For the breakout star of The Voice, Blake Shelton sure has been a total energy suck the last few weeks of Season 4.
Oh sure, his rakish charm remains as reliable as ever. Who else could get away with yelling “kiss my ass!” to Adam Levine and making it land without a hint of toxicity? But Blake’s sudden and inexplicable “I only want country artists!” mindset has been a smudge on the show the likes of which we haven’t seen since Xtina’s wayward lipstick exploits of Season 3.
Yes, I know Blake’s heart belongs to Nashville, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But why did he string along a fascinating blues artist like Grace Askew or an enigmatic R&B hipster like Luke Edgemon given his formerly secret agenda of bringing four “tobacco-spittin’” country acts to the Season 4 Live Playoffs? That’d be like ordering the last chocolate soufflé off the dessert menu at a restaurant, tossing it on the floor to the horror of your fellow patrons, then telling the waitress to fire up a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “We don’t go in for none of that fancy shmancy sooo-flay stuff, no sirrree! I’d rather have me a Hoodsie Cup with a flat wooden scooper, mmmmhmmm.”
Anyhow, before my tidal wave of anger and disappointment washes over this entire recap, let’s cut to tonight’s Knockout Rounds results — listed in order from least- to most-promising winner:
Team Usher: Josiah Hawley (Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”) defeats Jess Kellner (James Morrison’s “You Give Me Something”) | Okay, sure, maybe Jess was a tad lackadaisical in her delivery while hitting intermittent flat notes. But seeing Usher rate her performance below Josiah’s mumbly, growly affectations and ridiculous Blue Steel posturing was as much a mystery to me as the enduring popularity of the 147 Kardashian-themed shows on that E! network. My only explanation is that keeping Josiah on the airwaves for another week will just make Michelle Chamuel seem that much cooler. Okay, that’s an insane theory, but do you have anything better?
Team Usher: Cathia (Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All”) defeats Ryan Innes (Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be”) | Cathia definitely hit some hinky notes in the verses, which had me thinking she was playing the role of Sacrificial Lamb in a movie called Ryan’s Pimp-Slot Coronation. But holy vocal meltdown, her bearded opponent (and early front-runner) delivered “I Don’t Want to Be” with all the musicality of a grizzly bear snarfing down a cooler full of uncooked hamburgers. The coaches clearly entered the matchup expecting Ryan to emerge as a clear winner, but dude gave Usher no choice but to throw his support behind Cathia (who I still argue was strongest in her Blind Audition).
Team Blake: The Swon Brothers (Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”) defeats Grace Askew (Tina Turner’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain”) | Grace certainly wasn’t flawless as she swooped and flitted her way through a bluesy, boozy take on “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” but there was a delicious brazenness to the liberties she took with the original. I loved the way she dipped low and conversational-like on “get off my window!” and the break in her voice when she reached her upper register. Plus, that shredded leather skirt and jaunty flip in her hair added a little fashion fun to the proceedings. And yet Blake went with a straightforward, totally uninventive but decently sung “Drift Away” that you could probably hear in a saloon in any mid-sized city on an average Thursday night. But the Swon Brothers are from Blake’s home state and so of course, you’ve got to factor that in, too.
Team Usher: Josiah Hawley (Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”) defeats Jess Kellner (James Morrison’s “You Give Me Something”) SRSLY? [Sorry! Bad cut-and-paste job by your humble recapper -- Josiah definitely ranks last for the night!]
Team Blake: Holly Tucker (Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying”) defeats Luke Edgemon (Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”) | I wasn’t a huge fan of Luke’s run-heavy Blind Audition, but I appreciated the bah-chicka-wah-wah R&B sensuality he brought to Katy Perry’s ditty — and the way he managed to show his pretty crazy vocal range without going overboard with unnecessary runs and trills. To be fair, Holly hit the majority of her notes, too, but there was a nasal quality to her tone — and a rather unengaging stage presence — that dragged her down from an A- to more of a B+/B level performance. Luke, I could imagine in the Season 4 Top 10; Holly, not so much.
Team Blake: Justin Rivers (Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”) defeats Savannah Berry (Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me”) | I was kind of ambivalent about who won the night’s opening Knockout. Savannah’s reworking of “ALAYLM” wasn’t amazing, but at least she went beyond basic karaoke. The problem was that she got drowned out a bit on the verses, and didn’t manage to bring much personality to the lyrics aside from her peculiar shade of lipstick. Justin definitely showcased greater vocal firepower, but his glory notes at the end felt more like a “look what I can do!” trick more than a genuine way to punctuate Miley’s hokey lyrics. Dude did listen to his coach, though, and dial back on the runs, so perhaps we’ll see further improvement in the coming weeks?
Team Blake: Danielle Bradbery (Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”) defeats Taylor Beckham (Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette”) | Not a great song choice for Danielle. I mean, the inexperienced teen obviously has an enormous instrument and Ginsu-accuracy, but what she doesn’t yet possess is the artistry or life experience to scale Mt. Underwood and sound like anything more than a decent imitation. Blake, though, might be able to help his young protégé make savvier (and less predictable) decisions, and bring a little more emotional heft to the proceedings, too. As for Taylor, let’s take the “if you don’t have something nice to say…” approach to her Rihanna cover, shall we?
Team Usher: Vedo (Bryan Adams’ [Everything I Do] I Do It for You”) defeats C. Perkins (Chris Brown’s “She Ain’t You”) | I loved how Shakira summed up C. Perkins’ failures by noting that he should have focused more on his vocals, and less on his stiff-armed “wind up the audience” foolery. Vedo’s song choice could’ve used about 10 fewer packets of Splenda, but he definitely felt every word and
Team Usher: Michelle Chamuel (Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”) defeats Audrey Karrasch (Lil Wayne’s “How to Love”) | Oh em gee, Michelle’s fun, fearsome and very physical twist on Pink’s outsiders anthem was the most fun I’ve had watching The Voice in four seasons (and yes, watching her drop and match Usher’s pushups in rehearsal definitely added to the Joie de Knockouts. I loved every part of her performance, from the tiny tweaks she made to the core melody to her seemingly involuntary punches into the air. If she doesn’t at least crack the Season 4 Top 10, then I’m gonna throw my TV out the window.
And with that, it’s your turn. What did you think about Night 2 of The Voice‘s Season 4 Knockout Rounds? Was anyone robbed? Who lucked out with their pairings? Did Blake’s treatment of Grace and Luke bother you? Take our poll below to vote for your faves, then hit the comments and expand on your thoughts. And for all my reality TV news, recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!