Welcome to the first episode of "The Voice" airing outside of the 2010-2011 TV Season and, thus, the first episode of "The Voice" airing without heaps of direct competition from ABC and CBS. NBC is so confident in the talent show's long-term viability that the network announced earlier today that "The Voice" will get the coveted slot after the Super Bowl next spring.

But for tonight, the only business at hand is ending the rather prolonged process of cutting the field from 32 down to 16 competitors. Only four more Battles to go, so let's get down to business... 

10:02 p.m. Jeff Jenkins and Casey Desmond are paired in Adam Levine's final battle. They're going to go head-to-head on "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." You probably don't remember Casey Desmond. It's far more likely that you remember Jeff Jenkins, with his tragic backstory and his soaring Muppet-esque country voice. Jeff is one of the few examples of that "Voice over Looks" ethos that "The Voice" espoused in those blind audition episodes, as all four judges buzzed in to claim his services. At mentoring, Jeff is told that he needs to unlearn what he's learned, that he needs to be emotional, rather than effortless. Very Yoda of you, Adam Levine. We don't care what Casey is told. She's really not getting the edit of somebody the producers figure is going to advance. 

10:05 p.m. "I'm confident in my voice and my style and I'm just going to go out there with all the energy in the world," a confident Casey says. She hasn't seen her edit yet either. "Yes, Jeff was the favorite, but it's probably Jeff's to lose," Adam says, cautiously.

10:06 p.m. You'd think that we'd be ready for Battle No. 1, Jeff vs. Casey... But if you've watched these past three weeks, you know that it's actually time for a commercial break.

10:07 p.m. Woah! Fooled me, NBC! Straight into the battle. Jeff comes out like a Muppet possessed, confident and assertive from the very first note. Blake Shelton is impressed. Cee-Lo is impressed. Casey is utterly psyched out. She comes out quiet and uncertain. After a few measures, she sounds a bit better, but it's hard to doubt that Jeff the Muppet is the class of this Battle. He's what this show is all about and there isn't the slightest chance Adam or the producers are going to let him go.

10:09 p.m. Reba says she couldn't take her eyes off of Jeff, but Blake disagrees. Christina praises Casey's stage confidence. "I gotta give it to Jeff," Cee-Lo says. 

10:10 p.m. Adam begins by spinning Casey's story as an underdog. In fact, Adam says nothing at all about Jeff. Adam begins to render his verdict and *this* is where we get our commercial break...

10:14 p.m. The last spot on Adam's team goes to... Jeff. He joins Casey Weston, Javier Colon and Devon Barley on Adam's Top 4 roster.

10:15 p.m. Team Blake's Battle Pairing pits shy girls Xenia and Sara Oromchi on "I'll Stand By You." I vaguely remember liking Xenia in the Blind auditions. I don't remember Sara, but when she warns us that she may miss prom for this show... I like Xenia even more.

10:17 p.m. Blake's got Reba on his team and everybody hopes that Reba will be able to get Sara and Xenia to show some personality. Initially, it's not working. Both teens are terrified to open up and sing, much less to face each other in vocal gladiatorial combat. At mentoring Sara asks what she needs to do to be more confident. "Step up and give your all," Reba says. Blake asks Sara to scare him. Xenia basically has the same question and she's told to sing like her family is in the audience. Blake assures Xenia that he's a fan of hers and she breaks into tears, earning a Big Blake Hug for her troubles. And a Reba Hug to boot. Blake says Sara may have more range, but Xenia has better tone.

10:22 p.m. After some product-selling, it's off to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Arena for... Duel No. 2, Xenia vs. Sara... "Whoever breaks out of their shell more may be the one who goes through," Sara posits, meekly. Xenia meekly suggests that even if she loses, she's forever changed. There's an excruciating amount of bashfulness in the arena. Neither girl is ready to go for the jugular, to sweep the leg to do whatever's necessary to win or even to sing in a room with people. As we were promised, Xenia's vocal tone is exceptional, but her pitch wavers. But Sara's even worse. Sara keeps brutally missing notes and we keep cutting to her poor tone-deaf family, watching with love and admiration. By the end, I'm not convinced that either lady is hitting a single note. Can we... um... pat them both on the head and send them back to prom?

10:26 p.m. Christina says Sara had more confidence, but that her voice was shaky and pitchy. "You guys are both able," Cee-Lo says glowingly. "It was pitchy and there were nerves flying around everywhere," Adam says, adding that it wasn't the right song for their voices. "The music industry is tough," Blake protests.

10:27 p.m. Blake has to choose somebody. He goes with Xenia. Neither choice was "right," but Xenia was less wrong. She joins Patrick Thomas, Jared Blake and Dia Frampton in Blake's Top 4. By my way of figuring, Blake's got a really weak Top 4. And I say that having a huge crush on Dia. But how did Blake end up with so many people so plagued by stage-fright and insecurity?

10:28 p.m. Christina's down to Lily Elise and Cherie Oakley is "Since You've Been Gone." Apparently Cherie has an extensive background and reputation in the country. Lily's worried, but Christina points out that she didn't choose a country song, so that may equalize things. At mentoring, Lily steps up boldly to sing without preparation. Even though to my ears, Lily sounds awful, Cherie tells her that she's already won. Then, at individual mentoring, Lily is told to just go for it and that Christina will be looking for emotion over singing. By the time they get to rehearsing on the stage, Cherie has figured the song out and done a complete 180, Christina tells us, predicting a close Battle.

10:37 p.m. Time for Battle No. 3, Lily vs. Cherie... I like Lily's jaunty hoodie. I don't like her struggles with the low intro to the song. Cherie gets the first chorus and comes through strong. Then she gets the second chorus as well. Ummm... Who divided the sections of this song? Cherie gets the big power notes and Lily has to fight through the harder stuff? That's not fair at all.

10:39 p.m. "You guys were fantastic," Adam says. Reba's got a relationship with Cherie, who wrote a No. 1 song for her. They've never met before. Geez. This is awkward. Cee-Lo raves at their collective energy. Christina and Sia are both proud of their girls. 

10:40 p.m. "My decision is... um..." Commercial! 

10:44 p.m. When we left, Christina was all "Um..." In the end, she chooses... Lily. She joins Frenchie Davis, Beverly McClellan and Raquel Castro in Christina's stable of bellowing divas. And poor Cherie has to return to her life as a wildly successful songwriter. Perhaps she should have done "Platinum Hit" instead?

10:46 p.m. Cee-Lo's last Battle is between "Beverly Hills, 90210" fictional character Emily Valentine and "Simpsons" fictional character Frank Grimes. What? Curtis Grimes? Oh. Less interesting. They're singing "I Need You Now," which should capitalize on the chemistry that Emily and Curtis have developed in the last three weeks. Three weeks? What the heck have they been doing for three weeks? Emily loves Curtis' "cute inflections" and his accent. At mentoring with Monica and Cee-Lo, Emily says she has a little crush on Curtis, but that "love hurts." Uh-oh. Emily's going to set the West Beverly Homecoming float on fire! Cee-Lo and Monica tell Curtis to marry Emily and break up with her in his mind. Or something. Emily's unstable, y'all! Didn't Brandon warn them?

10:52 p.m. Note: Emily Valentine, the singer on "The Voice," is not actually the character from "Beverly Hills, 90210." So far as we know, she isn't emotionally unstable. And so far as we know, she isn't going to set anything on fire. 

10:53 p.m. Here we go. Battle No. 4, Curtis vs. Emily... Ummm... Emily, if you don't want me making jokes about you lighting things on fire, stop talking about your apparently obsessive crush on Curtis. Thank you. Curtis starts off low and mumbly and Emily takes an early lead. As they reach the chorus, Curtis is getting stronger, but he's all too content to provide vocal support for Emily, who isn't nearly as comfortable with harmony as she was solo. I wish Curtis would assert himself more so that I could hear what he actually sounds like. Didn't he get the memo that this is a shouting competition, not a duet showcase? They're OK together and there's a cuteness to their actual chemistry if not their vocal chemistry. Is that going to be the twist? Is Cee-Lo going to combine them into a duo for the live shows?

10:56 p.m. They end with a big kiss. OMG! It's just like Finn and Rachael at Nationals! Did we learn nothing? Unexpected on-stage intimacy makes people uncomfortable. Carson Daly asks is something was up with the kiss. "Maybe," he says. "We'll see," she says. Blake makes a joke about how they were supposed to "duet," not "do it." Adam praises Curtis' unique baritone. Christina says that although Emily was shaky, she had a lot of strong notes. Monica can't choose, because they're from two different worlds.

10:58 p.m. Cee-Lo's decision... Curtis. Meh. NBC spent the whole week promising something shocking or unexpected from this conclusion. Instead, Cee-Lo just decided that the country singer did a better job with the country song he was given. Since I haven't made an "American Idol" comparison all recap, I want to point out that "Idol" just crowned a far superior baritone country singer as its most recent winner. Curtis joins Nakia, Tori & Taylor and Vicci in what's certainly the most eclectic of the Top 4s.

 

Bottom Line: Not an especially great night of Battles. Jeff won and he was definitely the evening's standout, but the edit was so heavily in his favor that it didn't seem especially fair. We get it. "The Voice" wants you to like Jeff, just like the show wants you to like Javier and Nakia and Frenchie. Stop forcing it.The Xena vs. Sara Battle was a disaster and the other two were so-so showdowns where I could hardly have been less invested in the eventual winners.