The Voice Season 15’s Battle Rounds began in earnest Tuesday, with Halsey advising Jennifer Hudson’s contestants, former American Idol judge and Voice Australia coach Keith Urban assisting Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett working with Kelly Clarkson… and CeeLo Green advising Team Adam.
Sure, for some longtime viewers, seeing CeeLo back on The Voice may have been nostalgic. He was, after all, part of the original coaching dream team alongside Blake, Adam, and Christina Aguilera. But many viewers weren’t thrilled with this mini-reunion.
You see, the last time CeeLo was a full-time coach on The Voice, way back in Season 5, he was at the center of a date-rape controversy and legal battle, when a woman claimed he’d dosed her drink with Ecstasy. CeeLo later announced on Ellen that he was quitting The Voice, although some behind-the-scenes reports claimed that he was about to be fired anyway, since this was not a good look for such family-friendly show.
CeeLo was never actually convicted of rape or assault, but he did plead no contest to one felony drug count and was sentenced to probation and community service. That could have been the end of it, but then he posted a string of offensive, since-deleted tweets about the concept of consent, implying that it’s not rape if a woman is unconscious. (“People who have really been raped REMEMBER,” read one his shocking posts.) Although CeeLo later apologized, the damage to his reputation was done. His TBS reality show and multiple concert dates were canceled amid the ensuing public protest.
However, CeeLo returned to The Voice Season 8 in an adviser role less than a year later, and he also performed on the Season 12 finale last year. Both appearances were controversial and drew outrage, but in this #MeToo era, bringing CeeLo back to the show in 2018 seemed especially tone-deaf. Many Voice fans took to Twitter Tuesday evening to voice their displeasure -- their complaints sounding similar to the F-you-laden chorus of CeeLo’s biggest hit song.
On a less serious note, other Voice fans were annoyed Tuesday that almost all of the one-hour episode’s Battles were truncated or downright cruelly montaged. Well, at least with that one montaged Team Adam duel, irate viewers were spared having to watch CeeLo in the rehearsal room.
Here’s how the night went:
Team Kelly: Kymberli Joye vs. OneUp, “Mercy”
Sure, OneUp may have had two voices, versus Kymberli’s one. But since gospel powerhouse Kymberli inspired the “most epic Block ever” and is one of this season’s most experienced contestants (she’s sung backup for Childish Gambino) -- while OneUp had never performed together in pubic until they stepped on the Voice soundstage -- Kymberli still had the clear advantage here. Not even OneUp’s compelling backstory (they’re the first gay couple to compete on the show) or slick Motown choreography could give them a one-up on the competition.
In fact, OneUp’s choreo just made them seem like Kymberli’s backup singers as she absolutely wailed the Shawn Mendes hit -- although I will say OneUp’s better half, Jerome, had some impressive moments on his own. Perhaps OneUp’s Adam and Jerome should just be partners offstage, not on. But while the duo understandably lost this Battle, kudos to them for making Voice history this year.
Team Adam: Anthony Arya vs. Steve Memmolo, “Amie”
Fifteen-year-old folky Anthony (imagine Sawyer Fredericks’s long-lost twin) knew this Pure Prairie League tune from performing it in 8th grade. Cool kid! And his rough-hewn “young, interesting kind of voice” (Adam’s words) was much better suited to the 1973 country-rock classic than polished, preppy wedding band crooner Steve’s. Adam had stacked the deck in Anthony’s favor, or so it seemed. But that was OK by me, because I never thought Steve should have made it to the Battles (not even via fifth coach Kelsea Ballerini’s online-only team of no-chair rejects) in the first place. That’s why I was shocked -- shocked! -- when Adam chose Steve, bizarrely claiming, “He was just more ready.”
Well, you know who else was ready? Jennifer, who swooped right in to steal young Anthony. Anthony will be a very worthy addition to J.Hud Productions.
Winner: Steve / Stolen: Anthony moves to Team J.Hud
Team Adam: Jarred Matthew vs. Tyke James, “She’s Always a Woman”
Jarred’s vocals sounded strangled and yelpy throughout, but Fabio-like golden surf god Tyke’s laid-back style lent itself well to the sensitive Billy Joel ballad. Thankfully for Jarred, he has that whole PhD-in-astrophysics thing to fall back on.
Team Blake: Chris Kroeze vs. Mercedes Ferreira-Dias, “Back in the High Life”
Beardy, guitar-strummy Chris was giving me total Cole Vosbury-from-Season 5 vibes on this Steve Winwood ‘80s classic, which made me fear for also-worthy contender Mercedes’s chances. But Mercedes brought a certain Linda Ronstadt-like plaintiveness and classiness, not to mention that exquisite vibrato, to this performance. Chris and Mercedes’s harmonies were also lovely, making this more of a sweet duet than a Battle. Jennifer called them “equally great,” and she wasn’t wrong.
When Blake told Chris, “Your actual voice is the reason this show exists,” his decision was obvious. But I really thought someone would steal Mercedes. I felt bad for the poor girl, considering that this was her second chance on the show, after her unsuccessful Season 14 audition. Sheesh. The least NBC could’ve done is sent Mercedes over to Team Kelsea!
Team Blake: Rachel Messer vs. Katrina Cain, “Angel”
This was another odd pairing: Branson-style yodeling novelty act Rachel up against stunning electropop chanteuse Katrina. This wasn’t apples-and-oranges. This was like an apple and, I dunno, a Rubik’s Cube? And this was no contest. Sarah McLachan’s weepy stray-dog anthem drew attention to all of Rachel’s vocal shortcomings, even though we only heard a snippet of Rachel’s performance thanks to this being yet another montage. I wish I could’ve heard Katrina’s entire performance, though. She’s one of my new favorites, and I can’t wait to hear more of her in the Knockouts.
Team J.Hud: Mike Parker vs. Natasia GreyCloud, “Gravity”
John Mayer’s bluesy ballad was a smart pick for these two very different singers, tapping into Mike’s mellow neo-soul vibe and Ann Wilsonesque rocker chick Natasia’s raw ferocity. “I feel like you both brought something very special to the table. Mike, your choices are just always dead-on. And, Natasia, you just simply have an outstanding instrument,” an indecisive Jennifer told them. “I can't go off of vocals, because I think you're both evenly great. So, how do I decide?” Um, maybe Jennifer should have thought about that before she set up this Battle, no?
Anyway, Jennifer decided to “go for strategy,” and she chose Mike. But Kelly stole Natasia, so the episode ended on a happy note, despite all the outrage and controversy that surrounded it.
Winner: Mike / Stolen: Natasia moves to Team Kelly
Come back next Monday for more Battle Rounds... and, for better or worse, more CeeLo Green.