The battle rounds have been wearing on Team Voice, and it shows. (Yes, I am pretending that these last four episodes have been shot and edited 100 percent chronologically, as opposed to the three separate days Christina Aguilera had free from her busy touring schedule.) How else to explain Jewel’s unapologetic stinkface while listening to a particularly cloying rehearsal, Blake and Miranda staring with blank dismay at a singer who doesn’t understand harmony, or Cee Lo Green breaking down not once, but twice—both times blaming emotional volatility on his sensitivity as an artist. Yes, while American Idol is a show about Singers and The X Factor is a show about Acts (these are words each show uses as its contestant-synonym), The Voice is a show for Artists. It’s such a loaded word, and belies the show’s comparatively lofty ambitions—ambitions which both set it apart and lead to some rather embarrassing outcomes. As we’ve seen throughout the battles, nearly everyone on The Voice is a Singer, fewer are Acts, and even fewer are Artists, so to build all of them up as such does them no favors. Still, several contestants were able to rise to the occasion, and the battle rounds ended on a satisfying, if not overly thrilling note.
Our first battle is from Team Cee Lo, and don’t worry, by this point you’re completely forgiven if you’ve totally forgotten who any of these kids are. Though, who could forget James Massone, the greasy Bostonian with transparent and horribly misguided designs to be the next Justin Bieber? He’s up against WADE, a kid with a terrible first name to use as a mononym, much less put it in all caps. WADE is a better singer technically, but he’s stylistically bland—he hasn’t yet realized that “old school Motown throwback” doesn’t work as a unique selling point on a show where everyone thinks “old school Motown throwback” is their unique selling point. James is a basket o’ nerves during rehearsals, prompting typically genial Cee Lo to bring down the hammer and tell him to snap out of it. Will there be a comeback? But of course! The boys make Cee Lo cry during rehearsal, but the actual performance is pretty weak—mostly due to their inability to nail harmonies. For some reason the judges lay the blame on WADE even though that seems like a cooperative effort, and Cee Lo picks James as the winner.
The next two battles forced a couple of artists who worked with more than just a Voice to find a way to make their styles work in a duet. On Team Adam, Nicolle Galyon eventually ditched her piano in order to battle with Mathai on more-even footing, but ended up shooting herself in the foot; the absence of the piano made her lack of charisma next to her competition painfully obvious. And on Team Christina, Moses was forced to sing rather than rap the majority of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” against country duo The Line. This battle had me conflicted—on the one hand, The Line were dull and stagey in every way, and She Line was quite the grumpypants; on the other hand, is it really fair for an MC to be on this show? It worked fine on a show like The X Factor, which purported to emphasize performance and star power over pure vocals, but The Voice, maybe even moreso than American Idol, is supposed to be a pure singing competition—at least that’s the impression I’ve always gotten. I’m more inclined to root for Moses purely for his underdog status, but we still haven’t really seen much of his rapping skills—and his five-second verse tonight didn’t seem all that special to me. Surprisingly, the battle isn’t the worst sounding thing tonight, and Moses grabs the final spot on Team Christina.
Okay, so back during the blind auditions I know I kept saying that nearly all of the singers were talented. Let me clarify right now that this meant that I recognized they could sing capably, not that I necessarily liked all of them, and in the final three battles we were reunited with some of the more unsavory characters from our long and winding Voice journey. This made for some slightly more suspenseful viewing; it’s always more fun to have a horse in the race. But I realized halfway through Team Blake’s final battle that I wasn’t rooting for Naia so much as I was rooting against reptilian-eyed, harmonically challenged Jordan, and I wasn’t rooting for Karla as much as I was rooting against slightly murderous-seeming Orlando (though Karla’s victory lap around the piano with Adam and Alanis was pretty darn cute). For all the time we’ve spent talking about shitty day jobs and financial woes and various diseases, The Voice hasn’t been very good at getting us to really latch onto artists on a personal level. It’s a combination of these artists coming off as much more professional and guarded than your typical open-book American Idol contestant, and just a lack of memorable narrative editing. Karla and Naia both won their battles against boring boys, but nobody in either battle really knocked it out of the park.
The final matchup is for Team Cee Lo, with working Broadway professional Tony Vincent up against former Last Call With Carson Daly house band member Justin Hopkins. Totally fair fight, right? I wasn’t particularly blown away by Justin in his audition, but there’s something about Tony that is so false and preening that it’s impossible for me to root for him. He is “ambiguous” as Cee Lo delicately put it, both in style and onstage demeanor, but it’s not a fun kind of ambiguous—Tony’s going to have a hard time connecting with voters if he continues to take himself so scarily seriously, approaching every performance with perfectly rehearsed and soulless vocal histrionics. Whoops, I guess I spoiled that one—Tony wins the last spot on Team Cee Lo, even though both Blake and Adam prefer Justin’s more genuine style. Of course, when Carson lists the six team members that Tony is joining in the live shows, I remember that Cee Lo basically picked the wrong person in every single battle (Cheesa? Cheesa!?) so nothing should have surprised me.
The battles are over… but the war has just begun! (What do you think, guys, should I audition to write Carson Daly’s copy? NBC should have a show about that… okay, maybe just a web series.) Next week we start doubling down on episodes, with live performances on Mondays and results shows on Tuesdays. Don’t worry, this will not interfere with your American Idol viewing schedule, and if you’re like me and watch both shows out of professional responsibility/self-loathing, rest assured that you will spend four nights a week for the next month watching people sing competitively on television, and you will probably be a worse person for it.
- “It’s a problem, and one you’ll have to correct in a timely fashion.” Sunglass-less angry Cee Lo is actually kind of terrifying?
- Love Mathai, but that elbow thing is going to get very old very fast.
- During the whole “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” performance I kept thinking, “This song’s verses are practically hip hop verses! Let Moses rap!” I was disappointed that he just ended up reciting the lyrics superfast, rather than improvising or adding his own words, the way Astro on The X Factor would when assigned a song to “cover.”
- Who doesn’t know “Rich Girl”!?
- “Vowels is where, uh, the strength of the voice comes from.” Ladies and gentlemen, vocal professional Robin Thicke.
- Who’s got the most badass team? I think Adam got the best of the bunch by far, with Christina and Blake tying for a distant second, and aside from Jamar, Cee Lo has dug himself a bit of a hole this time around. (CHEESA!)