‘The Voice’ makes ‘drastic’ rule change after John Legend breaks down: ‘I don’t know why I keep crying!’

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Tuesday marked the end of the Knockout Rounds for The Voice Season 24 — a season so stellar, so fiercely competitive, that producers ultimately decided they needed to take extreme measures in order to accommodate all of the stacked talent. And those producers just might have tweaked the show’s format because John Legend turned on the waterworks and tugged at their heartstrings. A weepy Legend can be hard to resist.

John Legend weeps over the performances by Team Niall's Alexa Wildish, Julia Roome, and Lennon VanderDoes. (NBC)

John Legend weeps over the performances by Team Niall’s Alexa Wildish, Julia Roome, and Lennon VanderDoes. (NBC)

But more on John’s surprising crying jag in a moment. Tuesday’s episode cliffhangingly ended with host Carson Daly gathering backstage with John, Gwen Stefani, Niall Horan, and Reba McEntire, telling the coaches: “Something happened this particular season. The artists are getting better and better. In the Blinds, we had more four-chair turns that we’d ever had. The Knockouts… we’ve never seen anything like it! So, we’ve changed the rules. We’ve had to do something rather drastic — something that’s never been done in all [23 previous] seasons on The Voice.”

The show then cut to a four-way Brady Bunch-style grid of John, Gwen Niall, and Reba all FaceTiming four previously eliminated mystery contestants, inviting them back to the competition. While those contestants’ faces weren’t shown, their speaker-phoned shrieks of disbelief and elation could be heard loud and clear — and I have hunch that troubadour Lennon VanderDoes, actually a Team Niall contestant, was on the other end of the line with John.

Lennon would have been a shoo-in during any other Knockout, but he had the misfortune Tuesday of going up against exquisite songbird Alexa Wildish. Alexa did Cher’s “Believe” — a song that one of reality TV’s all-time greatest vocalists, Adam Lambert, memorably belted on American Idol Season 8 — and she too made it her own, so much so that guest Mega-Mentor Wynonna Judd compared Alexa to her personal “she-ro,” Joni Mitchell. Alexa’s gorgeous rehearsal alone had her 13-year-old opponent, Julia Roome in tears, and once Alexa got onstage, the coaches were sobbing as well.

Julia, the youngest contestant of Season 24, was understandably intimidated, and she didn’t make things any easier for herself by choosing a song as massive as Sia’s “Unstoppable.” But I give the kid credit for just going for it, and for taking Wynonna and guest advisers Dan + Shay’s direction to be less actress-y, feel the groove more, and not rush ahead of beat. She wasn’t quite as ready for primetime as 34-year-old Alexa or 27-year-old Lennon, and she probably could have waited a couple of seasons to go on The Voice, but she no doubt has a fabulous career ahead of her.

And then Lennon closed the night with Jason Mraz’s perhaps prophetically titled “I Won’t Give Up,” showcasing his distinctively crisp and reedy tone that Wynonna called “very special.” At this point, John gasped, “What are we doing? Why do none of us have Steals? … I’m like, crying right now!” And John was not alone. Gwen was crying. Niall was crying. Even Alexa was crying. Basically, the entire cast was a blubbering mess. “Mama bear” Reba eventually had to hand John a tissue.

“I cry a lot more since I became a dad,” confessed John, who became so choked up while addressing Lennon — who he’d wrongly presumed was this Knockout’s “underdog” — that he could barely get the words out. “I don’t know why I keep crying! I can’t stop! [Lennon’s performance] just felt so moving to me. It really just got me.”

John Legend cries over Lennon VanderDoes's performance on 'The Voice.' (NBC)

John Legend cries over Lennon VanderDoes’s performance on ‘The Voice.’ (NBC)

“That’s the biggest compliment another artist can give you, is to sit there and cry, because you touched John to the core,” noted Reba, while Niall said John’s verklempt reaction was his “favorite moment on The Voice.” Niall eventually picked “one-in-a-million talent” Alexa because her performance was the “most mind-blowing moment” he’d ever had on the show — but practically as soon as Lennon went home (because Niall had no more Saves, and the other coaches didn’t have any Steals), Carson was making his bombshell backstage announcement about this season’s new comeback rule. Call it the VanderDoes Effect, if you will.

Gwen Stefani tears up during Lennon VanderDoes's performance. (NBC)

Gwen Stefani tears up during Lennon VanderDoes’s performance. (NBC)

Alexa Wildish becomes emotional after she and her 'Voice' Knockout Rounds opponents, Julia Roome and Lennon VanderDoes, perform. (NBC)

Alexa Wildish becomes emotional after she and her ‘Voice’ Knockout Rounds opponents, Julia Roome and Lennon VanderDoes, perform. (NBC)

We won’t know until Nov. 27, when the Playoffs commence, if in fact Lennon received one of Season 24’s historic last-minute reprieves, or who any of the returning contestants are. But there’s one particular rejected Team Legend singer from Tuesday that I’m rooting for. Below are the other performances from this season’s final Knockout Rounds.

TEAM LEGEND: Taylor Deneen vs. Brandon Montel vs. Mac Royals

Two of these contestants, Brandon and Mac, were stolen from other teams, but those Steals only stacked the odds ever in John’s favor. And with John still having his one Save left in play at this point, it seemed highly likely that two of these three talents would move on to the Playoffs.

Both Brandon and Mac gave O.G. Team Legend member Taylor some stiff competition, starting with Mac, who covered Robin Thicke’s “Lost Without You” and was, as Wynonna so colorfully worded it, “as slick as snot on a doorknob.”

Taylor’s voice was, as John put it, “sweet as honey” on Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing,” especially after John instructed bandleader Paul Mirkovich to slow down the arrangement so that the performance would be more sultry and have more “smoke-filled-lounge energy.” Wynonna was once again impressed, expressing her amazement as only she could, gasping: “I really just want to slap you!” (Wynonna later clarified, “That’s the ultimate compliment — I hope she got that!”)

But Brandon, one of my favorites of the season, was the real superstar here. He gave everything to SZA’s “Nobody Gets Me,” and everybody got it. John even called him a “male Brandy” — please note, Brandy’s own nickname is a “The Vocal Bible” — which he pointed out is a “high compliment among R&B singers.”

That was why it was so shocking to me when, after John picked Mac, he saved Taylor, not Brandon. But John would have had a tough time no matter what he decided; “I don’t think we’ve ever had Knockouts with this level of high-quality performances,” he griped, echoing Carson’s later statement. So, yes, I’m really hoping that Brandon was one of the contestants that the coaches’ were FaceTiming at the end of the episode. He deserves another shot.

WINNER: Mac Royals / SAVED: Taylor Deneen

TEAM REBA: Jordan Rainer vs. Elizabeth Evans vs. Caitlin Quisenberry

Reba called Jordan, who sassed her way through Kelsea Ballerini’s divorce song “Hole in the Bottle,” the “most country act I have on my team.” But Jordan may as well have been the only act on Reba’s team tonight, because only her rehearsal and performance made it to air. Reba was not exaggerating when she said Jordan “stole the show,” because Jordan’s opponents’ names weren’t even mentioned. (I eventually figured out, after squinting at the postage-stamp-sized cast photos on the NBC website, that they were Elizabeth and Caitlin, who I am quite sure weren’t among the singers that the coaches invited back.) Season 24 certainly would be a lot less exciting without the spunky Jordan — who was this season’s first (four-chair) auditioner and Reba’s first recruit — so this outcome, montaged or not, was no surprise. But I will say, Jordan’s wisecracking Hee Haw shtick is already wearing a bit thin and making her seem like a novelty act, distracting from her actual talent. It’ll be interesting to find out, once the Playoffs and the public voting begins, if the jokey Jordan has genuinely connected with viewers.

WINNER: Jordan Rainer

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