Season 12 is ready to do battle

By Amanda Bell
March 20, 2017 at 10:57 PM EDT
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Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC
S12 E8

Now that their teams are fully assembled, Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton have some narrowing down to do with each of their squads. Welcome to the battles, The Voice fans. It’s gonna get intense sooner rather than later here, and not just because Adam’s frost-tipped hairdo has given Blake a whole new buffet of teasing options to run with (referring to his onscreen frenemy as everyone from Frosty to Ellen). It’s also tough to see these contestants come this far only to see their rising hopes get squashed by an unfavorable song selection or being paired with someone who’s apples to their oranges.

The good news is that in this round, the coaches do have some steals to play with, so in the case that a coach’s decision might send a worthy opponent packing too soon, they can be saved for another shot at redemption just like (presses the red button) that.

Here’s how the first round of the season 12 battles shook out.

Team Blake: Brennley Brown vs. Lauren Duski
“Better Man” by Little Big Town

Blake Shelton must have put together this battle pair with an obvious plan in mind. He was going to “clear a lane” for one of these country gals to advance to the knockouts, and with each at such different points in their careers — Brennley the precocious 14-year-old bucket of sugar and spice with zero experience versus Lauren the seasoned Nashville stage veteran — he probably expected it to be a much easier decision.

But Brennley here doesn’t just up and roll over by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, as far as vocal strength and purity of sound, she is arguably the better singer. Lauren might have paid her dues, and she has “that Trisha Yearwood thing” Blake and mentor Luke Bryan like. But Brennley’s got something going on with her pipes, too. Her confidence and ability to overshadow her opponent is kinda like what we saw when LeAnn Rimes owned the Grammys at 14 years old by resurrecting “Blue” like no one else could. Okay, okay, that’s a stretch — Brennley’s not proven that much just yet, but there’s enough in her performance tonight to make it worth keeping her around, even after Blake chooses to go with Lauren. (Gwen may or may not have smoke-signaled him that she’d use a steal on his cast-off by saying that she’d have picked Brennley, but lovers’ language is secret, so who knows.)

Winner: Lauren Duski
Steal: Brennley Brown to Team Gwen

Team Gwen: JChosen vs. Kenny P
“I Was Made to Love You” by Stevie Wonder

Gwen Stefani is the kind of coach who seems to equate strength of personality with raw talent, and because of that fact, Kenny P actually stands a chance of upsetting a four-chair turn who flummoxed Gwen by choosing to be on her team. Sure, JChosen would be an easy steal for Adam, who openly admits he’d be just delighted to snag him right then and there, but after this battle round, it’d erase all of Gwen’s credibility because it’s not even close.

Look, Kenny P is fine. He’s good, even. But JChosen has soul and skills that Kenny P can’t even touch; even though he does his best, matching enthusiasm and, shall we say, volume levels with JChosen, the writing’s on the wall as soon as he struggles to hit one of Stevie’s highest notes in this number. Meanwhile, JChosen’s got it so covered that he slips in some extra texture just for kicks. Gwen says she came into tonight doubting JChosen because he acted nervous about meeting Celine Dion, but it’s hard to believe that after seeing these two do battle because he’s solid as a rock on that stage.

Winner: JChosen
Steal: N/A

Team Alicia: Anatalia Villaranda vs. Missy Robinson
“Tightrope” by Janelle Monae

The kids are all right here tonight. Anatalia Villaranda proves that big things come in small packages because even though she’s 16 years old and everyone treats her like she’s a waist-high enigma out here doing backflips at all times, she’s got rock solid tones and rhythm. Considering her blind audition, this high-paced beat even seems tailor made for her talents, but Missy does her best to stay in the game. In fact, she does well enough to earn respect from both Adam and Blake. In the end, though, it’s up to Alicia who she’ll keep tonight, and Missy got completely backgrounded in this battle, so she’s history.

Winner: Anatalia Villaranda
Steal: N/A

Team Adam: Gaby Borromeo and Mark Isaiah
“Pillowtalk” by Zayn Malik

Mark Isaiah comes into his battle round as the obvious favorite of his coach. This song is clearly custom chosen from the boy bander collective that inspired his blind audition run (Shawn Mendes’ similarly angsty earworm “Mercy”). Adam Levine seems to be of the opinion that the ratio of Gabys to Marks is about 100:1, so he’s clinging onto this radio-ready kid with his nails dug in, whether he actually wins the battle or not.

‘Cause yeah, Mark’s got the tones that sell records and concert tickets, but Gaby is the most consistent and competent of the evening once Mark’s Zayn impersonation skills start to wear off about halfway through the number. No matter, though; he’s Adam’s guy, and he’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Winner: Mark Isaiah
Steal: N/A

Team Alicia: Felicia Temple vs. Quizz Swanigan
“Titanium” by David Guetta (ft. Sia)

Truth be told, when Felicia Temple auditioned and earned such immediate fanfare (and a pleasant duet) with Alicia Keys, I thought she might be the one to beat from Team Alicia this season, but young Quizz Swanigan has obviously captured all the hearts with his very presence. He’s also a quick study in rehearsals (which makes his name even better, really) and has a sweet sound that’s layered with soul and the same kinda oomph that made Michael Jackson such a little studmuffin in his youngest years. As the youngest contestant in show history, he’s also got the story edge over Felicia, even though she literally sang this song to keep herself out of the doldrums during her recent rounds of chemo.

To be fair to him, Quizz does conquer the technical issues that held him up during prep rounds for this performance, but Felicia had none the whole way through. As Adam puts it, the only disadvantage she has is the fact that she’s not a child here. Blake’s taken with her vocal merits — “the warmth in her rounder tones,” he says — and scoops her up when Alicia gives the win to young Quizz because, yeah, it’s a no-brainer that she deserves to stay in the competition.

Winner: Quizz Swanigan
Steal: Felicia Temple to Team Blake

Team Blake: Ashley Levin vs. Casi Joy
“How Blue” by Reba McEntire

Sometimes, these battle round pairings are pretty lopsided — almost intentionally so to give the coaches low-hanging fruit to pluck from their own squads. But in the case of Ashley Levin and Casi Joy, they have many more similarities than they do differences. Casi’s a little more strident with her approach to this honky tonk number, which sets her apart and earns her more attention, but Ashley is also quite lovely to listen to. It’s a hard decision for Blake to make, but even though Casi does exactly what he told her not to in the performance — which is, to growl along in a way that sometimes reads as, his word, “abrasive” (cue the anti-patriarchy eye roll for days with that comment) — he decides her performance had more of an impact.

But all three of the other coaches see the very real potential Ashley presents here and tap their buttons for a shot at stealing her. Ultimately, Alicia nabs her for her team because (1) it’s Alicia Keys, c’mon, and (2) she recognizes that Ashley has a lot more to offer than just throwback country kitsch like this.

Winner: Casi Joy
Steal: Ashley Levin to Team Alicia

Team Standings:

  • Team Adam: Johnny Hayes, Mark Isaiah, Jesse Larson, Julien Martinez, Kawan DeBose, Taylor Alexander, Josh West, Malik Davage, Hanna Eyre, Nala Price, Sheena Brook
  • Team Gwen: Joshua “JChosen” Hunter, Stephanie Rice, Savannah Leighton, Brandon Royal, Troy Ramey, Aaliyah Rose, Johnny Gates, Caroline Sky, Davina Leone, Sammie Zonana, Jozy Bernadette, Brennley Brown
  • Team Alicia: Anatalia Villaranda, Autumn Turner, Lilli Passero, Quizz Swanigan, Jack Cassidy, Lauryn Judd, R.J. Collins, Hunter Plake, Vanessa Ferguson, Chris Blue, Ashley Levin
  • Team Blake: Lauren Duski, Aliyah Moulden, Casi Joy, Micah Tryba, Josh Hoyer, Enid Ortiz, TSoul, Valerie Ponzio, Andrea Thomas, Dawson Coyle, Felicia Temple

Episode Recaps

The Voice

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

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