Monday night begins the much talked-about new phase of The Voice – the “knockout rounds” – but don’t blink: they’re only one week long, and in those two episodes half the artists on the show will be going home while the other half advance to next week’s live shows. Who stays? Who goes? And how can all that fit into one week?
Here’s how it works: a coach’s entire team is brought back into the battle ring, at which point they choose two artists to match together, just like a battle. There are two major differences: now the artists perform individually, and they get to choose their song. After hearing both artists, their coach selects one to advance to live shows (which Carson Daly is now calling “playoffs”) and the other leaves the competition. There are no steals in the knockout rounds.
In part one, it’s Teams Adam and Cee Lo that find out their fates, with Team Adam the first squad to be pared down, while the non-performing members watch their teammates from backstage.
Adam starts by pairing Joselyn Rivera against Kayla Nevarez “because they’re both young pop singers.” Joselyn, who Adam stole from Christina, picks Beyonce’s “Love on Top” and Kayla goes with V.V. Brown’s “Shark In The Water.” After just snippets of rehearsal footage and very little introduction from Carson, it’s time for the ladies to sing, and both of them do well with their respective songs. There’s not much difference between them, either in sound or in performance, which makes Adam’s decision that much more difficult.
Thankfully, he has help from his fellow coaches. Blake thinks Kayla may have played things a little safer, and goes with Joselyn. Christina remarks that she’s happy to see Joselyn still in the competition, and compliments her. Cee Lo also sides with Joselyn for her grace and confidence. With that, it’s time for Adam to make up his mind, and he admires Joselyn’s ambitious song choice as well as Kayla’s poise. After much fretting, he selects Joselyn – and apologizes to an emotional Kayla. “It broke my heart to do that,” he reflects to camera afterward.
Adam next matches Joe Kirkland with Bryan Keith because “they both have very distinct rock ‘n’ roll voices.” Joe picks Taylor Swift’s “Mean” in an attempt to show his versatility, while Bryan selects a song by another Bryan – Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).” Joe takes Adam’s note to inject more attitude into his rendition and runs with it, getting the audience up on their feet. On the complete other end of the spectrum, Bryan has the female members of said audience swooning as he injects a new energy into a vastly overplayed song.
Blake is pleasantly surprised that Joe took on a Taylor Swift song, while Christina likes both artists for different reasons, and Cee Lo admires Bryan’s “working-class hero type of quality.” After hearing from everyone else, Adam gives Bryan the pass into the next round, based on his ability to connect with an audience.
Adam’s third pairing is Amanda Brown against Michelle Brooks-Thompson, because he wants to see “who has more range as an artist.” Amanda’s song choice is “Paris (Ooh La La)” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, which we heard twice last season (courtesy of Brian Fuente and Ashley de la Rosa), and Michelle picks Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight.” Amanda’s in full diva mode once she starts singing, while Michelle has much more of a classic, soulful feel to her performance, not unlike Kim Yarbrough from Season 2, and hits a note that leaves Christina shaking her head in surprise.
Blake says “Michelle just kicked the door in on this thing.” Christina compliments Amanda’s voice control. Cee Lo believes Amanda has “infinite possibility” but calls Michelle the winner. Adam wonders aloud who he could be a better coach for, and apparently that’s Amanda, because he selects her to more forward. He then reflects that clearly he made the right steals, because both the artists he swiped – Joselyn and Amanda – are in his final five.
The fourth matchup is between Loren Allred and Nicole Nelson. Loren wants “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse, which Pip and Nathan Parrett killed in last season’s battles; Nicole goes for Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” which not only did we hear in Season 2 (Jesse Campbell and Anthony Evans), but Adam himself has performed (it’s a bonus track on the deluxe edition of Maroon 5’s 2010 album Hands All Over). Loren gives a good display of what she’d bring to the live shows, but Nicole has a certain confidence in her sound that’s also impressive.
Feedback time: Blake informs us that Loren “just became what we’re supposed to be looking for” and sides with her, while Christina wonders where Loren’s been, and Cee Lo calls Nicole’s voice “alive and it’s vibrant.” Adam realizes the battle was closer than he expected, and broods for a moment before he chooses Loren. His decision shocks everyone, including Adam himself. “I was pretty sure I was going to choose Nicole,” he explains. “Loren came out here and immediately took command…I’ve never seen that happen before.”
Team Adam’s final knockout pairing then is Melanie Martinez against Sam James. Melanie wants La Roux’s “Bulletproof” while Sam sings a favorite of mine, Marc Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis” – except he’s got a hard time pronouncing the city in the title. Adam says that it sounds like “a very strange disease” when Sam says it. Melanie’s rendition is just as unique as all her previous performances, while Sam gets over that pronunciation flub and delivers a gritty version that would make Marc Cohn proud. He does justice to the song, but it’s a song that the Voice audience doesn’t quite seem to know.
Blake tells Adam that he’d pick Sam, Christina says that her personal preference goes to Melanie, and Cee Lo doesn’t get to give feedback on this one. Adam has picked up on Melanie’s nerves and wants Sam to get out of his comfort zone. Sam won’t have a chance to, though, because Melanie is the winner. “Melanie has this really unique voice,” Adam says, explaining why he chose her. It’s worth noting that Adam’s team is female-heavy this season, after his finalists from the first two cycles were both vastly talented guys (Javier Colon and Tony Lucca).
After a Team Adam group hug, the show moves on to Team Cee Lo. Cee Lo begins with Avery Wilson and Cody Belew, or his pair of “born entertainers.” Avery picks Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3X” as his knockout tune, but has an issue not running out of breath by the end of it. Cody picks Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which Vicci Martinez crushed in Season 1, and while he doesn’t quite have the growl and desperation that she infused in it, he hits some pretty solid notes along the way.
Feedback from the coaches is a clean sweep. Adam calls Avery’s performance “a little all over the place,” and hands the win to Cody. Blake thinks Cody’s performance was the best he’s heard from him so far. Christina thinks Avery’s dance moves might have taken away from his singing. Cee Lo sides with his colleagues and keeps Cody, although he tells Avery to keep in touch with him. Hearing Avery say he “screwed up this one time,’ Christina says afterward that she hates hearing artists beat themselves up unnecessarily.
Cee Lo next matches Mackenzie Bourg and Daniel Rosa, calling them both “emotional performers” and looking for the one who connects the most with both himself and the audience. Mackenzie takes on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” (the second time he’s sung a Carly Rae Jepsen song, following his battle round version of “Good Time,” her collaboration with Owl City), while Daniel opts for another Taylor Swift song, “Back to December.”
After a serviceable pair of renditions, Adam picks Daniel, Blake and Christina want Mackenzie, and Cee Lo tells Daniel “You are better than your performance today.” That’s not a good sign, and Cee Lo awards Mackenzie the win, ending Daniel’s second attempt on The Voice. “Don’t feel sad for me,” Daniel says in his parting comments. “I got the greatest opportunity.”
Afterward, Adam quips that he liked how Cee Lo used the lyrics of the song in his explanation, calling that “badass,” and Cee Lo retorts that “I’ll call you from a payphone.”
Terisa Griffin – who’s broken her ankle since we saw her last – gets paired with Trevin Hunte, which Trevin calls “kind of crazy” since he looks up to Terisa. Cee Lo wants to match his “two powerhouses” and talks again about how the artist that connects more with the audience will win the knockout. Terisa admits that she felt a little out of place on Team Blake, and she’s excited to sing Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You,” which is a tall order. Trevin selects Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” which he wants to dedicate to that teacher who didn’t believe in him back in the day, but that stirs up emotions he has to deal with.
Terisa’s performance visibly impresses Adam, Christina and Trevin, while Trevin likewise gets Terisa and Christina’s approval, and brings Cee Lo to tears. Trevin and Terisa share a hug before the coaches give their feedback: Blake votes for Trevin, Christina says she’d love to “co-coach” Trevin with Cee Lo, and Adam doesn’t get asked what he thinks. It’s a very tough decision for Cee Lo, who keeps Trevin. Both artists express their love for each other after the battle, as Trevin gets choked up backstage.
Team Cee Lo’s fourth match is Mycle Wastman and Nicholas David, with their “soulful, smooth voices,” and again Cee Lo talks about bringing the one that gives “the most passionate performance.” Nicholas chooses Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” while Mycle opts for Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” which we haven’t heard since Jeff Jenkins and Casey Desmond in Season 1. Mycle wonders about Cee Lo telling him to take a “fierce” approach to an Elton John song, but goes with it. Once he’s in the ring, he’s got Adam singing along with him (as we learned in Season 1 that this is one of Adam’s favorite songs). Nicholas, on the other hand, has his teammates backstage grooving with his performance.
Blake thinks Nicholas is “special” and with “the perfect coach,” and chooses him. Christina thinks that Mycle allowed himself to open up to the audience more. Again, nobody asks what Adam thinks. Cee Lo thinks Mycle’s performance was “by numbers” and that “somebody could figure out what you do,” and goes with Nicholas.
By process of elimination, Caitlin Michele and Diego Val are paired together. Caitlin, stolen from Team Adam, picks Evanescence’s hit “Bring Me To Life,” which isn’t easy given Amy Lee’s phenomenal vocals in the original version. Diego’s choice is Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” which is also a tall order given how well Jamar Rogers performed it in Season 2. Both artists have their stumbles, but his more upbeat song choice seems to play in Diego’s favor.
Finally, Adam gets to give feedback again, and he calls the Evanescence song a perfect match for Caitlin. Christina says that she thought “oh, she sounds just like Evanescence” (perhaps not knowing Amy Lee by name). Blake gets to stay quiet this time. Cee Lo tells his artists that “neither one of your guys gave the best performance that you could do,” and awards the final spot on his team to Diego, while a tearful Caitlin hugs both her coaches goodbye. “I don’t know what the hell you were thinking,” Adam tells Cee Lo, but Christina says she gets it. Cee Lo’s team is full of unique artists, just like Cee Lo himself.
Half the field is now decided: Team Adam’s Top 5 are Joselyn Rivera, Bryan Keith, Amanda Brown, Loren Allred and Melanie Martinez. Team Cee Lo’s Top 5 are Cody Belew, Mackenzie Bourg, Trevin Hunte, Nicholas David and Diego Val.
Besides how the artists fared, the new format is also something to be judged. This new round of competition does its job paring down the field, but it also shows that the pacing of The Voice still isn’t perfect. After two previous phases that sometimes were too long, now this is a part of the show that goes by so fast that the audience doesn’t get to really connect with it. There’s very little rehearsal footage and the performances are so quick that by the time viewers have thought on someone’s song choice, they’re singing, and by the time their rendition sinks in, the knockout is over. It would have been wiser to spread this phase over two weeks, at least.
But this appears to be an unfortunately unavoidable flaw in the schedule – unconfirmed rumors suggest that Season 3 will end the week of December 17, so there’s not another week to spare on the calendar (as then the show would run on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
Tomorrow night (at the earlier time of 8 PM ET/PT!), the knockouts continue as another twenty artists will go home, and then the Top 20 will be revealed.
For more from Brittany Frederick on The Voice, visit Big Red Chairs and follow me on Twitter (@bigredchairs).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Big Red Chairs. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.