The Voice recap: Back to Duel
In the show's second battle round, vocal powerhouses go head-to-head with more understated singers. Guess who comes out on top?
Last week’s Voice battles — a scream-filled diva-off, a country-pop Elvis cover, a gentle, Disney-esque ballad, and a bona fide showstopper — were a diverse batch of performances in which, generally speaking, the duetters were all fairly evenly matched. But this week, every single battle featured a powerhouse singer being pitted against a less forceful presence (or, in the case of Elenowen, two less forceful presences) — and, eventually, wiping the floor with said second songbird. It’s a pity that such a predictable pattern emerged tonight, since The Voice‘s greatest strength is its ability to pleasantly surprise us. Even so, the episode was entertaining; with folks as talented as these contestants, how could it not be?
After yet another lengthy explanation of how this round of the competition works — when do you think The Voice will finally trust its viewers to remember the rules week to week? — we began by zeroing in on Team Cee Lo. The red-clad coach asked Nakia and Tje Austin, his two hairiest mentees, to sing Ne-Yo’s “Closer.” At first, Nakia was wary of Cee Lo’s song choice because it seemed tailor-made for Tje (whose name, Microsoft Word, is not “The,” no matter what AutoCorrect might think). His instinct wasn’t off-base; in the initial piano run-through, Tje’s soaring tenor fit the song perfectly, while Nakia’s rougher, Joe Cocker growl seemed pretty out of place. At least Nakia presumably won extra points by aping his coach’s style; wearing sunglasses inside is totally the new wearing sunglasses outside, guys.
But in the end, Nakia sang the hell out of “Closer” without making it unrecognizable (take note, Frenchie and Tarralyn). And so did Tje, even if for him, “singing the hell out of ‘Closer'” didn’t mean straying far from his comfort zone. Blake, Adam, and Christina all thought that the round should go to the one-named wonder — and Cee Lo agreed. Even though I think he made the right choice, I’m really sorry to see Tje go. He’s incredibly talented, he comes across as a really sweet guy in this interview with EW, and his facial hair kind of makes him look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Hm… maybe that last thing actually isn’t a plus. In any case, bon voyage, Tje. I sincerely hope that your career continues growing even though you’ve been forced out of the Voice Box. (That’s the new name I’m trying out for the arena in which the show is taped; do you like?)
Blake must have cooked up his team’s battle by filling out some sort of music-themed Mad Lib. In a bizarre mash-up of duetters and genre, the country singer selected rocker Jared Blake and folk duo Elenowen (a.k.a. Josh and Nicole) to duke it out while singing the Motown classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
NEXT: Holy lopsided battle, Batman!
Both parties struggled in rehearsals; as they were practicing in the battle ring, Blake even stepped in to let them know that their voices weren’t blending the way he wanted them to: “It’s not happening,” he told them plainly. Could it be that asking three people to sing a duet is a bad idea in principle? Just a thought!
Theater lore stipulates that a bad dress rehearsal is a recipe for a good opening night. In this case, a bad practice led to an underwhelming final performance. Maybe I wasn’t blown away because I’m used to hearing “Ain’t No Mountain” performed in a higher register; lowering it must have made singing it easier for the contestants, but doing so also took a lot of the joy and the energy out of the song. Jared sounded pretty good, albeit very much like a generic alt rocker, as he performed a weird, undulating dance onstage. (Adam would later diagnose Jared as having a severe case of “missing guitar-itis,” which would explain why he was doing those weird motions with his hands.) Josh of Elenowen was less passionate than Jared, but at least his pitch was solid; the same wasn’t true of Nicole, who struggled to hit notes that were out of her range.
Even though Blake had begged Elenowen to join his team during the blind auditions, he chose to cut them after watching them struggle through “Ain’t No Mountain.” Here’s hoping they find a way to move out of Mom and Dad’s basement anyway. Jared celebrated his victory backstage with his wife (how has that tiny woman had six children?) and another guy who looked exactly like him. I wonder if Jared 2 also dances like Jared 1.
Team Adam was up next. Mr. Levine basically signed poor Angela Wolff’s death warrant by pitting her against Javier Colon, the man EW named a Voice frontrunner in the show’s very first week of existence. As the pair rehearsed “Stand By Me,” Adam made a point of telling Javier to resist the urge to insert runs rampantly throughout the song. We didn’t see the coach give Angela any criticism at all, which made the incident seem like an attempt by the editors to insert a bit of suspense into the night’s easiest-to-call competition.
During Javier and Angela’s actual performance, the former sang rings around the latter. Javier’s voice was smooth as butter, even if he did indulge in a few superfluous melismas. Angela, by contrast, oversang in an attempt to keep up, all while sporting a creepy perma-grin. Or maybe she was genuinely laughing at the absurdity of the situation. To nobody’s surprise, Adam kept Javi and ditched Angie.
NEXT: Episode 4 ends on a high note
[A brief digression: Hey, Alison Haislip. What exactly does a “V Correspondent” do? Are you responsible for the tweets that periodically cover the lower third of my screen during The Voice? If so… could you stop doing that, please?]
The last battle of the night was between two members of Team Christina. Cueball Beverly McClellan and Justin Grennan, who barely got any screen time during the blind auditions, got an interesting assignment: The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” a.k.a. the song those idiot guys from your 10th grade Spanish class know as “Teenage Wasteland.” Bev was immediately stoked when she heard what they’d be singing; a rockin’ classic rock tune would be very much in her wheelhouse. Justin was less excited; he was also totally unfamiliar with the song, which must mean that he somehow magically skipped past ages 15-18.
Happily, Justin caught on quickly. When it came time to perform, he ditched his dorky tie and vest combo for a plain white tee and a boss leather jacket. (Even so, after the song, Blake got a huge laugh by telling the contestant that he looks like “the guy who works at my bank.) Dressing the part was only the beginning. Justin really nailed his verses by using his ridiculously high range to its full advantage.
But it would have been nearly impossible for Justin or anybody else to outshine Beverly on “Baba O’Riley.” She gave a passionate, effortless, roof-shaking performance that was every bit as electrifying as Vicci’s was last week. So even though Justin gave a good fight and managed a pretty astonishing transformation, Christina had no choice but to award Beverly with the win.
Next week, the battles will continue as each coach selects one more contestant for his or her team, bringing the total number of finalists to 12. Do you agree with the choices Adam, Cee Lo, Christina, and Blake made tonight? And how do you think these duets compare with last week’s?