The Voice Recap: Shake, Battle and Roll

I’m not trying to score TVLine a quote on an upcoming promo for The Voice, I promise. But every season, when the Battle Rounds arrive, all I can think is, “This damn show has too much damn talent.”

How else can Gwen Stefani declare one of Team Pharrell’s showdowns her favorite Battle in show history, then leave the loser hanging without a coveted steal? And why is it that nine seasons in, declaring a winner in any given head-to-head matchup feels more challenging than ever?

If I were a less cynical recapper, I might wind up like Pharrell’s adviser Missy Elliott, hiding beneath a bucket hat and wiping away my tears. (Oh who am I kidding? I’d never wear a bucket hat.)

Here’s hoping we get at least one instance of “Missy got somethin’ to say…” before these Battles conclude, yes?

OK, OK, before I’m compelled to turn this recap into an ode to the woman who gave us “Work It” (or waxing poetic about Cher’s cover of “Walking in Memphis” that was inexplicably not referenced in the episode’s final matchup), let me get to ranking tonight’s Battle Rounds in order from least- to most-promising winner:

6. Team Adam: James Dupré defeats Dustin Monk on “Fortunate Son” | The cricket clinging to the passenger side window of our car during a weekend road trip to my mom’s house showed 10 times the grit and determination during his 90-second run than James did at any point in his cover of CCR’s protest anthem. Granted, Dustin probably wouldn’t have made it through the Live Playoffs, either, but at least he put a little stank on it. With Adam bestowing on James some damning praise — “When he gets comfortable, he’s really gonna shine” — I don’t love his chances in the knockouts.

5. Team Blake: Zach Seabaugh defeats Tyler Dickerson on “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” | Considering all the notes Blake gave Tyler on making sure he didn’t phone it in on a super-familiar song, wasn’t it really weird when Tyler went ahead and… phoned it in? It’s not entirely fair to say Zach won by default — his glory note was clear and piercing, and he sang the words like he meant ’em — but I’m not sure I’ll really remember his performance by the time Season 10 rolls around.

4. Team Blake: Barrett Baber defeats Dustin Christensen on “Walking in Memphis” (Dustin stolen by Adam) | Blake is right that Barrett’s got a tone that can cut right through a crowd and make you pay attention — but his demeanor and facial expressions are hammier than the female lead on The Muppets (sorry, Miss Piggy!). Dude has got to find a way to bring more authenticity to the stage — and promise never again to tell us all that because he survived a plane crash, he has a better grasp on the value of life than most people. (Um, dude, you don’t know any of us, any of our life experiences, or any of our hearts. Thanks.) I actually preferred Dustin’s warmer, richer tone, but his heinous choice of hat was like a blaring neon sign telling the world he’s not quite sure he actually wants musical stardom.

3. Team Adam: Jordan Smith defeats Regina Love on “Like I Can” (Regina stolen by Gwen) | The night’s opening Battle may have also been its most closely matched — as neither Jordan nor Regina hit a single bad note in their duet, and reminded us they’ve got truly enviable range. Regina might have scored a slight edge in terms of translating the passion in her voice all the way to her eyes, but I liked that Jordan never looked intimidated standing opposite a more experienced, charismatic presence. I’d like to see them both dial back on the bombast by 10-20 percent, but they’re legitimate Top 10 threats.

2. Team Gwen: Ellie Lawrence defeats Tim Atlas on “Sweater Weather” (Tim stolen by Pharrell) | Just when I became completely convinced that Ellie was the clear choice to win, my husband turned to me and declared, “I really like this guy’s voice!” — a sentiment echoed by Blake and Adam. That’s OK? I stand with Gwen in preferring Ellie’s scratchy tone and elegant phrasing, but with Pharrell’s save, Tim (who got the dreaded Montage Treatment in the Blinds) will have another chance to prove to me he’s better than just OK.

1. Team Pharrell: Mark Hood defeats Celeste Betton on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” | I expected this Battle to be a blowout — as I adored Mark’s Blind Audition, but was underwhelmed by Celeste’s. So much for preconceived notions, though, as Celeste raised her game immensely, using her smooth, silky instrument to execute daring runs and unexpected ad libs that brought the lyrics to vivid life. Unfortunately for her, she was paired against a guy who brought the house down with a pitch perfect, multilayered vocal performance — a dazzling staccato bridge, soaring falsetto, raggedy lower tones — that never slowed down, not even when he was doing a funky side-step or throwing in a “yep, I’m this much of a star!” spin. Pharrell made the right call, yes, but everyone else failing to press a button (or call for a rule change) messed up badly.

OK, your turn. What did you think of Night 1 of The Voice‘s Season 9 Battle Rounds? Who were your faves? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!