The race for top talent on "The Voice" heated up Wednesday, as the other coaches gave reigning champ Adam a run for his money — and as Blake nabbed two of the night's most fiercely fought-for singers to flesh out his shoestring team.
Adam may have been the coach to beat for most of the four-chair turners last week — but as blind auditions headed into their second week Monday, Blake showed his record as the all-time winningest "Voice" coach wasn't too shabby, either.
He began with Ryan Whyte Maloney, a 33-year-old Michigan-bred father and erstwhile garbage man ready to ditch sanitation, make a reliable living with his music and "be a better dad." His soulful performance of Journey's "Lights" won over all the coaches, who lobbied hard for his chops on their teams.
"You got a high voice. I got a high voice. Let's be friends," Adam said matter-of-factly, while Shakira said she'd heard "so much emotion" in his delivery. But Ryan picked Blake as his coach, crediting his young son with making the decision for him. No matter — the decision pleased Blake regardless. "Adam's the guy who always gets all the four-chair turns. Shutting him down just makes me feel very confident," Blake said.
But Blake's rival coaches picked up plenty of talented vocalists for their teams, too. Shakira lucked out with DeShawn Washington, 23, a Natchitoches, La.-raised nature-lover who been singing since before he could read. "It would mean so much to my family to make a team, because they always dreamed of me doing something like this," he explained of his audition on “The Voice,” promising he'd deliver “a unique tone” for the coaches.
That he did, with a modern soulful take on the Sam Cooke classic “Twistin' the Night Away.” For much of his 90-second performance it looked like he might not turn a chair — but toward the end, Shakira hit her button, to the chagrin of the other coaches who knew they'd missed out. “Dang it!” Blake said, while Usher praised DeShawn's understanding of soul music. “I'm the only smart one here,” Shakira crowed, as she welcomed her newest team member.
Next up was Sam Behymer, a 25-year-old nanny who admitted that she was facing grave doubts about her future as a singer as she weighed the prospect of studying to become a librarian. “Books are definitely my safety zone,” she said. “Music sort of pushes me outside of all of this,” she added, explaining that her family wasn't the most understanding of her dreams of focusing on her music.
Her performance on the Lorde hit “Royals” piqued Adam's interest, though, and soon after Usher's as well. Her performance grew more and more confident as it progressed, until eventually she was belting some notes and riffing on the song's familiar melody. Usher made a strong pitch for her to join his team, touting his skill at fostering singers' individuality and pointing out how far his team's resident indie pop belter Michelle Chamuel had made it in season four. But Sam sided with Adam nonetheless.
Usher did find a new team member (or two) with the night's only duo act — the Brothers Walker, a pair of red-beareded, bespectacled 26-year-old identical twins from small-town Missouri who performed rollicking country-tinged pop together.
Their take on the Zac Brown Band's “Keep Me in Mind,” replete with harmonies and foot-stomping, won a last-second button push from Usher. But their good-natured joking won the admiration of all the other coaches, too. (Their explanation of how small their town is: "We have a stoplight. It just flashes, though, it doesn't actually go green or red. It's just yellow, and it flashes.")
Finally, Usher's fellow returning coach Shakira picked up a team member of her own, her first of the night: Clarissa Serna, a Texan Latina rocker who works for her parents' business by day but moonlights working with a music camp for girls called "Chicas Rock." Clarissa, who said she'd been performing with bands since she was a teenager herself, took on the Cranberries' '90s hit “Zombie,” with hopes of turning Usher's chair — and with her hopes of a music career at stake. “It's kind of like a make-or-break situation for me,” she admitted.
By the end of her 90 seconds on the “Voice” stage, it was clear that it was the former, thanks to her powerful but haunting take on the distinctive alt-rock anthem (with few of its trademark Dolores O'Riordan flourishes). All four coaches had turned their chairs — Adam and Shakira early on, with Shakira singing along to the song before standing up in her chair, a grin on her face, to play air drums. Usher turned only at the very end.
“Oh my God, all four of y'all...?!” an overwhelmed Clarissa exclaimed, kicking off rounds of praise from the coaches — plus a strange ancient historical analogy from Shakira that conjured images of elephants crossing the Alps. “Are you gonna end up with a bunch of Hannibals over here, or are you gonna end up with Alexander the Great?” she asked.
So much for the Hannibals, even Usher. “I've gotta go with my Latina soul sister, Shakira!” Clarissa decided.
That “Latina soul sister” tack didn't work so well on the next contestant Shakira fought for, though. Melissa Jimenez, a professional singer with some past successes who was playing with her dad's band while seeking her next one, said she was taking the “Voice” stage to “prove that I'm not going to quit.”
She guaranteed that almost 90 seconds into her performance of Alicia Keys' “If I Ain't Got You,” some lines of which she sang in Spanish, when both Usher and Shakira pushed their buttons with moments to spare. Shakira promised Melissa that if she picked her as her coach, “you're going to be unstoppable,” but that was apparently no match for the names Usher dropped in trying to woo Melissa to his team. She sided with him.
Adam picked up another member for his already-strong team with Patrick Thompson, who performed the Marshall Tucker Band's “Can't You See” with a distinctive, soulful rasp that Blake insisted was befitting of his barrel-chest stature and plaid shirt, and which he said sounded like the product of “gargling with broken glass.” Blake raved about Patrick's sound, but perhaps unnerved by that grotesque image he'd conjured, Patrick picked Adam as his coach.
It would seem a hard row for Blake to hoe — even the country-tinged singers siding with Adam — if it weren't for the surprise victory he won with the final performer of the night, Sisaundra Lewis, a 44-year-old preacher's daughter and veteran singer who had grown up in Florida orange groves eventually to become a mom and even Celine Dion's vocal director. She tackled Aretha Franklin's “Ain't No Way” with poise, emotion and gorgeous vocal chops, winning over one coach after the other, starting with Shakira and ending with Usher.
Blake gave by far the most rambling nonsequitur of a sales pitch. “I am completely in over my head... How do your ears hold that much weight?” he asked, with a nod to Sisaundra's admittedly enormous metal earrings. “I would buy your record if it came out tomorrow,” he added, clearly overcome.
But Blake's bumbling struck a chord with Sisaundra, and in a decision that seemed to shock all the coaches — not least Blake himself — she picked him as her coach
They'd all get another chance to vie for more four-chair turners, and singers to fill out their fledgling teams, when blind auditions continue Tuesday.
“The Voice” airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.