updated 04/09/2014 AT 2:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/09/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
Blake Shelton typically exudes coolness under pressure. But The Voice coach admitted he wasn’t feeling so self-assured Tuesday night as he was forced to send home two singers on the first night of the playoff rounds.
The country star found himself in the hot seat as he had to make the “toughest decision in six seasons” on the show.
Philadelphia college student Audra McLaughlin kicked things off with a powerful version of “A Broken Wing” by Martina McBride.
“From the moment you introduced yourself to the world we all recognized you had a very powerful voice,” Usher said. “It’s almost effortless for you to sing songs like this.”
Ryan Whyte Maloney, a garbage man turned Vegas rocker, worried Shelton during rehearsals with his song choice – “Second Chance” by Shinedown – but he pulled it off to the delight of the coaches.
“There’s only one other artist who has the ability to hold notes like that, that guy down there,” Usher said while pointing to Levine. The Maroon 5 front man was clearly tickled by the compliment, so much so that he jokingly told BFF/sparring partner Shelton, “I think I might want to file for a brovorce.”
Shelton apparently approved of his plan (“good, go and sit on his lap for awhile”) before telling Maloney he was “overwhelmed with excitement and pride” for a well-executed performance.
Up next was Shelton’s sole remaining steal, doe-eyed Madilyn Paige, 16, from Utah. The high school junior delivered an understated version of “Clarity” by Zedd featuring Foxes that earned praise from the coaches, even though they hoped she could have masked her nerves better.
“You got to let go,” Levine said with more directness than usual. “At some point you have to say, ‘I’m prepared for this, then you have to go out there and do it.’ ”
Shakira also admitted the singer seemed “tense,” but praised her “alternative, cool timbre.” Shelton agreed and sweetly added, “I couldn’t be more confident and proud that I used my steal on you.”
Jake Worthington performed next, and the Texan entertained the coaches – and the audience – with his energetic rendition of Jake Owen’s “Anywhere with You,” which he dedicated to his girlfriend.
“I can’t be objective with you because I love you so much,” Shakira gushed. “You can’t be objective with a star, and I think you’re a star.”
Lastly, serial showstopper Sisaundra Lewis, a former vocal coach for Céline Dion, delivered a fierce version of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” that left the coaches in slack-jawed amazement.
“I’m blown away,” Usher declared. “You are a teacher. As experienced as we are, we are beginning to realize the amazing artist that you’re going to become and the amazing career that you should have.”
Or, as Levine put it, “I just realized you’re on Team Blake and it’s something that I can’t accept.”
Unsurprisingly, Shelton opted to keep his superstar in the making, announcing Lewis’ name first as he revealed the artists he saved at the end of the show.
Next, he chose to save McLaughlin. That left Maloney, Paige and Worthington to sweat it out for the last spot. Shelton ultimately chose Worthington, explaining that he simply “follow[ed] his heart.”
The playoffs continue on Monday (8 p.m. ET) on NBC.