New artists stand out in day five of the blinds; Shakira plays some smart cards, while Usher, Adam and Blake giggle like schoolboys at recess

By Marc Snetiker
Updated April 14, 2015 at 06:28 PM EDT

Did I totally underestimate Shakira? I’m thinking that maybe — just maybe — I haven’t given her her proper due, given that the lady made some pretty smart power plays in tonight’s episode, the fifth round of blind auditions for season six. Sure, Shakira sometimes makes no sense in her critiques, and sure, some of her contestant pitches involving her social media followers can be especially head-scratching and aimless, but tonight, Shakira demonstrated that she’s got wiles — and she knows when to use them (see: Cierra, Ddendyl, not to be confused with a dirndl). It doesn’t help matters that the boys have devolved into school kids goofing off near the jungle gym, leaving Shakira to be queen of the playground.

Tonight’s blinds were a pleasant enough pick-up from the ennui of the season so far, but fortunately for us, the auditions are drawing to an end in the very near future, so the less-than-stellar talent of this season will be quickly eliminated from memory. Before we begin, Usher and Shakira are both rocking nine team members, Blake and Adam are keeping their options open at seven. By the end of the episode, there’s not much room left.

In addition to my Shakira epiphany, I realized a few other things tonight:

1. Everyone I really like ends up getting zero chairs.

2. I really loved the song “Cups (When I’m Gone).”

3. I hate when other people sing “Cups (When I’m Gone).”

4. The only duo Blake Shelton can think of is Siskel and Ebert.

5. I am a sucker for contestants with kids.

6. After I complained last week, it seems my prayers were heard: Unnecessary sob stories appeared to be completely gone from tonight’s episode, for the most part. It was noticeably cheerier, and I don’t think for one second that those overly emotional backstories were missed by viewers.

With that, let’s get to tonight’s blinds.

Kat Perkins, 33, Minneapolis, MN

Backstory: Five years as a yodeling cowgirl in a countrywestern revue; singer of a band called Scarlet Haze, formed with drummer ex-husband; now, nanny

Let’s Ignore: The fact that Kat makes her kids sing “What Does The Fox Say?”

Endorsement From Nameless Child: “She’s the coolest rockin’ nanny because every time we turn on music, she’s always the star.”

Song: “Gold Dust Woman” – Fleetwood Mac

It’s interesting that Kat’s pre-tape suggested she wanted to ditch country and sing rock — and singing Fleetwood Mac should have helped — but Usher immediately recognized her as a country singer (sorry Usher, you’ve removed yourself from her consideration). Shakira begins to talk about her past accomplishments, a surefire way to tell a potential artist “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” so she’s out too. Adam suggests that Kat was a rock singer, which makes her smile like she’s in a toothpaste ad, so of course she picks Team Adam, which is absolutely the right decision.

Potential-o-Meter: 7 — I didn’t think she was that memorable, to be honest.

Shakira Says: “I’d like for you to be the architect of your own destiny.”

NEXT: Soccer star, hospital worker, and a SUPER rebellious dancer

Gabi Ramirez, 25, Fresno, CA

Backstory: Soccer star turned kitchen appliance salesman/street busker

Song: “The A Team” – Ed Sheeran

I can ignore Gabi’s awful shirt and Violet Parr haircut because I really appreciated his tone. Ed Sheeran songs can sound so pretentious when someone other than Ed Sheeran sings them (unless you’re this beauty). Unfortunately, Gabi’s problem wasn’t sounding overly emotive—it was sounding utterly bland. He didn’t really do anything with the song to make you wish you weren’t listening to Ed’s version. Oh, Ed. Ruining Voice contestant chances since 1991.

Sorry Gabi, You’ve Been: Socc-blocked

Paula Deanda, 24, San Antonio, TX

First Single: “Doing Too Much” at age 16

Opened for: Rihanna

Song: “The Way” – Ariana Grande

Come for the flowy pants, stay for the whistletones. Paula’s flageolet register is what spurs Blake and Shakira to turn around. Shakira immediately connects with Paula, calling out some of her issues but promising to help her improve them. Blake discusses the family he has that lives near where Paula lives, which is super interesting, Blake, which is apparently enough to convince Paula to pick Team Blake. It certainly feels like Shakira had more to offer her, but maybe that just means we’ll see a steal next week. If you win a contestant from a flimsy pitch, you’re likely to ditch him/her later on.

Potential-o-Meter: 6.5

Jake Barker, 28, St. Petersburg, FL

Eyes: Bluer than a Smurf in Ravenclaw

Backstory: Amateur singer turned YouTube singer turned bartender-singer

Biggest Hurdle: Crippling stage fright

Song: “When I Was Your Man” – Bruno Mars

Watch out, Christina Grimmie — we’ve got another YouTube “star” in the house, and he’s got gigantic hair and a hoodie-vest! Jake overcomes his stage fright for what he calls his first public performance, and he certainly nails it, offering a riff-heavy take on Bruno Mars. Usher spins, and then Adam and Shakira follow (though, surprisingly, they don’t turn immediately after the One Big Mid-Song Trill Jake Perfected In The Shower). The dude is totally elated that three judges turned, grinning like a child with a Lunchable. All three actually make compelling, non-bantery cases, but Jake makes a solid decision going with Team Usher.

Potential-o-Meter: 8 — You can tell Usher adores him and will likely bring him to the live rounds if he delivers in the battles.

Luke Cooper, 27, DeQuincy, LA

Heartwarming Backstory: Former addict who changed his life and left his band for his newborn son!!!

And He: Does good work at a hospital!

Song: “Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons

Boy oh boy, if I’ve ever been disappointed by someone not getting any chairs to turn this season, it’s Luke Cooper. He seems like an all-around fantastic, put-together guy, and he’s super cute in a weird, tattooed nurse kind of way. Unfortunately his voice had a bit of that Matthew-McConaughey-Eating-Peanut-Butter lip-smack to it, and nobody turned. Luke looked like he took the criticism well, but he likely won’t return since he claimed this would be his “last hurrah” in music. Oh well. Goodbye Luke. I’ll see you next time I go to DeQuincy, which I imagine has a really kick-ass Dairy Queen.

You’re a Monster If: You didn’t get misty when he tearfully sees his son in the holding room.

Ria Eaton, 19, Billerica, MA

Backstory: Former dancer who went against her family’s wishes to become (gasp!) a singer

High Stakes: If the chairs don’t turn, she’ll continue being an ear-piercer at the mall.

Song: “Cups (When I’m Gone)” – Anna Kendrick (right?)

Do people like Ria? Am I alone in my distaste for her? I didn’t really care for either her voice or overall persona. I can’t ignore Ria’s weird cerebral charm headband thing, nor can I get past the smile wherein she just knows how much you loved listening to “Cups” last summer. The real highlight here is Adam and Usher teaming up to help Shakira score Ria, while poor Blake is left to fend for himself (I felt bad for Blake for a hot minute before he made a SISKEL AND EBERT reference, as if that was legitimately the first duo he could think of, as if Adam and Usher pumping up a crowd is equitable to two kindly gentlemen reviewing movies on a Sunday afternoon). Ria ignores everyone else, thankfully, and chooses Team Blake, and I’m immediately reminded of season two’s RaeLynn. Uh oh.

Potential-o-Meter: 5.5 — I will not miss you when you’re go-o-one.

NEXT: Someone is actually from Alaska

Cierra Mickens, 23, Eagle River, AK

Backstory: Administrative assistant to her adorable chaplain dad Wilbert

High Stakes: If the chairs don’t turn, she’ll go to law school

Song: “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley

I knew I liked Cierra from her pre-tape alone, but I knew I loved her from her first phrase because this girl can SING. What a knockout. Blake, Usher and Shakira turn, and while Blake and Usher bicker about “technical fouls,” Shakira takes it upon herself to approach Cierra on the stage and connect immediately with her, telling Cierra how much she believes in her and establishing an intimate bond. That was a wise move from Shakira, and here’s why: Cierra’s got a voice with real Voice potential, and I’ll choose to believe that Shakira recognized that early on and leapt to her feet to get a head start on a truly great singer. I’ll also choose to believe that the shared moment paid off and is the reason Cierra goes with Team Shakira in the long run.

Potential-o-Meter: 9

Tyler “Mgummy” Montgomery, 24, Dexter, MO

Especially Sad Backstory: Turned to music after watching his father burn to death in a tragic farmhouse fire

Self-Described: “Country boy”

Actually Is: Raspy, high-voiced soul singer

Song: “I Wish” – Stevie Wonder

Poor little Tyler! I don’t have much to say except that. He came, he saw, he sounded like a woman. And so it goes, and so it goes.

Alaska & Madi, Tulsa, OK

Backstory: Met at age 12 in a singing group competition called American Kids (which Blake won!)

High Stakes: If they don’t turn a chair, Madi’s going to college for jazz studies while Alaska is going to go home and figure out her life

Song: “Barton Hollow” – The Civil Wars

Yes, her name is Alaska, and yes, you have to accept it, because Adam turned around pretty quickly for this country-fried duo. Alaska actually looks the country part, while Madi sort of looks like she’s going to some sort of western-themed sorority philanthropy that requires cyan ankle boots. Blake looked a little reluctant to turn, but he gave them the coveted Pistol Annies comparison, which really sets the girls off. Come on, there was never any doubt that they’d pick Team Blake if he turned around. Adam’s mad.

Potential-o-Meter: 5 – The duos are usually the first to go

Adam Says: “They might as well have been his little cousins or something.”

Ddendyl, 25, Washington, DC

Yes, That’s: Ddendyl

Backstory: Eccentric musician father, adorable polka dot dress

Song: “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

Holy crap, Ddendyl is talented. And gorgeous. And just an overall damn cool girl. Yes, her name looks like Siri is drunk, but she’s actually very endearing. Shakira’s quick to recognize the uniqueness of her voice (which is really fun to listen to), and I can guarantee that if Blake and Adam could see her, they’d turn their chairs much faster. I liked Shakira’s use of the word “airy” to describe Ddendyl’s voice. It’s just Team Shakira who scores her, which proves yet again that I have underestimated Shakira (or that her worst moments were edited into the first few blind audition episodes).

Potential-o-Meter: 8 – Get it, Ddendyl

Josh Kaufman, 38, Indianapolis, IN

Backstory: Father and husband, working musician, standardized test tutor

Song: “One More Try” – George Michael

It takes just five words for Adam to recognize the potential of Josh’s voice. It takes about 15 for Blake. Shakira waits unusually long (by Shakira standards) but she turns as well, and Usher “Holdout” Raymond waits even longer. But boom, all four turn, and it’s an all-out philosophical brawl for this quasi-hipster fella. Josh wisely opts to go with Team Adam — their styles match up nicely, and Adam always seems to be the choosiest (he even says Josh could win the whole thing).

Potential-o-Meter: 9 – I spy big things for J-Kauf.

What’d you think of episode five? Big improvement from last week, no?