Bette Midler. Cher. Patti LaBelle. Reba McEntire. Stevie Nicks. Jill Scott. Joan Jett.
These legendary divas have all brought keen-eyed critique and unflinching honesty to The Voice Battle Rounds, but relegating them to a couple weeks of guest mentoring makes as much sense as having Usain Bolt on your Olympic roster and sticking him on the synchronized swimming squad.
Imagine, then, if you will, a summer edition of NBC’s reality singing competition in which a quartet of the aforementioned divas call the shots.* OK, so maybe exec producer Mark Burnett would lose a few nights of sleep stressing about whether or not the 18-34 demo would stay loyal to the Peacock Net’s biggest reality franchise as it became overrun by women old enough to be Miley Cyrus’ grandmother. (*Yes, Voice-a-loonies, that was a callback to Season 10 standout Hannah Huston’s finale single.)
But c’mon now. With Miley herself going back — waaaaaaay back — into the dusty jukebox to dredge up Melanie’s “Brand New Key” this week, it’s not as if the show is all X Ambassadors and gnash and Rae Sremmurd** all the time anyhow. (**Names of three artist pulled at random from the current Billboard Top 40 singles chart. #PardonMyCulturalIrrelevance)
So if you want to turn the comments section for this Monday-night recap into an online petition to greenlight The Voice: Legends of Summer Edition, you’ll get no objection from me.
Season 11, however, is shaping up pretty promisingly, too, so allow me to break from my unapologetically gay flight of fancy and break down tonight’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.
6. Team Blake: Gabe Broussard defeats Christian Fermin on “The Reason” | Like the late Whitney Houston, I believe that children are our future. But I also don’t think they’re all meant to make a living in the performing arts. So instead of picking apart 15-year-old Gabe and fellow teen Christian’s iffy vocals, let me instead encourage them to explore the exciting worlds of medicine, finance, engineering or whatever other non-singing pursuits might appeal to their youthful sensibilities.
5. Team Adam: Nolan Neal defeats Johnny Rez on “Sledgehammer” | More puzzling than the mystery of how Johnny kept his tiny hat affixed to his impressive curls was why Miley and Blake called this Battle in his favor. Granted, the choice and arrangement of “Sledgehammer” were irrevocably anchored in the ’80s — making it tough for either contestant to truly stand out — but the appealing gruffness of Nolan’s tone made him the indisputable winner against his boy-band whiny rival.
4. Team Blake: Josh Gallagher “defeats” Blaine Long on “Stranger in My House” | I know there’s one episode left of the Battle Rounds, but I’m not convinced it’s too early to declare Blaine’s premature ejection as the biggest shock of the season. Dude’s rich, layered bluesiness wasn’t just fuller-bodied and more nuanced than Josh’s country-soul scratchiness, but Blaine also was far more consistent when it came to singing in tune. Still, Adam’s whole argument that there was “more to be discovered” with Josh played into the all-too-common Voice narrative that younger = more coachable (aka better). Ugh.
3. Team Miley: Darby Walker defeats Karlee Metzger on “Brand New Key” (Karlee stolen by Blake) | Without a doubt, the ethereal beauty of Karlee’s lilt was more than worthy of advancing to the Knockouts. But to my eyes and ears, the self-admittedly shy gal got steamrolled by Darby’s outré stage presence, risk-taking riffs and ability not to wobble tremulously while reaching for the top of her register.
2. Team Alicia: Kylie Rothfield defeats Josh Halverson on “House of the Rising Sun” (Josh stolen by Miley) | Slow clap for Blake — for pointing out that Josh’s ominous facial expressions belong in a (particularly harrowing) western film. But it wasn’t just Josh’s visage that appeared possessed; his mumbly, guttural opening verse sounded so haunted, I was ready to call Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones & Co. and request some actual ghostbusting. (I mean that in the best possible way.) Kylie’s voice, meanwhile, kept shredding and floating above her duet partner’s low-level rumblings — the catch in her tone gave me shades of the tragically underrated Joan Osborne — and set up a situation in which Miley was able to use her trademark tongue to activate the “Steal” button. Hooray for happy endings — and on to the Knockouts!
1. Team Miley: Aaron Gibson defeats SaRayah on “I’ll Take Care of You” (SaRayah stolen by Alicia) | Had Aaron not looked so nervous as SaRayah shimmied up against him, I’d have begged Miley to call an audible, reimagine the rivals as a duo and dare her fellow coaches to find any individual artist who could close the gap on Aaron and SaRayah’s combined fanbase. The pair benefitted tremendously from Miley’s impressive ability to unearth lesser-known songs that possess range and raw emotion — the Artist Formerly Known as Hannah Montana is good at her new job! — but it would’ve been nothing without SaRayah’s gorgeously restrained wailing and Aaron’s Phillip Phillips-ian smoke-and-crackle gruffness. If I’m being completely honest, SaRayah owned the slight advantage when it was all said and done, but Season 11 politics aside, maybe we should all just cosign Alicia’s words of post-performance encouragement: “I’m proud you are both alive and singing on this Earth.”