Episode Recap: Season 4 Live Playoffs, Night 1

The Voice - Season 4

Starting The Voice live shows – and first to sing for your vote –  are Team Adam and Team Usher. Fans know that anything can happen during live playoffs, especially on the first night. So how did the introductory chapter of season four go?

First of all, Team Usher has their own labeled sweatshirts. Their coach has brought them to the gym in order to get them in gear for their first group performance, which surprises Josiah, who didn’t expect to be working out for a singing competition. He finds out that singing and exercising simultaneously is difficult. Carson makes a slightly corny Floyd Mayweather joke before Team Usher performs “Black and Gold” on an appropriately colored stage. It’s exactly the performance you’d expect from a team coached by an R&B singer.

Team Adam’s Amber Carrington gets the first solo spot. The wardrobe department seems to love dressing her in black. She’s singing “Stay” by Rihanna, which is something simpler and more emotional than what we’ve heard from her before. In keeping with that approach, the setup of her stage is pretty minimal, allowing us to focus on the clarity of her vocals. Adam gives Amber a standing ovation, while Blake thinks she set the bar for the evening pretty high before plugging the official coffee carrier of The Voice.

Blake: Makes me want to thank Starbucks for this latte.

Number two on the set list – after another awkward Sprint Skybox segment – is Team Usher’s Josiah Hawley. His take on “Starlight” by Muse is stronger than the performances we’ve seen from him previously, but it still doesn’t quite reach out and grab you like other artists have done. Carson thinks it sounded great. Shakira thinks it’s Josiah’s best performance so far. Adam approves of Usher’s coaching. Then there’s Blake being Blake.

Blake: Looks like the world’s going to lose a male model. I’m gonna have to fill in.

Following that is Team Adam’s Sarah Simmons, who’s selected Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” It’s a song guaranteed to make people cry; ask Javier Colon, who did it in season one. Sarah’s voice has a tone to it that is reminiscent of McLachlan, so it’s a great choice and you can see the emotional connection she has to the lyrics. It’s also worth noting that Sarah almost always enunciates, which is something that’s underappreciated in music. Blake calls her angelic and tells his team to do that, while Usher offers just some mild criticism, before Shakira whips out some more Spanish. And Adam? Oh, just calls her one of the most incredible singers he’s ever heard. No big deal.

There’s another break in the competition for Carson to chat up Today‘s Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker, in the first installment of NBC cross-promotion. Once that’s over, it’s time for Team Usher’s Cathia and her version of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” which has been done by Cheesa in season two and Devyn DeLoera in season three. We learn that the song was Usher’s choice, though, and he probably didn’t know that. While Cathia delivers a good effort, it comes across as more volume than emotion. Shakira doesn’t agree with the song choice. Carson doesn’t care what Adam thinks. Usher is a bit vague, talking more about how he believes in Cathia than anything else.

He takes a break to team with Adam on a cover of “Superstition” complete with horns. It’s pretty darned fun, and it makes you wonder if the show’s going to ask Shakira and Blake to collaborate next (it’d be fair, wouldn’t it?). Once the coaches have left the stage, it’s time for Team Adam’s Caroline Glaser. Adam hands her Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” which is a pretty popular song of recent, so that adds to the challenge. She admits to being nervous, but it definitely doesn’t come across on stage. Blake comments on his latte again. Adam nearly facepalms.

Adam: Did they pay you or something?

Team Usher’s Vedo sings Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” which was previously done by another R&B vocalist, Jermaine Paul. But it’s another coach’s choice. Vedo doesn’t even know who Phil Collins is. After another emotional performance from Vedo that is pretty impressive for a guy who’d never heard of the original artist before, Shakira makes a comment about the universe and Adam busts out a faux-Italian accent. It’s one of the most random segments of coach feedback in the history of the show.

The spotlight then turns to the entirety of Team Adam, as they visit Adam’s family’s clothing store, meet Adam’s stylist and get some fashion tips before they gather for their group version of Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.” But they do not have matching sweatshirts. As you’d expect from a team of ladies handed an epic song by a female vocalist, they nail their collaboration, particularly Amber and the ever-impressive Judith Hill. If one of them doesn’t win this season, they could always get back together as a group act.

After that comes Team Usher’s Michelle Chamuel, performing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” Usher thinks it’s a perfect song for Michelle, going so far as to bring out a mirror because he wants her to see how the song applies to her. Her rendition isn’t quite as alive as the one by James Massone in season two, but it has an earnestness to it that makes it likeable. Adam thinks it was a breakout moment for her, and Blake is annoyed that he didn’t get to say that first. The consensus is another great performance.

Last but not least is the woman everyone is waiting for: Team Adam’s Judith Hill. What’s she going to do in order to continue wowing the audience? That would be “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, which Dez Duron did a fantastic version of last season, but if anyone can bring as much soul as he did, it’s Judith. Adam thinks this is a statement performance for Judith, specifically citing her former teammate Sasha Allen as tough competition. Not to discount Sasha, but Judith has nothing to worry about based on what she does, which is a rendition that wouldn’t be out of place on a Broadway stage. She knows how to command an audience, and considering it’s the audience that’s deciding her fate, that’s a very good thing.

Usher: You came out here and you took us to church.

On that high note, the first live playoff night draws to a close. Tune in tomorrow to see Team Blake and Team Shakira take the stage – and then watch Wednesday to find out which artists won’t make America’s first cut to be named ‘The Voice’ for season four.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick/Big Red Chairs. Excerpts appear at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @bigredchairs.