10:08pm PT by Ashley Lee
'The Voice' Recap: Playoffs Pay Off for Stripped-Down Ballads
The Voice's season-seven playoffs began on Monday, which has teams trimmed down from five to three: two picked by America, and one more saved by each coach. The first live round also introduced the new Voice app, which allows viewers at home to begin voting before the end of the episode, which also featured a performance of Maroon 5's "Animals."
Monday's episode — of average performances, with very few standouts — saw the singers of veteran coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton take the stage, while new mentors Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams (with a new blue hat!) will test their teams Tuesday. The contestants continuing forward will be announced Wednesday.
Chris Jamison touted Ed Sheeran's "Don't," and learned to master the intricate rhythms of its verses after hearing that Usher rehearses on a treadmill. The mid-song octave change impressed Williams, while Stefani admired his engaging stage presence amidst a track demanding major breath control.
Matt McAndrew debuted the first Beach Boys song of the series, "God Only Knows," with an audible theatricality that did the group justice, and nearly brought Stefani to tears. "You have so much personality oozing out of you," she said. Williams oddly had the singer plug his website address during his critique.
Taylor Phelan went for Echo Smith's "Cool Kids," traversing the stage with ease at the same time. Stefani noted that though other contestants have been making noticeable improvements, he's always been a consistent performer.
Mia Pfirrmann opted for Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful," on which Williams said her essence showed through the cinematic ballad. Levine praised the powerhouse for strategically pulling back this time around as well.
Damien covered Sam Smith's "I'm Not the Only One," mastering the long notes as well as the despair. Shelton sat dumbfounded by his range, while Williams said his voice travels through a scale "like you have an elevator, it's not even stairs."
Taylor Brashears was assigned Dixie Chicks' "Long Time Gone," complete with the fiddle solo. Stefani and Levine noted that her confidence — and her upper-leg tattoos! — were showcased onstage, and Shelton loved seeing her personality infused into the performance.
The stolen Jessie Pitts went for an acoustic rendition of Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero," and after struggling to find the pocket of the song in rehearsals, she delivered a strong performance onstage — possibly her best one yet, said her coach.
James David Carter effortlessly put his twang on Garth Brooks' "Two Of A Kind, Workin' On A Full House," a relatively upbeat track in comparison to the ballads he's performed so far. Williams noted the number's fun ending (while Carter noted to Levine that his name is "James David," not "James").
Reagan James hoped to show her individuality — and instrumentation decision-making — on Colbie Caillat's "Try," and she also evoked emotion that pleased the judges. Stefani was pleased to see that she was aiming to act a bit more her age (fifteen! Until her birthday tomorrow, at least).
The stolen-back Craig Wayne Boyd, with his recent Team Gwen makeover, added a big ending to Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful," which Shelton called the performance of the night for his "power, muscle and stage presence. You got passed around, and that was stupid on my part. ... You're beating the odds.
By the end of the episode, the first-ever Voice app voting showed that Shelton's James and Carter, as well as Levine's McAndrew and Jamison, were in the lead and most likely to stay safe during Wednesday's elimination.
The Voice playoffs continue Tuesday with Team Gwen and Team Pharrell. What did you think of tonight's performances? Sound off in the comments below!