It should make perfect sense that The Voice would frontload the battle rounds with amazing matchups in the first episode, before dumping the middling to bad matchups in parts two and three. We still have quite a few standout performers to get to, and my guess is that next week’s final round will be as strong as the first, if only so that we viewers remember this particular stage of the competition as a roaring success. But never forget: At one point this was the show that made you listen to a tone-deaf model sing against a joke band from rural Virginia, and if you have any self-respect, some part of you will always hold that against it.
Our first battle is for Team Adam, with Pip taking on some kid named Nathan that I certainly couldn’t remember from the auditions. This show really shot itself in the foot suspense-wise with its handful of speed-wins in the blind auditions—with one exception tonight which I will get to in a bit, it seems that if you don’t get a back-story and at least one scene of you crying with your family during the auditions, you don’t get a ticket to the live shows. Pip and this mystery man sing “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse, and it’s a fair matchup vocally, but personality-wise, Nathan is a brick in a V neck next to Pip’s winning, Glee-ready spunk. That didn’t stop Adam from trying to build it up as a neck-and-neck match, announcing to Nathan during rehearsals that “You are no longer the underdog,” which would have been slightly more subtle if he had then turned to the camera and winked. The two work well together on the song, but Nathan’s nerves from rehearsals carry over into his live performance, and Pip wins easily.
Well, that was listenable enough—whaddaya got, Team Cee Lo? Oh, two of the most obnoxious acts in the whole show going head to head on a Tina Turner classic? Smashing! (Don’t forget to watch Smash at 10/9 Central—right after The Voice!) While I assume every pick and win of the prerecorded stages of this show is precalculated within an inch of its life, sometimes I wonder if these judges don’t have a bit of buyer’s remorse about some of their team members. The Shields Brothers are the musical equivalent of a novelty “I’m With Stupid” shirt you drunkenly bought for $5 from a street vendor in Vegas; Erin Martin is the inappropriately short snakeskin skirt you bought at the mall the day after a breakup when you thought you were going to have a “sexy phase.” It’s a funny idea on paper to wear them together, but it will probably just end up looking stupid and making everyone uncomfortable. Erin’s personality is repugnant (she’s the first person to actually shit-talk her opponent in her confessional interviews), and I suspect that if you took all her bizarre vocal affectations away you would be left with a girl in a headdress who can barely sing on key. On the other hand, the Shields Brothers are just boring and insincere. And this show could use a good villain—why not? So while my jaw dropped when Cee Lo picks Erin after a phenomenally awkward stumble through “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” I immediately looked forward to seeing her get torn to bits in the live shows. On the other hand, jeez—Cee Lo and Blake's weakness for semi-talented cute girls really cancels out the entire concept of the blind auditions.
Surprisingly, Christina proves capable of judging with her ears rather than her eyeballs tonight, even though she clearly has the hots for Brazilian father of two Jonathas. He goes up against Ashley, another speed-pick that you would be forgiven for not remembering from auditions. Jonathas is the Usher soundalike who impressed in the first round, but comes up short this time. It doesn’t help that the song they’re tasked with is the saggy Jordin Sparks semi-ballad “No Air.” I can’t imagine trying to impress anyone with a rendition of this song: It has near-monotone verses followed by a shouty, arrhythmic bridge, and a near-monotone chorus. Neither singer is feeling it in rehearsals, but Christina gives Jonathas extra help by providing some “female energy” for him to work off of, which means that she sings real close to him and juts out her ample chestthings and they both mime holding microphones. Yes, everyone learnes a lot from that exercise. The battle itself is wholly unimpressive, but Ashley has a clarity to her voice that Jonathas lacks, and— surprise!—Ashley moves on to the live shows with nary a sob story.
Team Blake is up next, pitting another random team member (ALyX—whose name I’m not going to dignify by looking up the correct capitalization) against Alicia Keys backup singer Jermaine Paul. Jermaine had one of the stronger auditions, but he came off as a real pompous ass, and I find it hard to support any of these career-aspiring pop stars with weird names, so in addition to being completely predictable, I was not invested in this battle in the least bit. Alexandria (seriously, I refuse to type her “name” more than once) just reeks of desperation, and after a painfully stiff first rehearsal, she makes an astoundingly ungraceful exit, shouting back at Blake as she’s halfway out the door “I take this seriously! But I’m having fun!” (“I don’t think she’s having fun,” Blake mutters to Miranda.) As if it isn’t already obvious who’s going home, Jermaine gets to drive the coveted house Kia to the battle. (The producers are probably contractually required to only let a winner-to-be near the Kia—no one wants to drive the car a defeated reality show contestant drove before arriving at the locale of said defeat.) The song is “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” and Jermaine barely pretends to be sharing the stage with anyone, while Alexandria struggles to emote from the billowy depths of a bizarre tunic/Halloween ghost costume. Jermaine wins, of course.
Adam then pits two of his strongest performers against each other: Angel and Katrina on Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love.” I started to prepare myself for the killer showdown that this episode needed so badly—“Bleeding Love” is simple enough to translate gracefully into a duet, but it also requires serious vocal power, the kind that both of these ladies have. I had a feeling Angel would be taking this one—no matter how bizarre and gross Katrina’s killer-mold story is, an abusive childhood wins in the back-story department. And then I started to get sad that we might be saying goodbye to sweet, dorky Katrina, who is the most excited Team Adam contestant by far to meet mentor Alanis Morrissette. The battle itself doesn’t pan out as well as I might have hoped—as we saw with Anthony and Jesse in the first battle episode, it takes two extremely hungry people to make a matchup really ignite, and Angel seems defeated as soon as she gets onstage. Once Christina says that Katrina reminds her of Adele, it’s as good as done: Katrina wins the round.
And finally, Blake brings out Gwen Sebastian (who, say it with me, is “just a girl from North Dakota”) and Erin Willett, the one with the dad who has pancreatic cancer. I am just barely above making cynical remarks about this sad situation, but whatever kind of cancer that was really wanted Erin to win The Voice—on the day of the battle, she receives word that her father has 24 hours to live. Rather than rush to be by his side on the final day of his life, she decides to push through the battle, because “it’s what he would have wanted.” I’ll not question her reasoning, but was there really any way Blake could reject her in the wake of such a tragedy? Not that she’s not deserving—I liked her voice in the auditions and she is strong as ever tonight, but I also like Gwen’s more traditionally country voice just as well (she also eerily reminds me of current American Idol hopeful Skylar Laine, both in voice and face.) Their duet of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” is the best of the night by far—the respect the two of them have for each other shows, as well as their determination to outdo one another. It just was unfortunate that it was so glaringly obvious who would be winning; it took a bit of the fun out of it. Gwen makes a very nice concession speechlet after being eliminated, in which she manages not to say the words “North Dakota” once.
As Carson recaps who has made it through the battles so far, no one team strikes me as having a particular advantage over any other—the judges have made a lot of surprising calls (most in a bad way, in my opinion) and have left us with quite a few contestants that it’s hard to get excited about. I still like this show’s structure a lot, but now I’m getting to the point where I really want to see some singers I care about emerge from the pack.
- Have I mentioned that I am a big Ne-Yo fan? I always liked him as a singer and producer, and it’s been a pleasant surprise to see him have such intelligent feedback during rehearsals. He ripped Erin a new one this week for her insincere performance—“I think you’re trying to be attractive, but you’re not trying to be sexy.” I appreciate that he made the differentiation—one is actually more gutsy and difficult to pull off. Erin’s response, amazingly: “I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that someone thought I wasn’t sexy.”
- Blake is turning into a full-on dirtbag quickly: In addition to his gross comments to Erin, he even found a way to ask 17-year-old Ashley if she was legal or not.
- Who’s the most useful/useless mentor so far? My vote is Ne-Yo or Alanis for useful, Robin Thicke for useless.