Back on what was at the time known as the “Farewell Season” of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson stunned with her weepy performance of “Piece by Piece,” a heartbreaking, gut-punching ballad about her absentee father. That was a storyline that 33-year-old Nashville pop singer Stephanie Skipper could sadly relate to all too well, and when she auditioned with her own version of “Piece by Piece” on The Voice this Monday — in front of new Voice coach Kelly herself — another emotional TV moment ensued. Kelly practically burst into tears the instant she heard Stephanie, crying out, “Oh no!”
Shockingly, Kelly did not turn for Stephanie in the end. (Adam Levine and Blake Shelton did, though I suspect they did so almost out of pity.) Stephanie had a lovely, trebly vibrato that Alicia Keys called a “quivering lilt,” but she was too composed during her performance — rather than just letting go and letting it all hang out, like Kelly did on Idol. (Stephanie later confessed that her internalized pressure to sing “perfectly” sometimes holds her back.) However, Kelly and Stephanie still bonded onstage.
“I know this is embarrassing that I’m crying. … The fact that you picked that song was so cool. … I am so thankful that you sang that,” said Kelly. Stephanie replied sweetly, “I have to say, thank you for writing that song, because it means a lot to me.” And the two women hugged it out. Aw. (Stephanie eventually signed up with Adam, who promised to help her get out of her head.)
Ironically, it was a contestant covering another coach’s song — 20-year-old Hannah Goebel, doing Alicia’s “If I Ain’t Got You” — that intrigued Kelly and inspired her to use her one Block of the season. (Kelly used it on Alicia, of course; Alicia admitted this was a shrewd strategy.) Kelly was even inspired to belt a few bars of the Alicia song herself! I understood why she was so enthusiastic: Hannah, a four-chair soul/pop singer with a sexy, powerful-yet-effortless voice, possessed the passion and connection that Stephanie lacked. She will be a major asset to Kelly’s team.
Below are my thoughts on Monday’s other successful contestants. Season 14’s Blind Auditions will wrap Tuesday.
Tish Haynes Keys, 37: “Chain of Fools”
This body-positive gospel diva, who fronts a band called One Booty One Sound, had the big voice (and, by her own account, big booty) to handle an Aretha vocal — but this was nothing we hadn’t heard before. She did nothing new with the R&B oldie.
Who turned? Kelly, who had a special connection to Aretha (“Natural Woman” was her breakthrough on Idol), and Adam, who gushed, “It would almost be disrespectful to the art of singing to not push my button.”
Result? Team Adam. Tish wanted to get out of her comfort zone — a risky but smart decision.
Bransen Ireland, 27: “Tulsa Time”
The country everyman/dad had a recordable voice, as they say in the biz, but he was generic. (Sadly, I’m employing the adjective “generic” a lot this season.)
Who turned? Blake, who no doubt was impressed by Bransen’s decision to sing a Don Williams classic from 1978, and Adam, who actually hit his button first.
Result? Team Blake. Bransen had promised his kids he’d pick Blake.
Teana Boston, 16: “Unfaithful”
Rihanna’s dark depiction of a wanton woman was an odd choice for this squeaky-clean high schooler. It was also totally wrong for her vocal range; she was shrill, strained, and nasal throughout.
Who turned? Only Kelly — and even she hesitated.
Result? Team Kelly. Teana clearly has raw talent, but I don’t think she’s ready for primetime. Kelly should’ve told her to come back in a couple years.
Miya Bass, 28: “Issues”
This pink-haired fly girl is my second-favorite Season 14 contestant, after Terrence Cunningham. I loved how she transformed Julia Michaels’s angst-y pop hit into a rock ’n’ soul anthem. She had a rich, smoky voice (perfectly complemented by the band’s Stonesy guitar licks) and tons of ’tude. As Blake would say: Bad. Ass.
Who turned? Surprisingly, only Adam. I would’ve thought Miya would be Team Alicia all the way.
Result? Team Adam. Alicia may try to steal Miya later, though.
Livia Faith, 17: “Dream a Little Dream”
This manic pixie dream girl ripped off Season 9 indie chanteuse Amy Vachal’s rendition of “Dream,” though probably only Voice diehards like me will remember that. Her wispy delivery reminded me of Season 1’s Dia Frampton too. I preferred Livia when she dropped her quirky-girl affectations and hit the power notes. She may have a bigger voice than she let on.
Who turned? Blake, Kelly, and Alicia.
Result? Team Alicia. Alicia impressed Livia with music-geek talk and a suggestion that she cover “Earth Angel.”
Jordan Kirkdorffer, 28: “In Case You Didn’t Know”
Despite living in Nashville and covering a Brett Young tune, Jordan didn’t sound very country to me.
Who turned? Adam (who perceptively called Jordan “multifaceted”) and Blake.
Result? Team Blake. Apparently, Jordan wants to stay in his country lane.
Shana Halligan, 44: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”
I predict Shana will be one of the most polarizing contestants in Voice history. She certainly was not generic! The daughter of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Dick Halligan and ex-frontwoman of trip-hop duo Bitter:Sweet gave a stylized, occasionally slurry, totally unhinged performance that was both compelling and confusing.
Who turned? Alicia, who compared Shana to Sia and Florence Welch.
Result? Team Alicia. Shana was thrilled to be paired up with a fellow “goddess.”
Gary Edwards, 26: “What’s Going On”
The choir director delivered an evangelical, jazzy rendition of Marvin Gaye’s protest song that showcased his silky voice and impeccable phrasing. There was an ease and flow to his performance that makes me think he’ll go far.
Who turned? Adam and Blake — but, surprisingly, not Alicia.
Result? Team Adam. When Adam said Gary sang “the song the world needs to hear right now,” he sealed the deal.
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