The Knockouts kicked off on The Voice tonight, as singer-songwriter Nate Ruess of Fun. dropped by to advise the artists.
Christina Aguilera had the first pairing of the night, with Ashley Morgan facing Sonic. Aguilera acquired Morgan in a steal from Team Pharrell during the Battle Round, so Morgan had to take her performance to the next level to prove Aguilera made the right move by stealing her. She sang “Heartbreaker” by Pat Benatar, and Aguilera pushed her to bring more emotion to her singing. Morg showed a rock-star quality in her Knockout performance, but Sonic’s voice sounded better. Her pitch never wavered in her performance of “A Woman’s Worth” by Alicia Keys, and Aguilera picked her as the champion.
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Next, Blake Shelton paired Brian Johnson with Sarah Potenza. Johnson chose to sing “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” by James Morrison. Potenza chose “Wasted Love” by former Voice contestant Matt McAndrew, who dropped by her rehearsal session with Shelton and Ruess. Singing a ballad seemed like an odd choice for Potenza, who is better suited for more upbeat rock anthems. But she showed a different side of her abilities, and it was just as strong as her stellar Battle Round performance. Johnson looked natural on stage, and his vocals were strong, but the performance lacked excitement. Potenza won, but in a surprising move, Adam Levine stole Johnson.
From Team Adam, Clinton Washington and Nathan Hermida went head-to-head next. Hermida picked “Leave Your Lover” by Sam Smith as his Knockout song, and even though it’s a very challenging song to sing, he rose to the challenge. In his rehearsal, Levine told Hermida to work on the precision of his falsetto to take the performance to the next level vocally. Washington, the more experienced artist of the pair, sang “Wanted” by Hunter Hayes, hoping the country side of the song would help him stand out on Levine’s R&B-heavy team. Hermida showed wider range than Washington, and his falsetto was really impressive. Levine picked Hermida as the winner.
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Because Anthony Riley dropped out of the competition for personal reasons, the first three-way Knockout face-off ever was put together by Pharrell. He matched up Sawyer Fredericks, Paul Pfau and Mia Z, who are all very different artists. Mia Z used her Knockout performance to once again show off her insane range with high notes that seem to defy all logic. “It’s dolphin language,” Levine said. Pfau gave one of his strongest performances of the competition, but his vocal abilities didn’t stand out as much as Mia’s. With one of the stranger song choices of the night, Sawyer Fredericks sang “Collide” byHowie Day, and it was a boring performance, but Pharrell still picked him as one of the winners. The second winner of the special three-way Knockout was Mia Z, who was the obvious choice.
Shelton paired two of his steals from the Battle Round next: Meghan Linsey and Travis Ewing. Linsey sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, and the song choice played to all her strengths as an artist. It showed she can do a lot more than just country, making her a valuable asset for Team Blake. Ewing went the more country route, singing “I Don’t Want To Be” by Gavin Degraw, but his technique wasn’t as strong as Linsey’s, and he was knocked out of the competition.
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For the final Knockout of the night, Aguilera paired Kimberly Nichole and Koryn Hawthorne. In her performance of “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” Nichole showed off her natural abilities and also displayed a lot of improvement. Hawthorne boldly chose P!nk’s “Try,” and she actually maintained control over the difficult vocals. Aguilera crowned Nichole the winner, but Pharrell stole Hawthorne with the smartest steal of the evening.
Overall, almost every artist showed improvement since their Battle Round performances, and the influence of their coaches is becoming more and more evident. What did you think of the first night of Knockouts?
This article originally appeared in THR.com.