So here's how the playoffs work on "The Voice" this season: The five artists on each team choose their own songs, work with their coaches and perform -- one after another. Then, when all five of his or her team members have sung, the coach chooses three vocalists to take through to the live rounds as part of the Top 12 overall, and sends two home.
On Tuesday night, Team Blake was on the hot seat, as was coach Blake Shelton himself. "This is terrible," he warned his fellow coaches at one point. "You get the five best of the best and then you've got to take two of them out of it."
But as the evening wore on and his team members showed what they were capable of on- and offstage, Shelton's choice was pretty clear.
When Audra McLaughlin, a four-chair turn and self-described girl from Philly who loves country music, said she wanted to "bring back that classic sound, like Martina McBride," you knew she'd positioned herself right in Shelton's sweet spot. Her take on McBride's "A Broken Wing" showed off her velvety tone and made her sound like a potential winner.
Usher complimented her "very powerful voice" and the effortlessness with which she sang. Shakira called her "really potent" and said she "really believed it" when McLaughlin sang. Adam Levine called her "spectacular" and urged her to display "more of that unleashed beast of a performer inside of you." Shelton said that McLaughlin "kept getting better every time" she got onstage and that he respected the way she really swung "for the fences."
Ryan Whyte Maloney chose a song, Shinedown's "Second Chance," that Shelton said was "tough" and left him "hanging on the edge vocally." And although Shelton suggested that Maloney's performance could go dramatically in either direction -- "real good" or "real bad" -- it was actually real middle of the road.
Usher admired the way Maloney held his notes, comparing him to Levine and calling it a "breakout moment" for the singer. Shakira called him "one of the biggest surprises on the show," adding that the performance "wasn't perfect, but nothing is perfect." Levine called Maloney's growth "astonishing," noting that he had "professional moments, combined with … still some rough edges," but that the "positive things" were "starting to take over." Shelton admired his team member's ability to hold "amazingly big notes" and said it had been the best he'd ever heard him "control that."
Although Shelton had declared himself to be "a fan," Madilyn Paige, the teenage singer he had stolen from Usher during Round 2 of the battles, had her work cut out for her as the newest member of the team. She showed off her vocal purity and power with Zedd's "Clarity," but as she herself later said, even though she'd done her best, it was unclear whether that would be enough.
Usher, her former coach, felt she'd done a "good job" and was headed "in the direction of what it takes to be a well-rounded artist." Shakira said she'd "managed to be somehow understated in the verses and very active and powerful in the chorus." Paige had "pushed through" some "pocket issues," Shakira said, and shown off the "alternative cool timbre" that makes her "unique." Levine encouraged her to "let go" more when she sang and not be so afraid of messing up. Shelton said he was "proud" to have used his steal on Paige and admired how distinct her voice was, saying if he heard it on the radio, he'd know it was her. Later he called her "absolutely adorable" and "a star."
Jake Worthington, the sweet, soft-looking country singer who had failed to turn chairs during the Season 5 blinds, only to return this season and turn three, has been hailed by the coaches for his "authenticity." Shelton thanked him for being "the real deal." "Absolutely. I don't plan on being nothing else," Worthington responded.
Shakira told Worthington she was unable to "be objective" about his performance of Jake Owen's "Anywhere With You" "because I love you so much." "I can't get technical with you because you can't get technical with a star, and I think you're a star," she said. Usher made Worthington critique his own performance, which turned out to be a trick. "If you don't believe it, no one will," he scolded the aspiring singer. "Then I believe it," Worthington said. Levine declared himself to be "a huge fan."
Shelton reiterated his "real deal" sentiments, and this time Worthington explained that his dad had taught him to shake someone's hand and "mean every word you say." "That means the freaking world," he said, to him and his family.
Aw! "People love that kid, including me," Shelton later gushed. "Every time I see him get on the stage it's confirmed: He's one in a million. He truly is."
A real deal of a different sort, Sisaundra Lewis, who'd worked as Celine Dion's vocal director for five major tours before leaving the industry to become a stay-at-home mom to her three kids, has been a front-runner since turning four chairs during the blind auditions. Shelton urged her not to use "every trick in the book" for Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," to give a "solid performance and not oversing it," and she pretty much complied.
Usher said he was "blown away." Shakira said Lewis had "the kind of voice that makes us all" gasp. Both coaches agreed the word to describe Lewis is "elegance." Levine posited that the way Lewis combined vocal power and "technical skill" and "soulfulness" was "what everybody strives for." Shelton told her that usually when he coaches, he gives advice from his head, but with her he spoke from the heart. "It's amazing what you do with a song," he said.
So who went through? If you guessed McLaughlin, Worthington and Lewis, you guessed right.
"I truly believe that Jake, Sisaundra or Audra could win this whole thing. I have no doubt Team Blake is going to crush it in the live shows," Shelton boasted. Then he added a warning: "You other coaches, you better watch out."
What do you think? Did Shelton make the right choices?