I love the Knockouts. I like that it’s finally more about the competing artists than the coaches. I like that the coaches prove their worth by dolling out invaluable pro advice to amateur singers in the one-on-ones. I like that they bring in charming advisers like Nate Ruess from fun. to offer up even more advice and tie everything together. I like watching the contestants bop along in the background while their pal/enemy sings their guts out to try to beat them in a vocal smackdown. It all adds up to loving the Knockouts! And just putting it on the table after what was one hell of a Knockouts premiere: This might be one of the most talented groups the series has ever seen.
That’s evidenced by how close most of these pairings were; tonight was just an easy, at times emotional, totally talented ride through 13 great solo performances, a handful of which were magical. As the newly assembled teams flashed across the screen in their Avengers of Vibrato form, grinning around the coaches who were about to off half of them, I suddenly realized how young Pharrell’s team is. I’m both concerned—that he’s feeding off of their souls to keep his youthful looks and other-worldly wisdom—and riveted, as two of his 15-year-olds gave two of the most inspired performance of the evening.
And yet, over on Blake’s team, we got two of the most jaw-dropping vocals from two bona fide professional musicians just trying to get a break in the industry. And on Christina’s team, the final Knockout to top them all, combined both of those things for a glimpse into the future of the season. (For the record, Adam rolled out a good Knockout too, but they weren’t necessarily his standouts… yet.) As well as a few of the guys did, the first round of Knockouts was a total ladies night, and the feeling was certainly right. Can we talk about Koryn? Can we talk about Mia Z? We can—that’s why we’re here!
Clearly I’m feeling a little giddy with the potential, so we better get on with it before I quote any more Kool & The Gang…
TEAM CHRISTINA: Sonic, “A Woman’s Worth” vs. Ashley Morgan, “Heartbreaker”
In a Nutshell: Ashley is all about vocal precision and Sonic is all about stage presence; each needs what the other has.
The Performances: There’s something about being told over and over that a contestant needs to work on their stage presence that makes it difficult to evaluate if Ashley really doesn’t have enough stage presence, or if it just doesn’t match up to her nearly perfect voice. Sonic makes an excellent choice in this underutilized Alicia Keys song, using what Christina deemed her “sass face” to great effect, channeling the emotional connection and command of the stage that Ashley just couldn’t quite master.
Winner: Sonic because Christina likes that she takes risks even when that means some pitchiness.
TEAM BLAKE: Sarah Potenza, “Wasted Love” vs. Brian Johnson, “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You”
In a Nutshell: Blake says these two have so much power it wouldn’t be fair to team them up against anybody else.
The Performances: Brian said he chose his song because if he was to make a record right now he would want it to feel like James Morrison, and that shows with the effortlessness of his performance. But in this particular case, it’s hard to hold effortlessness up next to what Sarah did. I’ve only been about 80 percent in on Sarah’s full-attack song style so far, but tonight, as she let the unbelievable raw power and emotional grit in her voice build throughout Matt McAndrew’s almost-winning Voice original song (he was in the audience and popped into Sarah’s rehearsal to recommend the delicate start), she showed the full range of what she can really do, as well as the full effect of how she can make you feel.
Winner: Sarah because Blake repeatedly says there’s “absolutely no one else like her in the competition.”
But wait—STEAL!—Adam thinks the same can be said for Brian. He thinks Brian is the kind of guy who can really surprise people in the Live Shows.
TEAM ADAM: Nathan Hermida, “Leave Your Lover” vs. Clinton Washington, “Wanted”
In a Nutshell: Clinton’s confident power against Nathan’s smooth precision.
The Performances: I really loved the smooth soulfulness of Nathan’s original audition and was excited to see him show a new side of himself tonight with his effortless switches between full voice and falsetto. There’s something about his laidback groove that’s surprisingly emotionally effecting. And while Clinton showed the diversity of his voice and range by switching it up with a country song, I stand by generally avoiding Hunter Hayes’ songs in singing competitions. There are very few people who can sing that high and that powerfully live. He’ll always have that epic Battle, though.
Winner: Nathan for his newfound ability to open up to the audience.
NEXT: Pharrell is making moves… big moves, huge.