The Voice Recap (Live Playoffs -- Part 1): Dream Until Your Dreams Come True [Updated]

You’d have to be living under the sewer grate where Adam Levine buys his heavily distressed t-shirts to not be aware that Tuesday is the time to “Vote, baby, vote.” And what better way to warm up your civic trigger finger than by casting a ballot (or 10) for your favorite members of Team Adam and Team Blake after Part 1 of The Voice‘s “Live Playoff” round?

The difficulty, of course, is figuring out which issues matter the most. Do you vote along party lines (in other words, root for the contestants who’ve been not-so-subtly labeled as “fan favorites” by their coaches and/or Carson Daly)? Do you reward consistency over the last eight weeks of competition? Or should you be swayed by what the nervous hopefuls managed to do their first time in front of the live TV cameras?

PHOTOS | The Voice: Ranking the Coaches’ Season 3 Teams Before the Live Shows Begin

While you ponder those important questions, I’m going to lobby on behalf of my faves:

Absolutely should advance:
* Is it too early in the season to drop a word like “revelatory”? Because that’s the word that sprang to mind as Amanda Brown finished her rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” (embedded below for your listening pleasure) with a banshee wail that could make Steven Tyler’s granny scarves stand on end. I know that commercially, it’s been a tough road for black female rockers (do check out Res, Nicole Renee, Janice Robinson, and Kina on iTunes if you’ve got a minute today), but when you can make Christina Aguilera shout “get it, girl!” after breathing new life into a classic rock anthem, then you might have the power to change the hearts and mind of the music-buying public. Okay, or at least win Season 3 of The Voice.

* Bryan Keith‘s cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” wasn’t as pitch perfect as his teammate Amanda, but as Xtina pointed out, he really built the midtempo rocker to a scintillating crescendo, and unlike a lot of the vocalists who were merely trying on their songs this week, Bryan actually owned his. Dude definitely needs to work a little harder to not fade into the wallpaper when he’s down in his lower register, but Bryan’s tone is so rich, it’s spending the afternoon calling Ohio voters on behalf of Mitt Romney.

Absolutely should go home:
* I adored the total authority Melanie Martinez displayed on her blind audition to Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” the way she reinvented that great pop melody into a breathy acoustic gem. But she’s been on a downward spiral ever since, and “Hit the Road Jack” turned her into the proverbial little girl lost, wandering around the stage halfheartedly trying to bring a sense of coyness to a Ray Charles jam that requires some serious starch. I don’t have a problem with a breathy, stylized vocalist on a reality singing competition — I certainly dug Season 1’s Dia Frampton and Season 2’s Lindsay Pavao — but with her silly hair bow and her witlle gurl body language, Melanie seems to have invested too heavily in her artifice, and not spent enough time on her artistry. It’s nothing a few years of living in a college dorm can’t fix, so let’s check in with the kid and see what kind of music she’s producing in five or six years, shall we?

Could go either way:
* How is it that Joselyn Rivera was almost flawless on Beyonce’s insanely difficult “Love on Top,” yet struggled with intermittent pitch problems on Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break”? I liked the R&B phrasing Joselyn brought to the pop ditty, and she strutted the stage with the kind of confidence that would make a major-label exec get on the horn to the contracts department, but the end product was slightly less interesting than the sum of its commercially relevant parts, no?

* I’ve got to give Loren Allred props for tackling Lisa Stansfield’s nifty “All Around the World” (even though the lesser-known “This Is the Right Time” is a better vocal showcase), but is it crazy that I’m not crazy about the wedding singer’s tone when her voice opens up and she starts belting? I found the latter half of the performance to be ever so slightly strident, even though Loren was consistently on pitch. Discuss!

Absolutely should advance:
* I’m not a huge fan of Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks,” or maybe I should say I wasn’t a huge fan of it until Michaela Paige strutted out on stage in her post-riot-grrrl uniform (black bustier, flared tulle shirt, knee-high boots, giant Mohawk) and delivered one of the easiest, breeziest vocals I’ve heard on a reality singing competition this year. I loved the way Michaela’s voice slid through the chorus, and the way she attacked the final refrain with equal parts aggression and delight. As Blake begged in his assessment of the performance, “America, vote for this girl! Do it, please!”

Also should advance:
* Yeah, Liz Davis transported us right back to 1994 with her straightforward cover of “Independence Day” — that oddly draped white-and-silver floor-length dress served as the time machine — but Season 3’s sole country crooner has such a strong, meaty voice that I can’t really be mad at her for it. On the flip side, though, I’m not sure that by the time The Voice hits Season 4, that any part of this performance will be left in my memory bank. If Liz manages to survive into the Top 12 — and it seems likely, given Blake’s allegiance to the country genre — she’s going to have to be a little more daring with her song selection, a little edgier in her delivery, to capture the public’s vote.

* I’m rooting for Terry McDermott to stay in the competition on the basis of his fantastic Knockout Round rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed” moreso than his surprisingly
pedestrian Live Playoffs cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Xtina had a good point that Terry’s voice has a “precise cleanness” that’s “so easy on the ears,” but unlike his prior performances, it felt like the mullet-sporting Scottish dude was faking his way through Journey’s famous ballad. There wasn’t a whole lot of conviction — and not a shred of originality — to the cover, which left me feeling like I’d just watched a pretty good karaoke-bar performance, not the coming-out party for radio’s next big thing.

Absolutely should go home:
* I know Blake keeps trying to drive home the idea that Cassadee Pope is already a music superstar and America simply hasn’t figured it out yet, but I feel like that overhype might be starting to hurt the former Hey Monday frontwoman’s chances in the competition. I mean, after such a trumped-up intro, Cassadee’s paint-by-numbers take on Avril Lavigne’s “My Happy Ending” left even Blake’s good pal Adam Levine asking “Who is Cassadee Pope?” Surely, she has to be more than a pretty gal with nice hair whose voice disappears into the ether on her lower register, doesn’t she? Blake? Anyone?

* I know the studio audience gave Julio Cesar Castillo a standing ovation for his cover of “El Rey,” but I heard more vocal strain than emotional heartbreak in the former restaurant singer’s Spanish-language ballad. On the plus side, Julio’s white shirt and black tie would be just the right look if he lands a singing waiter gig after he’s booted from the competition.

And with that, let me turn things over to you:

Who were your favorites from The Voice‘s first round of Live Playoffs? Who totally blew their big shot? Hit the comments with your thoughts!

p.s. Due to Hurricane Sandy leaving me without cable and internet for six days, there’ll be no new Reality Check till next Monday. Last week’s kick-awesome episode, however, is embedded below!