It’s time for The Voice to go to battle: head-to-head competition, the button-slamming steals, spotting Paul Mirkovich everywhere, and those graphics that make things look like Street Fighter. Anything can happen in the battle rounds – last season, although Amanda Brown lost her battle as a member of Team Cee Lo, she was stolen by Adam Levine and ended up making it all the way to the top six. No wonder why Blake calls this “the scariest part of the show.”
The first matchup of the night is from Team Adam: Amber Carrington, who was Adam’s last pick, versus Sasha Allen, who got four chairs to turn for her during the blind auditions. On paper, it sounds like this might be one-sided – but it’s the farthest thing from that.
Adam and his mentor Hilary Scott meet with Amber and Sasha, and Adam assigns the pair “Try” by Pink for their battle round. Sasha thinks that’s “a great middle ground for everybody.” Amber is worried about Sasha’s additional experience, and meets with Adam and Hillary the next day to discuss that. They advise her to focus on herself rather than the other person. At final rehearsal, Adam still believes both artists have work to do, but expects a difficult decision.
In the ring, Amber seems to have found her confidence – and bears a certain resemblance to season three’s Michaela Paige with her outfit and hairstyle. She’s a pleasant surprise in every possible way, and if she keeps coming out with that attitude, she could become a real threat in the competition. Yet there’s no denying that Sasha has a definite stage presence you can’t help but pay attention to. People have been raving about her since her blind audition, and she absolutely deserves every word. It’s nail-bitingly close.
Blake calls the battle “really good overall.” Usher says he “really was impressed” by both artists. Shakira thinks Amber and Sasha are “probably two of [Team Adam’s] best contestants.” No one offers a specific pick, so it’s up to Adam to figure it out on his own. He thinks it was “hands down, one of the best battle rounds we’ve ever seen on the show.” He shocks the room by choosing Amber.
But don’t feel bad for Sasha, because Usher and Shakira are pushing their buttons to steal her before Carson can even finish his sentence. Usher says he thinks he can “win the entire show” with Sasha on his team, and Shakira seconds that comment before asking Sasha not to break her heart a second time. Sasha migrates to Team Shakira. Usher is crushed. Sasha gets a goodbye hug from Adam, who tells her that he knew she’d move on and she’s in good hands with her new coach.
Blake: You made Usher cry.
Team Shakira is next up. She and her advisor, Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, meet with Garrett Gardner, who’s looking for redemption after not making a team in season three, and J’Sun, who got montaged in blind auditions. Shakira hands the guys The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now,” which was absolutely crushed by Tony Lucca in season two. It’s a tall order, but they get right to work on it, with no clear standout in rehearsal.
The battle is on, and while it doesn’t surpass that previous cover version, there’s still a fair amount of attitude in this performance. It’s great to finally hear more than twenty seconds of what J’Sun is capable of, and he’s pretty smooth. Garrett has more of a growl to his vocals, but he holds his own. The duet earns standing applause from Usher.
Adam finally “gets” Garrett after that. Blake thinks that J’Sun “did the right things to showcase what you’re really good at” but says that he’d probably pick Garrett as the winner. Usher feels like J’Sun won the battle. Shakira has her first case of battle round-induced apprehension.
Shakira: Oh, God, I should’ve never taken this job.
Blake: Just drink like I do.
Shakira chooses Garrett to move forward into the knockout rounds, and he also earns a bro-hug from Adam on his way out. As for J’Sun, he is not stolen by any of the other coaches, so he’s eliminated entirely from the competition.
Our third battle of the night is Team Blake: four-chair artist Holly Tucker against one-chair turnaround Michelle Raitzin. Holly and Michelle meet with Blake and advisor Sheryl Crow to receive their assignment, which is Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” Their coach tells the audience via voiceover that “it didn’t seem fair to pair them with anyone else,” and Sheryl thinks that Holly could sing the phone book. Michelle has some pitch issues, but corrects them by the next rehearsal. Blake gets a look on his face that clearly reads as “What have I done?”
Once it’s time to battle, Holly has definitely found the anger that Blake wanted to hear from her. She even moves across the stage like you don’t want to cross her. Michelle doesn’t have that same emotion, but she can still hit some impressive notes. The two of them sound fantastic as a duo, and it’s a shame that there’s not more harmony between them.
While Blake hates the impending decision in front of him, Usher says that they “did an incredible job. You really stepped up.” Shakira is also pleased. Adam thinks that Michelle lost a little breath, and that he’d pick Holly if it were up to him. Cranky as ever during this time of the competition, Blake snarks at Carson.
Blake: Can I just keep them both?
Carson: No, that’s not an option.
Blake: Well, screw you.
He goes on to say that it’s a dead-even tie, at which point he always goes with what he’s good at, which is a country artist, and that’s Holly. Michelle is not stolen (in fact, we don’t even hear Carson give the pronouncement that she’s available to steal, suggesting this battle may have been filmed after all steals had been used), so she, too, is knocked from the competition.
By process of elimination, it’s time for something from Team Usher. That’s Jess Kellner, who turned two chairs, and Taylor Beckham, who also spun two. Usher and his advisor Pharrell Williams hand them Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” It’s going to be hard for these ladies to beat the version Nathan Parrett and Pip put together in season two, especially as Usher thinks that they need serious help when it comes to the performance aspect of things. Through both rehearsals, he encourages them both to pull the audience in and own the moment…
…Then suddenly, here’s an abrupt and awkward transition so that Christina Milian can talk about the artists giving back to the community, which has the effect of pulling The Voice‘s audience out of the moment.
When we get back to the show proper, it’s battle time. How does Jess always look so happy to be here all the time? Anyway, the unique sound she has really works with the song. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Taylor’s vocals either, but she doesn’t seem to be as engaging as much as Jess is, whether it’s with the audience or with her partner.
Shakira thinks that Jess has a “rich voice” but that Taylor has “something about her persona,” and after Carson prods her, says she’d pick Taylor. Adam comments on Jess’s confidence, and adds that Taylor’s voice surprised him, so that he would also pick Taylor. Blake breaks the streak and says that he enjoyed Jess more, because he likes to see someone that’s in the moment. Usher goes back to being able to “captivate an audience,” and doesn’t think the product was one hundred percent. Sticking with the criteria he’s had from the start, he picks Jess for the win.
Taylor seems headed for home, even giving her goodbye remarks, before Blake decides to steal her. He goes on to tip his hand, saying that he swayed Usher toward Jess knowing that the other coach would pick her, so now he can swoop in and steal Taylor. Ladies and gentlemen, Blake Shelton, the king of being sneaky.
Now that every team has had one go-around, we go back to Team Blake. Their second pairing of the evening is Christian Porter and his perfect hair with the fun duo, The Swon Brothers, both acts having turned three chairs in the first phase. Blake tells the three of them that they’ll be singing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” which he personally performed with Dia Frampton way back in season one. The Swons feel good since they sung another Petty song in their blind audition. Christian feels like he’s pushing to hit the high note, but works on it and by second rehearsal, Blake thinks he’s “nailed it.” He also wants The Swons to get more serious. One imagines those are words Blake probably doesn’t say often.
Game on! Christian and The Swons hit the stage, and two things become apparent: 1) they’re all really good, and 2) Christian could pass as the third Swon Brother. It’s always been somewhat of a concern for solo artists on The Voice to hold their own against the two voices of a duo, but Christian definitely does that and then some. He and the Swon Brothers really feel like they’re performing together as a team. If there’s any criticism to be had, it’s that everyone needs to get out from behind their microphone stands.
Usher notices that Christian hit the note he was trying for. Shakira says she’d go for The Swon Brothers because she’s curious about duos. Adam says that Christian surprised him, and that just because he “has some sort of strange delivery,” he’d select him. That brings things back around to Blake, who explains that he heard several different artists in Christian’s voice, but The Swon Brothers have a distinctive sound. He goes back to the “stick with what I know” argument, picking The Swon Brothers. That’s a milestone, as they’re the first duo on The Voice to get past battles since the Thompson Sisters back in season one. Yet it’s a little harder to celebrate that when, in a true head-shaking moment, no one steals Christian.
Your final matchup of the evening is a whopper: it’s Team Adam’s Judith Hill, the early frontrunner to win it all, versus Karina Iglesias, a two-chair artist who’s no sleeper either. Adam hands them “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” by James Brown, which is a hard song to sing (ask Juliet Simms about that). In rehearsal, Judith wants to come up to the level of Karina’s power, and Adam wants more sublety from Karina. He tells both artists to approach the song like a conversation, and is already starting to regret pairing the two of them together.
These two ladies do not disappoint. They know how to work the stage, and they know how to do it together. Of all the battles in this first set, this is the one that feels most like a duet. Judith and Karina also know how to sing the song properly, building up to their biggest moments and making those moments worth the wait. While Judith towers over Karina courtesy of some huge heels, vocally, this is a prizefight and it’s anyone’s to win. The standing ovation at its end is well deserved.
Blake just shakes his head in amazement.
Blake: The only negative thing I’ll say is Adam’s really stupid.
Usher and Shakira both also question Adam’s choice of pairing, given what they’ve just seen. Adam agrees with them wholeheartedly.
Adam: I’m a stupid person with bad ideas…The only loser of this battle round is going to be me.
It’s obvious that whoever doesn’t get his approval is going to be stolen, without a doubt. Sure enough, after Adam selects Judith to stay on his team, Shakira steps in to steal Karina, which earns a thumbs-up from Karina’s now-former coach. That means Shakira is out of steals for the rest of battle rounds, but you can’t say that she didn’t use them wisely – picking up two very strong singers from Team Adam.
At close of business, 3 artists have been stolen (Sasha Allen from Team Adam to Team Shakira, Taylor Beckham from Team Usher to Team Blake, Karina Iglesias from Team Adam to Team Shakira) and 3 have gone home (J’Sun, Michelle Raitzin, Christian Porter). See you tomorrow for more battles!
For more on The Voice and its artists, you can visit BFTV’s dedicated The Voice blog, Big Red Chairs.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick/Big Red Chairs. Excerpts appear at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @bigredchairs.