The Voice’s top 13 contestants all took the stage for round two of the Live Playoffs Monday night, an episode billed as “dedication week” and featuring some emotionally-charged performances along with the knowledge that two more hopefuls will be sent home Tuesday.
The night began on a somber note with rocker Chris Kroeze, who turned the Beatles “Let It Be” into a gritty blues tribute to the family of a missing 13-year-old in his native Wisconsin. He was followed by Hawaiian folk singer Tyke James, who in turn dedicated Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” to his mother, and Houston native DeAndre Nico, whose spiritual, cathartic cover of MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” went out to his girlfriend and the pregnancy they lost during the Knockout Rounds.
Gospel-pop crossover Kimberli Joye provided the night’s first high note, emotionally speaking, delivering her sharp cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” on a stage studded with “diamond” towers. So far on the show, she’s been hailed for her raw vocal power, but coach Kelly Clarkson told her to lean into the song’s intricate moments, playing up her ability to make listeners feel. Joye made sure to offer some soaring high notes anyway, with Clarkson praising Joye’s craft after the performance.
Thirteen-year-old Kennedy Holmes followed directly after, dedicating her choice of the uplifting “Wind Beneath My Wings” to her parents. Coach Jennifer Hudson made the remark that she, too, sang this song as a 13-year-old… but for her eighth-grade graduation. Holmes certainly has poise beyond her middle school age, though, turning in another sweet and vocally pristine performance, with Hudson saying, “you’re beautiful in every way.”
Powerhouse soul rocker SandyRedd came next in the show’s potent lineup, offering another tender moment. Tackling Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” in remembrance of her mother, the Chicago native softened her approach considerably, with her gutsy low notes moving from husky to smooth and a flowing white gown creating a heavenly feel. She was crying as the song ended, with coach Hudson praising the way she “took us to the depth of your hurt.”
With only one female country singer remaining on the show, 16-year-old Chevel Shepherd stepped up with a sass-filled rendition of Little Big Town’s “Little White Church.” Three backup singers joined her to recreate LBT’s quartet harmonies, and with Shepherd letting her attitude hang out, all four judges stood to applaud as the song closed. Coach Adam Levine raved over Shepherd’s cuteness, which Clarkson called her “magnificent” and predicted “Nashville is salivating right now.”
Winning the award for boldest move of the night had to be Kentucky R&B singer McKenzie Thomas, who sang Hudson’s “I Am Changing” in front of her coach, and also dedicated the performance to her. Hudson originally sang the track for 2006’s Dreamgirls movie, while Jennifer Holliday did the original version for the Dreamgirls Broadway musical. Calling Hudson her hero and intended as a thank you for saving Thomas during a previous round, Thomas’ theatrical performance found her proving she can do “more than riffs and runs,” with Hudson describing her skill as “bananas.”
Toward the end of the night, old soul Sarah Grace showed off her musicianship, playing piano on a sparkling cover of Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road”; sandpaper-voiced country singer Dave Fenley dedicated Lee Brice’s “Hard to Love” to his wife; Comeback Stage winner Lynnea Moorer showed real star quality on Selena Gomez and Marshmello’s “Wolves”; and Memphis teenager Reagan Strange closed the show by dedicating Lauren Daigle’s empowering “You Say” to her supportive grandparents – but not before country standout Kirk Jay brought down the house.
Featured in the video at the top, Jay once again took an aging country hit and made it feel brand new, diving into Lonestar’s syrupy family ballad, “I’m Already There.” Dedicating the song to his mother — who had never seen Jay sing live but was in the audience last night — the tear-jerking performance found Jay’s quirky vocal tugging at heart strings as his mom wept in her seat. During rehearsals, coach Blake Shelton had said “This is what this show is all about – an undiscovered talent that doesn’t look like he sounds, with a legit shot at making it in country.” After the performance, all Shelton could say about Jay’s talent was “It’s not even fair,” while Hudson agreed, praising Jay by saying, “You are bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.”
Two more contestants will be voted out by fans during tonight’s live episode of The Voice, airing at 8/7c on NBC, with Clarkson and Levine each performing with their teams.