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The Voice Season 24’s Battle Rounds kicked off Tuesday with John Legend’s two soulful tenor showmen, DeeJay Young and Ephraim Owens, facing off on Justin Timberlake 2002 breakup ballad, “Cry Me a River.” John made a point of noting that Timberlake only recently started clearing his songs for singing competitions (“Cry Me a River” was also covered on The Masked Singer last week) — perhaps Justin's attempt to revive his flagging post-Man of the Woods career, which some fans suspect is the real reason why he also finally came around to some sort of NSync reunion last month.
Unfortunately, this Battle aired the same day that a bombshell excerpt was released from The Woman in Me, the upcoming autobiography by the Timberlake’s famous ex, Britney Spears. The shocker passage focused on “one of the most agonizing things [Spears] ever experienced in [her] life”: when she reluctantly had an abortion while dating the Justified singer in the early aughts.
“[The pregnancy] was a surprise, but for me, it wasn’t a tragedy. I loved Justin so much. I always expected us to have a family together one day,” Britney’s book preview revealed Tuesday. “This would just be much earlier than I’d anticipated. But Justin definitely wasn’t happy about the pregnancy. He said we weren’t ready to have a baby in our lives, that we were way too young. … If it had been left up to me alone, I never would have done it. And yet Justin was so sure that he didn’t want to be a father.”
After this pop power couple split in 2002 amid rumors of Britney’s infidelity, the supposedly spurned Justin went on the offensive, with the “Cry Me a River” music video starring a newsboy-capped Britney lookalike on whom he exacted sex-lies-and-videotape revenge. The video was a sensation on currently Voice host Carson Daly’s Total Request Live at the time, but in light of the Framing Britney Spears documentary, which examined the media’s vicious and totally un-justified treatment of Britney in the early 2000s, it certainly hasn’t aged well. After that CNN doc aired in 2021, Timberlake responded by issuing a rather poorly received public apology to his ex.
Justin’s image has taken a downturn in recent years not only due to the weak sales of Man of the Woods and the Framing Britney Spears backlash, but for his critically panned halftime performance at Super Bowl LII, his treatment of his disgraced Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime duet partner Janet Jackson, and a cringey 2022 dance video that went viral for all the wrong reasons. The new NSync song “Better Days” provided a momentary career boost and distraction, but depending on what else we find out about him when The Woman in Mecomes out Oct. 24, all that goodwill might be quickly reversed. Perhaps if The Voice producers had known about the book’s abortion revelation when they shot the Season 24 Battles a few months ago, they would’ve had DeeJay and Ephraim cover JC Chasez’s “Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love)” instead.
But thankfully, both DeeJay and Ephraim made Timberlake’s tainted song their own Tuesday — particularly Hamilton theater veteran and budding pop star DeeJay, with his cut-through voice that John described as “elastic” and runs that coach Niall Horan called “insane.” So, DeeJay was ultimately declared the winner… while it seems like Timberlake was Tuesday’s bigger loser.
These were the other two, less problematic Battles of Tuesday’s hour-long episode:
TEAM REBA: Jordan Rainer vs. Jackson Snelling, “The Heart Won’t Lie”
Jordan was a four-chair turn, new coach Reba McEntire’s recruit, andthe first auditioner of this season, plus she tried out with Reba’s popular Bobbie Gentry cover, “Fancy.” So, it seemed like Reba would favor Jordan here, regardless. But when this feisty, wise-cracking lady showcased her softer and more vulnerable side — heeding her coach’s astute advice to lose her trademark sunglasses and let the audience in — she earned her spot in the Knockout Rounds. Jackson had a rich, confident baritone that complemented Jordan’s airy tone wonderfully on this heart-aching duet that Reba originally recorded with Vince Gill — but he was definitely the utility player here. Jordan was the star. I could see her going all the way this season.
WINNER: Jordan Rainer
— The Voice (@NBCTheVoice) October 18, 2023
TEAM NIALL: Lennon VanderDoes vs. Tanner Massey, “She’s Always a Woman”
Lennon gave my favorite Blind Audition of this entire season, and like Niall, I am “super-excited” to see what he does next. But if I am being honest, Tanner’s gorgeously rich, warm, and rounded voice and heart-throbbing stage presence totally overpowered Lennon here. Niall never should have pitted these two standouts, whom Gwen Stefani declared “both mind-blowing in their own way,” against each other — and he knew it. “This is one of those Battles where I’ve been really battling myself,” he admitted ruefully. Thankfully, Niall eventually went with his gut and still picked Lennon, because “there’s no one in competition that has a tone even remotely like his.” And then both John and Gwen went in for the Steal to save the teenage Tanner, and Gwen played the mom card, mentioning that she has a musically inclined son around Tanner’s age. Gwen loves mothering young contestants, so Tanner will be in good hands.
WINNER: Lennon VanderDoes / STOLEN: Tanner Massey moves to Team Gwen
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