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The top eight take 'The Voice' semifinals to church

Lyndsey Parker

Do not attempt to adjust your TV set (or Hulu subscription). You weren’t watching BET’s Sunday Best on a Monday night this week. But NBC’s top eight semifinals Voice episode, which boasted an “inspirational songs” theme, was definitely preaching the gospel.

Religious songs have catapulted many a past Voice contestant to the upper reaches of the iTunes charts (think Jordan Smith’s “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Chris Blue’s “Take Me to the King,” Craig Wayne Boyd’s “The Old Rugged Cross,” Meghan Linsey’s “Amazing Grace,” Paxton Ingram’s “Break Every Chain,” Koryn Hawthorne’s “How Great Thou Art”), so Kaleb Lee was smart at this late stage in the game — with four contestants going home Tuesday — to sing the traditional hymn from 1873, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Others did secular songs but with an evangelical vibe, like Spensha Baker’s “My Church,” Rayshun LaMarr’s “Imagine,” and Kyla Jade’s “Let It Be.”

And then, Jackie Foster covered … Whitesnake. Like a drifter, she was born to rock alone. We’ll soon find out if doing a heathen hair-metal hit commonly associated with a split-legged, half-naked model/actress/video vixen straddling the hood of a luxury automobile alienated America’s pearl-clutching, puritanical viewers. Let’s break down the performances:


Brynn Cartelli, “What the World Needs Now” (Team Kelly)
Doing the “Andra Day version” of the Burt Bacharach classic, Brynn was more connected than she had been in weeks and more soulful than she’s been all season. Fearlessly starting with an a cappella intro before a string octet joined in, she was jazzy and torchy à la Adele, and she was feeling it, flailing her arms and punching the air like Celine Dion. Her proud coach, Kelly Clarkson, called her “epic, beautiful, and tasteful.”

Jackie Foster, “Here I Go Again” (Team Alicia)
Jackie’s Vegas-y Whitesnake remake was even too Vegas-y for that “Neon Dreams” revue. And her paint-peeling scream gave me PTSD flashbacks to American Idol’s Danny Gokey ruining “Dream On.” A debate has raged all season over whether Jackie is an authentic “rocker.” Well, the debate is settled. She is not. Dry-ice fog cannons do not a rock star make. (Although if Jackie had rolled atop a Jaguar, I would’ve respected that.)

Rayshun LaMarr, “Imagine” (Team Adam)
Rayshun excels doing triumphant-of-the-spirit gospel/soul numbers, and he took this John Lennon peace anthem straight to the megachurch. If there were any chance of Adam Levine’s last man standing — who’s been up for elimination twice — scraping through to the finale, this would be the song to do it. “I believe John Lennon would be proud of that,” Adam even insisted.

Spensha Baker, “My Church” (Team Blake)
Spensha got all the hallelujahs and amens for this rollicking Maren Morris country-soul workout. It wasn’t her strongest vocal (I did see her fussing with her in-ears) or most connected performance, but, to employ Randy Jackson’s favorite singing-show cliché, I felt like I was at a Spensha Baker concert! “It’s like everything she has been holding back this entire season, the dam just broke on this stage,” Blake Shelton marveled.

Kyla Jade, “Let It Be” (Team Blake)
This church-raised diva’s performances can be religious experiences, and this might’ve been her Monday best. I loved how she started low, slow, and subtle, building the passion until she was practically singing in tongues. “This was a stellar, superstar iconic performance,” Alicia Keys testified. “You may have just won The Voice,” Blake stated.

Kaleb Lee, “It Is Well With My Soul” (Team Kelly)
The Christian music revue continued with Kaleb’s simple, humble performance. It was pleasant and from the heart … but was it enough, when Kyla, Spensha, and Rayshun were so anointed? Kaleb might want to pray for votes.

Pryor Baird, “Change the World” (Team Blake)
“I can see Pryor being an artist like Eric Clapton or Bob Seger,” Blake proclaimed. Um, no. But this Clapton cover was nice enough. At least Pryor figured out how to use his indoor voice and wasn’t yelling at me the entire time.

Britton Buchanan, “The Rising” (Team Alicia)
The everyman singer-songwriter was so smart to do Springsteen — and not an overdone Bruce song, either. It felt current, yet classic. And it had its own evangelical feel, as a denim-on-denim-clad choir joined him for the big finish. I think Blake spoke too soon. I think with this, Britton, not Kyla, might’ve won Season 14.


Pryor Baird & Kaleb Lee, “Hillbilly Bone”/ “Hillbilly Deluxe”
I really don’t think the world needed this Blake Shelton/Brooks & Dunn mashup. Kaleb was a generic Central Casting hat act, while Pryor screamed both novelty songs the entire time, sounding like he was in pain. I know I was.

Spensha Baker & Kyla Jade, “Rise Up”/“What’s Going On”
Andra Day sure got a lot of Voice props tonight! And Andra couldn’t have received a finer tribute than these two dynamite ladies magnificently belting her song mixed with Marvin Gaye’s classic. I almost wished they’d saved this moment for the finale; it was that special.

Britton Buchanan & Brynn Cartelli, “FourFiveSeconds”/“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Brynn shined in her solo, but when she lounged on a sofa while Britton strummed the Stones song, she faded into the background. This performance felt too casual, almost like a rehearsal. But the teens’ relaxed chemistry was cute to watch, even if they were a little too relaxed.

Jackie Foster & Rayshun LaMarr, “Believer”/“Radioactive”
Really? Two Imagine Dragons songs? Not the most creative mashup ever. Ironically, Rayshun was the star here, even though he’s not a rock singer by trade. However, Jackie was a more convincing rocker doing this than when trying to channel David Coverdale.

So now it’s prediction time. Which singers will survive Tuesday’s quadruple-elimination bloodbath? Well, Pryor seems unstoppable (he could sing “My Humps” or “The Hokey Pokey” and make the finale), as does Britton. I think the other two spots will go to Brynn and Kyla … but I’m forming a prayer circle for Spensha, right now.

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