Season Four of The Voice has truly accomplished what the seasons before it did: They gathered a bunch of artists who were better than last season’s collection, and while I still think Cassadee Pope could win if she were on this season instead of last, there are some excellent talents in this crop. If the Blind Auditions are the most exciting round and most fun to watch, in terms of the coaches’ chemistry with each other and their banter, then the Battle Rounds are the most competitive and sometimes the toughest to watch, especially when two of your favorites are paired together (more on that later). Monday’s and Tuesday’s episodes combined to feature half of the battle pairings and half of the eight steals, of which each coach has two.
Amber Carrington vs. Sasha Allen (Team Adam). For the first battle of the season, Adam Levine pits country singer with Amber Carrington, the final member of the team, against Sasha Allen, who sang “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks in her blind audition (though I think she’s more of a R&B singer). Despite this seemingly country matchup, and the fact that Adam’s battle advisor this season is Lady Antebellum lead singer Hillary Scott, Adam picks “Try” by P!nk for their battle. Amber is worried about Sasha’s advantage in experience, while Adam tells Sasha she runs the risk of overdoing her parts. Sasha definitely did not overdo it in the battle, but still proved her voice was stronger than Amber’s, and Amber had a few pitch problems in her higher range. Adam surprisingly admitted he thought Sasha would wipe the floor with Amber, but that Amber’s performance exceeded his expectations, and picked Amber to move on. I was surprised, and I’m sure everyone else was, considering a one-chair turn had just beaten a four-chair turn. But then I realized that the same producers who opened this year’s blind auditions with a four-chair turn would have no problem starting this year’s Battle Round with a steal. Even Amber, from offstage, says she knew Sasha would get stolen as Usher and Shakira immediately jump on their button. After both coaches claim they can win the show with Sasha, she chooses Shakira as her new coach.
Garrett Gardner vs. J’Sun (Team Shakira). Shakira steals her first artist before we even see her first battle, one pitting New Jersey (Gardner) against New York (J’Sun). First, we get filled in on J’Sun’s scarring backstory (grandmother passed away) they skipped during the blinds. Then, when we find out Shakira chooses “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy, J’Sun admits he’s never sung a rock song before. But his soulful voice and strong falsetto fit the song perfectly, and to me, he consistently sounds better than Garrett throughout practice. Then, Shakira admits she has a “weakness” for Garrett, so we have no idea which way she will sway. The battle doesn’t separate the two of them much better, so Shakira’s first-ever Battle Round decision is that much tougher. In the end, it should have been obvious – Sahkira chooses Garrett.
Holly Tucker vs. Michelle Raitzin (Team Blake). Another four-chair turn versus one-chair turn matchup, the first battle on #teamblake pits powerful singers Holly Tucker and Michelle Raitzin against each other on Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” Blake thinks it’s going to be an epic battle, something he’s never had before, but even though Michelle’s voice was as powerful as Holly’s in practice, her pitch and her tone did not impress me. One thing I do give Michelle is that she dressed more boldly. Michelle says she wanted to prove to the other coaches they should have turned, and she did sound better in the battle. Adam pointed out she lost her breath towards the end, but Blake tells Michelle she proved herself tonight. But then Blake chooses Holly just because she is a country artist, and Michelle goes home after all.
Jess Kellner vs. Taylor Beckham (Team Usher). This is the first battle of the night where the singers that weren’t four-chair turns or one-chair turns. Texas girls Jess Kellner and Taylor Beckham, each of whom turned two chairs in the blinds, are paired off to sing Amy Winehouses’ “You Know I’m No Good.” We finally see Usher’s “unique” style of coaching that was teased – “I’m going to stand over here” and have the girls “attract” him, which they don’t – and in a later practice, we learn that this is the battle that was also teased where Usher says, “We’ve got a bit of a catfight now,” which didn’t make sense in context. In the same practice, Jess gets right in Usher’s face while singing her part, and Usher commends her for it. Now, I would be a terrible coach on this show because I let my bias sway me too much. This is a prime case: There’s no way I would pick Taylor to beat Jess, because from the start I viewed Jess as a potential underdog who would go far. Does Usher also seem to favor Jess at this point? The battle makes it more obvious, to me, at least – Taylor just doesn’t get into the performance, almost like she doesn’t want to be there. Maybe I’m the only one? Shakira and Adam say they would pick Taylor, while Blake prefers Jess. But Usher’s decision is the only one that matters, and he picks Jess. Then it gets weird! Taylor starts sobbing through her goodbyes, and Blake says, “I like Taylor” and pushes his button to steal her! Blake claims that he said he’d pick Jess to get Usher to give up Taylor, so he could steal her. Who knows if there is any truth to this. Blake made some strange steal choices last season. Does he just like underage girls? Is he a dacryphile? Both? At any rate, just when I thought we were finally done with this girl, she makes it to the Knockout Round as well. Before the commercial break, we are promised one more steal for this episode, and we know which battles are left for this episode…
Christian Porter vs. The Swon Brothers (Team Blake). This is the battle I would rather see someone be stolen from, because I love both of these artists better than Karina Iglesias. Blake notes the humor in Porter’s Blind Audition performance and the Swon Brothers’ sense of humor, says it will be a fun pairing, and then naturally gives them Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” What? At least give them a “Weird Al” Yankovic song or something. Sheryl Crow, after two battle pairings, has offered basically no advice. Christian struggles with a high note, but has a much stronger voice in the final rehearsal, while Blake says the Swons are “all over the map.” Porter and both Swon Brothers sound great in the performance, Porter hits the high note, and all I can do is pray that whoever loses gets stolen. Again, Blake chooses the artist whose style is most similar to his, the Swon Brothers, making them the first duo to win a Battle Round. Christian, to my (and every female fan’s) disappointment, was not stolen. Say goodbye, ladies.
Judith Hill vs. Karina Iglesias (Team Adam). Adam gives Judith and Karina “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” by James Brown, which the two ladies proceed to destroy in rehearsals. In a good way, of course. I definitely prefer Judith to Karina, but Karina is also an excellent singer in her own right. I just like everything about Judith better, except her hair. Adam expects it to be the most epic battle in Voice history, and I believe it turns out to be a close second to last season’s Trevin Hunte-Amanda Brown battle. Karina starts off the song with a smoother, less rock tone than I expected, which was nice. Though I would pick Judith to win, it really is too close to call what Adam will do. It’s clear that whoever Adam doesn’t choose will be stolen, for the third and final steal of the night. After a standing ovation and some coaches’ comments that don’t sway one way or the other, Adam picks Judith and Shakira steals Karina. The Latina matchup makes perfect sense; I was only surprised that Blake and Usher didn’t go for the steal either. Shakira uses both her steals in the first night of battles, both on Adam’s former artists. I’d say this is rookie eagerness, but Shakira got two singers that are better than much of her team.
Michael Austin vs. Warren Stone (Team Adam). Tuesday’s episode began with a predictable but still anticipated battle. Adam has two male country artists and only room for one in the Knockout Round. Furthering the Michael Austin-Warren Stone rivalry is their playful badgering about each other’s “rival” civil service jobs – Austin is a police officer (deputy sheriff), and Stone is a firefighter (whom Austin jokingly calls “hose dragger”). The pairing feeds off Adam’s battle advisor, fellow country artist Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, as they prepare “My Kind of Party” by Jason Aldean. Austin uses the just-had-a-tumor-removed-from-my-sinus-cavity excuse early, but he and Stone are pretty neck-and-neck during rehearsals. I was more of a Stone fan during the blinds, but Austin surprised me in the performance. He tried to sound a little less rough than he did during the blinds, and it came off well. Still, Stone has a smoother voice, a sort of pop sensibility that I’m sure Adam appreciated, and some cool small dance moves. I’m glad Adam chose Warren, but I was surprised Blake did not steal Michael.
Jeff Lewis vs. Josiah Hawley (Team Usher). Usher pairs his two soul singers together for his first battle of the night. He and his advisor, Pharrell Williams, give the pair “Roxanne” by The Police. Jeff seems to be struggling on the higher notes, but both remain confident. We finally see the other clip of Usher that’s been teased over and over – Jeff and Josiah chuckle after finishing a run-through at their final rehearsal, and Usher asks, “What’s funny?” He scolds mostly Jeff for not taking the battle seriously, but Jeff says he knows he can do better. What I found more interesting than this, or Usher’s “unique coaching technique” from the Jess-Taylor battle, was a different exercise where Usher left Jeff and Josiah one mic to fight over. Come battle time, neither singer did too bad, but Josiah was a bit stronger vocally. Shakira and Adam pooh-pooh the song choice and say the performance could have been better, but Blake inexplicably likes Jeff better. What matters, though, is that Usher picks Josiah and Jeff isn’t stolen.
Next, we run through two lopsided battles, in which Grace Askew of Team Blake defeats Trevor Davis in “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Audrey Karrasch of Team Usher beats Jamila Thompson in “If I Were A Boy.” Davis and Thompson finish their time on the show without ever having the spotlight for more than fifteen seconds, but that’s the way it goes in television, I guess. What was slightly more upsetting was not getting to see more of the third battle that was skimmed through, Team Shakira’s Mark Andrew vs. Tawnya Reynolds. Shakira picks Tawnya to survive after they sing “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.
Caroline Glaser vs. Danielle Bradbery (Team Blake). I was very upset when I saw the first pre-commercial teaser showing Glaser and Bradbery preparing for battle – not only because I adore both of their voices, but also because their voices and styles are pretty different. Blake gives them “Put Your Records On,” which does seem to suit both their voices, and both of the teenagers are slightly overwhelmed by having a vocal lesson with Blake Shelton and Sheryl Crow. Both Blake and Crow seem to slightly favor Glaser, but it really is a toss-up between the two talented girls. A fight between Adam and Usher to steal an artist has been getting teased before commercials, and at this point I wasn’t sure if they were going to fit in another battle after Glaser vs. Bradbery, so I could only hope this would be the battle with the steal. After a gorgeous performance from both of them, I know this will be the night’s steal as soon as Usher says, “I’m really looking forward to who [Blake is] gonna pick.” Shakira makes another one of her random but amusing analogies, comparing the performance to tangerine ice cream (in terms of refreshing-ness, of course), and Adam also shows intense interest for both singers, confirming my suspicions. Blake predictably picks the country artist, Danielle, and Usher and Adam jump to steal Caroline. After impassioned pleas from both of them, Caroline chooses Adam to be her new coach, a choice of which I am a huge fan. I see Caroline as a Melanie Martinez-type, except better than she was at everything. With Adam as her coach, there’s no telling how far she can go. Usher seems miffed as he walks behind Caroline doing an on-camera interview, but it’s all in fun. Usher is the only coach with both of his steals left, and there are still plenty of good artists to be had in week two.
After half the battles, here are the Knockout Round rosters thus far:
#TeamAdam: Amber Carrington, Judith Hill, Warren Stone, Caroline Glaser*. Steals left: 1.
#TeamBlake: Holly Tucker, Taylor Beckham*, The Swon Brothers, Grace Askew, Danielle Bradbery. Steals left: 1.
#TeamShakira: Sasha Allen*, Garrett Gardner, Karina Iglesias*, Tawnya Reynolds. Steals left: 0.
#TeamUsher: Jess Kellner, Josiah Hawley, Audrey Karrasch. Steals left: 2.
*Singer was stolen by this coach after losing his or her Battle Round.