The final dozen were revealed in Thursday night's special episode, within a sprinkling of some truly uneven group performances that made me wonder whether certain teams can even stand each other, if they rehearsed in the same room, and if some singers actually understand the meaning of "group performance." There were a few surprises in terms of America's votes via phone and iTunes, but there were some interesting coach saves. For one thing, there isn't a female country singer in the competition anymore, which is a nice change from the past few seasons. Secondly, out of the top 12, only four are women, so the chances of a male winner this season are exponentially higher. On a side note, this short episode made for little Carson Daly awkward moment time, but don't worry, an unexplained Parenthood guest, Dax Shepard, more than made up for that with his several poorly-received Cee Lo jokes. He joked that Cee Lo's team was full of "five super hot chicks and a dude he thought was a chick," the latter being Jonny Gray of course. Must be that Herbal Essences mane ...
And on with the team performances ...
TEAM BLAKE: Ray Boudreaux, Shelbie Z., Nic Hawk, Austin Jenckes, & Cole Vosbury
The song: "Free Ride" by The Edgar Winter Group
The performance: What at first I thought were mic issues really were just lack of harmony and unison problems with this group performance. All of the teams this season are quite eclectic anyway and expecting everyone's different styles to mesh seamlessly is a high order, but at least everyone on this team is in neighboring genres of blues, folk, and country. So it's unfortunate that their team effort sounded like they were each shouting over drilling construction noise. And Nic's bizarro, hip-hop robot dance interlude? Coach Blake looked pleased, but I found it perplexing; talk about a cherry on a melted sundae.
Voting results: The top two artists are Austin Jenckes and Cole Vosbury. Blake decides to save the artist that he'll "have the most success with" and immediately I brace for Shelbie Z.'s name, but he surprises me and picks Ray. I'm a big fan of Ray but I was stunned that Blake, fresh from the CMAs, didn't go with his country diva, who performed well on Monday. Is this a positive step away from the trend of female country singers dominating The Voice? I sure think so.
TEAM CEE LO: Jonny Gray, Amber Nicole, Tamara Chauniece, Caroline Pennell, & Kat Robichaud
The song: "Give A Little Bit" by Supertramp
The performance: Jonny's shaky vibrato opens this one, and it actually seems to quite suit his voice. Now this could just be because he's the only dude, but it seemed like the rest of the girls were just adding adornments to Jonny's base verses. While powerhouses Amber Nicole and Tamara smoothed out this rendition with their runs and sass, I think Kat stole this show, with her tamed vocals and red hot pants. Though I love Caroline, I think she was out of her element in this one, or at least overshadowed by her team's bigger voices.
Voting results: The top two artists are Caroline Pennell and Jonny Gray. What's left is the choice between Kat or one of the powerhouse divas. Though Cee Lo praises them as "all equally comparable," he decides to save Kat. I applaud his choice -- her rock-rasp and spontaneous performances keep this competition interesting. Pray tell, after those high-kicks and hugging strangers, what ever will she do next on stage?
TEAM CHRISTINA: Matthew Schuler, Josh Logan, Olivia Henken, Stephanie Anne Johnson, & Jacquie Lee
The song: "Love Somebody" by Maroon 5
The performance: This one wins the award for "Group having the most fun/Group that actually really likes each other." Josh, the Adam-vocal-doppelganger, predictably opens the song, before cross-duets take over. My favorite pairing was that of Jacquie and Matthew; I thought their voices really jived together and it was adorable how much they both seemed to be enjoying performing it.
Voting results: The top two artists are Jacquie Lee and Matthew Schuler. A tense-looking Christina delivers a wandering, pre-breakup speech in which she assured her artists that they'd keep in touch "through email and after the show," touched on the ideology of award shows, then some jibber-jabber over the futility of judging art ("you can't fully judge or critique art to its fullest"), before she decides to save Josh Logan. And now this competition is officially female country singer-free.
TEAM ADAM: Grey, James Wolpert, Tessanne Chin, Will Champlin, & Preston Pohl
The song: "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities
The performance: I'm convinced Team Adam had the best and strongest combination of talent (and apparently so did you guys), so it was great to finally get a team performance that sounded like they actually practiced in the same room. They sounded the most in unison and though each was allowed their standout moment, they sang as one big, booming voice.
Voting results: The top two artists are James (which was no surprise considering he cracked into iTunes' Top 10 songs) and Tessanne Chin (c'mon America, duh). I actually sympathized with Adam's tough decision tonight. All season he's been lauding Preston's wonderfully smoky croon and Will's resilience. I think Grey was definitely a non-contender here, as we've seen diva-singers fall by the wayside so far. After shushing the crowd and looking adorably pained, Adam stretches his pondering time to dangerously close to commercial break, before choosing Will.
What did you guys think of the team performances? Were you surprised by any coach saves? I was stunned Blake didn't save his bread and butter, country singer Shelbie Z. And I'm shocked and disappointed we won't have Preston's singular voice smoking up the competition anymore. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Voice fans: Stick with EW this week as we give you the chance to pick each of the finalists' official photos after the Top 12 is revealed on Thursday. Your favorite pictures will be featured on NBC.com! Update: Pick the artists' photos here!