In tonight’s most mind-blowing battle, the season’s first Blind auditioner went up against the season’s last auditioner and it was like they were belting into a 15-year-spanning mirror—The Voice does a lot of things well, but somehow creating a narrative within a show where people cover songs and say “this is my last chance” for 16 straight weeks is hands-down its specialty. And I think the new story line this year is that these coaches just love this show and the beautiful art of music so damn much that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the most talented contestants in the competition.
At least Pharrell does, or so he seemed to be saying at the top of the show and demonstrating with his semi-selfless Battle picks that resulted in steals for the contestants he cut loose. It always takes away some of the drama when NBC flashes the big Clip Art 3-D “STEAL” letters across the screen before we go to commercial, but the coaches make it so obvious when they plan to steal someone (whether it’s one-someone or either-someone) that it’s not exactly a spoiler either. Gone are the days of keeping the Battle contestant everyone is coveting, and here are the new, Pharrell-infused days of letting go of the one you know can find a home on another coach’s team.
Actually, that’s nonsense, Pharrell is totally on his own on that altruistic spiritual island—it does earn him promising contestants like Hannah Kirby though—because as Blake and Adam proved in the final moments of the show, they’ll do whatever it takes to get the contestants they think will win, including pointing out that the other coach tends to foster a team of high-achieving losers, and telling the contestants their trying to woo that other coaches (who also happen to be their longtime friends) never wanted them in the first place. All in the name of cultivating musical talent!
No matter the drafting style, this season of The Voice is turning out to have talent in abundance. After a solid lineup last night, tonight’s show once again featured almost entirely impressive performances from start to finish…
Anthony Riley (winner) vs. Travis Ewing, TEAM PHARRELL; “Get Ready”
It’s interesting that this battle opened the show, as it was one of the tamer of the night, but Anthony and Travis’ talent cannot be denied. “Get Ready” is obviously right in Anthony’s wheelhouse, and Travis is concerned about being able to compete, but also thinks Anthony might not try as hard since he’s so used to singing this song. Indeed, Lionel Richie immediately hones in on a little too much confidence coming from Anthony, telling him, “If you’re really good, they’ll tell ya…don’t you ever tell them.” To me, it seemed like Lionel was pretty Team Travis throughout the rehearsal process, but after an evenly matched vocal performance with plenty of stage presence, Pharrell settled on Anthony. Perhaps because he knew…
STEAL! Blake told Travis all along that he was what made the duet a battle, never letting the style of the song get the best of him, and that’s what earned him the fighter’s spot on TEAM BLAKE
Ameera Delandro vs. Sonic (winner), TEAM CHRISTINA; “Masterpiece”
Ameera, a montage player from the Blinds, is open about her nerves from the beginning, and Sonic worries about the hearing impairment in her one ear keeping her from being able to sing well with a partner—and indeed, those are both things they struggle with in rehearsals on this pretty vocally tricky Jessie J. song. But Christina and guest coach Nick Jonas emphasize that this song is all about empowerment, and it’s obvious by the end of their performance that Sonic has most embodied that strength and confidence onstage. Not to mention, she nails the harmonies she worked so hard on and her unique tone was much more consistent here than it was in her original audition.
Hannah Kirby vs. Sarah Potenze (winner) TEAM BLAKE; “Gimme Shelter”
Oh boy—what a battle! I understand that Hannah and Sarah inhabit a similar space, but I can’t believe that Blake would be willing to give one of them up by facing them off against each other. He probably just wasn’t expecting Hannah to step so far up to the plate. Sarah is a Nashville veteran with a voice that could blow off Pharrell’s biggest hat, but her challenge in this classic song with lots of peaks and valleys was to not strong arm her way through the whole thing, while Hannah had to draw on her range in order to not be overpowered. And she did! And she did! This is the battle to keep rewinding, especially for that moment when Hannah—a truly unpredictable stage presence—bustled back over to Sarah from halfway across the stage to match her on a note. At the end, I wasn’t exactly sure what I had seen, but I was inexplicably out of breath.
NEXT: Nashville connections run deep…[pagebreak]
The judges all went on and on about how Hannah came out of nowhere to hold her own against the powerful Sarah, which is a compliment to them both, but clearly had Sarah concerned by the time they were all finished and her insane performance was barely mentioned. No worry though, Blake chose experience over potential and left Pharrell—STEAL!—to figure out how to shape the “something” he saw on that stage from Hannah.
Blaze Johnson (winner) vs. Michael Leir, TEAM ADAM; “Rude”
Every round needs a bit of a dud to make us appreciate the better Battles, and Blaze and Michael’s face-off was the one that just couldn’t ever get there. I mostly blame their coach for a song choice that was never going to do anyone any favors, especially since Adam was all over Blaze about using his Bahamian roots, but not too much. Blaze ended up doing fairly well on his vocal though, leaving Michael straining his voice to keep up. Pharrell and Christina both said they wished they could have relaxed into the performance more, but Adam seemed perfectly thrilled with his guys, even if he did have to let Michael go.
Cody Wickline (winner) vs. Matt Snook, TEAM BLAKE; “How Country Feels”
In a battle between an inexperienced natural versus a veteran country crooner Matt, it’s Cody who seems like he’s from a different era of country—he’s reminiscent of old school Alan Jackson (or maybe a young Blake Shelton) or something, and that’s probably what makes him seem so “authentic,” as Blake calls him. Matt has great energy though, and an excellent country voice, that he takes all over the place for the non-stop harmonies in “How Country Feels” arrangement. But when Cody came out in his old school hat, matched up with the debut of a heartthrob Henley, it was hard to ignore his country chart potential, on top of his effortless tone. An evenly matched vocal performance came down to “edge” for Blake and he sends Matt away still with a smile on his face.
Meghan Linsey vs. Paul Pfau (winner) TEAM PHARRELL; “Don’t Let Me Down”
This certainly isn’t a match-up that I would have thought of, especially since I just learned Paul Pfau existed yesterday, but Pharrell knew what he was doing matching up Paul’s easy charm with Meghan’s power. And of course he fit a little life-altering advice in when Meghan was concerned with engaging Pail and making herself vulnerable in the duet:
Well, she wouldn’t, because you told her not to Pharrell, and your pal Lionel told Paul to use the whole stage to create drama, and they both followed through with flying colors. Every time they came together on the chorus, I thought, “Maybe they should stare into each other’s eyes and sing together forever,” and every time they separated, I realized how incredibly different their styles are. Paul is all smooth tone and emotional connection and Meghan is all power, range, and grit. And while Paul was great, it would be insane to turn away a unique sound like Meghan’s. But Pharrell does! He chooses Paul, stating that Paul knows exactly where he wants to go, and leaves Meghan for the…
STEAL x3! All three other judges push their buttons, and Blake and Adam go for the jugular insulting each other in the name of earning Meghan’s hand, but it’s years of history and a history of winning that seal the deal for TEAM BLAKE.
Is it just me, or is the talent particularly impressive this year? What do you think of Pharrell’s Steal-prompting tactics? Will being the most selfless man in music doom him to a life with nothing but Grammy’s surrounding the shelf space he has reserved for a shiny, new Voice trophy?