Spoiler alert! Minor spoilers ahead for the Top 17 Live Performances of The Voice, Season 20.
Blake Shelton got a little testy again during The Voice’s Top 17 Live Performance show after Kelly Clarkson team member Kenzie Wheeler’s performance, saying he got called out for “being honest” about the country singer in the Knockout Round. With what we’ve seen from the cowboy so far this season and emotions running high for the first live episode of Season 20, was this another hint that the end is near for the last remaining OG Voice coach?
After Kenzie Wheeler’s performance of Brooks and Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road” in the Top 17 Performances show, host Carson Daly threw it to “resident cowboy” Blake Shelton to give the first feedback on the country classic. And while Shelton has been consistently complimentary of Wheeler, Shelton sounded annoyed with the criticism he got from his previous comments.
Kenzie, last time I spoke to you, I learned a very important lesson. I said to you that I thought you were going to win the show, and that has since been used against me so many freaking times that I deeply regret saying that to you now, and it only goes to show, to me, that being honest on this show does not pay off.
Whew, did it just get cold in here? As Blake Shelton continued talking to Kenzie Wheeler, the light-hearted tone returned to his voice, but on live TV without the benefit of editing, it seemed clear there was some real emotion showing through, and rightfully so. The point of The Voice has always been coaching and support above competition. The win goes to the artist for a chance at a real music career, while it’s little more than bragging rights for the coaches, so why shouldn’t coaches root for all the contestants?
Also in Blake Shelton’s defense is the fact that Kelly Clarkson blocked Shelton from Wheeler in the Blind Auditions, when Wheeler almost certainly would have joined Team Blake if given the chance. So it makes sense that Shelton would still have a rooting interest in him. But is it more than that? Is Shelton losing patience with the show overall?
This wasn’t the first time this season that Blake Shelton has brought back some of the bluntness that was more common in earlier seasons of The Voice. Shelton showed some tough love to Emma Caroline in the Battles after he thought she lacked confidence in her performance. He used his Save on her, however, to give her one last chance in the Four-Way Knockout.
Blake Shelton has rarely seemed to care what people think of him over the years, but that attitude is definitely on display this season, as along with his honest feedback, he’s also continued to move his old group mate Pete Mroz through the competition, regardless of any implied conflict of interest.
The Voice in its later seasons has become softer around the edges, a natural evolution for a show that regularly rotates its four superstar mentors. Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera — two of the four original Voice coaches, along with Blake Shelton — seemed more willing than the coaches of late to give honest feedback without regard for hurting feelings, with Levine facing criticism of his own before he exited the show in 2019. Levine caught flack in Season 15 for lobbying against his own team member DeAndre Nico in an attempt to save another member of his team, Reagan Strange, who had been too sick to perform for an Instant Save.
Adam Levine’s exit from The Voice after Season 16 wasn’t a direct result of the controversy, but it was clear Levine wasn’t having as much fun in his final seasons as he had in previous years, and Blake Shelton’s actions this season could be a sign that he’s headed down the same path. The Voice returns for an elimination episode on Tuesday, May 11, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Be sure to check out our 2021 TV schedule for all your favorite shows.