The Voice Recap: A 'Battle' at the Better-Than-OK Corral [Updated]

The Voice Judith Hill Karina Iglesias Battle Rounds“It’s always easier if somebody craps the bed,” said Blake Shelton, typically unfiltered and funny, during Night 1 of The Voice‘s Season 4 Battle Rounds.

And given the bombings at today’s Boston Marathon, the country coach’s homespun (albeit crass) humor was a brief but welcome respite from the horrific images that came through our TV screens all day.

But Blake’s words also rang quite true: Of the six Battles featured, no single contestant gave a truly off-pitch or uninspired performance — and several simply came down to matters of individual coaches’ personal tastes.

Speaking of personal tastes, it’s time for me to weigh in on the night’s proceedings: I’ve ranked each individual battle from least- to most-promising winner, as I often do:

Team Blake: The Swon Bros defeat Christian Porter on Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (No Steal? Srsly?) | Am I crazy for thinking Christian — with his outsized stage presence and more daring vocal delivery, had the edge over the in-tune but not-particularly-distinctive Swon Bros? At the very least, Blake should’ve warned contestants in the Blind Auditions about his new motto, “stick with what I know” (AKA, all else being equal, the country singer wins). Hmph. We’ll always have Christian’s “Sexy and I Know It,” I guess.

Team Usher: Jess Kellner defeats Taylor Beckham on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” (Taylor stolen by Blake) | I thought these ladies sounded perfectly fine, but lacked the sexuality and desperation of Winehouse’s original (which, granted, isn’t an easy combo to capture). Plus, Jess’s hinky pronunciations (“burns” as “boyns”?) and Taylor’s squeaky upper register started to grate after about 30 seconds (though not as much as Usher framing their sing-off as a “catfight.” Gross.) My only thought on their parallel advance is that judges need cannon fodder for the Knockout Rounds, too.

Team Shakira: Garrett Gardner defeats J’Sun on The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” | J’Sun had the cleaner vocal, but he seemed too preoccupied with sizing up his duet partner to really get inside the song. Garrett, despite a couple of rough edges, simply outperformed his rival — and better embodied the number’s growling swagger in the process.

Team Blake: Holly Tucker defeats Michelle Raitzin on Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” | It’s not easy coloring inside Carrie Underwood’s lines, but Holly and Michelle undoubtedly proved they’ve got the necessary horsepower. To my ears though, Michelle’s R&B-tinged runs made her version a little more intriguing than Holly’s dead-ahead interpretation. Maybe that headband did Michelle in? Holly, nevertheless, could be a contendah!

Team Adam: Amber Carrington defeats Sasha Allen on Pink’s “Try” (Sasha stolen by Shakira) | If you’d have told me beforehand that Amber was destined to defeat Sasha, I’d have told you Adam was committing Amanda Brown-level crimes again this season. (Come on — if he’d been more enthusiastic about the “Dream On” chica in Season 3, she could’ve won the whole thing.) But that’s why the Battle Rounds are held in a boxing ring, not on paper. Inexperienced Amber matched Sasha power note for power note while also doing a better job of riding the beat and bringing the song’s central angst to life. Don’t get me wrong: I’m stoked Shakira used her Steal on Sasha — that woman’s got tone for days and never misses a note — but her more stylized, operatic approach wasn’t a great fit for “Try.” Plus, it’ll be fun watching Adam torment Blake with his own country diva.

Team Adam: Judith Hill defeats Karina Iglesias on James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (Karina stolen by Shakira) | This looked like a major mismatch on paper, too: Judith’s Blind Audition was probably the buzziest of Season 4, while Karina’s was a pitchy mess. But I’d be lying if I said that when the ladies finished tearing into the James Brown anthem, I wasn’t finding it impossible to choose a winner. Sure, Judith had the technical edge — making hairpin turns with her Mack-truck sized voice, but there was a longing in Karina’s voice (perhaps fueled by the fear and anger of being used as Battle Round chum) that made her rendition deeply compelling as well. Good for Shakira for not buring her Steal in the sand and instead using it when the spirit moved her. Voters do like a “most improved” story arc, so don’t count Karina out yet. Judith, meanwhile, looks and sounds like she’s ready to stroll onto the set of her debut video: But will that seeming advantage ultimately hurt or help her with voters?

On that note, I turn things over to you: Who were your favorites from Night 1 of The Voice‘s Season 4 Battle Rounds? Were there any decisions with which you disagreed? Did Shakira use her “Steals” too quickly, or were Sasha and Karina too good to let go? Hit the comments with your thoughts!