On the second live show of "The Voice" Season 7, Teams Gwen and Pharrell took their turns onstage in the playoffs. The five singers on each team vied to be among the two voted through by viewers or, failing that, the one saved by their coach.
If there was any doubt before Tuesday night's show that Pharrell Williams' team was the one to beat -- to use a favorite "Voice"-coach phrase -- there certainly wasn't after. One after another, and with only one disappointment, the singers on Team Pharrell stepped out and staked their claim to staying in the spotlight. Gwen Stefani's team members weren't too shabby either.
Here's how it all went down. (We'll find out the results on a live show Wednesday night.)
Ryan Sill (Team Gwen): Stefani hoped Sill would add a little "ruggedness" to his sweetness and polish up his stage moves, shedding some of his awkward boy-bandishness, when he took the stage with OneRepublic's "I Lived." He did show improvement. Adam Levine complimented Sill on his "unbelievably good" pitch and confidence, though he suggested the "performance stuff" was still a work in progress. Williams, though thought Sill had had a breakout moment, coming out of his shell and commanding attention. Stefani gushed about Sill's "smile" and "willingness to … get better," telling him his "positivity" was "infectious."
Jean Kelley (Team Pharrell): Team Pharrell's first performance of the night was also its biggest disappointment. Kelley has powerful pipes and a heart-tugging back story (her mom died suddenly when she was a kid), but some coaches objected to her theatrical style. Williams' song choice for her, "Piano in the Dark," by Brenda Russell, didn't do her any favors in that regard. Breathy and strangely plodding, the performance ended well enough, but apparently not a moment too soon for the coaches. Kelley's former coach, Stefani, seemed initially reluctant to offer her thoughts, and then confessed that she'd found the performance overly "dramatic" and suggested Kelley "work on believability just a little bit." Levine agreed that "sometimes the drama was overwhelming some of the vocals." Even Williams, Kelley's own coach, didn't seem terribly impressed. He told Kelley it was "just the beginning" for her, seeming to signal the end.
Elyjuh Rene (Team Pharrell): This 18-year-old singer had taken unfavorable comments from viewers to heart and suffered a crisis in confidence as a result. After a pep talk from his unwaveringly supportive coach, though, Rene stepped out with "Latch" – a song Williams said hinted at the teen singer's need "to embrace" himself – and earned a standing ovation from all four coaches. Levine was the most effusive. "I can't even believe what I just saw," the Maroon 5 singer stammered. "That was the most precisely perfect … soulful … amazing thing … You just became, I believe, the frontrunner on one of the strongest teams we've got." Shelton agreed that Rene was "the one to beat on Pharrell's team." Williams declared himself to be "super proud."
Bryana Salaz (Team Gwen): Assigning Salaz, a 17-year-old military kid whose veteran father has recently recovered from a liver disease, a song about parting from loved ones was a smart move on Stefani's part. Salaz not only put her emotions on display when she sang 5 Seconds of Summer's "Amnesia," but afterward, amidst repeated queries from Carson Daly as to whether she was OK, she also had a chance to give a patriotic Veterans Day shout-out to military members and vets. As for the performance itself, Shelton said he felt like she'd gotten better and grown "as a singer right before our eyes," gaining strength as the song progressed. Stefani gushed that she had shown everyone who she was, adding, "you're so adorable and I love you."
Luke Wade (Team Pharrell): Whatever they say about Rene, Wade has been Team Pharrell's true front-runner and a solid candidate for the win almost since the beginning -- unless the fact that he sounds a lot like last season's winner, Josh Kaufman, works against him. He took the song Williams assigned him "Let's Get It On," by Marvin Gaye, and did it his own way. Levine said that, though it was "hard to get out of karaoke zone" with the song, he had given it his own phrasing and made it "Luked out," "Lukified," and "Lukalicious." Shelton said Wade's version had been so effective that some people in the audience had actually gotten it on during the performance.
Anita Antoinette (Team Gwen): Speaking of getting it on, Antoinette, who story line involves a struggle with stage fright and an unsuccessful Season 3 “Voice” audition, definitely got her groove on during her performance of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” but tinkering with a current megahit is a tricky business. Still, Antoinette is a very appealing performer, and she may have pulled it off. “It’s hard to believe that you’re someone who ever had stage fright,” Shelton said, adding that Antoinette had “completely owned that moment.” Williams said Antoinette had done Jamaica, the country of her birth, proud. Levine was desperate to hang out with her. “She is really fun to hang out with,” Stefani said, pleased that Antoinette’s personality had come through in her performance.
DaNica Shirey (Team Pharrell): Williams gave this big-voiced stay-at-home mom Joni Mitchell's "Help Me," comparing her, vocally, to "a hummingbird in front of a flower," able to absorb many different colors. Shirey's version, while impressive, was nothing like Mitchell's, which is probably no surprise, given that the singer had never heard the original version before being asked to sing it. If that's not bad enough, Stefani, who declared Mitchell to have been her "hero," seemed unsure if the legendary singer-songwriter was still alive. (She is, having just turned 71 and released a career-spanning new collection.) Levine was thrilled that Shirey and Williams had "turned Joni Mitchell into Chaka Kahn." Shelton admitted that he had never heard the song before, either, but called Shirey's singing "so perfect … like a clinic for singers." Especially, perhaps, for singers who have never heard of Joni Mitchell.
Sugar Joans (Team Pharrell): Tackling Aretha Franklin (and Dionne Warwick) is no small task for a singer, but Joans, whom Williams was delighted to have stolen from Team Gwen, was more than up to the task, putting her own spin on the soul classic “Say a Little Prayer.” She not only sounded great; she looked fab, in a lacey white dress, with baby’s breath in her free-flowing newly purple hair. Stefani felt her former team member had just had her “moment.” Levine said she’d taken everyone “to church.” And Shelton called it “the best performance of the night.” Williams said he’d “felt every moment” of the song, and said Joans was on her way and “never going back.”
Ricky Manning (Team Gwen): Manning, formerly a member of Team Pharrell, aimed to show growth with his take on Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down," and, in fact, Levine dubbed him "most improved." Shelton said he'd given a "solid, beautiful performance." Williams said Manning had shown he wanted it. Stefan said that, while she and Manning were "just getting to know each other," she felt he'd done well with a "hard song," and had managed to put his "personality into it."
Taylor John Williams (Team Gwen): In the final performance of the night, this bluesy pop-folk singer brought his own "swampy" sound to Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You," finding inspiration in the time he spent with his grandma during his parents' divorce. The coaches' thought he'd shown "artistry." Shelton said he'd even made him forget an ad that had used the song to sell underwear. "When you changed it up, I didn't even think about that," he said. Um … thanks?
Tonight, results! I'd love to see Luke Wade, Sugar Joans and either DaNica Shirey or Elyjuh Rene advance from Team Pharrell, and, from Team Gwen, Anita Antoinette and whoever else (weirdly, I really don't care).