05/07/2013 at 12:20 PM EDT
With Team Adam and Team Usher kicking off the first night of viewer voting, it was ladies' night on The Voice
Monday as the show moved into the individual performances of the live playoff rounds.
It was also Judith Hill's birthday – and she delivered a gift to the live audience, taking her time to work the soul nuances of Nina Simone's classic "Feeling Good." Her coach, Adam Levine, appreciated the way she played with the audience – a skill he said cannot be taught.
He was not alone in his praise. "You came out here and you took us to church," Usher
said. "You are such a freakin' diva," Blake Shelton
added. "You milked it. You did all the things that irritate me as an opposing team."
Hill was not the only standout. Team Usher star and indie rocker Michelle Chamuel offered a breakout performance of Cyndi Lauper's signature ballad of self-acceptance, "True Colors," drawing cheers and captivated looks from the judges who hung on her every note.
"This is one of those moments you should really be proud," Levine told Chamuel, her eyes welling with tears behind her black hipster glasses. "Tonight you made a connection to the world that they will never forget," Usher said.
The two men who performed Monday offered sweet, soulful and rock-inspired moments but failed to elevate to the heights of the women on their teams. Atlanta R&B artist Vedo, for Team Usher, delivered a heartfelt performance on Phil Collins's ballad "Against All Odds," while his handsome teammate, Josiah Hawley, pulled out his guitar to perform the Muse hit "Starlight" with a full band.
Latin singer Cathia, from Team Usher, looked gorgeous in a white and black-striped banded dress, but struggled after attempting Whitney Houston's signature "I Have Nothing."
Shakira tried to be supportive." You did great ... Taking a Whitney Houston song, it's like stepping on holy ground," she offered diplomatically.
Dimpled and ponytailed Caroline Glaser of Team Adam, who left her freshman year at the University of Kansas to compete on the show, soared with an ethereal and tender turn of the Ed Sheeran hit "The A Team."
A powerful rendering of the Rihanna
ballad "Stay" by Texas native Amber Carrington proved she may be country, but she also can pull off the edge of an R&B vocal with her own style, which continues to propel her as a top contender.
"You had me for every second of the performance," Levine told Carrington. "A beautiful performance," added Shakira.
Shelton called Sarah Simmons's haunting take on the Sarah McLachlan classic "Angel" "amazing." "I've never heard this room so quiet," said Levine. "I felt the stillness in the room because everybody was so completely enamored with what you were doing they just couldn't speak."
resumes Tuesday night with Team Blake and Team Shakira contestants singing in the second evening of live playoffs. The hour-long results show is set for Wednesday.