'The Voice' Recap: Blake Shelton Explains Why the Judges Haven't Been ... Judging

Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green push their singers to power through performances without backup dancers, set pieces or elaborate costumes.
"The Voice"

Surprise! The judges of The Voice suddenly remembered that they are, in fact, judges (they were all intolerably too nice Monday night) and returned to their big red chairs for the second night of stripped-down performances, thankfully with a stash of constructive criticism in each of their Starbucks cups -- Adam Levine in particular.

"Isn't it great how nice we're all being to each other?" said Blake Shelton of this week's elimination, in which the voters pick each team's top two singers and a coach saves a third. "That's because we're not against each other yet; next week, we're gonna be really mean to you."

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After Christina Aguilera and singer-songwriter breakout A Great Big World debuted a duet called "Say Something" (a beautiful, stripped-down ballad as well), Aguilera's and Cee Lo Green's singers embarked on their first live performances of the season.

Team Cee Lo

In an effort to showcase her versatility, Team Xtina steal Amber Nicole (whose sister was once a vocal coach to Voice rotating coach Usher) was assigned Voice season-three winner Cassadee Pope's post-show single "Wasting All These Tears." Though occasionally pitchy (that big note at the end didn't soar well), she added her own soulful riffs to the country song. All of the judges dusted off their critical faculties (clearly shelved during last night's episode) to critique that climactic moment, but couldn't agree whether it was sharp or flat. Either way, it wasn't right.

Green made sure military veteran Jonny Gray explored his "activism" voice with The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." He didn't deviate from the original version until nearly its end, but his tone is so inherently interesting that the judges were pleased enough. "It's a snarling beast of a song, and that attitude is hard to get to, and you did," said Levine, but too late in the song. Aguilera echoed that if anything, they wanted to hear more of Gray's unique style that enticed them in earlier rounds.

Veteran gospel singer Tamara Chauniece put her power behind Gloria Gaynor's anthem "I Will Survive." Drawing from her vast performance experience (she recorded her first album at age 11), she comfortably traversed the stage, deploying vivid facial expressions and gestures, while adding unique riffs to the arrangement. Levine called it her best performance yet, and Green thanked her for updating the classic track for new audiences.

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Formerly the bandleader of The Design, Kat Robichaud debuted her tender side with Mary Lambert's "She Keeps Me Warm" – a smart decision on Green's part. With no high kicks or theatrics to hide behind, she brought the ballad solely with her vibrato. Levine and Aguilera wished for a vocally climactic moment in her performance (aside from hugging a stranger in the audience), but we appreciated the decision to keep things subtle and, dare we say, sweet, even for a hard-rocker like Robichaud.

Speaking of sweet, the very adorable Caroline Pennell put her indie spin on The White Stripes "We're Going to Be Friends" – an otherwise repetitive song. However, leave it to "Sweet Caroline" to creatively adjust enough phrases to truly make the song her own. "You could've been singing about killing people and I would just want to skip around onstage," joked Shelton in all seriousness.

Team Xtina

Single father Josh Logan tried his gritty rock sound on one of Green's hits, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" -- while playing his acoustic guitar with very minimal band accompaniment. "I'm just flattered," said Green. "I think you did a great job." Levine, however, thought it was a bit too packed with runs (which Aguilera made sure he added in during rehearsals so the audience didn't get bored). Nevertheless, his version showcased how much his voice can do in a short amount of time.

Olivia Henken had to learn to occasionally pull back for a country-tinged rendition of Katy Perry's "Roar," complete with prickly banjos that immediately refreshed the pop hit. She occasionally fell out of pitch and momentarily got caught up in the break, causing her to miss her cue, but Shelton praised her for pulling the song into a new genre. We're happy she found a way to deal with the borderline-annoying points of Perry's original.

Stephanie Anne Johnson – who can also sing opera, by the way – celebrated her homecoming to Aguilera's team with Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind," an intimidating classic that she filled with the interesting riffs and inflections that has become her signature sound. Former coach Green happily admitted he was "amazed, entertained and jealous," and made a mistake letting her go.

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Aguilera wanted to prove that Matthew Schuler – the fastest four-chair turner in Voice history – can sing pop, and assigned him Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." With a scaled-back introduction (relatively for Schuler, whom Green called "Mike Tyson" because his powerful voice never stops), he soared into the chorus, but still switched up his dynamics for the ballad's bridge. The judges could barely say over an audience of never-ending screams how much they loved the performance and wish they were his coach. We still think he can do better, and can't wait to watch him do so.

Hands down though, the 16-year-old Jacquie Lee mastered Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" – from kicking it off with massive notes to her effortless, soaring conclusion. She is the contestant that is closest to Aguilera's signature aesthetic, and is clearly reaping the benefits of the mentorship. With unanimous praise from the judges, she's clearly a front-runner for the top 20 -- but we all knew that, since she closed tonight's show.

What did you think of tonight's performances? Which singers deserve to advance, and which should be sent home? Which coach still needs to give better feedback? Sound off in the comments below.

Twitter: @cashleelee