The second week of Battles kicks the competition into higher gear with a bevy of unexpected steals. This time around, the coaches reward the singers whose talent surprises them the most.
Team Blake is up first this episode, and the coach wastes no time delivering us right to the honky-tonk: He gives Blaine Mitchell and Blind Joe “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Joe is all about classic country, but Blaine has more of a rock vibe — so Blake assures both performers that the Bob Seger classic can skew in either direction. He and Brad Paisley put a country spin on it, but give Blaine the room to rock out.
On the night of the Battle, Blaine takes their permission and runs with it. He tosses himself all over the stage, building up the song’s energy. Paradoxically, Joe’s immobility actually works to his advantage. He makes the audience come to him, and the combination of power and precision in his voice doesn’t disappoint. Adam says he’s excited by Blaine’s rock star spirit and compares him to George Michael, but Blake stays true to his country brand and announces Blind Joe is the winner. That leaves Blaine a free agent, and Adam swoops in and steals him.
Then, Adam’s own singers Cassandra Robertson and Viktor Király square off. Cassandra’s audition wasn’t aired, and Viktor got all four coaches to buzz in. But Adam assures us that that the coaches’ initial reactions no longer matter. Cassandra and Viktor get “Nobody Knows,” by the Tony Rich Project, a soulful song that offers plenty of moments for both of their dramatic voices to impress.
Cassandra says she needs to balance her passion (which comes across as belting) with precision. During the Battle, she does just that. She hops up and down the scales with ease, and she has the most vibrato of anyone left in the competition. But Viktor is ready for her. His runs sound complex and creative, and his voice is silky smooth. Gwen and Blake both comment on how impressed they are that Viktor could keep up with a powerhouse like Cassandra. Adam goes with the more surprising singer and keeps Viktor on his team.
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Following those two come Team Gwen’s Chase Kerby and Korin Bukowski, in the most original, different-sounding Battle yet this season. A winning strategy on The Voice is often to ramp up those big notes, but there’s so much more to singing than just a powerful set of lungs. Korin and Chase both have character voices and exceptionally high ranges, and Gwen chooses a wonderful song that highlights both: “Samson” by Regina Spektor. Her pick makes me wonder why more contestants don’t tackle Spektor songs on this show.
In practice, “Samson” works better for Korin than Chase. Her voice sounds nearly identical to the original, and she’s able to infuse a bittersweet quality into her gripping vocals. It’s a huge improvement over her audition. Chase has the right delicate sound as well. But the song is pitched too high for him, and he has trouble transitioning between his head and chest voice. Pharrell points out that this Battle was more in Korin’s wheelhouse, and Gwen seems truly torn. But it was clearly Korin’s win, so she moves on, and Chase heads home.
NEXT: You get a steal! And you get a steal! [pagebreak]
The second hour starts with a matchup between Evan McKeel and Riley Biederer of Team Pharrell. (It’s the same format as Adam’s Battle: Evan got four chairs when he auditioned, and Riley’s was montaged through.) Their coach gives them “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. Remember how he had Evan sing a Stevie Wonder encore during his audition? Clearly, this is Evan’s specialty, but Riley has a sultry R&B thing going on that also makes her stand out in rehearsal.
From the moment the Battle starts, however, it’s clear this is Evan’s time to shine. His long, elastic limbs help him zip around the stage, and he looks completely at ease bopping to the music while hitting note after note. Riley, on the other hand, is forced to stiffly trail after Evan in her dress and heels. She gets her own licks in vocally, but there’s no comparison. Blake comments that Riley’s voice is the more unique of the two but still says he’d give the win to Evan. That’s what Pharrell does, but Gwen comes to Riley’s rescue and steals her.
Next up are Gwen’s own Braiden Sunshine and Lyndsey Elm. Braiden is the youngest singer in the whole competition, but he sounds beyond his years. He has the maturity to give his performances real heart. Lyndsey’s tone is more subtle and talky. They’re both enjoyable but very different. Gwen gives her performers “No One Is to Blame” by Howard Jones, another smart choice.
During their Battle, Braiden’s tone is fresh and clear. Lyndsey starts off softer, but then she wallops one raspy, emotional note, and it seems she’s got this in the bag…until Braiden hits a big, unexpected note of his own, and all bets are off. Gwen says this is the most confusing decision she’s had to make, but Braiden’s performance offered more surprising moments, and she chooses him in the end. Had Lyndsey used her full voice a little more, she might have beaten him out.
The final Battle of the night belongs to Team Adam, who pits Chance Peña against the twin duo Andi & Alex. Adam gives them “Wherever You Will Go,” by The Calling. The girls sound so creepily pretty and ethereal, and Chance’s deeper tone grounds them. They make a beautiful three-part harmony, and they all sound even better as one unit than they do alone.
At the Battle performance, everyone is in top form. Of the three 15-year-olds still on The Voice, Chance has the most understanding of what to do with his voice. Andi & Alex convey more emotion than Chance, though, and their style is naturally more mesmerizing. It’s a tough call for Adam, who says he sincerely thinks the trio should form a group right now (I’m with you there, man). But he has to choose, and he chooses Andi & Alex. Chance isn’t team-less for long, though: Blake steals him, ending one of the best Battles of the season on a high note.
- It strikes me as unfair that contestants whose voices don’t match their appearance are held in higher esteem. Cassandra Robertson is a black woman who looks like she could hit huge notes, and Viktor Király is a hip white guy (as the flashbacks to Blake’s reaction during his audition keep reminding us), so Viktor’s less-expected voice is given more prestige. And in Evan McKeel’s case, Gwen literally said that if his powerful voice were coming out of another body, he wouldn’t be as big a deal.
- This episode, Blake calls Adam “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Powder, and Buddha. Any guesses for the final bald celebrity references he’s got stored away for tomorrow?
- Pharrell is the only coach left with a steal and has just one more night to use it.