The Voice Recap: Duel Realities

Like those old episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom where the straggler impala gets picked off by the hungry lioness, The Voice‘s Battle Rounds are compelling (though not necessarily comforting) viewing.

Only the strongest voices — or at least those attached to the youngest, doe-eyed-iest, most social-media-approved bodies — survive the two-person, one-song contests.

And while I understand those who wince at the inherent cruelty of whittling a pool of 48 singers down to 32 (eight Battle “losers” get second chances via The Steal), it’s nevertheless a necessary evil. I mean, let’s be honest: After three consecutive weeks of Blind Auditions, what percentage of the four dozen acts’ performances could you actually remember? Three quarters? Half? Somewhere in the 25 percent range?

Limited audience memory for reality-singing competition contestants — even among folks like myself, who remain obsessed with Battle Rounds evictees like Grace Askew, Rebecca Loebe and Matt Cermanski — is the mother of elimination, or so the old saying goes. And while at least one Steal got totally squandered as two rock-solid contenders left in disgrace, it’s nevertheless time to get to the business of ranking tonight’s half-dozen Battle Rounds in order from least- to most-promising winner. (Bear in mind, I’ll be back overnight to update this recap with more detailed reviews of each showdown.)

6. (Team Gwen) Sugar Joans defeats Jean Kelley on Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” (Jean inexplicably stolen by Pharrell) | File this one under “Two Perky Law Students Dueting at Karaoke Night” — or something to that effect. Because despite singing mostly in tune, neither chica could handle the rapid-fire wordplay or muster the internal oomph required to convincingly deliver DC’s humble-brag anthem. Jean, despite audibly gasping for air (irony alert!) on the line “thought I couldn’t breathe without you,” delivered a marginally stronger, more pleasing vocal, but her tone is about as distinctive as a ream of printer paper at Staples.

5. (Team Adam) Chris Jamison defeats Jonathan Wyndham on Bruno Mars’ “Young Girls” | I loved Chris’ Blind Audition, but this time around, he seemed to be working overtime to try to match Jonathan’s over-embellished runs instead of bringing the song’s lyrics to life. Lucky for him, his supercute rival’s tone got tight and quavery whenever he had to extend into his upper register, making Adam’s decision an easy choice in favor of the lesser of two evils.

4. (Team Gwen) Taylor John Williams defeats Amanda Lee Peers on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” | Wait, wait, wait… so Amanda put guts and grit and physical commitment into her Dolly Parton cover and didn’t miss a single note in the process, and yet not only does she lose to a guy who brought all the fire of a lit match in a torrential downpour, but she didn’t even get a Steal? No me gusta! Taylor’s voice is pretty, to be fair, but if dude really wants to make the live rounds, he’ll need to step out of his coffeehouse comfort zone and prove he’s got some personal magnetism. Urgh.

3. (Team Pharrell) Elyjuh Rene defeats Maiya Sykes on Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” |
OK, Maiya could’ve dialed back a little on the nonstop vibrato and folksy ad-libs, but to my ears, her voice pretty much swallowed and digested Elyjuh’s every time their parts overlapped. But (gasp!) I guess sometimes The Voice isn’t necessarily about the voice — which most of us discovered back in Season 1 and begrudgingly accepted in Season 2. As Blake noted, Maiya has “world class” talent, but he preferred Elyjuh because of “growth.” In other words, if you’re over 30 and female, don’t expect any more button-pushing past the Blinds. Elyjuh, meanwhile, has some chops, but right now his delivery seems a little too immature (or perhaps self-impressed) to be truly moving. If he can dial back in that department, he could be a surprise contender on Team Pharrell.

2. (Team Blake) James David Carter defeats Craig Wayne Boyd on Pat Green’s “Wave on Wave” (Craig stolen by Gwen) | The night’s most evenly matched showdown found James’ springwater clear tone bringing an inspirational quality to the lyrics, and Craig’s gruffer, more raggedy approach capturing the world-weariness of the narration. It was nice to see Gwen steal the Nashville veteran — especially since his style is so far out of her wheelhouse — but I can’t blame Blake for choosing James, either. Dude’s got Approved by Mom charm and solid chops — a combination that’s proven popular with Voice voters over the past six seasons.

1. (Team Pharrell) Luke Wade defeats Griffin on Paul McCartney “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Griffin stolen by Blake) | Let’s give a slow clap to Alicia Keys, for insisting that Luke and Griffin shift their cover to the “Aretha Franlin version” — something that doesn’t exist, but probably should. Once the band found the piano-driven blues side of McCartney’s love anthem, Luke’s swooping falsetto and memorable growl emerged — making him a clear and present danger for the Season 7 crown. Griffin, who had to wait a mighty long time for a solo moment, may have overshot the mark with his more theatrical approach, but dude has a huge range and plenty of charisma (as long as he’s not falling into default perma-grin, anyway). It’ll be interesting to see which fella lasts further into the competition.

What did you think of the first set of Season 7 Battle Rounds? Did you geel like Maiya and Amanda got robbed? Which Steals delighted you? Take our poll below to vote for your favorite advancing singers, then hit the comments with your thoughts!