As the fourth season of The Voice continues to roll out with more blind auditions, the new configuration of coaches is starting to grow on us. But, honestly, the jury will probably still be out until we reach the live shows, because one thing we've learned is that the transition from pre-recorded to without-a-net live tapings can sink even the most seasoned pro (see: American Idol's Steven Tyler, The X Factor's Britney Spears).
Right now, where Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green created a more laid-back, something's-in-the-air vibe, newbies Usher and Shakira seem to be shepherding in a three-ring circus. The coaches constantly pop up out of their chairs like Whac-a-Mole characters – dancing, flirting, play-fighting and generally getting in each other's faces in a way that can sometimes be refreshingly fun and other times makes us worry the show's one step away from becoming a joke.
But one thing's for sure: The spirited bromantic competition between Adam Levine and Blake Shelton has become the reason to tune in.
Case in point: From the moment 35-year-old, Miami-based music teacher Karina Iglesias stepped onstage, Blake goaded Adam to press his button. As she growled her way through Melissa Etheridge's "I'm the Only One," throwing in some Spanish verses along the way, the two coaches tried to fake each other out when it came to turning their chairs. "I will if you will," taunted Blake as Adam tried to make up his mind. Finally, literally on the very last note she sang, they both hit their big red game-changers. "That was the most stressful thing I've ever gone through in my life," Adam quipped to a confused Karina, who obviously had no idea what had been going on.
After some light-hearted ribbing – "He can't even understand you," Adam said of Blake, who was having a hard time wading through the Latina's Spanish accent – Karina chose to join Team Adam, prompting the Maroon 5 singer to rub it in Blake's face. First there was a fake-out handshake, then there was a bear hug that turned into an awkward dry-hump, causing Usher to say the two needed "couple's therapy." No way, we say. We could watch this kind of dysfunctionality for days.
Also upping the ante between the two is the fact that Blake easily walks away with any country artist who takes the stage. Until now, that is.
There's been a lot of trash-talk from Adam about stealing a country act from Blake's "clutches," and he did just that with 31-year-old model-esque firefighter Warren Stone. After singing Zac Brown Band's "Colder Weather" and turning three out of four chairs, the artist decided to join Team Adam to everyone's surprise. "My dream has come true," Adam said with a smile.
Also making waves was 17-year-old former gymnast Taylor Beckham, who had "Disney star" written all over her and, thus, wound up on Team Usher. Also landing on Usher's team was pop-eyed, self-proclaimed "nerd" Michelle Chamuel, who sang a "fierce" rendition of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl."
But it wasn't all fun and games during the night. Despite all the coaches' antics, real dreams are at stake here – and many artists spent 90 seconds singing to the backs of chairs.
That's exactly what happened to 20-year-old Landon Medvec, who was performing his first-ever gig. He confounded the judges with his rendition of James Morrison's "You Give Me Something," as they couldn't seem to figure out whether he was a man or a woman. At the end of the performance, after no one turned around, Usher point-blank asked, "Why aren't you a girl?" Talk about adding insult to injury.
Also suffering heartache was 33-year-old Julie Roberts, who country fans may already know, as she had been a burgeoning artist with a gold record under her belt before a series of unfortunate events let her slip through the cracks and wind up back in oblivion. Singing Blake's "God Gave Me You," she hoped to turn at least his chair, as they knew each other from the Nashville scene. But when she left empty-handed, all he could do was shake his head and say, "I'm so sorry."
That's OK, he can always turn to Adam for a shoulder to cry on.
Previously: Happy Endings for Everyone but Blake Shelton