'The Voice' recap: Did the knockouts pack a punch?

'The Voice' knockouts feature the first-ever three-way competition

On Monday night, “The Voice” moved on to the knockouts. You remember the knockouts, right? It’s the round – the last before the live playoffs -- where the coaches again pair up their team members, surprising the contestants with their matches.

Each coach, along with a shared guest mentor – this season Nate Ruess, frontman of the band Fun. -- then work with each contestant to hone the performance of the artist’s chosen song. After each of the singers has performed, the coach picks a winner, leaving the other artist “available” to be stolen. Each coach has one steal to use during the knockouts. By the end of the round, each team will be reduced (again) almost by a half.

The evening featured few real surprises, but one mild twist. One member of Pharrell Williams’ team, Philadelphia street performer Anthony Riley, left the show “for personal reasons,” we were told, and so Team Pharrell featured the show’s first ever three-way knockout round, allowing two singers advance in one fell swoop. It is not clear what prompted Riley to quit the show, but his departure did boost the odds of making it to the lives for a trio of Team Pharrell hopefuls. Not that that helped the one of the three who did not make it through.

Here’s how the competition progressed:

Ashley Morgan vs. Sonic (Team Christina): Christina Aguilera deemed this match “really anybody’s game,” but Sonic, given her interesting hearing-loss back story and the fact that she’d been on Aguilera’s team from the start, whereas Morgan was a battle-round steal, seemed to have the edge going in. Morgan tried to show raw emotion and personality on Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” and her vocals were admirably clear. But Sonic’s voice, on Alicia Keys’ “A Woman’s Worth,” was downright velvety, and she was a more more comfortable performer. Aguilera picked Sonic, citing her willingness to take risks. No one stole Morgan.

Brian Johnson vs. Sarah Potenza (Team Blake): Blake Shelton paired two of his most potent and personally appealing team members, saying that they were “so powerful wouldn’t be fair to pair them against any other vocalist.” Johnson showed off his rich tone on James Morrison’s “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You,” a song he couldn’t do much with dynamically, making the performance fall a bit flat. Potenza sang “Wasted Love,” by last year’s Team Adam contestant Matt McAndrew, with real conviction. Shelton chose Potenza as the winner – “because there’s nobody else like her in this competition” or “the world,” he explained – but before Johnson could begin to mourn his loss, Adam Levine swooped in to steal him, telling him he “should be in this competition 100%.”

Clinton Washington vs. Nathan Hermida (Team Adam): Levine pitted sweet-voiced 17-year-old Hermida, who had been on his team from the start, against Clinton Washington, whom he had stolen from Team Christina in the battles. Washington’s task was to dial back his vocal gymnastics on Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted.” Hermida’s challenge, on Sam Smith’s “Leave Your Lover,” was to open up and show more emotion. Both seemed to accomplish their goals, but only one could be declared the winner. Levine followed his heart and chose Hermida, saying he was “so proud” of the teen vocalist’s “engaging performance,” which, he said had spoken to his “soul.”

Mia Z vs. Paul Pfau vs. Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell): In the first-ever three-way Knockout match, Mia Z came through with “Hold On, I’m Coming,” showing off her impressive command, range and comfort onstage and reaching ultra-high notes the coaches compared to “dolphin language.” Pfau, meanwhile, hid behind his guitar on John Mayer’s version of the Ray Charles song “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” and failed to distinguish himself vocally. Then silky-haired, silky-voiced Fredericks gave his all to Howie Day’s “Collide.” It was no mystery, of these three, who would make it through: Mia Z and Fredericks, both young singers whom Williams called “anomalies.” Pfau went home unstolen.

Meghan Linsey vs. Travis Ewing (Team Blake): If you predicted from the outset that Ewing would almost certainly be a goner in this matchup – well, you were correct, my friend. Linsey, an old friend of Shelton’s, who had opened for him back when she was part of a country-singing duo, proved she had the soul and the pipes to sing Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Ewing pushed as hard as he could with Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be,” but it was no use. Shelton picked his pal, and then basked in praise from the other coaches. Levine told Shelton Williams, from whom Shelton had stolen Lindsey, had handed him “a trophy.”

Kimberly Nichole vs. Koryn Hawthorne (Team Christina): Aguilera matched up these two singers because she found their voices to be similar and didn’t need both on her team. During rehearsals, Ruess was so impressed by 17-year-old Hawthorne’s impassioned, authentic take on Pink’s “Try,” he told her he wanted to steal her for his own team. Hawthorne was, if anything, even more inspiring during the actual knockout. But Aguilera apparently preferred Nichole’s cabaret-ish performance of Sting’s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” – “a firecracker,” she called her -- setting Hawthorne free to be stolen by Williams, from whom Aguilera had stolen Nichole during the battles. “It’s a win-win! It’s a win-win!” Aguilera said, dancing around Hawthorne and Williams as they embraced. Aw.

On Tuesday night, the knockouts continue.

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