“Tonight the stakes are at an all time high,” Carson Daly said with no further explanation as he introduced the premiere of The Voice Live Playoffs. Twelve finalists finally got their chance to compete for a voting public, with the voting duties of Usher, Shakira, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton officially relieved.
With the launch of the live show brought some of the typical NBC Voice-isms. Part of the TODAY cast made an appearance (no Al Roker = no one cares). The awkwardness of the social media box was back in full force. Carson tried desperately to keep the verbose coaches on a timetable. Equipment went down. The best part of the show has returned in all of its glory, and the audience is no longer just along for the ride, but calling the shots.
Here are the 12 singers who competed for the 10 remaining spots.
Team Usher – Bria Kelly
Time to tread on sacred ground, or at least to hear the coaches talk about said ground, because Bria Kelly kicks off the Live Playoffs with Adele! Bria, who had a breakout performance with “Wild Horses” last week, moves into this decade with “Rolling In The Deep.” In an effort to avoid a “karaoke” version, Bria gives it more of a rock edge, and even uses her guitar.
Let’s clarify that: she wears her guitar. Again. In front of a flame background imported straight from an ’80s music video, Bria belts out the song and it in no way sounds karaoke. The fact that both of her hands are on her guitar for only about 10 seconds toward the end, however, proves to be a weird distraction. Reminder, Voice contestants: instruments aren’t accessories.
“Taking an Adele song is really a challenge, because her voice is so unique, but if anyone could do it, it was you,” says Shakira. “I love it when you get all fierce like that.”
“The key is hard because it’s a lower key. I selfishly want to hear it in a higher key,” says Adam, who adds, “It was angsty and it was young and it was different.”
“It is courageous to step in the shadows of incredible artists, but that becomes a motivation for incredible artists,” says Usher. “I felt fire in your voice. I felt like you killed it.”
Team Adam – Delvin Choice
Delvin Choice, the Starbucks barista who turned all four chairs, continues his stint on Adam’s team with the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” “You need to sing this like you’re dying,” says Adam, before demonstrating what that sounds like to Delvin. Instead of giving it such a romantic desperation, however, Devlin chooses to add joy to the song and dedicates it to his parents for their 25th anniversary.
It is underwhelming, and has a cruise ship vibe… until Delvin nails the final high notes. Not even the cruise ships with functioning plumbing have singers that can hit these notes.
“This week, [your hair] is back in the calzone, and you still sang the crap out of it,” says Blake.
“This is, in fact, one of the most nostalgic songs of all time and you did not disappoint,” says Shakira. “Your command of falsettos and trills and runs is just superb.”
Coach Adam praises Delvin’s efforts. “This song is basically building up to a cathartic moment over there with some lucky young lady, and I’m so happy that that all came to fruition,” he says.
Team Shakira – Dani Moz
Dani Moz is carving a niche for herself covering poppy rock ballads. Last week, the coaches raved about her Lady Gaga cover, and this week she attempts the challenging “Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink.
Her performance doesn’t embellish too much on the original, but earns a standing ovation from her coach, and a near lip-kiss from Carson Daly (a prize in and of itself). The coaches also have rave reviews.
“It was so powerful, but I wanted there to be more dynamics,” says Adam. Shakira practically leaps out of her chair to strangle him she disagrees so strongly.
“I didn’t know if you were going to take one of those Dani moments that we’re use to you making,” says Blake. “It changed everything when you did that.”
“You did unbelievably well. You were so fantastic. Your dynamics were perfect. You were so heartfelt,” says her coach.
Team Blake – Audra McLaughlin
Blake’s female country artist, Audra McLaughlin, goes even more classic than Martina McBride when she sings “Angel Of The Morning” by Juice Newton. It’s a little breathy to begin, but builds to a powerful performance that earns a standing ovation from her coach.
“You have such an incredible, powerful yet very personal voice,” says Usher. “Maybe it’s just a girl thing for you to hold notes that long. Because I have to pee if I hold notes that long,” he adds, inexplicably.
“I know you’ve been going to school to be a medical assistant, and I just don’t think that’s what you’re going to be doing with your life,” says Blake “You are, I swear, one of my favorite country singers.”
Team Usher – T.J. Wilkins
Team Usher’s T.J. Wilkins chooses John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change” as a contemporary pick to deviate from his typically classic choices. Before his performance, T.J. solicits some tips from Usher, who shows him how to incorporate onstage theatrics. The result is a lot of pointing and arm gesturing during the big performance, but T.J. still brings it vocally.
“I’m always rooting for you T.J., because you are extraordinary,” says Shakira.
“It is hard to not pull for this guy, even as an opposing coach,” says Blake. “You have something that’s infectious about you (in a good way).”
“This was the first time I got to see a different side of you,” says Usher. “You’re a leader. And that, right there, is what being a performer is.”
Team Adam – Christina Grimmie
It will be hard to top her reviews from last week, especially Usher’s comment that she is a “Baby Celine Dion,” but Christina Grimmie gives it a go with another pop hit. The former YouTuber chooses Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” and sounds effortless in her delivery.
“You are 100% proof that dynamite comes in small packages,” says Blake “For me, as an opposing coach, you’re the artist to beat on Adam’s team.”
“Your range is just so impressive. You nailed it girl,” says Shakira.
“I continue to be just more and more impressed and surprised at what you’re capable of,” says Adam. “I might as well have been watching the VMA’s.”
Team Blake – Sisaundra Lewis
Blake’s powerhouse vocalist Sisaundra Lewis takes on the Elton John hit “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” As always, she delivers a very consistent performance, and one that blows the coaches away vocally.
“Does it get any better than this? Every time you come out here you blow everybody’s socks off,” says Usher, who compares Sisaundra to Patti LaBelle.
“The restraint that you showed was the most beautiful part of your performance,” adds Adam.
“I hope that you are taking all this in,” Blake says of Sisaundra’s consistent rave reviews. “You left the music industry for 10 years, and you’ve always been in the shadows. I hope you are enjoying what’s happening.”
Sisaundra is certainly a powerful force, though so much of voting at this point relies on how many people will download the contestants’ performances on iTunes. It remains to be seen whether or not this young audience will rush to download an Elton John single that’s so old that the version with George Michael was the updated take.
Team Shakira – Kristen Merlin
Country singer Kristen Merlin is in for an onstage surprise when she performs Sugarland’s “Stay.” The number, picked by Shakira and Kristen to showcase Kristen’s vulnerability, is a strong choice for the only country artist left that is not on Team Blake. Her performance is simultaneously sweet and powerful… until her microphone goes out. Seemingly unfazed by the technical difficulty, Kristen keeps singing, until a new mic is handed to her for the very last note.
In spite of audio issues (or perhaps because of them), the audience loves Kristen, and the coaches are stunned by her professionalism.
“You handled it so gracefully; it was as if nothing had happened,” says Adam. “I would have been in a puddle of my own nerves.”
“You keep getting better and better every time you step out here,” says Blake. “For you to take that chance and sound that incredible, I’m kicking myself,” he adds, lamenting not turning for Kristen back in the Blind Auditions.
“Your performance was so heartfelt and so moving,” says Shakira. “We were just mesmerized by what you were delivering.”
Team Adam – Kat Perkins
Up next is Team Adam’s singing nanny, Kat Perkins. The rocker stays in her wheelhouse with Heart’s “Magic Man.” She delivers everything she sets out to deliver, and proves herself to be a rocker with an impressive range. Her coach is downright giddy after the performance.
“Am I correct: were you a nanny?” Blake asks. “You’re a rock star.”
“That was really amazing. Your voice is dope,” says Usher. “You really have what it takes to be on the radio right now.”
“It’s impossible to sing these songs,” says Adam. You do it with the same power, charisma, proficiency and soul that all these guys did it with. It’s mind-blowing.”
But will it get downloads?
Team Blake – Jake Worthington
The ultimate country crooner in the competition, Jake Worthington, stays the course with his performance of Travis Tritt’s “Anymore.” Blake, in turn, stays the course with evangelizing a young audience to become ’90s country fans. Whether it’s the nerves, or the weight of his huge hat, the performance is one of his weakest.
“You may be the most endearing contestant on this show,” says Shakira. “You’re showing us and everyone out there who’s trying to make a career out of music that honesty goes a long way.”
“The pitch was perfect, but that’s what happens with a cowboy like you,” says Blake. “You nailed it, dude.”
Before leaving the stage, Jake yells a shout out to his girlfriend.
Team Shakira – Tess Boyer
Team-hopping Tess Boyer was with Blake and Usher before landing with her current coach, Shakira. Both guys must be kicking themselves, because she’s starting to stand out in the pack of finalists. Tess sings Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You,” and wants to make it sound more modern. While it’s hard to see said modernization, it’s a fun ’90s throwback, and an on-pitch delivery of some challenging notes.
“I think you are the artist on Team Shakira to beat,” says Blake, his second such prediction of the evening.
“It has never been a question whether you would go this far,” says Usher. “We as a collective celebrate you.”
“No one can deny your prowess as a technical singer,” says Shakira. “You are so admirable. She’s so damn smart.”
Team Usher – Josh Kaufman
Closing out the night is Josh Kaufman, who landed this coveted position by performing Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.”
Or was it the Ushersizes? Usher, in an effort to get Josh to open up on stage, has him do a few awkward laps around the stage during rehearsals. It must be the needed steps for success, because Josh overcomes the awkward audience clapping to bring down the house.
“I’m such a fan of yours. You are so clever to start the song so understated and contained, to later on just knock us out with the sickness of your voice,” says Shakira.
Lamenting letting Josh go, Adam says, “I am so stupid.” He goes on to praise Josh’s performance, and adds, “I have almost a borderline anxiety attack when the audience starts clapping out of time.”
“You are the guy to beat on Team Usher,” says Blake in his third and final prediction of the evening.
“I have to give it to Adam, because he got you prepared, and then you came over here and just took it away,” says Usher. “You told all of us a story, and completely commanded this entire room.”
And so they’re off, with only a voting audience and a live save in between the contestants and their eliminations. Two will go home tonight… but not before Shakira performs “Empire,” live on the show. Get ready for the hotness!
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