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‘The Voice’ Top 20 Live Playoffs, Pt. 1: I Hate These Blurred Lines

Lyndsey Parker
Yahoo TV

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Nic Hawk gives a polarizing performances on a very competitive night.

On Monday — after the audition rounds, the Battle Rounds, the Knockout Rounds, and a few runarounds — "The Voice" Season 5 fiiiiiinally went live, with OG rivals Adam Levine and Blake Shelton's teams vying for spots in the top 12. (It'll be Team Xtina and Team CeeLo's turn on Tuesday.) Ten contestants competed, and they were for the most part such a strong group, it was hard to figure out just who will (or should) go home this week. In the wise words of that great sage Robin Thicke, whose hit was covered this Monday, I hate these blurred lines.

Or, to quote Robin another way: What rhymes with hug me? This one is going to be tough.

Anyhoo, with no more Steals or Saves or whatevers, it was now time for America to decide the contestants' fate. How will the votes play out? Let's take a look at the 10 performances and try to make a semi-educated guess...

Shelbie Z. (Team Blake) – The former pageant queen and recent bride took on Reba McEntire's "Fancy," which put her in a high-pressure situation, since Blake is so close to Reba's camp. (Reba's stepson Brandon Blackstock, aka Mr. Kelly Clarkson, is Blake's manager.) But Shelbie was still willing to take a risk, saying she wanted to "redneck it up a bit" and make the song more rock 'n' roll. A solid plan, I must say: Shelbie's fearlessness has always been her top asset. Shelbie came out looking like a CMAs star in a red column gown and did Reba proud, although she did slightly struggle with some of the lower notes, and the performance didn't have quite the off-the-charts sassiness and brassiness of her previous numbers. Still, it was a good start to the show, and the coaches were all very impressed. Christina Aguilera loved Shelbie's growl. CeeLo Green called her "consistently charismatic." Adam declared this a "pretty flawless performance." And Blake said, "If I had been in a coma for the last five years and woke up tonight and saw that, I would think, 'That's one of the biggest stars in country music.' I would think you were already established."

James Wolpert (Team Adam) – James fumbled last week in the Knockout Rounds, doing a Boston stadium-rock anthem that was absolutely the wrong choice for his nerdy-cool aesthetic. This week, thankfully, Adam had James do a total 180. Sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar, understatedly warbling Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," James delivered an exquisite performance, starting off quiet and vulnerable and then building to a bluesy, belty crescendo by the song's end. The anticipation was delicious, so much so that by the time James finally reached his big money note, the pindrop-silent audience exploded. This was a goosebumps-upon-goosebumps-upon-goosebumps moment. Blake, who admitted that he'd been "on the fence" about James after that "More Than a Feeling" debacle, loved this, exclaiming, "You can't be a geek and be that awesome at the same time! How is that possible?" (Trust me, Blake. It's possible.) Christina loved the simplicity of James's performance, telling him, "You made it a safe haven that drew people in." And Adam said, "You bounced back, like I knew you would…You did something incredibly bold, and you were so controlled and had so much poise and were so elegant. I could not be more proud." Me too. I could drink a case of James myself, after this.

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Nic Hawk (Team Blake) – When this week's song spoilers came out a few days ago, I just KNEW that showboater Nic would be the one doing Robin Thicke's aforementioned "Blurred Lines." I mean, he's really the only contestant in this entire top 20 who knows how to twerk a la Miley at the VMAs. And Nic werked it here (while wearing a really awesome, Betsey Johnson-esque leopard jacket, yet). In every way that James's performance had been stripped and understated, Nic's was the exact opposite. There was so much going on during this number, I was surprised he wasn't performing on top of a proverbial kitchen sink. The man channeled every personality on the original track — Robin, Pharrell Williams, T.I.'s risqué rap — and even danced like the nekkid ladies and livestock in the song's infamous video. But his own outsized personality came shining through most of all. "How did you keep up? You were rapping and moving and giving everything. You didn't even have a moment to breathe. And you did T.I., too? You were multi-tasking," said an incredulous Christina. CeeLo marveled, "You've got so much natural rhythm. I love to see you perform." Agreed Nic's ex-coach Adam, "How can anyone watch you perform and not be entertained by what you do? You did everything in that video minus the boobs." Blake called Nic "the complete entertainer." I'm still concerned that this wild, peacocking performance will be too polarizing, or that voters will go too harsh on Nic because there were occasional moments when all his movin' and shakin' compromised his breathless vocals. But I'm still a card-carrying member of Nic's "Flawk." This was fun TV.

Ray Boudreaux (Team Blake) – Things got nicely gritty and earthy again for Ray's cover of Marc Broussard's "Home," but I worry if this performance was enough to get Ray to the next phase of the competition. It just sort of chugged along, only offering Ray a few opportunities to really showcase his mighty pipes, and the song isn't that well-known by mainstream America. The performance picked up momentum towards the end, but I wasn't wowed, especially after watching James and Nic. However, Ray's coach Blake looked pleased, grinning ear to ear, and so did Christina, who loved Ray's "cool, bluesy vibe" and told Ray, "That was the most connected I've seen you. You brought realness to the stage." CeeLo loved Ray's "grit." Adam, a friend of Marc Broussard's and a fan of "Home," said Marc would be proud. And Blake got all philosophical and soapboxy, proclaiming, "You're in a position to bring so much awareness to that Delta blues sound, 'swamp pop.' You're bringing it to a new generation." Will that new generation vote for this performance? I hope so — Ray really deserves to be in the top 12 — but we shall see.

Austin Jenckes (Team Blake) – Blake kept it bluesy with his next contender, who got the Black Crowes classic "She Talks to Angels." It was a song right in Austin's country-rock wheelhouse, and he didn't miss a note. But I wasn't that excited about this performance either. Austin isn't exactly a rock star of Chris Robinson-esque proportions. However, I have a feeling America will really connect with this (in a way that viewers won't connect with, say, Nic Hawk). Christina loved Austin's heart. CeeLo called this a "convicted and committed performance." And Blake gushed, "I can always count on you, as a fan, that whatever song you sing, you're gonna give me 150 percent of what's in [your heart]." Aw.

Grey (Team Adam) – Grey is a wedding singer by trade, which means she possesses a very technically proficient voice, but sometimes comes across as bland and AC. So I understood why Adam tried to rock her up a bit with a black-leather makeover and Paramore's "Still Into You." I appreciated the energy and intention behind this performance more than its execution. Yes, she showed more personality and came across as cooler and edgier, but this was the first time I'd heard her hit any bad notes. Was her stomping around the stage too much? Did she get winded or something? This was not perfect. But at least she "got out of the wedding-singer mentality" and "took ownership of the song," as Adam proudly stated. I just don't think that will be enough. Blake called this "awesome," but I thought it was merely good.

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Will Champlin (Team Adam) – I loved that Will played keys (a rarity on "The Voice," for some reason) on his blue-eyed-'70s-soul arrangement of OneRepublic's "Secrets." Part of me wished he would've just stayed on his piano bench for the entire performance. But when he stood up and started to channel all his love for his family into the ballad (he's a new dad, and his wife is battling a brain tumor), the goosebumps that I'd experienced during James's performance were raised anew. I'm so glad Adam stole this guy in the Knockout Rounds, so that both James and Will could have a shot. Christina called this performance "so beautiful and so touching." CeeLo called it "dynamic and definitive." Adam said, "You deserve to be here as much as anybody else." I actually think Will deserves to be here more than some other singers. If he doesn't make the top 12, I hope the show reinstates the Steal one last time.

Preston Pohl (Team Adam) – So far Preston has been one of the strongest and funkiest singers of this season, so I figured he'd be able to handle the sweet, high Bruno Mars notes and the sing-songy B.o.B rap of "Nothin' on You." Interestingly, I actually thought he felt a little more natural doing B.o.B's lines than Bruno's; during the chorus, he was so gruff, he occasionally sounded like he was ripping his throat out. Ouch! However, in the end, he came across as one of the show's most relevant and modern contestants while still sounding, as Christina put it, "classic and old-school." Blake loved all the P's: "the pocket, the pitch, and the passion." He also called Preston "studly." Adam bragged, "There's no one as unique in this competition as Preston." Really? Not even Nic? But I knew what Adam meant. Preston's voice is truly one of a kind, and most contestants have nothin' on him.

Cole Vosbury (Team Blake) – Wowsers. Rod Stewart's "Maggie May." What a perfect song choice for this affable, shaggy troubadour, and what a perfect halfway point between his upbeat "Jeffersons" audition and his gentle Passenger song from last week. Cole sang the song simply, straightforward and frills-free, but I really warmed to this strummy, in-the-round performance. With this, Cole continued to be one of my favorites of Season 5. Christina praised Cole's consistency. CeeLo, Cole's former coach, assured Cole, "I still love you…Just know that I support you unconditionally. I would love to lose to you." Adam, who fought hard but ultimately unsuccessfully to steal Cole in the Knockouts, admitted that he still regretted not turning for Cole during the Blind Auditions. And Blake said, "You're good for this show. You truly are that talented, man…You've ended up as the guy who could win this whole thing."

Tessanne Chin (Team Adam) - Of course Tessanne got the pimp spot. She's the surest shot, the most frontrunning frontrunner, of Season 5, or at least among these 10 contestants. The Jamaican diva, a former backup singer for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, was understandably at ease doing Jimmy's own "Many Rivers to Cross," and there were many ways in which her rendition was amazing. What a stupendous vocal. This woman really IS the voice. At the end, Adam was giving her a standing ovation, Tessanne was choked up, and the audience was howling. "I'm not surprised, because I knew from day one that you were capable of that kind of gorgeous, soaring vocal," said Christina. "They saved the best for last," CeeLo added. And so, the show ended on a high note. Literally.

So now, it is prediction time. On Thursday's special results show, four of these contestants (two per team) will get cut, and like I said before, this will be soooo tough, because Monday's show was chock-full of talent. But someone's gotta go. Sigh. So I am going to guess that for Team Blake, the casualties will unfortunately be Nic Hawk and Ray Boudreaux. For Team Adam, it's even harder to call. I think Grey will go home, but then, who else — James, Will, Preston, or Tessanne? Any of those eliminations would be a massive loss for the show. With a heavy heart, I reluctantly predict that James will get shipped back to the Apple store — only because he sang earlier in the episode and gave a much simpler, quieter performance than his more flamboyant rivals. I'm already thinking of the angry results-show recap I will write when this happens, and the hashtag I will attempt to get trending, #teamquotassuck.

But of course, we will have to wait a few days to see if these predictions are correct. In the meantime, tune in Tuesday for Team Xtina and Team CeeLo's performances, which will hopefully be as stellar as the ones we saw on Monday. See you then!

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