The Voice Recap: Sixteen? Sweet!

Thank heavens The Voice has named its 16 finalists for Season 1 and is moving on to the live performance rounds next Tuesday, because I’m not sure I could take yet another pre-taped “Battle Round” edited to have less suspense than a Kate Hudson romantic comedy.

Indeed, like an amateur poker player, The Voice‘s production team has a classic “tell”: Whenever a mentor is shown having a sit-down motivational chat with only one half of a head-to-head matchup, said singer is guaranteed to come out on top.

What’s more, next week’s live performance kickoff — packing in 16 vocalists over two hours — will be a welcome shift from the Battle Rounds’ somewhat sluggish pacing of four performances per hour. The final installment of these boxing-ring bouts featured some questionable calls by the judges, a vocalist with enough promise to excite Reba McEntire, and a post-performance smooch between two contestants. 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. (And if you missed the show last night, you can watch it online here.)

Team Adam: Jeff Jenkins defeated Casey Desmond
Pretty much every detail leading up to this performance pointed to a win for unassuming everyman Jeff: He’d managed to get all four judges to turn their chairs around at the auditions; Casey had impressed only Adam. The producers showed Jeff’s sit-down with Adam and his musical director; Casey’s inspirational chat got tossed in the dumpster with Xtina’s discarded lipstick tubes. Jeff got introduced by Carson Daly as a “humble country boy”; Casey was highlighted for designing her own clothing. But any lingering uncertainty dissipated when the sing-off — set to “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” — began and Jeff’s rich, clear pipes dominated Casey’s pretty but indistinct instrument. Granted, Jeff is going to have to step up his fashion game and learn some on-stage moves that don’t involve bending at the waist like a guy who’s run out of Pepto Bismol, but when Reba declares she can’t take her eyes off you, then a Top 16 spot is kind of a guarantee.

Team Blake: Xenia defeated Sara Oromchi (pictured)
There was a little bit of a nails-in-a-blender quality to the teenagers’ duet on The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” but Blake himself admitted he’d chosen the track to push his shyest team members out of their comfort zones and stretch the outer limits of their vocal ranges. And while Xenia definitely hit a few sour notes along the way, I loved the way her kitten mewl of a voice turned portions of the power ballad into a lullaby. Plus, my inner marshmallow kind of melted when she burst into tears over Blake and Reba’s compliments. “What’d you make her cry for!” chided the spitfire mentor. My sentiments exactly, Reba!

Team Cee Lo: Curtis Grimes defeated Emily Valentine
I’m not big on showmances, but I didn’t mind the producers playing up Emily and Curtis’ mutual semi-attraction, especially since I needed a distraction from the vocals on their rendition of “Need You Now.” Emily’s performance was like a series of widely spaced, glittering Christmas lights strung together by wires of too many off-pitch notes; Curtis’ contribution, meanwhile, was like evergreen garland, fading innocuously into the background — especially in his weak lower register. Considering neither one of these likable cats seemed destined to go far in the competition, I can’t really blame ’em for finishing the performance with a lip-lock. Carson Daly’s pre-verdict assessment — “One of you’s going home. Not alone I guess” — was obvious, but it did make me chuckle.

Team Xtina: Lily Elise defeated Cherie Oakley (video embedded below)
Lily definitely took the “go big or go home” approach to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” but I can’t be the only one who thought she was verging on strained and unpleasant from rehearsal right through the final note of the Battle Round, can I? I mean, when Cherie delivered the line “shut your mouth I just can’t take it” (with a nifty change-up to the melody, I might add), I was sure she was hinting to Lily that maybe it was time her rival pursue a career path that didn’t involve a microphone. Alas, though, Xtina seemed smitten with Lily’s combination of tight zebra top and gray hoodie — she wasn’t looking for perfection, she explained, but rather the ability to be free in the moment (insert eye roll here) — and awarded the win to the inferior vocalist. As a consolation prize, Cherie got to meet Reba McEntire in person — which seems only fair, since Cherie penned the country queen’s No. 1 hit, “Turn on the Radio.”

What did you think of this week’s installment of The Voice? Do any of this week’s Battle Round winners have a shot at the big prize? Did you agree with the judges’ calls this week, or were there any decisions you’d have reversed? And are you ready for the live performances to begin? Sound off below in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!