Tuesday night’s installment of The Voice bid adieu to the central conceit of the show’s auditions — that its judges must turn their backs to potential contestants and decide based on singing ability alone whether or not to become their mentors — and introduced us to the concept of “Battle Rounds.” In what essentially serves as The Voice‘s semifinals, the judges take two members of their eight-person team, watch them perform a duet, then choose which one of ’em will advance to the finals.
And whaddaya know, on Tuesday, the sexy teenager in the slinky dress bumped off the balding, middle-aged dude, while the hunka hunka burnin’ cowboy advanced over the gay Mormon kid dressed like he was auditioning to replace Kurt Hummel on the Dalton Academy Warblers. To be fair, though, it all sounds a little more nefarious on paper than it played out on TV. Let’s break down each individual battle — ranked from most- to least-promising winner — and assess the contestants’ chances as they head to the final 16.
Team Cee Lo: Vicci Martinez d. Niki Dawson (pictured)
Blake Shelton said it best that someday, when Cee Lo is old and gray, he’ll look back on his life and regret pitting Vicci and Niki in the same semifinal faceoff. Both ladies nailed their portions of Pink’s “F***** Perfect” with gut-busting passion and total pitch perfection. Monica, who helped coach Team Cee Lo this week, was on her feet mid-performance, and rightfully so. But I agreed with Cee Lo that Vicci truly tore down the room — I could feel her performance resonate all the way down to my ankles — and couldn’t fault him for giving her the slight edge. That said, I’m not sure Vicci’s “war dance” wide stance is the stuff of sold-out stadiums; she might want to consider a fashion upgrade, too, before the voting rounds begin. (See video below!)
Team Xtina: Frenchie Davis d. Tarralyn Ramsey
I loved that The Lady Aguilera (in something from the Betty Boop Collection) picked an uptempo barn-burner as a forum for her monster-voiced divas. As she pointed out, neither Frenchie or Tarralyn needed to prove their pipes, so why not pair ’em up on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and see which one had the charisma and swagger to truly sell it. You could hear Tarralyn straining to deliver some kind of killer glory note in an attempt to distract from Frenchie’s fast and furious flow, but it merely led to her hitting the part of her register that sounds like a squeaking chew-toy. In the end, Frenchie’s attitude that you can’t win while worrying about your competition was a clear-cut winner over Tarralyn’s strategy to hold back during rehearsal and not let her rival know her full range. And now that Frenchie has finally been informed by Xtina and Sia of her tendency to go sharp — an issue I noticed in her “I Kissed a Girl” audition — she could go far in the competition.
Team Adam: Casey Weston d. Tim Mahoney
While most of the judges paired like against like, Adam matched up the self-described “King of Almost” (with several records and hundreds of concert dates under his belt) against a youthful songbird with only four years of singing experience. The resulting duet on “Leather and Lace” was a real treat for the ears, if not a radical departure from Stevie Nicks and Don Henley’s template. There were moments when Casey’s nerves bubbled to the surface and brought an unnecessary quaver to her vocals, but her harmonies were spectacular, and her emotional connection to the material was undeniable. Tim sounded pretty great as well, but too often I felt him performing to win, rather than truly embodying the song. And even though Adam praised him for improving the phrasing of his intro, I wasn’t as convinced he’d succeeded in channeling his mentor’s advice. Plus, while I’m sure Casey’s slinky appeal (and heavily accentuated cleavage) didn’t hurt — “Oh man, that’s my little girl,” gulped her dad — I think Blake had a good point that she’s got a lot of room to grow as the competition continues.
Team Blake: Patrick Thomas d. Tyler Robinson
I’m loving the articulate, level-headed vibe from The Voice‘s judging panel, but I’m also a little flumoxed by Blake’s decision to choose the blandly handsome, blandly competent Patrick over the vocally superior Tyler — especially since the latter singer showed vast improvement by following Blake and buddy Reba McEntire’s counsel to “pick your places” and “don’t wear it out” when it comes to showy vocal runs. Yeah, I understand Patrick’s country style is more in Blake’s wheelhouse (ugh, did I just say “wheelhouse”?) but Tyler’s vocals were the lasso to Patrick’s tied and immobilized calf. Heck, Cee Lo and Adam agreed! Maybe it was Tyler’s leather bowtie that did him in? Either way, I hope we see more Reba: Her advice to focus on every word and create a mental video of every song you’re singing may not have been revolutionary, but it was articulated in a way that could be very helpful to Patrick going forward.
Anyhow, that’s my take on Day One of Battle Rounds. What did you think of this next step in The Voice‘s evolution? Did you enjoy it more or less than the “spinning chair” auditions? Who was your favorite performer of the night? And were there any judges’ decisions you disagreed with? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!