The first battle round begins with some excellent (and some uneven) match-ups, and a powerhouse frontrunner emerges

By Marc Snetiker
Updated April 14, 2015 at 06:27 PM EDT
Tyler Golden/NBC

The Voice

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After lukewarm blind auditions, we’ve finally arrived at the meaty battle rounds. A quick reminder of how this goes down: the coaches pair up their team members, assign a song, throw them to the mentors, and then slice their team in half after they perform. Sounds simple enough, no?

As we enter the battles, the biggest development is that Usher has cut his hair. And with that, we’re off!

TEAM USHER

Biff Gore vs. TJ Wilkins

“The worship leader and family man” vs. “the south central L.A. music student”

We start the night with two singers from the House of Usher, who assigns them “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations, a solid staple that should be right up both of their alleys (Biff auditioned with Sam Cooke, TJ sang Elton John, so maybe it’s more just up one of their alleys). Mentor Jill Scott calls them the smooth and the rough, saying, “Trying to choose between TJ and Biff is like trying to choose between air and water.” High praise, Jillybean.

Usher makes a fun decision using Jill as the woman both are trying to win over in rehearsal. He’s really into the idea of having them act out the song and be “desperate,” which might be a little too much (it’s about the vocals, not character work).

The battle’s on and funky camerawork tries to show us that, like in rehearsal, they’re all vying for Shakira’s attention. TJ throws in some riffs to stand out; Biff sounds fine but I’m thinking that if you completely eliminated TJ from the song, Biff’s rendition really wouldn’t stand out. Remember, he’s got 22 years on TJ and it certainly shows.

Following the performance, everyone has relatively nice things to say – calling it pure entertainment, smiling from ear to ear, etc. etc. – but it’s Usher’s opinion that matters here, and he wisely chooses TJ. Not a surprise. Out of absolutely nowhere, though, Blake steals, which is a total surprise. I would have liked to see Biff sing more but during the brief moment when he was eliminated, I wondered where he would even go in this competition. Guess we’ll see.

TEAM BLAKE

Jake Worthington vs. Lexi Luca

“17-year-old second-chance country artist” vs. “17-year-old country-pop hopeful”

First, let’s remember that after his audition Jake gave Blake an adorable head-snuggled-on-chest bear hug. So there’s that.

This was a solid pairing between two age-appropriate, genre-appropriate matches. With the guidance of mentors The Band Perry, Blake chooses to give the teens a song called “It Goes Like This” by Thomas Rhett, a young artist whom Blake says is exactly where country music is today. (If you are a country fan and you agree, please let me know in the comments as I have no clue whether that’s an accurate statement.) In the rehearsal package, Lexi seems like she might have stronger vocals than Jake — even as she nervously tears up when she hits a few off notes.

Lexi approaches the battle having to overcome her nerves; Jake says he needs to make sure he pronounces all his words and shows emotions. Now, I giggled a bit when Jake said this, but it becomes immediately apparent when the battle begins that yes, pronunciation is actually a major problem for him (and I even had jaunty closed captions on and still couldn’t understand him). Lexi, meanwhile, allows her nerves to seep in and she sounds pitchy as a result — like a little Katharine McPhee but with more episodes of Chrisley Knows Best on her DVR.

After the song, Usher and Adam put their support behind Jake winning the battle, and Blake’s gut agrees when he declares Jake Worthington worthy. Lexi’s post-performance cry probably didn’t help her chances, but everyone seems to say that Jake is pure and a star, so her tears didn’t even matter. The best part of this, though, was Jake’s gentlemanly consolation of Lexi backstage. That is why he’ll stick around.

NEXT: An awful, awful pairing on Shakira’s behalf

TEAM SHAKIRA

Dani Moz vs. Deshawn Washington

“The PR rep and powerful vocalist” vs. “the classic soul singer from Louisiana”

Shakira’s first battle pits Dani the pop artist against Deshawn, a “retro, old school throwback artist.” It’s an interesting pairing, to be sure, and I’m not sure any of Shakira’s words accurately describe Deshawn’s style, but the Shakira wants what the Shakira wants (and I’ve been wrong about her before).

But this time around, I wasn’t wrong, as they were so grossly mismatched — and it showed right from the rehearsal. Shakira spurred their battle fire with “My Kind of Love” by Emeli Sande, a soulful-pop blend that seemed like a fun, surprising choice considering that neither singer sounds like Sande. Obstacle-wise, Dani’s worried about when to hit her moments, as rehearsal finds them both outsinging each other…but isn’t that what the battles are, like, for?

During the battle, it’s undeniable that Dani is actually incredible (and super duper tall, unless Deshawn is just Kevin Hart in disguise). We didn’t get to see her audition during the regular shows, but Dani’s voice is certifiably amazing. Deshawn is fine, but there’s no way he deserved to stay more than Dani. That said, I’m completely thrown for a loop when Blake and Usher both suggest Deshawn is the winner. Shakira says she regrets pairing them together (and rightly so because they are completely dissimilar and pointlessly matched). Shakira ends up picking Dani, and the look on Deshawn’s face is one of complete devastation. Poor guy. I don’t blame the coaches for not stealing him, but I blame Shakira for losing a great singer thanks to a totally ignorant match.

TEAM ADAM

Kat Perkins vs. Patrick Thomson

“The rock singer going solo” vs. “the gritty vocalist from Missouri”

Now here’s another wise pairing and song choice: Adam chooses two folks with “classic” voices for a “classic” duet, Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks’ “Whenever I Call You Friend.” The only interesting thing that happens in their rehearsal is when mentor Aloe Blacc compares Patrick’s voice — not look — to a bear. I guess that’s something.

The actual battle begins and during the slow-burn intro, you’d swear you arrived at a bat mitzvah during the father-daughter dance, but then things pick up and both Kat and Patrick are so ridiculously in sync, I found myself wishing that both could stick around and the show could be re-named The Voices (but NOT Duets, which was its own horrid beast).

Kat gets a lot of the love from the judging panel, but not without plenty of hesitation — nobody seems too keen to go out and say Patrick should be let go. Adam goes with his instinct, which says Kat, but lo and behold, Shakira steals Patrick and BOTH get to stay!!

I am happy.

TEAM BLAKE

Paula Deanda vs. Sisaundra Lewis

“The Texas vocalist hoping for another chance at stardom” vs. “the veteran singer and mother of three”

Another age-defying matchup: Celine Dion’s vocal director Sisaundra takes on a girl half her age, the former Rihanna opener Paula. Neither seemed like an immediately Blake-y match, but here we are, back with the Band Perry in the rehearsal room. Again, there’s not much to report here: Paula is basically terrified of going up against Sisaundra, and she should be.

They sing “Do What U Want” by Lady Gaga, otherwise known as “That Song You Keep Hearing But Have Never Actively Chosen To Listen To.” I don’t recall Paula’s audition, but it doesn’t really matter — there’s no way Sisaundra’s losing this, especially not after nailing that insane wail! The most jarring part of the battle is seeing Blake just long enough to watch him mouth “do what you want with my body.”

It’s not even worth talking about any coach commentary. Everyone loves Sisaundra, and so does Blake. Boom, battle done, Sisaundra moves on, and all is well.

TEAM USHER

Jake Barker vs. Stevie Jo

“The bartender with the smooth voice” and “the former metal rocker with a surprising sound”

The YouTube star might have been super nervous to be on stage, but Stevie Jo had to be even more terrified to go against the Hollister model that is Jake Barker. Usher paired them up much like a high school chemistry teacher might pair up lab partners. The first rehearsal is, apparently, “terrible,” but there’s not much drama there since we know they’ll both perform well during the battle. They’re singing “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood, a very solid 1986 tune that’s basically begging for creative covers.

The pair’s version isn’t exactly thrilling, though. In the battle, I’m sort of rooting for Stevie Jo — there’s something alluring about him, and I’m certainly more interested to see what he does the rest of the season rather than cookie-cutter Jake. Truth, they both have great, very similarly-matched R&B voices, so the battle could go either way…until Jake busts out his falsetto and it becomes clear (to me at least) that Stevie is the more promising contestant.

Usher picks Stevie Jo, but Adam lets on very early that he wants to steal whomever Usher doesn’t choose, and the second Jake’s available for steal, Adam and Shakira both chime in, followed by Blake (the three-chair steal is totally the new four-chair turn). Jake picks Adam, because Jake is a mini-Adam, and Levines stick together.

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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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