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‘I put you right up there with the best I’ve ever been around’

The Voice Season 24 Playoffs wrapped Tuesday with John Legend’s team, and if I’m being honest, these weren’t the last singers standing that I’d expected to see on Team Legend. John started off with the arguably the most stacked group that included eight four-chair-turn contestants, but by this point in the season, his final six included three Steals (former Team Reba member Mac Royals, former Team Gwen member Kristen Brown, and former Team Niall member Azán, who was also John’s Super-Save this week) and one Save from the Knockout Rounds, Taylor Deneen. Only two singers on his seemingly underdog-dominated team, Lila Forde and Kaylee Shimizu, had won every step of the way up until now.

But that doesn’t mean John won’t be headed to the winner’s circle this season. As it turns out, he chose very wisely when he stole four-chair R&B crooner Mac Royals from Reba McEntire during the Battle Rounds. Mac ended Tuesday’s episode with a swaggy, splashy, super-sexy rendition of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel”) — serving total ‘90s BET Awards realness in a billowing white suit — and it was fitting that he performed last, because he came across like the night’s headliner. Mac’s performance also made him seem like he’d already won the show.

“What just happened? That was insane!” gasped Niall Horan. “I felt like I was watching the grand finale, and America was just about to pick up the phone and vote.”

“That is a star standing next to you,” a dazzled Gwen Stefani informed host Carson Daly, after Mac’s gauntlet-throwing, mic-dropping performance.

“I’ve been making R&B music for decades now, and I put you right up there with the best I’ve ever been around,” said John — quite high praise coming from a man whose many A-list collaborators have included Andre 3000, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Mariah Carey, Common, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill, Pink, the Roots, Snoop Dogg, and Jazmine Sullivan. “I feel you are the complete package of what R&B needs right now. … I’m ready to hear a Mac record right now!”

Of course, before a Mac record comes out, Mac actually has to win The Voice — and even that won’t be any guarantee, considering this show’s absolutely abysmal history of not promoting its 23 past champions. But Royals is definitely on his way to becoming Voice royality, because when John announced the three Team Legend contestants moving on to next week’s live semifinals (when America will finally be able to pick up the phone and vote), he unsurprisingly called Mac’s name first. And John made the right call when it came to his other two choices, too. Read on.

Azán, “Adorn”

John declared Azán his favorite live performer on his team, which was why he made her his Super-Save. Azán was eager to prove that he’d made a smart decision in bringing her back, and she didn’t disappoint with her rendition of Miguel’s iconic bedroom ballad. Niall declared it her “best performance by miles,” and John called it “formidable, undeniable” and “literally perfect — there is nothing I would edit or change.”

Kristen Brown, “Need You Now”

Kristen wanted to “make John glad he picked a country girl” when he stole her from the country-adjacent Gwen, but ironically, by drastically stripping back her arrangement of Lady A’s hit, she sort of de-countrified it. However, it was a nicely torchy performance that Reba claimed “represented country music so well” and had Gwen feeling “stupid” for letting Kristen go. “I stole you for a reason,” John assured Kristen, calling her “flawless.”

Kaylee Shimizu, “You Put a Move on My Heart”

This challenging song, originally sung by Tamia on Quincy Jones’s all-star album Q’s Juke Joint, wasn’t an obvious choice for 17-year-old Kaylee, and Kaylee admitted that her lack of real-life romantic experience made it hard for her to relate to the lyrics. But she certainly had no problem hitting all those power notes that John said were way up “in the stratosphere.” Reba seemed to think this was the end of the road for Kaylee, passive-aggressively dismissing her with “I hope have a wonderful time with your career,” but John insisted to Kaylee, “You’re ready for this. You’re ready to be a big star.”

Taylor Deneen, “Get Here”

This Oleta Adams ballad has been a singing-show staple since it was Justin Guarini’s signature song on American Idol Season 1, so her performance was a bit old-fashioned, especially for a 23-year-old. Or… was it just classic? It did have a certain timeless quality to it. “You carry yourself with such elegance,” gushed John. “It felt like you were putting on a great concert for us.”

Lila Forde, “Angel From Montgomery”

Going with the perfect “heart-based song” choice for a non-belter, folky Lila brought sass and even a bit of unexpected sex appeal to this relaxed, easy-breezy, thoroughly charming performance. Gwen loved the ‘70s-throwback vibe and called Lila “authentic and pure”; Reba told Lila, “You’re in a little category by yourself”; and Niall even called Lila “one of my favorite acts I’ve ever seen on The Voice.” John told her, “You just have a certain light about you, a real sense of identity. … It’s fresh but classic at the same time.”

My picks based on this round were Lila, Azán, and the above-mentioned Mac… and I got my way! Yes, John did good here. And I think it’s safe to say his team is still stacked. It’s also worth noting that John’s Super-Save was the only one worth the cue card it was written on, since none this season’s other three Super-Saves — Julia Roome, Ms. Monét, and Lennon VanderDoes — ultimately made the top 12. John explained that he needed to “reward” Azán for “rising to the occasion” this week.

As for the rest of the top 12, they comprise Team Niall’s Nini Iris, Huntley, and Mara Justine; Team Gwen’s BIAS, Kara Tenae, and Tanner Massey; and Team Reba’s Jordan Rainer, Ruby Leigh, and Jacquie Roar. Among those singers, I think Huntley and Ruby will be Mac’s stiffest competition, but anything could happen once the decisions are in viewers’ hands. See you next Monday as the Lives commence.

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