It's the Knockouts, that instant elimination round sandwiched between the Battles and the live shows, on "The Voice" this week. On Monday night, in the first of two back-to-back two-hour shows that will trim 32 contestants to only 16 (four from each team) to compete for viewers' votes next week, Teams Adam and Shakira took the stage.
The coaches paired up their contestants, two by two, coaching each on a song of the vocalist's own choosing and then, after watching the contenders perform in front of the audience, the cameras and the other coaches, selected one singer from each pair to make it through, sending the other home.
Adam Levine paired amusing folk duo Midas Whale, whom he dubbed a "show favorite," with 19-year-old up-and-comer Amber Carrington, a singer he called "the biggest surprise" on his team. She chose Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," which winner Cassadee Pope made a mark with last year. Carrington said the song, for her, was about embracing the future after her mom's recent death from breast cancer.
Carrington's powerful rendition bested Midas Whale's unexpected, unconventional take on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Even though she admitted, after Blake Shelton had expressed admiration for her voice, that she'd wanted to give Shelton a hug from the beginning of the competition, Levine decided to put Carrington through, contending she had a good shot at the win.
Shakira grouped 17-year-old "Voice" returnee Garrett Gardner with country-folk singer Tawyna Reynolds because, she said, they were "two of the most unique voices" on her team. Gardner sang Alex Clare's "Too Close," accompanying himself on guitar, and continued to show growth and, Levine said, "staggering" progress."
Reynolds yodeled and sassed her way through the Pistol Annies' "Hell on Heels," prompting Shelton, whose wife, Miranda Lambert, fronts the Pistol Annies, to compliment her song choice but wonder if maybe the yodels weren't too much. Shakira took the blame for the overly yodely delivery, but gave the match to Gardner, saying she saw a star in him.
Levine matched "powerful" Amy Whitcomb with "subtle" Caroline Glaser, whom he'd stolen from Team Blake during the Battle Rounds. Whitcomb tackled the classic folk ballad "The House of the Rising Sun," starting a little shaky but ending impressively. Glaser showed off her quirkily appealing tone and indie-folk interest with "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men.
Shelton gave the round to Glaser, Usher to Whitcomb. Levine complimented Whitcomb's pitch in her upper register and Glaser's "magical quality," but said, disappointedly, that both had been better in rehearsal. Ultimately, the coach decided to put Glaser through to the next round, later saying that, while both women had promise, Glaser had just been a little further along in her development as a singer.
Shakira pitted high-voiced dude Kris Thomas against Cuban living doll Mary Miranda in order to see which of them could connect and move an audience better with a song. Thomas crooned Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," delivering a few runs that Usher, in particular, seemed to enjoy. Miranda, meanwhile, tried her hand at the Police, in English, singing "Every Breath You Take," with peculiar results. Mysteriously, Levine preferred Miranda's performance, while Usher called Thomas' voice unlike any other artist's and declared himself "impressed." Shakira was more simpatico with Usher. She sent Thomas through, and Miranda home.
Levine then paired former Michael Jackson background singer Judith Hill with Team Usher steal Orlando Dixon, saying it was a chance for both singers to shine. Considering that Hill is probably the clearest favorite for a win at this point, that meant curtains for Dixon, pretty much no matter what.
Hill turned in an emotional performance of an unexpected song, Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," which she dedicated to her recently deceased grandmother. Dixon sang K-Ci and JoJo's "All My Life," alas, not terribly impressively. After the other coaches fell all over themselves praising Hill, Levine gushed a little more in her direction – "brilliant!" "stellar!" "incredible!" – and put her through and Dixon out of his misery.
Then, from Team Shakira, it was Karina Iglesias (who had herself fallen to Hill before Shakira picked her up and dusted her off) and Monique Abbadie, both "powerhouse Latinas," as their coach termed them, but in very different ways. "I want to see who has the most versatility and range," Shakira said.
Iglesias turned in a rockin', fauxhawk-shivering performance of Lenny Kravitz's
"Are You Gonna Go My Way," while Abbadie delivered an overly dramatic, arm-swooping version of Celine Dion's "The Power of Love." The judges were split on who took the round, but the general consensus was that Iglesias had selected a song that hadn't shown her vocal potential, yet had been more entertaining than Abbadie, who had displayed strength. After expressing some well-founded concern that Iglesias could become a rock-and-roll caricature, if she wasn't careful, Shakira nevertheless picked her, acknowledging her "confidence."
For his final Knockout, Levine paired Warren Stone, the country-singing single dad he triumphantly swiped from Shelton during the Blind Auditions, and angelic-voiced Sarah Simmons, saying he wanted to compare their "ability to connect." Stone delivered perhaps his best performance on the show so far, going more pop-rock than country with Cutting Crew's "Died in Your Arms Tonight," on which he also played guitar.
However, Simmons, looking like a mother earth flower child (if that's not an oxymoron), took the competition to another place entirely with an ethereal, altogether captivating "Wild Horses." Shelton said she lighted the place on fire. Usher called her "remarkable." And Shakira told Simmons it was as if "there really were wild horses galloping through your throat," which Levine observed sounded painful. Levine then said nice things about Stone, but then said he had to go with his gut. Simmons it was.
Last up were experienced pros Sasha Allen and Shawna P., in a matchup pitting smoothness against grit. Shakira, who had stolen Allen from Levine during the Battles, used what Allen called a more "emotional" approach to elicit a beautiful performance of "At Last." Shakira got goosebumps, twice, she said.
Shawna P., hoping to show off her "softer" side, bit into Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." But even though the coaches all commended her on her vocal "grit" and, as Shelton described it, her "smoky, raspy sound," it was impossible to imagine Shawna P. would take the win over Allen.
And she didn't. Calling it "the best knockout round" she'd seen so far, echoing Shelton's sentiments, Shakira cited "the goosebump factor" and gave the round to Allen. Still, Shawna P. and Shakira parted on very sweet terms. And Shakira walked away with a potential winner, noting that Levine had been "banging his head against his red chair since he heard Sasha sing that song."
But don't feel sad for Levine. He said he was "so happy" about the "four amazing girls" on his team.
Headed into Tuesday night's two-hour Knockout rounds, when we'll hear from Teams Blake and Usher, here's the breakdown:
We'll find out how the other two teams measure up Tuesday night. Do you have any favorites so far?
ALSO:Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times