Blake Shelton surprisingly plays favorites on 'The Voice' playoffs: 'I'll probably catch a lot of heat for it, but I don't care'

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·9 min read

The Voice Season 21 went live for the first time Monday with its top 20 playoffs episode, a performance-packed two hours determining which 13 contestants will advance to the semifinals. Reigning, incumbent coach Blake Shelton’s team performed last, and it was at the very end of the night that Blake made a bold statement about his clear favorite, veteran pro background vocalist Wendy Moten — seemingly not caring if he alienated his other team members or even the viewers at home.

After Wendy (whose first song of the season had been declared one of “the top three Blind Auditions of all time” and “one of the best vocals I have ever heard on this show” by Blake) stunned with a faithful, tasteful rendition of the Whitney Houston version of “I Will Always Love You,” Blake once again raved about his frontrunner.

“I'll probably catch a lot of heat for it, but I don't care. I've been doing this show for 21 seasons now as a coach. There is nobody I want this more for — ever — than you. You deserve this. You deserve this,” Blake told Wendy in the final few minutes of Monday's episode.

A 56-year-old 20 Feet From Stardom type who scored a respectable solo hit in 1992 with “Come in Out of the Rain” and has worked with Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, John Oates, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Tyler, Alice Cooper, Buddy Guy, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and Al Jarreau, Wendy certainly has been waiting for her much-deserved moment in the spotlight. And it’s doubtful that her coach’s audacious proclamation will backfire with voters, because she really was that magnificent this week. Even Blake’s chief rival, Kelly Clarkson, has to agree, gushing to Wendy: “I'm obsessed with you. You are so gifted. That is such a big song. Don't think I missed that little run you did. I was like, ‘What?’ You're so incredible. It's insane if you don't make the finale.”

On Tuesday’s live results show, three total contestants from each team will move forward — the two highest vote-getters, followed by a contestant saved by each coach — and then a fourth contestant from each team, along with one Comeback Artist wild card, will sing for the Instant Save. Surely Wendy will advance one way or another. If in some crazy upset she doesn’t get the votes, Blake will surely put her through as his pick. And if she actually has to sing for the Save, she’ll easily slay competition. But how will the rest of the teams play out? Who will make the top 13? Let’s assess all 20 performances below, and make some predictions.

TEAM KELLY

Girl Named Tom, “Creep”

I didn’t like this one bit. Not only has the Radiohead alt-rock-radio staple been covered to death (and covered much more effectively, by everyone from Prince to Postmodern Jukebox), but the rushed two-minute arrangement didn’t allow this family band to ramp up emotionally. There was no angst here. (Kelly meant it as a compliment when she said the trio sounded like Queen, but that was the altogether wrong vibe for this outsider anthem.) Girl Named didn’t seem like creeps or weirdos. What the hell were they doing here — doing this song? The overall disconnect made me feel like they didn’t belong here.

Katie Rae, “Stormy Weather”

The old-fashioned song choice wasn’t doing this conservative singer many favors, but the vintage country flair she added to the tune was pleasant, and her performance was undeniably confident. This was in fact Katie’s best performance of the season, but I think she’s flown under the radar too long to have traction in the Live Playoffs. Well, at least she’ll go out on a high note.

Gymani, “Say Something”

This was a majestic performance, with Gymani singing to the mountaintops, as if she was already singing for the Save. She left it all on the stage, masterfully building the perfect arc and exploding at the end, and she earned the first standing ovation (and first Kelly Clarkson tears) of the night.

Jeremy Rosado, “When I Was Your Man”

This was a safe but smart song choice for the American Idol alumnus and soul-pop balladeer — a modern song with a throwback crooner style. His sincerity and sweetness will likely endear him to many viewers, and his vocal was both passionate and precise.

Hailey Mia, “Traitor”

Showcasing a beautifully bell-clear tone, a sophisticated sense of timing and phrasing, and incredible poise and maturity for a 14-year-old, Hailey seemed totally at ease onstage. If she gets the chance to advance, she could be this season’s dark horse.

My prediction: America will vote through Jeremy and Hailey, Kelly will pick Gymani, and Katie will sing for the Save.

TEAM LEGEND

Shadale, “Love on the Brain”

This is an overdone song, but Shadale made it new and fresh again, growling, prowling, and really selling the drama. “You're the first person I've seen so far that has clearly came here tonight to win this damn thing,” Blake remarked — a surprising thing for him to say to a rival’s team member — but there was no doubt that Shadale was in it to win it.

Joshua Vacanti, “You and I”

This was very jazz-handsy, very Glee, and slightly twee. There’s a marquee somewhere on Broadway that’ll one day have Joshua’s glittering name on it, as he is a great talent — but I doubt he will connect with TV viewers. He'd be better off competing on a reboot of The Glee Project instead.

Jershika Maple, “Beggin’”

Exhibiting a certain true grit and rawness that set her apart her from the many other talented R&B/soul powerhouses of this season, Jershika’s performance was equal parts sass and angst. She was fun and free, but there was still a pained, pleading quality to what she was singing. I still can’t believe that Kelly let this dynamite diva get away. No wonder John Legend was gloating!

Samuel Harness, “So Sick”

At times the arrangement and sheer band volume swallowed Sam up, but his brooding presence, quiet strength, and natural magnetism still cut through in the end. One of this season’s finest and most believable storytellers, Sam definitely made the Ne-Yo heartbreak ballad his own.

David Vogel, “Slow Burn”

As Samuel’s most direct competition of Season 21, John’s other singer-songwriter/long-haired heartthrob didn’t deliver the best technical vocal of the night — but he was sincere and smoldering, looking like a real rock star. And he wisely stuck to his established brand: David is adept at gender-flipping songs, and he did a nice job with this winsome Kacey Musgraves hit.

My prediction: America will vote for David and Shadale, John will pick Jershika, and Samuel will sing for the Save.

TEAM ARIANA

Raquel Trinidad, “Don’t Know Why”

There is no doubt that this little spitfire possesses star quality, but for the first time this season, she suffered from pitch issues — at a crucial juncture when she really couldn’t afford to mess up. Her effervescent personality might not be enough to save her this week.

Jim & Sasha Allen, “Hey Jude”

The Beatles are sacred ground for most music fans, and this amateurish performance — marred by flat harmonies, awkward staging, and an arrangement that attempted to cram all the grandeur of the epic seven-minute power ballad into two minutes — was downright sacrilegious. I was rooting for this father/son duo with an inspiring backstory, but I think they are doomed after giving their worst performance of the season.

Bella DeNapoli, “The Sweet Escape”

I give Bella credit for attempting such a quirky, polysyllabic song, but she did not rise to the challenge. The struggle was real, and it was audible. Her breath control was off, as were many of her high notes. She still has potential and could end up in the middle pack Tuesday, but this unfocused number won’t get America's votes.

Ryleigh Plank, “I’m Your Baby Tonight”

I’ve loved watching this shy, sad girl blossom on The Voice. There was a time when I thought she didn’t have the confidence or sex appeal to vamp her way through a joyous, slinky number like this Whitney bop, but she was a force, a fierce queen, tonight. The risk paid off and established her as a true pop sensation. Ryleigh continues to be my favorite singer of Season 21.

Holly Forbes, “Torn”

This was another master-class tour de force from one of the season’s early frontrunners. Holly’s take on the Natalie Imbruglia hit had nuance, layers, and plenty of heart. It was clear that she was really feeling it, and feeling herself. I could easily see her in the finale alongside Wendy.

My prediction: America will vote for Ryleigh and Holly, Ariana Grande will pick Raquel, and Bella will sing for the Save.

TEAM BLAKE

Peedy Chavis, “Proud Mary”

Ugh. I am so over this hammy kid. A wholly unoriginal Branson dinner-theater revue hoofer like this Elvis wannabe should have never gotten this far in the first place. Doing the Tina Turner showstopper version of this song was way too much for him, but I doubt he could have pulled off the Creedence version anyway. Peedy was simply out of his depth tonight.

Libianca, “Woman”

This was one of the most thrilling and unique performances among the top 20. She was sexy and edgy on this Doja Cat hit — she even rapped, quite convincingly! — and she looked amazing with that Cruella/Melanie Martinez hair. But I doubt most of America will get it, sadly. Libianca may just be too cool for The Voice.

Paris Winningham, “I Wish It Would Rain”

Putting a churchy gospel spin on a Motown classic, Paris delivered an old-fashioned but far from boring performance. He pumped up the crowd with his unbridled passion, and I am sure he pumped up the voters at home, too.

Lana Scott, “Next Girl”

Lana went unnoticed for much of Season 21, but now, as the only pure country singer left in the competition, her lane to the finale seems wide open. I really enjoyed her vivacious, twangy performance this week. Lana is a born performer with a distinct tone and sparkling personality, and she is peaking at just the right time.

Wendy Moten, “I Will Always Love You”

Well, damn. Wendy closed the show in fabulous style, even nailing that iconic a cappella intro. This wasn’t a particularly original performance, but it was classic.

My prediction: America will vote for Wendy and Lana, Blake will pick Paris, Peedy will sing for the Save.

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