"The Voice" offered up a dose of harsh reality for some struggling hopefuls Tuesday, as well as some sweeping praise for a handful of jaw-dropping performances by others. And as it did, it served as a reminder of just how unforgiving, and just how riveting, the live shows can be.
It was a rough night for some of the members of Team CeeLo, starting with Amber Nicole, who took on "Wasting All These Tears" by former "Voice" champ Cassadee Pope. CeeLo promised the young R&B singer that performing a country-inflected tune would "showcase a lot of range," but when she hit the stage, Amber Nicole struggled.
Blake gave her credit for venturing out of her genre comfort zone, but both he and Adam criticized her execution and admitted she had fallen short on the song's big note.
Still, Amber Nicole's former coach Christina looked on the bright side, praising her emotive delivery and pointing out that she nailed the note on the second try. "You rose to the occasion with such class," CeeLo agreed.
Air Force veteran Jonny Gray was up next, with a cover of the Verve's Brit-pop hit "Bittersweet Symphony." He gave a solid performance but struggled to elaborate on the song's droning, low-key vocal melody, though he tried.
The coaches agreed that they were left wanting more from his performance, adding that they saw hints of the originality they were after in the final bars of the song. If anything, Christina said, he may have been too consistent, and she wished he had "let loose" earlier in the performance.
Jonny's teammate Tamara Chauniece earned higher marks from the coaches when she performed next. Chauniece, steeped in gospel, worried her tight-knit church community wouldn't support her foray into pop, but she committed to it anyway, tackling what she called a "go hard or go home" song: the Gloria Gaylor post-breakup classic "I Will Survive."
Tamara went hard, and the coaches lauded her for it. Adam said it was her best performance yet.
Following in the theme of Team CeeLo members being prodded out of their comfort zone, her glam-rock teammate Kat Robichaud was also challenged to try something new: a tender song to counter her gravelly rock-and-roll chops.
For that, she took on Mary Lambert's "She Keeps Me Warm," giving a performance so vulnerable and intimate that she even hugged a stranger in the audience during it.
She may have done exactly what her coach wanted, but her dialed-down performance had the other coaches reminiscing for her usual growling and electric energy. "I wanted to see seven gears of Kat, and I didn't get that," Adam said. "I thought maybe you had the potential of soaring a little bit higher," Christina added.
Indeed, it was a rough reception Tuesday night for much of Team CeeLo, but it was anything but for Caroline Pennell, the 17-year-old with the ethereal voice with its shades of Kate Bush. CeeLo tasked her with singing the White Stripes' ditty "We're Going to Be Friends."
"I'm looking for her to charm the American audience and give 'em all cavities from being so sweet," CeeLo said.
Caroline did just that, at least when it came to the panel of coaches. "For the first time tonight, I heard purely you," Adam gushed. Blake had a somewhat more disarming reaction -- pun intended. "I could literally be getting an amputation, and listening to your singing, and all I would be thinking about would be cotton candy," he said.
That wrapped up the Team CeeLo performances for the night, and it was on to Team Christina. First up was Josh Logan, for whom Christina made the gutsy choice to assign to sing "Crazy," by none other than CeeLo's own duo Gnarls Barkley. "It's really important that you don't let the listener relax," Christina counseled, citing her faith in Josh's artistry.
For Josh, that meant performing the song with a jazzy, off-the-cuff, almost scat-inflected ease. CeeLo enjoyed the performance, while Adam said it "got a little complicated sometimes" and he wished it were "a little more scaled-back." But Christina disagreed. "What you did today was so original and it was so Josh," she said. "You're such a skilled vocalist."
Next, Olivia Henken, a Louisville-bred blonde powerhouse, was challenged to push past her undeniable country roots to pop. The vehicle: Katy Perry's "Roar."
"Make sure you give it dimension," Christina told Olivia. "You tend to give the wall of sound. I'm looking for tender moments."
Whether her take on the pop hit gave those was unclear, but the coaches were wowed anyway. "That was very risky as a country artist, and it worked," Blake told her, adding that he rued the fact that she wasn't on his team. Christina had a simple message for her: "Olivia, you did my heart so proud."
Next came perhaps the hardest member of Team Christina to peg to a genre, former cruise ship lounge singer Stephanie Ann Johnson, who was happy to be back with her original coach after she'd stolen her back from CeeLo.
Christina tasked her with singing the gorgeous Ray Charles classic "Georgia on My Mind," a task that might be tough for many singers but that Christina thought would benefit from Stephanie Ann's "unique tonality."
It did, thanks to her bold, creative reimagining of the familiar tune. Adam said he was impressed at how she'd made the song her own, despite his reverence for the song, and CeeLo said he was frankly jealous of her prodigious talents.
The one other male member of Team Christina sang next, and college student and part-time bagel slinger Matthew Schuler was given an equally tough song to sing: Miley Cyrus' vocal gymnastics-laden hit "Wrecking Ball."
"Every single week, he's shown a different layer to his voice," Christina said of Matthew. She hoped the song would let the indie-rocker show a more emotive side.
That it did, to all the coaches' amazement, and sometimes rage.
"I just hate how much i love you, dude!" CeeLo fumed at his rival contestant, while Blake took a page (or a cleaned-up edit) from CeeLo's own lyric book to voice his own frustration with Matthew's massive singing gift. "What am I gonna say? Forget you, man," Blake said.
"Three hearts just broke," Adam added, referring to himself and the other rival coaches. "Everything you were showing us on that stage is exactly what you need to take this thing all the way."
Such praise made Matthew a tough act to follow, but Jacquie Lee, the competition's youngest contestant at just 16, somehow managed to do it one better.
Christina, who showed an endearingly big-sisterly relationship with Jacquie in rehearsals, tasked the teen with the Screamin' Jay Hawkins standby "I Put a Spell on You."
But Jacquie's take was nothing like Screamin' Jay's (mercifully), nor like any of the countless covers of it. She turned in a flawless, emotionally intense, no-holds-barred performance full of bluesy stomp and diva-worthy wails.
"That was the absolute best!" CeeLo exclaimed afterward. (Nevermind that he was her rival coach.) "I don't care how old you were, that's just amazing," Adam agreed.
"Sixteen? Are you kidding me? America, vote for this girl," Jacquie's own proud coach Christina concluded.
With that, the voting began. America's results and the coaches' picks for the Top 12 will be revealed Thursday.
"The Voice" airs Mondays at 8/7c and Tuesdays at 9/8c. A special episode of "The Voice" also airs this Thursday at 8/7c.