The series's first live broadcast turns the spotlight on members of Team Christina and Team Blake

By Hillary Busis
Updated April 14, 2015 at 11:32 PM EDT
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Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
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With apologies to EW DANCMSTR Annie Barrett — this week, The Voice finally went liiiiiiiive, and what a show it was. That tricked-out, fog-filled, lightsaber-ready stage! Those ridiculous, ridiculous backup dancers! The increasingly irritating interruptions from Alison Haislip, Official V-Correspondent®™©! And then, of course, there were the performances themselves, which ran the gamut from fabulous to fabulously awkward. (Poor Xenia, amiright?) Though the broadcast lasted a full two hours, it managed to move fairly quickly, and it wasn’t nearly as bogged down with filler as I feared it’d be.

Well, maybe that’s not totally true. But hey, at least the filler was entertaining. I could watch Team Christina perform the crap out of “Lady Marmalade” over and over again, and I plan to do just that as soon as video of their rendition hits the World Wide Web. (My one complaint: Nobody did the Lil’ Kim rap or imitated her grunting “hey, hey, hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh,” two moments scientifically proven to be the best parts of “Lady Marmalade.”)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The program kicked off with a an inexplicable medley of Queen songs — Adam told his mama he’d just killed a man, Blake and Cee Lo promised they would rock us, Christina proclaimed the coaches to be the champions while wearing what appeared to be Lily’s hotpants, only shorter — and yet another quick summation of the competition thus far. Carson then explained how the next few legs of the competition would work: Tonight, all of Blake and Christina’s vocalists would perform. Viewers could then vote to save one singer, while the coaches would also elect to keep one of their team members. But we won’t learn who stays and who goes until the show’s next episode, during which members of Teams Adam and Cee Lo will also perform individually and the process will begin anew. Though it was a bummer to learn that we’d have to wait seven more days before hearing from Vicci Martinez, Jeff Jenkins, and Javier Colon again, I can also understand why the show’s been structured the way it has; there’d be no way to squeeze 16 performances into about 85 minutes of screen time.

So instead, we got eight performances — and most of them were pretty great. Sure, it was annoying (but unsurprising) that the coaches refrained from giving any constructive criticism whatsoever, and it was beyond annoying how almost every contender was labeled “one of my favorites” by at least one member of the panel right after he or she sang. As The Incredibles and Ayn Rand taught us, if everyone is special, then no one is. But The Voice‘s high production values and the amount of thought that was put into the staging of each song went a long way toward mitigating these grievances. Some might grumble that a show that’s ostensibly all about rewarding pure vocal talent shouldn’t waste time with razzle dazzle and choreography. To those people, I say only this: Did you see those four dudes gyrating wildly around Lily? That’s reality TV gold right there.

NEXT: Raquel’s about to blow (oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!)

Little Raquel Castro, who has the distinction of being both the youngest and the tiniest artist on The Voice, was up first. She performed Ke-dollar-sign-ha’s “Blow,” a danceable tune that’s notable mostly for its amazing video, which features both unicorns wearing tuxedos and Dawson Leery. Raquel wore a low-cut, mirrored dress that looked like it came straight from Coach Christina’s closet, and she also sang like she was doing her best Xtina impression. To make matters even weirder, as Raquel strutted and shimmied and strained to hit the high notes, Christina went full stage mother — she was mouthing the song’s words and doing truncated versions of Raquel’s dance moves like her name was Mama Rose. Raquel’s Mini-Me mimicry was good enough to inspire Blake to moan, “Gosh dangit, I can’t believe [Christina] did something right!” Christina responded by praising Raquel’s control and singing a line from the song herself, just to remind us all who the real star of Team Christina is.

Then came Jared Blake, who observed the solemnity of the occasion by wearing his formal black bandana. As soon as the nonthreatening rocker announced he’d be singing “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon, a nation sighed “Of course!” The song was perfect for his Chad Kroeger meets Chris Daughtry voice, and Jared sang it well — at least, when he wasn’t dramatically tossing his guitar offstage or strutting like an alt rock Foghorn Leghorn. When he finished, Blake remarked that while Jared had been struggling to decide whether he was more of a country singer or a rock singer (huh? When was it implied that he could be a country boy?), this performance settled things: “You’ve shaved your head, you’ll never get through a metal detector — you’re a rock guy.”

You know who else rocks? Beverly McClellan, that’s who! In her pre-performance segment, she warned us that she had a cold — but once she started hollering Melissa Ethridge’s “I’m the Only One,” it became clear that no mere nasal congestion could stop her. I understand why Bev’s bleating might not be for everyone… but gosh dangit, I loved this performance. Beverly’s enthusiasm and energy were totally infections, and her staccato chicken dancing had me grinning from ear to ear. Her powerful stage presence also made her stand out. When it came time for the coaches’ reactions, Adam dubbed Beverly “the one that got away” before being rudely interrupted by Christina’s gloating. The bickering between those two judges soon reached a new height. When it was Christina’s turn to speak, she started off with a nonsensical insult that would have sounded natural coming from the mouth of Paula Abdul: “The only thing Adam can destroy are… his pants, because I know he wet them when you came out.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Adam replied, before taking things to another level: “Beverly, you’re so good I s— myself.” And with that, I learned that you can drop an s-bomb on NBC during prime time without suffering any consequences. The More You Know, indeed!

NEXT: An un-autotuned “Heartless” on a reality singing competition? Where have I heard this one before?

Dia Frampton‘s acoustic interpretation of Kanye West’s “Heartless” will probably prove to be the night’s most controversial performance — not because it wasn’t good, but because it got a lot of praise for being original that may not have been totally warranted. (Kris Allen and The Fray would like to have a word with you, Dia.) Either way, Dia really let loose in this performance in a way she hadn’t before. Her strong, assured voice served as a nice contrast to her big anime eyes and prim, schoolgirlish outfit. All of the coaches loved the performance; Cee Lo even promised to call Kanye himself “later on” and let him know how great it was. Yo, Cee Lo, I’m really happy for you, and I’ma let you finish, but your invocation of Pink was one of the best name-drops of all time. Of all time!

Before the next performance aired, we were treated to a segment that showed the ladies of Team Christina having a girls night. As they chowed down on Japanese fare at Geisha House, Xtina shared a few sage words of advice, like “Being a real artist is about jumping off a cliff” and “From the wolves come amazing things, and this is why you have to get through the fire.” It was all very Tyra, and I mean that as both a compliment and an insult. The clip was followed by the quartet singing “Lady Marmalade,” a performance stuffed to the brim with vocal acrobatics and spoken interjections from Christina (“Whatchu want, boys? Whatchu want??”). It was leagues ahead of Team Blake’s performance of “This Love,” which only really came alive when the coach himself swaggered onstage.

Oh, Xenia. Sweet, simple Xenia. The high schooler’s low-energy “Price Tag” was the night’s only real stinker. Her tone was as raspy and lovely as ever, but watching Xenia awkwardly point left, then right, as she sang “Everybody look to their left/Everybody look to their right” made my heart hurt. She just looked uncomfortable the whole time, even though she was smiling just like Blake and choreographer Hi-Hat had told her to. (With a name like that, she must moonlight as a supervillain, right? Maybe she learned everything she knows from Oddjob.) Although Blake ran to the stage to hug Xenia as soon as she was finished, I’ve got a feeling he won’t elect to keep her around next week — and America probably won’t, either.

Lily Elise sang Fergie just like you’d expect Lily Elise to sing Fergie. The most memorable thing about her performance, however, was a certain quartet of backup dancers. When Lily began singing, the guys were standing, frozen, in a diagonal line that stretched across the stage. As she walked past each one, he suddenly came alive, jerking and writhing like one of those horrifying human wind-up toys that populate crappy boardwalks the world over. All of this was done with the utmost seriousness, because “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is a very somber, poignant song about missing someone like a child misses that blanket. Adam thought Lily’s vocals improved drastically when the guys disappeared halfway through the song. I disagree. More dancer mannequins! Give these guys their own show!

NEXT: Scotty McCreery better lock them doors, because Patrick Thomas is on his tail

Next, Team Blake was shown eating barbecue at the country singer’s mansion — Miranda, alas, was a no-show — and then performing Maroon 5’s best-known song in an enchanted forest, or something. Blake made a joke about his Anthony Weiner. Time passed.

And then Patrick Thomas took the stage. He meticulously courted Scotty McCreery fans by wearing a cowboy hat and a smug expression while singing a snooze-inducing rendition of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Pat dedicated the song to his sister, “my biggest fan and best friend,” who apparently has always been stuck in Patrick’s shadow. Hmm… maybe “The Wind Beneath My Wings” would have been more appropriate. Patrick’s performance was both technically proficient and the very definition of the word “safe.” The best Christina could say afterwards was that she’s “still waiting for [him] to take off [his] pants.” Let’s leave it at that.

Alison Haislip interrupted the proceedings to read us a so-called “funny tweet”: “Adam better watch out, Blake Shelton just stole his thunder.” Let’s break so we can each laugh about this separately for a few minutes.

Back? Good, you’re just in time to read about the last performance of the night. Frenchie Davis put her spin on “When Love Takes Over,” a semi-bland dancehall tune that should be used to score the “running to the airport” scene in a thousand romantic comedies. Though Christina commended every member of her team for exercising control, in Frenchie’s case, the praise was actually warranted — she managed to show her range without showing off gratuitously, and without straying too far from the melody. And while Frenchie, too, was flanked by dancers, she elected not to move around too much, which actually kept the focus on her voice. I’m not sure if I agree with Blake that she’s the most powerful singer in the competition, but I do think this polished performance made up for the mess that was her “Single Ladies” duet.

Phew! There you have it, folks. Who did you think was most impressive tonight? Which team did the best overall? How did you like the judges’ performance, and the team performances? And finally, how weird does Cee Lo look with that tiny mustache and no sunglasses?

Episode Recaps

The Voice

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.

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