Welcome to our coverage of the two-night Knockout Round event for “The Voice”. I describe it as an “event” rather than “a quick and dirty way for the show to shrink the still enormous number of contestants left on the show” because I’m a nice guy. As this is the first iteration of this phase in the history of the show, we’ll have to feel things out as we go tonight and tomorrow. From what it seemed in last week’s preview, each coach will pick two singers from his or her respective teams to face off in head-to-head competition. Each contestant will choose a song to perform individually, and the coach will pick a winner.
 
We have twenty of these knockouts to get through over four hours, which means either a series of no-frills, lean-and-mean contests or a combination of lengthy rounds coupled with quick montages. Either way, there are a lot of decisions for Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, and CeeLo Green to make over the next two nights. I’ll try to make this recap as clean as possible, covering each pairing as a whole rather than maintaining a minute-by-minute running diary. I’m sure those will return once we get to the live shows starting next week, but even if this experiment fails, it’ll all be over in 24 hours anyways. Tonight, “The Voice” is focusing on Team Adam and Team CeeLo.
 
(I’ll note up front that I’m covering this from Boston, where Hurricane Sandy is currently pounding down. There might be times in which local coverage trumps the show itself. I’ll do my best.)
 
The Team: Team Adam
 
The Pairing: Joselyn Rivera versus Kayla Nevarez
 
The Songs: “Love On Top”, Beyonce; “Shark In The Water”, V V Brown
 
The Head-to-Head: “Joselyn is an astonishing singer,” says Levine, happy to have her on the team after stealing her in the Battle Rounds. With Nevarez, he points out certain phrases for her to accentuate during the performance during their one-on-ones. And…that’s it for the rehearsal footage. Wow, talk about a short segment. I guess the show is emphasizing performances over rehearsals. If that means we see every performance, then rock on.
 
Rivera leads things off in front of the live audience. She has an effervescent personality that helps her command the stage. She doesn’t try to out-Beyonce Beyonce, which works in her favor. Nevarez has a great voice, but the production seems to augment her performance with backing vocals. Strange choice there. From a total package perspective, this feels like a clear win for Joseyln. That’s not a knock on Nevarez so much as praise for Rivera.
 
Shelton throws his weight behind Rivera due to the chances she took with her performance. Aguilera and Brown also vouch for Rivera. Levine praises the ambition of Rivera’s choice as well. I think we can see where this is going, even if Levine bestows both with equal praise.
 
The Winner: Joselyn Rivera
 
***
 
The Team: Team Adam
 
The Pairing: Joe Kirkland versus Bryan Keith
 
The Songs: “Mean”, Taylor Swift; “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”, Bryan Adams
 
The Head-to-Head: Kirkland’s choice surprises Levine, since it’s out of his wheelhouse. But Kirkland wants to demonstrate range at this phase of the game. I want to hurt Keith for choosing this song, since I had successfully forgotten it existed. But he still might do something special with this all the same.
 
Kirkland leads things off with his Swift cover, and once again, BACKING VOCALS! Are you kidding me? Kirkland doesn’t need it. More importantly, Levine needs to hear Joe succeed or fall based on his own merits. From what I can hear through the muddled mix, he gives the track his own spin. Keith’s choice requires basically going through the song at double time, skipping over the ballad’s natural pace and making the whole performance slightly shaky. Before hearing both, I would have heavily favored Keith. Now? I’m really, really not sure he’ll continue.
 
Aguilera praises Keith’s vocal talent, while Green praises his working-class hero persona. Levine says that Keith didn’t really start impressing him until halfway through the performance. But it seems like half a Bryan Keith performance is better than a full Joe Kirkland performance. Given the season as a whole, this decision makes sense. As the result of this one-on-one competition, it’s semi-ludicrous.
 
The Winner: Bryan Keith
 
***
 
The Team: Team Adam
 
The Pairing: Amanda Brown versus Michelle Brooks-Thompson
 
The Songs: “Paris (Ooh La La”, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals; “Spotlight”, Jennifer Hudson
 
The Head-to-Head: Levine’s strategy tonight is clear: “I have two similar artists, and I only want to carry one through to the live shows.” So he’s accentuating musical diversity above all heading into the next phase. It’s not the worst strategy. But it’s certainly one that might cause him grief should two knock-out talents knock each other out now rather than later.
 
Brown kills her rehearsal, showing a rock side that hasn’t been evident thus far. Levine implores her to control her excitement when it comes time to perform in front of the crowd. During Brooks-Thompson’s rehearsal, he tells her to make a moment that will make her stand out in this competition. It’s a good point: she was part of a Battle Round montage, whereas Brown delivered one of the (if not THE) signature battles alongside Trevin Hunte. That’s…not a good sign.
 
I’m a total Amanda Brown homer, and as with many artists tonight, she brings a new weapon into her overall musical arsenal to employ later down the line. She’s a straight up star, someone who doesn’t need to win “The Voice” to have a career in the music industry once this is all over. Brooks-Thompson doesn’t back down, however, delivering a very impressive vocal for her own part. I don’t know the original song terribly well, so I can’t compare this performance to the original. But I will say that I’m mad that I hadn’t heard this song in its entirety until tonight. That’s how much I enjoyed this rendition. My head says this is actually a really tough decision, but reality TV logic says Brown isn’t going anywhere until the last few episodes.
 
Aguilera calls it a “singer’s battle”, praising both. Shelton gives the slight edge to Brooks-Thompson, as does Green. For Levine, it comes down to which artist he could coach more effectively over the long haul. The winner perhaps felt like an upset in the crowd, but felt like the inevitable choice on this side of the screen. But remember what I said about Levine’s strategy earlier? It’s silly that these two had to go head-to-head now, since both would have been commendable choices for the Final Five on Team Adam.
 
The Winner: Amanda Brown
 
***
 
The Team: Team Adam
 
The Pairing: Loren Allred versus Nicole Nelson
 
The Songs: “You Know I’m No Good”, Amy Winehouse; “If I Ain’t Got You”, Alicia Keys
 
The Head-to-Head: Here’s a slight shift, with Levine pitting experience versus raw talent. Allred’s choice is meant to expand her range, but it’s perhaps a choice that tries to push her range too far. Levine all but says, “This was a poor choice,” after her initial run-through in rehearsal. Practice alone isn’t going to help Allred tap into the darkness of that song. Levine enjoys Nelson’s take more, but coaches her on nailing the sing-along part more effectively in front of a crowd. Still, this feels like a slaughter in the making already.
 
Well, color me shocked: Allred’s attitude has done a 180 from rehearsal. It helps that she looks like Dusty Springfield in that dress/hair combo. Also helping? Allred’s soaring take on the chorus, which goes well beyond the original track. That approach seems to shock the hell out of Levine, and in a good way. I’m shocked as well. With Nelson, I’m not shocked, just consistently impressed with her output this season. It’s a hard, hard song, calling for moments of power and fragility in equal mix. But damnit if she didn’t hit nearly every one.
 
Shelton says that Allred, “…just became what we’re looking for on this show.” (Indeed, she had that “moment” that Levine asked Brooks-Thompson to create earlier.) Aguilera is equally stunned. “Where’s my steal button? I’m mad now!” Meanwhile, Green likens Nelson’s voice to “a mother’s love”. While Levine has had nothing but praise for Nelson since Day One, he’s so shocked by Allred’s performance that he’s stymied. “I think you can both win it,” he says. “The thought of letting one of you go kills me.” In the end, the one time Levine doesn’t opt for pitting two similar artists against one another forces the hardest decision of the night. In other words, feel free to ignore my bold predictions about strategy. It’s probably in your best interest.
 
It’s a tough decision, and one that I’m not sure will prove wise. But it seems like Levine just discovered a new talent he didn’t even know was on his team, and wants to see how she can thrive.
 
The Winner: Lauren Allred
 
***
 
The Team: Team Adam
 
The Pairing: Melanie Martinez versus Sam James
 
The Songs: “Bulletproof”, La Roux; “Walking In Memphis,” Marc Cohn
 
The Head-to-Head: Martinez tries to capture the lighting in the bottle that was her audition song (Britney Spears’ “Toxic”), but it fails to move Levine. He basically asks her to scrap the entire arrangement and start from scratch. For some reason, James picks a song that has a word in the title he can’t pronounce. (He says “Mem-pheese”, much to the unfortunate delight of Levine.)
 
Martinez has a voice that sounds like no other competitor on the show. That’s been true since her first performance, and that fact hasn’t changed since. What’s unclear is just how wide her range truly is. We’ve seen her give the essentially same performance three times now. Since so many others have sought to stretch out tonight, I wonder if this will work against her. Then again, James isn’t exactly rewriting his own script here, either. There’s no reason for these two to compete against each other, really. Neither are going to win the whole thing, so why not push someone like Michelle Brooks-Thompson through instead if possible? I’ll predict Martinez as the winner, since the show loves having a Dia Frampton-esque singer around for as long as possible.
 
Aguilera thinks Martinez has a vocal quality like no other, whereas Shelton favors James. Levine notes Martinez’s nerves, but also knocks James’ inability to break free from his niche. Let’s not belabor the point, since Levine certainly doesn’t.
 
The Winner: Melanie Martinez
 
***
 
The Team: Team CeeLo
 
The Pairing: Avery Wilson versus Cody Belew
 
The Songs: “I Want To See You Tonight”, Chris Brown; “Jolene”, Dolly Parton
 
The Head-to-Head: Green thinks both are great entertainers, but he’s looking for “the complete package”. Wilson’s song choice is curious, since it potentially alienates female viewers that could ultimately decide his fate if he wins in the knockout round. Wilson’s dancing produces a breathy performance that might undo him come competition time. As for Belew, Green appreciates the “unique” choice, but stresses that uniqueness alone won’t win this round for him. (Strange, since that’s essentially been the key factor in every Green decision thus far this season.)
 
Wilson’s performance feels like it would be at home on either “American Idol” or “The X Factor”. That’s the best way I can describe it. I’m not sure that’s a negative, but it’s showy in a way that in contrasts with the performances thus far tonight. We’ve heard soul, we’ve heard country, but we haven’t seen a song-and-dance man thus far. Belew’s performance is more in line with what we’ve heard thus far. That shouldn’t mean he wins, automatically, but Wilson’s performance helped identify why “The Voice” stands out from its singing competition brethren at the present moment. Annoying backing vocals aside, tonight’s Knockout Rounds have done a good job letting the artists feel like individuals, not chum in the product-placement waters.
 
Levine praises Belew for standing out at the right moment, a sentiment shared by Shelton and Aguilera. All coaches seem to be taking the name of the show to heart, which gives me heart. Wilson has talent to spare, but this isn’t the show for him.
 
The Winner: Cody Belew
 
***
 
The Team: Team CeeLo
 
The Pairing: MacKenzie Bourg versus Daniel Rosa
 
The Songs: “Call Me Maybe”, Carly Rae Jepsen; “Back To December”, Taylor Swift
 
The Head-to-Head: Huh. What an odd pairing. Also odd? It’s clear someone wrote Green’s overdubs for him. Green (or more accurately, “some copywriter”) emphasizes that both are emotional singers that need to connect with the audience before moving onto the live shows.
 
Bourg hopes his spin on the ubiquitous song will propel him forward. Green seems less sure, but urges Bourg to follow his heart. On the other hand, Rosa’s approach is dubbed “simple” by Green. Ouch. Green urges Rosa to close his eyes and lose himself in the song. Rosa is a great story, but he’s not a particularly strong contestant.
 
With a guitar in front of him, Bourg is once again the singer that we met in the audition. He’s not someone that I would place big money on winning the show. But the fact that he plays an instrument does help make him stand out on this show. (That and the fact that he looks like Harry Potter/Justin Bieber, as pointed out during the auditions.) While Rosa’s audition was dire, his performance in front of the crowd has a fragility that works in his favor. Why? Everyone just wants to hug this guy! Hell, I wanna hug him, and I want him off the show! I’m so confused.
 
Levine calls Rosa’s performance “engaging”, and…I can’t disagree. Shelton says that it took an “artist” to do what Bourg did, giving MacKenzie the nod. Aguilera states that Bourg “owned” his performance, and casts her lot in for him. Green says both did Team CeeLo proud. He states that Bourg made the connection with the crowd that he was looking for tonight, while stressing this wasn’t Rosa’s best performance to date. Aw, man. Now I’m sad. Almost like he anticipated my reaction, Rosa tells the audience not to feel sad for him. Well, shucks. Screw you, “The Voice”. I’ll feel sad if I wanna.
 
The Winner: MacKenzie Bourg
 
***
 
The Team: Team CeeLo
 
The Pairing: Terisa Griffin versus Trevin Hunte
 
The Songs: “Saving All My Love For You”, Whitney Houston; “Against All Odds”, Phil Collins
 
The Head-to-Head: “I’ve looked up to her like a mother,” says Hunte about Griffin. I would have loved to see any footage that backed that statement up, since that’s the type of human drama that can elevate competitions like this. Oh well. Griffin’s choice is solid, but c’mon: Hunte’s track is perfect for him, assuming he can actually deliver the message he wants to send to his former teacher without breaking down mid-song.
 
When it comes time for the competition, Griffin hits the high nights effortlessly. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t get goosebumps upon hearing them for the first time while she performed in front of the crowd. She’s so good that Hunte’s visibly sweating onstage behind her. But let’s be honest: this is Hunte’s competition to lose. When he hits the chorus of “Against All Odds”, it’s just so unbelievably powerful that it’s a little hard to believe it’s real. Green actually tears up after Hunte finishes. Here’s another case where both deserve to head into the live shows over someone like Bourg, but those are the breaks.
 
Aguilera emphasizes that she wishes she could co-coach Hunte alongside Green. “That’s how much I believe in you,” she says. Green says that he hears “the grace of God” inside of Hunte’s voice, even while wishing his 18-year old phenom had done more with the end of the song to truly separate himself from Griffin. But it’s not as if that shortcoming will do him in tonight.
 
But what’s truly amazing? Griffin’s words after she loses. “This isn’t bittersweet. This is sweet. Because I got to mentor and lose to my baby Trevin.” Afterwards, Hunte cries backstage because he’s so sad about her departure. She tells him to be strong and win the whole competition. As powerful as this is, imagine how much more impactful this would be had we known about this kinship before ten minutes ago?
 
The Winner: Trevin Hunte
 
***
 
The Team: Team CeeLo
 
The Pairing: Nicholas David versus Mycle Wastman
 
The Songs: “Put Your Records On”, Corinne Bailey Rae; “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, Elton John
 
The Head-to-Head: It’s the battle of the white soul artists! Green makes sure David thinks about breath control, a nerves-based problem for David as the stakes raise with each round. Green then urges Wastman to take a “fierce” approach to the tune, rather than simply inhabit it.
 
Wastman starts off a little wobbly, a victim of too many vocal runs and an arrangement that skips key transitions towards the chorus. (Note to future Knockout Round contestants: don’t choose epic ballads that organically build over time.) He attacks the song as instructed, but it never feels completely natural. David might not have the stage presence to win the whole thing, but Lord in heaven I’d buy all of his records. He sounds so consistently excellent that I can see him going deep into the competition, even threatening Hunte before all is said and done on Team CeeLo.
 
Shelton calls Green/David a “dream team”. Aguilera enjoyed David’s vocals, but preferred Wastman’s overall performance. Green calls Watman’s voice a “breath of fresh air”, but there’s little drama to Green’s decision here.
 
The Winner: Nicholas Davis
 
***
 
 
The Team: Team CeeLo
 
The Pairing: Diego Val versus Caitlin Michele
 
The Songs: “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”, Lenny Kravitz; “Bring Me To Life”, Evanescence
 
The Head-to-Head: Green’s advice to Val? “Flaunt that sh$t.” Well, alrighty then. Michele flubs the end of her rehearsal, which worries her since that’s the first (and maybe only?) time the two will ever work together.
 
Michele goes first in the final knockout of the night. She’s ethereal, but almost invisible onstage, with the stage lights trying to excite the crowd in a way she seemingly can’t. Her last note is impressive, but will it overcome the rest? Val, who probably shouldn’t have made it through the Battle Rounds, commands the stage now that he’s back in a more comfortable song. He’s a showman more than a vocalist, but it should be enough to push him through comfortably tonight.
 
Levine gives props to his former team member Michele. Aguilera also enjoyed it, but felt that she ran the risk of seeming too similar to an existing artist. Green doesn’t seem particularly pleased with either of them. That one of them moves on while Teresa Griffin goes home can’t sit well with anyone watching. It’s hard to imagine why the producers of this show thought this the best head-to-head to end the show. It’s kind of mind-boggling.
 
The Winner: Diego Val
 
***
 
Updated live round rosters below…
 
Team Adam: Bryan Keith, Amanda Brown, Melanie Martinez, Joselyn Rivera, Loren Allred
Team CeeLo: Cody Belew, MacKenzie Bourg, Nicholas David, Trevin Hunte, Diego Val
Team Christina: TBA
Team Blake: TBA
 
What did you think about the first Knockout Round show? Too similar to the Battle Rounds, or a good edition to the program? Does Team Adam or Team CeeLo currently have the best squad? Which decisions tonight left you dumfounded? Sound off below!