Christina Aguilera is generally not one to gush over her fellow "Voice" coaches' teams – and this season she seems especially hungry to triumph over them. Nevertheless, partway through the proceedings on Season 8's first live playoff show, on which Blake Shelton's and Pharrell Williams' teams performed, the show's founding female coach found herself moved to declare herself especially impressed by the voices she'd heard. It was, she said, the "strongest overall talent" she'd seen in all the seasons she'd been on the show.
Now, she may have been – probably was – talking about the talent on her own team as well. And she also may have been right. The singers who took the stage were almost uniformly powerful polished performers – particularly impressive considering a fair chunk of them are still in their teens.
Aguilera's team members, along with Adam Levine's, will have a chance to show their stuff Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we'll learn the results of the audience vote – the first of Season 8. The two singers from each team of five will advance based on the audience vote (with a possible boost based on their iTunes performance). Then each coach will save one more vocalist to complete his or her team of three – and the live performance shows will begin in earnest.
Here's how the 10 singers on Teams Blake and Pharrell performed on Monday, which also happened to be the "Happy" singer's birthday:
Sarah Potenza (Team Blake): Looking like an exotic winged creature herself – thanks to a fringe-sleeved white leather jacket and owlish pearlescent eyeglass frames – Team Blake's resident rock chick gave Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" her best Janis Joplin treatment. Her goal was to rise above the rest and remain memorable and when she spread her arms wide, she seemed ready to soar. The coaches admired the song choice. "Free bird … free spirit," Aguilera mused. Shelton credited her with "swinging for the fence."
Caitlin Caporale (Team Pharrell): Having put her customer service job on hold to pursue her dreams, Caporale gave a vocally flawless performance of Beyoncé's "Best Thing I Never Had." Levine called it "blanking amazing." Shelton told her she looked like a star, sang like an artist and was "really starting to show yourself as a threat to us other coaches." Aguilera continued to bemoan the fact that Caporale was not on her team. Williams said she'd not only proven her worth vocally but had reached in and embraced who she was, tapping into her full potential.
Hannah Kirby (Team Blake): Before Kirby did her thing with Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move," committing to the lyric with her entire body in her charmingly Elaine dance-y way, Shelton expressed hope that she'd follow the same path as last year's winner, Craig Wayne Boyd, who, like Kirby, had been eliminated from and later restored to his team. While an eventual victory seems unlikely for Kirby, it won't be for lack of effort on her part or love from the coaches. Aguilera called Kirby's performance her favorite of the night thus far. Williams told her, "Call me as crazy as your voice, as crazy as your dances, as crazy as your performance, but … to me that is entertainment." Levine said Kirby's "complete lack of insecurity" and "fearlessness" was the key to success. And Shelton said, "A person like you is the reason there is a show like this."
Lowell Oakley (Team Pharrell): Oakley, 19, set out to prove – somewhat calculatedly – that he could give an uncalculated performance. And his take on Nick Jonas' "Jealous," a departure from the young crooner's usual repertoire, was better than his previous performances (his vocals are always strong enough), but still kind of emotionally meh. The coaches responded favorably, overall, though Levine couldn't help reminding us of how much better his contestant Chris Jamison had sung the song last season. Williams reassured Oakley that by appearing to have fun and stay focused he'd done well.
Mia Z (Team Pharrell): After this 16-year-old singer sang a pure, tonally nuanced performance of Eva Cassidy's version of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," Shelton told her that, if he could steal any singer from any other coach's team, she'd be the one. "I think you're the most underrated singer on the show right now," he told her. Aguilera said she'd been inspired. Levine said he thought she'd keep getting better. And Williams told his contestant, whose last name is actually Zanotti, that it wasn't every day you met a 16-year-old with the sort of talent she had.
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Pharrell): Neither is it every day you meet a 17-year-old with the talent of this new member of Williams' team, stolen from Aguilera in the last round. Williams encouraged Hawthorne to explore her church roots with the spiritual "How Great Thou Art" – and told her she reminded him of Beyonce in the way she held "nothing back." Levine admired Hawthorne's vocal grit and ability to overcome her nerves. Shelton offered an early welcome to the top 12. Her old coach Aguilera complimented her on her poise, power, grit and emotion. Williams compared Hawthorne to an antenna transmitting a message with increasing strength.
Corey Kent White (Team Blake): Emotional connection was also the name of the game for White, who, as Shelton pointed out, is now the sole country singer left on Team Blake. Shelton was hoping for White to stir a little classic country cry into his current country mix on the Garth Brooks version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love." If White's performance lacked a bit of vocal flash, it didn't lack for sensitivity. Aguilera complimented White on the "tenderness" in his voice that "makes every word so believable." Williams said his "sense of sincerity" was "super-rare." And while Levine thirsted for a little more passion, a stronger climax, Shelton said White had shown he had the ability "to move people" with a story, which he called the "mark of a great country singer."
Brooke Adee (Team Blake): Another young 'un – Shelton calls her his "mini person" – this 16-year-old indie singer stepped out in crazy-high heels and lent her power and range to Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do." The coaches admired her vocal performance but sought out a little more looseness, emotional engagement and spontaneity. Still, Shelton celebrated Adee's vocal perfection and called himself proud.
Meghan Linsey (Team Blake): Veteran singer Linsey – who has apparently stirred some ire because she had a country hit as part of a now-defunct duo before coming to "The Voice" and ending up on her old friend Shelton's team – showed she could attack a current song with the same ferocity she brings to everything, shredding the heck out of OneRepublic's "Love Runs Out." "I don't know how you don't end up in the top 12 after a performance like that," Shelton told her.
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell): Shy and sweet and only just 16, Fredericks tackled Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble," accompanying himself on guitar and bringing to the performance a vocal and emotional depth that belied his age. Levine said hearing a "man voice" singing about a "man situation" coming out of a 16-year-old kid was "crazy" and "surreal." Shelton said it was "hard to watch Sawyer and not think the other coaches here are screwed." No matter what happened on the show, he told the young singer, he was "a star." Williams posited that America and all the "young ladies out there" would pick up what Fredericks was laying down.