Last night’s first quarterfinals episode of The Voice was jam-packed. Adam Levine and Maroon 5 debuted their first live performance of “Payphone” with Wiz Khalifa. Carson tried to pretend that the song hadn’t leaked earlier in the day, but the good thing about TV is that he couldn’t see us rolling our eyes at home. Wiz took forever to hit the stage, finally entering from stage left two-thirds of the way in for what will probably be his pop-crossover verse.
The night’s two featured teams turned in performances both overblown and understated, and in two shocking instant eliminations, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton sent two of their most promising recruits back to the barracks. Head below to see which contestant soared and which crashed and burned.
But before we get to that, a quick sartorial recap: Cee Lo confirmed via t-shirt that he is a “human crime scene,” and green room correspondent Christina Milian paid homage to Season 6 American Idol hopeful Sanjaya Malakar with a faux-mohawk of soda can curls.
Ok! So at the top of the show, Carson Daly reminded viewers that by the end of this episode two contestants would by axed at their mentor’s hands. No one was really happy about that, but Adam in a bid for levity made vague comments about being a control freak. (We’ll see if his tune changes when it’s his dirty job next week, though.)
To teach them to wield their voices for good, Christina brought her team to a Starbucks in Crenshaw, Los Angeles. Cue the ebullient Crenshaw High School choir being extended the invitation to perform on The Voice. In the Team Christina number, the Voice coach makes her entrance in a cowboy hat and bathing suit and does a few bars of a country tune with a wink and a wave to Blake, then breaks into her Stripped standard “Fighter” before being joined by the rest of her team, the endless choir and a troupe of background dancers.
Later, Team Blake staged a simple performance of The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.” RaeLynn, Erin Willett, Jordis Unga, Jermaine Paul and Blake hand off lines as they hang out on roadie equipment, but compared to Team Christina’s choreography-and-choir spectacular, the group may as well have done it acoustic.
Now onto the individual performances.
Jermaine Paul (Team Blake)
Alicia Keys’ background singer lined up to do “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins, which, meh, boring song, but the guy can sing the phonebook. Rooting the performance in his own family struggles, Jermaine transformed the track into an R&B ballad with interesting peaks and valleys and a dramatic build that allowed him room to play in his falsetto. We got flashes of Usher and Babyface at different times, and in all of the best ways. Unsurprisingly, it was a unanimous hit across the coaches’ panel.
Jermaine Paul, “Against All Odds”
RaeLynn (Team Blake)
The Texas farm girl and (heh, get a load of this) self-confessed “heartbreaker” Lolita-ed up in a short A-line jumper to perform “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean. The blond spitfire ground her hips and stomped her feet as she growled her way through the crowd-pleaser. Cut to Blake clapping and smiling dumbly from his big red chair. Adam called it the best performance she’s had, and Christina says it made her want to sing country.
RaeLynn, “She’s Country”
Jesse Campbell (Team Christina)
“The challenge is myself,” Jesse told mentor Christina in a weird ad hoc therapy session staged in facing armchairs. The two riffed together in rehearsals to work Jesse through his issues on “Halo” by Beyoncé, but the live performance found the singer outside of his comfortable range. He eventually found his footing, and was able to build to a big, emotional note before the breakdown. Unfortunately, tasking him with a song written for a female vocalist only brought out the femininity in his voice. Cee Lo tells him it’s wonderful — the same compliment he reserves for all his favorite ladies. Christina offered faint praise, then undeservedly cut him loose during the instant elimination.
Erin Willett (Team Blake)
As soon as we detected Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain” beneath her interview pre-roll, we knew Erin Willett was being placed in trap. It’s been pretty well established that you simply shouldn’t attempt Adele on these reality TV singing competitions unless you’re, you know, Adele. During the performance, Erin was even made up to look like the British six-time Grammy winner: her hair set in soft waves, her eyes lined in black liquid liner. But if we’re being totally honest, the performance wasn’t bad at all! It just wasn’t Adele. All Christina could muster to say wass “You sang your heart out,” mentioning something about “big shoes to fill” — which made us throw her the critical side-eye. Adam made the same points, blah blah blah, don’t attempt Adele. So what the hell, Blake?
Jordis Unga (Team Blake)
The 29-year-old “rocker” said in the pre-performance interview that everyone should be a little bit afraid of her right now, so rightly, Blake assigned her “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sarah Evans. Dressed like a bride, Jordis turned in an unexceptional but serviceable two minutes, wandering between strings, piano and a random bed frame on stage for the down-tempo tearjerker. Jordis seemed at times on the verge of tears herself. The judges floated her nebulously positive feedback, but none of it felt very sincere. Later in the talent room, Jordis’ adorable dad launches into James Brown’s “I Feel Good” to express how proud he was. Blake wasn’t, though, so he cut her from her team during the instant eliminations.
Ashley De La Rosa (Team Christina)
The Orlando pop-rocking teen endeavored with Jewel’s “Foolish Games” as interpreted by System Of A Down or something, but ended up somewhere in Paramore territory. The arrangement suited the teen’s big pop voice, though she stumbled tonally at certain points. Note to the production designers: Setting off hydraulic smoke machines in the middle of a song will probably cause some vocal-interfering noise. The judges all seemed to like it, but no one was really wowed. Not even you, Adam, who pretended like you can now see something in Ashley that you hadn’t seen before.
Lindsey Pavao (Team Christina)
Scared to death of taking on a medley of Rihanna’s “S&M” and “We Found Love”, the coffeehouse barista switched to a neutered version of Katy Perry’s “Part Of Me.” It’s bad karaoke, and when the song ends, Christina wore a self-satisfied “I told you so” grin. Lindsey knew it, her face trembling when Carson stood beside her. Adam could barely offer any instructive criticism, mentioning how the term “pitchy” is stupid, but isn’t that just symptomatic of this milquetoast of a season?
Chris Mann (Team Christina)
The classical trained performer confessed that singing “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay felt like stripping on stage, which proves that Chris has never been inside an actual strip club. The arrangement was 100% faithful to the source material, and Chris — dressed like he’s about to put on the ritz in front or Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistable” girls — gives it his best Broadway musical vocal. His problem is not his lack of talent, it’s his ultra sanitized approach. The guy just isn’t cool. Adam made a good point about letting the opera singer sing opera, but we wonder if he’ll be around long enough to get the opportunity to do.
ELIMINATED: Jesse Campbell (Team Christina) and Jordis Unger (Team Blake)
TONIGHT: Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” video gets its world debut, plus the results of America’s votes are revealed.