Kelly Clarkson makes the 'hardest decision' she's ever made on 'The Voice'

Kelly Clarkson was only 19 when she auditioned for the first season of American Idol — not much older than the two final Team Kelly contestants, 16-year-olds Gracee Shriver and Damali, who competed during Tuesday’s The Voice Season 17 Knockout Rounds. Kelly struggled to choose between the two very different singers — country girl Gracee, who put a Patty Loveless-like, strummy spin on the Wreckers’ breakup ballad "Leave the Pieces,” and dark-indie-pop stylist Damali, who dedicated her raw, brave, and soulful cover of Demi Lovato’s “Sober” to a family member who is battling addiction. 

“I just know it's an important moment for you. I get it. I was a teenager in a competition. It's such an important moment. I wish I had a crystal ball,” Kelly agonized when the moment of reckoning — “forever the hardest decision I've ever made on this show” — arrived. She stalled for time and even begged host Carson Daly for “10 seconds with me and the Lord.” 

“You're both really good,” Kelly told the girls. “Damali, you have this Annie Lennox thing for me. And Gracee, God, you're so original. You are both fantastic. It's like a young Mariah and a young Dixie Chicks, both things I grew up on and love. And this was a really, really hard one for me. And I have never twisted this ring on my finger so hard, because I really do love both of you. I am so nervous!”

Damali, in my opinion, was the clear winner here — and it seemed Kelly thought so too, because Damali’s performance actually brought her to tears. But Kelly was still torn, and her tears flowed anew when Carson finally forced her to choose. But ultimately, she chose wisely, and she went with the more compelling and original Damali.

But soon Kelly was shedding happy tears, when Blake Shelton used his one Steal to recruit Gracee, a natural fit for his team. Gracee and Damali wept with joy as well, thus bringing the Knockouts to a feel-good conclusion. Aw.

Let’s look at the rest of this season’s Knockout Rounds, then assess where the teams stand going in next week’s top 20 Playoffs.

Team Legend: Marybeth Byrd vs. Preston C. Howell

Fifteen-year-old crooner Preston gave a great audition with his modernized take on the Great American Songbook, but when he went off-brand in the Battle Rounds with “Fire and Rain,” he fizzled. (He should have never advanced over Mendeleyev, really.) Preston got back in his lane this week with Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” but his fire still wasn’t entirely relit. Despite Taylor suggesting that Preston flirt with the audience (which he did, to some effect, especially with Gwen Stefani) and keep things swinging and fun, his performance felt tepid and tentative. He’s just a kid, really, and I think the pressure got to him.

Meanwhile, Marybeth went with a much more vocally challenging ballad, the Melissa Manchester-esque (Melissa Mancunian?) “All I Ask” by her idol, Adele. I can’t claim that she was at an Adele level, but the 18-year-old Marybeth delivered another strong, confident, and mature performance that proved just what a difference three years in age and experience can make. Preston is obviously talented, but he probably should have waited a couple more seasons to audition.

WINNER: Marybeth

Team Blake: Zach Bridges vs. Ricky Braddy

As both Blake and Ricky noted, covering John Legend’s songs on this show is always a big risk. But, as evidenced by Ricky’s brief tenure on American Idol 10 years ago, when he was an early/robbed favorite, he is the kind of singer that can pull it off. His rendition of John’s "So High," dedicated to his boyfriend, was an old-fashioned performance, but some might call it timeless, and every note was powerful and pristine.

Country singer Zach also made a risky pick with Garth Brooks’s “The Dance,” a song so beloved and well-known that there was no way he could top it or make it his own. Kelly noted that he didn’t stray from Brooks’s version at all. I thought he might still prevail, because he did a solid enough job and, well, he is country (which Ricky is not). But I am glad that Blake didn’t let genre affect his decision, simply going with the superior singer. 

WINNER: Ricky

Team Gwen: Myracle Holloway vs. Calvin Lockett

I am sorely disappointed that this Knockout wasn’t shown in full, since Myracle has been one of my favorite singers of Season 17. She impressed with her cover of Tevin Campbell “Can We Talk,” though it was much more light-hearted and upbeat than her usual heart-on-sleeve balladry. Calvin’s performance and mentoring session with Taylor, on the other hand, were not shown at all. Why? Did he tick someone off? Did he completely blow it onstage and embarrass himself? (He was montaged in the Battle Rounds too, interestingly.) We will likely never know what happened. All we know is Myracle is moving on to the Playoffs, which was probably a done deal anyway. I look forward to seeing more of her very soon.

WINNER: Myracle

So, now Team Blake has Gracee Shriver, folk singer Cali Wilson, teen prodigy Kat Hammock, and the rock ‘n’ soul Rickys (Duran and Braddy). Team Gwen has Myracle Holloway, long-haired blues-rocker Jake Haldenvang, indie stylist Kyndal Inskeep, R&B diva Rose Short, and teen pop girl Joana Martinez. Team Kelly has Damali, teen duo Hello Sunday, country dude Jake Hoot, balladeer Shane Q, and indie artist Max Boyle. And finally, Team Legend consists of Marybeth Byrd, soul sensation Khalea Renee, quirky mavericks Will Breman and Katie Kadan, and singer-songwriter Alex Guthrie. These are pretty strong teams – definitely stronger than they were at this stage of the game during the past couple of seasons – but right now, I’d say John is the coach to beat. He may be on to a repeat victory.

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Kelly Clarkson out and about
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Kelly Clarkson out and about
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 27: Kelly Clarkson attends Taste for a Cure at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 27, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 27: Kelly Clarkson attends UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation Hosts 23rd Annual 'Taste for a Cure' Event Honoring President of Alternative and Reality Group for NBC Entertainment, Paul Telegdy at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 27, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - APRIL 23: Kelly Clarkson attends NBC's 'The Voice' Season 14 taping on April 23, 2018 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/Getty Images for NBC)
THE VOICE -- 'Live Playoffs' Episode 1414B -- Pictured: Kelly Clarkson -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 15: Kelly Clarkson performs onstage during the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jason Merritt/ACMA2018/Getty Images for ACM)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 651 -- Pictured: Singer Kelly Clarkson during an interview on February 27, 2018 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Kelly Clarkson on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 26: Kelly Clarkson visits 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on February 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for NBC)
THE VOICE -- 'Knockout Rounds' -- Pictured: Kelly Clarkson -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Kelly Clarkson arrives at the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Brandon Blackstock (L) and recording artist Kelly Clarkson attend the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25: Kelly Clarkson attends the Warner Music Group Pre-Grammy Party in association with V Magazine on January 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images )
THE VOICE -- 'Battle Rounds' -- Pictured: Kelly Clarkson -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Singer Kelly Clarkson attends the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 31: Kelly Clarkson performs onstage during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2018 on December 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for dcp)
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 09: Vocalist Kelly Clarkson attends the 2017 iHeartRadio Canada Jingle Ball at the Air Canada Centre on December 9, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by GP Images/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 10: Kelly Clarkson attends the KISS 108's Jingle Ball 2017 presented by Capital One at TD Garden on December 10, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Singer Kelly Clarkson arrives at the Billboard Women In Music 2017 at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 30, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
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