawyer, Deanna, Meghan and Corey to go. And let's not forget Kimberly. But dang.
During practice, Reba admits she couldn't understand a single word Mia sang. Gulp. Baby girl needs to ah-nun-see-eight. Enunciate! She needs to pronounce those words so America can hear the story she's telling. Of course, the preview is meant to psyche us out because you know she's gonna kill when she takes the stage. She's Mia Z, for Pete's sake.
As for the performance, why the hell did they put her down there in that valley between the instrumentalists? She's already diminutive and even tinier against that tall lighted background. Oh, and I want that dress. Finally, this isn't Mia's most diverse performance despite the wonderful nosebleed register she gives us, but she will make it to the next level because, well ... because she's Mia Z and she kicks wild patootie. Even on her off days, Mia can sing circles around Brian Johnson and Hannah Kirby.
Deanna Johnson Performs "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"
And now for the most breathtakingly stunning artist of the whole bunch. She also has one of the most unique and haunting sounds on the stage today. Deanna and Reba hit it off right away during the practice. Adam advises her to commit 100% and Reba tells her there should be emotion radiating from her when she performs. I'm looking forward to this performance and hoping her confidence last time wasn't a fluke. Here's another dress I have to have.
I couldn't understand the first few lines of the song. Perhaps it's that I'm not familiar with the song. Regardless, from the middle to the end, the goosebump factor is off the charts. Her delivery is magical and her calm is inspiring. She's got a real shot at being one of the last five in this competition.
Sawyer Fredericks Performs "Imagine"
Sawyer impresses Reba with his powerful voice. He reveals a little about his inspiration and his belief in the relevance of this particular song by John Lennon.
His performance is indescribable. What's with this kid? He's just amazing. At one point, his voice fails him, but he moves past it with admirable aplomb. It's hard to believe he's only 16 years old. There's not much you can say about Sawyer that hasn't already been said. He's pretty stinkin' amazing. No matter what happens with this competition, I hope someone snatches this kid up and makes some albums with him because I would buy them.
Rob Taylor Performs "I Put a Spell on You"
Are we seeing Rob Taylor channeling James Brown? Rob comes out with the dreads and shows us the man inside that big, beautiful, black body of his. Whoot! Everyone is crazy about the performance and Rob has earned a spot in the Top 12 ... at least from me he has.
Way to go, Rob.
Corey Kent White Performs "Why"
Blake talks with Corey about being 20% bad boy, while Reba advises him to open his eyes to get those girls right in the palm of his hand. By the end of the practice, Corey says he feels right at home with his Uncle Blake and Aunt Reba. Corey is one of my favorites, so I'm hoping he kicks wild stinkin' butt.
Corey is passionate and does well with the song. I think he'll move forward with ease, but I'm not sure he's improving from performance to performance. Adam says Corey is on the precipice of breaking out into something dangerous, but I'm not so sure we haven't already seen all this guy has to give. He could still rise above, but he's not there yet. As I mentioned before, the live performances have a way of putting on that pressure under which some crack and others become diamonds. Which way will Corey go? Your votes will tell us if we will ever find out, America.
Koryn Hawthorne Performs "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
What a powerhouse this young woman is. She rearranges Kelly Clarkson's song to lead with the chorus and comes out of the den roaring like the lioness she is. What a powerhouse. I read a comment doubting her ability last time and I just shook my head. Nope. We've only seen the beginning of what this girl can do. Her tone is gorgeous; her delivery is majestic. She's a star. Blake calls it once again and welcomes her to the Top 10 before the votes are tallied. Unless America is crazy (which is entirely possible, this is America after all), we will be seeing lots more of Koryn during the next several weeks.
Joshua Davis Performs "America"
This song choice is not at all a surprise -- this artist has reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel since he first took the stage in the Blinds. Reba compliments him on his sparkly eyes. Adam oozes about his beautiful voice. Reba tells him to get naked in front of America by losing the guitar.
When he takes the stage without the instrument, I can't help thinking that if his hair was a tiny bit frizzier, he would be Art Garfunkel. His voice is soft and smooth. I wonder if his performances are brilliant enough to rise above his fellow artists to make it through to the next two rounds. I'm kinda thinking not, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.
Meghan Linsey Performs "Girl Crush"
Reba and Blake both admit that this is one of their favorite current country songs. Reba says this song is about a woman wanting to be just like another woman so that the man she loves, who loves the other woman, will love her instead. Wait, what? I'm confused. I thought a girl crush was when a girl has a crush on another girl the same way a bromance is a non-sexual romance between bros. I'm confused. Or naive?
By the end of practice, Reba says Meghan "kicked the dog poop out of that song," so now I am even more excited to hear Meghan sing than usual.
And Meghan kills it. She definitely does kick the dog poop out of the song.
Kimberly Nichole Performs "The House of the Rising Sun"
After her unbelievable performance last time, they've chosen Kimberly for the pimp spot. Of course, it makes perfect sense. She has earned it. She's chosen "The House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals. This is one of the songs you learn strumming chords as a novice guitar player. I haven't heard it in over 30 years and can't wait to see what Kimberly does with it. She says this performance will be a continuation of what we saw her do during the Live Playoffs when she performed "What's Up."
She does not disappoint. Everything from that cool and amazing dress to her stomping powerful performance to the four-coach standing ovation. Kimberly Nichole has once again raised the bar on The Voice. Blake says this will be the year that her coach Christina Aguilera earns her first win on The Voice and Kimberly Nichole is going to be the one to deliver it.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)