The first live show of the season on "The Voice" on Monday night was not without glitches. There was the usual minor stuff: the coaches talking over one another or having to rush through their notes because of time constraints. And then there was one whopper.
While Team Shakira country vocalist Kristen Merlin was singing a super-impassioned rendition of "Stay" by Sugarland, on which she hoped to showcase her vulnerability, her mic suddenly went silent. Just completely cut out. There she was, singing her heart out — or so it appeared — but we could hear none of it. Eventually, as the song ended, someone ran out to hand Merlin another mic, but the snafu was heartbreaking. So much practice, so much at stake — if the audience who would vote to determine her fate couldn't hear Merlin sing, would it all be for naught.
But the coaches — all four of them — stood to give Merlin a standing ovation, and their response nearly moved her to tears. Adam Levine marveled that when she was confronted with something "bigger and scarier" than anyone in her position should have to contend with, she "handled it so gracefully." He would have been "in a puddle" of his "own nerves," weeping and sucking his thumb, or throwing a "hissy fit" and running off stage, he said; Merlin had kept totally cool.
The other coaches focused on the audible part of Merlin's performance. Blake Shelton said she kept "getting better and better" and sounded "incredible." Usher said he'd been "able to have, like, an intimate moment" with Merlin's voice, admiring its "texture" and "yodel." Shakira called the performance "heartfelt" and "moving" and said she'd gotten lost in the moment, "just mesmerized by what you were doing," its "sentiment" and "sincerity."
Will Merlin get dinged by voters for a glitch that was not her fault? Or will they support her despite — or because of — it? We will find out on Tuesday night, in the season's first voter-determined results show.
Of course, the fates of Merlin's fellow Top 12 members hang in the balance as well. Each of them also performed on Monday. Here's how:
—Team Usher's Bria Kelly boldly sought to put her bluesy spin onAdele's "Rolling in the Deep." The song choice could have proved suicidal, but Kelly changed it up and held her own. Shakira complimented Kelly on her "grit" and said she loved it when she got "all fierce" and showed what she was made of. Levine called her rendition "angsty," "young" and "different," but said he would have preferred it in a higher key. Shelton "loved the rock edge" Kelly had brought and understood the lower key to have been strategic. Usher called the song choice "courageous" and added that he'd "felt fire," passion and "energy" in Kelly's performance.
—Team Adam's singing barista Delvin Choice dedicated his performance of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" to his "mommy and daddy," who were about to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Shelton said he'd been wrong the previous week when he said Choice sang better when he let his hair down, because his hair was "back in the calzone or whatever" this week and he still sang the heck out of the song. Usher called Choice a "threat vocally" with an "amazing talent" and said he'd made a song about "pain" and "sad emotion" a little happier. "I don't know if that's a good or bad thing," Usher said, "but I know I enjoyed it." Shakira complimented Choice on the "perfect" delivery of his falsettos, trills and runs, and said she'd lost herself in his "silky" vocals. Levine said he'd gotten the "goosebumps" he'd hoped for.
—Team Shakira's Dani Moz tackled Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" and succeeded in her goal of not making her performance "too musical theater." Levine said he thought Moz did a "fantastic" job "budgeting" her breath and overcoming nerves and pressure, but wished for more dynamics. Shelton said Levine was "wrong … so wrong," contending that Moz had in fact chosen a key moment to take the song in a powerful direction. Shakira called the dynamics "perfect" and said Moz had "the sickest range." Moz had done, she said, "unbelievably well."
—Shelton gave team member Audra McLaughlin, a country singer from Philadelphia, Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning." At the beginning, McLaughlin's articulation was a bit muddy, but she made up for it with impressive power at the end. Usher called the performance "incredible," complimenting McLaughlin's vocal "character" and her ability to "hold a note forever." "I have to pee if I hold a note that long," Usher said. Levine quipped that when Shelton holds notes that long "he actually does pee." Shelton responded that he'd peed when McLaughlin held her note. Levine said that, in fact, Shelton was "peeing right now." And then, finally, the coaches called a halt to the bathroom humor. Levine sad McLaughlin was "always fantastic." Shelton said he didn't think her intended career as a medical assistant was her true path. "You, I swear, are one of my favorite country singers," he told McLaughlin.
—Usher team member T.J. Wilkins, the music student from South L.A., sang John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change," motivated by friends "who got killed on the street" and saying he wanted to be an agent of change. Wilkins' performance earned a standing ovation not just from his own coach, but also from rival coach Shakira, who called herself his "cheerleader." "I'm always rooting for you, T.J., because you are so pure, so sincere," she said, adding that she adored his voice and showmanship. Shelton agreed that it was difficult not to pull for Wilkins, even though he wasn't on Shelton's team, because there was something "infectious" about him — "in a good way." Usher called him an "artist" and a "leader" who'd had a "breakthrough moment" and complimented him on his "cool" new haircut.
—Team Adam's Christina Grimmie, the YouTube star whom Usher has called a "baby Celine Dion" and Levine said had "huge pop star" potential, took on Katy Perry's "Dark Horse." She said she wanted to kill it, and she did. Shelton called her "the artist to beat" on Team Adam. "You are 100% proof that dynamite comes in small packages," Shelton said, marveling at the amount of sound that could come out "of such a tiny human being." "Give it up for the tiny people," Shakira hollered, complimenting Grimmie's range and falsetto and saying she'd "nailed it." Levine said he continued to be "more and more impressed and surprised" by Grimmie's abilities and said the "greatest thing" about the performance was her originality. "I might as well have been watching the VMAs," he said. "It was so yours. It belonged to you." Usher said she'd interpreted the song in a way that would allow people to see "who she will be as an artist" and echoed Shelton's contention that Grimmie was Team Adam's best contender
—Shelton gave former Celine Dion vocal director Sisaundra Lewis Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," hoping she'd "lay back" a little and "show a little finesse." Lewis gave a performance that roused both her own coach and Usher to their feet. "Every time you come out here, you just blow everybody's socks off. It's just crazy," Usher said, comparing Lewis to Patti LaBelle. Levine complimented Lewis on her "restraint" and control, especially considering how much she really liked "to sing for the fences." Shelton said he hoped Lewis, who'd left the music industry for a decade to dedicate time to her family, was "taking all this in." "People love you," he said.
—Team Adam's rockin' former nanny Kat Perkins took on Heart's "Magic Man," turning in a performance that left Shelton in disbelief that she'd ever made her living as a babysitter. "What in the world?" he said. "You're a rock star." Usher noted that "dealing with children, there's a lot of aggression that builds up," and it was "great that it came out here." Perkins' voice, Usher said, was "dope … so powerful and steady. You know what you're doing, you know why you're here, and you're just introducing your voice to the world as a solo artist." Perkins had what it takes, he said, "to be on radio right now." Levine said Perkins had tackled songs that were "impossible to sing" — by Steve Perry and Ann Wilson — and had performed them "with the same power and charisma and proficiency and soul" the original singers had.
—Sweet Team Blake Texas boy Jake Worthington was tasked with introducing a new generation of country music fans to Travis Tritt's "Anymore." It was not his best performance. Still, Shakira called him perhaps "the most endearing contestant" on the show. "When you sing, I believe every word you say," she told Worthington. Shelton said Shakira was right. "Honesty, especially in country music, goes 80% of the way" to winning people over, he said. Fans of the genre "want to be told a story by somebody they believe." He thought Worthington's pitch had been perfect, as had his emotional approach. "You nailed it, dude," he said. "You made me proud."
—Tess Boyer, of Team Shakira and formerly of Teams Usher and Blake, tried to give a "modern" female interpretation of Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You." Shelton called her the artist to beat on Team Shakira. Usher told Boyer that all the coaches "as a collective, celebrate you." Shakira said Boyer's "prowess as a technical singer" was undeniable and noted that she was "so damn smart," taking in every note and dedicating herself to improvement, saying the attitude she brought to life showed in her performances.
—Josh Kaufman, Usher's genius steal from Team Adam, performed Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" — soulfully, resonantly. Shakira declared herself to be "a fan," admiring the way Kaufman had begun the song in an "understated" and "contained" way and then knocked everyone out as it went on. "Your skills as a vocalist are just extraordinary," she said. Levine said he was "so stupid" to have let Kaufman go, telling him, "every time you get up there, I realize it more and more." He knew Kaufman would come far in the competition, Levine said, and while he thought it would be as a member of his own team, "I don't even care. Because you're here and that's all that really matters." Shelton called Kaufman Team Usher's "guy to beat." And Usher said Kaufman had shown commitment and command and had "completely made this my night."
Who will go home? Who knows. Feel free to use the comments section to share your responses to the performances — and your predictions.