We bid the blind auditions adieu as the competition advances to the Battle Rounds: Two singers enter. One leaves.

By Hillary Busis
April 14, 2015 at 11:34 PM EDT
Lewis Jacobs/NBC
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What do you do when the first two installments of your new singing show earn record ratings? If you’re NBC, the answer is simple: In Episode 3, change the show’s format completely and shuffle it into a later time slot. Tonight, we bid both the blind auditions and the 9-10PM hour adieu as The Voice began its next stage — the Battle Rounds. In this heat, each coach pairs two teammates and challenges them to perform a duet. When the music stops, the coach must decide which singer stays and which one is sent packing. Battles will continue until Cee Lo, Christina, Blake, and Adam have each cut their teams in half.

After the excitement and novelty of the audition rounds, I was worried that Stage 2 of The Voice would feel dull by comparison. Luckily, Tuesday’s show proved that even when they’re not pushing those big red buttons, The Voice‘s coaches are a lot of fun to watch — and the artists they’ve chosen are seriously talented. Evidently, the series should be able to keep viewers interested even after dispensing with its best-known gimmick… though I do wonder whether the additional celebrity mentors are truly necessary. Maybe they’ll make a bigger impression in weeks to come, but as of now, I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint what any of the four new faces added to The Voice.

The show’s first hour-long broadcast was split into four segments, each of which followed two vocalists as they prepared to perform before the Voice tribunal. We began with Team Christina, which might as well be called Team Diva (And Justin Grennan). The star started things off with a bang by asking Frenchie Davis and Tarralyn Ramsey — two women with the combined vocal power of a dozen gospel choirs — to trade verses of “Single Ladies.” Though Tarralyn claimed to be a Frenchie fan, there was clearly tension between the two from the moment they were matched. As La Davis passive-aggressively put it, while Tarralyn “attacks” everything she sings, “I’m more focused on tone, pitch, and face.” Saucer of milk, Table 2!

Tarralyn and Frenchie’s rehearsal footage was pretty great, mostly because it featured Christina belting out the first few lines of Beyoncé’s song and then replacing “don’t pay him any attention” with “bah-bah-whatever-the-words-are.” (“I never worry about the words,” she later cracked.) Coach Aguilera told her protegees to really punch the notes, but still have fun with the song.

And the resulting performance was fun — though at times, both divas sounded alternately shrieky and breathless. Tarralyn, who admitted that she had been holding back during rehearsals so that she could catch Frenchie off guard, overcompensated (especially at the end of the first verse) by trying to sing too high. Frenchie, in turn, blew a big note at the beginning of the song’s bridge.

All in all, I thought Tarralyn gave a better performance — though her lows were lower than Frenchie’s, her highs were also higher, and she sounded much more confident toward the end of the song. I also loved the way she refused to stop singing, eking out one last run even as the audience began to applaud. Alas, Christina disagreed; after conferring with her guest mentor Sia, she elected to keep the ex-Idoler over Tarralyn. At least T got some consolation in the form of a tweet that briefly appeared onscreen. She’s a #fighter indeed, Xtina.

NEXT: And I keep burning, keep, keep burning love

Team Blake was up next. The country star paired cowboy Patrick Thomas with the poppier Tyler Robinson and told them they’d be singing Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.” Then, to make the rehearsal room feel even more like the set of a CMT joint, he brought in his own guest mentor: Reba McEntire, a woman who has her own ties to Voice contestant Cherie Oakley. Patrick was adorably starstruck when the crimson-haired legend entered the room; Tyler, though, appeared to be immune to the hypnotic power of his fellow ginger.

Blake advised each guy to try taking a leaf out of his rival’s book. He urged melisma-loving Tyler to try to reel himself in (“Just because you can do a lot of runs and things doesn’t mean you have to do them constantly.” This sentence should be drilled into the brain of every wannabe pop tart in America) but recommended that low-key Patrick show off his pipes more.

Both singers took that advice to heart when they performed. Their duet seemed to go a lot smoother than Frenchie and Tarralyn’s, maybe because Patrick and Tyler’s voices are naturally complimentary — the former is deep and rich, while the latter is soaring and smooth. Both also managed to stay on pitch much more consistently than their predecessors; when they finished “Burning Love,” Cee Lo even praised them for being “surgically, technically great singers.” I’d have given the slightest edge to Tyler, but Blake went with Patrick instead… making me 0 for 2. Shucks!

Adam followed those hunks of burning love by devising the only male/female duet of the evening. He asked Casey Weston — one of the second chance singers from the end of last episode — and Tim Mahoney, the high-voiced Pride of Minneapolis, to perform “Leather and Lace,” originally sung by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley. In terms of experience, the two couldn’t be more different; Tim’s a music pro who’s been trying to get his big break for over a decade, while Casey is a high school student who only started singing four years ago. The youthful innocence of her vibrato was mirrored by her behavior; when Adam told her that the female persona in the song is “a bad bitch,” Casey responded by saying she’d try to act like “a bad brat.”

Their final performance wasn’t very edgy, but it was lovely to listen to. It reminded me of the adult contemporary version of a Disney song that plays during the movie’s end credits, if that makes any sense, though maybe I just got that impression because it was the first ballad we heard all night. In any case, Casey gave off a distinct Lilith Fair vibe while Tim held his own (and sort of made me understand why Adam initially took him for a woman during the blind auditions).

Their voices blended beautifully, as Christina noted after the fact. Unfortunately, only one could make it through… and after an Idol-ian cut to commercial, Adam declared that he was going with the girl, because “there’s just something about Casey Weston.” Poor Tim should have known that according to the laws of televised singing competitions, cute high schoolers always beat out seasoned veterans still gunning for their big breaks. At least he’s got a solid fan base in Minnesota to return to.

NEXT: A “Perfect” duet

Last but not least was Cee Lo, who chose to pair two soulful young women with rhyming names: Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson. The girls had the honor of being mentored by singer Monica, who crossed the ocean just to be with them. (Adam’s helper, by the way, was Maroon 5 music director Adam Blackstone. Two Adams, both alike in dignity!) You may not have recognized Niki because she barely got any screen time last week; as soon as she opened her mouth, though, it was clear why her voice inspired Cee Lo to turn around.

The two ladies sang Pink’s “Perfect” in the battle arena. Both of their voices have a roughness that suited the song well; when they reached the chorus, especially, Vicci and Niki brought the roof down. Each one managed to attack the notes without straining their voices, giving performances that sounded effortless but powerful. It’s no wonder, then, that Adam declared that they had given the best duet of the night. Blake agreed with his colleague, adding, “[Cee Lo is] going to reflect on his life and think of the worst mistakes he’s made along the way, and one of them will be pairing you two against each other.”

But Cee Lo himself didn’t seem as torn as his fellow judges. Though he told Niki that she was exceptional, Vicci’s voice had a gut-wrenching effect on him: “My glasses are hiding the truth. I feel right now, and it’s bothering the hell out of me,” he confessed. (In Cee Lo world, we suppose this means he was moved to tears.) So Vicci made it through and Niki was booted. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to know Ms. Dawson better, especially because she seems like a pretty quirky specimen — the Betty Page bangs are Exhibit A, the James Durbinian tail sticking out of her trousers is Exhibit B. Somebody give this girl a spin-off!

The battles — including throwdowns between Tje Austin and Nakia, as well as Javier Colon and Angela Wolff — will continue next week. In the meantime, let’s talk turkey. How did you like The Voice tonight? Do you miss the auditions, or do you like how this stage allows us to get to know contestants better? Did the judges advance the right singers? And which duetters out-duetted the competition?

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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