The first cut is the deepest, but on the first night of NBC’s The Voice live semi-finals, there were four cuts as eight aspiring superstars sang for four slots to continue to the finals.
With the four coaches—Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton—all represented by at least one performer, the anticipation was as high in the revolving red chairs as it was on the stage. Last year’s winner, Brynn Cartelli appeared throughout the night inspiring and advising the contestants as well, and Jennifer Hudson stepped up to the mic for a performance of “Round & Round.”
Each singer got the chance to perform twice—once as a duet, once as a solo artist—with both performances being scored. Team Kelly’s itty bitty blues singer, Sarah Grace, accompanying herself on a sparkly piano, got things started with a gutsy, dramatic rendition of Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times.”
Coach Kelly shared some thoughts afterward. She told the 16-year-old, “How you play is almost a separate voice on its own, how you play is so beautiful. And then you come in with your voice, and it’s so pristine and it’s so pure. I feel like at a time when we all are always raspy and we’re always going for those big notes, those subtleties that you have are my favorite parts of your voice, where you’re soft and sweet.”
The first duet of the night featured the two youngest competitors: Kennedy Holmes and Reagan Strange. During rehearsals, the 14-year-olds joked that they would be hitting the road together on The Presidents Tour: Kennedy and Reagan. And as cute and clever as they are, they demonstrated even greater talent blending Pharrell’s “Happy” and “Tightrope” by Janelle Monáe.
Team Jennifer’s Kentucky songbird, MaKenzie Thomas, was up next, but before she took the stage next, with the soulful and incredibly rangy Mariah Carey smash “Vision of Love,” Jennifer told her young competitor, “Had you come before my time of music, you would have inspired me to want to do this.”
With all four coaches on their feet, MaKenzie appeared to have inspired them all and probably a whole bunch of television viewers, too. And Kelly could hardly find the words. “I cannot stand it, you are so good,” she said. “I got to be honest with you, I saw this on your list and I was like, woohoo, that’s bold! That’s Mariah’s biggest song. I, MaKenzie, you are, you are SO GOOD. Like, this show is called ‘The Voice’ and that is what this show is all about. I. Love. Her.”
It was duet time again, and it was pure country. Chevel Shepherd and Kirk Jay, calling themselves Che-Kirk, mashed up Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country” and Brantley Gilbert’s “Country Must Be Country Wide.”
Kymberli Joye from Team Kelly returned to her gospel roots to sing Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin’s “Never Alone.” “She’s a preacher, that’s what I call her and that’s what she is,” Kelly said prior to the performance. “She wants to get in your heart and move you, and she’s gonna do it.”
Once again, an enthusiastic Kelly couldn’t wait to speak. Throwing her arms open, she screamed, “I love you! I think you are so talented.” She added, “Also, it comes from the heart, and that is what The Voice is about, it’s about character, it’s not just about being talented as a singer. It’s about character, it’s about knowing what you’re supposed to be the best for.” Kelly then turned back to Kymberli and said, “Baby girl, you better make the Top 4, that’s all I’m saying.”
Looking resplendent in red, Jennifer got her time to soar in the spotlight with the Joe Shapiro and Lou Stallman classic “Round and Round.”
It was time for Team Blake’s country rocker, Chris Kroeze, to take the stage, but it wasn’t enough for him to just sing The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” The 27-year-old Wisconsinite peeled off a pretty epic guitar solo as well.
Again, Kelly couldn’t wait to applaud Chris’ performance. “There are few people that come out and are just storytellers right off the bat. When I’m listening to you, I feel like I’m just on the lake, I’m having a good time with my husband. You’re nostalgic, your voice is so nostalgic. You could sing anything,” she told him. Blake also added, “Thank you for giving the beer-drinkin’, back road drivin’, not necessarily in that order, viewers of this show somebody to root for.”
It was time for another “twofer” with Kymberli Joye and MaKenzie Thomas, tentatively calling themselves Makymberli. Although both of these incredible singers are deeply entrenched in gospel music, they blended The Emotions’ “Best of My Love” with Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real,” matching vocal run for vocal run.
Team J-Hud’s Kennedy Holmes, who just turned 14, was ready for her turn, but during rehearsals, her emotions got the best of her. “I’m the youngest in the competition, so I have something to prove, and I get emotional just because it’s a huge moment for me. I feel like Top 4 is that one point where you’re just like, ‘I made it, I’m so close.’ And to make it to the finale, it would be a dream come true,” she explained.
Following her effortless performance of “This Is Me” (from The Greatest Showman), Jennifer told her young team member, “I was thinking about how proud I am of you, Kennedy. To see how you’ve grown. And what I mean by that, not just vocally, but as a person. To be able to come out here and own your heart, I feel like you can truly relate to this song, and to be able to show that and know that it’s okay to be who you are and own who you are, that made me even more proud.”
Next up was Team Adam’s final contestant, Reagan Strange, who had been unable to sing last week due to illness. While typically the artists and the coach’s pick the songs, Reagan’s selection, Calum Scott’s “You Are the Reason,” was found by her mother.
Blake, who had been a bit quiet this evening, was first to speak and he told the young singer, “I always love your performances and I gotta say, especially for tonight, that performance was a breath of fresh air because we’ve had a lot of big performances. And to have something that’s a little more laid back and moody, I really enjoyed it. So, good job, sis.”
Adam also told Reagan, “I’m so proud of you, but I’m also so happy for you because you get to kind of carry the torch tonight as being the artist and the singer up there who can really command and demand a moment be quiet so you can sing what turned out to be your most raw, most emotional vocal. I was so connected to you the whole time, and just thinking to myself, ‘Man, I don’t hear that type of purity very often in a voice, but you don’t have to do much to do everything.’ And that’s why this girl deserves to be in the finale next week.”
All of the duet pairings were appropriate for the evening with pop, country, and gospel represented, so when Chris and Sarah Grace took their pass, they went with a gritty, raw and bluesy melding of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”
Young Chevel Shepherd was the final contestant for Kelly’s team. Putting a little bit of her own twist on LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue,” the aspiring country artist brought her best yodel to the game.
With all four coaches on their feet again, Adam jumped at the chance to speak first. “Chevel, I love you, I really do, and it’s not because you’re cute and adorable. That’s fine,” he said. “Why I really, really love you is because I love your voice, and I love the music that you play, and I love what you represent, and gosh, I’m just such a fan of yours. It’s been so much fun watching you, and I’m honestly hoping I can watch you next week also.”
The show ended on a double-country note with Team Blake’s Kirk Jay returning to the stage for his solo performance. Dedicating John Michael Montgomery’s “I Swear” to Courtney Pruett, a young fan battling cancer, all of the coaches were, once again, on their feet. Jennifer was the first to speak though, and told the talented man, “Once this season is over, one of the things I’m going to miss the most is watching you sing every week, so everyone please vote for this boy.”
Adam also chimed in to quickly say, “I think you’re so awesome because of the distinct tone of your voice. It’s so distinct, you just know when it’s you. And I will say it until I’m blue in the face. That is one of the most important things about being a singer, the identifiability of your voice.”
Blake had the final word and he told his young charge, “I don’t want to say anything funny or witty. I want to tell you, as your coach, I could not be more proud of you.”
Things are bound to be tough when the coaches and contestants say goodbye to four of these talented and formidable competitors during the December 11 show. But there are plenty of performances and even an instant save left, so tune in!