Gwen Stefani brings back a ‘Voice’ favorite… only to shockingly send him right back home-be

Everyone had been hoping the Super-Save twist would be used on Lennon VanderDoes, the man who once made John Legend cry. But there were more tears shed by Monday night’s end.

Fan favorite Lennon VanderDoes, far right, returns to 'The Voice' Season 24 for another chance... only to be cut from the competition mere minutes late. (NBC)

Fan favorite Lennon VanderDoes, far right, returns to The Voice Season 24 for another chance… only to be cut from the competition mere minutes late. (NBC)

 

Two weeks ago, on the final Knockout Rounds episode of The Voice Season 24, Team Niall’s singer-songwriter Lennon VanderDoes made John Legend ugly-cry with his gorgeous and heartfelt rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” A moment like that would have made Lennon a shoo-in during any other Knockout, but he had the misfortune of going up against early favorite Alexa Wildish and 13-year-old pop prodigy Julia Roome, in what the entire panel declared one of the greatest Knockouts in Voice history. And so, he was prematurely eliminated. However, mere minutes after Lennon’s exit, host Carson Daly made a bombshell announcement about a new Season 24 twist, the Super-Save, which would allow each coach to bring back a previously eliminated contestant — from any team. I’d actually speculated that the Super-Save had been invented especially for Lennon, even nicknaming this development the “VanderDoes Effect.”

Going into the Playoffs, I’d expected that either super-sensitive John or Lennon’s own coach, Niall Horan, would use the Super-Save on Lennon. Instead, it was Gwen Stefani who surprisingly made that call during Monday’s Playoffs, choosing Lennon over any eliminated singer from her own team. I was just thrilled to see Lennon back in the running representing any team, and I knew his performance of the Swell Season’s Oscar-winning Once theme, “Falling Slowly,” would be nothing less than magical. And Lennon did not disappoint. I was falling, quickly, for him all over again — as were the weepy judges, seemingly, and probably all of America. “That song was made for you,” gushed a beaming Niall.


That was why it was so shocking at the end of the episode, after all six Team Gwen contestants had competed for three spots in this season’s top 12 live semifinals, that Gwen did not pick Lennon — eliminating him for a second time. (Yep, that’s right: He sang a song from Once, and he went home twice.) If only she’d just used her Super-Save on another contestant, and let John bring Lennon back instead, this season could have panned out very differently.

Sigh. It’s even crazier to realize that, in spite of the supposedly historic greatness of the above-mentioned Lennon/Alexa/Julia three-way Knockout, all three of those singers are already gone. Niall used his (apparently useless) Super-Save on Julia last week, then sent her right back home, and he controversially cut Alexa on that very same night.

Both Team Gwen and Team Reba competed Monday, and while Gwen had to cut three of her six singers by the night’s end, Reba McEntire only had to eliminate two, as Team Reba’s country artist Tom Nitti had already quit the show for “personal reasons.” (Out of respect for Tom’s privacy, The Voice reps declined to share any specific information about his departure when contacted by Yahoo Entertainment, and Tom himself has not posted anything about it on social media at press time. Hopefully he is OK.) However, while Reba’s decision may have been a bit easier than Gwen’s, it certainly was not easy. Here’s what happened:

TEAM REBA

Jordan Rainer, “Boondocks”

This Reba-described “force of nature” was her usual badass self, playing banjo in what John called her “best outfit” on a swampy Little Big Town classic that tapped into her small-town Okie roots. And while sometimes Jordan’s persona can be grating or seem insincere, it worked this time. Niall praised her “natural stage presence,” Gwen told Jordan said the song choice was “so you,” and Reba was “so proud.”

Ms. Monét, “Until You Come Back to Me”

Ms. Monét was Reba’s “undeniable” Super-Save, so the R&B diva’s Aretha cover was appropriate for the occasion. A 50-year-old veteran pro background vocalist, Ms. Monét gave another technically perfect and self-assured performance, but John thought she did “a lot of things” and should have “dialed it back.” I just had the same gripe I’ve already had with Ms. Monét: Her performance was so old-fashioned and predictably inside-the-box. We already know she can sing, so this would have been the time for her to take an artistic risk.

Jacquie Roar, “The Chain”

Doing a brooding, smoky version of the Fleetwood Mac classic she used to sing with her now-defunct country-rock band Lace+Thorn, and decked out in Stevie Nicks witchy-woman finery, Jacquie roared indeed and had all four coaches on their feet. John praised the song’s “tasteful” arrangement and called this performance an “emphatic statement.” Jacquie’s original coach, Gwen, called this the “perfect Voice competition moment,” and understandably called herself “dumb” for letting Jacquie go.

Noah Spencer, “Jolene”

Noah did the Ray LaMontagne song, not Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and while it was — as Reba noted — right in his wheelhouse, I’m beginning to think this gentle folk singer could cover just about anything in his own unique style. Niall called Noah “an amazing talent” and “super-impressive”; Gwen loved this “really, really great artist’s” “mysterious” energy; and a “blown away” Reba said he turned everything up from “zero to 10.”

Ruby Leigh, “Long, Long Time”

Team Reba’s 16-year-old star player was worried she might not relate to this Linda Ronstadt love song due to her lack of personal romantic experience, but this old soul was so connected and authentic, she made those Man Ray-reminiscent glitter tears painted on her face seem real. This was exquisite. “It’s quite stunning that at your age you can sound like you’ve been through so much,” marveled John. Gwen said this was the kind of performance that could “save the world.” A “really, really emotional” Niall said this was the best version of the song he’d ever heard and warned, “If you don’t go to the Lives, Reba’s getting fired.”


Reba admitted she was a “wreck” during her deliberations, but at least she didn’t have to worry about getting sacked by NBC — because of courseshe picked Ruby, along with Jordan and Jacquie. I was sad to see Noah go, but Reba does have a very strong girl-powered team moving on to the Lives, interestingly representing different types of country music. Reba pondered aloud the possibility of these three dynamite ladies going out on a package concert tour, and that’s actually not a bad idea.

TEAM GWEN

Stee, “Shut Up and Dance”

I was surprised that Stee, who Gwen declared one of the best singers of the season, picked Walk the Moon’s feel-good, borderline-novelty song, which he regularly covers with his party band. I feel a ballad night have been a better vocal showcase, and Gwen warned Stee during rehearsal that his delivery was too “theatrical” and “professional” and he needed to “unpolish” himself. I’m sure this performance would go over well at weddings and bar mitzvahs, but it was too light and fluffy to be competitive in this context, even if the judges loved his bubbly energy.

BIAS, “Where I Find God”

This Larry Fleet song showcased what this swaggy, mustachioed Chattanooga country-rocker called his “real redneck side” — as well as his previously unseen “more toned-back” side, according to a pleasantly surprised Niall. And of course, what Gwen called BIAS’s “it factor” was on full display. John said BIAS “took the show to church” with his “really cool soulfulness” and did “exactly what he needed to do” during a “moment that really counted.” I am sure if public voting was already open, BIAS would top the leaderboard this week. I just hope he hasn’t peaked too early.

Rudi, “My All/Mi Todo”

Rudi dedicated Mariah Carey’s bilingual ballad to her aunt, who died of cancer two days before the Playoffs were taped, and due to that personal connection, she mostly redeemed herself after almost going home during her rocky Knockout Round. “That’s a Playoffs performance, right there! Incredible!” raved Carson. John noted that Rudi struggled with breath control but praised her for always picking “challenging” songs. Niall called this “really special,” and Reba thought this performance was “so sexy and so sensuous!” Even if this was the end of the road for Rudi, she made her aunt proud.

Tanner Massey, “Impossible”

This 19-year-old “diamond in the rough” delivered an alt-pop, Shawn Mendes-like version of Shontelle’s massive ballad, and he mostly pulled off the near-impossible, once he relaxed and took Gwen’s direction to make sure his voice didn’t sound “pinched.” The beginning was really rough, but at the end he hit what John called an “unexpected” note that wowed all of the judges, and even did what Gwen had instructed him to do: make her “forget he’s 19 years old.” All of the judges loved his passion and progression, but I didn’t think he needed to progress any further than the Playoffs.

Kara Tenae, “Rain”

Kara’s performance of this SWV classic aired the night after SWV themselves had appeared on BET’s Soul Train Awards, and Kara would have been right at home on that BET broadcast. This was a superstar moment from the woman Gwen declared a “phenomenon.” John called this performance “so savvy and beautiful,” and Gwen called it “real pro stuff.”

In her defense, Gwen’s team was more diverse than Reba’s — encompassing folk, pop, R&B and country — so her decision should have been even harder. But I think it was obvious that BIAS, Lennon, and Kara were the top three here. Gwen did wisely pick BIAS and Kara, but I am still flummoxed that she went with the not-quite-ready-for-primetime Tanner over Lennon. Sure, Gwen has had success with teen contestants before — in fact, the only time she has won, in all six of her previous Voice seasons, was with Carter Rubin, who was 14 at the time — but I still think Lennon was her one that got away.

Team Legend’s six contestants will compete Tuesday night, on the last Playoffs episode of the season before the live shows finally begin and America finally gets a say. Is it possible that John could bring back Lennon as his Super-Save? Sadly, probably not. But maybe there’s hope for my other favorite Season 24 underdog, Brandon Montel. Tune in to find out what happens.





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