In the first of the live rounds, artists from Team Blake and Team Adam perform

By Jennifer Arellano
Updated April 14, 2015 at 06:54 PM EDT
Trae Patton/NBC

Finally, after waiting patiently through the blind auditions, sifting through the battle rounds, and bull-dozing past the knockouts, we’re treated to some live performances, and with that, a clearer look at the Top 20 singers. It’s also the first democratic night: “You have a lot of power in your hands,” host Carson Daly reminds America about our ability to vote via iTunes.

Monday night featured consistently good renditions from Team Blake and Team Adam. The coaches were in especially ebullient moods, freely giving positive feedback, though a little too much at times. The whole show felt like one giant fuzzy embrace, and while I’m down for some feel-good TV, I was hoping the coaches would twist the dagger just a bit and really tell the singers their thoughts — constructive criticism is good, right? The surplus of high-self-esteem-mongering aside, Monday night’s teams were some of the strongest, so it’s not a surprise there were no bombs or flubs.

Bonus: we saw Christina perform, in a Fosse-style-outfit no less, “How I Feel” with Flo Rida. With all that jazzy choreography and hair-melting lighting, their performance kinda felt awards show-esque — but not that kind of awards show. Don’t worry, I’ll get to a Miley Cyrus reference later on.

On with the live performances …

TEAM BLAKE: Shelbie Z.

Song: “Fancy” by Reba McEntire

Performance: Shelbie sets the bar high with her break-time extra-curriculars as she comes back… married! She also returns with a country flavor change — she tells Blake she wants to become an alt-country artist. In rehearsal and onstage, Shelbie is the picture of self-actualization and utter confidence. What did she do during that hiatus between knockout rounds and the live show? Whatever it is, is it available on Amazon Prime? For some reason, I always have a hard time understanding what’s being articulated in country music — I get lost in the drawls and twangs and micro-storytelling — but from Shelbie’s performance, I did manage to understand how predictably good she is.

Feedback: All the coaches are mesmerized by Shelbie’s commanding stage presence. “I love your growls, and just when you get on that stage, you deliver,” says Christina. Adam, sporting slicked, parted hair (I’m enjoying this sexy-mobster look), says, “We have no choice but to just praise you.” And Blake is a blubbering mess, comparing his reaction to that of a comatose man waking up to find a superstar. “Oh gosh, thanks for making me smart, even if I am in a coma,” he said.

TEAM ADAM: James Wolpert

The song: “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell

The performance: Anyone else think that The Voice is worse than the nightly newscast at desensitizing you to tragic stories? Definitely feeling some sob story fatigue by now. We get it: James, a four-chair-turn, once dropped out of school and worked at an Apple store. In rehearsals, Adam reminds him about last week’s technically flawed performance. “You didn’t do the best job,” says Adam before urging him to forget about it. Adam picks an interesting song that starts out soft and quiet and ends with James’ blowout vocals. We also see him on guitar for the first time. I enjoyed it, but I enjoy the louder, rockabilly parts of James’ voice rather than his higher registers.

The feedback: The coaches are somehow still experiencing cognitive dissonance over James’ nerdy-chic appearance versus his rock roots. “Dude, you can’t be a geek and be that awesome!” said Blake. (Um, hello, Seth Cohen?) Christina called his performance “heartwarming,” while Cee Lo complimented Adam’s song choice. Coach Adam looked like a beaming parent, calling James’ Joni rendition “so controlled and so elegant I could not be possibly more proud of you.”

NEXT: Laying it on Thicke

TEAM BLAKE: Nic Hawk

The song: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, feat. Pharrell and T.I.

The performance: My first reaction from just hearing the song choice? Oh dear. My first reaction after watching Nic perform it? Oh dear. For Blake to pick a song that was so recently tainted by agent provocateur Miley Cyrus, is a bold move. It reeks of the confidence Blake must have in Nic to be able to transform that song into something else entirely. And boy did he — Nic sang the verses, the falsetto, even rapped T.I.’s part, and also danced up a storm, incorporating some interesting ventriloquist motions during the beginning, and making a dance pit-stop with some back-up dancers, all while covering every inch of the Voice stage like it was an X-Games BMX challenge requirement. Phew, do you want some orange Gatorade? But back to the singing — while I will commend Nic’s amazing upper respiratory fitness and ability to juggle multiple singing parts, I found his rendition a bit… creaky. The range of the song exposed his pitchier tendencies, and it was not pleasant to listen to at times.

The feedback: The judges loved Nic. Christina was impressed by his versatility and energy. Cee Lo praised his “natural rhythm.” Adam regretted giving him up, but conceded to Nic’s stage presence: “How can anyone watch Nic perform and not be entertained?” And Blake was virtually speechless. “Oh-em-gee,” he said.

TEAM BLAKE: Ray Boudreaux

The song: “Home” by Marc Broussard

The performance: Oh sweet, single-dad, Ray. If there was a contestant who actually looked better after the umpteenth sob story intro, it’s you. How could you not swoon after watching Ray and his preternaturally loud daughter make bologna and cheese sandwiches together? Never mind the nitrates! It’s the thought and his soulful voice that counts. Also, I’m totally not biased, but Ray had the best Voice lighting tonight too, for what that’s worth. Oh right, the actual singing — not my favorite Ray showing, but it was consistent, bluesy “swamp pop” (as he put it earlier).

The feedback: The judges continued with their shower of positivity. Though largely encouraging, their comments were pretty vague. “That was the most connected I think I’ve seen you,” said Christina. Blake praised his mission to spread the gospel of swamp pop. If this were a church, I’d guarantee you there’d be a congregration full of ladies fanning themselves.

TEAM BLAKE: Austin Jenckes

The song: “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes

The performance: Has Austin ever delivered a not-near-perfect performance? Or not displayed his vocal muscularity? Tonight was more of the same, which means he sang really, really well. In his case, I’m getting desensitized to his consistency. Just once, I’d like to hear him sing a super-fragile, lace-thin song like a children’s lullaby or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” just to see how his booming voice would handle it.

The feedback: The coaches universally extol him. But perhaps the deluge of encouragement is driving a few coaches bonkers? For instance, Cee Lo said “Everybody’s great on this show!” before we had seen the other five contestants. Adam complimented Blake’s song choice and, upon learning that Austin rides scooters, attempted to set him up on a motorcycle date with Carson. Blake complimented Austin’s emotional vulnerability: “Your heart just lays out on that stage, and I appreciate that.”

TEAM ADAM: Grey

The song: “Still Into You” by Paramore

The performance: Adam’s strategy is to ween Grey off the wedding singer circuit and veer more towards rock and roll. But with this Paramore tune, I’m not sure Grey accomplished that. Her rendition lacked the poppy punch and punky spirit of the original. She still kind of sang it as a wedding singer would, pretty and showcase-y — which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also not necessarily interesting.

The feedback: Blake revealed that he had plotted to steal Grey, calling her “awesome.” Cee Lo’s usual metaphor-filled commentary was boiled down to a terse and joyless, “I enjoyed it.” Adam said he “couldn’t be prouder.”

NEXT: Adam compares a singer to a dollar store toy

TEAM ADAM: Will Champlin

The song: “Secrets” by OneRepublic

The performance: Champlin is an unpredictable one. Not quite a live wire, but a surprising performer. He plays the piano on this performance and manages to make one of the most overplayed songs of 2010 almost unrecognizable. He slows down the tempo and infuses it with lilting soulfulness, and I liked it!

The feedback: Adam compared his bouncing around the competition (he was stolen twice) to that of a yo-yo. Adam praised Will’s rendition, calling it “the performance of your life.”

TEAM ADAM: Preston Pohl

The song: “Nothin’ On You” by B.o.B feat. Bruno Mars

The performance: This wasn’t Adam’s best song choice. Preston is undoubtedly talented, but his smokestack power is misused with Bruno Mars’ super-mellifluous chorus. It sounded jarring and a bit forced.

The feedback: Nonetheless, the coaches were all over that Preston magic. Christina called his voice “an old soul within itself.” Blake called him just “studly.” “No one sounds like Preston,” said Adam. “You can’t coach that.”

TEAM BLAKE: Cole Vosbury

The song: “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart

The performance: I think this is the first time I feel like I can really hear Cole’s voice. And it’s quite sweet and achy and scented with heartbreak. I know his thing is more folk rock and bluesy, but I appreciated hearing this softer side.

The feedback: I’m with Christina in that I’m surprised Cole was a single-chair turn!

And the final performance…

TEAM ADAM: Tessanne Chin

The song: “Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff

The performance: Tessanne probably covered the least ground on the Voice stage and likely spent zero thought on choreography and not one second thinking about stage blocking, and it’s clear why — all she needs to do to impress America is to sing. I dare say, this was close to Whitney Houston proportions, in terms of technicality and sheer emotional connection. Girl can sang.

The feedback: All you had to do was take a look at the judges faces, especially Adam, who looked choked up or in pain or just deeply moved. Even Cee Lo seemed revived, chiming in with his signature slightly dirty/but totally complimentary thought: “You made me feel things.”

What about you? What were your thoughts on the performances? Whose iTunes song did you purchase? Sound off in the comments!

Voice fans: Stick with EW this week as we give you the chance to pick each of the finalists’ official photos after the Top 12 are revealed on Thursday. Your favorite pictures will be featured on NBC.com! Stay tuned…

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