Gwen Stefani agonizes over 'Voice' Knockouts decision: 'I'm not abandoning you! I had to pick somebody!'

As The Voice Season 19 Knockout Rounds continued apace Monday, more difficult decisions had to be made, and more talented contestants unfortunately had to go home. One contestant that was spared an early elimination was Team Gwen’s Chloe Hogan, who got a reprieve when John Legend stole her, after she lost her Knockout to 14-year-old prodigy Carter Rubin. But Chloe’s original coach, Gwen Stefani, seemed to have mixed feelings about this outcome — at first doing a little happy-dance, but then going on the offensive against John and getting surprisingly defensive with Chloe (much to her fiancé and fellow coach Blake Shelton’s amusement), before finally grudgingly realizing that everything had worked out for the best.

Gwen Stefani defends herself on 'The Voice' after making a tough decision. (Photo: NBC)
Gwen Stefani defends herself on 'The Voice' after making a tough decision. (Photo: NBC)

After Gwen made the tough call to take Carter to the Live Playoffs, John swooped in without hesitation — before host Carson Daly had even finished speaking — to recruit 20-year-old Chloe, an absolutely perfect fit for Team Legend. “The universe knew I was supposed to work with Chloe,” John declared. But a frustrated Gwen, who has demonstrated questionable judgment throughout this season, seemed to know that she’d let a strong contestant go. In fact, she had just admitted to Chloe, “If I don’t pick you, you’re going to become this huge star, and I’m going to look like the big idiot on The Voice that didn’t pick you, and then John Legend takes you to fame.” So, when Chloe joined John’s already frontrunning team, Gwen jumped out of her red chair, pointed at John, and exclaimed, “I already hate you! I’m so jealous right now!”

Then Gwen got even more worked up, dramatically barking at Chloe, “Hey! You listen to me! I’m not abandoning you! I had to pick someone!” (Blake jokingly called Gwen the “most defensive coach ever,” but Gwen explained to him, “I wanted her to know I love her!”) However, Chloe took Gwen’s “abandonment” in stride, realizing that she was now in the right coach’s hands. John noted that Chloe’s Knockout song, SWV’s “Weak,” was much more difficult than Carter’s choice (Lauren Daigle’s overdone “You Say”), saying it was “not built for this competition in the same way, and I was just stunned by how up to the challenge you were in every single moment. You did so many cool, little unexpected things.”

I definitely understand why Gwen was feeling some existential angst over this Knockout. She has always had a soft spot for teen singers, so her Carter verdict was somewhat predictable and preordained. And Carter, a bullied misfit kid who related to “You Say,” did a solid job with the age-appropriate empowerment anthem and obviously connected to its message. (His performance even had coach Kelly Clarkson in near-tears, as she told him, “It broke me, in the most amazing of ways.”) But Carter still seemed a school-recitalist, while Chloe hit the stage looking and sounding like a superstar at the Soul Train Awards — her confident and compelling performance was a mix of ’70s roller-rink swagger, ’90s neosoul cool and modern-day divaliciousness. “You had the big moment. You just had a presence that was so seasoned,” Blake told her. So, it’s quite possible that Gwen’s jealousy will grow, as John guides Chloe all the way to the Season 19 finale.

Gwen Stefani is torn during 'The Voice' Knockout Rounds. (Photo: NbC)
Gwen Stefani is torn during 'The Voice' Knockout Rounds. (Photo: NbC)

The Knockout Rounds will conclude Tuesday, but before that, these were the other showdowns of Monday night:

TEAM KELLY: DeSz vs. Sid Kingsley

Earlier in the episode, guest Mega-Mentor Usher told Kelly she was “really screwed” when he found out that she’d pitted these two against each other. And Usher wasn’t wrong. Kelly claimed that she hadn’t realized just how good Sid was, since he was her Battle Rounds Steal and therefore a recent Team Kelly recruit — but she soon found out, when Sid intensely, broodingly performed Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain.” Kelly noted that he’d “brought it up to whole other level” (the multi-instrumentalist was back in his element, behind a piano), while Blake called Sid a “big surprise” of the night, Gwen praised Sid’s “natural and pure” soul, and Sid’s former coach, John, said this was the bluesy bar singer’s best performance yet. Now it was John’s turn to be kicking himself (for letting Sid go), and Kelly’s turn to agonize.

Sid definitely knew how to sell the drama, but of course his stage presence was limited due to the fact that he was seated, so he was still upstaged by diva DeSz’s masterful performance of Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” (another classic ’90s R&B song rarely covered on singing competitions). DeSz expertly heeded Usher’s advice about creating moments of mystique, starting in her sultry full-throated lower register and then gradually building to a full-throttled vocal attack. The result was what John called a “stunning tour de force.” Kelly said this would “go down in history as one of the best Knockouts ever” and admitted, “I am so stupid for putting you against each other!” — before reluctantly picking DeSz.

But, as was the case with Chloe, all was not lost for Sid. John not only tried to steal Sid back (this was before the Chloe/Carter Knockout), but Blake also hit his button. And, strategist that Blake is, he quckly pointed out John’s previous Battle Rounds “disloyalty.” (“I’m sorry for what John did to you,” Blake moaned comically.) “I think I would regret coming here and not working with as many coaches as I can — and I’ve already disappointed my mom once,” noted Sid, as he made his choice. (Sid’s mother had wanted him to join Team Blake in the first place.) So, Sid went with Blake, and regardless of how much farther he goes this season, he has kind of won already, by getting the invaluable opportunity to work with the “three perspectives” of some of music’s biggest stars. Once again, everything worked out for the best.

WINNER: DeSz / STOLEN: Sid Kingsley moves to Team Blake

TEAM BLAKE: Jus Jon vs. Jim Ranger

There couldn’t have been more of an apples/oranges twosome than Jus Jon doing an uptempo Bruno Mars banger, “Finesse,” and country family man Jim Ranger tearfully crooning a moralistic dedication to his three kids, Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.” Blake explained that despite their genre differences, he paired Jon and Jim because they both had “the most soulful-sounding” voices on his team. But Jon’s song choice, as fun as it was (kudos for mid-song rap, which he surprisingly pulled off), didn’t allow him to showcase much soul at all. His performance felt very wedding-reception (his cover band back home actually does this song), with Jon somehow making a modern hit sound hokey and old-fashioned — proving that trying to interpret a song by someone as swaggy and charismatic as Bruno is almost always a bad idea. Meanwhile, Jim beautifully interpreted a sweet country song with a message relevant to these troubled times, and he even broke down onstage when it was over. So, there was no contest here.

WINNER: Jim Ranger

TEAM LEGEND: Bailey Rae vs. Lauren Frihauf

Eighteen-year-old Bailey is Team Legend’s first-ever “pure country singer,” which John said has been a “fun challenge” this season. So, it was obvious that John was already favoring Bailey over his stolen contestant and another “old soul,” 16-year-old Lauren, for that reason alone. Bailey definitely went the safer route here, with Billy Currington’s “Let Me Down Easy,” giving a vocally solid but not particularly exciting or emotional performance. Meanwhile, Lauren’s song choice, “Cry Baby” by Janis Joplin, was a huge risk — she’s not really the rocker type, and during rehearsal she seemed to be playacting, trying too hard to sound Joplin-esque instead of showcasing her signature dulcet tones. But Lauren took John and Usher’s direction well, and while her performance was imperfect (it started off pretty flat), it was definitely more authentic and storytelling. Lauren also hit some power notes that I had no idea were in that little body. I would have given this one to Lauren, just to reward for taking a chance, but perhaps taking such a big chance at this crucial stage of the game was a mistake. Then again, perhaps John had his mind up all along.

WINNER: Bailey Rae

TEAM BLAKE: Ian Flanigan vs. James Pyle

Season 19’s Satchmo-voiced grunters went throat-to-throat for this one, another tough pairing that would unavoidably end with a great singer going home too soon. I’ve always been impressed by Ian, whose gravelly vocals remind me a bit of Milky Chance or Nathaniel Rateliff, but I don’t think he did much with Luke Combs’s “Beautiful Crazy.” It was a very slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of performance, with no true breakout moments. James’s unhinged cover of Shawn Mendes’s “In My Blood,” on the other hand, really woke up the room and grabbed my attention; James, who has anxiety and lost his mother at a young age, tapped into the pop-rock anthem’s message of resilience and hope, and he sang it like it was his Save Me song on an elimination night. But in the end, Blake went with the more unique voice, telling Ian, “There’s nobody else like you.”

WINNER: Ian Flanigan

TEAM GWEN Joseph Soul vs. Van Andrew

The Voice did Van Andrew dirty! Not only did producers not show a single note of his Knockouts performance, but they didn’t even mention or caption his name, dedicating this entire montage to Joseph’s cover of Billie Eilish’s “Lovely.” (I actually had to check NBC’s website to confirm that the long-haired dude being ignored in the corner was indeed Van, who’d also been montaged in the Battle Rounds.) Van must have really tanked this season, to get so little screentime. That being said, this week’s snippet showcased Joseph’s strongest vocal yet, so I’m sure the producers (and Gwen) had their reasons for focusing on him.

WINNER: Joseph Soul

TEAM KELLY: Kelsie Watts vs. Madeline Consoer

Both women picked songs inspired by their respective toxic past relationships — Kelsie taking on Alanis Morissette’s ferocious “You Oughta Know,” Madeline doing the more somber “Die From a Broken Heart” by Maddie & Tae — and Kelly advised them both to “tear down those walls and really live in the moment with the message.”

Kelsie had a harder time following Kelly’s instruction, since, as Usher pointed out, she “couldn’t have picked a more complicated song. It requires attitude. You gotta be a little reckless.” Kelsie’s onstage attempt at recklessness at times bordered on ridiculousness; it was all very try-hard, very actress-y, and not very authentic (which was surprising, considering that she was supposedly singing from a place of real pain, but maybe since she has moved on and is happily married now, it was hard to her to get back into that old headspace.)

Madeline was more convincing — she gave good face, seeming more connected her confessional lyrics — but she still didn’t deliver the vulnerability that Usher told her the performance needed. This hardly deserved a standing ovation from Kelly (who, as a recently separated woman who’s sung breakup classics like “Never Again,” “Stronger,” and “Since U Been Gone,” knows how to nail a performance like this and sing from a real place.) But Kelly’s ovation made it clear which singer had, by a slight margin, won this round.

WINNER: Madeline Consoer

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