Season 4 of The Voice is a leaner — although by no means meaner — kind of party.
Where last year’s competition found each of the show’s four coaches choosing a somewhat distended 16 vocalists apiece, the show’s current incarnation has trimmed the fat to a more reasonable (and easier-to-follow) 12 singers per team.
You might expect these tightened constraints to spur Blake Shelton and Adam Levine — if not neophyte coaches Shakira and Usher — to adopt cutthroat measures as they court contestants, but I’ll be danged* if the Season 4 panel isn’t more laid-back than ever. Are we watching four music superstars trying to assert their competitive dominance, or a quartet of old pals sipping whiskeys and goofing off on the Shelton-Lambert front porch a couple nights a week? (*See how ol’ Blake can creep into your mind, or at least your vocab?)
“You just feel so good,” Adam cooed to a burly soul singer — at which point Blake mischievously interjected, “That’s weird.” Then we had Shakira insisting she deserved a kiss after Blake beat her out for a country-blues goddess who gave one of the season’s best auditions. And of course, we had Usher suggesting Blake get his hair cut like The Lorax. I’m not even sure how that insane idea came into the world, but again, I found myself giggling at the thought of it.
But wait! This show — or at least this recap — isn’t supposed to be about the judges’ camaraderie, dagnabit! Therefore, let me get hoppin’ with a rundown of the eight singers who advanced to the Battle Rounds on Episode 5 of Season 4. I’ve ranked these cats in order from least- to most-promising, as is my custom:
8. Michael Austin: Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You” (Team Adam) | “It’s pitchy,” mouthed Blake, as Adam and Shakira turned their chairs anyway. But maybe I shouldn’t come down too hard on a deputy sheriff who could probably collapse my ribs more easily than I crush my Diet Coke cans (to make extra room in the recycling bin, naturally).
7. Mary Miranda: Selena’s “Como La Flor” (Team Shakira) | Even Shakira needs cannon fodder on her team, and this teenager with an average voice and a somewhat forced on-screen persona fits the bill nicely.
6. Jeff Lewis: Usher’s “You Got It Bad” (Team Usher) | A lot like Phillip Phillips’ arrangement on Season 11 of American Idol, but with none of that pesky sexual energy. Oh, wait, this song needs sexual energy. Never mind.
5. Ryan Innes: John Mayer’s “Gravity” (Team Usher) | I was surprised the burly, bearded soul man got all four chairs to turn — as I thought his rendition of “Gravity” contained a few hinky notes and a not-entirely-appealing falsetto. Dude definitely sings with a lot of feeling, though, which in Usher-ese, translates to “you shook the entire room.”
4. Sasha Allen: Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” (Team Adam) | Stunning mother of two may have done more for red dresses than anyone since Jessica Rabbit. I’m not sure I was totally enamored of her operatic spin on the Dixie Chicks, but she’s got powerful pipes and a massive range. The worry, now, is whether Adam will pit her against fellow awesome backup singer Judith Hill. Probably, since neither of ‘em are “bros.”
3. Caroline Glaser: Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (Team Blake) | Her voice was as delicate as a phyllo dough and pretty as the first flower buds of spring. (Or as Shakira so eloquently put it, it was “diaphonous.”) Blake might need to iron out some of her “coffee house” pronunciations, but this gal could go far.
2. Shawna P: The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” (Team Shakira) | Her world-weary, croaky tone and little black shift dress packed a nifty one-two punch. Okay, the phrasing got a tiny bit affected in spots, but the passion was palpable. Plus, if I’m being honest, it was nice to see chairs turn for a 40+ vocalist, like they used to do back in Season 1.
1. Grace Askew: Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” (Team Blake) | Hallelujah, someone’s finally stepped up and released “Boots” from the screeching, rap-infused prison where Jessica Simpson left it back in 2005. Grace’s pert phrasing and italicized squeaks provided a nice counterplay to her old-blues instrument, and she made some nifty choices with her ad libs, too. The one-handed guitar strumming looked a little — I’m not sure…lazy? silly? superfluous? — but I don’t really care. I need this woman to advance past the Blinds and the Knockouts and into the live shows — without passing go and without collecting $200.
Okay, your turn. What did you think of the fifth episode of The Voice Season 4? Who was your favorite? Who got a spot on a coach’s team that left you scratching your head? Who got unfairly snubbed? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments! And for all my reality TV recaps, interviews, news and exclusives, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!