Night one of The Voice Live Playoffs pairs Team Adam Levine against Team Usher. Shakira, for one, is excited not to be in the hot seat. “I can enjoy the show like every other mortal in America,” she says, proving she knows she’s above mere mortal status. Blake Shelton is really busy pimping Starbucks, holding up what is certainly a spiked latte throughout the show, but luckily he’s off tonight too.
The theme of the first round of the Live Playoffs is “stripped down,” allowing the audience hear the contestant’s voices without being distracted by all of the shiny lights. Don’t worry: there’s still shiny. Just less. The unannounced co-theme is “hyperbole,” so get ready to hear a lot of “best [performance, song, day of my life, Starbucks latte] ever.”
The Live Playoffs mark the return of regular appearances by Christina Milian, who tries so very hard to be more than an awkward understudy for Carson Daly. Speaking of awkward, members of the NBC family joined the audience for some cross promotion! Nope, not whatshisface from Revolution. It’s Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker from The Today Show. Yikes — what world do we live in when The Today Show is pulling the same marketing moves as Eva Longoria’s Ready For Love?
The Adam and Usher duet of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” gives the first of many opportunities for the live audience to clap off-beat this season. Even the incorrect clapping can’t stand in the way of the fun performance: there’s almost too much hotness on stage to handle. Cee Lo really missed his moment to rise from the ashes out of a stage trap door, but we’re ready for his grand return on Wednesday.
Team Adam: Group Performance
Makeover montage time! It’s no Clueless, but Adam takes his team to his family’s boutique, M.Frederic, to pick out purple looks for their group performance. After the shopping spree, the team performs Florence + the Machine’s “Shake it Out,” and it’s a solid rendition. Sarah Simmons struggles a bit on her solos, but for the most part, the song really shows off Adam’s strong final four.
Team Adam: Amber Carrington
Amber performs Rihanna’s “Stay.” “Her country roots definitely help connect the emotional dots,” Adam says of her take on the song.
Taking to the stage with her Hollywood makeover (looking good!), Amber delivers her country spin of the Top 10 hit. She plays with the melody just enough to make it her own, and mixes strong solid notes with sweet falsetto. Coach Adam gives her a standing ovation.
“I think it would suck to have to follow that. That’s setting the bar pretty high,” says Blake before reminding the audience how much he loves his Starbucks.
“That was a beautiful performance,” says Shakira.
Her coach tells her that she’s lived up to his high expectations, “You literally could not have done a more incredible job.”
Team Adam: Sarah Simmons
The already emotional Sarah Simmons puts it all out there when she sings Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” in memory of a late friend. “Don’t cry until you’re finished,” Coach Adam advises her.
Despite popping a few of her consonants in the beginning, she sounds like the second coming of Sarah McLachlan. The camera pans to Adam brooding during the performance, and the audience manages to avoid any and all ill-advised arm waving and clapping. Sarah shines when she adds a bit of a growl, although the performance is nothing earth-shattering.
“That was a very complicated song. And I wanted to hear the Sarah I know come out, and eventually she did,” Usher tells her.
Shakira raves, “Espectacular. Espectacular. Espectacular!” (If you need the translation: spectacular times three).
“Everyone was so completely enamored with what you were doing that they just couldn’t speak. You are one of the most incredible singers to listen to I’ve heard in my life,” says Adam.
Team Adam: Caroline Glaser
If only someone had briefed the audience prior to Caroline Glaser’s performance. Something like, “Hey gang. As always, we appreciate the enthusiasm! The next song is about addiction and death, though, so maybe don’t clap in unison like you’re at a backyard hoedown.”
No such briefing happens. Caroline, therefore, performs Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” to a background of excited rhythmic clapping. It’s Christina Milian levels of awkward.
Clapping aside, Caroline is back in her coffee house comfort zone performing with her acoustic guitar. It suits her, and although there are no big moments, she eventually connects with the crowd (and they stop clapping).
“It was very soothing. It was great. You showed great control,” Usher tells her.
“It matters that what you do is really unique and really special. You did an amazing job and you are one of the more unique sounding performers in this competition,” her coach says.
Team Adam: Judith Hill
No matter how much fake suspense The Voice builds up about how it’s “anyone’s game,” we know that Judith Hill is going to be awesome. Nice try convincing us she has a vocal nodule, though, but you really missed that opportunity to cross-promote Universal’s Pitch Perfect.
Judith closes out the night for team Adam with Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” She says, “I feel like I’m finally becoming the solo artist and performer that I’ve always wanted to be.”
She’s right. Her performance is delightful. Judith coyly plays with the audience during long pauses, and builds up to the big notes at the end.
“You’re such a freakin’ diva. That was awesome,” Blake tells her.
“My comment associated with you will always be ‘man, why didn’t I fight harder?’ You came out here and you took us to church,” Usher says.
“The way you just played with the audience. That’s not something you can teach somebody,” Adam tells his star.
Team Usher: Group Performance
After a field trip to a kickboxing studio (no joke), Usher’s team takes the stage for their group performance. They sing Sam Sparro’s “Black And Gold,” wearing what looks like black and gold Star Trek costumes. It’s pretty weak, honestly, and doesn’t bring out the best in any of his teammates. Hopefully they focused their efforts on the individual performances.
Team Usher: Josiah Hawley
The only dude of the night, Josiah Hawley, kicks it off for Team Usher. Josiah just barely made it through the Knockout Round, due to deep struggles with his handsomeness. In the Playoffs, he will need to work on not letting said smoking hotness distract the audience from his voice or the message of the song. “It’s all about him performing the song in a believable way,” says Usher.
The former male model performs Muse’s “Starlight.” Josiah has the range to pull it off, and Usher works with him on breath control. The performance doesn’t feel terribly stripped down, but maybe it’s just the glowing handsome vibe off of Josiah’s chiseled face. He hits the notes, and the dim lighting helps him overcome his handsomeness.
“You rocked it. I think this was probably your best performance so far,” Shakira tells him.
“I feel like a proud coach. Everything I spoke to you about you soaked it in and applied it here,” Usher says. Swoon.
Team Usher: Cathia
From the creator of Usher’s walking school, comes Usher’s waltzing school! Using yet another creative method to groom his team, Usher gives Cathia a waltzing lesson to teach her how to pace her performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Cathia says of the waltz, “I felt like Cinderella.”
Cathia swings for the fences…and falls a little short. Her performance is stiff, and she doesn’t quite hit all the high notes the way Ms. Houston once did (which is why the song is such bold choice from Usher). It’s certainly not the “best performance ever” that the coaches were looking for to earn the right to perform a Whitney Houston song.
“You did great. I’m still rooting for you even though you’re not part of my team. The only thing is, that song is setting the bar too high for you,” says Shakira, bluntly.
“I thought it was really good,” Blake counters.
“I do think there were a lot of things that played into not having an incredible performance,” Usher says, following it with enough complimentary language that Cathia misses the fact that it’s the worst thing she could hear from her coach.
Team Usher: Vedo
Startling fact time: Vedo has never heard of Phil Collins. What his childhood must have been without the Tarzan soundtrack aside, this is bad news for the contestant that has been assigned “Against All Odds.” With the help of some intense coaching from Usher, he tries to overcome, well, the odds, and make the song his own. The results are a mixed bag of “just okay.”
Shakira’s not impressed, but she’s not about to rock the boat. “Who am I to say anything? I’m just a little ant in the infinity of the universe. The audience loved you,” she says.
“I was 100% pleased with your performance, and I look forward to seeing you in the next round!” Usher tells him confidently.
Team Usher: Michelle Chamuel
Michelle Chamuel rounds out the night for Team Usher with Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” Usher takes this opportunity to not just musically-coach, but also to life-coach. Wanting Michelle to connect with the lyrics in her own life, he has her sing to herself in a mirror. It’s a little dime store psychology, but at least it’s better than last week’s pushup lesson.
Michelle’s performance captures the essence of stripped down, and she hits the emotional core of the song. The crowd digs it, and the coaches agree.
“That was beautiful. I think you always manage to reveal your true colors,” Shakira tells her.
“You are most definitely one of those breakout moments. You should be really proud,” Adam says.
“That was such an incredible performance. That was a breakout moment,” says Usher, before giving Michelle a big coach hug.
Out of the hot seats for Adam and Usher, and into the hot seats for Blake and Shakira on Tuesday night. Someone double check Blake’s double espresso for booze — although his special lattes are bringing out a bit of a kick in the country crooner. On second thought: a round of Blake Shelton special lattes for everyone!