“The Voice” offered its fiercest battles and funniest moments of the season Monday night. Those two superlatives were not unrelated. And here’s one more: “Happy” guy Pharrell Williams was the unhappiest we have seen him since he slipped into his role as a coach last season.
Two pairs from Team Pharrell faced off Monday, and Williams had a tough time making a decision in the first matchup, in which Briar Jonnee, a journalism student from a small town in Mississippi, went toe to toe on Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” with Newburgh, N.Y., customer service rep and dedicated Christina Aguilera fan Caitlin Caporale.
“It hurts me because I want to reward both you guys,” Williams told the two talented singers, hemming and hawing so long that Blake Shelton was moved to declare, “I feel like I’m watching an egg hatch right now.”
But if Williams was tormented by that decision (he eventually chose Caporale, sending Jonnee home unstolen), he was even more tortured by the next one, as he was compelled to choose between personality-packed NYC rock chick Kimberly Nichole and cute young crooner Lowell Oakley.
“What did I do? … I want them both?” Williams said after Nichole and Oakley had earned praise and standing ovations from all the coaches with their terrific take on “Hound Dog.”
Like a devil on one shoulder and an angel on another, though it was hard to know which was which, Adam Levine told Williams he could not keep both, while Shelton pointed out that, with patience, he could. Last season’s winning singer, Craig Wayne Boyd, Shelton noted, had been cut from Shelton’s team, picked up by another coach (Gwen Stefani), and then returned to Team Blake after being cut by Stefani in the following round.
Carson Daly cut through the discussion to inform Williams that it was “time to make a decision,” eventually wryly asking the flummoxed coach, “Would you like us all to leave?”
Williams equivocated some more: On the one hand Oakley had surprised him. But on the other, Nichole was an “incredible” singer. The two vocalists waited as patiently as possible, under the circumstances, to learn their fates, and other coaches looked on, apparently amused.
Who, Daly insisted on knowing, was the winner?
Williams quibbled with the very idea of a winner. “They’re both winners,” he said.
“Don’t make me take a commercial break,” Daly warned, eventually trying a new approach. “Repeat after me: ‘The winner is …’”
It didn’t help. Neither did Daly’s gentler question, “Who is best for Team Pharrell?”
Finally, the other coaches could contain themselves no longer.
“She probably has to pee or something,” Shelton said of Nichole. “She’s been up there for 45 minutes.”
“I have to pee,” Aguilera said.
“I just peed right now,” Levine confessed.
Daly finally faced facts. “You know what? America has to pee. America, go pee, and we’ll be right back with Pharrell’s decision on ‘The Voice’ right after this.”
Well, maybe not right after, but eventually, following a flurry of “hashtag” jokes about how long it was taking, Williams made a choice based on a “leap of faith” that he’d eventually get both singers back: He chose Oakley, leaving the disappointed Nichole to be scooped up by Aguilera, who promptly rubbed salt in Williams’ wound. “Welcome to a team that appreciates Kimberly,” Aguilera told her new team member, as a bereft Williams looked wanly on.
Awww. Clap your hands if you feel sorry for the guy.
Of course, Williams wasn’t the only coach who had to make some tough calls on Monday night’s show.
Weighing two not-so-young, one-chair-turn career changers, Levine went with his “gut” after hearing them sing "Feelin' Alright" and chose 53-year-old chef-turned-soul-singer Barry Minniefield over 37-year-old Washington lawyer/country singer Jack Gregori, perhaps because Minniefield seemed more at home in his chosen genre.
Initially left undecided by their battle over “Addicted to Love,” Aguilera ultimately chose 17-year-old Treeva Gibson, whose parents are both deaf, over 25-year-old stay-at-home mom Katelyn Read. Aguilera saw potential for growth and future surprises in the younger singer, she explained.
Aguilera also chose classically trained UCLA performing arts student and four-chair-turn India Carney over digital marketer Clinton Washington, who had turned only one chair during blinds. That may sound like a no-brainer, but Washington had wowed all the coaches in his battle with Carney on Rihanna’s “Stay” – so much so that Levine and Williams went in for the steal. Washington opted to join Team Adam, explaining that Levine “aligns a little bit more” with what he is “trying to do.” Seems like a solid coach-contestant pairing.
Shelton, meanwhile, pitted teen-girl country singers Brenna Yaeger and Kelsie May against each other on Reba McEntire’s “Fancy,” hoping to discover which of them could bring the song more “attitude” and “confidence.” Even though the country coach felt the two young singers had emerged fairly even, he nevertheless felt May had a bit of an edge in the confidence department and named her the winner. Though only 19, Yaeger took the news of her elimination with admirable maturity and poise. “I feel like I’m still a winner,” she said.
Maybe she should give Pharrell a few tips about staying calm and cool-headed under pressure.