The Voice Recap: Rock Out With Your Knockout

The Voice Knockout Rounds Sarah SimmonsFor a show that’s all about good vibrations and international warm fuzzies, The Voice can sometimes be a frustrating mistress.

Take, for example, the Season 4 Knockout Rounds, where Adam Levine and Shakira all too often pitted their best singers against each other in sudden-death faceoffs, while allowing lesser vocalists to slip into the live voting rounds like mold on the underside of a package of blackberries. (Yeah, I know, that metaphor didn’t quite work, but at three bucks a container, you’d think those juicy little treats would last more than 24 hours in the fridge. Sheesh!)

But if you’ll allow me a crack at another food metaphor, tonight’s two-hour telecast was like having a waiter say “For your first course, you can choose between a divine flourless chocolate cake and a rich caramel bread pudding! And for your second course, you can either have a handful of dried-up raisins or a raggedy slice of dried mango.” As the philosopher Q-Tip once put it, “Now why you wanna go and do that, love, huh? Now why you wanna go and do that and do that?” (And by “that,” I mean eliminate Shawna P and Warren Stone from the competition.)

PHOTOS | The Voice: Top 20 Contenders Headed to the Season 4 Knockout Rounds

Still, what’s done is done. The coaches have their reasons, and even if their reasons include knocking out the toughest competitors for their pre-ordained chosen ones prior to giving the power to the people, I’ve got no choice but to cut to the chase. So without further ado, let me get to the business of listing the Knockout Rounds champs from best- to least-least- to most-impressive winner.

Team Shakira: Kris Thomas (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”) defeats Mary Miranda (The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”) | If “What a Wonderful World” was a gorgeous spring salad (I know…my mind is really stuck in the refrigerator right now) then Kris’ approach was to drench it in an entire bottle of dressing (aka unnecessary runs and trills and general gaudiness). A total catastrophe! (And this after Shakira told the dude to dial it back). At least he managed to stay on pitch, though, unlike Mary, who seemed tentative about the melody right from the start, was consistently sharp through the bridge and the final chorus, and gave the song all the energy of a leaky battery. I’m still hoping if I play this one back on my DVR, that Shakira will say, “And the winner of this Knockout Round is…Shawna P!”

Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner (Alex Clare’s “Too Close”) defeats Tawnya Reynolds (Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels”) | Shakira’s like a month-old honeycrisp apple when it comes to Garrett: Her soft spot is deep and unmistakable. So even though the quirky rocker boy fell behind the beat and seemed to run out of air on a song that Melanie Martinez covered much more intriguingly in Season 3, you knew he was (pre)destined for the win. That’s a shame, really, considering Tawnya’s robust, conversational spin on “Hell on Heels” was actually really good.

Team Adam: Caroline Glaser (Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks”) defeats Amy Whitcomb (The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”) | Amy had a sizeable fan base from her time on The Sing-Off, but her “HOTR” was a let-down, peppered with flat notes on the verse and veering into screamy, barely musical territory for the latter third. Caroline’s may have had some pitch issues, too, and her pronunciations might be too affected by half, but Amy essentially handed her the key to the live rounds. (Alas, though, imagine if Warren had beaten Caroline, and Sarah had beaten Amy? Much more satisfying outcome, no?)

Team Shakira: Sasha Allen (Etta James’ “At Last”) defeats Shawna P. (Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”) | Sasha’s been heavily hyped since Moment One, but like a crossing guard during rush hour, her rendition of “At Last” kept me at arm’s length. There was, dare I say, a hint of smug satisfaction on Sasha’s face as she delivered the number — a certain sense of “See what I’m doing here?” — that felt at odds with the roiling rapture of the lyrics. Shawna P, on the other hand, brought an almost religious fervor to “Maybe I’m Amazed” that unearthed a bluesy, world-weary side of the song I never knew existed. The Voice, though, seems more risk averse to “performers of a certain age” than i did back in the innocent days of Season 1, and thus the younger, more glamorous Sasha advanced. Not that she’s not super-talented in her own right, it’s just that Shawna was better. How’d Shakira pair these two up again? Because “Shawna” and “Sasha” sound kinda similar? Phooey.

Team Adam: Judith Hill (Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”) defeats Orlando Dixon (K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life”) | Judith definitely dominated Orlando in terms of power and pitch perfection, but it wasn’t all good news. I can’t be the only one who felt like Season 4’s early front-runner transformed Willie Nelson’s gorgeously simple melody into something so complicated that it bordered on tortured. Yes, Judith looks the part of a pop star, but if she doesn’t adopt a “less is more” philosophy for the live rounds, she could be an early surprise evictee.

Team Shakira: Karina Iglesias (Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”) defeats Monique Abbidie (Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love”) | I don’t care that Karina didn’t pick a song that served as a massive vocal showcase: “AYGGMW” was exactly the jolt of rum that the Knockout Rounds punch bowl needed — especially with that choice twist of stank she gave to “one by one-uh-uh” and the fearsome low-note treatment she gave to that one repetition of the chorus. Monique, so fiesty and fun in the Blind Auditions on “Loca,” turned into a completely different performer tonight. Her grasp on pitch was as tenuous as trying to climb a flagpole covered in Crisco, and her choice of a dreary old ballad brought her inner “former child star” — and not in a good way.

Team Adam: Amber Carrington (Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You”) defeats Midas Whale (Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”) | I went into this bout rooting for Midas Whale (and Idol alum Jon Peter Lewis), but their somewhat jarring harmonies and off-putting final note opened the door for Amber, and she walked right through with a powerful vocal that stretched her upper register in surprisingly nifty ways. Yeah, picking one of Season 3 winner Cassadee Pope’s signature covers wasn’t smart strategy, but with careful mentoring, she could be a contender.

Team Adam: Sarah Simmons (The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”) defeats Warren Stone (Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight” | I’m still reeling that two of my very favorite performances tonight wound up in a head-to-head, duelt-to-the-death battle. URGH! Warren had me at his choice of Cutting Crew, but turned me into a serious fan with a performance so committed that I spied at least three of his vital organs on stage when he’d finished singing. Sarah, meanwhile, brought to the stage her ethereal (and very distinctive) combination of angelic upper register and crackling banshee wail on “Wild Horses,” making me believe every word coming out of her mouth in the process. I didn’t even mind that she dressed like a hippie bride! Warren’s ouster, though, just proves that The Voice needs to install a single “Steal” in the Knockouts in Season 5. Who’s with me on that? Holla in the comments!

And with that, it’s your turn. What did you think about Night 1 of The Voice‘s Season 4 Knockout Rounds? Was anyone robbed? Who lucked out with their pairings? 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!