The Voice Season 13 Not-Live Playoffs have wrapped, leaving us with the 12 semifinalists moving on to the actually live competitive shows next week. This Wednesday, it was Team Miley’s turn, and with Miley Cyrus having arguably the strongest team of the season (a team even Blake Shelton, the Sexiest Man Alive, finds “intimidating”), she faced some very tough decisions.
Sure, it was almost a given that Miley’s stolen (and only male) contestant, Adam Pearce, would get the ax, as would her Comeback contestant, out-of-her-depth country warbler Karli Webster. But how would Miley figure out which powerhouse singer to eliminate among Brooke Simpson, Ashland Craft, Moriah Formica, and Janice Freeman?
The answer is … Miley didn’t quite figure it out. In my not-so-humble opinion, she made the wrong decision and sent the wrong girl home. Let’s recap.
When this season’s answer to Kelly Clarkson stormed her way through James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” (inspired by her mother, “an incredible, strong, powerful Native American woman”), she proved that Season 13 is actually all about the ladies. Her gauntlet-throwing, bar-setting performance wasn’t quite at the level as Juliet Simms’s from Season 2, but it came close. Heeding Miley’s sage advice — “When people only know you for your voice, they don’t love you and aren’t invested in you” — Brooke flaunted her feisty personality like never before, with some major attitude, elaborate hairography (“Damn, gurl, whip that hair!” Miley hollered), laser-beam eye contact with the camera, and ferocious stage-stomping. And yet, she never sacrificed vocal control. While some contestants this season have been too manic and unhinged (Katrina Rose), and others have been too perfect (the robotic Emily Luther), Brooke struck the right balance. She delivered, as Miley might say, the best of both worlds.
“Damn! Unless you are a handful of people — you know, Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera — there aren’t that many people who can be as fierce and as energetic and as passionate and crazy and amazing as you were on that stage,” marveled Adam Levine. “That song did say it might be a man’s world, but it’s nothing without a woman, and you let everybody in this room know that!” said an impressed Jennifer. “The lyrics obviously fueled your fire, and you did everything that you needed to do, but you never did too much. You obviously didn’t do too little. That’s what makes a perfect performance,” praised Miley.
On a team packed with the sort of massive voices that can peel paint off walls, shatter windows and summon dogs from a mile away, and raise the dead, Karli’s sweeter dulcet style would either make her stand out in a less-is-more way, or it would cause her to get lost in the shuffle. Unfortunately for Karli, it was the latter. Less was … less. I don’t think Karli was Miley’s best Comeback option to begin with, since her “Blue Bayou” Knockout performance had been shaky and completely bulldozed by her Knockouts opponent, Janice Freeman — but Karli didn’t even have a chance to redeem herself with “Coat of Many Colors” by Miley’s godmother, Dolly Parton. Karli’s voice has been compared to Dolly’s all season, so she couldn’t put her own spin on the song at all.
The coaches enjoyed this, however, with Adam telling Karli, “You are so awesome. I think this performance was by far your best. If this was my decision to make, I would have to keep you based on that performance.” Miley gushed, “I couldn’t have asked you to do my fairy godmother’s song any better than you just did, and not just because you do sound so remarkably like her, but you also really told the story.” I disagreed. If Karli ever entered a Dolly Parton impersonation contest and sang “Coat,” she’d win, but this light and slight performance wasn’t enough for the 13th season of The Voice.
Miley kept this season’s token long-haired rocker boy in his ‘70s rock comfort zone with the Nazareth version of “Love Hurts” — a ridiculously challenging song that could really hurt one’s vocal cords, because it is damn hard to sing. Miley had promised that Adam P. would do a big stadium-rock number with KISS-style pyro, which ended up not happening; either NBC cut the show’s production budget at the last minute, or Miley decided to keep the focus on Pearce’s piercing vocals. Too bad. Anyway, Adam P. for the most part handled the song, although his voice did tucker out by the end and started to border on screechiness. It was a valiant effort, but not enough to save him.
“Dude, do you know why nobody ever does that song? Because nobody can do that song. That is high, even for me,’ Adam Levine laughed. Miley insisted, “I knew that you could do this, without any doubt in my mind, and you did an amazing job.” But I knew Pearce was in for a world of hurt when it came time for Miley to make her cuts at the end of the episode.
Just as Karli has been likened to Dolly throughout Season 13, Ashland has earned constant Gretchen Wilson comparisons, so getting Wilson’s “When I Think About Cheatin’” seemed a little too on the nose. But at least the Redneck Woman always brings fire to the stage. Ashland, crooning a country ballad in an LBD, seemed to have her fire extinguished this week. Where was the feisty filly in the Bon Jovi fringe and Boot Barn block heels? This was not the “punk-rock Dolly Parton”! Yes, I’d expressed interest before in seeing Ashland showcase her softer side, but I didn’t want her to go this soft.
Adam called Ashland’s performance “beautiful, incredible, unique, amazing, and world-class,” and Miley said, “I believe this was a perfect song for you.” I disagreed. It was pretty and pleasant, classic and commercial, but I didn’t think it was special. Everything I’d found interesting about Ashland had been stripped away. If this had been her audition, it probably would’ve ended up in a montage. And on a competitive Playoffs night like this, it didn’t help her stand out against Moriah, Janice, Brooke, and even Adam Pearce. Was this Ashland’s fault? Well, no. She didn’t choose the song. But it was what it was.
Miley “wanted to see what it sounds like when Moriah does a song that isn’t classic rock, that’s a little bit more modern rock, so people could imagine what it would sound like if Moriah had an album.” So she finally realized her season-long dream of giving the 16-year-old retro rocker chick a Beth Hart song, “World Without You,” from the relatively modern year 2003. It was not the best song choice for Moriah — which, as was the case with Ashland, wasn’t the poor girl’s fault — but I do think Moriah made much more of her situation. She sold the song. She committed. Taking Miley’s advice to “heavy it up,” she was a real rock star, hitting all the right power notes and sounding like a raspy Amy Lee, like if Amy Lee and Melissa Etheridge had a baby. She was a baby badass, as usual. Even host Carson Daly had to enthusiastically comment, calling Moriah “the coolest ever!”
But the coaches’ comments — other than Adam asking if he could be Moriah’s “best friend” — were surprisingly harsh. Jennifer claimed Moriah hadn’t gotten a grip on the song’s hook. Miley admitted that the song hadn’t worked for Moriah because it wasn’t “tough” enough. Blake displayed his ignorance of the entire rock ’n’ roll genre by stating, “The depth of females that in history have done what you’re doing is [small]. There’s not a lot of these rock, big-voice females, you know?” I guess Blake is also the Wrongest Coach Alive — unless you want to give that title to Miley, who was (spoiler alert!) about to make a big mistake where Moriah was concerned.
Miley may have made a couple of questionable decisions this Wednesday, but one thing she definitely got right was giving Janice the Leela James ballad “Fall for You.” This was the sound of pure joy — sung by woman who’d been through hell (losing her husband to cancer, battling cancer herself), survived, and found love again. What a gorgeous, uplifting, connected, real performance. Janice poured so much raw emotion and soul into this song, but she never oversang. Her phrasing and timing were impeccable, and her joy was infectious. This was a moment.
“Your voice is a reflection of who you are. Girl, you’re crying because I know how much these lyrics ended up meaning to you, but I also hope you’re crying because you’re like, ‘I just did so good, and I don’t know how I’m so good! I said I was gonna do the damn thing, and I did the damn thing!’” raved Miley. “I want you to have fans at home, because I want more girls to be like you.” Aw.
So finally, it was decision time. Miley’s first pick was … Brooke! Yay! A wise choice.
Next up … Janice! Huzzah! Obviously, Janice had to advance.
And then, Miley’s final pick was … Ashland.
Wait. What? NOT MORIAH??? Boo!
Oh well. So now we have our Moriah-less top 12. Looking at where the lineups stand, I’d still stay Miley has the strongest team, although Team J.Hud (Davon Fleming, Noah Mac, Shi’Ann Jones) and Team Blake (Chloe Kohanski, Keisha Renee, Red Marlow) are tied for a very close second, and Team Adam (Addison Agen, Jon Mero, Adam Cunningham) has some very worthy contenders on their teams as well. Next week’s top 12 showdown will be suspenseful indeed — and we will all finally be able to have a say. So get your fingers in downloading/tweeting/voting mode, and see you then.