The Voice live shows began on Monday, featuring the top 12 contestants in highly produced solo numbers and subjected to viewers’ votes for the first time this season.
Blake Shelton took it upon himself to highlight a frontrunner from each of the other coaches’ teams, Usher had one of his singers run laps onstage, and Adam Levine revealed what musical trick inspires Shelton to empty his bladder. Meanwhile, one of Shakira‘s singers suffered — but soared through — a microphone outage during her performance.
See how the top 12 tackled their first performances for viewers’ votes:
Blues rocker Bria Kelly, who has opted for classic tracks until now, went for one of the most vocally ambitious modern tracks that should never be attempted on a singing competition: Adele‘s “Rollin’ in the Deep.” She strategically lowered the key to make sure she could hit all the high notes — including some unique phrasing and that elevated her rock approach, as she was also equipped with her guitar — and though the judges admitted that they missed the original version’s climactic chorus notes (we did too), Shakira said, “Taking an Adele song is really a challenge, because her voice is so unique, but if anyone could do it, it was you.” Levine added, “It was angsty and young, and I applaud you for trying to do something different.”
South Central performing arts grad TJ Wilkins also ventured into contemporary territory with John Mayer‘s “Waiting on the World to Change,” complete with a well-executed audience clap that successfully communicated the song’s anthemic message, which is close to his heart. “You are so pure, so sincere, I just adore your voice and you,” said Shakira, and Blake added that the singer’s smile and spirit were infectious. While we wished the performance had better showcased his stellar vocal abilities, we were also won over by his genuine showmanship.
Tutoring family man Joshua Kaufman attempted Sam Smith‘s “Stay With Me” — only after running a lap around the stage during rehearsals and becoming more comfortable with its surface area. The performance was climactic, with a gospel choir rounding out the singer’s various vocal tricks on the hit. “You were so clever to start the song so understated and contained in a way, to then knock us out with the thickness of your voice,” said Shakira. Shelton declared Kaufman to be the frontrunner of Usher’s team.
Singing barista Delvin Choice was assigned the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” the classic that everyone recognizes but no one really knows. He struggled to emotionally connect with the song during rehearsals — “I don’t have a girlfriend,” he acknowledged — and couldn’t do so onstage either, even though his silky voice shined to Shakira’s satisfaction. “A song like that is ultimately about conveying the pain and the sad emotion, and what you did was make it a little happier,” said Usher. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but I enjoyed it.” (Note: he didn’t look like he necessarily enjoyed it…)
YouTube sensation Christina Grimmie tackled her ideal genre blend with Katy Perry‘s “Dark Horse,” complete with a ton of production beyond her bedroom’s piano and webcam. Though she excelled in dynamics on the big stage, she added ambitious long notes to the chorus that occasionally lost support, but she still earned unanimous praise from the judges. “Dynamite comes in small packages,” noted Shelton, while Shakira called her range impressive. Usher admired her interpretation of the song and told Levine she’s the best singer on Team Adam at the moment.
Rocker nanny Kat Perkins went for Heart’s “Magic Man,” a track by her favorite band, and showed her onstage comfort by rocking out back-to-back with the guitarists like a seasoned pro while sailing on the song’s high notes. Shelton declared her a true rock star — a nanny no longer. “Your voice is dope, it’s so powerful and steady, you know what you’re doing,” said Usher. “You really have what takes to be on the radio right now.”
Public relations professional Dani Moz tackled “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink and fun.’s Nate Ruess — a smart assignment, since its strict melody leaves little room for her habitual over-embellishment. Hoping to ride the coattails of her breakout moment last week — a stripped-down version of “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga — Moz nailed the bridge’s big note, but the verses and choruses before it felt more like musical theater than a pop ballad. Levine attributed the off-center impression to a lack of dynamics, with triggered a defensive Shakira: “Your dynamics were perfect.” Shelton said he agreed with Levine but refused to argue with Moz’ coach.
Country singer Kristen Merlin strategically staged the beginning of Sugarland’s “Stay” to be seated vulnerably on a stool, and as she stood up to address the audience, her microphone gave out completely. Still, she maintained professionalism and sang into a silent mic — a reaction that evoked support from the judges. “You had to overcome something bigger and scarier than anyone in your position would have to face, and you handled it so gracefully, it was as if nothing happened!” said Levine, who admitted he wouldn’t have kept his cool. Shelton commended what he did hear, and Usher appreciated her newly showcased intimacy — and her yodel. This is the first time a Voice live show has ever suffered a microphone outage — will viewers appreciate Merlin’s calm reaction or penalize her by default?
The twice-stolen singer Tess Boyer hoped to modernize Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You” while still emoting and staying on-pitch during the rock ballad. She sang in a way that sounded so emotionally loaded (channeling her past relationships was clearly effective) that Shelton called Boyer Shakira’s strongest singer. Usher said her combination of coaching experiences has only propelled her forward, and her coach praised her work ethic: “She’s putting herself through college, and that attitude in life that she has, that she carries, she shows it here onstage.”
Medical assistant-in-training Audra MacLaughlin added her country twang to Juice Newton‘s “Angel of the Morning,” complete with carefully mapped stage movements that only brought drama to her impressive long notes. “You have so much character — maybe it’s just a girl thing, you can hold notes that long, I have to pee if I hold notes that long!” said Usher, while Levine joked, “When Blake holds notes that long, he does pee.”
Celine Dion‘s former concert director Sisaundra Lewis was tasked with Elton John‘s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and was careful not to venture into what Shelton called “opera territory” during rehearsals, which paid off onstage. Levine praised her perfect restraint in the performance that still appeared effortless, saying, “We finally got to see this really, really controlled, seasoned, different thing that we hadn’t seen before, and I loved it,” while Usher compared her to Patti LaBelle.
Returning auditionee Jake Worthington pushed his country purity preferences with Travis Tritt‘s “Anymore,” with his guitar, hat and a ton of palpable emotion onstage (did he tear up toward the end?). He also conquered the pitch problems that had haunted him during rehearsals. “It’s just by being yourself…honesty goes a long way,” said Shakira of his growing appeal, with which Shelton agreed in regard to country music specifically.
The Voice continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
What did you think of the first live show’s performances? Who’s in danger of elimination and will soon be begging for the Twitter Instant Save? Sound off in the comments below.