The Voice recap: The battles begin without coach Kelly Clarkson
The Voice season 20 Battles have begun, but they might look a little different than you expected — and it's not what you think. It turns out coach Kelly Clarkson was sick the week of the Battle performances and due to strict production protocols, wasn't able to participate (well, not completely). Instead, she has her pal, country star, and friend of The Voice Kelsea Ballerini keep her seat warm. Kelly was there for the Battle rehearsals and coached her team ahead of performances, but it'll be Kelsea critiquing everyone and deciding who stays and who goes on Team Kelly (luckily for Kelsea, Kelly is only a phone call or text away when decisions are extra-tough). Other than that switcheroo, The Battles proceed as normal. Every coach has both one steal and one save this round and each will be joined by a pro during rehearsals to help advise. Find out who joins coaches Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, John Legend, and Kelly as we get into some performances.
TEAM KELLY: Gean Garcia and Ryleigh Modig, "pov" by Ariana Grande
Okay, Kelly really isn't messing around with these Battle pairings. Gean Garcia and Ryleigh Modig are two major standouts from the Blinds, two artists who could easily go the distance on this show, and yet here they are battling it out for one spot on Team Kelly. At least Kelly has team advisor Luis Fonsi to help her talk through the matchup in rehearsals. Luis loves how "mature" the two sound on this song and finds their performance "truthful" and "believable." In rehearsal, Kelly and Luis want Gean and Ryleigh to work on building the tension of the song and keeping that "push and pull" between them palpable. After the live performance, all four of the coaches are beyond impressed. Blake loves how intense Gean is when he performs and praises Ryleigh for being unlike anyone else on the show. Nick calls Ryleigh "magical" but thinks Gean takes it all to a new level. John questions himself "as a human being" since in the Blinds he didn't turn for either of them. He advises Gean to "open up his vowels a little more" although he praises his range. Coach Kelsea notes some early pitch issues Gean had but applauds him for course-correcting, and loves Ryleigh's talent as a storyteller.
Winner: Ryleigh Modig!
Steals/Saves: Both John and Nick press their buttons to steal Gean. Nick tries to point out that he turned for Gean in the Blinds and John didn't but Gean thinks he'll feel more at home on Team Legend. He is rewarded with a serenade of "Welcome to Team Legend (The Battles Remix)."
TEAM BLAKE: Connor Christian and Aaron Konzelman, "I Ain't Living Long Like This" by Waylon Jennings
Blake has brought on country superstar duo Dan + Shay as his Battle round team advisors and since the Battles are all about making a great duet, this seems like a smart move. In this pairing, Blake knows that this song choice gives Aaron the upper hand, but he's really looking to see who puts in the work to make this a great overall performance. He loves that Connor's raspy voice has "more power than you think" and how Aaron "can dig in and be aggressive with vocals." Both artists show off these qualities in the performance, leaving Blake with a tough choice. The two guys are obviously having a great time performing, and although everyone agrees that Aaron feels more at home with this song, Connor's rasp and the passion in his delivery make him stand out. Kelsea tells him she loved seeing him "claim his moment," and Blake praises his team member for clearly working hard to put on a good show. He's interested by the fact that when it comes to Connor, "you can't hold him back when he's on stage."
Winner: Connor Christian!
TEAM NICK: Dana Monique and Devan Blake Jones, "Stuck With U" by Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber
You have to feel for Devan Blake Jones in this situation. He knows he is the extreme underdog going up against powerhouse Dana Monique and he's scared. In rehearsal with Nick and his team advisor and friend Darren Criss, Devan tells them what when his mother asked who he was going up against this round, his response was "Aretha Franklin." He's not wrong. Dana Monique is a freaking star. Criss calls her a "walking hurricane," because her voice and presence are so "undeniable." Dana has to work on her more subtle moments and Devan needs to work on his confidence. Their performance is a real show stopper (see also: Devan's jacket). All the coaches praise Devan for really stepping up to the huge challenge before him, but again, Dana is a pro. Blake also notes that she is clearly "long overdue for an opportunity like this." Dana and Nick really connected over the feeling of having something to prove, and the coach calls her "special" and "magical." But he also kicks himself for making this pairing because Devan pushed himself and demonstrated that he, too, is "a great vocalist." He's "come a long way" from his Blind Audition.
Winner: Dana Monique!
Steals/Saves: There's no way Nick can let Devan just walk away after a performance like that. He uses his one save to keep Devan Blake Jones on Team Nick and send him forward to the Four-Way Knockout. Devan is beside himself — he wasn't expecting to last in this pairing. It's a thing to see!
TEAM LEGEND: Christine Cain and Pia Renee, "Baby" by Brandy
Sorry to all the other team advisors this season, but John Legend has brought Brandy on to his team and as someone who spent many formative years listening to the Never Say Never album on repeat, this is exciting. It's especially nice because Team Legend's first pairing, Christine Cain and Pia Renee are singing a Brandy song. So they get coaching from the artist herself. It's Christine who really shines in the rehearsal, as John says, she's really "in the pocket" and in this stripped-down version (there's no full band here because of COVID protocols), she's sultry and commanding. Pia needs to let go and loosen up a little to make an impact. Brandy gives the ladies a few tips on how she sings the song, but mostly she is just excited and honored to have them do her song justice. And that goes for the actual performance, too. It's a whole different game with the live band and Pia comes alive, but Christine's laid-back, cool vibe doesn't quite work as well here. Both Blake and Nick call Pia "explosive" and Nick tells her that from the first "electric" note, she set the tone for the whole thing. John calls Pia's voice "powerful and piercing."
Winner: Pia Renee!
TEAM NICK: Awari and Jose Figueroa Jr., "You Say" by Lauren Daigle
It's not the first song I'd think of when pairing up charismatic R&B singer Awari and power balladeer Jose Figueroa Jr., but "You Say" does end up giving both opportunities for big moments and space to let their voices soar. Darren Criss is blown away by both of them: He praises Awari's "God-given R&B voice" that gorgeously sits in a "higher baritone and low tenor register" with a "husk" to it that pierces through. It's also immediately clear to him that Jose can perform "vocal acrobatics" with an ease and looseness that's enviable. Darren and Nick advise both guys to make sure their choices, especially with runs and vocal tricks, have intention behind them. The performance is big and emotional, even though coach Nick can tell there were some nerves in play especially in the beginning. John calls it a "genuinely tough decision" because Jose's voice is "fluid" and "effortless," but Awari offers a "strong and solid" voice. Kelsea calls Awari's tone "crazy" and his range "beautiful," but notes Jose's ability to do "incredible" runs. Mostly, the major note is that Jose has an arsenal of vocal tricks and he needs to be careful about how he uses them, but that's something that can be taught.
Winner: Jose Figueroa, Jr.!
TEAM BLAKE: Avery Roberson and Ethan Lively, "Just Got Started Lovin' You" by James Otto
It's the battle of a four-chair turn (Avery Roberson) versus a one-chair (Ethan Lively). Who! Will! Prevail! As Blake notes in rehearsal, both are super country with great low registers, but 17-year-old Ethan is confident, outgoing, and more of a showman while Avery is an introverted and thoughtful singer. He didn't give them an easy challenge either — this song pushes their range in both directions and Ethan is having a tough time particularly with transitioning from his highest note down real, real low so quickly. Avery is being pushed to put on more of a performance. Both guys are successful in those endeavors. The coaches are especially blown away by how deep their voices are. Nick says they make him "feel like [he's] got the highest voice in the world." John calls out Ethan's "robust low voice" and notes that this song really played to his strengths. Meanwhile, Kelsea's "blushing" from the double serenade she just got during that fun, flirty country number — it's bringing her back to Nashville. Blake applauds both of his artists: He loves that Avery can so easily connect to the lyric but knows how much that song pushed Ethan and he really delivered.
Winner: Ethan Lively!
Steals/Saves: During most of the critique, Kelsea is on her phone texting Kelly and then finally, she hits her steal button. Avery is now on Team Kelly! Everyone likes this new matchup, believing if anyone can bring Avery out of his shell, it's Kelly Clarkson.
TEAM KELLY: Ryleigh Modig, Avery Roberson (steal)
Still to Battle: Kenzie Wheeler, Corey Ward, Halley Greg, Gihanna Zoë, JD Casper, Savanna Woods, Anna Grace, Ainae
TEAM LEGEND: Gean Garcia (steal), Pia Renee
Still to Battle: Victor Solomon, Carolina Rial, Ciana Pelekai, Durell Anthony, Deion Warren, Rio Doyle, Zania Alaké, Denisha Dalton
TEAM NICK: Dana Monique, Devan Blake Jones (save), Jose Figueroa Jr.
Still to Battle: Raine Stern, Zae Romeo, Andrew Marshall, Bradley Sinclair, Rachel Mac, Lindsay Joan
TEAM BLAKE: Connor Christian, Ethan Lively
Still to Battle: Cam Anthony, Pete Mroz, Emma Caroline, Jordan Matthew Young, Savanna Chestnut, Keegan Ferrell