The Battles are back! That cruel and exhilarating segment on “The Voice” where every coach is forced to “Sophie’s Choice” their teams in half.
The Battle Rounds are probably the most fun segment of all TV music competitions. It’s right up there with Group Night on “American Idol.” There’s all the drama of forcing strange mixes of people to work together on odd song choices. But on “Idol,” if everyone in the group did well, they could all move on. Not so on “The Voice.” Like it or not, the coaches must slaughter their own.
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And helping them in the slaughter were mostly extraneous guest mentors. Blake Shelton was joined by Sheryl Crow, who needed no introduction. Adam Levine was joined by Hillary Scott, who needed a lengthy introduction (she’s from Lady Antebellum). Shakira got Good Charlotte frontman (and “Voice” Australia coach) Joel Madden. And Usher had the help of Pharrell Williams.
Of course, the coaches each have two chances to steal another coach’s cast-off, a tactic introduced last season to make things a little more interesting and slightly less final. With 32 Battles to come, the Steals are incredibly precious, but three of the coaches’ eight were used up tonight.
Another wonderful aspect of the Battles? Carson Daly’s hilariously succinct introductions that boil down lifetimes into a few words, as each contestant walks down the red carpet toward the ring. Former gymnast, marching band member, singing partner of Michael Jackson.
The games began with Team Adam, with two late acquisitions during the Blinds: country singer Amber Carrington and r&b Brooklynite Sasha Allen. Amber’s claim to fame so far was a deceased mom and the fact that she never had a vocal lesson. Sasha is a mother of two who auditioned with a Dixie Chicks song. Adam gave them Pink’s “Try.” Though Amber was initially the underdog against Sasha’s power vocals, it turned out to be a supremely well matched battle. Adam said it was one of the best ever done on the show, and he named Amber the winner. But Usher and Shakira didn’t hesitate to push their buttons for Sasha. Though Usher was wholly complimentary, Shakira zeroed in on helping Sasha work on her stage presence, and for that specificity, Sasha chose her to work with.
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Next up: Shakira’s season 3 reject Garrett Gardner and soul singer J’Sun. Their coach was the only one to turn around for them during the blind auditions, so this round was essentially a chance to slough off some dead cells. Shakira gave them The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” And though J’Sun presented a way bigger bag of vocal tricks and significantly more stage presence, Shakira chose 17-year-old Garrett because of his youthful potential.
Team Blake kicked off with the aforementioned marching band saxophonist Holly Tucker vs. musical family legacy Michelle Raitzin. Holly had four chairs spin for her, but Michelle inspired only Blake. Blake gave them Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away,” and pro that he is, he gave them super specific advice, down to the note. He also encouraged sweet Holly to get meaner, and that advice worked well, because she won the round despite a pretty even vocal match with Michelle. Actually, Blake said he picked her because he couldn’t decide, and he just wanted to stick with what he was comfortable with: country. Doesn’t matter that the two times he won the show, it was with an r&b guy and a pop girl, not his comfort zone.
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Usher’s battle was one between two of those annoyingly affected indie girls, one a hairdresser (Jess Kellner), another a former gymnast (Taylor Beckham). They sang “You Know I’m No Good,” and neither really stuck out in a good way. Taylor, however, was weaker and lacked energy. So Usher chose Jess. But Taylor started to cry, and Blake, who had previously described her as having something “tortured” about her, scooped her up in his attempt to save all cute young girls.
Blake’s next battle was a showdown between bar singer Christian Porter, who auditioned with “Sexy and I Know It” acoustic, and the Swon Brothers. Duets don’t usually fare well at the Battles, but in “I Won’t Back Down,” the Oklahomans just showed so much more dynamism than anything Christian, who’s like this vanilla “Book of Mormon” character, could give. But Blake, ever reluctant to play favorites, pulls the “stick to what I know” country card yet again, and chooses Swon—right choice, wrong reason.
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The last battle of the night belonged to Team Adam: Michael Jackson backup Judith Hill and Latina music teacher Karina Iglesias. Here’s where Adam’s strategy of being the most charming and persuasive coach backfires, because he just has way too many incredible singers on his team already and now he has to slice them up. Anyway, he gives them “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” so you have an idea already the caliber of singers these two are. Vocally, they’re matched perfectly, though visually, not so much. It’s hilarious seeing them walk side by side to the battle, Judith a million feet tall and svelte in a glamorous red jumpsuit, and Karina this tiny thing in a tank top. Both of them are also a little bit strange, and I imagine Cee Lo, watching at home with his menagerie, wishing he never left the show. Adam goes on about how stupid he is for pairing them (and really, he is—if he actually had anything to do with that decision, which I’m kind of doubting). But ultimately he picks Judith. Karina’s saying goodbye to Adam when Shakira uses her second and last steal.
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And there you have it. Our teams so far:
Team Adam: Amber Carrington, Judith Hill
Team Blake: Holly Tucker, Swon Brothers, Taylor Beckham
Team Usher: Jess Kellner
Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner, Sasha Allen, Karina Iglesias