As The Voice Season 21 Live Playoffs continued apace Monday, the top 13 semifinalists performed dedications to the loved ones, making for an emotionally charged two-hour episode. But it was Jershika Maple’s epic cover of Christian pop duo For King & Country’s “God Only Knows” that plucked the most heartstrings — and elicited the most Kelly Clarkson tears, of course — when the Team Legend Texan soul singer paid tribute to the elementary schoolteachers who changed her life.
“In 4th grade I had a learning disability, which is where I discovered I had dyslexia,” Jershika revealed. “I actually had to repeat the 4th grade and got to see my friends go forward, and I got teased and bullied. I was ashamed. … Thankfully, God came through and I met my teachers. Ms. Rita Gatson was my 4th grade teacher. She noticed me. And then my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Taylor, he made the subjects fun. I joined chess club. I did things that I never thought I would do. That's why this song is 'God Only Knows.' He literally saved me, because he knew that those teachers would see something that I couldn't see."
Jershika certainly did Ms. Gatson and Mr. Taylor proud, taking The Voice to church with her raspy, robust performance that had Kelly calling her a “beautiful majestic messenger.” But Kelly wasn’t crying just because she was moved by Jershika’s powerful performance. You see, Kelly had been Jershika’s original coach, but had eliminated Jershika during the Battle Rounds, thus allowing John Legend to swoop in for the Steal. Jershika has since become a Season 21 frontrunner under John’s guidance, and this week he gloated, “I am so grateful that Kelly made such a big mistake and let you go! You are just one of the best performers in this competition." And Kelly was totally kicking herself, admitting that she was trying to “pull it together” and moaning, “I'm such an idiot. I should never have let go of you from my team. But I hope you come back and kick my behind."
Jershika is very likely to sail through to next week’s top 11. But who else will join her. Let’s review Monday’s other 12 performances:
Paris Winningham, “What’s Going On” (Team Blake)
Dedicating the Marvin Gaye classic to his grandma who passed away last year, Paris crooned a silky, sincere version that started off slow and steady but effectively ramped up at the end. This time it was Paris’s former coach — John — who was regretting letting a contestant go.
Jeremy Rosado, “Because You Loved Me” (Team Kelly)
Sticking with the traditional power-balladry he does best, this former American Idol contestant dedicated the treacly Celine Dion song to his ailing father. Kelly admitted that she wouldn’t have advised anyoneto sing Celine, but Jeremy handled it with ease. That being said, this old-fashioned song choice was very Idol Season 3, and I feel Jeremy is plateauing. He needs to be more contemporary to keep his momentum going.
Ryleigh Plank, “Rhiannon” (Team Ariana)
Dedicating the airy Fleetwood Mac song to her sister, whose name happens to be Rhiannon, Ryleigh went back to her dark side (after a few weeks of doing uptempo pop) and convincingly channeled some Stevie Nicks witchy-woman magic. Ryleigh continues to be my favorite contestant of this season.
Girl Named Tom, “Dust in the Wind” (Team Kelly)
Last week, I thought this sibling trio’s bland Radiohead cover lacked angst — so I had fairly low expectations for this corny Kansas cover. But somehow their families harmonies transformed the tune, which they dedicated to their grandmother, into something that John aptly described as “magical” and “stunning.” If Girl Named Tom move forward in the competition, which they probably will — Kelly actually thinks they have a “solid chance of winning the show” — they should totally stick with ‘70s fare. In fact, a Fleetwood Mac cover from them would probably be amazing.
Shadale, “Life Is a Highway” (Team Legend)
I appreciated that Shadale picked this Tom Cochran ‘80s rock hit for her truck-driver father, but it was an odd, off-brand choice for the usually passionate balladeer — especially at this important point in the competition, when so many other contestants were making Kelly weep with their emotional ballads. Shadale had great energy as always and rocked it out, but I fear this throwaway song pick might be her undoing.
Hailey Mia, “I’ll Stand by You” (Team Kelly)
I didn’t think this 14-year-old could channel the almighty badass Chrissie Hynde, but Hailey is an old soul. She tapped into the ballad’s pathos and built the drama masterfully, with a perfectly paced performance. Kelly cried again, of course — and once again predicted that her contestant will make the finale, although that might have been overly optimistic.
Wendy Moten, “Blue Bayou” (Team Blake)
Also dedicating what Blake Shelton called a “tasteful” performance to a beloved teacher, Wendy beautifully demonstrated her genre-hopping versatility on this plaintive Linda Ronstadt classic — as one might expect from a pro background singer who’s worked with everyone from Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride to Michael Bolton and Michael McDonald.
Jim & Sasha Allen, “Your Song” (Team Ariana)
Sasha had laryngitis last week, which presumably was why this father/son duo’s “Hey Jude” was such a mess. This week’s Elton John cover was definitely an improvement, but overall, it still was weak. With it getting down to the wire now, I can’t imagine Jim and Sasha will advance after this — but then again, they were one of the two highest vote-getters on Team Ariana last week even after the “Hey Jude” debacle, so anything could happen.
Lana Scott, “Humble and Kind” (Team Blake)
I’d expected Lana, the only straight-up country singer left this season, to be a shoo-in last week — but she had to be saved by Blake when she was not one of the two highest vote-getters on his team. So, she was smart to do some sentimental Tim McGraw this week, performing one of her father’s favorite songs. I definitely think this lovely, nuanced performance will be enough to get her through to the next round.
Gymani, “Made a Way” (Team Kelly)
This gospel performance, complete with choir, had the power and flair to command more conservative viewers’ attention, but Gymani’s growl gave it some much-needed edge. This was a total-package performance.
Joshua Vacanti, “You Will be Found” (Team Legend)
Obviously a Dear Evan Hansen song was a perfect pick for this theater kid, allowing him to staying in lane — a lane that, as John noted, is totally his own this season. Joshua got the votes last week because there is no one else like him on the show, and I think after this passionate, belting effort, he could go very far (admittedly further than I’d once predicted). And I think he will probably be heading to Broadway soon after his Voice run ends.
Holly Forbes, “The Dance” (Team Ariana)
Holly has been a frontrunner for most of this season — her Blind Audition was aggressively promoted — and while I think all that hype was deserved, this subdued Garth Brooks cover was an anticlimactic song choice for this week’s pimp spot. That being said, she’s one of Season 21’s finest singers, so I am sure she will be safe this week.
So now, it is prediction time. On Tuesday’s live results show, 10 artists will advance via the public vote, and then the bottom three will perform for the Instant Save, with two of those contestants ultimately going home. I predict the bottom three will be Shadale, Jim & Sasha Allen, and Hailey Mia — and if that’s the case, Shadale will likely win the Save by a landslide. See you then.
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