"The Voice" aired its final knockout rounds – with guest mentor Miley Cyrus and her parade of interesting outfits in tow -- on Monday. Next week, it's on to the live shows, with each coach's team of five "locked" in place, to use the show's vernacular.
At the outside of Monday's show, Blake Shelton reminded us that he was the only coach left with a steal to use. "I'm waiting for somebody not like anyone else," he said.
Shelton was also waiting for any opportunity to needle Adam Levine about his pink hair, singing "The Pink Panther Theme" and undercutting Levine's boast that it tasted "like cotton candy" with a crack about how it smelled.
Here's how the last of the knockouts played out:
Brian Nhira vs. Nate Butler (Team Adam): It's unclear precisely why Levine paired these two "very different" singers, as he described them. Nhira, a battle-round steal from Team Pharrell, lit up the stage with Bruno Mars' "Grenade," outperforming Butler, an original member of Team Adam who crooned his way through Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." The coaches complimented both contestants, but showed, perhaps, a bit more enthusiasm for Nhira. "Brian came out here and poured gas on the stage and dropped a match on it. It was crazy," Shelton said, before adding that Butler was "badass." Levine hemmed and hawed and then said. "If you've got two people and they're both unbelievable, then you have to go into a different phase of decision making where you say 'Who can I not survive without?' and the person who that is for me today and the winner of this knockout is Brian." Later the Maroon 5 singer added that, while it had been difficult to send Butler home, Nhira had been too "special" to ditch.
Brittany Kennell vs. Mary Sarah (Team Blake): Shelton said he was matching up "two of my young female country singers" because he had room for only one of them on the live shows." It seemed like a safe bet from the get-go that Sarah, a four-chair turn with a classic country voice and some Nashville success under her belt, would be Shelton's choice to advance. The lively, blond 20-year-old is totally a Team Blake type. Kennell, an aspiring country singer from Canada, did a fine, even-keeled job with Shania Twain's "You're Still the One," but Sarah brought a bit of extra "sass" (Williams' word) to Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," impressing everyone. Shelton said both women had sung "flawlessly," but that Mary Sarah exuded "personality" and imbued everything "with her vintage but still youthful country sound." He declared her the winner, explaining that she was "one of those artists that every time she gets onstage, something special happens."
Bryan Bautista vs. Trey O'Dell (Team Christina): Aguilera said she had room for just one of these soulful singers moving forward, and the smart money was on Bautista, a buff-bodied Season 9 returnee and original member of Team Christina, who put his own heartfelt spin on Justin Bieber's "Sorry." O'Dell, a battle-round steal from Team Blake, just didn't show the same level of confidence on OneRepublic's "I Live" as his more seasoned rival, a fact that wasn't lost on any of the coaches. Even Shelton ruefully admitted that Bautista had outperformed his former team member. Aguilera tried her best to look as if she were struggling with her decision as she handed the win to Bautista. She later told Shelton that Bautista not only knew "how to work it," but also had especially impressed Cyrus, who had been "crushing out" on him "big time."
Abby Celso vs. Caity Peters (Team Pharrell): In this battle of pop singers, Celso may have damned herself right off the bat by picking Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl" and then oversinging it. In rehearsal, Williams wasn't that into it, and Cyrus called Celso's approach "frolicky" and "swirly-twirly." Peters, a four-chair turn pleased both coach and guest mentor far more by picking a song she was emotionally connected to, Sam Smith's "Leave Your Lover," and then singing it soulfully. During the round itself, Celso showed power, but Peters showed heart (though she should learn to open her eyes more). The coaches concluded that Peters' performance had been the more dynamically interesting, and ultimately, Williams agreed, completing his live-show-bound team of five – all women, as it happens.
Jessica Crosbie vs. Laith Al-Saadi (Team Adam): In another match of what he acknowledged were "very different" singers, Levine pitted gritty-voiced, impressively bearded guitarist Al-Saadi against British-born former Team Pharrell member Crosbie, hoping to be wowed by at least one of them. Alas, Aguilera hit the nail on the head when she said both singers had shown vocal strength, but that their performances somehow lacked "magic." Levine attributed the problem to song choice – Crosbie had aimed low with "Wake Me Up," by Avicii, and Al-Saadi had misfired with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" – and picked Al-Saadi, saying he felt they could "do some pretty cool things moving forward."
Then after Levine completed his live-playoff-destined team by choosing adorable Caroline Burns to advance -- sending home little-heard contestant Katherine Ho (poor thing – montaged yet again!) – we got what the show was calling the "most epic knockout of the season."
Joe Maye vs. Kata Hay (Team Christina): In a match of passionate performers, one of whom (probably Hay, a country singer from Oklahoma, but possibly either), Shelton was clearly planning to use his save for, Maye followed Aguilera's instructions that he start off like a "sexy panther" and end up like "a lion," impressing everyone with his take on The Weeknd's "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)." But then Hay, that redheaded spitfire, sang and played the heck out of Reba McEntire's "Why Haven't I Heard From You." The coaches agreed that both singers had lit up the room with their showmanship and personality. Aguilera ultimately picked Hay to advance, leaving Shelton to scoop up Maye, and add "diversity" to his team. Aguilera, meanwhile, advances to the live playoffs with an undeniably strong team.
We'll see if she can pull out that first-female-coach win soon enough. Next week, lives!