The Voice recap: Stripped Down
Before we get to the excitement that is the first round of live playoffs (yay!), I have something I need to get out, confessional-style: I don’t know how I feel about Usher. On the one hand, I think his training methods are really cool, and they seem to produce good results. On the other hand, I really hate when coaches refuse to say anything good about other contestants in hopes that America will somehow side with them. You want to win, I get that. But give credit where credit is due, Usher, and not just to Judith Hill. Another note: If your strategy is giving your team very recognizable songs to sing, I might consider re-working things. Whitney Houston and Phil Collins in one night? I know the motto is go big or go home, but there is such a thing as too big.
Okay, I digress. Let’s dive into the madness that pitted the powerhouse of Team Adam against the underdog, Team Usher!
Here’s a quick reminder of how things work: It is now your turn to vote for your favorite two members of each team. After the votes are tallied, the coaches each save one member of their team, therefore sending three singers from each of the four teams into next week’s Top 12. First up is Team Usher — “team work makes the dream work” — and the all-female Team Adam — giving the best version of oneself “transcends gender” — who take on “stripped-down” performances for their first big-stage experience.
Here’s how things go down:
TEAM USHER: CATHIA, JOSIAH, VEDO AND MICHELLE
The song: “Black and Gold” by Sam Sparro
The performance: After training in a kickboxing gym with Coach Usher (abs 101!), the team takes the stage in their — you guessed it! — black-and-gold attire in a surprisingly charming, yet sometimes awkward performance.
The feedback: The coaches don’t comment on the group performances, so I will. I am pleasantly surprised by the four-part group harmony, though I’m not convinced that there aren’t back-up singers helping out. Individually, the vocals are decent, but the solo performances don’t mesh as well as I would like. But props for the synchronized finger point at the end of the piece.
TEAM ADAM: AMBER CARRINGTON
The song: “Stay” by Rihanna
The performance: Keeping things simple and about the purity of her voice, Amber kills this performance. Drawing in just the right amount of country influence as well as hair extensions and the perfect amount of eyeliner, this is an Amber I can get on board with.
The feedback: Blake admits that Amber has set the bar very high just before he gets in his first Starbucks plug of the night. Usher calls the performance an “intimate experience” with Amber’s voice, and Shakira thinks the performance was “beautiful.” Adam, who gives his singer a standing ovation, thinks Amber has lived up to his claim that she’s the biggest surprise of this competition. She rocks.
NEXT: The model sings Muse; Sarah is an angel
TEAM USHER: JOSIAH HAWLEY
The song: “Starlight” by Muse
The performance: With a full band behind him (so much for stripped-down, huh?) and a mostly-for-looks guitar in hand, Josiah sings to what seems like the full extent of his range with this Muse hit, but does better than I expected when I originally heard the song choice.
The feedback: Shakira likes that she is getting to see the real Josiah, and Adam says he did “great,” but is more focused on complimenting Usher’s coaching ability. Blake, on the other hand, doesn’t know crap about rock and roll but thinks Josiah’s performance is “haunting” and “energetic.” However, if the world loses a male model over this, Blake is willing to step in. *wipes forehead* All in all, Usher is a proud coach, and would like for all his contestants to understand one thing: Listen to him and you will win. P.S. Does Josiah look like a very skinny, very attractive Johnny Bravo to anyone else?
TEAM ADAM: SARAH SIMMONS
The song: “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
The performance: Sarah takes on one of Adam’s Voice favorites and her personal go-to song in a truly touching performance. First and foremost, I think it’s important to point out that Adam and Sarah are spirit animals, and I love it. You know what else I love? Everything about Sarah’s voice and the fact that she makes Adam cry. I would like more grit next week, though. Perhaps Adam will recycle another song and give her a little Grace Potter? Please?!
The feedback: Blake thinks Sarah is angelic and informs his team members to “do that” tomorrow night. Usher says Sarah is incredible and mentions some “little things” that I don’t think he could pinpoint, and Shakira starts mumbling in Spanish she’s so amazed. Adam comments on the stillness of the room and says Sarah is one of the “most incredible singers to listen to I’ve ever heard in my life.”
TEAM USHER: CATHIA
The song: “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston
The performance: Despite Usher waltzing Cathia around rehearsals or the gorgeous dress she’s wearing — someone please tell me where I’ve seen this before, which Kardashian? — Cathia simply can’t live up to the vocals of Houston, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Her constant eyebrow movements? Now that’s something I would fix.
The feedback: Shakira calls Usher out on the poor song choice, and Usher turns the blame to Cathia a little bit, saying that her performance wasn’t incredible but she’s still an amazing performer. This got awkward real fast.
Quick break: Christina Milian wants to teach us something new (via social media!): The girls of Team Adam are like sisters! Yay! Now it’s time for a coaches performance…
NEXT: Adam and Usher get a little superstitious
USHER AND ADAM
The song: “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
The performance: I think this performance is a lot of fun, but I was hoping for a little less band and a little more vocals. However, watching Adam being “cool” next to Usher being “cool” is both enlightening and entertaining.
The feedback: Not as strong as it could be, but worth a watch.
TEAM ADAM: CAROLINE GLASER
The song: “The A Team” by Ed Sheeran
The performance: Caroline hits the stage as a girl with her guitar and some light bulbs and without her adorable glasses. The result is a simple performance that is definitely “stripped-down” but only manages to take me back to last year’s Melanie. How much further can Caroline go?
The feedback: Blake doesn’t know the song, but feels like he’s back in a coffeehouse (insert second Starbucks plug!) with Caroline. Usher thinks Caroline is very controlled and believes America will vote for her. Some debate about Caroline’s dimples follows before Adam can express that he loves her unique sound. We’ve heard that before…
TEAM USHER: VEDO
The song: “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins
The performance: Having never heard of Phil Collins before, Vedo is at an immediate disadvantage with this big song. And after not quite getting the lyrics right, Vedo falls a little short with his one-man-and-one-mic rendition of the anthem.
The feedback: Shakira and Adam both make jokes to get around actually having to critique Vedo, but Usher assures Vedo that despite it being a “bit of a hill” for him, he’s very proud of his performance.
Interjection: Christina Milian is Team Usher, guys! But only because they give her free sweats… Now to the next group performance!
NEXT: Team Adam shakes it out
TEAM ADAM: JUDITH, SARAH, AMBER, CAROLINE
The song: “Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine
The performance: After getting styled at Adam’s family’s clothing store, the girls cheer up the crowd with their performance of one of my favorite Florence songs. Caroline isn’t the vocalist that the others are, but she holds her own. And Amber emerges as a real force to reckon with in this competition.
The feedback: I’m a little bit in love with Team Adam, and I’m not ashamed of my bias.
TEAM USHER: MICHELLE CHAMUEL
The song: “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper
The performance: After rehearsing the emotional song to a mirror, Michelle hits the stage with nothing but a piano and a few backup singers. Her rendition really shows off her vocal ability, and it makes me like Usher a lot more as a coach.
The feedback: Adam and Blake agree that this is one of the night’s breakout performances, and then Usher thanks America for seeing it and makes me question him again. Am I alone in this love-dislike balancing act?
TEAM ADAM: JUDITH HILL
The song: “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
The performance: Did anyone else flashback to Carly Rose Sonenclar’s X Factor audition? Just sayin’. But in terms of Judith, I like how she starts the song — in the crowd with no instrumentation. The rest of the performance is amazing when compared to others, but I think she can do better.
The feedback: Blake: “You’re such a freakin’ diva!” Usher: “You took us to church.” And Adam is obsessed with Judith’s cool factor.
Alright, that’s a wrap on night one! And despite the fact that we don’t get a recap of the performances (thanks, Carson!), you guys can recap it for me. Who were the breakout performers of the night? And what was with all of the metallic costumes? Did you think the songs were really stripped-down? And is anybody going to be able to beat Team Adam?
Finally, am I really alone in my indecisiveness when it comes to Usher as a coach? Please, enlighten me!
Until tomorrow, when Sasha Allen re-enters our lives …
Samantha on Twitter: @samhighfill
A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.