Battle Rounds 2.0 may not be the most welcome format change, but it did make for a number entertaining performances and, even better, tough decisions for the coaches.
Are you ready for some more Battle Rounds?! Of course you are. Battle Rounds are everyone’s favorite, right? And we’ve all been clamoring for a second round of battles; it’s simply the best way to assess everyone’s individual vocal talents and allow them to express themselves as artists without being inhibited by other styles or abilities — right? I know we’re all on the same page about this one, so I’ll just move on. This. Is. The. VOICE!
Confession #1: I actually always enjoy the Battle Rounds, so while I didn’t understand the logistical need for a second go at it, I wasn’t too bent out of shape. You have to admit, they were at least right that narrowing down to the best contestants would make for the best battles. I felt invested/torn on almost every pairing, probably due to an extremely level playing field of match-ups and finally letting the contestants choose their own songs… sort of.
Oh, and, Confession #2: I am not your regular Voice recapper. You would have noticed eventually by the lack of excellent contestant-to-YA-literature-character comparisons, but added attention to the Battle fashion choices. Tonight’s assessment: such strong blazer game. Also, hats… well, mostly one hat. Only two things could have inspired Usher to to wear that Daniel Boone hat on steroids: 1. He was finally possessed by the spirit that CeeLo undoubtedly conjured via Ouija board and left in that chair for him; 2. He heard the news of Pharrell getting a magical turning chair in season 7 and decided it was time to make his own cranial presence KNOWN before that scene-stealer comes in.
Carson, voice of tiny God, comes over the loudspeaker to announce tonight’s round like we’re about to enter watch a gladiator battle to the death: The teams have been assembled, their coaches have prepared them for battle, and now it’s back to the ring for Round 2. Luckily there’s no entertainment via homicide necessary, because tonight is just good music, plain and simple. Chris Martin is in the house and the large, sad future elephant he brought to the room with him is barely noticeable over his star power. Let’s see what he thinks of…
“She’s a Little Bit Country, and She’s Little Bit Rock & Roll (and Don’t You Forget It)”
Audra McLaughlin vs. Megan Ruger
When Megan first spots Audra, she hopes she doesn’t have to sing country because she’s all about rocking out these days. But thanks to the new multiple choice style of choosing songs, they’re able to choose “The Climb” on their scantron sheet, which is a nice middle ground. Chris Martin reveals himself to actually be your dorky dad, asking if this is one of the songs Miley twerks in, and I really don’t think he’s trying to be funny. He immediately follows up with, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about.” He tells them they’ve got to be their own front(wo)men, but Blake is most concerned about Megan losing her rocker edge and Audra falling out of the pocket. (Why can’t anyone stay in the damn pocket?)
When Megan and Audra take the stage – in leather and lace, respectively, because these two are nothing if not on theme – they’ve mostly gotten it all together. Audra starts off stronger with a deep steady vocal, but Megan catches up to her on the big notes. Unfortunately, Megan keeps doing this fake flexing thing to indicate just how strong she is on her climb that’s pretty tough to watch. I liked Audra when she went against the girl duo last week, but I didn’t feel like she totally swept them. Here, she truly proves herself to be a rich, if not totally engaging, vocalist.
Usher says she does a thing with her voice where it seems like she just might fall, but she never does, but Adam was more surprised by Megan. But it’s all up to Uncle Blake; he agrees with Usher that every time you think Audra is going to do one thing, she does another, and when he says he’s never heard anything like it in country music, you know it’s all over. Audra’s uniqueness beats out Megan’s straightforward approach, and though her personal branding might need some spicing up, that voice is one to watch.
“A Battle of Souls”
Cierra Mickens vs T.J. Wilkens
Cierra and T.J. look like they could maybe be siblings, or maybe fall in love with each other and be together forever, all because of this reality show. Cierra is new to Team Usher and feeling a little intimidated by T.J.’s established presence on the team and his music school precision. Luckily she gets her first pick on Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” and T.J. is game for a ballad.
In their first rehearsal, Usher worries about T.J.’s range transitions, but Chris isn’t dwelling on it because he’s too impressed by T.J.’s ability to sell, “You can windsurf into my life.” Which, yes, Chris Martin! That deserves some credit. This song is super beautiful and has super ridiculous lyrics that Sierra and T.J. sing so nicely, it’s almost goes unnoticed that they’re singing lines like, “Take me up on a carpet ride/You can make it in a big balloon.” Almost.
Chris sends them on their way with instructions to connect to each other more (he ships it), and when they get on that stage, they take his advice to heart. I’ve always liked Sierra, because listening to her sing feels like listening to her tell a story; apparently that’s a little something T.J. picked up on too, because these two sell every bit of that longing and windsurfing story. I say they should take this thing on the road. Adam, Shakira, and Blake say they can’t help Usher with a decision, and Usher says he doesn’t need it because he’s decided: T.J.’s level of comfort and confidence with this song have earned him the spot on Team Usher. Usher and Shakira bolt to the stage to hug it out with Sierra, and she sure must have been as sweet as she seemed.
“Country Boy Meets City Girl Meets Creepy Blake”
Jake Worthington vs. Tess Boyer
You can tell Blake really revels in the awkwardness of the Battle pairing reveals: “OK, kids, come meet your opponent!” Jake is immediately nervous about Tess’ powerhouse vocals, but he must not have heard that former steals aren’t faring so well tonight — oh, and that he’s a great singer too (all cards on the table: I have a soft spot for Jake). But he might just be intimidated by Tess’ shiny silver sweater, because seriously, she could be performing in Times Square for tips in that thing. I loved it.
The fresh-faced duo chooses “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and earn an immediate “It sounded wunduhful!” from Chris after their first rehearsal. Both singers are struggling with the long vowel-filled notes, so Chris teaches them to visualize the note in front of them, which might explain why pop singers are always reaching out to grab at something when they go for the kill notes. Perhaps this is all that’s been holding me back from an illustrious singing career. The conviction and low range come easy to Tess in rehearsal, and she’s got Jake nice and intimidated without even a bit of smack talk.
When it comes to the real deal, both give nearly equal flawless performances. I think Jake might have a little edge on uniqueness of tone, but Tess has the kind of classic voice that I took to even more upon multiple viewings. Usher says they both showed growth and different sides of themselves tonight, and he and Adam refuse to pick a winner, the clear bat signal for a steal. But Shakira is never one to shy away from saying exactly what she means, usually with an impressive vocab word or two, and reveals it was Tess who really blew her away. She plays her cards right, because Blake makes the call to “cast [his] vote for loyalty” on Jake, and Shakira wins Tess after all three coaches push to steal. In probably my favorite blunder of the night, the usually criminally smooth Usher says his vote has always been for Tess and is then immediately reminded that he just voted against her, like, six days ago. You might need to lose the hat, bro, it’s throwing you off your game. J/K keep that hat forever.
NEXT: An uneven pairing against Christina Grimmie…I see whatchya did there, Adam!
“Manic Pixie YouTube Nannies”
Christina Grimmie vs. Sam Beyhymer
Sam does not seem particularly thrilled to be paired with Christina, because she knows her airy voice might be drowned out by Christina’s more powerful approach, and maybe because she also knows it might be difficult for a coach to turn down a contestant who comes pre-packaged with 400K+ Twitter followers. It might be the same reason that I and some others have been a little weary of Christina Grimmie’s presence on our humble struggling artist vehicle, The Voice. But I have to say, the combination of Christina’s engaging personality and genuine desire to grow throughout the rehearsal process won me over. (I’m sure she was just waiting for my approval, so I guess she’ll probably hang up the ole webcam and retire now.)
I also appreciated Sam’s honest acknowledgment last round that she sometimes hides behind her voice’s quirks. But as much as she tries, she’s never quite able to get on top of them, and it leaves the door open for Christina’s confidence in performing to shine through. The two take the stage with “Counting Stars”; Adam thinks it’s “an interesting choice,” which he would immediately take back if he could just time travel two weeks into the future from whenever this was filmed (or just over to the American Idol set where you sing this, or Grace Potter’s “Stars,” or you sing nothing at all). Christina is in full Man Repeller mode in her blazer and oxfords, furthering the affect that this performance is her very own concert. Sam’s lower register is a steadier vocal that we haven’t heard from her before, but it never really soars.
The judges are kind of all over the place, with Blake liking Sam’s finesse (he is a sucker for quirk, isn’t he?), and Shakira not really seeming to like any of it too much, but siding with Christina’s confidence and maturity. Adam is happy with both because he asked them to keep it in the pocket (pocket!) of the rhythm and they did that; he votes that Christina did it with more command of the stage.
“Your Favorite Science Teacher and Your Favorite Fun Uncle”
Josh Murley vs. Patrick Thomson
When Shakira reminds us that she stole both Patrick and Josh from Team Adam, this one is destined to be a second-to-last-performance lull. Steals are usually the type of performers who take a little while to win over their audience, and neither Josh nor Patrick is quite on the level of many of the other duos tonight, performance-wise. Vocally, though, they bring some interesting range, and they choose to show it off on Bryan Adams’ “Run to You.”
Chris Martin helps bring out their rock side by throwing a couple of mic stands in their general direction: “Bono has his sunglasses, Mick has his arms, Jay-Z has his hat, and I felt like Josh and Patrick needed mic stands.” You’re in good company, fellas. Up onstage, Josh rocks out more than his wire spectacle would indicate he could and gets in a few interesting runs. But it’s Patrick’s rasp and unique tone that convince Shakira she’ll be able to coach him best. Josh is supremely genuine in his gratitude for the opportunity, and it’s true – this is a great opportunity. Now he’s “The Voice’s Josh Murley.” Go out there and use it, Josh!
“Soul Brothers from Another Mother”
Delvin Choice vs. Josh Kaufman
Ah, yes, here we are in the Steal Spot. You may recall Delvin and Josh as the two contestants with the best career-paths-as-depicted-by-The-Voice: the part-time Starbucks worker and SAT prep tutor, respectively. And they certainly carry themselves in the parts they’ve been cast in, with Josh as the more reserved cerebral type and Delvin, the chipper extrovert. But when they open their mouths, it’s all gold, just two very different types of gold.
They both decide on “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” because they are smart men who know how to give the people what they want. The people want Stevie Wonder! Adam realizes in their first rehearsal that this pairing was a mistake, as Josh’s voice is always a soulful character-filled surprise, and Delvin has somehow managed to find a whole new mastery over his already powerful instrument in the last few weeks. From his perma-perch on the floor, Chris tells Josh not to try to compete with Delvin’s huge voice, but also not to hold back on what he wants to do naturally with his own.
Josh hugs his cute little wife and his cute little mom before he takes the stage; likewise, Delvin kisses his cute little grandma and says he isn’t singing for anyone else but her tonight. It must be said that their blazer game is almost as strong as their vocals: Josh in a subtle buffalo plaid and Delvin in a rich caramel with gray vest underneath (you heard me — gray and camel, and I liked it). Josh is a tiny pocket (pocket!) of soul and Delvin reels in his excess vibrato to for a controlled, but spirited performance. Shakira’s got her shoulders going and Usher is flaring his nostrils and close-mouthed smiling, so you know exactly what’s coming: STEAL!
Everybody agrees that Delvin has reached a new level of hotness (OK, it’s mostly Blake who thinks he’s sexy with his hair pushed back) and that both singers gave the vocal performance of the night. But there can only be one, and Adam goes with Delvin, leaving Josh to hop into Usher’s waiting arms. Those should make for some pretty interesting coach/contestant duos, come live shows; and I am surely hoping both of these guys make it there.
So, what did you think — did Battle Rounds 2.0 make for a few entertaining performances, or would you rather just get on with it? Is there anyone we lost tonight that you would have stolen if you had access to the magical red button? And if Usher’s hat isn’t full of secrets, then what exactly is he storing in there?