If we’ve learned anything thus far on this season of The Voice, it’s that if you chose Usher as your coach, you’ve opted for a season of pain! Sure, Shakira, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton will all give some mild criticism where needed, but if you’re not impressing Usher, you’re going to have to drop down and give him 20.
Usher’s Boot Camp got mighty literal on Tuesday’s Knockout Round conclusion, where his contestants not only sang, but stared, strutted, jumped rope and did pushups to win over the heart of their fearless leader.
Find out below how Usher’s drill sergeant training — and the much gentler coaching of Blake — worked out for contestants.
Team Blake: Savannah Berry vs. Justin Rivers
Blake pairs teen Savannah Berry against country singer Justin Rivers. “They are both country with a pop twist,” he says of the match-up.
Savannah, who is experimenting in the world of multi-colored hair, also experiments in the world of pop covers for this performance. She selects Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” with the intention of giving it a country twist. Here’s the deal: It’s just a country singer doing Justin Bieber a little bit slower, and it’s kind of a snooze fest. The performance lacks the exceptional soaring notes Savannah usually delivers.
Justin Rivers, who was up to this point untelevised, selects Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.” Putting aside the concern that, as a grown-ass man, he describes Miley Cyrus’s lyrics as “symbolic of my journey,” the song choice allows him to wow the judges. “Justin, that long, extended note won us over,” Shakira tells him of his grand finale.
Despite his previous affinity for the young country artist, Blake advances Justin to the live round. Unfortunately, come next week he’ll have to overcome the fact that he said, on national television, that Miley Cyrus lyrics spoke to him.
Team Blake: Holly Tucker vs. Luke Edgemon
Up next for team Blake is (another) country crooner, Holly Tucker, against recent transplant from Team Shakira, former Glee Warbler/American Idol contestant Luke Edgemon.
Holly sings Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You’re Dying,” and her rehearsals alone prompt Blake to tell her, “I feel like I’ve been handed a voice from the hand of God.” (You hear that, Luke? You have to top God.) Her performance is solid, and actually earns a standing ovation from Luke, who has clearly forgotten the rules.
“Holly I thought that you gave a stellar performance, and I think the song was a little more appropriate for who you are,” says Usher.
“Holly did swing for the knockout,” says her coach.
Luke sings Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” which, coincidentally, was once covered by his alma mater show choir on Glee. He aims to give it a soulful spin, but beyond the background music, it’s not a huge departure from the original. The coaches are divided on the performance. Usher, for one, is not picking up what Luke is putting down. “For you to transfer the song to R&B was a little difficult for people to relate to it,” he says.
Shakira and Adam, on the other hand, disagree. “I really like the version of it that you did. It was interesting. you have a crazy killer voice with limitless potential,” Adam tells him.
Luke’s performance lacks the range Blake was looking for, so he sends Holly to the next round.
Team Blake: Danielle Bradbery vs. Taylor Beckham
“This is going to be so cute but so deadly,” says Blake of the Danielle Bradbery and Taylor Beckham match up. Cute as a button Danielle has her country boots ready, and team newcomer Taylor wants to show her coach her sultry side.
Danielle sings Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take The Wheel,” which is a fairly predictable choice. She pulls off the song seemingly effortlessly, and earns high praise from the judges. “You know what blows my mind about Danielle is that she never seems nervous,” Shakira says.
“I feel like you completely took control,” Usher concurs.
Blake sees a bright future for his contestant, telling her, “It’s going to be boring for you someday Danielle when you need to sing in front of 20,000 people instead of 20 million.”
On the opposite end of the song theme spectrum, Taylor sings Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette.” Blacke says of Taylor’s former coach, “We’re gonna make Usher look so clueless. I can’t wait.” He encourages Taylor to let her desperation come out in her performance. She has the emotion when she hits the stage, but her breathy voice has some issues.
“The song selection didn’t give you enough space to 100% show who you are.” says her former coach.
“You didn’t seem confident, but it wasn’t a bad performance,” is the lukewarm review she gets from Adam.
Unsurprisingly, Blake chooses Danielle to advance to the next round.
Team Blake: Grace Askew vs. The Swon Bros.
In yet another installment of Duo Appreciation Week, it’s time to learn the real names of The Swon Bros. How we wish they were Mario and Luigi, but unfortunately they are just Zach (with the beard) and Colton (Haley Joel Osment in witness protection). Consider yourself informed. The Swon Bros. go against “bluntry” artist Grace Askew in Blake’s final matchup of the Knockouts.
Grace wants to show her bluesy side, so she sings Tina Turner’s “I Can’t Stand The Rain.”
“I just wanna show that I’m not just a girl with a twang walking around in country boots,” she says, ironically (and honestly) wearing country boots at the time. She’s got it going on in her lower register, but falls off key throughout the song.
“I think that you are a unique talent, but I question if maybe you’re playing the guitar was a bit of a distraction,” Usher tells her.
Shakira, acknowledging the performances short comings, tells Blake, “I think if you want to give a vote of trust into the future, I’d go with Grace.”
The Swon Bros. choose Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” and it’s Usher who’s singing along in his red chair. It’s all very straightforward, but it’s a vocally flawless performance. Their harmonies are, as always, dead on.
“You definitely moved the audience,” Usher tells them.
“I think it was your best performance and I really enjoyed watching you,” Adam says.
When it comes time to make the final decision, Blake goes with the safer option. “You never sing the same thing twice,” he tells Grace. While that makes her exciting, it also makes her a liability. The Swon Bros. become the first duo since Season 1 to advance to the Live Playoffs.
Team Usher: Josiah Hawley vs. Jess Kellner
Handsome Josiah Hawley battles soulful singer Jess Kellner in Team Usher’s first Knockout.
Josiah makes the interesting selection of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” On a pure surface level, he is way too pretty to sing a song about suffering, and has trouble expressing any vulnerability through his perfectly chiseled cheekbones. His performance is technically sound, but lacks the emotion that made Winehouse’s original so haunting.
“It’s almost like you need to escape the way you look because you’re a super handsome guy,” Adam tells him.
“He looks like my boyfriend,” Shakira says, too distracted by his pretty to comment on his voice.
Jess sings James Morrison’s “Give Me Something,” relating the piece to her complicated relationship with her mother. It’s not her best performance, and she has some momentary pitch issues. She does, however, connect with the audience in a more sincere way than Josiah does.
“Jess, you had one moment that was weird, but other than that it was the best I’ve ever heard you,” Adam tells her.
“Your ability to move the crowd and make them feel what you are feeling is the most important,” Usher tells her, but adds “I did feel like you could have given it a little bit more.”
Despite Josiah’s ridiculous handsomeness working against his performance, Usher advances him to the Playoffs.
Team Usher: Audrey Karrasch vs. Michelle Chamuel
Self-proclaimed nerd Michelle Chamuel faces former model Audrey Karrasch for a coveted spot on Usher’s Live Playoff team.
Remember on Girls when Marni sang a Kanye West song? If that was too awkward for you, you might want to avoid Audrey’s cover of Lil Wayne’s “How To Love.” During rehearsals, Usher tries to push Audrey to her edge by having her sing to him when his face is roughly six inches from hers. More interesting tactics from Ursh, but they make no discernible difference. Audrey gets out of breath quickly and pitchy during her performance, and it’s altogether lackluster.
“The problems were scattered from the beginning to the end,” Blake tells her, and the other coaches agree.
Michelle sings Pink’s nerd anthem “Raise Your Glass.” Usher prepares her for her energetic performance with some calisthenics during rehearsals. Seriously. They jump rope, and (the approximately 90 pound) Michelle does full pushups before getting up and singing some more. She should advance for her pushups alone. Her actual performance is like P90X live. Through all of that movement, she doesn’t miss a beat, and hits some incredibly strong high notes.
“Michelle you were really performing, and sometimes that can be hard. It didn’t seem like a problem for you,” Adam tells her.
“It’s like someone told her right before she walked on the stage that she won the lottery,” Blake says of her energy.
“I felt like the song helped me know more about you,” Usher says.
Nerd power prevails, and Usher advances the spunky Michelle.
Team Usher: C. Perkins vs. Vedo
Get the tissues out, because it’s an emotional battle between C. Perkins and Vedo for an R&B slot on Team Usher.
C. Perkins, who Usher stole from Shakira in the Battle Round, opts to go with Chris Brown’s “She Ain’t You,” potentially because it’s the last time one can sing a Chris Brown song without alienating half of the voters. “The song might be a little bit much for C,” Usher predicts. The contestant works the crowd during his performance, but it’s at the expense of his vocals.
“You have a very special tone,” says his former coach, but tells him the arm gesturing gave him breathing issues.
“What I do know is that you’re full of energy and you’re just waiting to burst out,” says Usher.
Vedo performs Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” and dedicates it to his mother. “I’m using my mom’s memory to give my best heartfelt performance,” he says, and looks to the heavens during his performance. (Got that? Vedo is honoring his recently deceased mother on one hand, and C. is singing Chris Brown on the other. Root for who you will). Vedo gets stronger throughout the ballad, and gets through it without tears.
“Vedo dedicated himself to the task of singing,” Shakira says.
Usher has compliments for both of his singers, but advances Vedo to the Live Playoffs.
Team Usher: Cathia vs. Ryan Innes
In Usher’s final Knockout Round battle, he pairs former Team Shakira member Cathia against former doctor Ryan Innes.
Cathia makes her English singing debut with Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All.” Usher focuses mostly on her stage presence, and turns her rehearsal into walking class. It pays off handsomely, and Cathia delivers in both the vocals and the strutting department. She even throws in a kick, and a Mariah Carey-esque high note, circa “Dream Lover.”
“I’m so proud of you Cathia. you did good girl! The way you attacked those high notes!” her former coach exclaims.
“You really did an amazing job,” says Adam.
The performance even earns a “Damn!” from Blake, but will it be enough to advance her to the live round?!?!
(Just be happy we’re not NBC, or we’d totally insert a commercial right here. Watch Revolution.)
Ryan sings Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be” to showcase the rock side of his soul singing. It’s an interesting throwback, for sure, and starts off a little weak and whiney. Ryan get more powerful by the end, and he clearly graduated Usher’s School Of Walking Cool as well.
“Ryan, I thought that you were going to have a little more control,” Shakira says, but insists that the choice between Ryan and Cathia is “a toughey one.”
“I’m a huge Gavin DeGraw fan,” Adam admits. “I didn’t feel the richness I usually hear in his voice.”
Despite the “brute force” Usher hears in Ryan’s voice, he sends Cathia to the Live Playoffs. “I was really blown away by the voice and I knew that I would be able to continue to work along with you,” he says.
With the fate of the contestants out of their coaches’ hands, Usher might lose some of his intimidation factor next week — that is, if Stockholm Syndrome hasn’t set in for his remaining contestants. Just makes you wonder if he was this hard on Bieber back in the day?
The Voice goes live on Monday! Which coach do you think has the best team going into the playoffs?