"The Voice" packed 12 performances into two breathless hours on Monday night. The performance/time ratio meant there wasn't much chance for lively coach interplay -- few opportunities for Adam Levine and Blake Shelton to get all jousty and bromantic and Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams to pat each other's backs.
But what the show lacked in fun and games it made up in pace and, for the most part, polish. At this point, all the performers -- the two from each team voted through last week by the audience and the one per team saved by each coach -- are super-talented. But even so, the evening brought a few sad stumbles, along with solid triumphs.
We'll find out how much viewers will forgive on Tuesday night, when the two singers who get the fewest votes -- and aren't rescued by the "instant save" -- go home.
Here's how Monday night's performances went down:
Sugar Joans (Team Pharrell): If Joans wasn't done in by staging that required her to negotiate a bannerless staircase in heels (twice) while giving her all to "Take Me to the River," she might be by her positioning in the lead (a.k.a. death) spot. That's not to say she didn't do a fabulous job; she did. Shelton admired the way her vocals always kept him on the edge of his seat. But as Joans pointed out, Williams has saved her twice in a row, and this time around, it's all in the voters' hands.
Ryan Sill (Team Gwen): Stefani gave Sill, her last-round save, Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" in part because he wouldn't have to move around much when he sang it. He said he hoped his performance would get America back on his side. It certainly got the coaches on his side; he got a standing ovation and enthusiastic comments from all. Levine used words such as "amazing," "beautiful" and "soulful," and Stefani said she'd been so excited to hear Sill sing on Monday's show she hadn't been able to sleep the previous night. I thought it was shouty, occasionally off-mic and perhaps even off-pitch. But maybe that was just me.
Jessie Pitts (Team Blake): Some people were surprised that Shelton saved Pitts over more country-inflected team members last week, but I wasn't. Like him, I'm an admirer of Pitts' curious musicality and quirky tone. Still, this week, she probably had to show she could also go big with her voice in order to stick around, and though her take on "Don't You Worry Child," was charming as ever and revealed her piano-playing prowess, it may not have been quite enough to keep her in the game for the long term. Shelton expressed admiration for her voice, her artistry and her work ethic; we'll see how far that goes.
Damien (Team Adam): Damien brings soulful emotion to every song he sings, usually ending up with glittering eyes. That passion can sometimes border on the overwrought, but it seemed especially appropriate on Levine's song pick here, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." The coach ended up on his feet, hooting and hollering. "I could not in a million years be prouder than I am right now," he told Damien.
DaNica Shirey (Team Pharrell): Radiohead's "Creep" may not have seemed like an obvious choice for Shirey, but as Levine pointed out in his comments, she could sing almost anything and make it sound incredible, and she certainly did so here. What's more, she looked better -- fresher, younger, more attractive, less frumpy -- than she has been styled to look in the past. Stefani noticed the improved look as well and added that Shirey's voice made her a "freak of nature."
Taylor John Williams (Team Gwen): Stefani maybe didn't do the singer any big favors assigning him "If" by Bread, which seemed like a sort of stale choice. She and the other coaches thought he had done a solid job. Levine called it "delicate and different" and said it revealed Williams' vocal "purity." Shelton admired Williams' darkness; Pharrell Williams his "tenderness." In other words, they thought the performance was the best thing since sliced ... oh, never mind.
Reagan James (Team Blake): Since she turned 16 only last week, it's probably not fair to expect total perfection from James, but she's been such a solid performer so far, you could be forgiven for feeling disappointed by her so-so "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over." It was breathy, strangely syncopated and never quite fell into the smooth groove you'd expect from both song and performer. Levine said what we were all thinking, that he had been distracted by the airiness of the performance and had "wanted to take a big breath" for the young singer.
Luke Wade (Team Pharrell): This one was a heartbreaker. Wade, who seems to have a solid shot at the win, had some sort of mess-up in the beginning of "Thinking Out Loud," later explaining that he had come in "two beats too early." Nevertheless, he pulled it back together and showed off the tone that makes his vocals so deeply appealing. All the coaches, along with host Carson Daly, were super-encouraging. Levine said he had "recovered like a professional would recover." Stefani said it had happened to all of them -- and to her "10,000 times" -- and only made him seem "more human" to an audience. "People don't care about that," she reassured Wade. "People actually like when that happens." She may well be right, but Wade was clearly furious at himself regardless.
Matt McAndrew (Team Adam): McAndrew brought religious fervor to Hozier's "Take Me to Church," starting quiet as a prayer and ending up on his knees. He was loud enough for us all to hear him, but apparently the sound mix in the theater itself was faulty. Still, the coaches were impressed by what they saw, at least. "Finishing that song with every single stitch of energy and power and emotion you have," Levine said. "That's a guy that wins the show." Certainly possible.
Craig Wayne Boyd (Team Blake): Shelton helped Boyd make a play for the show's country-music fans by giving him George Strait's "You Look So Good in Love," and I'll be darned if he didn't seem more sincere -- less canned and cheesy -- than he has in his Southern rocker mode. This may have been my favorite Craig Wayne Boyde performance so far. "Gosh, I'm so excited right now," Shelton declared, adding that to have had two "breakout" moments in a row was the "mark of a star."
Chris Jamison (Team Adam): I find this college mailman with the buzz cut, square jaw, crooked smile, sweet voice and solid stage presence super-appealing. And if the show's voters embrace him based on his impressive performance of "Jealous," I wouldn't be jealous at all. "That is 100 percent your best performance" on the show so far, Williams told him, calling his falsetto "effortless" and his stage moves "effortless." "Yeah, you're cute, all right," Levine said, adding that Jamison was also "a talented, talented singer."
Anita Antoinette (Team Gwen): Remember when Season 5 winner Tessanne Chin, who was from Jamaica, staked her claim to the reggae vote with Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"? That felt like a big moment. But somehow, even though Antoinette is also from Jamaica and has a powerful, smooth, lilting tone, her attempt to also milk the song for all it was worth seemed somehow been-there-done-that. It seemed more intimate than anthemic. "There is something about your voice that is just so soothing and calming and relaxing," Shelton said. It was probably enough to help her stick around, but perhaps not enough to propel her to the front of the pack.