We’re finally at the start of the Knockouts on The Voice. Twelve artists take the stage, but only eight will advance to the Live Playoffs around the corner. Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton and Pharrell Williams welcome Rihanna, the singer and songwriter from Barbados who has earned the distinction of being one of the best-selling artists of all time. Rihanna has produced over a dozen of the best-selling singles of all time and sold over 41 million albums. What a resume this woman has. If she doesn’t know how to make it to the top, then nobody does.

The artists who practice with Rihanna are astounded at the magnanimity of their visiting adviser, and several are star-struck. Rihanna is able to pull the best out of several artists, but other artists fail to find every ounce of power within themselves to win their Knockouts. Rihanna even manages to achieve what Gwen Stefani was powerless to accomplish on her own: convincing one artist to do something much more attractive with his hair. Did that artist win his round? Find out below.

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The first pairing of the Knockouts belongs to Adam Levine. He says now that the Battles are complete, his team of eight is beginning to take shape. His sole responsibility now is to figure out who has the warrior spirit that can take the title. After lots of teasing clips about what’s in store for viewers in this Knockouts premiere, Adam introduces Rihanna, whom he describes as fierce, unique and special, “a really refreshing spirit in the universe.” 

Duo Andi & Alex Go Head to Head to Head with Blaine Mitchell

Adam put these two acts together because they both have an “off the beaten path” style. Andi and Alex talk about how this is their last shot at becoming professional recording artists together. Rihanna warns the two not to be afraid of their own voices. Adam recommends they lose the guitar. They’ve chosen “Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban. I’m super psyched because I am a mongo-bongo-enormo Keith Urban fan. Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing was my first Keith Urban album. I’ve seen him in concert performing “Stupid Boy.” Sometimes, familiarity makes it difficult to be impartial. However, if anyone can make this song golden, it would be these women. 

Adam used one of his precious steals to acquire Blaine when Blake chose Blind Joe over him in the Battles. Rihanna says during practice that she just loves Blaine. She says he performs like he’s been doing it forever. She also loves the unique way he moves and gestures as he performs. She tells him never to change that. You can tell that Blaine’s body just does its own thing as the words of the song bleed out from his soul. Adam advises Blaine to bring more clarity to the second haunting half of the performance. Rihanna blurts, “How ballsy!” after Blaine’s final practice performance. This bodes well for Blaine.

Andi & Alex Perform “Stupid Boy” and Blaine Performs “Hold Back the River”

Holy crap. Blaine’s performance is intense and just … sick. My whole body tenses watching and listening to him. He completely surrenders himself to the music. Rihanna described it accurately when she said he sounds like he’s just come off a twisted tour. Damn. My one negative comment about his performance: he should do something about that hair. Andi and Alex have the hair, but how the hell are they going to top that act?

Andi and Alex slow Keith Urban’s song down. They hit almost every note and they do a fine job, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the energy and intensity of what Blaine brought.

Blake says he sees the error of his choice during the Battles. Pharrell says that Blaine experienced what every artist in the world should experience — to have their audience discover that there is so much more to the performer than originally thought. It’s pretty clear Blaine has this wrapped up. Let’s see if the king of “Sugar” makes the right choice.

Result: Adam chooses Blaine

Gwen Pits Braiden Sunshine Against Ellie Lawrence

Gwen choose these two to compete because of their equally interesting personalities. Full disclosure, folks: I bought Ellie’s single, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” and have played a hole in the track on my iPod. Love her. Braiden has a cool voice, but I’m not digging it. 

Rihanna says the voice that comes out of little Braiden is scary. Gwen tells him to go theatrical when he performs. Rihanna says he needs to slick his hair back, but Gwen says Braiden won’t let her do it for him. Bummer. Braiden, son, did you learn nothing from season 7’s Craig Wayne Boyd? Craig Wayne took home the statue, dude! Apparently, Braiden has a sweetie who says she’ll cut him off if he changes his hair. Rihanna promises that the girl will come crawling back when he’s loaded with dollar bills. I tend to agree with the women on this. 

Ellie talks about how she is becoming the artist she’s supposed to be. She’s experienced having people stare at her blue hair and tattoos. Gwen says she has such natural instincts. Gwen tells Ellie to bring her sassiness and Rihanna coaches her on sharpening up her flats by shaping her mouth a certain way. It’s not looking good for baby girl during practice, folks, and I’m worried. 

As an aside, Gwen has some fantastic gold metallic embellished white shorts on during practice. If I were there, I’d be ripping them straight off her body and taking them home with me. I’d have to steal because I could only afford the cuff of one leg. She’s officially my fashion idol now.

Braiden Performs “Feeling Good” and Ellie Performs “Cool for the Summer”

Well, what do you know? Braiden takes the stage and he’s let someone comb his curls out into a short ‘do. Unfortunately, it makes him look just as young as before, but in a totally different way. He does a great job on stage, but I’m not as excited about it as Gwen is. The only way he will take this round home is if Ellie skunks it. 

Ellie’s song choice is her downfall. “Cool for the Summer” doesn’t highlight the uniqueness of Ellie’s talent and she struggles. Damn. 

Adam is impressed with the hair, suit and tie on Braiden. He and Blake say it’s like Michael Buble is on the stage. All of the coaches give Ellie apologetic comments and moon all over Braiden. The writing is on the wall. It’s heartbreaking that we won’t get to listen to more from Ellie.

Result: Gwen chooses Braiden

Blake Puts Blind Joe and Barrett Baber into the Ring for the Knockout

Blake says he wants to put together the best team he can for the live shows. He asks Rihanna if he can give her a nickname, and she sorta agrees. Blaine shares about how difficult it is to be away from his family, and that’s what inspired his song choice. Blind Joe chose his song because he’s really a down home boy at heart.

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Blind Joe Performs “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and Barrett Performs “Colder Weather”

Blake says both artists have so much experience that it’s only fair to pit them against each other. Both of these guys have rich, beautiful voices. They are well matched.

Rihanna advises Blaine not to be so polite when he sings. She says he has to fearlessly steal our hearts. Rihanna is nearly speechless after Blind Joe’s practice performance. She says he just ripped her heart out with his sexy voice. This looks predictable at this point. 

Barrett performs his heart out, but he still seems slightly contained until almost the end. Blind Joe does a good job as well, but I’m wondering if he was singing in a higher octave than the practice because he’s just not hitting on all cylinders this time. He also seems incredibly nervous.

Pharrell says Barrett has a supernatural ability. Gwen loves how Barrett lets people into his heart. Blake acknowledges the powerfulness of each artist and says that what these two have been through in their lives makes him want to be a better man. Contrary to how it was heading during the practices with Blake and Rihanna, it’s clear Barrett is the winner of this round.

Result: Blake chooses Barrett

Pharrell’s First Knockout is Between Amy Vachal and Madi Davis

Finally, Pharrell gets a chance to show off his first Knockouts pairing in Amy and Madi. He says they both have delicate yet powerful voices. We see a snippet of Madi’s Blind Audition and I can’t remember seeing it, so it must have been in one of those vignettes. Does anyone recall her Battle? During the practice with Rihanna and Pharrell, Madi demonstrates her amazing runs. Pharrell is blown away. Rihanna says she is unique and brilliant. She advises Madi to round out her full tone. Pharrell loves the emotion in Madi’s voice during her practice. Both advisers say so many positive things about Madi.

Amy recalls her audition and compares it to the minuscule venues she used to frequent. Rihanna nixes the guitar and encourages Amy to fantasize about the perfect man while performing. Pharrell gets a kick out of both Rihanna and Amy fantasizing. Pharrell says Amy is going to have to come out swinging to win this Knockout. Rihanna says she still needs to give herself over to the emotions of the song. 

Madi Performs “A Case of You” and Amy Performs “A Sunday Kind of Love”

Amy is up first. Her performance is sweet and perfect and beautiful and tingly. Will it be enough to beat the powerfulness that is Madi Davis? Madi takes the stage and her performance is equally sweet and perfect and beautiful, but much more dynamic. The two song choices are equally matched. Gwen says she could listen to both women sing all day long and I could as well. Both songs are new to me, but I’ll be getting them for my own collection. 

Blake says Madi snuck up on him today. They both made him want to take a bubble bath — whatever that means. Pharrell says Madi is magical, while Amy is new and different. I have been very wrong in predicting what Pharrell will choose, so I am surprised when he finally announces his choice.

Result: Pharrell chooses Madi

Adam Wins the First Steal of the Night to Gain Amy Vachal

Before Carson Daly can fully announce Amy’s availability, Adam hits his buzzer, followed by Blake. Blake says he wanted her in the auditions and believes she’s a star. He says he will be damned if he’s not the perfect coach for her. Then he picks on Adam and his bald head. Adam presents his own case. He says she could win this season’s title. In the end, Amy says she just has to go with her gut.

Result: Amy chooses Adam

Blake Puts Chance Pena and Ivonne Acero in the Ring Together to Duke It Out

Throughout the Knockouts premiere, Blake teases Adam and his bald head by calling him Sinead O’Connor, Blue Man Group and Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers franchise. Why does that never get old? Speaking of nicknames, remember earlier when Blake wanted Rihanna to give him a nickname? Before practice with Ivonne and Chance, Rihanna calls Blake “Toad.” He takes it as a fairytale kind of frog prince and accuses Rihanna of making advances on him. Rihanna rolls her eyes and it looks like she’s really not enjoying Blake’s sense of humor. At the end of practice, Blake announces that their name as a couple will be printed in the tabloids as ‘Blihanna’ rather than ‘Rake.’ Okay, it’s funny to see Blake rejected and oblivious. 

Chance and Ivonne are Blake’s steals. That is why he put them together. Gwen calls Chance a heartthrob. Rihanna says Chance was a little flat in the beginning of the song. She says he should listen to Elvis because his voice can do all that. Blake tells Chance to loosen up his throat. Neither adviser seems to be wowed by this practice session. 

Ivonne is a returning season 8 artist who blew the coaches away with her audition this season. She was then saved from oblivion by a steal when she lost her battle to Siahna Im. 

Rihanna says Ivonne’s vibrato is sick but advises her on overusing it and getting pitchy. Blake talks with her about nerves. He says she was born to perform.

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Ivonne Performs “Part of Me” and Chance Performs “Demons”

Chance forces out a decent performance. He takes huge audible inhales when he runs out of oxygen. When he finally hits the third stanza, he raises the octave and his voice becomes more powerful. He doesn’t seem ready to be at this level of competition yet. 

Gwen is right that he is a heartthrob, and he’s finally wearing clothing that accentuates his fine physique. You may think it’s silly to mention artists’ attractiveness, but remember that the live performances are driven by viewer votes, and those viewers will vote for sexiness over quality whenever they feel like it. Mark my words. As for this Knockout, it will depend upon how well Ivonne performs and the connection she has with the audience. Oh, and whatever Blake chooses. 

Ivonne starts out gently and emotionally. The beginning and ending of her phrases seem to be fighting with each other. She seems to be struggling a bit in the same ways as Chance. Gwen loves Chance’s yodel but found it hard to connect with his song. Gwen feels that Ivonne was singing right into her heart and wanted to join her up on stage in harmony. 

Adam tells Chance he was singing in an octave that was too low for him. He compliments Chance on his gentlemanliness and encourages him to keep being a great guy. Blake says he has the two best steals of the season with these two guys.

Result: Blake chooses Ivonne

Adam’s Jordan Smith and Viktor Kiraly Share the Pimp Spot

After a review of what’s happened so far in this round, we’re off to the pimp spot where Jordan and Viktor will duke it out. Since this is the pimp spot, we can assume there will be a steal once Adam chooses who stays on his team. That’s usually how these things go; save the excitement for the final minutes before the curtain falls.

Jordan is blown away when he meets Rihanna, who he says has shaped the music of this generation. Jordan has chosen an Adele song. Rihanna modestly admits that she wouldn’t tackle an Adele original unless she was drunk at a karaoke bar. Jordan says the message of the song is about the journey of finding oneself. Rihanna says she’s a fan of Jordan’s voice. She tells him not to move or dance (that is not who he is), but she wants to feel him through his hands. When Jordan takes this to heart and gives it his all, he blows both Adam and Rihanna away, so much so that Rihanna can’t stand it when he stops singing. Adam says an artist should only perform Adele if you want to be the best … and Jordan can handle that. 

Viktor has chosen a song that Adam reveals is one Maroon 5 has covered. Oh, shit, says Viktor. It is an emotionally liquid song meant to pull at the heartstrings until they break, if you ask me. How could anyone not win with it? Rihanna seems to feel a little love connection with Viktor because he’s so damn swarthy looking, but she doesn’t admit it out loud. That’s my two cents. 

Jordan Performs “Set Fire to the Rain” and Viktor Performs “If I Ain’t Got You”

Well, what can one say about the performances? Jordan knocks the leather off his Adele cover. It’s dynamic, on key and powerful. The coaches keep giving each other wide-eyed looks and Adam almost jumps out of his chair. We cut to commercial, but not before the tease that there will be a ginormous steal when the judgement comes down from Adam. 

Viktor takes the stage and delivers a couple of smooth stanzas before hitting us with the power he’s been keeping behind that well-manicured manscaping of his and kicks the poo out of that song. Once again, my toes are curling. He hits a high note and holds it for a long time as the crowd goes wild. Despite being a beautiful man, and despite the richness of his voice, Viktor didn’t seem to have a chance against Jordan when Jordan put the microphone down. Now, it’s anybody’s game. 

Blake says he wasn’t expecting Viktor to knock it out of the building in the way he did. He says Viktor’s only problem is that he’s up against Jordan. He says he felt he was listening to the album when Jordan sang Adele. Pharrell gives both men kudos. Adam acknowledges that Viktor chose a challenging song and struggles a bit but hung in there. 

This could go either way and America should be okay with it because the other artist gets stolen to delight us another day.

Result: Adam chooses Jordan

Gwen Saves Viktor Kiraly

As Jordan makes his backstage comments, Gwen jumps on her red button and scoops up her first Knockout steal. She says she can’t explain it other than to say that it feels like what she is supposed to do. Maybe the fact that he’s phenomenal had something to do with it?

Final Results and Commentary About the Affinity Between Artists

Before we list the tally from the evening, something cannot be overlooked. We’ve seen it before immediately following the Battles and the Knockouts and we saw it again here in the Knockouts premiere. It’s magical and moving and a testament to how much respect and affinity each of the artists has for their fellow artists. In this episode, we saw it most when Adam choses Jordan over Viktor. Once Jordan was off the stage, we saw his reaction when he heard the buzzer signaling that his competitor had been saved. Jordan, like other artists before him, almost passed out with relief when he heard the save. I love these real moments of humanity.

Now, onto the results. 

Adam keeps Blaine Mitchell and Jordan Smith, then saves Amy Vachal. Gwen keeps Braiden Sunshine and saves Viktor Kiraly. Blake keeps Barrett Baber and Ivonne Acero. Pharrell keeps Madi Davis.

At the end of the episode, only Blake and Pharrell have saved their buzzers for a steal they will execute over the next two episodes. Who will they steal/save? Tune in next time to find out.

The Voice airs Mondays at 8pm and Tuesdays at 9pm on NBC.

(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)

Catherine Cabanela

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV