Summary: The Battle rounds kick off with some unsurprising pairings and some stupefying decisions.
** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**
The Blind Auditions over and each judge/coach’s 12-member team set, The Voice moves into the next phase of its three-phase progression. In another way that distinguishes the show as what host Carson Daly calls the “most unique” singing competition on television, each coach – Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and Christina Aguilera – pits two of their team members against one another in a “battle” to see who performs better on a chosen song. It’s a rather abrupt way to eliminate half of the remaining contestants to prep us all for the live performance shows, but just like all sudden death it adds an air of drama, excitement, and even controversy to the whole shebang.
Each judge has to be strategic at this point, looking to whittle their teams down to the best and most competitive. All looked at their artists to see who were the most similar leading to some rather forgone pairings. Still, the night didn’t lack for surprises as the singers were pushed to sing well, to sing effectively with another person, and to step up their game to survive.
Battle #1: Team Adam – Tony Lucca vs. Chris Causey, U2’s “Beautiful Day”
Adam decides to pair his two pop male vocalists off against one another on a song that is deceptively complex giving Bono’s flair and tendencies toward variation. By the same turn, it’s a good exercise for the artists because it has soft, mellow lows and jumps up into power anthem highs, something to test the distinctive styles of both of the singers. Adam gets marvelous assistance from Alanis Morissette in trying to temper Tony’s leanings toward pushing his voice too hard to get through rough patches in his capabilities. They tell him to rely on his ability to be an honest, affecting singer, something that he loses sight off to start off the song. It felt a bit like he was struggling to do an imitation of Bono’s style and it came off less genuine as a result, but he settled into a better groove as the song went on. Chris, mentored by Robin Thicke, needed to find a way to stop depending upon the strength of stylings of his voice so much and learn to give a full performance while on stage. There were flashes of moments where he felt relaxed and giving but he struggled with feeling too contained and then working hard to push energy and personality out into the audience. In the end, though they were competing, there wasn’t a strong sense of the two working together or harmonizing very well, leading to a rather sub-par version of the song.
While Blake felt Chris was the standout, both Christina and Cee Lo sided with Tony. The choice was Adam’s, though, and in the end he went with the former Mousketeer too.
Winner: Tony Lucca
Battle #2: Team Blake – Adley Stump vs. RaeLynn, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”
Taking two of his more decidedly Country-influenced artists, Blake squares sorority girl and new singer Adley against twangy teen farmgirl RaeLynn. Much as I’m a fan of Tom Petty and of the song, it was a little disappointing that this was the selection, especially considering we’ve already heard it this season during the Blind Auditions. Still, it was a solid song to showcase the unique dynamic of his two team members, forcing RaeLynn out of her comfort zone as a “stylist,” as Blake is fond of calling her, and Adley to show more range than just her impressive power. RaeLynn, helped by her idol Miranda Lambert, had problems finding a straightforward approach to the song and even during the battle fell back on the little tricks and affectations that could be more fun with a stronger voice behind them. Meanwhile, Kelly Clarkson aided Adley in overcoming her nerves and finding different levels in the song to have places to go. The advice paid off in spades as Adley gave one of the most assured performances of the evening, offering a beautiful tone, terrific phrasing and shouldering the bulk of making the harmonies work with RaeLynn’s younger voice.
Adam preferred RaeLynn’s more “unique” take on the song, while Christina and Cee Lo both felt Adley gave the stronger and more charismatic performance. In the evening’s biggest upset – and a thoroughly head-scratching moment – Blake felt that Adley didn’t tell enough of a story with the song and chose RaeLynn. One can’t help but feel there was a little too much consideration of his wife in Blake’s decision and it feels like a choice he’s going to regret later on.
Battle #3: Team Xtina – Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou, Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love”
Wanting to weed out her big voices, Christina – decked in a truly ridiculous hat throughout the evening’s numbers – tosses classically trained Chris against passionate amateur Monique, something that makes both singers decidedly nervous. Monique worries that she can’t compete with the physical command of body and voice that Chris has learned through years of instruction, while he’s near petrified that he can’t bring the raw emotion that Monique taps into with reliable ease. In fact, during their final rehearsal, Monique is brought to tears while singing. It’s something that singer-songwriter Jewel bolsters in the young singer, advising her more on techniques of breath, pitch and timing. Lionel Richie coaches Chris on playing to the imperfections and living in the moments, knowing he has the technical ability down pat. And while Chris is able to open up after his too-metered beginning, Monique’s passion overshadows him. Both have big moments but the loveliest part of the song is the soft ending where the two really connect.
Cee Lo and Adam both cheer for Chris, while Blake picks up on the surprising power of Monique’s voice. Christina, though blown away by Monique, chooses Chris, the second blunder of the evening. The distinct advantage of a show like this is that it’s a great showcase of talent to the industry and I would not be surprised to see Monique find some good opportunities after this.
Battle #4: Team Cee Lo – Cheesa vs. Angie Johnson, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
In a moment of full disclosure, I am a complete sucker for this song. I don’t care how schmaltzy or bombastic it is, it’s just one of those that plays the strings of my romantic heart to perfection every time I hear it. To be honest, the rendition that these two powerhouse vocalists, left a tad to be desired, but it was a nice version that offered the first true faceoff of the evening. During rehearsals, the competitive women kept trying to one-up each other by having them raise the key of the song, which actually made for a more entertaining moment than the final song itself. Not a big fan of Cheesa’s voice, I was surprised by how much clearer her vocals and phrasing were here over her audition and she took the advice and direction of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds to heart about sustaining her notes. For Angie, guest Ne-Yo really couldn’t offer much advice for Angie beyond telling her to go for the kill, recognizing that the range of her voice was something spectacular. While she had good moments, and is clearly the stronger singer of the two, Angie didn’t heed her mentor’s words and it appeared to cost her.
Blake and Christina both recognized Angie’s stunning ability and facility with both belting and singing softly, while Adam leaned toward Cheesa. Left to a choice he didn’t want to make, Cee Lo agreed with Adam, the third frustrating decision of the evening.
Battle #5: Team Blake – Jordis Unga vs. Brian Fuente, Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”
It should just be stated that Alanis Morissette’s songs are nigh-dreamkillers on singing competitions. Her style is so unique and so raw that being given one of her songs tends to do no favors for contestants in any setting. Blake, shrewdly or not, chooses it to help him cut through his “rock” vocalists, Jordis and Brian, specifically enjoying the disparity between the softer verses and the ragged choruses. Predictably, both singers struggle with the song. Brian tries to wrap his head around a tune suited more for a female voice, losing himself in the range of notes. Jordis stumbles trying to connect to the emotion of the song, something that right up to go-time it didn’t seem like she was going to find. Kelly and Miranda try to help in what ways they can, but both artists go into the performance shakey and unnerved. While both amiably get through the song, Blake doesn’t hold back in airing his disappointment. He was looking for strong rock moments and found both came up lacking, even going so far as to say the song “sucked”. Bless Blake for telling it like it is.
While Cee Lo held out for the more rock stylings of Brian, Christina and Adam felt Jordis’ power and grittiness to punch through the song, despite whatever was going on with her connection to it, won out in the end. Blake agreed.
Battle #6: Team Xtina – Anthony Evans vs. Jesse Campbell, Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”
Easily the best performance of the night and probably the most memorable moment on the show of this season to date, Christina closes out the night by offering up her gospel-tinged singers, Anthony and Jesse. These two do not disappoint, working together as much as they were competing with one another. Jesse, the single father laying it all on the line, has confidence to spare, which does intimidate Anthony a bit. Lionel coaches Jesse to take time with the song rather than just using his confidence and ability to attack with it, while Jewel instructs Anthony to rely on his innate genuine delivery rather than trying to focus on being technically better than Jesse. It’s great advice for both and the most the guests can offer as even the rehearsals were stellar. Both display smooth tones and complete command of their voices, blending superbly whenever they came together. To see Jesse swing for the fences was made even better by Anthony matching him step-for-step; it’s always wonderful to see artists push each other in strong ways rather than desparate ways. This was a tour de force performance by both gentlemen and it’s the only battle of the night where it felt unfair to have to say goodbye to either one.
Cee Lo felt the same, giving kudos to both men. While the other three coaches praised Anthony’s stunning long-held note near the end of the song, they felt Jesse had the advantage, however slight, throughout the song.
Winner: All of Us (And Jesse)
That final performance was almost enough to make up for three confounding decisions.