'The Voice' live blog: The battle rounds begin

shakira-adam-levine-the-voice-nbc.jpgWith the blind auditions a thing of the past, Season 4 of "The Voice" is ready to move on the next level: The battle rounds. That's right, it's time for coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and newbies Shakira and Usher to pit two of their team members against one another before deciding which one to eliminate. Talk about pressure.

As a reminder, the coaches still have the option to steal another coaches eliminated contestant. With each coach able to steal two, it's the chance for someone to make up for missing out on talent the first time around.

First battle of the night:

Team Adam: Amber Carrington vs. Sasha Allen

Joining Adam is Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum as adviser. Adam is pitting these two vocalists on Pink's "Try."

"One of the most beautiful things to me about this song is that there's something so hypnotic about it," Hillary advises. I second that emotion.

Adam admits that putting country-star Amber against R&B Sasha will be difficult, probably his most difficult decision.

Amber sounds lovely, but there is such naked emotion in Sasha's vocal. It's hard to argue against that, in my opinion.

"I think this is, hands-down, one of the best battle rounds we've ever seen on this show," Adam tells the two after the outstanding performance. What a proclamation. Before making his choice, Adam explains that Amber became a professional tonight, while Sasha already was one.

Winner: Amber (What?!)

Steal: Usher and Shakira immediately jump in for the steal because they have some sense. "I think I could win this entire show with you," Usher pleads. "Please don't break my heart for the second time," Shakira begs.

"I'm gonna go with a gut feeling here," Sasha says. And then, COMMERCIAL BREAK! No! After that annoying wait, it's revealed that Sasha is teaming up with ... Shakira! "You got a good coach," Usher says. "I'm better, though."

Second battle of the night:

Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner vs. J'Sun

It's second-chance kid Garrett versus soul singer J'Sun, with the "Hips Don't Lie" singer pairing the two up on "How You Like Me Now."

Shakira's mentor for these battles is Joel Madden because, whatever, I guess. Garrett says Joel is the reason he started singing, which makes me question everything about him.

As the performance begins, it looks like J'Sun is going to eat Garrett alive. He owns the stage bit more, with Garrett disappearing into the back, but Garrett sounds better than expected on his verse. He's clearly been practicing. Still, there's something to be said for J'Sun's experience as a performer.

Adam admits that he now gets what Garrett is about, while Blake commends him and says he'd pick him, were it up to him. Usher, however, sides with J'Sun. Ultimately, it's up to Shakira, who's having a tough time: "Oh, God, I never should've taken this job."

Winner: Garrett! Shakira admitted to having a soft spot for the kid and she put her money where her mouth is. Was this the right choice? We'll see.

Steal: As J'Sun expressed his gratitude to the coach who just dismissed him, the crowd yelled, "Steal!" Unfortunately, no one did. "I didn't feel like it was the right fit for me," Usher explained.

Third battle of the night:

Team Blake: Holly Tucker vs. Michelle Raitzin

Blake, along with mentor Sheryl Crow, admitted he paired these two because of their power. "I might regret it, but it's gonna make for good music."

The two ladies learned they'd be competing with Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away," a song that ought to work just perfectly for both of their voices. In rehearsal, though, Blake notes that Holly's coming off a little too sweet for the rougher emotion in the song's lyric.

Sheryl didn't seem to have much to offer, apart from telling them each they'd have a career out of this. Great advice, Ms. Crow.

I didn't have a clear favorite going into this battle, and as I watched, the choice didn't become any clearer. These two women owned the song, earning a standing ovation from their coach. I didn't envy having to make that decision.

Winner: Holly. Blake explains that they were dead even and, when it's dead even, he has to go with what's natural for him: A country artist.

Steal: No one steals Michelle. Womp.

Fourth battle of the night:

Team Usher: Jess Kellner vs. Taylor Beckham

Usher, partnered with mentor Pharrell Williams, tasked these two girls with Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good." Revealing his intense coaching, he walked to the back of the room: "I'm going to stand back there. Attract me to you." He didn't budge.

I can't say I would've, either. In rehearsals, both girls seemed a bit in over their heads with the song; Taylor, especially. Amy's shoes are big ones to fill, and I'm not sure this was a good choice for either vocalist.

The battle seemed oddly lifeless. No one -- audience, coaches, or artists -- seemed particularly into it. I'd give it to Jess, I guess. But really, I could do without both. Shakira says she'd pick Taylor if she had to, while Blake leaned more towards Jess.

Winner: After warning both that neither lit the stage on fire and that it would only get harder from here on out, Usher picked Jess.

Steal: Blake steals Taylor because he likes her, even though he said he would've picked Jess. Maybe a little drunk?

Fifth battle of the night:

Team Blake: Christian Porter vs. the Swon Brothers

Blake says he paired the country brothers with the "Sexy and I Know It" singer because he felt like they would just mesh well together. He's having them compete with Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down"

In initial rehearsals, Christian struggles to hit the high notes, which seems to be the result of confidence issues overall. However, as rehearsals progressed, Christian proved he could work hard and fast when notes were given. There was no worry over that high note any longer.

In their battle, Christian completely owned the stage. One of the detriments of being a duo on this show is that, in a battle, you can appear as just someone's band. And here, the Swon brothers did. This was the Christian show and they were just there to sing harmonies.

Winner: The Swon brothers (Huh?) Again, Blake gives the "stick with what I know" excuse. Lame, Blake.

Steal: No one steals Christian, which is unreal and unjust. Whatever, guys. I'll be fine. I'll get over it soon.

Final battle of the night:

Team Adam: Judith Hill vs. Karina Iglesias

Adam's pairing one of the most buzzed-about auditions with someone I hardly remember from her audition. Is he sacrificing Karina?

He tasks them to sing James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World," which Judith pretends to struggle with, probably because she wants to wow in later rehearsals. I mean, let's get real, she can do anything.

The surprise here is that Karina is more than holding her own. As we await the battle through a commercial break, I worry: Could she snatch this away from Judith?

Karina starts the song off, like the starter for the main event: Judith. Real talk, though? Both of these women DELIVERED. The audience and the coaches weren't freaking out over nothing. That was a fully-realized performance by two stars, not a battle between amateurs.

"That was not a great battle. That was the best battle we've ever seen on this show," Adam said. How can he choose?

Winner: Judith

Save: As the crowd went wild, screaming for someone to steal, Shakira went for it. A great choice, but the new coach is now out of steals on the first night!

Did the coaches make the right choices tonight, "Voice" fans? Which battle was your favorite?
Photo/Video credit: NBC