The Voice Battle Rounds Recap: Smells Like Team Spirit

Ali Caldwell the voice

Like an undecided voter in the presidential race — how much more do you really need to see, people? — I’ve always experienced maximum ambivalence when it comes to aligning with a particular coach’s team on The Voice.

After all, as you’re downloading a contestant’s track and adding it to your dinner-party playlist — yes, this is how I introduce people to Season 8’s Kimberly Nichole and Season 9’s Jeffrey Austin — does it make a blind bit of difference which superstar mentored ’em?

Season 11, however, has made me understand, if not succumb to, the NBC singing competition’s relentless emphasis on team, team, team, team, team.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never vote for or against a contestant based on their coach. But there’s a tiny part of me (less than one half of one half percent, to be technical) that’s rooting for newbie panelists Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys to defy expectations and make it a second straight win for a female coach, following Xtina’s Season 10 triumph.

Their unabashed, unbelievably endearing enthusiasm for the Voice process has somehow reinvigorated my own interest level in a show that, sans its latest reinvention, might be tipping more toward Monday-night habit than genuine start-of-the-week necessity.

In any event, let’s break down this week’s half-dozen Battle Rounds from least- to most-promising winner — bearing in mind I’ll be updating this URL with more detailed performance reviews (one at a time) overnight. [Update: Full reviews for every Battle have now been posted!]

6. Team Adam: Riley Elmore defeats Natasha Bure on “Cry Me a River” | Riley stayed in tune more consistently than Natasha, who skidded around the melody like a blindfolded toddler in rollerskates. But Riley’s interpretation of an American songbook classic contained less flavor than a day-old piece of Melba toast, underscoring the sad fact that his talent needs several years of incubation if there’s a hope of advancing beyond the “third place in the high school talent competition” level.

5. Team Blake: Sundance Head defeats Dan Shafer on “Feel Like Makin’ Love” | There wasn’t even a whiff of sexual longing or seductiveness in the vocals of onetime Idol hopeful Sundance or former jingle vocalist Dan — and that’s problematic when you’re belting out the frenzied mating call that is “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” The tunefulness of Sundance’s metal-spoon-against-the-bottom-of-the-wok howl made him the easy choice over Dan, who clumsily lifted the mic stand in a desperate attempt to upgrade from karaoke to cool. But neither one presented like an artist destined to go any farther than the Live Playoffs.

4. Team Alicia: Christian Cuevas defeats Jason Warrior on Adele’s “Hello” (Jason stolen by Adam) | Regardless of who you think won the Battle, both of these fellas showcased an appealing blend of gritty tone juxtaposed with Scrubbing Bubbles-level spotlessness. To my ear, though, Jason’s spectacular scooped note and his attention to detail in the rumbly opening verse proved slightly more impressive than Christian’s palpable sincerity and scratchy elegance. Granted, there’s still a small charisma gap between these dudes and their flashier Season 11 compadres, but isn’t that the kind of issue that good coaching is supposed to fix (at least theoretically)?

3. Team Adam: Billy Gilman defeats Andrew DeMuro on “Man in the Mirror” (was it just me, or did Andrew outsing Blind Audition standout Billy?) | Billy was pretty close to perfect in his Blind Audition, but I winced at his overshot upper register two or three times during his rendition of a Michael Jackson song that could really use a vacation from the reality singing space. The less-rangey Andrew had more work to do reaching for the top end of his range, but he never lost control of his instrument, which — along with his superior grasp on the song’s intricate rhythm — made him the winner. The Voice, however, loves itself a “second chance at fame” backstory, which means Billy is probably a mortal lock for a Top 5 finish.

2. Team Alicia: Wé McDonald defeats Lauren Diaz on Janis Joplin’s “Maybe” (Lauren stolen by Miley) | We’re only in Round 2 of Season 11, but let’s not try to undersell it: The heaviness of Wé’s tone and the broadness of her vocal range make her not only a big threat to win the whole enchilada, but also to become an artist whose lifespan in the public eye lasts well beyond the show’s season finale. Not only does the teenage contestant have a Malbec-ian richness to her lower register, but her falsetto interlude flitted upward like a chickadee gliding over a sunflower field. (Too much? Listen to Wé’s performance again, then tell me I’m wrong!) Lauren, on the other hand, matched her younger rival in both pitch and power, but she needs to mix up her bombast with more discernable character and below-the-surface emotion if she wants to make the most of her second chance on Team Miley.

1. Team Miley: Ali Caldwell defeats Courtnie Ramirez on “Hit or Miss” (Alicia steals Courtnie) | I’ll admit it: I’d never before heard Odetta’s “Hit or Miss.” But it’s hard to fathom the ode to individuality being delivered with more soul, sass or sophistication than we heard from Ali. The way she mixed guttural gorgeousness with flirty falsetto, the dexterity with which she handled the tempo, the confidence with which she worked the stage — it had me wondering if she might be a potential Season 11 champ, despite the lack of a four-star tragic backstory. Courtnie was rock-solid, too, but she brought a strain to more than a few big notes, making her a curious choice for one of the eight coveted Steals this round.

Individual Rankings Based on Battle Round Performances
9. Riley Elmore, “Cry Me a River”
8. Courtnie Ramirez, “Hit or Miss”
7. Sundance Head, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”
6. Billy Gilman, “Man in the Mirror”
5. Lauren Diaz, “Maybe”
4. Christian Cuevas, “Hello”
3. Jason Warrior, “Hello”
2. Wé McDonald, “Maybe”
1. Ali Caldwell, “Hit or Miss”

What did you think of Night 1 of The Voice Season 11 Battles? Who did you like best? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!

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