Viewers of "The Voice" on Monday got a little taste of what it's going to be like to have Miley Cyrus coach contestants next season, when she and Alicia Keys slide into the spinning red chairs to be left vacant — temporarily, perhaps — by Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera to coach alongside stalwarts Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. And you know what? Seems like it's going to be good. And it's going to be fun. And it appears as if Cyrus' guidance will be truly useful to the contestants.
After all, as Shelton pointed out at the outset of Monday night's knockout rounds, Cyrus has a "working knowledge" of a lot of different genres (country, pop, etc.). Plus the former "Hannah Montana" star been in the spotlight since she was a tyke, so she knows well how to engage and excite an audience and put on a memorable show (yes, yes, to put it mildly).
The advice Cyrus dispensed was specific and helpful and really seemed to have a positive effect on the contestants' performances. And the fact that she appeared to be enjoying herself was cool too. We saw none of the stiff irritation with Shelton that Rihanna showed when she guest-mentored last season; Miley took the country coach's teasing in complete stride. In fact, she seemed to get a kick out of it. When he suggested she lick the red button on her chair? She gamely mimed doing so. Slurp!
What's more, the boundary-pushing pop star appeared to be determined to shake up the show's wardrobe blahs, coming at the stasis (the way we see the coaches wearing the same outfits for weeks on end) like a wrecking ball. She wore a different eye-popping outfit while working with each of the four coaches. Again, fun.
During Monday night's knockouts, each contestant selected a song and, after receiving tips from his or her coach and Cyrus, was paired with another team member. Coaches picked a winner in each knockout — the singer he or she would save — leaving the other singer available for a steal. Each coach has just one steal to use during the knockouts.
Here's how things played out:
Angie Keilhauer vs. Paxton Ingram (Team Blake): Looking for the "best singers" to take to the live shows, Shelton paired up these two "fighters" — a singer-songwriter type and a former dancer, respectively. Putting her own spin on Sam Hunt's "Take Your Time," Keilhauer strummed guitar and showed herself to be a solid performer, but Ingram distinguished himself with his interesting tone and emotional power notes on Adele's "Hometown Glory," an ambitious choice that earned him a standing ovation from Williams. Aguilera admired Keilhauer's "confidence" and Ingram's connection and his "rich, low tone," which she called "really juicy." Williams said Keihauer's song choice hadn't allowed her to show her true talents and that Ingram had taken the match with his "supersolid," controlled low notes. Levine commended Keilhauer on her energy and "passion," but said Ingram's unique tone was "worth its weight in gold." Eventually, after making a few cracks about Levine's pink hair, Shelton declared Ingram to be the winner, sending Keilhauer home unstolen.
Owen Danoff vs. Ryan Quinn (Team Adam): Levine called this knockout a matchup of a "rough" singer (Danoff, a slight young man whose father had a No. 1 hit in the '70s with the song "Afternoon Delight") and "polished" one (Quinn, a tall, strapping fellow with a powerful voice, who teaches music to children who have suffered some kind of trauma). But in a David-and-Goliath-esque turn, Danoff proved so compelling, heartfelt and pure on Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," he felled the mighty Quinn, who showed off his pipes and potency, but didn't seem to really connect to Train's "Drops of Jupiter." Shelton teased Levine that he had been "silly" to pit two four-chair turns against each other, but pegged Danoff as the winner, saying he had been "more invested in song and the lyric." Aguilera said Danoff had surprised her with his "dimension." And Williams said Danoff had been "crazy" good, but that he saw "no reason" why both singers "couldn't make it to the finals." Levine hemmed and hawed and said the two singers were "stark opposites" from each other, with each possessing qualities the other lacked. Ultimately, though, he went with Danoff, saying he "had to reward" the singer for putting his "heart and soul" into the performance. Everything worked out fine for Quinn, too, in the end, though; Aguilera scooped him up for her team.
Hannah Huston vs. Malik Heard (Team Pharrell): Williams said he'd matched up these singers because they had "two different ways of approaching soul singing," but Huston, an effervescent preschool teacher and original member of Team Pharrell (Heard was a battle-round steal from Team Christina), seemed to have the edge from the start. Huston was so fully committed to her performance of the Animals hit "House of the Rising Sun," she earned a standing ovation from Shelton, as well as her own coach. Heard did fine on Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," but he really was no match for the pretty, passionate young educator. Levine called her performance "bonkers." Shelton said it had been "incredible." Aguilera called Huston's choices "impressive." Williams went with his gut (and the crowd) and crowned Huston the winner. He expressed disappointment that no one stole Heard.
Katie Basden vs. Lacy Mandigo (Team Blake): Shelton paired up his two battle-round steals, calling them "powerful, rangy singers" and saying he wanted one of the two "to stick around." Basden, whose voice Shelton compared to Trisha Yearwood's and said evoked the era of '90s country music, seemed more Shelton's speed going in. And although Mandigo gave her full-throated all to the Cranberries' "Zombie," Basden's pure, clear and prettily restrained tone and steady build on Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" tipped things in her favor. Still, the coaches responded pretty evenhandedly — crediting Basden's growth and strength and Mandigo's potential and charisma — and so it wasn't entirely a surprise that, after Shelton officially declared Basden the winner, both Williams and Levine (the only coaches able to steal) made a play for Mandigo. She chose Williams, who had pushed his button first.
Alisan Porter vs. Daniel Passino (Team Christina): You had to feel bad for Passino going into this match, since Porter, a former child star (she played the title role in "Curly Sue") has been the season front-runner from the start. Performing the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" with admirable verve, the classically trained aspiring pop singer still didn't stand a chance against Porter, whose personal struggles made her tender take on Joni Mitchell's "River" particularly poignant. Still, Williams gave Passino a standing ovation, saying he had "slayed" his performance. All the coaches agreed that Porter had won the knockout — Williams called her "masterful" and, later, a "unicorn" — but they also concurred that Passino was talented in his own right. After Porter had officially been declared the victor, Williams said he would have scooped up Passino had he not already spent his sole steal.
Emily Keener vs. Shalyah Fearing (Team Pharrell): In a contest of teenage singers dubbed "old souls" by their coach, Keener, 17, showed off her unusually resonant vocal tone as she treated us to the second Joni Mitchell song of the night: "Big Yellow Taxi." Then Fearing, 15, gave a fierce performance of Martina McBride's "A Broken Wing," bringing the coaches to their feet. Keener had been a four-chair turn and a coach favorite from the start. Fearing had completely wowed everyone — Levine called her a "revelation" and Aguilera said it was as if she'd given a finale-worthy performance and had "just won" the whole season. Which talented teen would Williams pick? Keener, as it happened. But Levine immediately moved in to steal Fearing, saying he was "shocked that she was available" since she had given "the performance of the night."