Former Jennifer Hudson backup singer steps into the spotlight on ‘Voice’ top 12 show

Lyndsey Parker

Team Blake’s Kyla Jade used to make her living singing for veteran Voice coach Jennifer Hudson, but after her “full-circle” tour de force on Monday’s top 12 Voice Live Playoffs — doing Jennifer’s Dreamgirls showstopper “One Night Only,” with encouragement from J.Hud herself — Kyla mosslikely won’t be going back to her day job.

“I have a long history with the show, because I sang background for Jennifer Hudson. But actually singing her song, I’m actually really nervous,” Kyle admitted to Blake Shelton during rehearsal. “Before I started singing for Jennifer three years ago, I was sleeping on couches. I wasn’t making enough money to live on my own. And the only time I slept in beds was when I was on tour.”

None of those nerves were evident when Kyla hit the big stage and delivered her stunning, star-making performance. “J.Hud was texting 10 minutes ago, so excited to watch this. Let me say on behalf of her and myself, welcome to the front of the stage,” Blake declared proudly. I have a feeling Kyla won’t be on The Voice for one night only. And, if this Voice thing doesn’t work out, she may have a future on Broadway.

After last week’s controversial real-time results, Voice viewers were left with what seemed one of the weakest top 12 groups in many seasons — or at least compared with the fantastic previous season. But Kyla and many other contestants gave me hope for this season’s Playoffs. Check out their performances below.

Rayshun LaMarr (Team Adam), “When Love Takes Over”
Rayshun, with his boundless exuberance and massive pipes, was born to belt operatic EDM bangers, so this David Guetta/Kelly Rowland anthem was a perfect fit. He made it feel more ‘70s discotheque than Coachella Sahara Tent, but that was OK; his love of performing took over. “That’s how you kick off the top 12 show!” declared Carson Daly.

Kaleb Lee (Team Kelly), “Amazed”
Lonestar’s mawkish wedding ballad was a pandering choice, but doing the love song “Die a Happy Man” won him America’s vote last week, so why fix what ain’t broke? Actually, this did work — somewhat — because at first, Kaleb kept the arrangement stripped and subtle. I wish he’d stuck with that Americana vibe for the entire song, but I’d be amazed if he didn’t rack up votes (and iTunes sales) again this week.

Jackie Foster (Team Alicia), “Toxic”
Jackie keeps insists she’s some sort of headbanger, though I’m still not convinced. I know her rock band back home went viral with this cover, but Alex & Sierra did this slowed-down sexy shtick better on The X Factor. And everything about Jackie’s performance — the Constantine Maroulis bedroom eyes, the Madonna floor-rolling, the hairography — felt forced. She’s not a rock star; she just plays one on TV. It was a solid vocal, though. I’d actually like to see Jackie pursue pop for real.

Spensha Baker (Team Blake), “Down on My Knees”
Blake saved Spensha last week, and while that meant we had to say goodbye to the worthy Wilkes, I can’t imagine the competition without Spensha. This elegant, emotional Trisha Yearwood cover drew from Spensha’s gospel background, making for a compelling, authentic performance. She even broke into tears at the end, but she never lost her professionalism or pitch.

Christiana Danielle (Team Alicia), “Say Something”
Talk about compelling and authentic! A Great Big World’s breakup ballad was already dark, but Christiana made it darrrrrrk. This was so raw. So real. I actually wondered if she was singing for an ex (or soon-to-be-ex). There was so much pain in her eyes and voice, but there was no fear. Once again, Christiana proved she’s the most exquisite song stylist in this competition.

D.R. King (Team Kelly), “White Flag”
If there’s one top 12 contestant whose artistry rivals Christiana’s, it’s D.R., who never goes with safe or expected song choices. This week, the curveball-tosser turned Dido’s frothy alt-pop fare into a moody soul ballad, equal parts Marvin Gaye and Erykah Badu. I missed his usual rock ‘n’ roll fire, but it was nice to see D.R.’s softer side. I am in love and always will be with his unique, rangy voice.

Sharane Calister (Team Adam), “In My Blood”
Dennis Lorenzo experienced a breakthrough with this Shawn Mendes song on American Idol earlier this week, and while Sharane’s version was less edgy and rockin’, she too made an impact. She was giving me Jennifer Hudson vibes, actually, with her huge voice, knee-dropping show-womanship, and commitment to the emotional lyrics. Her coach Adam Levine called her “one of the more believable singers” of Season 14. I certainly believed every word Sharane sang.

Pryor Baird (Team Blake), “Pickin’ Wildflowers”
Last week, Pryor had a misstep with a corny Branson-matinee cover of “9 to 5.” (Well, maybe it wasn’t such a misstep: He still won the public vote.) This week, with a blistering Keith Anderson cover, the bar-band blues-rocker got back to the growly grit he does best. This “bulldozer” performance was pretty damn fun.

Brynn Cartelli (Team Kelly), “Up to the Mountain”
Once again, I demand to see Brynn’s birth certificate. I don’t mean to make such a big to-do about her age, but I can’t fathom how a barely-15-year-old can interpret this triumph-of-the-spirit Patty Griffin classic with such maturity and grace. (“It’s a mystery!” exclaimed Alicia Keys.) “She can tell a story just with her tone,” marveled her coach, Kelly Clarkson. Brynn truly is the Addison Agen miracle child of Season 14.

Jackie Verna (Team Adam), “I’m With You”
Last week, Adam saved Jackie because he’d heard this Avril Lavigne ballad on the radio and thought it would be perfect for her. It seemed like an odd choice for a country singer, but Cassadee Pope did cover it in her winning season. Adam believes Jackie could win this season, but I think this shrill, straining song brought out all the nasal qualities of her high-pitched voice. I hope the reason Adam saved Jackie isn’t the reason she ultimately goes home.

Britton Buchanan (Team Alicia), “Small Town”
OK, this was a genius song choice. The homespun John Mellencamp song not only played to Britton’s backstory and fanbase but worked wonderfully with his husky, soulful voice. And Mellencamp songs haven’t been done to death on shows like The Voice and Idol, so somehow this felt fresh. Kelly called Britton a “next-generation” Mellencamp, and she wasn’t wrong.

And now, it is prediction time. I fear that the bottom two will be D.R. King and Jackie Verna, both because of their song choices (or, in the latter’s case, Adam’s song choice). I’d be sad to see either go, but of those two, I’ll be hashtagging #VoiceSaveDR on Tuesday night. See you then.

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