As The Voice Season 21 Battle Rounds wrapped Tuesday, only a few contestants’ fates hung in the balance, including two sister acts, Ariana Grande’s soul trio KCK3 and Kelly Clarkson’s pop-gospel teen duo the Cunningham Sisters. But it was only the latter that coach John Legend said should get their own television series. Perhaps the NBC executives should get on that!
When Kelly pitted Marie and Macie Cunningham, ages 14 and 15, against 30-year-old Parker McKay, she knew that the song she’d given them, the 1965 Lesley Gore hit “It’s My Party,” was an odd and possibly alienating choice. Her team adviser, Jason Aldean, looked downright perplexed. But Kelly had a grand idea to give it a creepy-cool “Amy Winehouse/Radiohead” vibe (Amy actually covered the tune in 2010), and showbiz veteran Parker said the song assignment felt like a “gift” just for her. But in fact it was the adorable yet unexpectedly mature and soulful Cunningham Sisters who truly fulfilled their coach’s unique vision. They sounded so ethereal and haunting, and their performance was just vibey-er and hipper and more organic than Parker’s. Parker came across as forced and actress-y at times, even though she sang near-flawlessly throughout. (Even John admitted that Parker was technically superior to Macie and Marie.)
“How do you not instantly fall in love with these two?” gasped Blake Shelton as he praised the Cunninghams, although he noted that Kelly’s decision was still a tough one, given Parker’s experience and professionalism. (“My advice to you? Quit,” he flat-out told Kelly.) But as Ariana said, the sisters were “so special,” and Kelly explained, “I just can’t fight what is going to happen in my heart.” And so, Kelly let Parker go, though she acknowledged that her team was so “stacked” that in a less competitive season, Parker might’ve even made it to the finals. That was why it shocked me that Blake, the only coach who still had a Steal left in play, didn’t poach Parker for himself. I guess Parker was too easily outshined by her precocious opponents, who’ll be moving on to the Knockout Rounds — and, if John has any pull with the NBC brass, just might get their own slot on the network’s spring 2022 programming grid.
In the meantime, these were the other final Battles of Season 21:
TEAM ARIANA: KCK3 vs. Ryleigh Plank, “Come on Over Baby”
I would have assumed that this “big pop bop” by original Voice coach Christina Aguilera would have been a much better showcase for KCK3 than for Ryleigh, an emotional balladeer who auditioned with Demi Lovato’s cry-for-help mental health anthem “Anyone” and has been very forthcoming about her own struggles with depression. But to quote John, she was a “revelation” who “exuded joy” from her “elastic body.” To quote Blake, she “owned the moment.” And to quote Kelly, who broke into a startled stankface the instant Ryleigh got a chance to sing solo, she was “a light on that stage.” Ryleigh showcased an entirely new sparkling side of herself and was, according to her coach, an “angel” and “vocal goddess.” Poor KCK3 were quickly relegated to backup-singer status, and Ariana’s decision was clear. “She could absolutely go all the way. I don’t think that there’s a thing that girl can’t sing,” Ariana said of this Battle’s landslide victor.
WINNER: Ryleigh Plank
TEAM BLAKE: Berritt Haynes vs. Kaitlyn Velez, “Yellow”
Singer-songwriter Berritt, a Make-a-Wish kid, continued to have all of his Voice dreams come true, as he advanced after warbling/strumming a Coldplay hit that was a much better fit for him than it was for Kaitlyn — as least judging from this montaged snippet, which was about 75 percent Berritt. Kaitlyn had previously seemed like this season’s token quirky girl, but during her 25 percent of solo screentime this week, she was disappointingly generic. Meanwhile, Blake told Berritt he’d “stepped up to the plate” with an “incredible performance.” Not too shabby for a guy whose original Voice wish was to simply sit in the studio audience!
WINNER: Berritt Haynes
TEAM LEGEND: Paris Winningham vs: Jonathan Mouton, “Here and Now”
These two “soulful tenor crooners” were a very even match (Ariana called them both “world-class singers”), so it wasn’t exactly a psychic feat to predict that this Battle would end in a Steal – especially since Blake still had a Steal left, and this was the final showdown of the entire season. I was surprised, however, that John did not pick Jonathan, his very first recruit during the Blinds, with whom I’d assumed he shared a special bond. I thought Jonathan had a little bit of extra performance pizzazz, although John thought Paris had more “bounce,” but really this was just a matter of whether John preferred Jonathan’s silky tone and prominent vibrato or Paris’s grittier, rangier style. The two blended beautifully and were “both as great as they needed to be” according to John, who described his decision as practically a “coin toss.” Once John picked Paris, Ariana passionately urged Blake, who’d said this “incredible” duet “sounded like a record,” to steal Jonathan. Blake actually heeded his new rival’s advice, but then confessed that he would have stolen either singer anyway. I guess that’s why he let Parker go earlier. Jonathan was shocked by Blake’s move, but I certainly wasn’t. This is the 21sts eason, after all, and we all know how this show works by now. See you at the Knockout Rounds next week!
WINNER: Paris Winningham / STOLEN: Jonathan Mouton moves to Team Blake
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