Taylor Swift Gets a 'Voice' Star to Drop the Guitar, and He Shines

The coaches begin to cut their teams in half as season 7's knockout rounds begin

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

When Taylor Swift tells you to put down the guitar, you put down the guitar.

Dallas father Taylor Phelan did just that on Monday as season 7’s knockout rounds began on The Voice – heeding the pop star’s call to ditch his ever-present stage crutch and let his personality shine through.

“When I started, I had the exact same comfort object,” Swift – who was helping Pharrell Williams out as a mentor – candidly shared during rehearsal. And by the time Phelan hit the stage, minus the acoustic, his edgy, ’80s-inspired stage moves changed his whole dynamic on Clean Bandits’ “Rather Be,” as he whirled to synth-fired beats.

In what came as a total shock, Williams ended up picking Luke Wade – who sang the Hall & Oates classic “Rich Girl” – over Phelan. But the latter quickly became a hot commodity, with Adam Levine stealing him over impassioned pleas from Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton.

“Taylor, it was fun to see you without that guitar You can’t really teach someone to do what you just did,” Stefani gushed. “I could picture that performance in a festival setting. That was really good.”

“It’s apples and oranges, but it’s the best apples and oranges this show has,” Levine said of Phelan and Wade.

Phelan’s performance wasn’t the night’s only butterfly-from-a-cocoon moment. Knockout battles cemented other performers’ artistic direction, as Los Angeles-based TSA agent Damien claimed his turf as a commanding R&B artist to watch this season.

He surprised the coaches by winning against Toia Jones – on a country song, no less – singing his own rich version of LeAnn Rimes‘s passionate country ballad “How Do I Live.”

Damien, the night’s second Team Adam winner, was “flawless” with his genre-bending choice, Williams said. “That song does tip its hat to R&B but no one would ever have come up with that choice other than Damien,” added Levine, who acknowledged his connection and “vulnerability.”

DaNica Shirey returned strong Monday, even as she pulled a music-contest no-no: singing a Whitney Houston song, “Saving All My Love for You.” “I would not be the singer I am without her,” Shirey told her coach, Williams, who was blown away by her version even in rehearsal.

Once she hit the stage, Shirey – who hadn’t performed for three years after the traumatic death of her father – showed why Swift was right when she said Shirey was using her insecurity to fuel her talent.

“She’s a perfect singer,” Shelton noted of Shirey’s performance. Added Williams: “DaNica, you’re like a unicorn When you realized you didn’t have to feel guilty anymore and you could sing for you it’s just been an incredible transformation.”

Two vastly different artists moved ahead on Team Blake. One was handsome country singer James David Carter, who showed off his acoustic purity on a subtle and nuanced version of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” which drew hushed attention with its sincerity.

The night’s indie darling was Jessie Pitts, whose sweet and ethereal interpretation of Elton John’s “Your Song” – inspired by Ellie Goulding’s rendition – had Williams rapt.

“Jessie, today you showed us such melodic topography. You converted me,” he said. “I thought you were one-note, but today you showed us all the keys.”

Added her coach, Shelton: “Her voice, as it comes out into the microphone, sounds like it’s been re-cued, like it’s already gone through what we do in the studio.”

Also moving ahead was Team Gwen artist Bryana Salaz, who beat out competitor Sugar Joans. But while Salaz dazzled with pop star force and plenty of maturity on Demi Lovato‘s “Heart Attack,” Joans owned the stage with her jazz-inspired reclaiming of Beyoncé‘s “Love on Top” – and she was quickly stolen by Williams.

“I had to steal because Sugar Joans is soul music,” Williams said, offering her a high compliment.

The Voice‘s knockout rounds continue Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC as the coaches pare their teams in half in advance of the show’s live rounds.

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