The Voice Season 12 Battle Rounds ended Tuesday — not with a bang, but with a whimper. A very squeaky, very high-pitched whimper. Only three performances aired during the hourlong episode. The first two were puzzling mismatches. And the last one, during which the hapless contestants struggled to reach notes that only dogs and the Weeknd could hear, culminated in an anticlimactic Steal that host Carson Daly teased spoiled throughout the night. (Why does Carson keep doing that???)
Oh well. At least there weren’t any montages this Tuesday. And at least we got one last wondrous peek at Team Gwen advisor Céline Dion in action. I’m going to miss this crazy Canadienne comedienne. My heart may not go on this season without her wise words and wacky antics. I’ve loved seeing Céline roll up the sleeves of her puffy leather jumpsuit and work with the contestants — and clearly the contestants have really been feeling her French connection. In fact, this Tuesday, Team Gwen hopeful Brandon Royal vowed to never wash his sweater again after being touched by the hand of God (um, I mean by the hand of Céline). And I can’t say I blame the man. Céline’s French laundry scent will probably last longer than any post-Voice record contract ever would, to be honest.
Seriously, I don’t see why the show can’t bring Céline back for next week’s Knockout Rounds, since apparently there will be no superstar “Key Advisor” this year. (Past Key Advisors have included Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, fun.’s Nate Ruess, the tag-team of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Miley Cyrus before she became an official coach.) Did NBC budget cuts mean The Voice couldn’t afford Céline’s salary for another week? The woman is priceless, after all. (Side note: NBC could have called me. I may not be as charming, flawlessly flat-ironed, or exotically Québécoise as Céline, but I would have done the job for free.)
Anyway, in the words of Céline, it’s all coming back to me now. Let’s get to the final Battles recap of the season.
TEAM ALICIA: Lauryn Judd vs. Lilli Passero
Well, this was hardly a fair pairing, was it? In one corner, we had experienced 26-year-old actress/waitress Lilli — who’d first auditioned with a Carla Thomas song from 1961 — preparing to sing another soulful ’60s classic, Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts.” And in the other corner? Small-town, 17-year-old choir kid Lauryn. No contest.
Or was there a contest? Lauryn actually fared much better than I’d anticipated. This was the second night in a row that a starry-eyed youngster went up against a seasoned late-twentysomething and surprised me. (Team Gwen teen Caroline Sky gave 27-year-old Stephanie Rice some unexpectedly stiff competition on Monday’s episode.)
Yes, it was true that Lauryn’s voice was “thinner,” as Alicia Keys put it — especially compared to Lilli’s richer, warmer, sexier delivery — and it occasionally bordered on screechiness. But Lauryn’s voice was distinctive. Gwen Stefani called it a “signature sound.” Blake Shelton said, “Her voice is so different and does all these little sounds and things that she’s perfected.” And Lauryn had this sweet, girlish, girl-group-ish innocence that went well with the “underground gem” of a Motown song that Alicia selected for this Battle.
That being said, it was obvious that Lilli was more ready for prime time. Despite this show’s constant pimping of underage contestants in an attempt to entice millennial and Generation Z viewers, the older contestants are still the ones that usually know their way around a classic tune. As Blake put it, Lilli “sang the crap out of” this one. Lauryn put up a good fight, and I think she was worthy of a Steal (sadly, that did not happen), but I guess this was no contest after all.
WINNER: Lilli Passero
TEAM ADAM: Jesse Larson vs. Taylor Alexander
Through an unavoidable process of elimination, guitar-shredding bluesman Jesse and throwback country crooner Taylor — two contestants with nothing in common, other than the fact that they were both one-chair-turners in the Blinds — ended up in the Battle ring together by default. Adam Levine kept insisting that he was thrilled with the randomness of it all, over-enthusiastically calling this Battle “weird and wonderful” and saying, “They’re both such oddballs that there was only one place for the both of them, and it was in this pairing. … I love this pairing because it makes no sense at all. But I think it may work.”
So … did it work? Well, again, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the disaster I’d feared at all. Doing the Garth Brooks version of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” actually allowed both very different contestants to shine. Even though Taylor was much more familiar with “Shameless” (in fact, Jesse had never heard it before, and said, “I think this song was made for people like Taylor”), Jesse gave the stronger performance of the two. He was just at an entirely notched-up level of intensity. While Taylor was strumming along, singing in his likably laid-back and twangy style, Jesse was whaling on his guitar like Laith Al-Saadi on a Red Bull bender — and wailing vocally as well. Once again, a Battle that I’d assumed would end in a landslide victory turned out to be a close competition.
Alicia told Jesse, “I think that your voice has such a unique style to it. It creates a world all its own. … [You] might be one of the strongest singers on the show.” Gwen complimented Taylor’s vintage Western style (“You look like a perfect cowboy!”), but saved her more lavish praise for Jesse, saying, “Clearly, you are supergifted, and you can do anything with your voice. If you wanted to, you could blow the whole roof off. … Something about your spirit was just fun to watch.” I still thought Adam might save Taylor, because it has always been Adam’s dream to beat Blake with a country contestant. But maybe he’ll beat Blake instead with Jesse, whom he compared to last season’s Team Blake champion, Sundance Head.
WINNER: Jesse Larson
TEAM GWEN: Brandon Royal vs. Davina Leone
No wonder Gwen’s been wearing that strappy red dominatrix outfit throughout the Battles. She must be some sort of sadist to force these two to sing “In the Night” by the Weeknd — a guy whose voice is so high, he makes Adam Levine sound like Avi from Pentatonix or that dude from the Crash Test Dummies. “This song for a guy is soooo high!” exclaimed Céline, casting a sympathetic look in Brandon’s direction.
Brendan did his best, and he did have some great moments in this Battle. But the struggle was real. He was working for the Weeknd. Nothing about this performance seemed effortless for him, and I think he was little relieved when it was all over. That being said, he did showcase a range not heard in his “Master Blaster” Blind Audition, and Alicia called Brandon’s performance “elegantly dirty.” He certainly exhibited more charisma than (previously montaged) YouTube singer Davina, whose performance was merely competent and pretty generic. I was actually more entertained by Davina speaking French with Céline during rehearsals. That was très cute.
Gwen was impressed by Brandon’s ability to sing a Weeknd song without his head exploding or vocal cords hemorrhaging. “To sing a chorus that’s that high effortlessly, but with enough effort that it’s, like, crying and emotional, I’m really proud of you,” she gushed. So she picked Brandon, but then, to surprise of absolutely no one, Adam — the one coach with a Steal still left in play — saved Davina in the final minutes of the episode, just liked Carson had promised all along. I feel there were contestants more worthy of a Steal this season … but it’s not like Adam had any other choice.
WINNER: Brandon Royal / STOLEN: Davina Leone moves to Team Adam
So there you have it. Next week, the (advisor-free) Knockout Rounds commence, and then, finally, we will have our top 20. And our hearts, and the competition, will go on. See you then!