"The Voice" took it live Monday night, and while newbie coach Gwen Stefani admitted to feeling a few fluttery nerves, the contestants themselves seemed remarkably cool. It was an evening of generally impressive, if not universally transcendent, performances, from which a few favorites may have emerged.
Of course, now that we've reached the live shows, the show's viewers will have some say as to who sticks around and who heads home. In this live-playoff round, the audience will vote two vocalists from each coach's current team of five through to the next round. Then each coach will select one additional member of his or her team to advance as well, taking a total of three contestants apiece to the next round.
The cut from 20 contestants in all to 12 is pretty deep, as Blake Shelton noted sagely before his team members took the stage. Shelton’s and
Here's how the performances played out:
Taylor Brashears (Team Blake): The retro country singer performed "Long Time Gone" by the Dixie Chicks, showing the world she could play the fiddle as well as sing. Williams said Brashears kept things "fresh and exciting" while tackling "nostalgic stuff," and Stefani and Levine complimented her on her confidence and comfort onstage. Stefani also admired the glimpse she got of Brashears' thigh tattoos, and at her coach's urging, Brashears again flashed them, along with her shapewear. Shelton said he liked the way she blended her personality, especially what he called her "ornery" side, and sound.
Chris Jamison (Team Adam): Levine positioned this cute young singer as girl bait and gave him a breath-control challenge, assigning him
Jessie Pitts (Team Blake): This 18-year-old singer, once part of Team Gwen but beloved by Shelton as if she had been on his team all along, prompted both Shelton and Williams to give her a standing ovation with her haunting, stripped-down acoustic take on Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For a Hero." Williams said he loved the way Pitts found the pocket of the song, finding "the sweetest of spots" and staying there. Stefani, her old coach, said the performance was "so natural and original" and admired Pitts' outfit. Levine called it "by far" Pitts' best performance on the show thus far. Shelton marveled at the way Pitts had shared with us all a very intimate musical moment – the kind that usually happens only in the privacy of our own homes – bringing us into her heart, calling her ability to do that "amazing."
James David Carter (Team Blake): Shelton assigned Garth Brooks' "Two of a Kind Workin' on a Full House" to this country pro, observing that he'd done a few ballads already and might want to show he could tackle something up-tempo. Carter certainly proved he could. Williams called Carter "special," and said he'd made us all pay attention. Stefani said he sounded like a record and was "natural and very professional … in a good way," not a "cheesy" one. Levine, who was instructed to call the singer "James David," and not just "James," declared himself to be "super-jealous of Blake." And Shelton called Carter a "rock," saying he could always count on him "to sound great" and that Carter's "experience" was "paying off."
Matt McAndrew (Team Adam): McAndrew, who got ripped off with little airtime during the Knockout round, made up for lost time with his rendition of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," which Levine, a big fan, was hoping would show off the "airy, glassy quality" in his voice. Both Levine and Williams were moved to their feet by McAndrew's performance. Shelton said it was a "great song choice" that had been "sung perfectly," and admired McAndrew's stage moves. Williams called it "so awesome" and helped Williams plug his website. Stefani said she'd been "moved almost to tears." Levine declared his undying love, calling McAndrew "magical," "fearless," "sincere," "genuine" and "unique" and saying he got "goose bumps" whenever McAndrew sang.
Reagan James (Team Blake): The youngest contestant in the competition, this 15-year-old Texas high school sophomore (she'll turn 16 on the day of the eliminations) seems almost eerily confident every time she steps onstage, and this time was no different. She picked up her guitar (and then put it down again) and brought her own passion and nuance to Colbie Caillat's "Try." Williams called the performance "beautiful," and Stefani said she'd sung the song "effortlessly." Shelton was super-effusive, calling James, as he has before, "one of the most important artists that we've ever had on 'The Voice.'"
Taylor Phelan (Team Adam): Having gleefully stolen Phelan from Team Pharrell, Levine assigned him Echosmith's "Cool Kids," which he performed solidly. Williams declared himself to be "so, so, so proud" of his old team member. Stefani said it was "like watching a peer." And Levine said he'd blown everyone away, as usual.
Mia Pfirman (Team Adam): Noting that she was the "last remaining female singer" on his team, Levine wanted Pfirman to explore her dark side with Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful." He urged her to avoid the temptation to embellish and instead to pick "one big moment" in which to make her mark. Shelton admired the way she'd "held it together" on the stripped-down song. Williams called her a "star." Levine commended her on her willingness to hold back and let her tone impress with its potency and power. "You should be nothing but super-confident about what you just did," he told Pfirman.
Damien (Team Adam): Levine encouraged this vocally gifted TSA officer, who can apparently move himself to tears by nearly any song he tackles, to bring some church inflection to Sam Smith's "I Know I'm Not the Only One." Damien brought his usual emotion as well, prompting his coach to stand and hoot. Shelton said he'd found a way to combine his "soft, smooth voice with power and range." Williams compared the way he transitioned from his head voice to his chest voice and back again to being "like an elevator" in its ease. Stefani said there was "some truth" in Damien that spoke to everyone. "This audience in here was the loudest that they've been all night," she contended. Levine suggested the "whole country" had responded to Damien's performance.
Craig Wayne Boyd (Team Blake): Having been stolen from Team Blake by Stefani, who gave him a makeover, and then back from Team Gwen by Shelton, Boyd has bounced around a lot. On this occasion, he was assigned "Some Kind of Wonderful." "You don't sing a song; you attack it," Shelton observed. And not to point fingers or anything, but Boyd sure does a lot of finger-pointing when he sings — it's his go-to stage move and he definitely overused it here. Still, the coaches seemed delighted. Williams, who had joined Shelton to give Boyd a standing ovation, encouraged him to "keep going" on his own path. Stefani thought he'd showed his power. And Shelton declared it to have been "the performance of the night." I don't know, though, something about Boyd just bugs me; maybe it's that, while he seems a decent enough sort, he really doesn't seem to have any sense of humor.
Who knows how the audience votes and coach picks will pan out? But my picks for these two teams would be (in no particular order)…
Team Adam: Chris Jamison, Damien and Matt McAndrew
Team Blake: Jessie Pitts, Reagan James and James David Carter