This just in…a deficit of Blind Audition screen time is not an automatic death sentence in the Battle Rounds on Season 5 of The Voice. The term “mismatch made in heaven” may have been coined specifically for the pairing of Blake Shelton and a saucy gay contestant. And everything’s better with a little Cher. (Yeah, I know, that last part’s not exactly breaking news.)
Perhaps most exciting of all, though, was the fact that of the nine artists tonight who either won their Battles (or snagged coveted Steals), it’s not hard to imagine more that half of them still being in the mix long enough for viewers to be measuring their calendars with the term “shopping days till Christmas.” In other words, we may be shaping up for season with no clear and present Chosen One — or at least a season with a deep enough bench to keep the producers’ fave from sneaking up the chimney with somebody else’s prizes.
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Not quite as exciting? NBC’s reality singing competition once again proving that while it has no upper age limit during the Blinds, that rule doesn’t exactly apply once the coaches’ chairs are turned and it becomes clear whether or not a vocalist falls outside the upper end of the advertiser-desired 18-49 demo (or whether somebody’s got a superfamous sibling in the audience).
But let me not turn this into a post about ageism in the music industry — and instead rank each individual Battle from least- to most-promising winner:
6. Team Adam: Grey defeats Nic Hawk (with Nic stolen by Blake) on Jessie J’s “Domino” | Considering Adam said he was looking for “spirit and energy,” I was pretty certain he’d choose Nic, who was undoubtedly the spicy seared tuna of the entree (compared to Grey’s parsnip mash). Yeah, sure, This! Is! The! Voice!, but while Grey proved her superior power and control, she didn’t manage to showcase a distinctive tone or any real connection to her lyrics. She’s the formal living room couch everybody’s afraid to sit on; Nic, with his energetic strut and rapid-fire delivery, is infinitely more appealing, even if his voice got a little narrow in places. Ah well, at least Adam’s double mistake — No. 1 was his failure to pair Grey vs Tessanne and Nic vs Donna — allowed Blake to get the funniest line of the night. When Carson asked why the country coach stole Nic — and honestly, their partnership should make for damn fun TV — Blake replied, “Why is Adam such an idiot? Why don’t you ask me that?”
5. Team Blake: Shelbie Z defeats Justin Chain on Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay” | In another example of a Woman of a Certain Age not getting her due, none of the coaches declared Blake’s advisor Cher the winner of this Battle — despite the fact that the Oscar winner’s insightful critiques and general good humor will be the only part of this Battle we’ll remember in six months’ time. OK, maybe that’s a litte harsh. Shelbie (despite going badly awry on one of her big ad-libs) and Justin definitely have skills — but their duet was more of a rental situation rather than either one of them experiencing true ownership of the song in question.
4. Team Xtina: Jacquie Lee defeats Briana Cuoco (with Blake stealing Briana, only after battling it out with Cee Lo…neither of whom came to Donna’s rescue…what? why? HUH?) on The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” | I understood Ed Sheeran’s note that — given the ubiquity of “HOTRS” — it was important for Jacquie and Briana to take some melodic risks, but the Animals’ classic ballad is more than the sum of its glory notes, and I’m not sure either of these chicas really captured the full sense of loss and regret woven into the lyrics (which made Carson’s excessive hype over the performance a tad perplexing). That said, despite some initial nervousness, Jacquie definitely dominated the proceedings just by nature of her brute vocal strength. Briana, meanwhile, despite showing improvement off her iffy audition, didn’t stick every landing on the big notes and revealed a tendency for hinky pronunciations. No, girl, “mother” isn’t pronounced “Moy-tha” — unless you’re in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, maybe.
3. Team Xtina: Amber Nicole defeats Timyra-Joi on Beyoncé’s “Liiiiiiiiiiiiisten!” | There’s no other way to say it: These girls were the Nic Cage and John Travolta of the Season 5 blinds, because they literally sang their faces off. And before you accuse ‘em of showboating vocalization in the third degree, let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about a Dreamgirls soundtrack ballad that doubles as the “A-Ha! Moment” of the whole movie, and to do it justice, a couple of lesser organs — tonsils, gall bladders, perhaps spleens — should be ruptured or at least rearranged by the time the final glory note is executed. That ridiculous sentence out of the way, I will add that I was pleased with Xtina’s final verdict, seeing how Timyra didn’t quite process her mentors’ notes and began the number in full quaver mode. Amber, on the other hand, delivered a vocal that was just a little cleaner, a little more nuanced and contained just a few more dynamics than her younger rival — and was appropriately rewarded (even though her Blind Audition was reduced to clip-montage mode).
2. Team Adam: Tessanne Chin defeats Donna Allen (because Adam figured this was the only way to toss his 54-year-old diva without a national outcry) on Emeli Sande’s “Next to Me” | Hands down the night’s most infuriating moment was Adam critiquing this sensational upgrade of a snoooooozy song by telling Tessanne and Donna that “you both could win” Season 5. UMMMM…DUDE…THEN WHY DID YOU FORCE THEM TO GO UP AGAINST EACH OTHER THIS EARLY IN THE COMPETITION? (Sorry…I’ve been suppressing that rage all night…it had to get out somehow, somewhere.) Anyway, it’s a testament to both women that my notes for the entire performance amount to the following: “Tessane’s high note! [diagram of an arrow squiggling upward] Donna’s holleration…OMFG!” Translated into actual critique, I’d agree with Cee Lo that Tessanne managed to conjure up more control and poise with her rendition, but also agree with Blake that Donna was the one who drew me into the ditty with her blunt-force rasp and soul. Enraged (and unsurprised) as I am by Xtina, Cee Lo and Blake failing to bring justice to Season 5 and save Donna, though, I’ll admit the combatants’ parting hug — and Tessanne’s tearful declaration that “[Donna] made me a better singer — was like a Listerine Breath Strip to wash away some of my percolating bitterness. Who knows: Maybe once Tessanne gets the Amanda Brown treatment and goes home in late November, she and Donna can form a power duo and take the Billboard charts by storm?
1. Team Cee Lo: Caroline Pennell defeats Anthony Paul (with Anthony stolen by Xtina) on Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” | A couple weeks ago, my Reality Check cohost Melinda Doolittle chastized me for underrating Caroline following her Blind Audition, and all I can say now is, “You were right, girlfriend!” Seriously, the rise and fall of Caroline’s voice, the unexpected and yet completely organic choices she made with the melody, the way she took possession of Baby Bieber’s hit while still maintaining a solid groove — all of it was fantastic. And while Caroline’s audacity made her the clear winner, I couldn’t be mad at Xtina for stealing Anthony, not when every one of his runs was completely on point, and not when he took his notes from Cee Lo and Miguel and really reined in the oversinging for his live performance. I still don’t understand how the mentors stepping away from the contestants during rehearsal constituted a “vision board,” but whatever. There was apparently a method to Cee Lo’s madness, so I’ll just zip my trap and call it a night!
And with that, I turn things over to you. What did you think of the first set of Season 5 Battle Rounds? Did Donna or anyone else get mistreated? Were you shocked that Briana got saved? Who gave the best overall vocal of the night? Sound off below!