The Voice Recap: Grand Theft Auto-Tune

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The Voice Shelbie Z Knockouts Briana Cuoco
With all apologies to God, the Seventh Commandment just went the way of Crystal Pepsi, the personal pager and NBC’s Smash. I mean, seriously, who can enthusiastically support laws against larcenous behavior now that “The Steal” has found its way to The Voice‘s Knockout Rounds?

Now, before you cry “blasphemy!” let’s remember that Christina Aguilera has the voice of an angel — and she supports this blatant brand of thievery. And it’s also worth noting that The Steal has another proponent in Blake Shelton, a fine, upstanding fella whose recent crusade against the Westboro Hatemongering Association* puts him squarely in the corner of all that’s good and righteous. (*I won’t use the word “church” to describe those crazies.)

I know, I know…The Steal doesn’t always mean that the show’s best artists are immune from gut-wrenching injustice — all together now, “Matt Cermanski & Ashley Dubose: Never Forget!” — but they definitely add a layer of suspense to the proceedings, at least when Carson Daly doesn’t announce that there’s one coming up right after the commercial break.

And at least in one case tonight — involving Blind Auditions standout Holly Henry — the presence of The Steal caused (at least for me) an intriguing crisis of conscience. Should a last-minute lifeline be thrown to a vocalist who displayed incredible early promise, but whose Knockout Rounds pitch wobbled like a restaurant table in need of a wadded-up napkin under one leg? (It may be an unpopular sentiment, but I say “Nyet!”)

Anyhow…enough stalling. Let me jump to a ranking of each of tonight’s Knockouts from least- to most-promising winner:

8. Team Blake: Nic Hawk (“Genie in a Bottle”) defeats Holly Henry (“Creep”) | I don’t really want to talk about this Knockout pairing, OK? How about I sum it up in four words: Poor Holly! Lucky Nic! The End! (OK, that was six, but I wanted you to know that I wasn’t trying to be cute. I’m really done! I’m moving on. BUT I CAN’T MOVE ON. Damn you, Blake, you shoulda used your Battle Rounds steal on Matt Cermanski! Or Donna Allen!)

7. Team Cee Lo: Kat Robichaud (“You Oughta Know”) defeats Monika Leigh (“Hit the Road Jack”) | Could Kat — who described herself as being into “ballsy female angsty rock-and-roll” — have chosen anything more obvious than Alanis Morissette’s woman-scorned anthem? OK, maybe Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” but nevertheless, such a crippling lack of imagination troubles me almost as much as her “I want to do homicide to you” facial expressions. That death-drop/backbend thingie at the end of the number was cool, though, and her tone has a smokehouse goodness to it when she’s not pushing it all the way into the firepit. Poor Monika, clearly frazzled by the crowd’s rapturous response to Kat, overcompensated with a desperate attempt at sexy stompography. I can only wonder what might’ve been had she stood still and concentrated on her vocals. This! Is! The! Voice!, after all.

6. Team Adam: Grey (“Already Gone”) defeats James Irwin (“Breakeven) | Sometimes I think Adam loves Blake so much, that his Voice journey is like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel: Tattooed, tiny-waisted rocker dude sacrifices most of his good contestants in the Battles and Knockouts — in order to catapult his plaid-clad, goofy-grinned country bro to victory. (Maybe Matt Bomer could play Adam and Ryan Reynolds could play Blake in the inevitable big-screen adaptation. It’d be called Voice Lessons. You’d pay $14 for that, yes?) Anyway, that’s my roundabout way of saying I wish Mr. Levine had pitted Grey against Tessanne and James against Ashley. Because if those four vocalists were combined to make a S’more, Tessanne would be the chocolate, Ashley the marshmallow, James the Graham Cracker, and Grey the skewer on which you toast the marshmallow. Which doesn’t mean that Grey didn’t cut right through Kelly Clarkson’s hit with genuine precision, but she didn’t add any flavor to the mix, either. James may have strained a bit to reach the upper regions of The Script’s piece of ear candy, but at least he showed his dexterity on the bridge and infused the finished product with some guts and passion.

5. Team Xtina: Josh Logan (“Living for the City”) defeats Amber Nicole (“Mama Knows Best) — (Amber stolen by Cee Lo) | In the Battle Rounds, Cee Lo told Josh his vocal on Maroon 5′s “Harder to Breathe” was “almost identical” to Adam Levine’s, while tonight, Xtina declared in rehearsals that Josh sounded so much like Stevie Wonder that it was “scary.” And to me, that’s the soulful rocker’s biggest problem: It’s like he maps out his performances using tracing paper and pencil; there’s barely a shred of originality to his work. Amber, on the other hand, sang with authority and zeal, but I cannot tell a lie: I do not — not do I think I will ever — understand the fascination with Jessie J songs on reality singing competitions. The aforementioned British pop star will never catch any fish with her ditties, because sadly, they have no hooks! (Badum bum!)

4. Team Cee Lo: Jonny Gray (“We Can Work It Out”) defeats Cole Vosbury (“Let Her Go”) — (Cole stolen by Blake) | If I had to give out an award for Most Evenly Matched Knockout Duel, I’d have to hand it to Jonny and Cole, a couple of guys who — with the right song choices — could easily and quietly make a Nicholas David-esque march to the finale. I’ll freely admit I’ve never heard the Passenger ditty Cole covered, but I apprectiated his committment to covering the exact kind of music he wants to make in the real world, and the fact that his tone was as soothing as a butterscotch candy. Jonny, meanwhile, has the kind of baseline quaver to his voice that usually irks me, but there’s a bright, freshh quality to his instrument that like a happy pill for the music-receptors in my brain. I know, I know…this whole paragraph is 1-800-Too-Much, so let me just tip my hat to Blake for saving cool Cole and leave it at that.

3. Team Xtina: Olivia Henken (“You’re No Good”) defeats Destinee Quinn (“See You Again”) | What in the name of all that’s earwax were the coaches going on about tonight — saying how close this matchup was, and how both ladies struggled with pitch? True, Destinee’s voice on a Carrie Underwood track would kind of be like a sparrow attempting to pull a trout from a hawk’s talons, but Olivia was subtle and sexy — and hit her glory notes as squarely as, um…I was going to try to make some kind of “Major League Player connecting with a baseball” riff here, but who am I kidding? I don’t watch the World Series!

2. Team Blake: Shelbie Z (“Last Name”) defeats Briana Cuoco (“Don’t Speak”) | If Jonny-vs-Cole was the night’s tightest race, then Shelbie-vs-Briana was the landslide election. Heck, even diplomatic Blake had to admit that Shelbie “flat-out outsang” her rival, and that’s not even factoring in points for insanely entertaining stage presence, including a strategically placed hip sway on the line “on the dance floor.” It’s a rare reality singing contestant who tackles La Underwood where it doesn’t end in a trip-slip-fall incident, but Shelbie stood tall and triumphant from the first note to the last. My notes actually read, “MOPPED THE FLOOR!” Unfortunately for Briana, her succession of flat notes and excessive vibrato meant she got tossed out with the bucket of water.

1. Team Adam: Tessanne Chin (“Stronger [What Doesn't Kill You]“) defeats Ashley Dubose (“Hey Soul Sister”) | I believed every (glorious) (powerful) (perfectly in-tune) word coming out of Tessanne’s mouth, which is the only reason I’m able to press on and say, “Yes, I’ll tune in for Tuesday night’s Knockouts.” Seriously, Tessanne’s instrument is, for lack of a better word, so darn muscular that it’d make Arnold Schwarzenegger a little self-conscious. Those rangey high notes she hit on the second verse only added to the overall allure of an artist who manages the tough task of achieving near perfection without coming across as overly studied or void of character. Which isn’t to say I didn’t adore Ashley just as much: Girlfriend doesn’t quite have the horsepower of Tessanne, but there’s a wonderful scratchiness that creeps into her tone when you least expect it, and I thought the way she phrased the song with a little added reggae-ishness elevated Train’s megahit to a heretofore unseen level of coolness. Ashley left with heartbreaking dignity and optimism, which provided a nice counterbalance for the way I cursed at and raged against Blake, Adam and Xtina for letting her walk away without the Steal.

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of tonight’s Knockout Rounds? Did you disagree with any of the coaches’ decisions on Knockout wins or Steals? Sound off in the comments!

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