It's the first of two night's of the Knockout Rounds, also known as the most arbitrary round on a show whose middle name is "NO RULEZ". For the knockouts, every artist prepares a song of their choice, and their coach will pair them up without any warning, sudden death style. But coming off of the battles, the knockouts just feel kind of boring. I mean, I get it. NBC found a hit, and they needed a hit, and so a new round was developed to make the show last longer. No one's mad at you, network. More of "The Voice" is good for everyone's soul. But couldn't we have found something a little more compelling? What about a freestyle rap component? Or maybe the contestants have to sing while they complete "Fear Factor" style challenges? Just something to think about.
Tonight we will narrow both Adam Levine and Shakira's teams down to their final four performers who will move on to the live shows. Team Adam is up first, and he is pitting country singer Amber Carrington against folksy duo Midas Whale. Amber has chosen the Avril Lavigne power ballad "I'm With You," while Midas Whale will be taking on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." Interesting choices for both parties, and a good reminder why the coaching system is actually a valuable one.
Amber has a hard time infusing her country energy into the resident Pop-Punker Lavigne's track. At times she sounds a bit flat, though whether she's actually off pitch, or if that's just part of the country affectation is hard to tell. Midas Whale isn't really showing off their quirkiness on the Stevie track. They have left their guitars out of this performance, but instead of taking advantage of the stage and showing off their fun weirdness, they mostly stay still. They are definitely at their best when they break out of that, and allow themselves to have some fun and engage with the audience, but vocally it's a weird choice for them.
The coaches are all very positive, and Usher trots out a line about the duo having "the Midas touch" that he's clearly been sitting on for the last several episodes, while Blake is just in love with Amber. Finally it's Adam's turn to weigh in. He loves Midas Whale's energy and their quirkiness, but he's going with Amber, since she out sang them in tonight's performance. I like Amber, but I'm certainly sad to see Midas Whale leave. Let this be a lesson to everyone: never suppress your weirdness.
The first knockout from Team Shakira is between Garrett Gardner and Tawnya Reynolds. Garrett, the return contestant from last season, will be singing "Too Close" by Alex Clare, and Tawnya, the Nashville mainstay, will be singing "Hell on Heels" by Pistol Annies. Garrett is playing his guitar for his performance, and he sounds really strong to start. The song begins with kind of a stripped down energy, but it picks up as it goes on, and he gets a little swallowed up by all the back ups. Tawnya picked a great song. she's sassy and sexy and fun, and really showing off her unique yodel-y goodness. Shakira says that Tawnya was a badass, and Garrett is the underdog who continues to grow. She chooses Garrett. Another surprise!
Now we're back to Adam, with former Sing-Off contestent Amy Whitcomb, who has had zero screen time so far, versus super precious indie singer Caroline Glaser. Amy will be singing The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," while Caroline will take on "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men.
I'm not sure I can be unbiased on this one, because I was one of the three or four people who watched NBC's "The Sing Off," and I already know that Amy is an amazing singer and I want her to succeed. And she does! She starts out a little rough, but she ends the song so strong that it's hard to even remember any initial faults. We see Caroline say "oh wow" to herself as Amy crushes her final note, and it's a sweet, real moment. Caroline takes the stage, and she's very good, and very cute, and very safe. But Adam loves her unique voice, and that's what he wants, so Caroline moves on. As much as I want to be bitter, the sweetness that is shared between the two contestants, who have obviously really bonded, melts my cold, dark heart. This show is always turning me into an optimist against my will.
Back to team Shakira, we have Kris Thomas versus Mary Miranda. Kris has chosen "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong, while Mary Miranda will be singing "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Wait, what? Is that not the most random song choice in the world? Mary says she learned English from songs like this, so that's why she wants to sing it. I (and Shakira, I'm pretty sure) think this is not a good enough reason to choose a song that is so off brand.
Kris is really great. He's calm and cool and incredibly patient with the song. Mary starts singing and... it's not good. It sounds like she isn't quite sure how the song is supposed to go. She hits some good notes, but overall it seems like she's lost, and she has no opportunity to show off her personality. Shakira pretends to be conflicted for a bit, before finally picking Kris. I'm with you there, Shaks.
From team Adam, we have Judith Hill versus Orlando Dixon. In other words, this is Orlando Dixon's swan song, since there's no way Judith is leaving. She's singing Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," while Orlando will sing classic middle school dance jam "All My Life" by K-Ci & JoJo. Judith is great.She makes it seem effortless while she emotes like crazy and gives everyone goosebumps. Orlando is also great, and he's clearly doing everything he can to eke out a win, but there's just a big difference. You can sense the choices he's making, you can tell he's thinking; it's just not the easy, light beautiful energy that Judith brings. She wins.
Now we're back to Team Shakira with another Latin battle, this time between Karina Iglesias and Monique Abbadie. Karina will be rocking out on Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way." Monique plans on singing "The Power of Love" by Celine Dion. Um, what? You can't touch Celine! (Full disclosure: Celine is my Whitney. She is sacred). Karina sounds awesome, and she's just a serious badass. Monique sounds pretty good, but she's no Celine. Despite the judges saying that Karina was one dimensional (disagree), Shakira likes her confidence and declares her the winner. Leave Celine out of things, everyone.
The last knockout from Adam is between Sarah Simmons and Warren Stone. Uh oh, folks. This one is going to sting. Warren is singing "(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight" which is a beautifully weird and risky choice for a country artist, and Sarah will be singing "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones." Warren starts a little slowly, but then the performance evolves to this amazing country/rock hybrid that is just brimming over with emotions. It's really good. But, of course, Sarah is also amazing. She does that thing where she slides in and out of falsetto and it's gorgeous. This one is tough, guys.
Finally Adam chooses Sarah. It's not the wrong choice, but it's a huge bummer, because Warren definitely has a ton of potential as a commercially successful country artist. It's too bad he didn't go head to head with Amber, the only other country artist on Adam's team. But Sarah is a star, so it's understandable. Still, I'm rooting for you, Warren!
The last round goes to Shakira's Sasha Allen and Shawnwa P. Sasha is singing Etta James's "At Last," and Shawna will be singing "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney. Sasha is a gorgeous and perfect. Shawna is great, but the song is too subdued for her rocker style. She isn't really able to show off what makes her special. The coaches compliment them both, but Sasha was the star, so there's very little suspense or surprise as we see Shakira contemplate and then choose Sasha.
Stand out performance: Sasha Allen. Shakira was not lying about the goosebumps, folks.
Coach MVP: Shakira proved to be the more valuable coach tonight. As usual, her notes were concise and clear, and watching Sasha geek out over the girl power is too cute to ignore.