Jennifer Hudson and ‘Voice’ contestant connect over family tragedies: 'I can have that conversation with you'

Jennifer Hudson rarely discusses the unthinkable tragedy that struck her family 10 years ago: On Oct. 24, 2008, her mother, brother and nephew were murdered by her sister’s estranged husband. (“It’s frustrating as hell to me to have somebody who ain’t lost nothing try to talk to me about it,” she told Glamour magazine in 2015. “I want to say, ‘Don’t even bother, because you know nothing.’”) One of her Voice contestants this season, SandyRedd, has a been a standout for her fiery, Tina Turner-esque rock ‘n’ soul numbers, but she hasn’t shown much vulnerability.

But on Monday’s top 13 night, when SandyRedd dedicated Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” to her mother, who died of an aggressive form of cancer, the singer’s “Chicago sister” Jennifer could relate. What ensued was a raw, genuine moment during which both women truly opened up.

“My entire career is centered around making sure my mother’s legacy is felt and to remember her always,” said SandyRedd. “This speaks volumes about how much I miss her.” Jennifer replied, “I definitely understand. … There’s not too many people I would sit and have a conversation with about the loss of my mother, because they can’t relate. I can have that conversation with you, because I know you know.”

Trading in her trademark leather and thigh-high boots for a Grammy-worthy column gown, SandyRedd delivered a stately and uncharacteristically subdued rendition of the five-hanky ballad, during which both she and her coach fought back tears. SandyRedd was bawling by the end, although to her credit she didn’t let her sobs compromise her vocals, which had been Jennifer’s concern during rehearsal.

“[That performance] took us to the depth of your hurt,” said a clearly moved Jennifer. “That was a powerful thing.”

Monday’s dedication-themed, pre-Thanksgiving show packed other emotional wallops, and there will be more such moments Tuesday when two contestant go home. But before then, here’s how the rest of Monday went:

Chris Kroeze (Team Blake) – “Let It Be”

Chris dedicated the evangelical Beatles ballad to 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who was abducted in Chris’s hometown of Barron, Wisc., over a month ago and is still missing. It was a heartfelt sentiment, and the a cappella intro was an attention-grabber. But something about the rest of this performance missed the mark for me. There was a blankness in Chris’s eyes, a weird flat affect. I’ve seen Chris be more connected. But I agree with Blake Shelton’s declaration: “Hopefully this night will have a happy ending, and that little 13-year-old girl will be found and there will be a happy ending.”

Tyke James (Team Adam) “Everything I Do, I Do It for You “

Tyke’s shouty Kings of Leon cover last week was a disaster, but he rebounded this week. Maybe it was because he dedicated his performance to his supportive mom or because he tapped into his Hawaiian roots by having ukulele accompaniment. Tyke was still one of the weakest vocalists on a night dominated by the likes of SandyRedd, Kymberli Joye and MaKenzie Thomas, but he definitely was smart to stick with a soft, gentle vibe rather than trying (and failing) to do the wannabe powerhouse-rocker shtick.

DeAndre Nico (Team Adam) – “I Can Only Imagine”

This must have been a tough song for DeAndre to get through: He dedicated it to a “strong woman” — his girlfriend, Crystal, who found out she was pregnant during his Knockout Rounds but later lost the baby. Crystal flew to L.A. to watch DeAndre perform MercyMe’s heartstring-tugging CCM classic, and she couldn’t have been the only one in the studio audience in tears. This was a truly connected performance. “Everybody has their own definition of what they’re singing and why they’re singing it,” Jennifer said. “I felt like we felt yours.”

Kymberli Joye (Team Kelly) “Diamonds”

I still can’t believe America didn’t vote for this dynamite lady last week. Clearly Kelly Clarkson made the right decision to save her. Kymberli indeed shone bright on this dramatic Rihanna track (dedicated to her little sister); I hadn’t heard such a good cover version of “Diamonds” since La’Porsha Renae did it when American Idol was still on Fox. Elegant, effortless, epic — Kymberli had it all. If viewers put her in the bottom this week (and they might), I give up on this show.

Kennedy Holmes (Team J.Hud) “Wind Beneath My Wings”

Dedicating this Beaches weeper to her parents was a bit maudlin, like something a kid might sing at her 8th grade graduation. (Actually, Jennifer did sing it at her 8th grade graduation.) Jennifer advised this pitch-perfect (read: almost too-perfect) teen to really “feel it,” but I still sensed her holding back and overthinking. (Jennifer had also advised her to not look at her mom in the audience, lest she get too emotional, but I would have welcomed some messiness here.) I could not fault the technical skill, though, and neither could the coaches, who gave her a standing ovation.

Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly) “Little White Church”

On a night of sad ballads, it was a risky move for Chevel to do this Little Big Town barnstormer. But the risk paid off. I much preferred 16-year-old Chevel in raspy, sassy mode to last week’s treacly “Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days.” This was youthful, energetic and fun. She needs to work on her performance skills a bit, but she is starting to loosen up and is well on her way.

MaKenzie Thomas (Team J.Hud) “I Am Changing”

Honoring her coach by singing the coach’s own song could have seemed like a cheesy, ass-kissing move, but it made sense. MaKenzie was rejected last season, and this season, Jennifer was the only coach that believed in her and turned a chair. What a difference a season makes! MaKenzie is changing, indeed. Her confidence has grown so much in such a short time, and while I would still like her to youth things up a bit (she’s only 20, after all), this was a faultless vocal. “The next time I perform, my dedication is going to be to you, sweetheart,” said Jennifer.

Sarah Grace (Team Kelly) – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

Sixteen-year-old Sarah is an accomplished musician as well as a vocalist, so she dedicated this ethereal Elton John cover to her performing arts school back home. She was giving me baby Bareilles vibes — and giving me chills. Once again, I appreciated that she stayed at her piano throughout instead of abandoning it after one verse and chorus like an unnecessary prop. Sarah is the real deal. She did her alma mater proud.

Dave Fenley (Team Blake) – “Hard to Love”

This Lee Brice cover, dedicated to Dave’s wife, had a gruff, Ryan Adams/Tom Petty vibe that I enjoyed. It was another low-performance from Dave, who slipped under the radar last week and had to be saved by Blake. But his workmanlike, “rock-solid,” meat-and-potatoes performances and undeniable authenticity could make him Season 15’s dark horse. “I was super-mad when for some ungodly reason you didn’t get voted through last week,” Adam Levine said. “You’re one of my favorites. We just didn’t know you yet. Thank God tonight I think people will realize they made a mistake.”

Lynnea Moorer (Team Kelsea/Kelly) – “Wolves”

This Comeback Stage contestant’s advancement to the top 13 (over contestants who had actually turned chairs and gone through the Battles and Knockouts) was controversial, but Lynnea proved to America that she deserved to be here. “Lynnea might be coming in as the underdog, but she’s going to shock everybody,” Kelly proclaimed. And she was right! Lynnea’s Selena Gomez cover, dedicated to her mother in prison, was surprisingly exquisite. If she had been this good in her Blind Audition, she would have turned a couple of chairs. Lynnea has a lot to overcome to win America this week, but this was impressive.

Kirk Jay (Team Blake) – “I’m Already There”

Normally I would’ve prefer a less overdone, old-fashioned song choice than this safe Lonestar wedding ballad, but since Kirk is the country frontrunner this season, he can really do no wrong. He lent the corny song (dedicated to his mom, who had never seen him perform live until tonight and was understandably crying with joy) true grit and vulnerability. This was the standing ovation-garnering performance of a Nashville star. “Kirk is what this show is all about,” Blake said. “He’s undiscovered talent from Alabama; he doesn’t look how he sounds, and he’s got a legitimate shot at making it in country music.” Jennifer raved, “I’m your biggest fan!”

Reagan Strange (Team Adam) – “You Say”

The country-pop girl with the punk-rock name, who can already count Season 4 winner Danielle Bradbery among her fans, dedicated this Lauren Daigle song to her grandparents. (Her grandfather is a pastor, and she recently performed “You Say” at his church.) The pimp-spot placement and religious song choice probably would have assured her success regardless, but this was a solid, confident performance and lovely vocal. “You epitomize what the show stands for. … You are truly an amazing artist,” said Adam, who must know that Reagan is his best (or maybe only) bet of making it to the finale this season.

So now it’s prediction time. On Tuesday, three contestants will sing for the Instant Save, and two will go home. I predict that the three will be Tyke James, Lynnea Moorer and Kymberli Joye — with Kymberli winning by a landslide. Tune in then to find out if I’m right.

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