The Battle Rounds of The Voice make up my favorite portion of the show’s (overly drawn-out) elimination process. It’s during these weeks that we get to learn what all the sparkly new singers can really do, before they’ve had a chance to grow repetitive or for obvious front-runners to emerge. Going head-to-head on one song is also the closest we’ll come to a fair comparison between different performers.
There are two kinds of standout Battles: The first is when two contestants forego the camera-ready, lovey-dovey schlock on stage and actually square off against each other. We didn’t see anyone really gunning for their competition tonight. But we did get to experience the other type of exceptional Battle: Two singers sounding like they were always meant to perform together.
The first pairing of the night went to Team Adam’s powerhouses, Jordan Smith and Regina Love. In promoting itself, The Voice often tips its hand. Jordan was the contestant who, during the premiere, was given the Very Special Blind Audition (the audience couldn’t see who was performing). It’s doubtful the show would have made such a fuss over Jordan if he were to be sent packing the very next round.
Adam’s advisor is John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Regina is pleased to meet the man who wrote “Proud Mary.” She and Jordan take on Sam Smith’s “Like I Can,” a song that’s a natural fit for Jordan’s higher voice. Adam tells both his charges their challenge will be to find the emotional center of their song. During their performance, it’s Jordan who’s able to better follow this advice. Regina retains all her gospel-y goodness, and though beautiful, each line sounds heavy and takes a little too much effort. It’s a tough call, but Adam chooses to keep Jordan on his team. Regina has nothing to worry about, though. She gets stolen by Gwen.
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Next up are country crooners Tyler Dickerson and Zach Seabaugh of Team Blake, who are assigned “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” by Travis Tritt. Tyler obviously knows the song better than Zach, and Blake warns him not to get lazy just because he’s in familiar territory. His advisor, Brad Paisley, agrees. Tyler has years of experience performing, whereas, at 16, Zach is just getting into the business. At the end of their first rehearsal, Blake admits Tyler has the edge on this one.
But during their performance, it’s a different story. Zach comes out swinging, his passion evident in the care he takes with his verse. Tyler, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be trying particularly hard. He loses steam as he goes, and by the end Zach is showing his partner up. During the judges’ comments, Adam calls Tyler out, saying he threw away some notes. Blake gives the win to Zach.
Following Tyler and Zach come Ellie Lawrence and Tim Atlas of Team Gwen. Tim’s audition was one of the six that we skipped, so this is the first time the audience gets to hear him sing. He and Ellie have remarkably similar voices: modern and raspy, with an edge. But as similar as they sound, they couldn’t look more different during rehearsal. Ellie has a big, bold presence, and Tim, who’s used to playing backing guitar, has difficulty making himself stand out. Gwen forces him to ditch the guitar and teaches him a few classic Stefani poses. Bam, he’s suddenly a rock star. (Compliments from Gwen’s advisor, Selena Gomez, don’t hurt either.)
During their Battle, they duet on The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather,” and Ellie maintains her advantage. She’s louder, and her vocals are more compelling. Gwen goes with her girl, but Pharrell steals Tim, who lives to sing another day.
NEXT: Missy needs a moment [pagebreak]
We start off the second half of the episode with the most impressive pairing yet: Team Pharrell’s Celeste Betton and Mark Hood, who are given Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” They truly kick R&B ass on this song. The first day of rehearsal, their musical synergy has Pharrell’s advisor, Missy Elliott, in tears. She says it’s been a long time since she heard music that made her feel this much. Don’t you start, Missy, you’ll get me going, too! By the time their second day of rehearsal is complete, their coach is bragging that he didn’t have a single critique for them. Psst, Pharrell: it’s literally your job to have critiques on this show.
During their Battle, Celeste and Mark are perfectly synced. Their harmonies sound dope, and they’re performing more vocal tricks and giving more variety than any other pair. They also both dance it out the entire time, which I appreciate. It’s a very tough call, but Pharrell chooses Mark to continue. Celeste offers up a prayer of acceptance but ends up going home.
Team Adam’s second Battle of the episode is between Dustin Monk and James Dupré, who have the added pressure of singing CCR’s best-known song, “Fortunate Son,” in front of the very man who wrote it. Adam wisely tells his guys they can’t duplicate John Fogerty’s iconic version, so they go acoustic instead. James, a country singer, knows rock is right in Dustin’s wheelhouse, so he’s ready to step up his game. This is not the first time Adam has begged a country artist to join his team, only to turn around and make him sing a different genre.
James and Dustin’s performance is one of the weaker moments of the episode. Neither singer connects with the other, and their vocals are nothing snazzy. Dustin has a gritty edge, but James’ tone is rich, and all three of the other coaches advise Adam to choose James — which he does.
The final Battle belongs to Team Blake’s Barrett Baber and Dustin Christensen, two country singers who both earned four-chair turns during their auditions. They’re given the melancholy, soulful song “Walking in Memphis,” by Marc Cohn. Blake says both his boys have a lot of raw power, but they need to channel it in different ways. Barrett is still the most polished, record deal-ready performer in the competition, and his persona on stage is magnetic.
During their performance, Barrett and Dustin seem close to evenly matched, if very different. Barrett’s tone is smooth and he loves to belt out power notes, whereas Dustin has more character and grit. Blake is so torn, he calls their matchup a tie. But The Voice will not abide draws, so Blake is forced to pick Barrett. Adam and Gwen both buzz in to steal Dustin, who finds a new home on Team Adam.
- Adam’s bald now, which gives Blake an excuse to come up with fresh material. So far, he’s called his nemesis Gandhi, Dr. Evil, and Lex Luther.
- Selena Gomez doesn’t have the Grammys or the career longevity of the other advisors this season, but she does have something that’s probably more useful for Team Gwen: a current hit single, and advice from the point of view of a star still on the rise. Don’t count her out.
- I adore Missy Elliott, but she’s not primarily a singer, and neither is Pharrell. Shouldn’t he have picked an advisor who can pick up where his expertise leaves off?