It's the last night of the playoffs, time for Team Usher to make its statement. Once again, there are no steals and no second chances. Make your voice heard, or go home. Here's everything you need to know about tonight's show.
Usher always plays his cards close to the vest.
In contrast to the demonstrative Adam and Shakira on Monday night, Usher won't be leaping out of his seat and howling with excitement when his artists are killing it onstage. The singers are really going to have to work to move on.
First up is T.J. Wilkins, the soul singer from South Central Los Angeles. He's singing the 1970s soul hit "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan and Rufus, which was originally written by one of T.J.'s heroes, Stevie Wonder. In a bit of a surprise, the usually undemonstrative Usher spends part of the performance grinning, waving and giving T.J. a big thumbs-up. But by the time it is over, Usher has regained his usual somewhat stoic demeanor.
The other coaches aren't quite as restrained. Shakira is so enthusiastic she mangles an idiom right off the bat: "When you hit that high note, that was the ace under your sleeve!" She's trumped a minute later by Blake admitting he doesn't know what a tenor sax is. Probably a good thing T.J. has Usher as his coach. Usher is enthusiastic but sparing with the praise, mostly commenting on how difficult this decision is going to be, though he gives T.J. a standing ovation as the singer leaves the stage.
Next up is Melissa Jimenez, the New Jersey pop/R&B artist. She chooses to sing Beyonce's "Halo" and goes for a very stripped-down arrangement - just her, center stage with a Voice band member accompanying her on the piano. Echoing Usher's comments during rehearsals, the coaches all compliment Melissa on her brave choice. It's a big risk to take a Beyonce song with such power and tone it down into a piano ballad that emphasizes Melissa's voice. Blake seems to be the most impressed, but it's up to Usher in the end and as always, he isn't giving any hints as to which way he'll go. Melissa feels good about her performance, but was it enough?
The next singer will also get the "bravery" compliment from his coach. Stevie Jo is a one-time heavy metal singer who has gone over to a blues and soul sound, so he's got a lot of competition on Team Usher. He picks B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," another tough choice that will either hit spectacularly or fall flat. Blake is blown away, saying he'll leave the nitpicking for Adam and Usher. But both of them are very complimentary. Well, Adam is complimentary. Usher, being Usher and still having a tough decision to make, is more reserved. Adam thinks Stevie is an untapped resource, and Stevie hopes Usher will recognize just how much of a risk he took with this song. We shall see.
Bria Kelly, the small town girl from Virginia, is up next with her take on the Rolling Stones classic "Wild Horses." It's another swing-for-the-fences moment from a Team Usher artist, but this song is right in Bria's wheelhouse if she can connect to the emotion of it. She takes the stage with a new Les Paul guitar, a recent gift from her dad that she says is like "taking a little piece of family onstage" with her. Her voice is so powerful, and she's got a rasp and tone that lets her totally nail the song. The coaches are very excited to, as Adam says, "have her back" after a couple of shaky battle round performances that perhaps masked her power as a soloist. The emotion of the song and the stress of the process must have really gotten her, as Bria seems humbled in front of the coaches and backstage afterwards.
We're getting to the end, and Adam and Shakira are doing some yoga stretches to keep themselves energized. Hang in guys, only one more to go.
Josh Kaufman is the final singer of the night. Usher stole the talented singer from Adam, who still laments that. Like the rest of the team, Josh has taken on a tough song in "It Will Rain" by Bruno Mars. But Usher thinks he has what it takes to pull the song off, which is a high compliment from Usher. Taking the stage without the guitar he had in rehearsals, Josh shows great range with his notes, going from low to high and back down smoothly. The coaches are all blown away, with Adam still lamenting having had to give Josh up and Blake saying if he had steals left he would be less complimentary so Usher wouldn't want him and Blake could grab the singer. Even Usher seems as enthused as he ever gets.
Then it's the moment of judgment as all five members of Team Usher take the stage. The coach has a moment to speak to his artists. Then he makes his first choice: Bria Kelly. It's not a surprise given her terrific performance, but she still looks like she may cry. Usher's second choice: Josh Kaufman, whose young daughter in the audience looks like she might cry. Sorry kid, Daddy's going to be in Los Angeles for a little while longer.
The final three link arms and take a moment to thank Usher for his guidance and coaching. Then he announces his choice: T.J. Wilkins. Stevie Jo and Melissa are heading home. Usher issues a warning to the other teams: Team Usher represents the soul of The Voice this year, so in the next rounds you better bring it.
We're down to the final 12. Can the artists rise to the occasion when their live audience is the entire world outside the soundstage? We'll find out starting next week.
The artists of Team Usher face elimination as the playoffs come to a close.