The live rounds begin as the Top 12 give their best performances—well, most of the Top 12.

By Marc Snetiker
Updated April 14, 2015 at 06:11 PM EDT

The Voice

S6 E17
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Adam’s cute polo! That awful #VoiceTailgate hashtag! Every coach being super nice to the contestants!

Welcome to the live rounds, home of random nonsense and contestants saying “I love you” to their coaches, all of which should make these next six weeks an interesting viewing experience. With just 12 singers left in our competition, we’ll be ditching two per week, until just one beautiful singer wins The Voice and goes on to great fame mega success a lucrative recording career sing on next year’s season finale.

Also, this happened:

Bria Kelly (Team Usher)

The night begins with Bria Kelly and that same old mahogany leather jacket she has insisted on wearing all season long. It’s only the second worst fashion foul of the night since Shakira has skinned a disco ball and turned it into a sweater, but nevertheless Bria’s fashion is much like her performances: as exciting as the Morton’s Salt girl with less than HALF the splashy jaunts. Maybe the problem with Bria is that she just doesn’t look like she’s having much fun on stage. Getting through the song seems to be the primary goal, but my God, the journey to the destination doesn’t have to be so awfully uninspired. Listening to Bria sing is like going on a road trip with absolutely no puzzles and only limited coloring books—you still get to the end but with no frills or fun to be had along the way.

Bria chooses to showcase the “soulful edge” in her voice by singing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” a familiar tune that made its rounds on the reality show circuit not too long ago and seems to be acceptable once again (much like pleats). It’s kosher for reinvention, and Bria—not wanting to do a “karaoke version”—does her best to rock it up. Admittedly, Bria’s interpretation sounds nothing like the original, which is a testament to the individuality of her voice. Bria’s loyalty seems to be split 50-50 down the Voice community, so this vote could go either way. (My please: could we not have seen Bria at least do her hair in a chirpy Adellian updo?)

From her voice, it’s easy to hear that Bria is relatively nervous to open the live shows, but hey, that’s showbiz, kid. Usher says, “You can’t be human!” and finally I feel like we have a real legitimate explanation for why Bria seems so out of place with the rest of the colorful competition. She is E.T. trying to hide in Elliott’s closet.

Shakira mentions that Adele is notoriously difficult but “if anyone can do it, it’s you.” UMMM. This is not true, Shakira. Like, actually every single person on this show (even Kat Perkins, probably) can sing “Rolling in the Deep.” So let’s leave the hyperbole to this recapper, please.

Delvin Choice (Team Adam)

For some reason, Delvin is still being called a “South Carolina barista with an unmistakable sound.” Enough with the barista thing! I used to be line leader in third grade but I’ve moved on to other defining titles. Delvin’s past life seems to be the most frequently referenced backstory this season, used to describe him far more often than Kat Perkins’ nannying or Tess Boyer’s law school or Kristen Merlin popping out from the littlest in a series of Russian nesting dolls.

Delvin is singing “Unchained Melody,” one of the greatest songs ever featured in the 1990 film Ghost. Adam wants him to sing like he’s dying, which is great advice in a really morbid way. Delvin doesn’t have a girlfriend, so instead he pulls inspiration from his mother and father, and it’s an endearing move that shows just the right amount of personality at this point in the competition. “Happy anniversary, mommy and daddy!” he squeals as his pre-package ends, and how could you NOT love him then?

As the performance begins, Delvin’s voice is fantastic as ever, because why wouldn’t it be? It’s Delvin. He’s made for Motown: The Musical. Delvin has gotten better and better each week, and since he already started out so strong at the onset of the season, it’s hard to see him slipping. Plus, Delvin’s parents are beyond adorable. Dad’s excited, mom is crying, and I’m eating it up like a calzone. Or was that Blake who said something about a calzone? I could have sworn…

Dani Moz (Team Shakira)

Most important news first: Dani has a background in musical theater. I tried to track down the video of her singing “Rose’s Turn” that I know must exist somewhere in the world, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of Dani’s time on the stage. Thus, it becomes my season-long mission to figure out what roles she played and when.

After a pretty stellar performance in last week’s playoffs, Dani has a big mission at hand: to continue the momentum she earned with “The Edge of Glory.” So, did she? Well, that depends whether you think that singing the sh-t out of a Pink song qualifies as continuing momentum. I happen to think she not only continued her hot streak, but launched her star into hyperdrive. She was that good—even if Pink is a tad overdone on these singing shows.

Dani nailed it and thereby established herself as more than just a fluke with one great performance. She could be a major dark horse here. (Unrelated, Christina Grimmie sang “Dark Horse,” but more on that later.)

Audra McLaughlin (Team Blake)

Poor Audra. I’m slightly embarrassed that there was a time when I thought Audra was a major frontrunner in this competition. In truth, I might have just been enamored with her name, as Audra McDonald is a Broadway mega-star and I figured by some measure of transitive property that someone named Audra McLaughlin would be a mega-star in her own right. Well, she comes close—her voice isn’t an atrocity, in fact it’s kind of lovely—but Audra’s existence on this mortal plane lacks any and all urgency.

Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” is handed to Audra, and, surrounded by Instagram photos, she looks like she might finally worm her way back into the competition again. She looks like she might. Looks.

It would have been nice if Audra sang lyrics, but unfortunately she missed that memo by a long shot. I’d be surprised if Audra actually said any word other than “angel,” since that’s the only thing I was able to hear correctly. I’m not sure how she came up with her twangy Enya thing, but it was definitely not what she needed to do tonight. She needed to, you know…sing words.

Blake, of course, is absolutely eating the performance up. Usher says it’s incredible. I decide that I’m no longer qualified to react to this competition (“Were you ever!?” — the bitchiest commenter) since we’re at a point where the coaches are going to love basically anything their singers touch. Blake says, “I know that you’ve been going to school to be a medical assistant. I just don’t think that’s what you’re going to be doing with your life.” Oh, Blake. If this country singer thing doesn’t work out, you have another career as a guidance counselor at some horrible school somewhere.

NEXT: Oh heyyyy, Sisaundra

TJ Wilkins (Team Usher)

If The Voice featured Mean Girls-style cafeteria seating, I would have to imagine that TJ would be forced to sit with Bria and Audra rather than Dani and Delvin. TJ’s on the bottom of the competition, to be sure, and tonight’s performance didn’t help him rise up to the cool kids’ table.

TJ says in his pre-package that he wants to be “rooted in R&B, but with a splash of rock, and pop, and jazz, you name it.” That’s a lot of splashes, dude, and certainly at least three too many. We already know TJ’s voice and style, and it’s interesting to hear it change from one week to another. No mention of soul this week?

The song tonight is “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer, another familiar reality competition favorite. TJ’s is a very happy performance, but much like his playoff song last week, there really doesn’t seem to be any growth happening anymore when it comes to TJ. TJ today is the same as TJ back when we first met him—wonderful, yes, but what is talent without evolution? This is an American Idol “Hollywood Week” performance, not a captivating live round entry that begs for votes.

Shakira says he’s extraordinary. Usher claims it’s an “incredible breakthrough moment” for TJ. I finish my bag of pita chips.

Christina Grimmie (Team Adam)

Blake has previously called Christina the best vocalist on Adam’s team, and Usher called her “baby Celine Dion.” This is high praise to meet, but Christina has done a swell job so far living up to the hype she’s created for herself. She’s already suffered from a little early-season slip-up by losing traction, but I think now that Christina has recovered, it’s smooth sailing from here on out, just like The Truman Show!

“Dark Horse” represents the artist she could be—kind of gnarly, spectacularly talented, a little edgy but still accessible to the Radio Disney crowd. Armed with the finest chestplate and leather short shorts in Westeros, Christina hits the stage and blows everyone who came before her out of the water. She doesn’t even need to hit the crazy-high high note that she does, but ever since she fell to the bottom, Christina has not failed to deliver on a sky-high promise of reclaiming her iron throne. Those insane notes just seal it.

Blake kind of misquotes things and says Christina is “proof that dynamite comes in small packages.” I’m not sure that’s an actual saying, but I’ll allow it since it’s exceedingly true for Christina.

Sisaundra Lewis (Team Blake)

Oh, my dear Sisaundra. What am I going to do with you? I thought you were incredible. Then I thought you were too incredible. And now I think you’re just regularly incredible again. Are you a frontrunner, or are you going to turn off America because you’re so disgustingly, disturbingly, American Horror Story: Sisaundra Lewisly talented that you make everyone else in the competition look like the crumbs at the bottom of the triumphant Cheez-It box that is YOU??

“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is supposed to be Blake’s attempt to get Sisaundra to “lay back” a little and show finesse, but after rehearsal, they both agree that it’s “too much.” So do they change a thing? Not one! Not only does Sisaundra not stay low-key, but she’s backed by the vocals of what sounds like a full gospel choir and dressed to impress with her Inspector Gadget chic.

I’ve finally come to realize that there is no winning this game with Sisaundra. I can’t wish humility on her when her problem is not arrogance. The Great Sisaundra Modesty Experiment is not a feasible trial because she will never NOT be an amazing performer. Will she get votes? Maybe, maybe not. I doubt she’ll win, but we should all be so lucky to hear her performances while she’s still on the show.

Kristen Merlin (Team Shakira)

Romeo and Juliet have had better luck than Kristen Merlin. I won’t harp on her being snubbed by the battle rounds twice, but Kristen’s treatment on this season of The Voice hit a new low tonight when her microphone went out during her performance. It certainly wasn’t planned by anyone—at least, I don’t think it was, unless our villain The Editor is once again back at the control—but I sure felt awful for Kristen. Her face at the end of the performance was just heartbreaking (even though part of her tears were owed to the overwhelmingly lovely audience response).

What can I say about her cover of Sugarland’s “Stay”? She’s such a gorgeous singer that it’ll be a shame if she doesn’t get the chance to stick around another week. But I’d like to think that, much like Adele Dazeem was the best thing to happen to Idina Menzel, this mic snafu is reason enough for Kristen to stay another week. She’ll get the pity vote (although her performance was strong enough that she should stay on her own merits) and then be back next week to prove why she’s better than some of the other duds this year.

Also, why did it take me this long to realize that she’s such an adorable little chicken nugget!?

NEXT: Ugh, heyyyy, Kat Perkins

Kat Perkins (Team Adam)

I’ve been very vocal about how uninterested I am in Kat, but even I have to take my imaginary hat off and admit that she’s never been better than tonight. The coaches say she’s a force (but so is inertia and nobody cares about inertia). I think she’s hard to stomach, but I will happily concede that her performance of Heart’s “Magic Man” was transcendent. TRANSCENDENT. (Unrelatedly, Johnny Depp’s Transcendence was a total bomb this weekend at the box office.)

Kat says that “Magic Man” is her favorite song, which means it’s likely one she cut her teeth on when she was younger. I have to believe that if you get the opportunity to sing your favorite song on national TV, it’s going to be your best performance, and luckily for everyone involved, it is. Tonight marked the most likeable Kat’s ever been, and the best she’s ever sounded. I genuinely can’t say whether I’ll enjoy her performance next week, but I give credit where it’s due, and this week she definitely delivered something worthy.

Big points go to Incredulous Blake (the best type of Blake): “She was a nanny!?”

Jake Worthington (Team Blake)

Story: My friend recently fostered a puppy which he named Scout. It kind of looked like Frances Conroy. In mere weeks, our entire friend group became enamored with Scout, buying him treats and showering him with love and pretending not to be disgusted with his horrific puppy farts. We allowed him into our lives and our hearts and let him seduce us with his big eyes and chubby cheeks. And then, Scout was adopted, and the removal of this innocent puppy from our daily existence was a painful reminder that all sweet lambs eventually get sacrificed.

And so it goes with Jake, the adorable country singer who, if he is ever eliminated from the competition, will serve up the most heartbreaking display of emotion on television since [something about Parenthood]. I don’t think Jake stands to be booted anytime soon, but I fear for the worst the more I fall in love with him and his tender honesty and sweet nothings and soothing vocals (this week to Travis Tritt’s “Anymore”). He needs to stop being so damn charming all the time if I’m ever going to be able to let him go without hurling myself off the back of the Titanic.

Tess Boyer (Team Shakira)

It’s nice to see Tess Boyer get a primo slot in a line-up that is almost always designed to save the best for last. Shakira commends Tess for being one of the best vocalists on the show, and they select Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You” in the hopes that it will bring out the “tough girl going through law school.” I don’t know if that necessarily came through in Tess’s performance—no, it most definitely did not—but it was still another solid chapter in the Book of Tess.

Tess really shines when she’s singing power-rock ballads, so I’d be interested to hear her try another genre for a change. Then again, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, and Christina Aguilera have built their careers on the power-rock ballad, so there’s no reason Tess can’t join their ranks and launch into her own lucrative career involving stage silks.

After Tess’s performance, Carson also reveals a quickie bit of news that some of you voters might find interesting: If an artist’s song makes it into the top ten on the iTunes singles chart by noon eastern tomorrow, the iTunes download numbers will be multiplied BY FIVE for the artist. This basically translates to, “The highest-selling artist doesn’t get eliminated,” which itself translates to, “Go spend money now.”

Josh Kaufman (Team Usher)

I laid on heaps of praise to Josh in the week since we last saw him, and tonight reminded me that it’s all deserved. The second I learned that he’d be singing “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, I knew we were in for another treat worthy of a place on the sturdy IKEA shelf that is Josh’s past performances.There was NO way this wasn’t going to be the most incredible song of the night. If you’ve heard the tune before, you know how beautiful it is, and how perfect it is for Josh’s voice. When Sam Smith performed it on SNL a few weeks ago, the heavens opened, and Josh is—in truth—actually a much better performer and singer than Sam Smith.

In a hilarious little bit of fun (sorely lacking in tonight’s episode), Usher makes Josh run around the room “to give [his] energy to the entire room.” I suppose that’s a good exercise, although I have to imagine that if Usher ever gave me a command like that, I’d be far less Josh Kaufman and far more Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect.

It’s also worth noting that Josh gets the best visual backing of the night, a super cool black-and-white rain set-up that almost makes it look like we’re watching a musical version of Sin City. Oh, if only.

Episode Recaps

So, that’s it. Tonight’s recap is, I’ll admit, light, but only because we’re at a weird crossroads right now and I’m anxious to see how America votes. Up until now I’ve only gone on my own opinions and our shared predictions in the comments, so tomorrow is truly the great equalizer. Will America share my love for people like Josh, Delvin, Jake, and Christina? Or will Bria Kelly return to unleash a greater evil on the world than we have ever known?

The Voice

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

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