Teams Shakira and Adam stepped up and sang songs of their own choosing during Season 6's second night of playoffs on Monday. And they did it surprisingly well, leaving their coaches, who each had to pick only three singers to take through to the live rounds as part of the top 12 and send two home, with tough decisions.
Well, maybe not that tough. The three most solid singers on each team quickly emerged, so when it came time to make the call, both coaches' choices were fairly clear-cut.
Team Shakira went first:
Kristen Merlin, who'd left an exciting career as a document research specialist to pursue one in country music, took the stage with a full-throttle rendition of
Levine called her a "serious contender" at the top of her game and said her performance was "definitely one of the best" he'd seen all season. Blake Shelton said it "was as flawless as a live performance can be."
"Kristen you have to keep," Levine later told Shakira. Usher called it "a no-brainer."
Sweet-voiced 16-year-old R&B singer and military kid Deja Hall tackled Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield," hoping to show a little firepower. She gave a performance that was bold, if not booming.
Shelton said she'd come out of her shell and showed some "attitude," going from "adorable" teen to "young woman." Usher agreed that Hall had "morphed into a young adult," though had, in parts, "almost oversung the track" and still had a few things to learn. Levine said she was "starting to control and understand" her "instrument," adding, "The sky's the limit moving forward." Shakira said the performance showed a lot of growth, saying she felt "lucky" to be able to watch Hall flourish and bloom as a performer.
Former St. Louis Rams cheerleader Tess Boyer, who came to Shakira by way of Teams Usher and Blake, sang
"I think that was one of the best performances we've seen so far," Levine said, adding that should Boyer win she'd make him "look like a real ding-dong" for being the only coach not to have worked with her. Usher called Boyer's ability to hold notes "superhuman" and said she'd "absolutely reaped the benefits" of all her coaches. "The thing that I admire about you is that whatever the challenge that is set before you, you step up to it," Shelton said. Shakira called her "the little miracle that happened on Team Shakira," saying she'd filled the room with her low register and then blown them away with her high notes. "You have an amazing gift and I'm just so lucky to have you," she said.
"Tess is the surprise. She is clearly a front-runner in my opinion," Levine later said, contending that Boyer had the ethic and talent to take the win.
Gritty-voiced former Team Adam member Patrick Thomson tackled "Trouble" by
Levine admired Thomson's raspy high notes and called the performance his "finest moment." Usher said he finally grasped who Thomson was and complimented him on the way he'd taken "control of the room" and "ownership of the song." Shelton told Thomson he should keep "gargling with broken glass or whatever it is you do to scratch up your throat" because it sounded "so good." "I'm glad you're with a coach now who understands that sort of thing about you," he said, taking a poke at Levine. Shakira commended Thomson on his "poise" and "grace" and said he'd had the moment every contestant on "The Voice" hopes for, when "America really sees what they're capable of."
Levine later wondered, though, whether Thomson had hit a ceiling or still had room to grow.
The last member of Team Shakira to take the stage, former PR rep Dani Moz, turned in a "stripped-down" version of
"Those better be tears of joy," Levine clucked, noting that, though Moz seemed "supernervous in the beginning" she then managed to stow her nerves and turn in a performance he called "really, really great." "I will tell Shakira she is a loony if she doesn't keep you moving forward," he said. Shelton called Moz's connection to the song and her instrument a "game changer." Usher described Moz as "an extremely passionate person" and added that, though the performance was not flawless, "the overwhelming emotion" she'd brought to it had brought him "close to tears." Shakira said she'd seen "not only a girl at the piano singing," but a "true artist." If Gaga were watching, Shakira added, she was sure she'd "feel very proud."
"You cannot let her go. You can't," Levine later told Shakira.
And in fact, she didn't. The three singers Shakira opted to take through to the live shows were Boyer, Merlin and Moz, whom she described as "amazing powerful strong women" who were determined to win. Surprised? Yeah, me neither.
Then it was on to Team Adam:
Delvin Choice, the R&B- and soul-loving "singing barista" who'd returned after an unsuccessful audition in a previous season to universally impress the coaches this time around, tackled
Shelton said Choice had "come leaps and bounds," crediting a "flowing" hairdo. ("I think it's his incredible talent and his coach, personally," Levine said modestly.) Usher called Choice's voice "unique," the singer himself "a threat," and said there was "nothing" he couldn't do, in terms of "genre or skill." Shakira called it "delicious" and "tasteful," and said Choice was one of her "favorites in this competition." Levine told Choice he was "probably the only four-chair turn" to have generated so much excitement from the start and then to have continued to improve, calling it "terrifying for the competition and very good for you and me." Choice, he said, "is a contender."
Bartender and rookie performer Jake Barker, who'd begun the competition on Team Usher, tackled "She Will Be Loved" by his new coach's band, Maroon 5. He hoped to bring out his "inner rock star," and did well, but the song choice probably spelled his doom.
Shelton admired Barker's "strong falsetto." Usher said he was finding his voice. Shakira said she hadn't imagined she'd like hearing anyone else sing Levine's song but called Barker's rendition "amazing" and said it showcased his "vulnerable, fragile, sweet voice" in a way that augured well. Levine said Barker, who had just begun singing in public, had gone "from 0 to 60" in a rare feat and had to be "the most improved of anyone I've ever seen." He had, he said, "a lot to be proud of."
Minneapolis rocker Kat Perkins took on
Usher called her a "sure thing" and said she should be "very, very proud," adding, "Your performance was flawless." Shakira called it "very emotional" and "committed." Shelton said it wasn't just her arms that were open, it was her lungs too and said she'd made it sound like her own song. Levine declared himself to be "delighted" and "thrilled" by a performance that had been "flawless" from the first rehearsal. "There has not been a better performance than this one thus far," he said. Later, he added, that his mind had been "blown."
Former Tennessee landscaper Morgan Wallen, whom Levine had stolen from Usher during the second battle rounds, aimed to show his "passion" for country music with "Stay," by Florida Georgia Line. Before Wallen took the stage, Levine called him an "unpolished diamond," noting that, as a bonus, "girls love him."
Usher celebrated Wallen's move toward country, saying it was where he should have started with him in the first place. "I don't think it's a bad idea for every coach to always start with country music," Shelton said, comparing Wallen's voice to Eddie Vedder's -- and later, his freshness to Travis Tritt's -- and declaring himself to be "a fan." Shakira said Wallen had "improved substantially" and "pleasantly surprised" her. Levine called Wallen's talent "legitimate," saying he had "that thing" people are either born with or not.
Last to take the stage was pint-size New Jersey YouTube star Christina Grimmie, who vowed to "knock it out of the park" with Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up," which she dedicated to her mom, who had battled
"That is the best singer on your team right there," Shelton told Levine, wondering how "such a big voice" -- tender, powerful, pointed -- came out of "such a miniature person." Usher called Grimmie a "ball of fire," "like baby Celine Dion or something." After an off-topic exchange about size between the male coaches, capped by Levine declaring that he'd "never had any complaints," Shakira complimented Grimmie's ability to interpret the song as "a female artist," calling her performance "delightful." Levine called it an "excellent" song choice that was a "testament" to Grimmie's "artistry" and said they'd "unlocked" the emotion and power they'd hoped to. It was, he said, a "big victory."
So which three members of Team Adam moved on. No shocker. Levine picked the three he believed were "furthest along now": Grimmie, Choice and Perkins. "I think I have three of the best singers in the competition," he said.
Do you think Shakira and Levine made the right choices?