Kelly Clarkson and John Legend called 'unpatriotic' 'haters' for criticizing 'Voice' contestant’s 'God Bless the USA' performance

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

UPDATE: Lee Greenwood has released the following statement regarding Monday’s Voice backlash:

“I’m always honored when anyone would choose to sing my song, ‘God Bless The USA’ I think it’s incredibly unfortunate that there’s any backlash at all toward Kelly Clarkson and John Legend over their critiques of Gyth Rigdon’s performance. Whoever is criticizing them needs to understand the complete context - that it was performed on a televised, highly publicized contest show where critiques are not only expected but paid for - they as judges are doing what is expected of them as an expert panel. Both Kelly and John were critical but also complimentary using such phrases as ‘ridiculously talented’ and ‘powerful rendition’ which shows they both used grace, humility and fairness toward him. Before anyone decides to attack someone else on social media, they should exert the same measure of dignity and respect for their fellow human beings and fellow Americans. We are all in this together.”

There’s probably no song choice more blatantly pandering than Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” as it ticks both the obvious boxes (God and country) to sway the conservative/mainstream vote. It has never been performed on The Voice before, surprisingly, but it’s understandable why, say, Kristy Lee Cook did it on American Idol Season 7, since she was on the brink of elimination and needed to resort to desperate measures to save herself. (Editor’s note: It worked.) It’s less clear why Team Blake’s Gyth Rigdon, such a shoo-in for The Voice Season 16’s finale that he probably could’ve done a Marilyn Manson song on Monday’s top eight show and sailed through to the finale, felt the need to sing it.

“This is not just the perfect song for the moment, but the perfect song for Gyth in general,” Blake declared Monday. “He's super-country and very patriotic.” Blake’s no dummy — he’s managed to get five contestants through to this season’s top eight, four of them male country singers — and as the series’ most popular coach, he knows how to play to his base. He practically sent Gyth out onstage with a piece of apple pie in one hand and a Statue of Liberty torch in the other. (In all seriousness, Gyth was wearing a prominent cross pendant and had a stars-and-stripes scarf tied to his microphone stand.) I am sure this tactic will work, since most people on Twitter were quite kind to Gyth this week. But Blake’s fellow coaches, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend, were more critical, and a whole lot snarkier, regarding Gyth’s song selection, and they caught some flak as a result.

“You chose the day we celebrate the British Invasion to sing this song,” joked John, referencing the fact that the top eight would, in another Voice first, perform Beatles tunes this evening. “I feel like you can't critique this song, or you're going to hell or something,” quipped Kelly. Their cheeky remarks had some viewers taking to Twitter to accuse Kelly (the original American Idol!) and John of being downright un-American.

"I'm sorry that you and John hate America so much that you couldn't recognize Gyth’s song as a great rendition,” one viewer tweeted to Kelly. “I know it was hard to sing a patriotic song in one of the most unpatriotic places in America, but [Gyth] did it great. Kelly and John are haters. Go Gyth!” said another. And yet another said she’d “lost all respect” for Kelly and John because they supposedly “made fun of the beautiful, most patriotic song. … I had four veterans here that heard them say those things and shocked The Voice allowed them to.” But this is America, land of the free and of the First Amendment, so other fans defended Kelly and John’s right to criticize Gyth. One tweeted: "All the Trumpers are so triggered because Kelly and John didn’t like Gyth’s performance. Could it be possible that they actually are patriotic and just didn’t like this one performance?"

Both Kelly and John argued that this wasn't Gyth’s greatest vocal. Blake, of course, claimed it was far and away Gyth’s best vocal performance yet. I’m in agreement with Kelly and John when it come to this all-American debate. But please don’t @ me. At least we can all agree that Gyth will advance to next week’s top four finale, along with Team Legend’s sublime Maelyn Jarmon, who gave the actual best performance of Monday night. Let’s look at all of the night’s performances and try to predict who else will have America’s vote.

SOLO SONGS

Andrew Sevener (Team Blake), "Long Haired Country Boy"

Like I said, Blake knows where his country bread is buttered. This Charlie Daniels song choice certainly wasn’t going to alienate his audience. But this was actually a great choice for Andrew, allowing him to really wail. John noticed that Andrew appeared more confident than ever, and Adam Levine said it was Andrew’s best performance to date. It seemed like Andrew the dark horse was peaking at just the right time.

Kim Cherry (Team Blake), "Together Again"

Finally heeding Kelly’s advice to sing a ballad instead of some ‘90s-rap karaoke hit, last week’s Instantly Saved contestant went deep with this poignant Janet Jackson classic. It was an emotional night for Kim, who was reflecting on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death and had just received a message of support from her idols TLC. This was a transformed Kim, just her and a piano, being real and vulnerable and gimmick-free. I wish we’d seen more of this side of her this season. I enjoyed this.

Carter Lloyd Horne (Team Blake), "Take Me to Church"

I appreciate that this alt-country crooner took on Hozier’s “monster” song, since it was out of wheelhouse and not enough contestants have taken chances during this dull season. But this was a risk that sadly did not pay off. Carter struggled with his breath control, the key was too low, and the beginning was shaky and poorly paced. Even the usually coddling coaches had to acknowledge that he had messed up. “I don't know if you were hearing something differently… it was all pitchy in the beginning,” said Kelly. “It was hard to find the key in the beginning, I think with all the cheering and everything, and I don't know what was happening in your ears; I don't think you found it until the chorus. It happens to all of us,” shrugged John. All Blake could do was praise Carter for recovering, though I don’t think Carter ever really recovered. This was a shame. Carter was my favorite Team Blake contestant, but if there is one Team Blake contestant who doesn’t have a chance at making the final four, it’s now him.

Rod Stokes (Team Kelly), "Go Rest High on That Mountain"

Rod went with a religious song too, but somehow this didn’t seem as pandering as Gyth’s. He had a true connection to the song, having performed it at his grandparents' funerals, and he confessed, “It would mean so much if this song put me in the finale.” As John noted, this wasn’t one of Rod’s technically best performances, but the emotion was palpable and undeniable, and the song was a natural fit for Rod’s gritty gospel growl.

Maelyn Jarmon (Team Legend), “Stay”

If there was anything critical I could say about Maelyn throughout this season, it was that her performances were a bit sedate, and maybe too perfect and polished. But she brought the drama and passion with this incredible Rihanna cover. Standing on top of a white piano amid dry-ice clouds, draped in a Florence-like long red robe, she sounded rawer that usual, which drew me right into the performance. It seemed like she’d finally gotten out of her head and into her heart. This was amazing. I want her to stay. And I want her to win next week.

Dexter Roberts (Team Blake), "Here Without You"

Dexter also went with an unexpected song from the alt-rock genre, but unlike Carter’s Hozier risk, Dexter covering 3 Doors Down actually sounded great. This was my favorite performance from him yet. Kelly praised him for smartly stepping outside of his usual genre, which helped set him apart from the other country guys in the competition. (Blake pointed out that the song was Dexter’s idea.) I could imagine Dexter having a crossover country hit with this cover, and I think this could be the performance that gets him to the finale. I really saw him as an artist tonight.

Shawn Sounds (Team Legend), "A Song for You"

Sometimes I’ve described Shawn as “old-fashioned.” Tonight, I will describe him as “timeless.” He delivered a masterful, master-class rendition of the elegant Donny Hathaway classic, technically flawless but also impassioned. His proud coach was on his feet the entire time, and Adam told him, “You just put on a singing clinic. … That was the craziest performance of the night by far. That's why it was the last one. Honestly, thank God for you right now.”

BEATLES DUETS

Shawn Sounds & Kim Cherry, "Eleanor Rigby"

The sluggish arrangement here transformed a dramatic and melancholy song into a merely dreary song. Shawn was also adding way too many runs, which at times rendered the ballad nearly unrecognizable. This felt like it was 20 minutes long; I was relieved when it was over. I will say, though, that Kim sounded fantastic and unexpectedly out-sang Shawn. She had an overall good night.

Maelyn Jarmon & Rod Stokes, "Yesterday"

The former Cross-Battles opponents took on perhaps the most beloved (and one of the most covered) classics in the Beatles songbook — and not only didn’t ruin it, but had quite a moment with it. Though Maelyn is without a doubt the finest singer of this season and probably the only one with a chance of knocking Gyth down to second place, Rod was no slouch here; I’d never heard him sound better. It was almost as if the challenge of singing with Maelyn had brought out the best in Rod. This felt like a Grammy duet.

Gyth Rigdon & Dexter Roberts, "Hey Jude"

Laine Hardy did this song on American Idol this week, so apparently it’s a country standard now. “We're taking Jude down South,” Gyth joked. Well, they certainly took it down a notch. Overall, this was dull, despite some creative staging to make it look like Gyth and Dexter were in a recording studio. I don’t need to hear the actual recording of this.

Andrew Sevener & Carter Lloyd Horne, "Help"

Carter redeemed himself somewhat with this performance. I thought this would be a disaster, but he and Andrew were clearly having fun onstage together, singing the only uptempo Beatles cover of the night. And their rendition sounded convincingly country, in a jangly, Flying Burrito Brothers sort of way.

So now, it is prediction time. Along with Gyth and Maelyn, I think the other two finale spots will go to Dexter and Shawn; however, Kim and Rod also have good shots. Tuesday’s results show is going to be interesting. See you then.

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