The blind auditions were a way for these aspiring artists to try and get their foot in the door, literally, by making one of the chairs turn, but that was a cupcake fest: This is where it really starts to heat up. Now that they’ve got their foot in the door, are they going to walk through the door, are they going to run through the door, or are they going to just tear the door down? You saw people who were terrified, and you saw them lose, and you saw people with real confidence completely flourish. The battle rounds really show how these artists perform under pressure, and you could feel it last night – it was palpable.
I thought the bookends of the night were the real highlights. Kudos to Adam for picking the first song between Tony Lucca and Chris Cauley. If you ever want to embarrass yourself, go to a karaoke bar and try to sing “Beautiful Day” by U2. That is a difficult song, but it’s a really great song selection for Adam, who has these two guys: Tony, who is a true professional musician, and a guy who has earned his stripes on the road but hasn’t popped yet, and Chris, who had a really great blind audition and has a little more R&B in his voice. I think Tony might have had a leg up going into it, but watching the battle, Chris was almost more impressive because I didn’t see him having the range to be able to do what Bono can do. Chris was flexing muscles and giving Tony a run for his money. It was really even at a couple of points, but I think you saw a great battle. I thought it was a very solid, even match, and great way to start the battle round. Nerves, quality music, and two artists duking it out vocally.
Anthony Evans and Jesse Campbell: both nice guys, both great singers, both incredibly heartfelt backstories. But who would have anticipated Jesse Campbell’s intimidation during the mentoring? He was flexing some real cockiness and playing head games with Anthony Evans, which I don’t think earned him any favors with America’s votes, unless people really like that sort of edge. His voice is just too good. That battle was ridiculous, and they did that song really incredible justice. There were two moments on The Voice so far that I’m so proud of: the RaeLynn moment after the Super Bowl, the very first blind audition, when I felt like you could hear the TVs across the country, and last night during “If I Ain’t Got You,” when I felt like the world was watching. I felt like everybody would be talking about that today. It was hair-raising. I thought, if the nation doesn’t have goosebumps after that, then we all have to stop drinking coffee or something to get our feeling back.
Team Blake had an Adley Stump versus RaeLynn battle. I fell in love with RaeLynn, I think like a lot of other people, with that big giant flower in her hair singing that Pistol Annies song in the blind auditions. One of the great moments last night, though, was watching sweet little RaeLynn meet Miranda Lambert, her adviser. That was such a sweet, genuine moment. Miranda’s name came up a lot with female artists last season, but Blake definitely reserved the right to ever make any sort of comparison to his wife. So for him to bless RaeLynn with this comparison to his wife, and for Miranda to really teach RaeLynn to stay comfortable in her skin, I think it gave her a huge advantage going into the battle. Adley did a good job in “Free Fallin’,” but I think RaeLynn’s somebody that Blake wants to take to the live shows, somebody to strategically put up and let America vote for. She’s a crowd favorite, and I think she’s going to get a lot of votes.
Monique Benabou and Chris Mann was the most lopsided pairing of the night. I was interested to see how Chris was going to stay in his classically trained voice, and I love that Christina gave him the green light in the battle round. He can keep going down that path, but there was a nice moment of Lionel Richie telling Chris, “It’s the imperfections you have to embrace,” and that’s a really tough thing considering Chris has spent his whole life trying to become perfect. (I have to say, seeing all these big musicians helping out these artists is another really cool aspect of the battle rounds.) This was the David and Goliath of the night, though, to me. Of all the battles, this was the most unevenly matched, so much so that even during rehearsal, we saw Monique was crying. The emotion was really getting to her. Chris is a real gentleman, but he’s got a loud bark. His voice is very strong and when he opens it up, it’s very intimidating. This was a pit bull and a chihuahua going at it.
I thought the Cheesa and Angie Johnson pairing, singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” was a great choice by Cee Lo. Staff Sergeant Angie Johnson, of course, is the one that we found from the viral video of her singing overseas. We’ve learned from her, given what she’s done for a living, that she’s impervious to pressure, although pressure on the battle stage being much different than in the battlefield. Cheesa, meanwhile, is very motivated, both by her family’s financial woes and the sacrifices her parents have made for her. I knew this was going to be a slugfest because I knew these two — with great respect for one another — both wanted this one really bad, and it really broke my heart that Angie lost. It was so close. If there was a two-point basketball game, I think Cheesa won by two points. It was a tough, tough battle.
Team Blake’s second battle was Jordis Unga and Brian Fuente, which was kind of the rock battle of the night, if you will. I love Alanis Morissette and it’s so awesome to have an artist of her talent adding to our show, but “Ironic” was not the song I would have chosen for Jordis and Brian, because they’re just rockers. I went into this thinking Jordis was going to win hands down, but I think she really kind of blew it, while Brian brought it. Jordis had the advantage, by a margin of maybe 60-40, but the number started floating throughout the performance, to 55-45, and then to 50-50. Jordis won, but she’s got to get it together. That’s why the live shows are going to be interesting, because you’re going to see how America reacts to Jesse Campbell playing his head games against Anthony, or what the critical masses are going to be saying about Jordis, who can get a little desperate at times in her disposition. Attitude plays a lot.
There’s a lot more to come. You haven’t seen the best yet. As good as you thought Jesse and Anthony were, there are more epic battles like that. There are more come-from-behind wins, there are more tears, there are more big surprises ahead. We’ve got three more weeks of battles and it’s going to be a fight to the death. March is an intense month, not only in college basketball, but on The Voice battle rounds. It is March Madness.
(As told to Marc Snetiker)