Last night’s Knockout Rounds represented a TKO for “The Voice”. This new phase of competition emphasized performance over backstories, yielding ten total head-to-head battles over the course of a two-hour installment. That’s a lot of performances for a show that dragged out the auditions and Battle Rounds right up to the point of human endurance. Tonight, we do it all over again, this time carving Team Christina and Team Blake in half before heading into the live episodes next week. Adam Levine and CeeLo Green already have their teams, so they can sit back and make bland critiques tonight without the responsibility of anyone’s future directly in their hands.

As with last night, I’m forgoing a minute-by-minute recap in favor of treating each pairing as its own entity. Let’s get this singing party starting.

The Team: Team Christina 

The Pairing: Devyn DeLoera versus Laura Vivas 

The Songs: “I Have Nothing”, Whitney Houston; “I Need To Know”, Marc Anthony

The Head-to-Head: DeLoera picks her song to represent how she would view life without “The Voice”. Aguilera advises her to stay as still as possible and focus on the vocal. We didn’t see Vivas’ full audition or Battle Round, so learning about her love of Latin music helps us understand a little about her before her true introduction tonight. But that lack of screen time doesn’t give me hope that she’s long for this show.

DeLoera sings the living hell out of the Houston classic, surprising the male judges that weren’t privy to her rehearsal. While Aguilera advised DeLoera to stay still, dropping to her knees at the end of the song provided a dramatic touch to a strong vocal. Vivas possesses a fun growl in her voice, and has stage presence to spare. Breaking into Spanish in the second verse helps make this a memorable entry in the Knockout Round, but her emphasis on dancing over vocal technique will probably send her packing.

“Caliente!” coos Green to Vivas, calling it one of the best performances he’s seen this season. Shelton feels that DeLoera won the round by stepping confidently into Whitney’s shoes. Aguilera calls Devyn an “ambitious” vocalist while praising Vivas for coming out of her shell with her cover tonight. In the end, Christina feels one of the two can definitely benefit more from her coaching over the long haul. And that choice isn’t surprising in the least. Devyn earned this win, but Vivas’ AWOL presence to date on the show also predicted this outcome.

The Winner: Devyn DeLoera

***

The Team: Team Christina

The Pairing: Adriana Louise versus Celica Westbrook 

The Songs: “Already Gone”, Kelly Clarkson; “Never Say Never,” Justin Bieber

The Head-to-Head: Two pop singers enter, only one leaves! Adriana picks a ballad to show her range, but Aguilera feels she hews too closely to the original song during her rehearsal. Aguilera suggests that Louise let loose, and vocally demonstrates what she means. Xtina still has pipes, y’all. She also seems to hate Justin Bieber, given her face upon learning Westbrook’s choice. Westbrook wants a song that reflects her young age, but Aguilera wants to see more of her personality reflected in the performance. Christina gives the dreaded “some things only come with time” line, which is usually code for “we’re sending the younger person home”. 

Louise comes out singing for her life, something that’s been curiously missing from this round thus far. When it comes time to nail the part Aguilera coached, Louise passes the test with ease. Slam dunk right there. Compared with that, Westbrook’s choice and performance feel too tame by half. It’s a solid rendition of the tune, but simply doesn’t invite the audience in the way Louise’s performance did. 

Levine says that Louise has a classic “Team Christina voice”. Shelton feels both had pitchy but also redemptive moments in their performances. Aguilera praises Louise for conquering her nerves, and Westbrook for growing of their time together. But the end, experience (and that “Team Christina voice”) wins out.

The Winner: Adriana Louise

***

The Team: Team Christina

The Pairing: Alessandra Guercio versus Dez Duron

The Songs: “Take A Bow”, Rihanna; “Stuck On You”, Lionel Ritchie

The Head-to-Head: This is a battle of contrasting styles, according to Aguilera. I’m pulling for Guercio, given the dramatic and touching steal that led her to Team Christina. But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to actual vocal prowess tonight. Aguilera works on breath control with Duron during their rehearsal, as he tries to cram too much into each bar. This feels like a buzzsaw coming down the pipe, but after last night’s Loren Allred upset, anything is possible.

When it comes time to perform in front of the crowd, Guercio justifies the steal with a performance that’s both controlled yet showing plenty of the rasp that drew Aguilera to her in the first place. Duron feels like he’s fighting the song more than working within it. For all the ballads to show off this side of repertoire, why did he pick this one? 

Given the growth he’s seen of her over the course of the show, Levine gives the nod to Guercio. Neither Green nor Shelton have much in the way of helpful criticism for Aguilera. Aguilera is torn by the choice, hearing runs in Duron’s performance that I simply didn’t hear myself. That doesn’t mean she’s wrong, but it does mean that she and I saw two very different performances there. Color me shocked and slightly annoyed. That  not only felt like the wrong choice, but retroactively lessened one of my favorite moments from the Battle Rounds. It’s “Allred 2: Electric Boogaloo”, I guess.

The Winner: Dez Duron

***

The Team: Team Christina

The Pairing: Chevonne versus De’borah

The Songs: “Dancing With Myself,” Billy Idol; “You Found Me”, The Fray

The Head-to-Head: This is an Information Society-esque pairing: Pure energy! 

The Winner: Chevonne wants to celebrate her time on the show with her song choice, but Aguilera has some tips to help the performance anyways. All those tips seem to fall under the category of “stuff Xtina would do onstage herself”, but I’m probably still bitter from that last battle. On the other side of things, De’borah is so great that I don’t mind that she’s selected one of my least favorite songs of the last five years. 

When Chevonne starts, I remember how damn low “Dancing” starts out. It’s not the best song to sell one’s voice, that’s for certain. The entire performance feels like she knows she’s leaving, and wants to throw herself a nationally-televised party before departing. And hey, why not? She’s earned that right, I suppose. I’d prefer this approach versus an emo “woe is me” performance. Meanwhile, De’borah outclasses The Fray from Moment One, and I actually emotionally relate to the song for the first time. That takes an artist to pull off. 

“I would gladly have both of you on my team,” says Green, who is instantly reminded by Chevonne that she WAS on his team. Haha. Also, ouch. Levine loves the stage presence of both, but sides with De’borah. Aguilera appreciates Chevonne walking up to the ledge with her performance, but ultimately sides with my current choice for Last Team Christina Team Member Standing. But the best part? Chevonne giving the cold shoulder to Green, refusing to acknowledge him while saying goodbye to everyone else. That was bitchiness delivered with a smile, and it was great. I like Green, but totally understand why Chevonne just did that.

The Winner: De’borah 

***

The Team: Team Christina

The Pairing: Aquile versus Sylvia Yacoub

The Songs: “Grenade”, Bruno Mars; “Fighter”, Christina Aguilera

The Head-to-Head: Aguilera advises Aquile to remove the cleanliness from his performance, injecting more emotion into it. Yacoub makes the bold choice to sing her coach’s own tune. “Girl, how do you breathe during this song?” she asks Aguilera. Still, while risking the awkwardness that might ensue, we do get to see an artist coach a mentee from a position of true experience here. Helping interpret other songs is fine and well, but offering insight into what made this song work for Aguilera personally is a nice coaching moment.

Aquile’s approach to the song is more subdued than I would have expected, but that’s a problem with me, not him. It’s not until the last chorus that I recognize the strong talent that stood out in the last two rounds. Yacoub takes the high-risk, high-reward song choice and owns it from the outset. Given Aguilera’s penchant for molding artists in her own image, it might actually be a brilliant move for Yacoub to pay homage to Xtina this way. She doesn’t have the depth of Aguilera’s vocal, but does an admirable job regardless. Total toss-up in terms of this choice. When looking at all three, Aquile gets the edge. Tonight? Yacoub won fairly handily.

Apparently, Randy Jackson insulted “The Voice” or something. How else to explain the sudden and random mocking of him by all the judges post-performance? It amuses the coaches, but leaves everyone else outside of the inside joke. Shelton likens Yacoub’s performance to an “ass-kicking” of Aquile. As I expected, Aguilera sides with the performance in which she can see herself most clearly. That should take nothing away from Yacoub, who earned her place in the live shows.

The Winner: Sylvia Yacoub 

*** 

The Team: Team Blake

The Pairing: Gracia Harrison versus Liz Davis

The Songs: “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”, Aerosmith; “Gunpowder And Lead”, Miranda Lambert

The Head-to-Head: Shelton doesn’t want to split the vote when it comes to getting a country artist into the winner’s circle, so he’s putting these two head-to-head. He’s worried that Harrison’s song choice might be her undoing, even though she’s countrifying the arrangement. Davis picks the second Lambert song out of her three performances, which has me thinking Miranda might want to keep an eye on this contestant. (That’s all I’ll say about that.)

Harrison’s performance has me thinking that “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” should have been a country tune all alone. It’s not as radical a reworking of an original as some others thus far in the Knockout Rounds. But on the other hand, this feels like Harrison finding meaning in the song rather than simply slapping on a left-field approach to get noticed. Davis has a sultry approach that Harrison simply can’t match, which seems to appeal to Levine. Too bad he’s not her coach, or this would be over. Two strong performances here, and it comes down to taste more than anything else.

Aguilera appreciates Davis’ performance more, because OF COURSE SHE DOES. Levine was surprised by Harrison’s song choice, but knows she has an upside that the program could ultimately showcase down the line. Shelton seems disappointed that Harrison strayed from the roots that she showed in the audition. Essentially, this came down to picking the purest country artist above all else, so Harrison’s choice ends up backfiring here. While broadening one’s musical horizons has paid off elsewhere over these past two nights, that wasn’t the case here. I disagree, but I’m not the one coaching this team. 

The Winner: Liz Davis

***

The Team: Team Blake

The Pairing: Rudy Parris versus Terry McDermott

The Songs: “Forever,” Chris Brown; “Maybe I’m Amazed”, Paul McCartney

The Head-to-Head: Another Chris Brown song. Huh. Shelton has another problem with song choice, having a hard time understanding a song he feels is primarily aimed at teenagers. (Note to anyone eventually in Cycle Four: DON’T TAKE RISKS ON TEAM BLAKE IN THE KNOCKOUT ROUNDS.) McDermott has vast experience with the song, and Shelton encourages him to make every big moment stand out as much as possible rather than hold them in come crunch time.

Parris has a disarmingly beautiful voice, with the contrast between the way he looks and the way he sounds the epitome of the show’s nominal statement of purpose. As much as I loathe Brown, this is a good song choice for someone unsure if this is the end of the road for his musical career. However, McDermott’s first line makes everyone backstage for Team Blake gasp in wonder and despair. It’s a perfect marriage of song and singer, maybe the best combination in this round overall. That doesn’t make it the best performance, per se. But it’s a strong one all the same, and easily in the upper echelon of these past 48 hours.

“Your range is incredible,” Aguilera tells McDermott. “I’m amazed,” says Green. “I want to see you go real far,” says Levine, completing the sweep of the remaining coaches. Shelton favors McDermott’s clear musical path over Parris’s all-encompassing approach. No shock here at all.

The Winner: Terry McDermott

***

The Team: Team Blake

The Pairing: Collin McLoughlin versus Michaela Paige 

The Songs: “Break Even”, The Script; “Love Is A Battlefield”, Pat Benatar

The Head-to-Head: “I picked them because they look like twins!” says Shelton. OK, I made that up. The Script is a perfect band for McLoughlin, who performs inoffensive songs with great aplomb. (That’s not an insult! That’s a difficult skill!) Shelton asks Paige to approach the moment “selfishly”, and not worry about going over the top in her rendition of the Benatar classic. (This semi-old recapper just realized she wasn’t close to being born when that song originally came out, and will now drink heavily for the rest of this write-up.)

“Aw, he’s so cute!” says Suzanne Choffel backstage. Know who also said that? Every mother watching “The Voice” right now. McLoughlin does everything correctly, and could probably sell a metric ton of singles even if he doesn’t win this competition. Paige, for her part, looks a lot like she stepped out of the video for this song, and it helps sell the performance. Benatar isn’t exactly a punk choice, but it’s certainly less safe than The Script. Thus far, Shelton hasn’t strayed too far from the middle of the road, so I’m guessing Paige will have to wage future wars on another stage.

Aguilera felt the connection Paige had with the material. Green thinks Paige can do anything, and that appeals to his personal style. Levine tells McLoughlin that he’s still rooting for him, calling Collin’s voice “flawless”. “It really does come down to what I’m into the most,” says Shelton, which is both an honest assessment and a flawed one. Then again, “The Voice” calls these four artists “coaches” and not “judges” for a reason. Still, what Shelton is into here surprises me, given how tonight has gone thus far. In short: it’s a bad night to be a stolen artist, apparently.

The Winner: Michaela Paige

***

The Team: Team Blake

The Pairing: Julio Cesar Castillo versus MarissaAnn

The Songs: “Somebody To Love”, Justin Bieber; “Lady Marmalade”, Labelle

The Head-to-Head: It’s a battle of inexperience, with Shelton seeking to discover who will hold up best under pressure. Under pressure, Castillo picks…Justin Bieber. “You got your work cut out for you,” says Shelton. I’m not sure how I feel about a 15-year old singing “Lady Marmalade”, but so long as she doesn’t look like former coach Christina Aguilera did in the video of the remake, we should be OK here.

Castillo loses breath almost instantly, struggling with diction before feeling more at home inside the chorus. This, unfortunately, might be the worst performance of the last two nights.  Meanwhile, MarissaAnn takes the stage alongside 50 unseen backup singers. But once allowed to do her own thing, she owns the song, possessing a worldliness that belies her young age. Looks like The Curse Of The Saved Singer is about to come to an end.

Aguilera is happy to see her former teammate succeed. Shelton thinks it’s dead even between them, which seems shocking. His actual decision seems even more shocking, and doesn’t align with anything that just occurred onscreen. He goes with the artist he’s known the longest rather than the one that just delivered the superior performance. If “The Voice” is trying to kill all the good will that the creation of The Steal engendered, it’s doing a FANTASTIC job tonight. I’d rage-quit this show if I didn’t have a professional obligation to watch the entire episode.

The Winner: Julio Cesar Castillo

***

The Team: Team Blake

The Pairing: Cassadee Pope versus Suzanne Choffel 

The Songs: “Payphone”, Maroon 5; “Could You Be Loved?”, Bob Marley

The Head-to-Head: “Cassadee is doing something they don’t do on the record, which can be disastrous or can be great”, says Shelton when describe Pope’s rehearsal. Choffel worries that the song doesn’t have a signature vocal moment, which is perhaps something she should have thought about before choosing it.

Pope starts off strong, but has breath issues by the end of the first verse. Halfway through the first chorus, we hear the way in which Pope differs from the original track. It’s neither disastrous nor great, but it definitely pushes the song past mere karaoke. For her part, I can tell Choffel is doing well because Pope looks like she has swallowed something terrible just before Suzanne started singing. That’s the look of jealousy, and it’s not becoming. Nearly every other artist thus far has at least pretended to enjoy the performance occurring in front of him or her over the past two nights. Choffel adds some movement to her performance, but it’s not so much choreography so much as an expression of what she’s feeling while singing. Still, unfortunate brief image of Pope aside, I don’t see how Cassadee loses this. 

Aguilera enjoyed Choffel’s performance, but wasn’t sure that it was appropriate for a competition. Levine was impressed by Pope’s performance, and gives her the nod. Shelton thinks that Choffel’s choice did her in, not in terms of performance but as an artistic statement. 

The Winner: Cassadee Pope

Next week: A three-night event, with live playoffs Monday and Wednesday and a voting episode Thursday that will knock us down to 12 competitors. I assume this means each team will shed two competitors by week’s end.

*** 

Final live round rosters below, with italics representing my predictions for the Final 12…

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: Devyn DeLoera, Adriana Louise, Dez Duron, De’borah, Sylvia Yacoub

Team Blake: Liz Davis, Terry McDermott, Michaela Paige, Julio Cesar Castillo, Cassadee Pope

I wouldn’t be shocked if Rivera makes it over Martinez. If Bourg snuck in over Belew, that would be an upset. But it would not be a major one. Liz Davis is a deadest of deadlocks here, since Shelton wants a country artist to win the entire thing. Amanda Brown and Trevin Hunte are still the prohibitive favorites, but De’Borah is a one-of-a-kind artist and Bryan Keith has dropped great performances left and right through the first three rounds. My wild card here, after tonight? Terry McDermott. There’s no one like left him in the competition. While other R&B and pop stars battle it out, he’s free to forge his own path from here on in.

What did you think about the second Knockout Round show? Who has the strongest team at the present moment? Any decisions that made you angry tonight? Sound off below!