Lame duck ‘Voice’ coach Blake Shelton exasperated by new Knockouts twist: ‘I’m quitting the show right now!’

The Voice Season 22 has featured a supersized batch of contestants — the competition started with 56 successful auditioners, instead of the usual 48. So, as the Knockout Rounds kicked off Monday with the 36 singers who’d survived the Battle Rounds, there was a still a lot of whittling-down to do before the top 16 Live Playoffs begin in just two weeks’ time. Apparently producers decided the most effective (read: bloodbath-style) method of mass elimination would be to expand the Knockouts from two-way showdowns to threesomes — yes, with three artists at a time competing for just one spot on their shared team.

The first three contestants to be thrown into this triple-trouble mix were Team Blake’s indie-pop stylist Bodie, R&B showman Kevin Hawkins, and country duo the Dryes — actually four singers overall. And while Blake Shelton explained that he’d pitted them against each other because they were “big vocalists,” they clearly had nothing else in common.

Bodie went first with the poorly chosen “Better Now” by Post Malone — a mellow, midtempo jam that might have been on-brand with his persona/genre, but actually did very little to showcase his supposed big vocals. The Dryes’ cover of Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris’s “Chasing After You” was dreamy and romantic (coach Camila Cabello called it a “honeymoon” performance), but it too wasn’t a song choice that orchestrated a breakout moment. If this had been an Instant Save situation, I would have assumed that both Bodie and the Dryes were at risk.

On the other hand, Kevin, looking like he was dressed as Prince for Halloween in his purple glitter suit, went with the Maxwell version of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” and this certainly seemed like a song choice that set him up for greatness. But sadly, he was semi-sabotaged by his own coach’s advice. Blake may have said he liked the fact that — for the first time in many Voice seasons — there was no “Mega-Mentor” celebrity adviser for these Knockouts, but Kevin probably could have really used some outside assistance from a Taylor Swift, Chris Martin, or James Taylor this week.

During rehearsals, Blake had instructed Kevin to rely less on his signature super-high falsetto, and the result was an unfocused performance. Kevin was singing almost as if he were some sort of America’s Got Talent ventriloquist act, wildly careening from his falsetto to his chest voice — “a little bit disjointed” was how John Legend, a huge Hawkins admirer, described Kevin’s performance. “In rehearsal, Kevin was probably 80% in the falsetto, and I’m the one that said, ‘Hey, man, give me some more of the full voice.’ I take responsibility. That’s why that happened,” Blake sheepishly admitted.

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None of these three performances were perfect, really, but all three contestants did enough to make a case for moving on to the Playoffs. So, Blake was vexed as he was forced to make an unprecedented three-way decision. “This is awful! You guys all did incredible! Two of you were supposed to suck!” he hollered. “This is the toughest twist they’ve ever thrown at me. I’ve never felt more pressure as a coach in 22 seasons. I quit! I’m quitting the show right now! … You three broke me! I quit!”

“It’s been a good run,” John quipped.

“After 22 seasons!” Camila exclaimed.

Ironically, of course, since this season’s Knockouts were taped, Blake has in fact announced that he is quitting The Voice next year, after Season 23 — although I don’t imagine the implementation of three-way Knockouts specifically inspired his resignation. Ultimately, he had to go with four-chair contestant Bodie. “I tell you, I did not make these three-way Knockouts easy. But at the end of the day, Bodie just has something really special about what he does. There’s nobody like Bodie on the show,” he explained.

That left Kevin and the Dryes available to steal, but with each of the coaches having only one Steal in play during the Knockout Rounds, I assumed that poor Kevin would not get a second chance. Luckily, both Gwen Stefani and Camila thought Kevin was worthy of one, and Kevin decided to go with his fellow peroxide-platinum style star, Gwen, who was the first to turn around for him during the Blind Auditions. “I’ve had my eye out for Kevin since the Blinds. I actually blocked John, and I didn’t even get him then. He has such control over his voice. I think America is going to see that Kevin is one of the strongest singers in this whole competition,” Gwen proclaimed. Hopefully she will let Kevin use whatever percentage of his falsetto he wants.

So, this particular Knockout turned out all right, but I still don’t think these three-ways are a great idea; they sort of remind me of the short-lived Cross-Battles from Season 19, were turned out to be disastrous. But here’s how the rest of Monday’s triple-threats panned out — including one Knockout when another coach also took responsibility for steering a contestant in the wrong direction.

TEAM CAMILA: Chello vs. Morgan Myles vs. Orlando Mendez

Chello was the odd man out here, a quirky indie/soul/pop dude up against two country singers. He sang first, doing Justin Bieber’s “Hold On” and playing his guitar on the show for the first time. Hardly the strongest vocalist of the season, he faltered in the lower-register parts of the tune, but he once again proved that he is an interesting artist with a unique point of view; he’d probably make great indie records. But this show is called The Voice, so Chello was no match for Morgan’s pure, positively Streisand-like “What the World Needs Now” tour de force. “Cuban cowboy” Orlando was also no match for Morgan, as his “Live Like You Were Dying” was pitchy, talky, and lacking in breath control. Gwen did think Morgan’s performance was a bit “pageanty,” but Camila admitted that that was her fault as a coach, saying, “I’m going to beat myself up a little bit. When you [Morgan was] giving the big hand gestures and punching the air, I might have led her astray in that way because that was me. I told her to do that.” Still, Camila had an easy decision, going with the contestant with an actual strong chance of winning the competition. Exaggerated hand gestures are easy to correct, but Morgan’s voice is already flawless.

WINNER: Morgan Myles

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TEAM LEGEND: Parijita Bastola vs. Valarie Harding vs. Peyton Aldridge

Parijita went first with “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and seriously, Valarie and Peyton should have just packed up and gone home right then and there. This was a master class, and while the judges always make such a fuss over teen contestants, in this case it really was hard to believe that Parijita is only 17 years old. Her performance was so elegant and mature. Peyton’s Luke Combs cover “Forever After All” was pleasant but generic, and his performance had zero pizzazz; I am not surprised that his Battle Round was montaged. As for Valarie, she chose poorly with SWV’s “Weak,” a wordy song that tripped her up. John had a pretty easy, obvious decision here as well. Parijita is another contestant who could win the whole season.

WINNER: Parijita Bastola

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TEAM GWEN: Kiqué vs. Destiny Leigh vs. Rowan Grace

Gwen loves her teen contestants, so it must’ve pained her to pit 18-year-olds Kiqué and Destiny against 16-year-old Rowan. “This is gonna be crazy-hard,” she lamented. During rehearsal, it seemed like Destiny would go the distance, because she nailed Christina Aguilera’s near-impossible “Impossible.” Rowan’s cover of Billy Joel’s “Vienna” was also a lovely, if safer, choice. Meanwhile, Gwen was totally against Kiqué doing a very unsafe choice: a radically deconstructed version of OutKast’s potentially goofy and gimmicky “Hey Ya.” But Kiqué turned out to have the standout performance of the night, and Gwen — who often makes spontaneous, impulsive decisions, sometimes to her team’s detriment — simply had to pick him. In this case, it was the right call. Suddenly, Kiqué had morphed from presumed also-ran to one-to-beat. Conversely, Rowan got a reprieve when Blake stole her, while Destiny’s onstage performance failed to live up to the promise of her dynamite rehearsal.

WINNER: Kiqué / STOLEN: Rowan Grace moves to Team Blake

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