It's country vs. rap, Broadway vs. beard-rock, and reggae-pop vs. Southern twang in the final week of battle rounds

By Melissa Maerz
Updated April 14, 2015 at 11:23 PM EDT
Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The Voice

S2 E9
  • TV Show

Is it just me, or are the match-ups for tonight’s battle round a little strange? An R&B take on Cyndi Lauper? A showdown between a folky duo and a rapper? A Broadway star singing Journey? These pairings go together like so much Doritos and chocolate sauce.

Then again: Doritos dipped in chocolate sauce? SO GOOD! So let’s begin with Team Cee Lo, before I finish the whole bag…

TEAM CEE LO: James Massone vs. WADE

So a third-generation body shop worker leaves his garage in Boston to pursue his dream of…becoming an R&B singer on a reality TV show? Okay, it’s a little off the regular formula for a true-life Hollywood story, but doesn’t this sound like the premise for a Ben Affleck movie? We’d like to cast Mr. Affleck as James Massone in the film adaptation of The Voice, and we’d like to request lots of scenes where he shakes his fist at the sky and shouts out, tearfully, to his auto mechanic dad, using his finest Boston accent, “I’m doin’ this for my fah-dah!”

Maybe Cee Lo’s already seen this movie. Because when he first hears James practice Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” with Wade, he tears up. “That song made me CRY, man,” he says, wiping his eyes. “Okay, dude. I surrender!”

The fact that so-called “blue-collar Boston boy” James Massone happens to be a very smooth R&B singer kind of blows my mind. He’s such a strange hodgepodge of looks and sounds. Tonight, for instance, he’s wearing two earrings, a headband, and a varsity jacket that matches Cee Lo’s, except that it’s monogrammed with his own initials, JM. (“I love that you already have your own merch, and you’re wearin’ it,” quips Blake.) Now, Cee Lo wants this guy to cover a Cyndi Lauper song?

Hearing the song choice, poor James admits, “I think it’s not my style.” From the start, James is anxious about everything: not knowing the words to the song, being coached by Ne-Yo, breathing air. And just in case you didn’t notice, he lays it out for us: “I’m a little nervous right now,” he says, “maybe I don’t have much confidence in myself.” Still, he knows, “I need to outshine Wade, because I don’t want to go back to the body shop.”

When the battle round first begins, it seems that James will be a weak sparring partner for Wade, who owns “True Colors” as if it were a long-lost Al Green classic. Clearly, Wade understands the lush sound of ’60s and ’70s soul, even though he “looks like he’s only 12 years old,” according to Babyface. (Is Babyface secretly mean? The Shields Brothers are probably still smarting over that Wayne’s World comment from last week, and now this?) Yet, for all of Wade’s technical prowess, it’s hard to distinguish him from the many, many talented soul singers in this competition. Also, he can’t compete with James’ personality. As Adam points out, James has a voice that “catches your attention,” with just a hint of wicked-awesome Boston swagger.

Having grown up in the Bronx, Cyndi Lauper knows a bit about working your hometown accent to your advantage. So it’s almost karmic that James pays tribute to her music by not hiding where he’s from. Cee Lo ultimately picks James. The underdog wins. The crowd cheers. And somewhere, Ben Affleck wipes a tear from his eye.

NEXT: Adam Levine steals a piano, nearly makes a grown woman cry

TEAM ADAM: Nicolle Gaylon vs. Mathai

From the moment that Robin Thicke compares Nicolle’s voice to “morning coffee out on the veranda,” one thing is clear: this round is gonna be boring. Like, Maxwell House-commercial bland. And it doesn’t help that Adam Levine assigns Sara Bareilles’ piano-banging pop anthem “Love Song” before forbidding Nicolle to play it on an actual piano.

“Get it outta here!” he says, huffing and puffing as he pushes the heavy instrument with both hands. “Get this thing outta here, please!” C’mon, Adam! Give poor Nicolle something to do besides stand there and look pretty!

Granted, I understand where Adam’s impulse comes from. Mathai’s got all kinds of energy, bouncing around stage, and when Nicolle peeks up from above the piano, her head just looks like a blonde paperweight that’s holding down the sheet music. But neither of these women has a particularly strong voice anyway. At least the piano would’ve added some oomph. Honestly, I’m tired of all the wannabe Billie Holidays on this show, and Mathai is no exception. Her philosophy seems to be, Why sing this note when I can growl it like the adorable little jazz minx I am? Somehow, that whole approach feels forced for her. And Nicolle’s voice, though pretty, sounds weak. Between the two of them, that final “eh-eh-ay-ay” at the end is painfully off-key. I’m with Adam, who confesses, “I wasn’t very happy with it in general, actually.” Though he picks Mathai, begrudgingly.

By way of explanation, Blake suggests that Mathai won only because Nicolle needed to control her breath better. Maybe that’s true. But when it comes to breath, I think both ladies would’ve been better off holding theirs. Forever. Because neither of them is gonna win this competition anytime soon.

NEXT: It’s the LiNE vs. Moses Stone, and Christina vs. every rapper in America

TEAM CHRISTINA: The LiNE vs Moses Stone

Ding ding! It’s time for another battle round between two heavyweights. In this corner, it’s Christina Aguilera. In that corner, it’s…well, the entire history of hip-hop. And Christina’s got the most contentious fighting words of the night. After assigning the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” she tells the competition’s only MC: “Moses, it’s time for you to prove that you’re a real artist, and unique, and you have more to offer than just rapping.”

“Real talent”? And that’s defined as “more…than just rapping”? I wonder what Kanye or Jay-Z or Lil Wayne has to say about that. Granted, Christina points out that Weezy sometimes half-sings, half-raps, but Moses doesn’t have Weezy’s advantage of using Auto-Tune. Or being a magical alien, for that matter.

Anyway, it’s funny that Nashville’s the LiNE are the ones complaining about the song choice. “I would’ve preferred a song that was maybe a little more country. This is pure rock & roll,” says Hailey Steele, pouting. Girl, how do you think the rapper feels about singing a Rolling Stones song?

Maybe Hailey’s just worried because she’s not the kind of woman most people root for. It’s clear that her ex-boyfriend and harmonizing partner Leland Grant still loves her — Christina has to warn him against singing too close to Hailey, because “as a female, you never want to be up in somebody’s face!” — but he’s the only one showing that type of affection here. Jewel thinks they’re both a little vanilla. “You don’t just want to be entertainers who are happy and smiley…and singing at weddings,” she says. “You guys have obviously dated before, and that didn’t work out, so something didn’t satisfy you.” Ha ha. Ha… Nervous laughter all around!

I’ll admit: The LiNE have way better vocal skills (and far worse mastery of the CaPSLOCK key) than Moses. But no matter how much Hailey shakes that tambourine, broadcasting out to the world, I’ll give you personality, damn it!, she’s just not a natural performer. Moses has way more charisma. Even when he can’t quite hit the notes (and, let’s be honest, there aren’t all that many notes in “Satisfaction”) you want to watch him dancing, jumping, and strutting around stage, giving you as much hands-on-the-hips attitude as he can muster, even rapping one of the verses. It makes me laugh when Moses tries to grind on Hailey, and when she walks away, he gives her a “C’mon, baby! I’m dying here!” face. Isn’t that facial expression exactly what Mick Jagger was singing about?

Adam and Blake say they’ll go with the LiNE, purely because they’re better singers, which prompts Christina to get up on her pulpit. “Alright, guys!” she preaches, “The Voice does not have to be…this powerhouse, incredible over-ad-libbed vocal! It doesn’t have to be straight country, or R&B, or soul, or whatever! In this business, you have to learn how to be versatile… against anyone! Any song! Anytime! Anywhere! That’s The Voice to me.” Preach it, Reverend X!

Having delivered her little sermon, she’s stuck. The argument she just made seems to favor Moses, so now she has to pick him. And she does, prompting Hailey to give the The Voice‘s brattiest sign-off ever. Given the requisite ten seconds to praise this amazing opportunity, she holds her hand up and has a mini tantrum. “No, I’m not talkin’!” she warns Leland, angry as heck.

Luckily, Leland fills in the blanks for her. “We are so grateful for this opportunity….it was a blast.” Christina’s right: Lelend is so sweet! Maybe a little too sweet. That’s probably the same speech he gave to Hailey after she dumped him.

NEXT: Adam helps us get in touch with our inner fat girl

TEAM ADAM: Karla Davis vs. Orlando Napier

Slim country crooner Karla is working her way through a particularly quiet take on the Commodores’ “Easy” when her mentors stop her short. “That part of you that belts — what can we call her?” asks Alanis Morissette.

“Bertha!” offers Adam. “Dude, that’s the big girl inside you! Bertha needs to be in your head and your heart.” And suddenly, Karla’s bellowing the vowel sounds hard and long and strong. “It took 20 minutes for them to see something in me that I’ve never ever heard before,” Karla says. Yep, and according to Adam, that “something” weighs about 500 pounds.

Robin Thicke finds some high praise for Karla’s blue-eyed-soul duet partner. “Orlando wants to paint his vocals on the canvas,” he says. “He’s the Picasso of the group.” But maybe you don’t need Picasso on a song as easy-going as “Easy.” For this track, Karla’s the perfect match. She’s a no-frills kind of gal. I love that where other women in this contest collect all the sparkles and bangles and shoulder pads they can find, Karla just shows up in a flannel shirt and starts singing, and there’s not an ounce of jazz-singer affectation or forced country twang in her voice. Sure, she hits a few flat notes, but there’s something very authentic in her that makes me want her to keep going. When she sings, you believe her. And when she sobs, you do, too.

When Adam chooses her over the way-more-professional-but-way-less-genuine Orlando, she gets sniffly. “I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, I think!” she says, her voice breaking. “I don’t cry like this!” Okay, we trust you, Karla. It’s not you sobbing. It’s Bertha.

NEXT: Team Blake tackles Simon Cowell’s least favorite song

TEAM BLAKE: Naia Kete vs. Jordan Rager

Can I start by reminding you that Simon Cowell once listed Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” in his list of Five Songs You Should Never Sing On X Factor? Well, there’s a reason for that. Unless you’re a reggae-pop superstar with the dreadlocks of a young Rastafarian lioness (see also: Naia Kete), you’re not gonna rock that song.

Even Blake knows that Jordan’s going to have a tough time with this one. “Is he a great, unique-sounding singer? Absolutely,” he says. “When you take him out of his element, is he scared? Apparently.” Does Blake enjoy asking rhetorical questions? Undeniably.

I feel for Jordan. How can you not feel for a young man whom Blake describes as “country as dirt” and whom Carson introduces as a “small-town preacher’s son with big country dreams”? But his harmonies just aren’t good enough. He strains. He gets a little screamy. He’s anxious and twitchy. (“There were a couple of issues that bummed me out a little bit,” Adam later admits. Us, too.) True, Naia also strains at times. Overall, the performance isn’t the best from either of these two. But as Christina puts it, Naia has “more of a natural groove with it.”

Though Blake admits that he’s surprised at Naia’s nerves, he ultimately sides with her. Naia leaves the stage feeling a little down about her performance. “I hope I get the opportunity to redeem myself,” she says. Well, cheer up before next week, lady. Because now that you’ve taken on The Mraz, there will be no second chances on X Factor.


TEAM CEE LO: Justin Hopkins vs. Tony Vincent

Another round, another crying jag from Cee Lo? Hearing two so-called “family men” sing Journey’s “Faithfully,” a song about how difficult it is to be a rock singer on the road when “the road ain’t no place to start a family,” the coach gets choked up. “I’m just in awe,” he says, sniffling. “This is my life, right here.”

I don’t know if I believe that he’s so moved twice in one episode. Maybe he needs someone to tell him what Babyface tells Tony: Don’t do it false! But I’m willing to forgive the waterworks, just because Cee Lo’s created such a great round. Babyface notes that Tony’s playing for Cee Lo’s A Team, and Ne-Yo adds, “This is the perfect competition for singers like Justin who, if you just close your eyes and listen, that’s all you need.” That’s a compliment…I think.

Personally, I love Justin’s cuddly Joe Cocker sound. There’s real grit in his tone, but he can still power through every note and hold it there, sustaining it. He makes Cee Lo hear the struggle in the song, even though it never sounds like Justin himself is struggling. There’s a reason why Cee Lo says he’s “just a [bleep]ing gladiator.”

Meanwhile, Tony proves he’s the most over-the-top performer in this competition, and for me, that’s a good thing. He doesn’t always hit the high notes, but watching him open his mouth wide and holler his way up close to the high notes feels exciting every time. Maybe it’s something about his background as a Broadway guy, but Tony just looks like a villain to me. (The fact that he’s wearing a black military uniform that could’ve been stolen from Satan’s Army only reinforces that idea.) He even sings like a Bad Guy, squinting his black-Kohl eyes and stretching out his vowels in a vampire-bat-like manner: Faithfulleeeee. Granted, he could be the world’s nicest bald man, but something about his performance style just screams EVIL.

And I happen to enjoy EVIL. I’d like to see more from Tony, who makes every song just slightly more bizarre, so I’m glad that he’s staying, even though Justin accomplishes a much greater feat: As Carson notes, “Faithfully” is a pretty difficult song to sing, and Justin just breaks it down until it seems familiar and approachable and raw. He’s pretty great. But Tony offers Cee Lo a chance to grandstand about Art and Love and Life.

“It’s very touching to me,” Cee Lo says. “This is the heart song. We live it. We’re artists. When I think of Tony, I do think of something more adaptable more enigmatic. Those things are part of my own personal package.” And before he can elaborate on what else is in that personal package, Tony wins.

Backstage, Tony’s pregnant wife comes in crying. And thinking about Justin going home, Tony starts getting emotional, too. “It’s such a bittersweet victory,” he says. But it’s sweet to think that this will allow him to prosper. Someone will need to provide for the family when that demon child is born. Kidding! We love you, Tony. Stay strong!

TEAM YOU: Opinionated readers vs. more opinionated readers

Okay, Voice fans, it’s your turn. Am I being too harsh on Tony Vincent? Did you find Nicolle and Mathai as boring as I did? Will any of tonight’s singers emerge all the way to the final round? Please consult your inner Bertha and share her ideas below.

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The Voice

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

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