The Voice has caught flak for years for failing to create superstars. But if there was ever a contestant that exhibited A-list-level charisma, it’s this season’s Team Adam quirky indie kid, Jake Wells. Taking the stage during Monday’s Battle Rounds with his Mr. Rogers cardigan, triangular Gavin Rossdale bob, and nose ring to warble Semisonic’s sentimental ‘90s ballad “Closing Time” in his trebly, gossamer-light voice, Jake delivered such a magical performance that Kelly Clarkson actually described him as “Brad Pitt meets Kurt Cobain.”
Jake’s coach, Adam Levine, was equally effusive -- although he also piled on the praise for Jake’s Battle opponent, badass rocker chick Natalie Brady, who was no slouch. True, Natalie wasn’t as unique, goosebump-raising, or quietly charismatic as Jake (who’d I’d put in an elite Voice hall of fame alongside past mavericks like Melanie Martinez, Sawyer Fredericks, Hunter Plake, and Chloe Kohanski). However, the two generous, totally connected duet partners’ harmonies blended surprisingly beautifully. Adam and his adviser, ex-coach CeeLo Green, were so impressed during rehearsals that they suggested the two start a band immediately.
“They create this incredible sound together. It's really special. Like, it's one of my favorite performances I've even seen on this show. It's really cool. This is a vintage Voice moment,” gushed Adam -- who tends to be hyperbolic, but this time, his praise was deserved. "This is so special. This feels like a finale performance.”
Ultimately, Adam explained that Battle winner Jake was “just too interesting to pass up” and “the person that speaks to me the most, that really gives me visions of what I can do in the future.” And I do think Jake has a real future. He sounds like the future. On a mostly meh 15th season, when I was beginning to worry that the talent in America had either run dry or defected over to the rebooted American Idol, Jake has me excited for The Voice all over again.
There were a few other spectacular performances Monday that seemed more like harmonious duets than Battles. Here’s how the rest of the night went:
Team Blake: Keith Paluso vs. Dave Fenley, “I'm a One Woman Man”
Blake Shelton said he only had room for one rugged roots-rocker on his team -- hence this matchup. It’s just shame he didn’t have an X Factor-like authority to put these guy together in a prefab Americana duo, because these guys also could’ve formed a band. They could have been the new Swon Brothers! Keith’s crisp, folksy twang and Dave’s booming baritone melded well on their Marc Broussardian take on George Jones’s classic. “It's like picking between the Highwaymen,” said Kelly of Blake’s tough decision. “I'm not gonna say who I thought won, because it would be against the spirit of what that just was,” concurred Adam. I preferred the more versatile Keith, but Dave was obvious dyed-in-the-flannel Team Blake material. Thankfully, fellow singer-songwriter Adam, who’d turned for Keith back in the Blinds, swooped in for the Steal. This was the best possible outcome for all.
Winner: Dave / Stolen: Keith moves to Team Adam
Team Adam: Reagan Strange vs. Emily Hough, “Photograph”
Before this Battle Round even began, 13-year-old Reagan had my vote because she has a totally ‘80s punk-rock stage name and she namechecked mentor CeeLo Green’s old friend Purrfect the Cat, my all-time favorite Voice cast member. (A Purrfect flashback is the only good thing to come out of CeeLo’s controversial Voice return.) Onstage doing this angelic Ed Sheeran cover, Reagan’s voice wasn’t as big as 16-year-old Emily’s, but she had a more compelling, sparkling stage presence. “Reagan has this thing about her. She's just special. I can't explain it,” said Adam. I bet Purrfect would agree!
Team J.Hud: Franc West vs. Matt Johnson, “Too Close”
Franc the Kravitz-syle rocker/scarf enthusiast may not possess smooth soulman Matt’s technical skill (or self-control when it came to crazy vocal runs), but Alex Clare’s edgy, angsty breakup song was clearly more in his wheelhouse. It worked perfectly with what Blake called his “gravel-filled scream.” Jennifer Hudson told him, “Your voice is very distinctive; it's not often you run into a voice like yours.” So, Franc won. I felt bad for Matt, who’d been trying out for the show since Season 1, but Jennifer made the right call. We’ve heard capable but generic singers like Matt since, well, Season 1.
Team Kelly: Abby Cates vs. Delaney Silvernell, “Love Me Like You Do”
Delaney won this round before poor Abby even had a chance to open her mouth. As 21-year-old Delaney crooned the opening lines of Ellie Goulding Fifty Shades of Grey love theme in her womanly, creamy voice, it was fifty shades of great. (See what I did there?) By the time 17-year-old Abby’s part came in, it was nice, but anticlimactic. What a different four years can make, right? All of the coaches seemed to be siding with Delaney, so it was shock when Kelly went with Abby. But once again, a “speechless” Adam used the Steal to his advantage. Team Kelly’s loss was Team Adam’s gain.
Winner: Abby / Stolen: Delaney moves to Team Adam
Team Adam: Fousheé vs. Radha, “Growing Pains”
Team Kelly: Chevel Shepherd vs. Mikele Buck, “You Look So Good in Love”
Team J.Hud: Audri Bartholomew vs. MaKenzie Thomas. “Always Be My Baby”
You’d think during a two-hour episode, they could have shown more than 43 total seconds of these Battles. I was saddest to Fousheé go, since she’d been one of my Blind Auditions favorites. But we’ll just have to wait till the Knockout Rounds to see if the coaches made the right decisions here.
Winners: Radha, Chevel, MaKenzie
Team J.Hud: Zaxai vs. Tyshawn Colquitt, “Love Lies”
Wow! Actual current material on The Voice! I was beginning to think the show had gotten its music-licensing budget slashed with all the moldy oldies as of late, so this brand-new Khalid/Normani hit was a breath of fresh air. And so were Tyshawn and Zaxai. This was one of the coolest most relevant Voice Battle performances ever. Both guys brought their A-game, played off each other well, and seemed like sexy pop stars, not game-show wannabes. I understand why Jennifer kept Tyshawn, who impressed with his elastic and expressive voice, but I am glad Kelly stole Zaxai, who was the more dynamic performance. And since Jennifer had blocked Kelly from recruiting Zaxai in the Blinds, this was a happy ending for all.
Winner: Tyshawn / Stolen: Zaxai moves to Team Kelly
Team Kelsea: Sam Robbins vs. Wyatt Rivers
Don’t forget about the Island of Misfit Toys! That’s what I call the forgotten fifth team coached by Kelsea Ballerini, featuring six rejected contestants competing online for spot in the Live Playoffs. Yes, I actually went on YouTube after Monday’s televised Battles to watch this second Comeback Stage pairing between the singer-songwriters. Sam showed some creativity with a coffeehouse-folk version of the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” while Wyatt’s Charlie Puth cover was a snooze. When Kelsea chose Wyatt, it was a disappointment, but it’s all moot; I can’t imagine anyone from Kelsea’s team has much of a future on the show.
Come back Tuesday for more Battles -- and/or more awesome duets.