'The Voice' Season 13 Knockouts, Part 3: Freight trains and love on the brain

The Voice Season 13’s Knockout Rounds wrapped Tuesday, but not without a little drama, of course. The night loudly commenced with a goes-to-11 double performance that, to employ another Spinal Tap catchphrase, was guaranteed to make your spine tingle, your blood curdle, and your eyes bulge out of your head—and it made a great gift, too! And at the episode’s end, there was one more 11th-hour Steal.

Let’s recap!

TEAM J.HUD: Chris Weaver vs. Katrina Rose

Miley Cyrus called church-trained drag queen Chris and scenery-chewing Vegas queen Katrina “two of the show’s biggest voices” — which was a total understatement, kind of like calling Miley’s 2013 VMAs performance “slightly suggestive.” Let’s face it, neither Chris nor Katrina know the meaning of the word “subtle” or the phrase “indoor voice.”

But hey, that’s OK! Because both of their Tuesday performances were abundantly entertaining. Chris took the show to church and to the drag club with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s theatrical “I Put a Spell on You,” utilizing his growl to full effect. We’ve seen and heard many bar-setting performances of this creepy classic — from the Nina Simone version that directly inspired Chris, to Annie Lennox at the Grammys, to bold American Idol (Casey Abrams, Quentin Alexander) and Voice (Christina Aguilera, Jacqui Lee) renditions — and now we can add Chris’s to that mix. This was stupendous.

Maintaining the post-Halloween theme was Katrina with the Cranberries’ fearsome “Zombie.” And while Katrina seemed borderline scary during the Battles (guest adviser Kelly Clarkson diplomatically described her over-the-top style as “distracting”), this week Katrina heeded Jennifer Hudson’s sage advice to be more intimate and not rely on her usual theater shtick, which can come across as shouty and overbearing on television. (Katrina used to play the lead in a professional production of Hairspray and therefore, like Chris, is used to having to sing to the back rows, not to a close-range camera lens.) I thought Katrina really sold the song, but she was still no match for Chris: Her screechy last note was a bit too much, and her performance felt too musical theater.

Jennifer already had a bond with “old Freight Train Chris” — the first recruit to her team, whom she’d met at a Color Purple party two years earlier — so Katrina, a Team J.Hud Steal, may not have been able to do anything to turn this situation around. But kudos to Katrina for taking direction, accepting her defeat with class, and making it this far. She may not be right for The Voice, but if there is ever a ’90s-themed Broadway remake of Rock of Ages (which would actually be awesome), her Cranberries cover should help her land the leading role.

WINNER: Chris Weaver

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TEAM BLAKE: Red Marlow vs. Megan Rose

Red “Country as a Wheelbarrow Full of Turnip Greens” Marlow may be corny (as cornbread!), but he sure is amusing. The likable class clown of Season 13 is full of bad puns, good-natured humor, and Hee Haw-worthy one-liners. But this week, upon Kelly’s wise urging, the “man’s man” showcased a less shticky, more sensitive side, with Craig Campbell’s story-song “Outskirts of Heaven.” It was just what he needed to do to be taken seriously in this competition. His laid-back, traditional approach helped him connect to both the material and the audience, and the instant he crooned the line “My grandpa taught me about buck knives and shotguns,” it was clear that he had won this Knockout — and America’s hearts.

Blake Shelton explained that he’d pitted Red and Megan against each other because he needed to figure out which country lane to take for the remainder of the season. But poor pop-country singer Megan, doing a rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break” that wasn’t exactly smokin’, had no chance against big Red. She got off to a disappointingly shaky start, which Blake nicely attributed to nerves, and “took a half-step from her rehearsal,” which had gone much more smoothly. The more dynamic and ready-for-prime-time Ashland Craft is already occupying Megan’s lane, so this was the end of the lane, or road, for Megan.

“I know you’re country. … It’s just really unfiltered, unpretentious, great country singing,” Adam Levine told Red. “You are country, Red. This is what country sounds like. You’re a country star,” said Jennifer. Red may or may not win this show, but America will love him, and NBC ought to give him a show of his own.

WINNER: Red Marlow

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TEAM ADAM: Anthony Alexander vs. Hannah Mrozak

So, if you’re doing the Voice math, this is the Knockout that, as Carson Daly kept spoiling promising, ended in a Steal. But it still didn’t end the way you probably expected.

Teenage Anthony’s “Mercy” (by Shawn Mendes, not the Duffy ditty) was pleasant, but even his own coach, Adam, said Anthony was “not fully cooked” and a “raw, uncut diamond.” The kid showcased a solid enough pop voice, but his stage presence was lacking, his performance hesitant and shy. Plus, his voice cracked, Peter Brady-style, a couple times. I think Anthony might have been better off waiting to audition for Season 14 or 15.

There was nothing undercooked about Hannah’s performance of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain,” however; she was fully baked and serving it. And to quote another Rihanna song, she shined bright like a (not raw or uncut) diamond. The Season 13 contestant posing the biggest direct threat to similar pop/soul balladeer Brooke Simpson, Hannah stunned with her spectacular, expertly controlled, Jessie J/Ariana Grande-level vocals.

But Adam showed mercy on Anthony and, shockingly, let Hannah go. I’m surprised that a coach as competitive as Adam would make such a foolish mistake. But Team Adam’s loss was Team J.Hud’s gain, as Jennifer swooped right in for the Steal.

WINNER: Anthony Alexander / STOLEN: Hannah Mrozak moves to Team J.Hud

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So now we have our top 20 (check out my full rankings and the cast’s new photos here). Team Adam consists of Addison Agen, Anthony Alexander, Adam Cunningham, Emily Luther, and Jon Mero. Team Blake has Chloe Kohanski, Esera Tuaolo, Keisha Renee, Mitchell Lee, and Red Marlow. Team J.Hud comprises Chris Weaver, Davon Fleming, Hannah Mrozak, Noah Mac, and Shi’Ann Jones. And on Team Miley, there’s Adam Pearce, Ashland Craft, Janice Freeman, Moriah Formica, and Brooke Simpson.

Though Team Blake’s Chloe is my overall favorite, I’d still say Season 13 is a lady coaches’ season to lose, with both Jennifer’s and Miley’s lineups looking great. However, apparently four previously eliminated contestants (hopefully the totally robbed Ignatious Carmouche and Meagan McNeal among them) will return for next week’s Playoffs, so that could really change the odds. Watch this space, and see you then, when the top 20 become the top 24.

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