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'The Voice' recap: Usher picks his best three, rewards talent

April 16, 2014|By Amy Reiter
  • Usher, second from left, picks his top three -- T.J. Wilkins, left, Josh Kaufman and Bria Kelly -- to take through to the live rounds.
Usher, second from left, picks his top three -- T.J. Wilkins, left, Josh… (Trae Patton / NBC )

In the final night of the playoffs on "The Voice," the five members of Team Usher took the stage to perform songs they'd chosen themselves in hopes of being among the three singers selected by their coach to compete in the live shows.

T.J. Wilkins, the music student out of South-Central Los Angeles, sought to show off his "soulful essence," as Usher put it, on Rufus and Chaka Kahn's "Tell Me Something Good," which was written by Stevie Wonder, one of Wilkins' heroes. Usher had instructed Wilkins to sound like "horns." Not sure about that, but he did sound good.

"The audience loved you," Shakira told Wilkins, calling his performance "soulful" and "committed" and commending him on a high note that was "the ace under your sleeve." Adam Levine admired the song choice and the way Wilkins sought to entertain. Getting the audience on his side was the key to making it to the end of the competition, Levine said, advising Wilkins to "keep that" as his "target." Blake Shelton said he finally understood why Usher had kept Wilkins over another talented contestant earlier in the competition. And Usher said Wilkins had proudly represented "a genre that I respect and love," reminded him of a "beautiful, careless, free" time in music and "completely killed it."

Melissa Jimenez, who, it turns out, had once been pulled onstage by Usher at a concert and had auditioned for "The Voice" hoping to meet him again, elected to sing a stripped-down version of Beyonce's "Halo," which, she noted, would leave nowhere to hide vocally. She had some gorgeous moments, as well as a few shaky ones.

Shakira called the move to strip the song down "very courageous" and pretty much left it at that. Levine said there was "no way to excel on this show if you don't take risks," but noted the mix of beautiful moments and trouble spots. Shelton said he was "not as familiar" with the song and from that perspective thought Jimenez's performance was "solid." Sure, there was one part where the singer had not taken a big enough breath to nail a big note, but overall, he thought it was "pretty dang good." Usher called it a "live or die moment" and credited Jimenez with putting in the effort to have made it so far.

FACES TO WATCH 2014: Pop & jazz music

Stevie Jo, the long-haired son of members of a heavy metal band, whom Levine called a "major contender," tackled B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," saying the blues song showed the artist he hoped to become. Fully committed, it was also a somewhat peculiar performance.

Shelton said he loved watching Stevie Jo perform because "it's like he's sneaking up on a rabbit the whole time," but he added that he'd "nailed the singing part." Levine thought he'd done "a great job" and had emoted well. "When you're singing the blues, technical analysis really goes out the window," he said. Shakira said Stevie Jo had gotten her "from the first 20 seconds" and that she'd enjoyed his falsetto and rasp though felt he may have stretched out a few notes too long. "Every time you get onstage you show us something new," she said. Usher said the song was "all about heartache and pain" and that Stevie Jo had done it "great justice by connecting to it in a way that's relevant" to him. Later, Levine said he'd "absolutely" move forward with Stevie Jo, if he were Usher, calling him an "untapped resource."

Eighteen-year-old Bria Kelly, whom Shelton called "the reason Usher's team is a threat," aimed to make Usher and her hometown, Smithfield, Va., proud with her rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," on which she played the guitar her dad had bought her. Her nuanced, passionate rendition of the song surely proved pride-worthy.

Levine said he'd "always lamented" not having Kelly on his team and that, though she'd not done her best during the last battle round, she was definitely back. Shakira called herself a "huge fan" and wondered how Kelly had managed to reach her high notes and sing "so raspy" and "sultry." Shelton noted that he had stolen everyone Kelly had battled against, probably because she made "people step up." He said that even though everyone had always celebrated her bigger notes, the softer notes were as "golden" as Usher's shoes. Usher applauded Kelly for the way she brought us all back to the place we were when we first heard the classic Stones song but also found a way "to shine in it and make it your own."

Josh Kaufman, the "Indianapolis family man" whom Usher stole from Team Adam during the second battle round, elected to sing "It Will Rain" by Bruno Mars, dedicating it to his wife, who has "been so supportive" of him. As the new guy on the team, Kaufman aimed to show Usher what he was about. His soulful, gospel-infused rendition of the song was, in fact, a showstopper.

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