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'The Voice' Recap: Singers Strip Down for the Live Playoffs

Contestants perform (mostly) acoustic renditions for America’s votes, and Usher debuts more experimental -- and incredibly effective -- coaching techniques.

Sarah Simmons The Voice - H 2013
NBC
Sarah Simmons singing Sarah McLachlin's "Angel"

It’s time for the playoffs on NBC’s The Voice: live tapings, elaborate sets, big costumes and even bigger hairdos. As each of the coaches loosen their reins on their four remaining contestants, America votes for their top two teammates, while each mentor can save one. In the end, one singer from each team will be sent home.

Adam Levine and Usher watched their singers compete with stripped down performances on Monday night (Shakira and Blake Shelton will do the same on Tuesday night), and also joined forces onstage for a duet of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” In preparation for group performances, Levine took his four female vocalists to his family’s clothing store to revamp their style before singing “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine, and Usher brought his team to a kickboxing gym to build their endurance and breath control before performing “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro. But boxing isn’t Usher’s only effective coaching trick, as he debuted more exercises that involve ballroom dancing and handheld mirrors.

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Here’s how the remaining season four contestants did during their first live show:

Team Adam

Experimenting with a Rihanna song that’s well beyond the country genre, Amber Carrington put her pipes to the pop test with “Stay,” spotlighting her smooth alto range. “The objective was for America was to become more familiar with your voice and have an intimate experience, and I think you did that,” said Usher. “I really look forward to the follow-up.”

Sarah Simmons attempted a rendition of “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan, complete with the signature falsetto switches that the musician is known for. However, the imitation felt forced at times, and Usher commented that he missed the sound of the Memphis music student that he had gotten to know thus far.

With her acoustic guitar, coffeehouse singer-songwriter Caroline Glaser tackled “The A-Team” by Ed Sheeran -- the perfect canvas for her indie aesthetic. The college freshman and former Shelton mentee sat calm and controlled as she transported the audience to a St. Louis stage. Usher said she won America over: “You get a vote simply for the dimples first!”

Judith Hill sang a well-received rendition of “Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone, though she was nursing a damaged vocal cord nodule. “You came out here and you took us to church!” hailed Usher to Michael Jackson’s former duet partner.

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Team Usher

Though initially struggling with holding out longer notes, Josiah Hawley picked up his electric guitar for Muse’s “Starlight” -- a risky choice for the Arkansas model that paid off. “That performance was haunting and energetic,” said Shelton. “I think the world is gonna lose a male model for this -- I guess I’ll have to fill in!”

After a few ballroom dancing sessions with Usher to get into the groove of the ambitious Whitney Houston hit, Cathia conquered her nerves to champion the memorable moments of “I Have Nothing.” Yet her former coach, Shakira, questioned the song choice. “Taking a Whitney Houston song is like stepping on holy ground,” she said.

Usher assigned Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” to Vedo to see if the aspiring R&B artist can hold a performance without constantly churning dance moves. Free of rasp and grit, he smoothly sang through the ballad. “There’s only thing that I don’t like about you -- that you’re not on my team!” said Levine.

Rocker nerd Michelle Chamuel was forced to sing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” into a mirror during rehearsals, so that when she took the stage, she removed her earpiece and sang from the heart. “Who we are onstage is who we are in life,” said Shakira, as the other judges acknowledged the performance as her breakout moment of the season. “Tonight, you made a connection to the world that we’ll never forget,” said Usher.

STORY: 'The Voice' Coaches Discuss the Value of Chemistry

As the playoffs continue, Team Blake and Team Shakira will sing for the limited live show spots during a special two-hour episode on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on NBC.

What did you think of the first night of the playoffs? Which singers deserve to advance to the live shows and which should be sent home? Sound off in the comments section below.