‘The Voice’ Season 24 finally goes live with fiercely competitive top 12 night: ‘How are three people going to go home tomorrow?’

After weeks upon weeks of Blinds, Battles, Knockouts, Playoffs, and even a couple of clip shows — and with only two weeks left to go before the Season 24 grand finale — The Voice finally went live Monday, with the top 12 semifinalists comprising Teams Reba, Legend, Niall, and Gwen finally competing for America’s votes. It was a fiercely competitive night, so much so that host Carson Daly said it already felt like the finale. And then Carson exasperatedly declared, “How are three people going to go home tomorrow? How is that even gonna happen?”

Good question, Carson. Viewers won’t have an easy time of it, especially since there’s a new rule in place this season that allows only one vote per email address — meaning no more mass voting for multiple contestants at a time. It also seems that team quotas will not be in place, so Tuesday’s result could illustrate just how popular the current coaches — including new coach Reba McEntire — are among Voice fans.

Let’s assess Monday’s dozen performances, and then finally, for the first time this season, make some predictions.

Jacquie Roar (Team Reba), “Wildflowers and Wild Horses”

This “country-rock diva” took on a current hit by ubiquitous country it-girl Lainey Wilson, which was a risk. But she pulled it off, giving Tanya Tucker/Gretchen Wilson/Miranda Lambert rebel vibes with this fringe-flying, knee-dropping, hat-throwing, gauntlet-throwing tour de force. Reba called this number “fun,” and Niall Horan marveled that he’d never seen Jacquie seem so comfortable onstage before. It was the perfect opening to the show — but the problem with going first is that’s what known in the reality TV biz as the “death spot.” Hopefully Jacquie roared hard enough and loud enough, so that she wasn’t forgotten by the end of this performance-packed, two-hour episode.

Nini Iris (Team Niall), “Lovesong”

“The American dream is real!” declared this dark-pop diva, who was born in the country of Georgia, as she celebrated becoming a U.S. citizen by performing on one of America’s most popular TV shows. Nini belted a Cure classic, although it was obviously the intensely torchy Adele version. And she was serving all the drama and vocal acrobatics as she stood on a cube-shaped platform in a Goth gown surrounded by a string quartet. There was nothing subtle about this performance, and while I admitted her commitment and passion, I could see this being just a bit too much for some viewers. But Nini’s coach Niall seemed confident in her star power, even semi-joking, “And the Grammy goes to…” before declaring this effort “absolutely spectacular.”

Kara Tenae (Team Gwen), “Love”

Doing a Keyshia Cole ballad that just so happens to be guest mentor Chance the Rapper’s favorite song of all time, this ‘90s/2000s-throwback R&B powerhouse was pure class, and she earned a four-way standing ovation from the panel. Kara was all elegance and effortlessness, but her problem may be the opposite of the Nini situation: She made it look just a bit too easy. However, Gwen Stefani loved Kara’s natural, “pure” confidence, and John Legend pointed out that the Keyshia song was tougher than it seemed and thought Kara “nailed it.”

Tanner Massey (Team Gwen), “Thnks fr th Mmrs”

This was the first, and really only, big miss of the night. Fall Out Boy may be Tanner’s all-time favorite band, but he had to change up the tricky, wordy arrangement to make “Thnks fr th Mmrs” work for his pop style, so it was a foolish choice. His vocals were strained and nowhere near a Patrick Stump level, and his runs did not fit the song. The result was corny, unconvincing, and totally lacking in edge. Gwen admitted that she’d been worried, but thought Tanner did better than expected and she was still “rooting” for him. Meanwhile, Reba faintly praised Tanner for improving by “baby steps” throughout the season. I don’t think Tanner should have made it to the top 12 (I am still mad that Gwen saved him over the more ready-for-primetime Lennon VanderDoes), and while he might scrape through to the next round based on his teen-heartthrob appeal, this should be the end of the road for him.

Lila Forde (Team Legend), “Closer to Fine”

Doing the Indigo Girls classic that recently had a big Barbie moment, this winsome songstress returned to the piano for the first time since her Blind Audition and gave a fine performance indeed. It lack the fire and bite of the Indigos’ original, but her mellow-gold rendition rocked softly and was very identifiable and authentic. Another standing ovation ensued, as she totally redeemed herself from her previous odd and off-putting James Taylor cover. Niall declared himself Lila’s “biggest fan, without a shadow of a doubt,” and John told her, “It felt like we were at your concert. … You are so special.”

Ruby Leigh (Team Reba), “You Lie”

Sixteen-year-old Ruby, who I think has a good shot at winning this season, took on a Reba song that Reba herself said was a “rangy sucker.” But this old soul somehow sang it like her was her own, as if she’d personally experienced all the pain and heartbreak in those lyrics. A proud Reba was close to tears, Kleenex balled up in her hand, as she proclaimed that Ruby “blew it out of the water.” Niall got “goosebumps” as he gushed to Ruby, “That was special, the way you sold that story. It’s insane how good you are.”

Huntley (Team Niall), “With a Little Help from My Friends”

The roaring, raspy Joe Cocker version of the Beatles’ song was a genius choice for his gentle, jolly giant. And when Huntley got to that big rawk ‘n’ roll scream, which actually reminded me of Roger Daltrey’s climactic moment in the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it really did feel like the finale — and like Huntley had just won the whole show. I do believe he could win in two weeks’ time, giving fellow frontrunner Ruby some stiff competition. The usually quiet Carson was so wowed, he felt compelled to gasp, “You crushed that!” John told Huntley, “I feel like you’re already a pro, playing arenas.” And Niall even said Joe Cocker would approve of this performance.

Azán (Team Legend), “Ex-Factor”

Making The Voice history by doing a Lauryn Hill song that Ms. Hill herself granted special permission to clear for the show, Azán — the only Super-Saved contestant to actually make it to the Lives — delivered a VH1 Divas/BET Awards-style performance that proved Lauryn had made the right decision. Hopefully the song was recognizable enough for average Voice viewers to also appreciate, because this was soulful, seductive, sexy, sensuous, sultry… basically, all the right “S” adjectives. “I just felt everything — your passion, your emotion,” gushed John, who praised Azán’s “golden voice.”

Jordan Rainer (Team Reba) “Stranger in My House”

Jordan, a stylist who’s at her best doing story-songs, gave Tom Petty/country outlaw vibes on this theatrical Ronnie Milsap scorcher. As usual, she was a true original. Niall said she had a “gravitational pull as a performer,” and Reba called her a “star” who “demands attention — and gets it!” But I’m still concerned that Jordan’s constant wisecracking and tendency to hide behind her big black hat and shades will not only make her seem like a novelty act, but will create a disconnect/distancer from viewers — pushing them away, instead of drawing them in. Jordan has always been a favorite among the coaches, but it’ll be interesting to see how the votes play out.

Mara Justine (Team Niall), “Lose Control”

This total beast-mode Teddy Swims cover was my favorite performance of the night. It felt relevant, contemporary, and just oozing with coolness. With her beachy hair, sequined suit, camera eye-sexing, and complete command of the stage and of her instrument, Mara was superstar in a league of her own, serving Nikka Costa-meets-Florence Welch realness. “You deserve to go all the way,” Niall assured her, and I agreed.

Mac Royals (Team Legend), “I Can’t Make You Love Me”

I preferred Mac’s sexier D’Angelo cover from last week, but the way he pulled off Bonnie Raitt’s bluesy heartbreak ballad proved he can pull off just about anything. And I think this tender performance will connect with America at a crucial time. Mac is, as John put it, a “masterclass” singer and an “elite talent,” or, as the increasingly opinionated and enthusiastic Carson put it, a vocal “assassin.”

BIAS (Team Gwen), “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

This McConaughey-esque “country soul preacher” performed in what is known as the coveted “pimp spot,” and he closed the show in his endearingly loosey-goosey weirdo style with a spirited, fire-and-brimstone Johnny Cash cover. BIAS actually reminded me of one of my favorite American Idol alt-country mavericks, the similarly shagged-haired and Nudie-suited Paul McDonald. He may not be every viewer’s cup of mushroom tea, and I can’t imagine him actually winning Season 24, but I think this quirky dark horse will go farther than expected. Like Jordan, he’s an original. Gwen called him the “purest person” she’s ever met and advised him, “Just keep being you!”

So now, it is prediction time. On the first live results show of Season 24, the top 12 will become the top nine, as eight contestants make it through via the public vote and the remaining bottom four then sing for the Instant Save. I think the at-risk contestants who better have their (hopefully wisely chosen) “Save Me” songs ready to go are Jacquie (only because she went first Monday), Kara and Azán (because they could split the ‘90s R&B diva vote), Nini, Tanner… and maybe even Jordan.

Who will prevail? Tune in Tuesday and find out.

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