The Voice Recap: Night 1 of Season 23's Playoffs Sends Six Singers Packing

Given the frequency with which the coaches on The Voice make decisions that leave us howling, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Monday’s episode. Since the Playoffs weren’t live this season, that meant that viewers would have no say in their outcome, and it would be entirely up to Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan to choose which contestants stay and which contestants go. And three out of five members of each team were going to be cut. “That is super Hunger Games,” Kelly observed. Was I — and possibly not only I — right to worry whether the panel would get it right? Read on, and we’ll discuss how Teams Blake and Chance fared. (Teams Kelly and Niall perform Tuesday.)


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Launch List

NOIVAS, “Come Together” — Grade: A | If anyone but NOIVAS was going to tackle the Beatles’ mega-hit, I’d have been concerned that they’d bitten off more than they could chew. Not him, though. There may not exist a song that’s too mammoth for him. He’s straight-up fire and, on top of that, a showman and a half. And though I’m not nearly as prone to goosebumps as Niall, I got ’em — big time. Just give NOIVAS the win already.

Rachel Christine, “The Only Exception” — Grade: B | Stolen from Kelly during the Knockouts, Rachel delivered a perfectly competent Paramore cover. It just wasn’t all that exciting, and her voice, fine as it is, just isn’t all that unique or memorable. Her long, soaring notes in particular were noteworthy but not so noteworthy that I didn’t think that she was going to be in trouble come elimination time.

Grace West, “Love Is Alive” — Grade: A | Though the 19-year-old had never sung The Judds’ oldie, she performed it as if she’d been doing so her whole life long. Vocally, it may not have been the showiest number of the night — Kelly said so, too — but nonetheless, Grace performed it with confidence, nuance and, ahem, grace. It was so lovely that even if the audience was voting, she’d definitely have made it to the Semi-Finals.

Kylee Dayne, “Flowers” — Grade: D | Oh dear. Kylee, it seemed, was destined to be an easy cut for Blake. Her voice is ordinarily fine, and if she took a turn at the mic on karaoke night, I’d be content enough. But this was by no means a star-making performance. At best, it was adequate; at worst, it went so far off the rails that it wound up crashing into a tree. Poor kid seemed to know it, too.

Mary Kate Connor, “If I Die Young” — Grade: C | Putting her background in the theatre to work, Blake’s Playoff Pass artist cued up a dramatic cover of the Band Perry’s hit that… oops. Shined a spotlight on her vocal weaknesses. At the end of the day, I thought that Blake’s choice should be easy: NOIVAS and Grace were clearly the contestants that he should have put through.


Kala Banham, “My Funny Valentine” — Grade: A+ | After being passed from Team Kelly to Team Niall to Team Chance, Kala made a stunning case for why they should’ve all considered her a keeper. Her rendition of the jazz standard was nothing short of magnificent. “Was it perfect?” Blake asked afterwards. “I think it was actually perfect.” Agreed. So emotional and, as Kelly put it, “all the great adjectives.”

Jamar Langley, “The Thrill Is Gone” — Grade: A | Not only did Jamar bring to the stage the swagger that his coach challenged him to — watch your back, NOIVAS — he put forth a passionate performance that I didn’t just enjoy, I believed. He might have given us a less flashy vocal than NOIVAS but a no less compelling one. And when Jamar is at the mic, I’m at ease — I never doubt that the pro is going to deliver.

Manasseh Simone, “Speak the Name” — Grade: C+ | Back after two weeks off, Chance’s Playoff Pass artist took us to church with a gospel number by Season 7 finalist Koryn Hawthorne, packing it with enough power to reach the heavens. Unfortunately, for a good bit of the song, Manasseh sounded pitchy. So the feeling was 100-percent there; the vocal, not as much. You know an artist is in trouble when a coach says, as Kelly did, “It looks like a finale moment” rather than “It sounds like a finale moment.”

Ray Uriel, “Essence” — Grade: B | After an intro sung as softly as mist evaporating at daybreak, Ray went (a little bit) upbeat for a change. And vocally, his performance was a solid “A.” Note-perfect. But I had to knock his grade down a letter because he seemed so detached from it that he was turned into almost… like… a handsome iPod. Were voting involved, methinks he would’ve been in trouble.

Sorelle, “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” — Grade: A | Performing Christina Aguilera’s version of Etta James’ classic, the sibling influencers once again slayed. They’re machines, these three. And while they are kind of a lot in their backstage interviews, they’re just-right on stage. Obviously, they had to advance. But who to send with them? Much tougher decision than Blake’s. I’d probably have sent Kala and hoped that she could be another Maelyn Jarmon. (By the way, I know I’ve given out a lotta A’s tonight; what can I say? It was a good show!)

And in the moment(s) of truth…

SAVED | NOIVAS (Team Blake), Grace West (Team Blake), Sorelle (Team Chance), Ray Uriel (Team Chance)

ELIMINATED | Rachel Christine (Team Blake), Kylee Dayne (Team Blake), Mary Kate Connor (Team Blake), Kala Banham (Team Chance), Jamar Langley (Team Chance), Manasseh Simone (Team Chance)

Which performer from each team did you think gave the evening’s best performance? Vote in the polls below, then hit the comments with the singers you were sorriest to see cut.

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