Betsy Barta, 22 and from Minneapolis, started singing when she was a kid, but would freeze in front of a crowd. At some point, with almost no context, we’re told that she and her guitar player decided to see if they could “survive on the street playing music.” Were they homeless? Did they survive? Questions and questions but no answers. Up on the stage, Betsy busts out a version of “Set Fire to the Rain” that puts her pretty voice at odds with the vampy StairMaster rhythm of the song. And I like the song. Unfortunately the judges agree — probably because of my opinion and the invisible political calculus that makes up each of their teams — and no coaches turn around. They all praise her, more or less, but Betsy begins to cry and crumble a bit. Not Adam: “I’ve got to hug you. You can’t be sad.” And he does. He hugs her!
That rejection ushers in more: Jewl Anguay (“Battlefield”), Ginette Claudette (“No One”), and Chris Johnson (“I Won’t Down”) all fail to make an impression.
The next contestant, meanwhile, comes overloaded with impression-making traits: Patrick Dodd lives in Memphis with his family, has shoulder-length dreads, and won an award on Beale Street. He’s a veteran crowd-pleaser. For proof, look no further than his song choice, “Walking in Memphis,” which I sang much too vehemently in my truck as a teenager. His singing faces are eh but his performing is a straight-up match between voice and song, all warbly and booze-covered.
Shakira clearly loves it and sells herself hard (“Don’t underestimate a 5'3" Colombian girl!"), but Adam also has passion, remember, and he appreciates a white guy with density and rasp when his own voice is so simple and raspy. (Oh, Adam.) A commercial break stalls the tension and then it’s all Adam.
After a trio of chosen ones — Trevor Davis, wearing a fedora and singing “Keep Your Head Up” (Team Blake); C. Perkins, singing “Because of You” (Team Shakira); and Agina Alvarez, singing “Beautiful Liar” (Team Adam) — it’s back to Orlando Dixon, and the night’s most heart-swelling moment.
What we know about him is this: His parents divorced when he was a child and he grew up without a father figure — although he and his dad have a relationship now. Also, “it can be stressful” trying to make ends meet for his family and a singing career could hopefully be a step up. This is underlined by Orlando tearing up on camera. He picks “So Sick” for his performance number and it’s decent, no doubt, though his lower register isn’t great. But it was the slow realization that none of the judges were buying it coupled with that shot of Orlando’s sister prepping herself for disappointment that had me pretty flattened…and then, at almost the last possible moment, Usher spun around. Orlando’s sister and I collectively freak out while our smooth-smilingest judge lavishes smooth smiles on Orlando, telling him he has great tone and that he should expect to be pushed going forward. Orlando replies, “Please do.” (Yes please.)
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