'The Voice' coach Blake Shelton's 'soul-crushing' decision: 'My heart's broken right now'

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·9 min read

As The Voice Season 21 Knockout Rounds commenced Monday, Team Blake hopeful Hailey Green — a shaved-headed, tattooed, 15-year-old badass who’s the only female football player on her high school team; who originally tried out for the show when she was just 13; and who was once compared to a “cheetah” — made an especially ballsy move by covering her own coach’s “God’s Country,” transforming it into a swampy rawker right in front of him.

“Hailey is a bold artist, so it doesn't surprise me that she chose this song, because she doesn't hit me as a type of person to really back down from anything,” declared an amazed Blake Shelton. “I've literally lost years off my life trying to get through that vocal, and listening to you sing that — holy crap,” he raved, after Hailey fearlessly roared through the tune while playing fiery electric guitar. She “filled up this room with energy” according to John Legend, giving the track a Jon Bon Jovi/“Blaze of Glory” stadium vibe.

But sadly, Hailey’s glory was short-lived. Unfortunately for her, her Knockouts competitor, Cameroonian chanteuse Libianca, spectacularly performed Billie Eilish's “Everything I Wanted.” And while Libianca, who has both depression and anxiety, struggled and even sobbed during rehearsal, she delivered a confident, jazzy performance that John described as a “master class” once she hit the main stage. 

“There was no way in hell I was going to let Libianca leave. I feel like she had the tallest mountain to climb, and she was able to get it together. As a coach, there's no way I can't reward that,” Blake explained. Still, Blake confessed that letting Hailey go, especially after she sang his own song, absolutely crushed his soul. “My heart's broken right now,” he lamented.

Yes, many tough decisions had to be made Monday, because at this stage in the game, there were no Saves left in play — only Steals. I was surprised that no other coach stole Hailey, who showed so much raw potential, but Hailey, who turned no chairs when she first tried out for The Voice last year, was simply grateful for another opportunity. “I was here in Season 19 and you told me to come back, and I just want to thank you for giving me that chance,” she graciously told Blake.

These were other Knockout Rounds of Monday night — two of which did end in Steals:

TEAM BLAKE: Jonathan Mouton vs. Wendy Moten

Going up against a veteran pro backup singer and four-chair frontrunner like Wendy, poor Jonathan — an original Team Legend member who was stolen by Blake in the Battle Rounds — must have known he was the underdog in this Mouton vs. Mouton showdown. His “I Can See Clearly Now” started off promisingly, with a masterful a cappella intro that showcased his pure tone, but the song choice was too light and laid-back, so his performance never really caught fire. Meanwhile, Wendy’s cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” was pure fire from the first verse, and she brought the heat throughout. “How do you honor an Aretha Franklin song, and yet breathe so much new life into it?” coach Ariana Grande marveled rhetorically.

Ariana called Jonathan’s performance an “amazingly infectious interpretation,” and John said it was “full of heart and joy” and “so inviting.” But John called Wendy’s performance a “tour de force,” and Kelly Clarkson even told Wendy, “You're one of those vocalists that literally is the reason why I'm sitting here.” So, of course, Wendy prevailed. 

“Jonathan blew me away, but the only problem with that is Wendy blew the building away,” Blake explained. “There is too much talent this season, and it’s really overwhelming,” sighed Ariana, as she and her fellow coaches opted not to steal Jonathan and he exited the show.

WINNER: Wendy Moten

TEAM ARIANA: Raquel Trinidad vs. Katie Rae

In this experience-vs.-youth pairing, 35-year-old mom Katie faced off against 23-year-old spitfire Raquel — with Katie doing a maudlin ballad, Lauren Daigle’s “Hold On to Me” (dedicated to her much-missed husband and 3-year-old son back home), and the bubbly, bouncy Raquel sassing it up during the Amy Winehouse version of the Zutons’ “Valerie.” Katie showcased the technically better voice — in fact, Ariana called it “one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard” — but her song choice felt old-fashioned and dreary, and her overall performance was staid. Meanwhile, Raquel, an American Idol alumnus and natural-born performer, was undeniably spunky and sparkling, lighting up the stage. Even Katie, sitting in her corner of the ring, couldn’t help but groove along.

John said Katie had "so much heart and connection with the song” and Kelly said Katie had “one of my favorite tones of the whole show,” but Ariana made the tough decision to keep Raquel, whom she called a “star.” But I guess Kelly really did love Katie’s tone, because she used her one Steal of the Knockouts on Katie, explaining, “I feel like I don't have anybody like her on my team. I've wanted Katie Rae since the Blinds, y'all, so I finally got her!” We will see if Katie can stand out more in Live Playoffs; song choice will be key.

WINNER: Raquel Trinidad / STOLEN: Katie Rae moves to Team Kelly

TEAM KELLY: Gymani vs. Kinsey Rose

Kelly self-deprecatingly admitted that she was an “idiot” to pair up such very different singers — a fiery soul stylist like Gymani and a sweet vintage-country crooner like Kinsey. Kinsey’s winsome cover of Deana Carter’s ‘90s hit “Strawberry Wine” was pleasant and pretty, but she was definitely disadvantaged following Gymani’s vocal-gymnastic workout of Zayn’s “Pillowtalk,” a passionate performance that had Mega Mentor Ed Sheeran comparing her to the almighty Jazmine Sullivan. 

“You ain’t never heard ‘Pillowtalk’ like this!” bragged Kelly, who ultimately picked the “better competitor” and saved Gymani. “What Gymani did with ‘Pillowtalk’ made me recognize she really came to win,” Kelly explained. I was surprised that Blake didn’t steal Kinsey, a four-chair contestant that vowed to “keep making country music” and probably would have won any other Knockout, but he said, “I didn't use my Steal for Kinsey, because I'm really trying to narrow down to one great country artist on my team this season.” 

WINNER: Gymani

TEAM LEGEND: Sabrina Dias vs. Joshua Vacanti

Joshua’s cover of Harry Styles’s plaintive heartbreak ballad “Falling” was very dramatic — maybe too dramatic. I think he needed to practice more restraint to tap into the song's muted sadness and sense of defeat, but Joshua ramped up way too soon, pretty much 10 seconds into the first verse. That being said, it was a proper showcase for his elastic, operatic voice, and the coaches were wowed. Meanwhile, Sabrina held back too much during her cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” — a song she’d picked before she knew Ed would actually be this season's Mega Mentor, so maybe she was nervous. However, her drumming was super-cool and something we hadn’t seen since Vicci Martinez banged the drums in Season 1.

All of the coaches were impressed by the fact that Sabrina brought out a drum kit and a guitar (a one-woman-band performance that was actually quite Sheeran-esque) while not letting all that multi-tasking compromise her vocals. But Kelly loved Joshua’s “big and round” tone, Blake said Joshua “came out and swung for the fence,” and John said Joshua “made the audience feel every single word that you sing.” I just wish Sabrina had done more drumming, rather than standing behind her kit like it was a stage prop for most of her song, because that would have helped her stand out more — and possibly survive. Perhaps she was just doomed by doing Ed’s song, just as Hailey was doomed by doing Blake’s.

WINNER: Joshua Vacanti

TEAM KELLY: Girl Named Tom vs. Holly Forbes

Both four-chair contestants, these two conjured magic tonight and lived up to their early promise. Holly, who had been frustratingly montaged during the Battles after getting a ton of screentime during the Blinds, was fully back and more brilliant than ever on the aptly titled “Superstar.” This was an exquisite vocal (Kelly called it “beautiful” and “edgy”) that even had Ariana saying, “Your voice is the kind that I grew up hearing and being like, ‘I want to sing!’” But sibling trio Girl Named Tom’s “Wichita Lineman,” dedicated to their terminally ill father, was also “flawless,” according to John, and Ariana said it was awards-ceremony-level.

Kelly was probably thinking once again that she was an “idiot” for putting these two frontrunners together, but she ultimately reasoned, “Holly, she's got such a rad voice, but I had to pick Girl Named Tom because they sound amazing together, but then they showed how each of them sound alone, and they can hold their own. That was so hard!”

Holly was too awesome to pass up, of course, so both John and Ariana went in for the Steal — reviving a rivalry from the Blind Auditions when Ariana had wanted to work with Holly so badly that she'd “maliciously held back” John by using her one Block of the season on him. Holly ended up picking Kelly at that time, but Ariana’s perseverance finally paid off this week. Sorry, John.

WINNER: Girl Named Tom / STOLEN: Holly Forbes moves to Team Ariana

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