Let the voting begin! "The Voice" went live for Season 5 on Monday night, as half of the top 20 -- five apiece on Teams Blake Shelton and Adam Levine -- vied to impress not only the coaches, but also the American public whose calls, texts, clicks and downloads would help determine their fate.
Although the singers who make up Teams Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green had the night off (they'll take their turns in the spotlight on Tuesday), their coaches were decidedly on. Aguilera started the new phase in the competition with a live performance of "How I Feel" with Flo Rida, descending from the rafters in a giant gold hula hoop and doffing her black wrap to give everyone a chance to thoughtfully admire her bodaciously buff bod, encased in nothin' but netting and a belly-covering bikini.
And Green, well, he spent the evening spouting flattering platitudes and declarations of love: about the show, the crew, his fellow coaches, the contestants. "I'm feeling good tonight, so I'm giving out compliments," he explained.
To be fair, the show did showcase some strong performances, the singers confidently concealing whatever first-live-night jitters they may have been feeling.
For Team Blake, newlywed Shelbie Z turned in a commanding performance of Reba McEntire's "Fancy" that Levine called "flawless." Green praised her (natch) as "consistently charismatic" and coach Shelton said if he had just awoken up from a five-year coma to find her onstage, he would have concluded that she was a major country star.
Team Adam's resident college dropout/computer geek James Wolpert redeemed himself after a not-good knockout round performance with an acoustic version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," accompanying himself on guitar. The coaches lapped it up. Levine called the performance "poised," "controlled" and "elegant." Aguilera, also apparently in a complimentary mood, said Wolpert had made the song a "safe haven" that drew in his audience and was "heartwarming to watch."
Nic Hawk, formerly of Team Adam but more recently of Team Blake, mercifully refrained from twerking during his rendition of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," but he did just about everything else: singing, rapping and dancing not just Thicke's part, but those performed by Pharrell, T.I. and the dancers from the song's video as well. Levine said he took on every element "minus the boobs." Shelton called him "the complete entertainer" and exclaimed "OMG!"
Team Blake's small-town single dad Ray Boudreaux (he's been on an airplane four whole times now, thanks to the show) sought to show his "swamp pop" roots with a Southern-soulful rendition of fellow Louisianian Marc Broussard's "Home" -- and succeeded. Aguilera thought he was at his most "connected," "bluesy" and real, and Levine said he'd done his pal Broussard proud. Shelton went further, saying Boudreaux was helping the world and his own heart by bringing swamp pop out to the masses.
Austin Jenckes, also of Team Blake, took on the Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels," performing it with his usual passion and grit. When he'd finished, Carson Daly enthused that Jenckes looked like he was "having so much fun" when he performed. Aguilera praised Jenckes' heart, Green his "effortless strength." Levine was moved to invite Jenckes, who earns a living giving scooter tours, to ride a Harley with him and Daly. Shelton, who said he knew Jenckes would always give him "150%" whenever he sang, noted that it took "a confident man to ride a moped."
Team Adam's Grey tried to prove she was more than a wedding singer by donning black leather, striking a rock-'n'-roll pose and strutting her way through "Still Into You" by Paramour. Shelton called her "dominant." Green said she'd made the song her own. And Levine told her she'd reduced Shelton and Green to babbling fools because "they are in love with you." He'd called her a "dark horse" in the competition, and who knows?
On the set: movies and TV
Will Champlin -- of Team Adam, then Team Christina, then Team Adam again -- whose father, the show for once declined to remind us, was in the band Chicago, showed off his piano-playing and musical arranging chops, as well as his singing with his somewhat changed-up rendition of OneRepublic's "Secrets." Green thought it was a "definitive performance." And Levine said that, though Champlin had been bounced around from team to team "like a yo-yo," he had proven that he deserved to be in the running. "You have a very special gift," he said, "and I think you put on the performance of your life tonight."
In terms of praise, though, Champlin had nothing on his Team Adam teammate Preston Pohl, who sang B.O.B's "Nothing on You" in his inimitable soulful style, and he rapped. Shelton said he was "blown away" by "the pocket," "the pitch" and Pohl's "passion" and called the performance "studly." Aguilera called his voice "an old soul within itself." And Levine said Pohl had a sound all his own, and that his "unique" tone couldn't be coached or taught. "You have it," he noted, and Pohl had it.
By contrast Team Blake's exceptionally bearded Cole Vosbury sounded almost exactly like Rod Stewart on his rendition of "Maggie May," on which he also played guitar. Aguilera praised Vosbury's consistency. Green, whose team Vosbury had initially been on, reached new complimentary heights by declaring his undying unconditional love and saying he and his team members would be happy to lose to him. Shelton then cranked the coach praise up a notch further, calling Vosbury (a one-chair turn who'd lost his knockout round before Shelton stole him) a "frontrunner" who was "good for this show," "good for this overall thing that we're doing here."
Then a true frontrunner, Team Adam's Tessanne Chin, took the stage for the evening's final performance, a stirring rendition of "Many Rivers to Cross" by Mr. Jimmy Cliff, as she respectfully calls the reggae great, with whom she has sung. She was moved to tears by the audience's enthusiastic response, which Aguilera said she "deserved" for her "gorgeous soaring vocals."
Green called Chin one of his faves, saying she made him "feel things." And Levine capped off the evening of high praise, gushing about Chin's "golden soul" and "humongous" heart. In addition to being "just a wonderful human being," he said, Chin's "talent is just mind boggling." "Vocally, it does not get better than what you just did," he said.
With praise like that, it's hard to know where the coaches can go on the second night of the first live round, but we'll find out when Green's and Aguilera's teams take the stage Tuesday night.
Do you think the coaches' gushing was justified?