(photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
Monday’s Battle Rounds episode, the first of The Voice Season 9, was two hours long, but featured only six actual Battles and not nearly enough Missy Elliott. (The supa dupa fly hip-hop goddess is the advisor for Pharrell Williams’s team this season; the other Battle Rounds guest mentors are Brad Paisley for Blake Shelton, John Fogerty for Adam Levine, and Selena Gomez for Gwen Stefani.) But hey, at least we had no montages, and only one elimination that I found truly distressing. So it could have been worse, right?
Unlike The Voice tonight, let’s not drag things out. Here’s my full recap – the good, the bad, the stolen, and the robbed.
TEAM ADAM: Jordan Smith vs. Regina Love
Oh, poor Regina. Producers may as well have montaged this one and just saved us some valuable time, because we all knew how this Battle would pan out. It was this season’s standout four-chair auditioner and Team Adam MVP (Jordan), possibly the most popular contestant of the season so far, up against the old-fashioned 51-year-old gospel singer once signed to Evander Holyfield’s vanity label (Regina). If Regina actually won this round, it’d be one of the biggest upsets in Voice history – and it’d no doubt end up in a Steal for Jordan, anyway.
Sam Smith’s “Like I Can” was also a song choice that very obviously favored Jordan. No one can say Regina didn’t give it her best shot – she certainly possessed the vocal range to take on Sam’s catalog, she belted with tons of passion, and her high energy started the Battles with a bang – but Jordan’s take was simply fresher and cooler. Jordan, whom Adam called “The Unicorn,” prevailed, of course – but then, shockingly, Gwen stole Regina! I sure didn’t see that coming, especially since this was the first Battle of the season. So this round ended up being surprising after all.
Side note: I will say that I enjoyed this Battle because both contestants represent what The Voice is SUPPOSED to be all about. Neither is cookie-cutter pop-star material, but both can really sang. Perhaps it’s for the best that both Jordan and Regina are still in the game.
WINNER: Jordan Smith
STOLEN: Regina Love moves to Team Gwen
TEAM BLAKE: Tyler Dickerson vs. Zach Seabaugh
This was another Battle that seemed totally unbalanced. While both country singers are young, 21-year-old Tyler already has a mentorship with John Rich, a Lyric Street record deal, and a stint on Music Row under his cowboy belt. Conversely, 16-year-old Zach Seabaugh still hasn’t quite figured out his breath control. (I was pretty unimpressed by his Blind Audition, and thought he should have been told to come back in Season 10. Or maybe even Season 11.)
Additionally, this Battle featured another song choice that seemed to give one contestant the edge: Tyler had been dubbed “the new Travis Tritt” back in his Nashville days, and here he was, surely not coincidentally, battling Zach on Travis Tritt’s “I’m Gonna Be Somebody.” Hmmm.
Zach actually did a good job here. Other than one voice crack that Pharrell pointed out, he was better than I remembered from his first audition; I guess Brad Paisley taught Zach well. But despite Zach’s matinee-idol good looks and rapid artistic growth, Tyler still seemed like the real-deal country star to me. There was a deeper authenticity, a certain self-assured professionalism, and a Shooter Jennings-esque, outlaw-rocker quality that consistently drew my eye to Tyler’s corner of the ring.
But then Blake picked… Zach. And no one stole Tyler! Seriously? Gwen steals Regina, but then she and her fellow coaches let one of Blake’s best contestants slip away? I think this was a big mistake. And I think The Voice needs to institute a Wild Card, stat.
WINNER: Zach Seabaugh
TEAM GWEN: Ellie Lawrence vs. Tim Atlas
I knew this one was gonna hurt. Ellie has been my favorite Team Gwen contestant, and while Tim’s audition was montaged, I was so intrigued by his little snippet earlier this season that I checked out his full studio recording on iTunes – and it was great! It made me sad to realize that one of these contestants (Tim, cough) would probably be going home very soon. Too soon. I hoped this wouldn’t be a pattern, with Gwen foolishly sacrificing many of her coolest players in the Battles. Even Gwen said during rehearsals, “I don’t think either one of them should go home.” So why did she put them in the ring together? Come on, Gwen, this isn’t your first season. You know how this show works.
Anyway, the Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” was a brilliant song choice for both indie-rock singers, even though both of them experienced performance problems in rehearsal (shy Ellie had trouble keeping her eyes open and connecting, while Tim seemed lost without his guitar). Once they started battling onstage, however, it was on like Donkey Kong.
I have to say, I preferred Tim’s performance – he radiated a quiet intensity and unexpected sex appeal (“Sweater Weather” is a very sexy song), smizing the camera lens all Tyra-style. Honestly, I developed a little crush on him by the song’s end. Suddenly, Tim was my new favorite Team Gwen contestant.
But both singers did well, and this was the first Battle of the night that felt like a real duet. Blake said Ellie and Tim were “feelin’ each other,” and if Ellie wasn’t already engaged, I would have assumed she had a crush on Tim, too. These two shared fantastic chemistry.
Surprisingly, both Blake and Adam named Tim the winner of this Battle. (Gwen claimed they had ulterior motives, and just wanted to steal Ellie.) Pharrell declared this a tie. As I awaited Gwen’s verdict, I was already shouting, “Steal! Steal! Steal!” And this was before Gwen even picked frontrunner Ellie. Thankfully, Pharrell must have heard me, because he hit his button. Huzzah! Tim is a perfect fit for Team Pharrell. Everyone wins!
WINNER: Ellie Lawrence
STOLEN: Tim Atlas moves to Team Pharrell
TEAM PHARRELL: Mark Hood vs. Celeste Betton
I wasn’t really feeling “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for this Battle; sometimes I just don’t get why the otherwise hip Pharrell goes with such fuddy-duddy song choices. I also didn’t understand why Missy Elliott started crying during rehearsal; I wasn’t particularly moved by this performance. I guess Missy truly is a sensitive soul. She’s didn’t even give Mark and Celesteany advice – that’s how perfect Missy thought they were. She and Pharrell were raving up and down like they were watching… well, like they were watching Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell themselves. They needed to calm down and manage expectations a bit.
Once Mark and Celeste got in the ring, however, I started to understand what all the fuss was about. Celeste was so much better than she’d been in her pitchy Blind Audition, and the performance skills that Mark had exhibited in the very first audition of the Season 9 premiere were on full, awesome display. They both slayed this performance, and this too worked wonderfully as a duet. All of the coaches were on their feet and whooping it up. Gwen even declared this her favorite Voice Battle of all time. Now it was Pharrell’s time to cry, because he had a very tough decision to make.
Pharrell picked Mark (the right choice, taking into account Mark’s past consistency and potential marketability), but then Pharrell and Celeste shared a sweet goodbye, as she tearfully serenaded him a cappella with the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Classiest Voice exit ever.
WINNER: Mark Hood
TEAM ADAM: Dustin Monk vs. James Dupré
Dustin and James were the male country singers this season that somehow didn’t end up on Team Blake, much to Adam’s gloating delight. But I guess Adam figured he couldn’t handle more than one country contestant on his team. So he gave these two a particularly daunting trial-by-fire challenge: singing “Fortunate Son,” by their own guest advisor, John Fogerty himself. Dustin’s raspy rock tone seemed to make him the more fortunate singer in this Battle, although he still came nowhere close to Fogerty’s own acoustic rendition, an unexpected rehearsal-room treat.
Overall, though, I found this to be a lackluster Battle. Dustin’s performance was a weird and unlikely combination of trying too hard and not trying hard enough (lots of muggy faces and wannabe rock-star posturing, but boring vocals), while James was more consistent vocally but had almost zero stage presence. Couldn’t we just have John Fogerty come out and perform again instead?
As it turned out, slow and steady won the race. James prevailed. I think this was the right decision on Adam’s part, but James definitely needs to amp up his performance skills if he expects to survive the Knockouts.
WINNER: James Dupré
TEAM BLAKE: Barrett Baber vs. Dustin Christensen
I really don’t need to hear “Walking in Memphis” on any singing competition ever again. (I don’t even need to hear Marc Cohn’s version ever again, actually.) Blake’s ho-hum song choice here did neither of these MOR contestants any favors. Barrett seemed to be feeling this, though. He at least breathed new life into the tired old song. Dustin’s version was merely workmanlike.
Barrett won. That was no surprise. What was surprising was the fact that two coaches, Adam and Gwen, buzzed in to steal Dustin. I have never quite understood this everyman’s appeal (his four-chair turn during the Blinds was also a shock to me), but apparently the coaches really love them some DustinChristensen. Gwen was practically flirting with Dustin, cooing, “I’m just thinking of what duet we’re going to do together!” But sorry, Gwen. Adam’s flirting (“I just wanna make beautiful music with you… don’t break my heart again!”) was apparently more convincing. That was yet another surprise.
WINNER: Barrett Baber
STOLEN: Dustin Christensen moves to Team Adam
There you have it. The Battle Rounds continue apace Tuesday – and since that episode is only an hour long, expect at least a couple montages and only a bare minimum of Missy. So come back for a possibly disgruntled recap then!