Teams Blake and Adam compete on 'The Voice': (l-r) Cassadee… (Tyler Golden/NBC )
In case there was any doubt about whether the changes to "The Voice" this season – bigger teams coming out of the blind auditions, the coach steal during the battle rounds and the new knockout round that swiftly sliced the teams in half, to only five singers per team – would result in higher-caliber contestants heading into the live shows, there isn't any now.
The singers of Teams Adam and Blake showed a remarkable level of talent and confidence Monday night as they launched the live shows, taking the stage to sing for coaches Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton and an audience that now at least partly holds their fates in their hands.
"America, it is time for you to vote," Levine reminded us at the outset. And he wasn't talking presidential politics.
Each coach has brought five singers into this week's live playoffs. "The Voice" voters will select their two favorites to advance immediately to the next round. Then the coach will get to save only one of the three remaining vocalists, sending two home. At the end of this round, three singers from each of the four teams will move forward to form this season's top 12.
Sounds simple enough. But the teams who performed Monday night made things tough just by working so hard and doing so well.
I will confess, however, that one of the night's performances was, for me, a clear favorite: Amanda Brown, the former Adele backup singer and Team Adam member, stepped forward and sang Aerosmith's "Dream On" better than Steven Tyler. Brown can do things with her voice that few can dream of. When Levine called her a "rock star" and said she'd made the song sound entirely new, he wasn't kidding. (He also wasn't kidding when he said Green, from whom he had stolen Brown during the battle rounds, looked like "the love child of Rick James and Prince" in his ridiculous white-satin-ruffled, curly-haired get-up.) Just … watch:
The other members of Team Adam, though not quite as spectacular, were also strong. Joselyn Rivera gave a polished, pop performance of Demi Lovato's "Give Your Heart a Break." Melanie Martinez cooed and winked and shimmied her way through a jazzy rendition of Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack." Bryan Keith showed his grit, growl and passion on the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris." And Loren Allred proved her success in the knockout rounds wasn't a fluke, sounding sultry and hitting some remarkable high notes on Lisa Stansfield's "All Around the World."
As for Team Blake, I'd say the standout member on that equally solid team is Scottish rocker Terry McDermott, who looks and sounds like he's been doing this all his life, yet also seems perfectly poised to take off as if for the first time. McDermott, a veteran of the band Driveblind, showed his fluidity, ease and experience with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'"
Other members of Team Blake showed promise, if a little less polish. Liz Davis again proved her country chops, though a bit unevenly, on Martina McBride's "Independence Day." Cassadee Pope also seemed a bit fluttery (she nervously hit herself on the chin), but ultimately owned her pop-rock chick persona on Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending." Also battling nerves and struggling a bit for vocal support was young, interesting-haired Michaela Paige, who nevertheless looked physically confident as she strutted around the stage on the Neon Trees' "Everybody Talks." Julio Cesar Castillo, meanwhile, showed off his Latin magic and incredibly rich vibrato on a mariachi song, "El Rey," that earned him a standing ovation from the coaches (and a Latina shout-out from Aguilera), but may or may not connect with non-Spanish-speaking audiences.
Really, who knows who the audience will vote through – there are no polls or pundits to help us predict the outcome of this race, unlike that other vote that's happening today – but if I were to hazard a guess, and I'm really guessing here, I'd say … no, I really can't call it past Amanda Brown from Team Adam and Terry McDermott from Team Blake.