'The Voice' recap: Adam Levine gets picky; Blake Shelton gets into it

Maybe we shouldn't pity Blake Shelton after all. The resident country coach, who'd begun the season a bit slowly, tightened up the race and picked up some top-notch talent on the fourth night of the blind auditions.

Each coach will emerge from the blind auditions with a team of 12. But with blinds halfway over at the outset of Tuesday night's show, Carson Daly reminded us, Levine and Usher had each collected seven singers, Shakira six and Shelton a mere four.

Shelton started to gain ground right out of the gate on Tuesday, snapping up Megan Ruger, a fauxhawk-sporting 26-year-old from Twin Lakes, Wis., who was trying to make it as a rock singer in Nashville. Her syrup-and-sandpaper vocal take on Pink's "Just Like a Pill" prompted last-minute spins from Shelton and Usher.

But as soon as the fellows had turned, the gloves came off. Shelton told Ruger her name sounded "like a Team Blake name," and when he found out she lived in Nashville, he took a poke at Usher for a past-season geographic error. "That's one of your favorite states, isn't it, Usher?" Shelton teased.

Shelton's hold on Ruger solidified when she asked the judges a question: "Who likes '80s rock more?" "Blake," Levine quickly responded, "He was dropping Wang Chung the other day." Shelton, who celebrated his snag by singing a little, yes, Wang Chung, said it was his "favorite question" he'd ever been asked on "The Voice."

Usher had better luck with the next contestant, a 20-year-old landscaper and former high school baseball player named Morgan Wallen, who sang Howie Day's "Collide." Although Shakira pushed her button straightaway for Wallen, Usher waited a bit. "I had to. I had to," he told Shakira, somewhat apologetically, after he'd turned around to compete.

For Wallen, he offered no apology, only honest feedback. Though Wallen's voice was "unique" Usher told the contestant, there were parts of the song that were "not properly executed." But, he reassured, "that's where coaching comes in." Usher told Wallen he'd "like to win with" him.

The candor worked. Wallen later said he not only liked Usher's music but also admired his baseball-coach-like mentoring style. Let the pushups begin.

Though none of the coaches, sadly, spun for James Cavern, whose exciting back story involved parents who escaped from Vietnam and made it to Britain after the war, other contestants were luckier – that is, if having your successful blind audition reduced to mere seconds of airtime counts as lucky.

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Shakira picked up singers Dani Moz and Music Box, we were told, while Shelton snagged a high school student named Lexi Luca.

After the loss of Wallen, Shakira recovered by scoring Emily B., a 30-year-old Idaho-raised session singer (she sang on Cee Lo Green's Christmas album, among other projects). Emily B. herself had recently recovered from a health setback that required brain surgery. Her take on Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" earned chair turns from Shakira, Shelton and Usher, and kind words from Levine, who described her final note as "killer" and "massive."

While Usher and Shelton wrestled over which of them was the most soulful, Shakira swooped in with an appeal to Emily B.'s intellect. She told her she'd made a "very intelligent decision to change the arrangement" of the song and said she trusted "that you will make another intelligent decision by choosing me as your coach." Emily B.'s heart too led her to choose Shakira as her coach.

Usher made an easy score with a 19-year-old Texan who goes by Stevie Jo. Because Stevie Jo, whose parents had given up their metal band dreams to raise their four children, sang an Usher song, "There Goes My Baby," for his audition, none of the other coaches made a play for him. "When someone sings your song, it communicates if you turn your chair I will go with you," Levine explained.

Levine, who had been playing hard-to-get all night, declining to press his button, finally pushed it for the evening's final contestant, Audra McLaughlin, a 21-year-old Philadelphian who had struggled to overcome learning disabilities and been bullied growing up and was now studying to become a medical assistant.

Levine pushed right away for McLaughlin's impressive take on the Bonnie Raitt/John Prine song "Angel From Montgomery," and before she'd finished singing, the other three coaches had spun around as well.

Shakira said McLaughlin's voice was "out of this world," with its "raspiness" and "power," but that she was "missing one tiny little thing." Both Shakira and Levine insisted they were "the missing link." And Levine confessed that the fact that McLaughlin wasn't wearing cowboy boots gave him "hope."

That hope was soon crushed. Shelton told McLaughlin that he used to watch his wife, Miranda Lambert, sing that song onstage and that McLaughlin had more than matched her. On the contestant's last note, he said, he saw fireworks explode behind her and spell "Team Blake."

After McLaughlin had picked him, Shelton added, "That's one of Miranda's favorite songs and she took it to a place Miranda doesn't take it. She's gonna win this show."

We shall see.

What did you think of Tuesday night's auditions?