This Monday, "The Voice" held its final Battle Rounds before next week's semifinals, when the top 24 start competing for the public's vote. And the night featured a few odd battle pairings that made it seem as if this season's random leftover contestants had been just tossed into the boxing ring without much thought. While the three previous weeks' battles had matched up, for the most part, contestants of the same genre, this final round pitted a rapper against a country duo, a Broadway baby against a bar-band guitar-slinger, a country kid against a hippie chick, etc. Maybe the coaches should have thought this through a little more...
However, some of these odd-couple battles turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable, and actually suspenseful, even if--unlike past weeks--there was no major outrage, no huge upset or truly befuddling coach decision. And the episode did end on a huge high note (literally!), so there was definitely some excitement to be had. So when do the phone lines open, huh?
Here's how the battles went down this week:
TEAM CEE LO: Wade vs. James Massone
I wasn't hugely invested in either of these contestants, but going into this battle, I was, by default, rooting for Wade. I recalled his Stax-inspired audition of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" being much stronger than James's boy-bandy Drake cover, and additionally, when James confessed that he was unfamiliar with the Cyndi Lauper classic chosen for this singoff, "True Colors"--well, that was another strike against him for sure. James was understandably nervous, but it was shockingly Wade who ultimately choked onstage, hitting a bunch of wince-worthy notes that had Christina Aguilera using the dreaded "P-word," pitchy. (Cee Lo Green wept emotionally during James and Wade's rehearsals, but I suspect those were tears of secret regret, as he realized he would soon be forced to keep one of these contestants instead of one of the superior contenders that he'd already sent home, like Jamie Lono or the Shields Brothers.) When the guys got into the ring, neither of them impressed me much; James sounded reedy and nasal, and Wade just sounded unfocused and unsure. Cee Lo admitted he was disappointed, although this time there were no tears. "Wade, I expected you to go all the way to the end of this with me. My heart is broken," he lamented, and I understood--I'd previously assumed Wade had this battle in the bag, too. Cee Lo eventually picked James, and I'm hoping now, as the show moves on to the public voting rounds next week, that a bunch of little girls don't vote for James just because he's cute in an NKOTB kind of way. They should just vote for Joey McIntyre lookalike Pip instead, if they're into that sort of thing.
James win a rather underwhelming battle
WINNER: James Massone
TEAM ADAM: Mathai vs. Nicolle Galyon
Nicolle once again talked about she wants to be "the country piano girl," which meant that "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles should have been a perfect fit for her--except for the fact that Nicolle's piano wouldn't fit in the ring, of course. With no baby grand to hide behind, Nicolle totally floundered, seeming shaky and unconfident with all her vocal shortcomings on full display. (Cee Lo even called her "generic." Ouch.) Little spitfire Mathai, however, oozed the X factor, as Simon Cowell might say. This kid had personality for days. Picky Adam Levine confessed that he was "a little let down" by both ladies, for some reason, but his choice here was still clear. Nicolle and her piano were thus shipped back to Nashville.
Mathai totally upstages Nicolle
TEAM XTINA: Moses Stone vs. The Line
A battle between a hip-hop MC and a boy-girl country duo--doing the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," a song outside both of their genres--should have been even weirder and wrong-er than the Erin Martin/Shields Brothers "What's Love Got to Do With It" debacle from last week. But somehow, this worked! The Line were fine, but Moses was the real revelation here. Who knew he could actually SING? Since Moses's original blind audition was never broadcast in its entirety, he was a man of mystery before this week, so his performance was a pleasant surprise. The guy technically didn't have as good a singing voice as the Line--or at least as good a voice as the Line's female half, Hailey Steele--but he was an undeniably charismatic performer, and he had the moves like Jagger, so to speak. Cee Lo almost seemed ready to steal Moses away, calling him "a natural" and saying, "I like you, kid!" Christina liked Moses too, apparently, and thus "The Voice's" first-ever rapper secured a spot in the live rounds.
Moses Stone takes on the Line
WINNER: Moses Stone
TEAM ADAM: Orlando Napier vs. Karla Davis
Adam initially chose Hall & Oates's "Rich Girl" for this battle between the soulful piano man and the shy country girl, and Orlando promptly admitted that he DID NOT KNOW THE SONG. This, of course, should have been grounds for his immediate disqualification. (Contestants on all TV singing competitions should be required to know the H&O songbook by heart, and all of these shows should actually have a Hall & Oates Night, come to think of it.) For some reason, Adam switched their battle song at the last minute to the Commodores' "Easy," and sadly, it was not the Faith No More version. (No offense to in-house celebrity mentor Lionel Richie, who does rule.) But the song swap still didn't help Orlando in the end. While he did a fine job with the song, which was very much in his wheelhouse, Karla was an unexpected delight, channeling her inner "Bertha" (maybe that was the "large black woman" who lived inside the body of "Idol's" Adam Brock, too?) and stealing the show. I really dug Karla's '70s bohemian vibe, very Carly Simon/Linda Ronstadt, and she was just more interesting. I wonder why her full audition was never shown before? Maybe just to create a surprise TV moment like this.
Karla surprisingly out-performs Orlando
WINNER: Karla Davis
TEAM BLAKE: Jordan Rager vs. Naia Kete
Blake seemed to have a real soft spot for Jordan, whom he lovingly described as "country as dirt"--which is why it was so odd that he chose a song for this battle, Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," that seemed so much better suited to dreadheaded street performer Naia. Neither of these contestants, however, really fared too well when they finally got onstage. Naia was more interesting and intense, and she brought some fire to her rap/toast mid-song, but there were moments when she missed the notes completely, and, as Blake put it, "breath was all that came out." Jordan, meanwhile, just seemed uncomfortable, although he admittedly performed better than I'd expected. I was a little surprised that Blake chose Naia after he scolded her (a decision that, following the elimination of the Line and Nicolle Galyon, left his contestant RaeLynn as shockingly the only country singer in the entire competition). And Naia could barely even rejoice over the news, because she was so despondent over the tongue-lashing Blake had given her only seconds before grudgingly saving her. It was an anticlimactic victory indeed, and if Naia wants her future appearances on the show to be less anticlimactic, she'd better step it up. She's not just busking for spare change anymore; she's performing for millions of people (and their votes) from now on.
Naia and Jordan battle; everyone loses
WINNER: Naia Kete
TEAM CEE LO: Tony Vincent vs. Justin Hopkins
Okay, since all of the Battle Rounds take place in a boxing ring, I feel it's appropriate to call this tonight's "main event." Tony Vincent, a bold Broadway belter with mascara and glitter running through his veins and down his face, took on a HUGE song, "Faithfully" by Journey. At first I assumed Cee Lo had chosen this power ballad just to set up Tony's raspy battle partner, bar-band man Justin Hopkins, for total failure. I was basically thinking Justin might as well forfeit and spare himself the humiliation of eating Tony's glittery fairy dust on national TV. But you know what? Justin did quite all right here. I was even getting flashbacks to "American Idol" Season 8 (the guy-next-door versus the guyliner). While I was impressed with Justin's soulfulness and what Adam called the "dirtiness" in Justin's voice, there was still no denying or resisting the theatricality and fabulosity of Tony's performance, in all its chrome-domed, military-coated, leather-gloved glory. Justin put up a good fight, but Tony triumphed in the end. Now, if only Cee Lo could go back and dump Cheesa, James Massone, and Erin Martin--and replace them with the Shields Brothers, Jamie Lono, and actually maybe Justin--he'd have the perfect dream team.
Tony & Justin are the Battle Rounds' main event
WINNER: Tony Vincent
Well, none of the coaches have a perfect team--they've all made both wise and unwise staffing decisions over the past few weeks--but all of them have a least a couple of real contenders to make the coming weeks' competitive rounds very competitive indeed. Below are the final team lineups, listed in my order of favorite to least favorite team (yes, I'm still Team Cee Lo, even after his baffling, annoying choices). And within each list, I've ranked the singers in order of my preference. So do the math, skim the top two singers off each list, and you have my dream top eight so far: Tony, Juliet, Pip, Katrina, Lindsey, Moses, Jordis, and Charlotte. But course, all this could suddenly change if those eight contestants don't totally bring it when it counts. So come back next week, when the REAL battles truly begin.