Holly Tucker performs for Adam Levine, Shakira, Usher and Blake Shelton… (Adam Taylor / NBC )
Sometimes "The Voice" comes off like the Adam Levine/Blake Shelton show. That's not a complaint. Their manly "bromance" — with its combative banter and macho rivalry, not to mention the secret smiles and hugs that linger — is actually quite charming. And this season, what with Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green morphing into Shakira and Usher, their competitive jousting provides a welcome sense of continuity, its energy powering the show.
On Monday, Levine — and, to a lesser degree, the other coaches — determined to swipe a country artist from Shelton's clutches. That he ultimately succeeded in doing so startled everyone, perhaps even Levine himself, but the Maroon 5 singer wasn't the only one to stack his team with talent.
Shelton picked up the Swon Brothers, two actual bros with Southern gospel roots who'd tried to make a record in Nashville, to no avail. Their spirited take on "American Girl" spun Shakira, Shelton and Usher, but they shared not only Oklahoma roots with Shelton, but also a sense of humor. "You guys just heard your first Swonsert," one of the brothers quipped. Shelton predicted that they'd soon be able to say, "We swon," and that they'd end up "swinners." Shakira and Usher did their best, but with his country cred, Shelton probably would have landed the Swons without any wooing at all.
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He also nabbed another country artist, Holly Tucker, a Texas teen in cowboy boots who turned Levine, Shakira and Usher with her rendition of "To Make You Feel My Love" before Shelton, with prodding from Usher, finally hit his button. The other judges tried to appeal to her church background — in Levine's case, "the Jewish church" — and her sense of adventure, but Shelton batted them away without batting an eye. "Country music, it's not something to experiment with," he said, glancing at Levine, and it wasn't fair to try "to roadblock Blake and screw up this girl's life" just for the sport of it. Tucker picked Shelton, prompting him to boast, "I feel like a cat playing with a mouse."
Shelton might have ended up with Garrett Gardner, 17, too, had he made a play for him. Gardner, who failed to turn any chairs last year, returned after studiously working to incorporate feedback Shelton had given him then, and seemed specifically to want to impress the man who mentored the show's last two winners. Only Shakira turned her chair for his "Seven Nation Army," but he was properly grateful for that.
Shakira was clearly the first choice of Cuban American former child star Monique Abbadie, who spun all the coaches with her high-energy take on Shakira's own "Loca." Abbadie had met Shakira when she was 10 years old, and managed to take a photo with her. It was clear to everyone that the singer would pick Shakira, and she did, calling Shakira her "idol" with a career and philanthropic drive she hoped to emulate. Love match.
Shakira also snapped up soul singer J'Sun, though we didn't really hear him sing.
Usher, meanwhile, made button-cute former gymnast Taylor Beckham's teenage dreams come true. He really seemed to dig her take on "I'm Going Down," saying she had the dedication it took to make it and trotting out his R&B and teen-star creds. He picked up "introverted" rock chick Michelle Chamuel, who sang "I Kissed a Girl," in a surprise snag, as well. She said she just felt in her gut that Usher was the right mentor for her.
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The barely-glimpsed pop artist Chelsea M. also ended up on his team.
Levine ended up with Hawaiian folk singer Duncan Kamakana, another hopeful cheated out of blind audition airtime, as well as two contestants who worked against type to select him: Miami music teacher Karina Iglesias, who seemed disappointed that Shakira hadn't pushed her button for her "I'm the Only One." Choosing between Levine and Shelton, she opted for Levine, apparently unbothered that he had told Shakira to "shut up" in Spanish. (He gave his fellow coach a hug afterward.)
And in his great triumph of the night, Levine also ended up winning country-singing South Carolina firefighter and dedicated dad Warren Stone, who sang "Colder Weather," away from Shelton — and Shakira. Stone said he hoped Levine would help him push his boundaries, but the coaches were all shocked. "Wow, oh my god," Shakira said. Usher echoed her "Wow." Shelton even applauded and cheered his pal, "You did it! You did it!" he said.
"If Adam won with a country artist, I would dress like Cee Lo in the peacock outfit that he wore at the Grammys," Shelton said, "but I'm not too worried about it."
That's reason enough to root for Stone.