The last Battle Rounds of "The Voice" Season 4 aired Tuesday, finalizing the team lineups that will advance to next week's knuckle-biting Knockout Rounds. There were no major upsets this evening, other than the very upsetting fact that, once again, three of the Battles were shown only in truncated montage form. Not cool, "Voice"! But otherwise, this was an entertaining episode, with sound decisions made by the four coaches.
Here are the final lucky contestants who squeaked through to next week's Knockouts:
TEAM SHAKIRA: Brandon Roush vs. Shawna P.
It was a Battle royale of the rockers, albeit two quite dissimilar ones: a 19-year-old Spicoli clone and a 45-year-old badass blooze chick. Shawna, a former member of Big & Rich's MuzikMafia who has literally been singing longer than Brandon has been alive, brought professional experience and just plain life experience to the ring. And she had another big advantage: The song Shakira chose for this pair, Janis Joplin's gritty "Piece of My Heart," was perfectly suited for Shawna's whiskey-ravaged voice, which could readily be described as "Joplin-esque." Young Brandon admitted that his "heart sank" when he learned that he'd have to out-Janis his Janis-like opponent in order to stay on the show. But Shawna was also worried, saying, "I would be very frustrated to lose to a 19-year-old. That would suck." So what won out: "eagerness or experience," as Shakira worded it? Actually, both singers did well--this totally worked as a love duet, despite what could have been perceived as an icky age difference under less successful circumstances. Brandon stepped it up, and he kept up. And he helped make this an enjoyable, rawkin' performance from beginning to end. (His drunk-wedding-dance moves were questionable, but hey, at least he had youthful enthusiasm, right?) Shawna was the one who really owned this, though, and in the end, she was the one who won. And I was fine with that. Brandon has many years ahead of him to hone his rock 'n' roll craft, and one day, he may be at Shawna's level (although it may take him a good long while to improve his dance moves). However, "The Voice" is probably Shawna's last chance--and she deserves her shot. This is finally her time to shine.
TEAM ADAM: Duncan Kamakana vs. Sarah Simmons
Hawaiian crooner Duncan didn't receive much screentime this season, while Sarah's "One of Us" cover was a Blind Auditions standout. So I assumed this Battle was a done deal, with Duncan having no chance. But when the two started rehearsing Lady Antebellum's "Wanted You More" (in front of guest mentor Lady A's Hillary Scott, yet), I started to believe that Duncan could be a dark horse. Sure, his laid-back voice was sometimes drowned out by Sarah's unbridled powerhouse belting, but when I was actually able to hear him, I really liked what I heard. He had a sexy, raspy tone that worked well with the bittersweet, romantically aching ballad. Once onstage, Duncan, guitar in hand, started the song off nicely...but then Sarah started singing, and I realized I'd been right all along: Duncan really didn't have a chance. He was good, but Sarah was great. Adam Levine and Blake Shelton said Sarah was one of the best singers ever to appear on "The Voice," and even Duncan said she was his personal pick to win this season. So of course, Sarah prevailed--but Duncan lost with dignity. If he had performed earlier in the series' sequence, he might've had a chance at a Steal…but with only one Steal left in play, his time was up, sadly. Oh well. At least he finally got the valuable screentime that he was denied before.
TEAM USHER: Michelle Chamuel vs. Chelsea M.
TEAM ADAM: Amy Whitcomb vs. Agina Alvarez
TEAM BLAKE: Justin Rivers vs. The Morgan Twins
Speaking of denied screentime…again with the montages! I'd spent the whole day waiting to watch awesome nerdy-girl Michelle do her thang, and while I was pleased that she won her Battle, seeing only 12 seconds of her singing David Guetta and Sia's "Titanium" was NOT ENOUGH. I also felt sorry for Amy. The former "Sing-Off" contestant won her Battle, but since her Blind Audition was montaged as well, she's now headed to the Knockout Rounds having received a grand total of, like, 47 seconds of screentime this season. This puts Amy at a severe disadvantage if, by some miracle, she makes it to the publicly voted shows. (And ironically, Amy's opponent Agina received more screentime last season, when she auditioned unsuccessfully, than she did this season.) As for Justin, I would've liked to see how a montage-audition contestant like him managed to beat the Morgan Twins, who'd actually been prominently featured as the very first Blind Auditioners of this season. But since Justin got montaged again, his talents remain shrouded in mystery. Boo.
WINNERS: Michelle, Amy, Justin
TEAM SHAKIRA: Cathia vs. Mary Miranda
Shakira pitted her two Latina pop princesses against each other, and their rehearsal looked a whole lot like another singing show: It reminded me of that uncomfortable "American Idol" night when two other Latin singers, Devin Velez and Lazaro Arbos, sang together, and Devin threw some serious shade/threw Lazaro under a bus. Like Lazaro that night, Mary was struggling with her lyrics in rehearsal, and this caused a frustrated Cathia to get a little catty-ah, if you catch my drift. Tension was in the air when the two girls later entered the ring, with the added pressure of having to sing their coach Shakira's own song, "Antes de las Seis." This didn't feel like an in-sync duet the way the night's other Battles had: Until the song's big finish when they held hands, Cathia and Mary stood so far apart they were practically in different zip codes, and they barely interacted or even glanced sideways at each other during their disconnected performance. I preferred Mary's vibrato-laden voice and sweet stage presence (and I think she remembered her words, although my Spanish isn't good enough for me to say for sure). But Cathia did well, too. Shakira struggled with her decision, but she eventually picked Mary. This was a good call--Mary seems like she'll be much easier to work with!--but then Usher used his last Steal, and the last Steal of the entire season, on Cathia. I guess Usher isn't afraid of a challenge.
STEAL: Cathia moves to Team Usher
So now the semifinalists have been whittled down from 48 to 32 (eight contestants per team), and while I'm still not convinced that the talent this season is at the same level as it was in Season 3 (my favorite "Voice" season so far), next week's sudden-death Knockout Rounds will be the real turning point, as that phase of the competition will determine who moves on to the Live Playoffs.
Until then, here are my rankings, from my favorite team to my least favorite, with the individual contestants ranked within each list according to my personal preference:
The Swon Brothers
Will my favorites (or yours) survive the Knockouts? Come back next Monday to find out.