Leave it to coach Pharrell Williams to make a decision that had everyone’s jaws on the floor.
The dynamic new coach stunned his fellow coaches – and just about everyone else watching – when he made a surprise choice to close out the second night of The Voice‘s knockout rounds.
Williams pitted California-based Elyjuh René, 18, against Ricky Manning, a 19-year-old Florida native who now sings in New York City subway stations. The duo received coaching from special advisor Taylor Swift, and initially all signs pointed to Manning for the win.
“You look like a star,” Williams told Manning, while pointing out his Twilight vibe. (Swift agreed, adding that he “looks Robert Pattinson-y, kind of.”)
Manning performed “Wrecking Ball” during the knockout, and the coaches were unanimous in their feeling that he killed it.
“What Ricky did was just now let his star out,” enthused coach Blake Shelton. “That was personally, for me, my favorite performance from the knockout rounds.”
Gwen Stefani agreed. “Ricky, that was like, ‘Whoa.’ So real, so genuine, so moving. Your voice was beautiful.”
In contrast, the coaches criticized René for failing to connect with his song choice – “With You” – even if they felt he nailed the technicalities of his performance.
“You showcased incredible vocal talent, but something was missing for me in the connection to that lyric to you,” said Stefani.
“Song choice at this point is maybe the most crucial,” added coach Adam Levine. “Elyjuh, you didn’t make any mistakes, it’s just hard in the wake of what Ricky did, which was like a star is being born.”
When it came time for Williams to choose, it seemed obvious he would select Manning. But he shocked everyone when he instead chose to keep René.
“You understand why I chose you, right?” Williams told the stunned and grateful young singer. “Because I believe in you. But we gotta talk: Don’t go sing nobody else’s story. We gotta sing yours.”
Fortunately for Manning, Williams’s choice did not end his Voice journey. An elated Stefani snapped him up with her sole steal.
“I feel like I might have just won The Voice,” she said, adding later, “Music is a vessel for emotion, so you’re perfect.”
The two singers weren’t the only winners on Tuesday.
The night kicked off with a spirited battle from Team Gwen. The No Doubt frontwoman paired ebullient childcare worker Troy Ritchie against introspective dog hotel employee Taylor John Williams in a knockout that had some of the coaches on their feet.
Ritchie, an Orange County, California, native, put a creative spin on “Hey Ya,” delivering a low-key intro before abandoning his guitar and kicking it up a notch as the tempo increased and he danced around the stage.
“It entertained,” declared Shelton. “He had the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons in dancing and the seriousness of Napoleon Dynamite.”
The high-energy performance stood in stark contrast to Oregon-based Taylor John Williams, who delivered a soulful rendition of “Mad World.”
Pharrell Williams called the performance “hypnotic,” while Levine admitted, “My mind is a little blown.”
Stefani agreed, and ultimately chose Williams because “the whole room was in a trance. I feel like I’m a peer watching you. I feel like I’m at your show.”
It was also a successful night for Mia Pfirrman of Team Adam. The 19-year-old daughter of former musicians beat out New Jersey’s Alessandra Castronovo, 21, after delivering a powerful rendition of “Human.”
“She seemed so fearless up there,” Levine explained of his choice.
The Voice‘s knockout rounds continue on Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.