This week, for the first time ever for "The Voice" contestants, going home didn't signify defeat. That's because the five acts vying for the title were given a chance to head home to visit their loved ones and get a rare respite from the competition, for the first time ever on the show.
The pressure was back on Monday night, though, as two of those five acts — Sasha Allen, Danielle Bradbery, Amber Carrington, Michelle Chamuel and the Swon Brothers — would be heading home Tuesday night for good.
Kicking off Monday's round of two songs apiece was a performance by resident coach (and embodiment of cool) Usher, who crooned a funk-inflected take on his single "Twisted," even managing to show off splits that would make Bela Karolyi proud.
In a stylistic 180, the Swon Brothers, who collectively form one half of the all-country Team Blake, took the stage next to take on Bob Seger's "Turn the Page," which they dedicated to their past and present bandmates. The Oklahoma boys turned in a slow burn of a cover of the dark '70s hit.
Adam unveiled his brand-new "Swon salute" in the brothers' honor, a gesture that resembled a bird of prey of some kind more than a swan. Their coach Blake predicted the performance would set a high bar for the night. "I think that we've seen the biggest growth in the Swon Brothers in this competition over anybody else," he said.
New York mom-turned-diva Sasha Allen was up next, with a take on the Dolly Parton-turned-Whitney Houston torch song "I Will Always Love You" — a whale of a song to tackle on "The Voice," but one Sasha's coach Shakira was confident she'd nail. Sasha dedicated her performance, backed by a harpist and a bevy of smoke-shrouded violinists, to her kids.
Adam agreed that the song was "a monster song," its challenges equalled only by those posed by "The Star-Spangled Banner," but agreed with Shakira that Sasha more than did it justice. "You weren't imitating anybody; you were doing it your own way," he said. And Shakira admitted that credit for the song choice belonged elsewhere.
"My mom has been telling me from the beginning, 'Why isn't she singing a Whitney Houston song?'" Shakira laughed. "I think you made Whitney's fans really proud tonight."
Next on stage was Massachusetts-bred dance-pop singer Michelle Chamuel, whose whirlwind trip home to Amherst had entailed a surprise visit from her old bandmates and a stint singing "God Bless America" at Fenway for a Boston Red Sox game.
Monday night, she covered German dance producer's song "Clarity" — a comfortable fit for the high-energy but pint-sized dance-pop singer.
"I feel like a broken records because every week I just tell you how much I love you," Adam told her afterward. "It's always amazing how dramatic you can be," Blake said — adding that, as an opponent, he wished he could find fault with her performance but couldn't.
Next came Michelle's 16-year-old competition, Texas-bred country darling Danielle, whose own hometown visit meant singing for her own hometown team, the Houston Astros — plus singing for her classmates at a pep rally at her high school.
On "The Voice" stage, she performed Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me," with the encouragement of McGraw himself, courtesy of a "good luck" video he sent her. The encouragement paid off: The teen delivered a confident, rich rendition of the song that Adam deemed "amazeballs."
"You cannot sing a song better than you just did that," he told her.
Team Adam's own last hope this season, Amber, who was set to sing Katy Perry's "Firework" and who got her own video of encouragement from Perry, headed onto the stage next. Amber dedicated the song to her best friends — one of whom she credited with urging her to compete on "The Voice."
"The power of your voice is just phenomenal," Blake told her after she had finished belting out the inspiring hit, struggling a bit with the big notes. Shakira noted that the song was a hard one to tackle. "It's a really tough mountain to climb," Adam agreed, but he told Amber, "You really can do anything."
Oklahoma's favorite duo were up again next, fresh off a visit back to their home state — which dedicated an entire week to them and turned out in droves to cheer their homecoming.
They performed the Kenny Loggins favorite "Danny's Song," a song that even country neophyte Adam loved — and loved their big-hearted, genuine version of, he said. Usher praised not just their performance but their unique connection with their audience, and the way they had managed to teach him to love country. "One thing about being a great artist is being a great teacher," he said.
Resident diva Sasha was back next, this time with an unrepentantly funky disco classic counterpart to her earlier lost-love ballad. After a tearful visit with her daughter and fiancé back in New York, plus a low-key performance at her old haunt the Village Underground, she took on Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" on the "Voice" stage, and looked ever more comfortable and joyful on it.
"I feel like you started this competition as a voice," Sasha's coach Shakira said, "but we didn't have an idea of you as a performer." Performances like these, Shakira said, had changed all that.
Danielle was back next, dedicating her performance of Jessica Andrews' "Who I Am" to her parents and her best friend — even wandering off-stage to her parents during the song to prove it.
"That right there is why you are still here," Usher said after rattling off his own list of relatives he wanted to honor, clearly affected by Danielle's dedication. Blake then followed up with his own appeal to the voting viewers, telling them what a fantastic person his youngest team member and frontrunner was. "She is just every bit the girl that you hope she is," he said.
Her fellow Texas girl Amber was back next, after a trip back to Rockwall, where she was feted by a family reunion and by Rockwall's mayor, who handed her the keys to the city. After performing a string of tough, iconic songs by powerhouse singers — from Patsy Cline to Adele — she took on a new kind of challenge in the form of a song by her coach, Maroon 5's "Sad."
Her take on Maroon 5's "Sad" riveted her audience and built from a low-key lament to a soaring belt. "I can't wait to buy your record," Blake told her. "You're such an emotional singer. I don't think you've gotten the recognition for how emotional you are, and it's beautiful."
Closing out the night was Michelle on-stage again, this time with Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." The pick was a particularly meaningful one: She dedicated it to her coach Usher, after her breakout performance had come earlier this season courtesy of Lauper's "True Colors," which Usher picked for her.
Michelle approached the song with her trademark blend of fragile falsetto and piercing crescendo, winning the usual delight of her audience and the coaches.
"You are without a doubt one of my favorites in this competition," Shakira, usually given to understated praise, declared. "You are in a permanent crescendo."
Usher's declaration was simpler — if bolder.
"You're the winner," he said.
That will be seen soon — but first, on Tuesday, the two contestants with the fewest votes will be heading home, this time not just for a visit.
"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC at 8/7c.