This week, "The Voice" began its dreaded Knockout Rounds, the awkward and at times unfair process that'd determine which 16 semifinalists (four from each team, as opposed to last season, when it was five per team) would move on to Season 4's Live Playoffs. The contestants all sang solo songs of their own choosing, squaring off against their own team members in sudden-death showdowns, and none of them knew whom they'd be competing against until the very last minute.
I am sure once they found out, however, they were as shocked--or annoyed--as I was.
Adam Levine and Shakira's contestants competed in Monday's Knockouts, and I honestly could not figure out how these coaches decided to pair up their players. These Knockout pairings were bizarrely random. A teenage rocker boy against a thirtysomething Nashville vet. A sweet country teen against a quirky folk-rock duo. A male soul crooner against a Latina pop starlet. A MuzikMafia country-blooze badass against an R&B diva. A tough-as-nails rock chick against a former child star. And so on. And there were no Steals, no Saves, no safety nets of any kind, left lying around to help out the contestants who didn't win. But I guess that's why it's called a KNOCKOUT Round, right?
There were times when I really wished that the Knockout Rounds did have Steals--especially when it came to the first round on Team Adam. Some of the coaches' decisions made sense, and yes, I knew that at this stage of the game, I'd have to say goodbye to a few of my favorites. But a couple of Monday's Knockout decisions, notably by Adam, practically knocked me right out of my chair--and knocked the wind right out of my sails.
Here's how Monday's Knockout Rounds went down…
Amber Carrington vs. Midas Whale
I had no idea why Adam would pit two very strong, and very different, players against each other like this. (Oh, that Adam Levine…his mind works in mysterious, and sometimes flat-out stupid, ways.) So Amber did Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," a song that meant a lot to her because it reminded her of her deceased mother, and while she sang the hell out of it, it wasn't unlike something I'd heard before on "The Voice"; I was getting serious Cassadee Pope flashbacks up in here. Midas Whale, on the other hand, took a risk with their highly original take on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and it was like NOTHING I'd ever heard on "The Voice" before. It was a bit shambolic, sure, but the energy level in the studio absolutely elevated when they began their onstage hootenanny. But Adam picked Amber. My heart absolutely broke. I'd really been rooting for the Midas boys and had been looking forward to all the exciting, wacky things they could get up to on the live shows. Sigh. Will a duo ever make it to the Live Playoffs on "The Voice" again? Now Team Blake's Swon Brothers, who will compete in Tuesday's Knockouts, are Season 4's only duo hope.
Amy Whitcomb vs. Caroline Glaser
Neither of these girls gave perfect performances. Neither of them were my picks for Team Adam's overall top four, which is why I was scratching my head like an actress in a Selsun Blue commercial over some of Adam's pair-ups. But of these two, Amy definitely was the stronger singer. She started off wobbly--as a former "Sing Off" contestant accustomed to singing in an a cappella group, she must have been struggling with nerves as she went solo. But she went with a much more challenging song choice (the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," compared to Caroline's "Little Talks" by Of Monsters & Men), and as Blake put it, the performance "ended a whole lot better than it started." Even Caroline looked scared and threatened when Amy nailed those power-notes, and such a reaction was understandable. She should have been skerred. Caroline's performance was bleaty and whiny and affected; I still don't understand the hype about this girl. She's not that good a singer, and this show IS called "The Voice." But Adam picked Caroline, of course. Maybe Amy should just go back to NBC's recently renewed "The Sing-Off," a show that actually gives her screentime.
Judith Hill vs. Orlando Dixon
Poor Orlando. Judith was a frontrunner since before Season 4 even started, when her Blind Audition was shown in NBC teaser promos. Orlando was a guy who only got one chair to turn around at his audition, then was stolen after his original coach, Usher, rejected him in the Battle Rounds. So basically, he never had a chance. I actually thought that when it came to the performances, Orlando was more dynamic and exciting; he really dug deep into K-Ci & JoJo's "All My Life." Hey, he tried. But vocally, he could not compare to Judith's flawless "Always on My Mind." Judith is always so perfect--and that could actually be a problem going forward, as her predictably perfect performances lose their element of surprise. But she is going forward, of course, because she was better than Orlando. I doubt Orlando was surprised by this himself.
Sarah Simmons vs. Warren Stone
Wow, this was Adam's stupidest move--even stupider, from a strategy standpoint, than letting Midas Whale get away. Warren, a handsome, country-singing fireman who pulled a David Cook and convincingly remade Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight" as a hard rock song, could have gone all the way to the finale. But instead, he had to sing against one of the best contestants on the entire show, Sarah, who did an amazing job with her ethereal cover of "Wild Horses," which owed as much to the Sundays' version as the Rolling Stones' original. Sarah was obviously the victor here, but Warren leaving the competition this early, especially after Blake had pointed out that this was the best he'd ever heard Warren sing, was ridiculous. Adam messed this one up, big-time.
So basically, if I'd been deciding, Team Adam's final four would have been Midas Whale, Judith Hill, Warren Stone, and Sarah Simmons. Instead, Team Adam ended up comprising Judith, Sarah, Amber Carrington, and Caroline Gaser. Two out of four ain't bad, I suppose--and I suppose Adam would've had a tough time no matter what, since his team was so strong to begin with. But I'm still mad.
Garrett Gardner vs. Tawnya Reynolds
I knew I was going to be upset no matter how this showdown went down. Garrett, with his charismatic rocker-boy vibe and sexy rasp, was one of my Team Shakira favorites, but there was no denying the gorgeousness of Tawnya's old-school country tone. I didn't want to see either one of them go. So Garrett did Alex Clare's "Too Close," and while he did an admirable job with the brooding breakup ballad, he didn't quite measure up to the Alex original. (Alex Clare sings like a mofo.) Overall, though, Garrett came across as a marketable star who'd get the girly vote…and Shakira must have realized that. Tawnya's cover of Pistol Annies' "Hell on Heels" was also strong, and her experience as a Nashville veteran showed. But then, Shakira kept…Garrett. I was pleased that Garrett had been given a chance to stay in the competition and grow, but he should have never been put up against Tawnya in the first place. This was an especially random pairing, a real apples/oranges situation. And I didn't like them apples. Both of these singers could have, and should have, found a place in the top 16, under better circumstances.
Kris Thomas vs. Mary Miranda
"What a Wonderful World" was a nice, if old-fashioned, song that worked well with Kris's crooner style, and I could tell that he'd really listened to Shakira's advice to not to push the belting too hard. Mary, conversely, ignored Shakira's warning to not ditch the melody of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" (the first English-language song Mary had tried to do on the show). And it turned out that--while Mary's '80s influences were commendable--this really was the wrong song for her. The whole performance felt awkward and stilted. It never really clicked. She should have listened to her coach! So Shakira picked Kris, which was the right choice--but really, I could have done without both of these singers. I would rather have seen Tawnya stay.
Karina Iglesias vs. Monique Abbadie
Karina, looking slicker and sexier than I remembered (it's amazing what a good haircut can do), tore into Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way." I loved what she did with it--there was so much fire, so much gusto, so much power! Even Shakira couldn't resist air-drumming along. Shakira's fellow judges thought the song didn't allow Karina to showcase her full range, but I disagreed. Karina rocked this. The mood in the studio slumped considerably when Monique followed with a teen-pageanty rendition of Laura Branigan's/Celine Dion's "Power of Love," a dreary old ballad I would be happy to never, ever hear on any singing show again. The song was just too big for Monique, and it got away from her in parts. Thankfully, Shakira made the right decision and kept Karina, who I just know is going to rock it in the Live Playoffs.
Sasha Allen vs. Shawna P.
Sasha, who (like Karina) was stolen by Shakira from Team Adam, proved herself to be a worthy addition to Shakira's ranks with her classy, nuanced, oh-so "Fabulous Baker Boys"-ish cover of "At Last." She oozed elegance and sounded glorious on the glory notes. But I was still partial to country-rock rebel Shawna, whose "Maybe I'm Amazed" had a lot of grit and heart. I was amazed, indeed. Again, this Knockout was apples vs. oranges--these ladies really had nothing in common and had their own strengths and skill-sets. In the end, Shakira picked Sasha (interesting that two of Shakira's final four were Team Adam Steals), and while I couldn't really say this was the wrong decision, I was dejected to see Shawna go home so soon.
My personal top four choices for Team Shakira, in case you care, would have been Garrett Gardner, Tawnya Reynolds, Karina Iglesias, and Shawna P. Instead, I got Garrett, Karina, Kris Thomas, and Sasha Allen. Oh well. I guess it could have been worse.
So on Tuesday, the singers on Team Blake and Team Usher will compete in their own Knockouts. Will Blake and Usher make similar odd-couple pairings? Will I still be mad? Tune in then to find out.