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As The Voice started its Season 23 Battles Monday, it replaced the traditional Save with the Playoff Pass. What is it? You can watch Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan explain above. But in short, it’s a reward for an especially excellent performance that allows a coach to sit out a member of their team during the Knockouts and advance them directly to the Playoffs.

On the surface, this sounds great, right? If I’m a contestant, I’m like, “Whoo hoo! One less chance to be eliminated!” If you think about it, though, should singers be excited to get the Playoff Pass? If they have any faith in their abilities, and their coach’s ear, they wouldn’t be scared of the Knockouts. And by skipping that round, they’ll get less airtime and thus, less of an opportunity to impress and win over the audience — not exactly an advantage.

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Drop your thoughts on this new twist in the comments. But first, let’s review some Battles, shall we?

Team Blake: Tasha Jessen (Grade: B) defeated EJ Michels (Grade: A-) on “Tracks of My Tears” — EJ stolen by Niall | These standouts from the Blinds started off their duet fine but just fine. Then, in the last third of the Smokey Robinson classic, it was like a switch got flipped, and they both just kind of exploded vocally. It was at that point that it became obvious that Tasha couldn’t match EJ’s intensity. He let loose a throaty roar that I never saw (heard?) coming and was clearly the more dynamic performer; at points, Tasha almost faded into the background, his presence was so large.

the voice recap manasseh samone sorelle battles Team Chance: Jamar Langley (Grade: A) defeated Mariah Kalia (Grade: A) on “Gravity” | Holy smoke, even in rehearsal, this pairing sounded dynamite. As their coach noted, they were “equally fire.” On stage, holy smoke again! Jamar was letting rip stunningly tricky and emotional runs and demonstrating a fantastic control of the nuances of his voice. And Mariah… OMG! She gave me Etta James vibes, showed off pretty freaking amazing range and totally came out of her shell in the spotlight. Can’t believe (a) they let her walk and (b) that that was the same John Mayer song at which I’d always shrugged.

Team Niall: Gina Miles (Grade: A) defeated Kala Banham (Grade: A-) on “Skinny Love” — Kala saved by Kelly | Before these two had even sung a note, I assumed Kala had the win in the bag; I really liked soft-spoken Gina’s Blind, but her nerves seemed likely to hold her back. In the moment of truth, however, she was the contestant who stood out to me. Her and Kala’s rendition of Birdy’s rendition of Bon Iver’s song was gorgeous, and so was Kala’s voice. Being older, she also has more experience. But not only did Gina conquer her nerves, she teed up a startling reminder of how unusual and compelling her vocals are. Simply put, the kid’s special. (And yes, I know I’m giving out A’s like they’re certificates of participation, but c’mon, when a singer’s good, a singer’s good!)

the voice recap manasseh samone sorelle battles Team Kelly: Cait Martin (Grade: A-) defeated Allie Keck (Grade: B+) on “It Must Have Been Love” | Hoping to cut down traffic in her team’s “incredible range” lane — what?!? — Kelly assigned the four-chair turn and her rockin’ opponent a modernized version of Roxette’s golden oldie. At first, Allie seemed to have the edge; her deep, throaty vocal was heaven on the verse. But as the arrangement got bigger and bigger, Cait felt more like she was ginormously singing to us whereas Allie kinda seemed like she was yelling at us. Chance went so far as to tell Cait that she’d made the end of the song “her moment.” Agreed.

Team Blake: Walker Wilson (Grade: B-) defeated Kason Lester (Grade: C) on “Here Without You” | In what they declared “The Battle of the Big Hair,” the one-chair turns did their best to rock 3 Doors Down. But while Kason gave the impression that we were watching the lead singer of a cover band — so… much… gesticulating — Walker radiated an authenticity that, combined with his sharper, grittier tone, made him the easy pick for the win.

the voice recap manasseh samone sorelle battles Team Chance: Sorelle (Grade: A-) defeated Manasseh Samone (Grade: A) on “Someone Like You” — Manasseh Playoff Pass’d to the Playoffs | Given that comeback kid Manasseh can sing with the forcefulness of a volcano erupting, I figured Sorelle didn’t have a shot of advancing from this Battle. But both acts shone on their Adele cover, with Manasseh’s ginormous vocal pretty evenly matched by the prettiness and precision of Sorelle’s airtight harmonies. The trio was, dare I say, almost Girl Named Tom-level good.

What’s your take on the Playoff Pass — good for the contestants… or not so much? Also, who really impressed you Monday? Vote in the polls below, then comment away.

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